Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Great Quote From a Popular Saint

I just ran across this quote I had never seen before in a book entitled The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching by Marvin L. Krier Mich, page 98.

Saint Marin De Porres was known to take the sick among the poor and homeless in the city streets of Lima, Peru, into the monostary and place them in his own bed where he cared for them.

He was ordered under obedience by his superior to stop bringing the poor into the monastery, and to take them elsewhere where they could receive proper care.

Anyone who has been in religious life knows this is very realistic, and in defense of the superior, the Dominicans would merely be trying to save some private space where they could devote themselves to contemplative prayer.

Further, not unlike our own day, a monk or Friar bringing people into his bedroom may cause scandal even where no sin is involved.

It is unlikely the superior was oppossed to Martin's ministry, per se, so much as where he was doing it - namely, in the most inner sanctum of the monastery.

But whatever the reason for the order that was given to Martin under strict obedience or whether it was explained to Martin well or not, Martin refused to obey and continued to bring poor sick people into his bedroom to care for them.

When confronted on his lack of obdience, Martin's response was the following, and I love it:

Forgive my mistake, and please be knind enough to instruct me. I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.
Would that more of us could see that charity is the highest virtue, and not obedience.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Cardinal Sean O'Malley Joins Bloggers

That's right. A Cardinal has started blogging - and one I know personally!


Images of Christ

Check out these various images of Christ.....


Joe Feuerherd on Democrat Initiatives to Reduce Abortions

As frequent readers know, I am not opposed to restrictions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, and I have been critical of Democrats for intolerance to pro-life views and for not seeking some sort of middle ground on this issue.

Two recent bills proposed by Democrats seek that middle ground.

While these bills will not restrict abortions in any way, they seek to provide an alternative to abortion with a goal of reducing abortions by one million over the next decade.

In my mind, restrictions on abortion are a difficult sell if women do not have an alternative, and providing an alternative is a simple matter of justice.

This is fantastic news, and I commend the Democrats on this initiative. This type of effort deserves bi-partisan support.

One bill has a contraception package, and the other does not. The bishops support the latter, which is co-sponsored by a Republican.


Some Good Thoughts From Oliver Stone

Stone rejects conspiracy theories that the government knew about or plotted 9/11. (So do I).

He states the real conspiracy began immediately after with 20 or 30 people leading our nation into a shameful and disasterous war on false pretenses. (I agree).

He makes historical allusions to how terrorism could have been handled differently. (I agree that there are better ways, though I'm not sure he picked the very best examples).

He laments and expresses fear that so many people believe other people can be killed in the name of God. (I agree. God never wants us to kill one another).

But here is the statement that really hits home:

It's a waste of energy away from things that do matter which is poverty, death, disease, the planet itself and fixing things in our own homes rather than fighting wars with others.
That really is the $300 billion dollar and 3,000 lives question.

Imagine that money and 140,000 people used for saving life, instead of destroying life.


Al Queda Promises Video Commenting on Pope

EWTN reports that an unnamed Islamic web site promises that Ayman al Zawahiri will comment in a upcoming video on the Pope's recent remarks on Islam, as well as Darfur and Bush's crusader war.

UPDATE ADDED A FEW HOURS LATER: It was already released!!!!


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Archbishop Milingo Consecrates Married Bishops, Including Stallings

All have been excommunicated. It may have a bold move if someone else did it.

Unfortunately, the personalities involved have already gone so far in the past that the statement will be a blip or yawn to most observers.




Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Delicate Question About Islam

There is a reader in my comboxes who has been pushing me more and more to be explicit about a question I tried to raise in a round-about "politically correct" manner last Thursday.

The issue is the life of Mohammed, peace be upon him.

I know Christians have committed terrible crimes against humanity, and that we must remove the plank from our own eyes before removing the speck from another's eyes.

I know that the Church teaches Muslims worship the same God we do and can be saved without necessarily formally converting to what we perceive as the full truth of Christianity.

I know that we are to enter dialogue with believers of other religions that is open to what "mutual enrichment" - having the humility to learn from others.

I know that not all Muslims are terrorists, and that today, there are even Muslim practioners of active non-violence.

I am well aware that there are many interpretations of "jihad", and that Mohammed, himself, p.b.u.h., is said to have stated somewhere that the greater jihad is the struggle against one's own ego.

I know that insulting Mohammed, p.b.u.h., is considered a grave offense to many Muslims, and I have no desire to offend.

I have many personal friends who self define as Muslims who are good and decent and peace loving people.

Which all makes it difficult to even ask if certain things occurred in Mohammed's (p.b.u.h.) life for fear of offending.....

Yet, if these events occurred, then my aim is not to insult, but to know the truth and understand a point of view.

The link above is a well documented and very lengthy english language article on the life of Mohammed, p.b.u.h., with citations from the Q'ran and ahadith and other sources.

It is written by a man who claims to have been raised Muslim and who says he was once very devout.

His claim is believable, for there are certainly things he criticizes that would not come from a modern Western or conservative critic (such as criticizing Mohammed, p.b.u.h., because he is said in historical sources to have smelled like a sheep).

If that were the worst that could be said of Mohammed, p.b.u.h., I might even find him attractive, since I think Jesus and Saint Francis of Assisi probably were perceived as in need of a good bath much of the time.

The charges he makes against Mohammed, p.b.u.h., would paint a portrait of the man that is not altogether dissimilar from an American religious leader in the 1960's known as Charles Manson.

I do not say this to insult.

Yet, there is no gentle way to put my question.

I want to understand why people today are attracted to a religion founded by a man who behaved something like Charles Manson when they could follow Jesus?

Of course I am aware of the religious arrogance of the framing of this question. Yet, it remains a question in my mind and heart.

Of course, I know from my own experience as a Catholic that many Catholics are Catholics not so much in admiration of Jesus, per se, as because it is part of their family, culture and so forth. Many people are simply born into Catholicism.

Some folks convert to Catholicism less because of its teaching and more because of a postive experience of the living community today.

I'm not questioning Muslims who embrace their faith for some reason other than admiration of Mohammed, p.b.u.h.

Whatever reasons one has for embracing Islam TODAY, it would seem that at least some Muslims would think about the founder's conduct and why it is credible as a prophet or worthy of emulation.

I am asking the deeper question of what is admirable about Mohammed, p.b.u.h., no matter why one chooses to be Muslim TODAY?

I understand that asking the question in such a way as to reveal that I do not admire Mohammed, p.b.u.h., risks offending.

Yet, how else can I honestly state the question "What is admirable about this man?" and get an answer that satisfies my longing for truth if it is not made clear that I have reason to believe Mohammed, p.b.u.h., was a dishonorable man.

It's not just violence too. He married a six year old (A'isha) and had sex with her when she was nine. She was only one of many wives.

These questions about Islam formed in my mind long before 9/11 and with little to no awareness that even asking the question might offend.

My first exposure to Islam was in a secular university in about 1985 or so.

A Palestinian Muslim stopped to chat with me while I was sitting at a pro-life booth. He asked if my opposition to abortion was based on Christian faith. I told him I was a Christian, but I did not think one needed to be a Christian to be opposed to abortion.

He sat down next to me and very patiently asked some questions about abortion and about my faith, and spoke to me about his own faith and answered some questions I had.

He spoke of the plight of the Palestinians a bit, but shared more about his faith.

This man had a manner about him that was serene, calm, reasonable, charitable.

As far as giving a personal witness to a faith tradition goes, he was a great example. I suppose he made some converts, and he did stir me on to do some research.

He kept referring to the miracle of the Q'ran and how its beauty spoke to its truth. He spoke of the simplicity of the five pillars. It all sounded great.

Based on his testimony, I went out and bought a copy of N. J. Dawood's translation of the Q'ran for Penguin Classics from 1956 released in reprint. Dawood was an Iraqi Muslim.

In its introduction, Dawood provided some biographical information on the life of prophet with a one sentence reference to his overseeing the execution of 800 Jews in Medina in the year 627 on the Western calendar.

As I tried to read this Q'ran, I found it to be violent for my taste, and assumed there must be a tradition of interpretation that made more sense of what I was reading.

Through the years, I have asked various Muslims I have met, and felt comfortable asking, about this incident of Mohammed overseeing the execution of 800 Jews.

Invariably, I receive one of two responses.

There are those who have never heard of it, and this tends to come from those who are also less "devout".

Then, there are those who are "devout", and admit it occurred, but seem to believe that if I just understood the context, I would admit it was a just execution.

I have read that there are those Muslims who deny it ever happened, but I have yet to meet such a Muslim personally.

Of course, being a believer in active non-violence, and a Christian, it is going to be very difficult to convince me that this was a just execution.

But the more I have asked the question, or sought to research it myself, the more it is uncovered that this is solely one incident in a long laundry list of violence in the life of Mohammed, p.b.u.h.

And the more I look at the context of these various slayings, the less convinced I am that they meet any sort of concept of "justice" I can understand, even if I try to apply Western notions of "just war" loosely.

Since 9/11, the question seems to have an urgency among some more conservative Christians than myself, and not a few atheists.

Self-defined liberals or progressives - myself included - and even President Bush at times -try hard to emphasize that Islam is a overall a religion of peace, and not a monolith.

We liberals emphasize that we need to dialogue with respect and be more self critical than critical of others and look for economic and social factors that contribute to terrorism, and reach out to moderates and reformers, etc.....

Yet,I have read the Q'ran before and after 9/11, at least in english translation. I cannot read Arabic.

I have also learned not to rely on Dawood's translation, and refer more frequently to Yusafali, Pickthal, or Shakir.

From what I can tell, and I've tried to ask Muslims about this, it is simply not true that Islam is a religion of peace in the Western sense of the word.

If there is a Muslim reader who wanders by, my question continues to be, if these incidents are true, why is this man credible as a prophet and worthy of emulation?


Monday, September 25, 2006

Inside the War Room

With three links below to Commonweal articles that lean "left", I thought I'd add a Crisis article on conservative stratgy and tactics to change the direction of the Supreme Court.


Fairness and the Economy

The lead editorial for Commonweal advocates increased progressive taxation on the rich, universal health care, tax credits to middle class working families, eased regulations on the formation of unions, and increased minimum wages as a combined package for economic reform in the United States.


A Catholic Voter Guide by Eduardo Moisés Peñalver

This Commonweal article attempts to propose a broader guide than those that circulated during the 2004 election.

In addition to attempting an examination of Church teaching as it applies politically to issues such as abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia, the author examines Church teaching as it applies politically to war, economic justice, racism, and the environment.


Shifting Allegiances: Catholics, Democrats & the GOP

This is an excellent historic overview of the shift of Catholics to the Republican party by John T. McGreevy for Commonweal, and there is a link to Commonweal's relatively new discussion forum at the end of the article.



Friday, September 22, 2006


Pregnant Women Support Act

Tennessee Representative and Democrat, Lincoln Davis, has proposed the Pregnant Women Support Act to the House of Representatives. If passed, the legislatislation aims to reduce abortion rates by without relying on contraception.

The proposed legislation has the support of the U. S. Bishops, and should not be confused with an earlier Democratic proposal called the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act that the bishops criticized for promoting contraception.

Either way, I'm happy to see Democrats taking action to reduce abortions even if they do it another way than through restrictions.


More on Reaction to Pope and Islam from John Allen

It is surprising to me that anyone could honestly believe that the Pope was aligning himself with Bush's war in Iraq in this recent flap.

Allen tackles this misperception and others.

Allen supplies some great quotes from the Holy Father against the invasion of Iraq from the run up to war. He left the following quote from two months after the invasion began out of his article:

There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."
Before he was Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger stated on multiple occassions before the invasion began, and after it started, that this was not a just war.

His teachings as Pope since he was elected a year and a half ago are clearly consistent with that conclusion.

Pope Benedict is not aligning himself with Bush on the war in Iraq.

Allen also addresses misperceptions about the Pope's commitment to interfaith dialogue or speculation that he is theologically a Christian Zionist (which is absurd).

Allen also quotes a leading expert on Christian/Muslim dialogue as follows:
The fundamental problem is that you can't have a conversation with 'Islam,' just like you can't have a conversation with 'Christianity.'....The key is to sit down with individual Muslims and ask, 'Where do you stand? How do you justify that? What can I expect from you?' We can't tell them what we think they believe, and then criticize what we think they believe.

We've got to be for human rights across the board. It's not just protecting the rights of our people, and withholding the rights of yours until you take care of ours. Some people think this way, but it's completely un-Christian.

[On building churches in saudi Arabia] Muslims can argue that the Arabian Peninsula is for them what the Vatican is for us,....
CNN reports that many Muslims have seen a positive sign in the Holy Father's invitation to ambassadors of Muslim nations to meet with him, though Al Queda has issued has stated that Allah will help them slit the throats of cross worshippers in Rome.


Yale to Offer Free Online Courses

They will not count toward a degree, but Yale is offering free video and text transcripts of some courses online, including an "Introduction to the Old Testament" course.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Islam: Maybe a Confusing and Even Dangerous Post

2 + 2 = 4.

If, "X + 2 = 4", what is "X"?

It's a simple equation. We all learned to solve for "X" at some point in grade school. I recall a certain thrill I felt with the "aha moment" that X must be 2.

And the thrill never ceased as the formulas became more complicated.

I am not a genius at math, and never made it beyond sophomore level Calculus in college. Even in Calculus, some of the concepts were starting to go a bit over my head where I could no longer intuit the answer.

But pretty much all of my readers can probably solve the simplest arithmetic or basic algebra.

What I am inviting us to call to mind is that sort of thrill we derive the very first time we realize the one right answer - that "aha moment" when we realize X cannot be any other value than 2.

My sister-in-law has recently been excited by a puzzle called Sudoku. The thrill of finding the one right solution is a similar experience.

With any form of math, or any mathematic puzzle such as sudoku, the thrill of the "aha moment" when one intuits the correct answer lies in realizing that the answer is true always and everywhere,..., that the solution to the puzzle or problem is not simply an arbitrary guessing of what the authorities say in the back of the book - but that there is truly only one right answer that anyone can derive who knows what the numeric symbols represent.

I did not post anything yesterday because I am trying to think through how to articulate something that is difficult to explain.

What I was mulling over is the Muslim reaction to the Pope's recent lecture at his old university. The basic issue is well known, even in secular media.

The Pope delivered an academic lecture on the role of reason in the life of faith, and in part of that lecture, he quoted a dialogue between a medieval Christian and a learned Muslim where the medieval Christian claimed anything Mohammed taught that was new was evil and irrational, particularly conversion by the sword.

The quotation did not express the Holy Father's own thoughts on Islam, which seems clear in context. Islam was not even the main point of the lecture, nor even the issue of religious violence. The Pope apologized for the remarks.

Yet, reaction in the Muslim world has been outrage - expressed in acts of violence in some cases, and threats against the Pope.

Now, it seems rather obvious to me that if I feel insulted that someone considers it evil that my religion teaches conversion by the sword, there could only be two reasons I would feel slighted:

1) My religion does not teach conversion by the sword, and my faith has been distorted, or,...

2) My religion does teach conversion by the sword, and I consider it an insult that anyone would deem my religion evil.

If the first reason explains my feelings of offense, then it follows that an appropriate response of outrage would not be to burn a church or kill a nun or other acts of violence and destruction or threats against the one who made the remark.

On the other hand, if the second reason explains my feelings of offense, then it follows that the person calling my religion evil deserves punishment - maybe even death, depending on the insult.

A few days back, I advised a reader making a comment in my comboxes to avoid treating Islam as a monolith.

I also encouraged the same reader that just as Christians believe that individual conversion begins with personal repentance for sin before offering fraternal rebuke to others, so too, collective conversion requires looking within before rebuking others.

In the words of Christ, remove the plank from your own eye before removing the speck from the others. The Pope should not have said things that could predictably offend Muslims, and Christians have a long history of offending Islam.

I know many Muslims personally who live right here in the United States, and I am quite close friends with some.

I do not believe that a single one of my friends would ever in a million years burn a church or kill anyone, except in self defense or defense of another person. They are good and decent people.

Yet, there is also a sense in which my good friends are not "good Muslims" by some Muslim standards.

They do pray, and we've even prayed together, but they don't stop what they are doing to pray five times per day - though they may pray silently while going about their business, for all I know.

Some of them have drank a beer or had a glass of wine with me, though many abstain from alcohol entirely. None of them eat pork. A few want their meat prepared (slaughtered) a specific way, which is hard to do in America, but not impossible if you know where to go.

Not a single one of my closest Muslim friends knows Arabic, or at least not fluently. They are mostly sub-saharan African Muslims.

The few Arab Muslims I know are not as close as the Africans. They seem to be decent people.

None of these closest friends can recite the entire Q'ran from memory, though all of them own one and read it - some more than others.

Some of these African Muslims attended Catholic schools growing up in Africa, where Catholic schools were often the best schools in the area. For these folks, when it comes to information about religion, may know as much or more about Catholic beliefs than they know about Islam.

If they harbor any grievances against the Catholic Church, it tends to be more over any historic participation in African colonialism than issues that concern Arab Muslims. Yet, they seem to feel that the Catholic Church did more good than harm overall with its school system, health clinics, orphanages, and so forth.

These Muslims do practice Ramadan, give to charity, and are not entirely opposed to polygamy - except for the women when it comes to their own husband. None of these women cover their head at all times, though they will wear the hajib on occasion.

Politically, they are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, sympathetic to giving Luis Farrakan a hearing, critical of racism in America, and a little bit defensive when it comes to American attitudes about Islam.

But they are respectful of others when voicing their concerns about Americans prejudices. They are reasonable people willing to have a reasonable discussion.

One Tanzanian Muslim man is married to a Jewish woman and they raise their children in both traditions. One Muslim woman from Uganda was married to an Anglican man in a wedding Mass where the second reading was taken from the Q'ran and the collects formed from traditional Muslim prayers.

My wife and I are both Catholics, and at our own wedding Mass, there were Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and agnostics - in enough numbers from each group that nobody was alone. I believe every racial group on earth was represented as well, and many languages.

I recently saw some statistics on Catholicism in Italy that indicated that about ninety percent of the Italian population still self-defines as Catholic, though only around twenty five percent go to Mass regularly.

My Muslim friends are very much like many Catholics I know. Belonging to the religion is more a matter of loyalty to family and culture and a few external rituals than a well thought out deep personal conviction regarding objective truth leading to concrete decisions on every matter of life in the day-to-day.

It may shape the broad strokes of our lives, but for most people the world over, religion is something we embrace less than perfectly by the standards of the devout. I think G-d is OK with that in some mysterious way.

And I say that as a religiously devout person.

I suspect that even in many Arab countries where the populations are largely Muslim, the practice of Islam may not be "ideal" by the standards of the most devout.

I've never traveled in the middle east, so I can't say this with any certainty. Maybe the call to prayer five times a day makes people more conscious of G-d than many people experience here in the United States. I would not mind if we had common calls to prayer here.

But I am inclined to think human nature is what it is - only a small percentage of people are extraordinarily devout in any faith community, while the rest live a somewhat compromised version of the religion.

Those given to great devotion in any faith community head down a sort of dangerous path - and I mean this of Christians as much as anyone else.

We Catholics who have any vague knowledge of the history of our own Church know that there is a tendency in the devout to be tricked by Satan into the crusades, the inquisitions, the IRA, blowing up abortion clinics and so forth.

It is difficult to find the path of devotion that leads to becoming a Mother Teresa or a Francis of Assisi.

Religions do make truth claims, and these truth claims are often in conflict with one another.

Christians claim that Jesus is God come in human flesh. The Rama Krishna Hindu may not be scandalized by the claim, but just about everyone else finds this a difficult claim to accept. And the Hindu has the problem with the Christian claim that Jesus is the only incarnation of the divine.

The not so devout in every faith community seem to somehow find ways to live and let live without worrying too much about these contradictory truth claims.

Some assume that all, or almost all religions are equal and there is truth in all religions.

Others (like myself) assume there is enough truth in all religions to save one, even if some religions have more truth than others.

Others still assume that their own religion is the only true religion, but feel that the truth of their religion has its own persuasive power and there is no need to compel others to embrace it with more than verbal testimony or example.

I think we Americans are accustomed to all three views, and most of us fall in one of three, whether devout or not.

I have met Muslims who seem to hold all these types of views.

From what I read, even among Arab Muslims living in Muslim countries, jihad is often interpreted more spiritually in the third category, than literally as a call to convert others by the sword.

As a very "devout" Catholic, I find myself forced by my faith tradition to develop a particular sort of conscientiousness that academic theologians call "historical conscientiousness".

This may be difficult to explain to the non-academic and/or those who are not devout Christians or Jews. The devout Jew, by the way, is forced into the same sort of conscientiousness.

Basically, if one believes the Bible is divinely inspired - the Word of God - and one is "devout", one must accept that G-d is progressively revealing who S/he is in history.

The reason is simple. The Bible was not written all at once by one person receiving the revelation. It even contains what at least appear to be contradictions.

Some folks may resolve the apparent contradictions in a manner that seems to lead back to a more or less literal interpretation of the text, but there remains a sense of gradual unfolding of revelation over hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Some Muslims argue that this is evidence that each prophet G-d gave had his message corrupted until Mohammed, peace be upon him, came.

Other Christians may see in the apparent contradictions of the Bible a sign that G-d is revealed as the constant that underlies and persists through the writings over time of fallible human beings and fallible communities as humanity comes to fuller and fuller awareness of divine truth, culminating in Jesus Christ.

The latter is my own view summed up as simply as I can put it.

Viewing what Catholics call "Sacred Tradition", I see a similar process as the Church looks back to what was definitively revealed in Christ. The Church's understanding of what was already revealed has developed and deepened over time. History is moving forward in a "progressive" sense.

I see the whole human race caught up in this endeavor too, not just Christians.

Thus, when my Church declared at Vatican II that there is salvation for those who may not be in formal and explicit union with the institutional Roman Catholic Church, and that there is goodness and holiness in other religions such as Judaism, Islam, or Eastern religions, I give my "Amen".

As a "devout" Catholic, I presume a sort of moral obligation to make the effort to discern what is good and holy in other religions, and to follow the high ethical standards of Christ in my interaction with non-Christians, and to believe that they can be saved without me trying to convert them, and that my job is to love others, and maybe even humbly learn from them.

There is a command in my religion to share my faith and make disciples in every nation, but there is no command to force discipleship, or worry excessively that those who follow another path automatically go to hell.

When I examine Islam, I am looking at it on many levels. It is really quite easy for me to love the Muslims I know. They are lovable people, as good friends as any Christian friend.

And I would want to do or say nothing that is hurtful or offensive to my friends if it isn't necessary. And I see in the many Muslims I know, as well as in everything I read even in secular newspapers, that Islam is not a monolith.

Even the "devout" Muslims can be neatly divided as Shi'te or Sunni, and the Sunnis might be subdivided by Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i or Hanbali. Then there is Wahabbi or Sufi or what have you.

Of course, I am fully aware that some of the "devout" do not consider any other so-called Muslims to be true Muslims. There are Baptists who do not consider me, as a Roman Catholic, to be a true Christian. I get that.

But I tend to be of the religious school that there is enough truth in all, or almost all, religions to save everyone, even if some religions are better than others.

I am not sure how the religion of the American cult leader, David Koresh, contained much saving truth, but maybe it did. I am not reticent to say all major world religions are superior to Koresh' cult. It seems obvious to me that not all religions are equal.

I mentioned conflicting truth claims. Christians and Jews are in conflict over who Jesus really is.

I do have fairly devout Jewish friends of the conservative and reform movements, and would like to get to know more orthodox Jews on a personal level. When I speak with my Jewish friends, I honestly feel I am speaking with a peer - an equal.

It may seem a bit odd, but to try to simplify it, I believe that Rabbi Jesus as interpreted through Rabbi Paul has made me a Jew.

Rabbi Jesus has revealed to me the essence of the Jewish religion. If I am speaking with a Jew, and we are in conflict, I see our conflict as an "in-house" debate - a squabble between brothers and sisters, but we're still family.

Yes, I believe Rabbi Jesus is YHWH in the flesh, which is a radical claim those who self-define as Jews and/or are literally biological children of Abraham find incredible and even heretical or blasphemous, and we who hold the claim have treated our elder brothers and sisters in the Jewish faith disgracefully in response to their reaction.

Assuming we're right about Jesus, we Christians are going to have to answer for how we treated our elder siblings and his blood relatives.

Yet, we're still family. And together, we do share something of what I referred to already of "historical conscientiousness". Our religious texts force us into such conscientiousness.

In history, along comes Mohammed, peace be upon him.

It is claimed by all who self define as Muslim that he is the seal of the prophets. Like the Christians and the Jews, they affirm that G-d, or Allah, has been revealed through Noah, Abraham, Moses and the prophets. They even accept that Allah is revealed through Isa, or Jesus.

With Jews and Christians, they claim G-d is one. The five pillars of Islam are 1) The profession of faith in the oneness of Allah (and that Mohammed is his prophet), 2) Prayer (five times a day), 3) fasting (especially during Ramadan), 4) Giving to charity, and 5) Pilgrimage (to Mecca).

Acknowledging that all religions contain enough truth to save, and being told by my own Church to honor all that is good and holy in Islam specifically, I affirm that profession of monotheism, praying at least five times per day, fasting, giving to charity and making pilgrimage are all good and holy deeds.

I am also impressed with a certain way Islam teaches its adherents to stand up for the poor or oppressed in its own midst, or with the way Islam seems to build a strong sense of community among fellow believers, or with historic Muslim scholarship and contributions to civilization.

I even recognize the modern day terrorism was born as a protest to truly unjust and despotic secular leaders, often backed by Western powers.

I can also look at the Q'ran as a historic document that I am only able to read in English translation, and have done.

Looking at it this way, I recognize that compared to the cultural mores at the time it was written, Mohammed, peace be upon him, did inspire some moral advances - particularly in regard to women.

This may sound odd to my Western non-Muslim readers who either have not read the Q'ran, or are unaware of the historic context in which it was written. Let me explain just a little with just three quick examples.

First, as far as I can tell in English translation, the Q'ran does not contain specific commands on the way women dress. So do not think Mohammed, peace be upon him, claimed Allah revealed women must wear the hijab.

Second, the Q'ran allowed women to inherit property - almost unheard of at the time and place Mohammed, peace be upon him, is said to have received the revelation.

Third, the Q'ran also allows women to initiate divorce, which was also radically "feminist" in its day. As a Catholic Christian, I oppose divorce, but it was still very "feminist" of Islam in the days of its origin to give the right of initiating divorce to women.

So, on two levels, I have great respect for Islam. I respect individual people who self-define as Muslim that I interact with in my personal life, and I respect some of its core teaching and believe its founding document was morally advanced for its day in comparison to the cultural norms at the time it was composed.

I certainly do not intend to insult one billion people in the world by stating that there are some things that trouble me about Mohammed, peace be upon him, or about the Q'ran.

It would be simplistic to say that the only thing that troubles me about the Q'ran is that it denies Jesus is Allah in human flesh or implies he may not have died on the cross. These things do flatly contradict my religious beliefs, but that is not my deepest problem with the Q'ran.

At a much deeper level, there are passages of the Q'ran that I cannot believe are Allah's eternal word. And there are incidents in the life of Mohammed, peace be upon him, that seem to me to be immoral actions unworthy of emulation.

I am well aware that voicing these thoughts will be considered offensive to many "devout" Muslims.

On the other hand, I also suspect that there are Muslims - maybe even "devout" Muslims - who have developed a sort of "historical conscientiousness" that allows them to understand exactly what I mean in a way that does not insult Islam today, or all Muslims.

I also recognize that part of the difficulty of referring to "historical conscientiousness" in dialogue with Islam is that since the sacred text of Islam is a single book given to a single man that is to be accepted on faith as perfect and makes all other revelation unnecessary, there is no sense of Allah coming to be gradually understood over time in a community.

If there is a Muslim "historic conscientiousness", it is in the debate within the house of Islam over the meaning of the Q'ran that runs through the ahadith and other traditions that such conscientiousness develops, while the Q'ran, itself, remains a perfect and timeless revelation.

It seems that particularly in Muslim mysticism, such as the Sufi tradition, do we find a way to truly spiritualize some of the troublesome texts of the Q'ran.

What I am driving at is that a Christian or Jew who reads a passage in the Bible implying that G-d wishes a human being to kill someone will also be brought up against passages by prophets forbidding killing except in self defense or defense of another.

Further, Jesus even seems to forbid killing in these instances, forcing Christians to go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to explain how their religion at least allows killing in defense of others.

Gandhi once said of Christianity something to the effect "I like your Christ. It's your Christians I don't like."

The moral commands of Jesus seem to me to have a perfection about them that leads to an "aha moment" not entirely unlike solving a math puzzle, and even more stimulating to the soul.

There's no gentle way to put this, but with Islam, I sometimes feel, "I like your Muslims. It's your Mohammed I don't like."

Is the Q'ran a dictation directly from Allah without any use of Mohammed's mind as medium?

If a Christian or a Jew takes the stance that the whole Bible is timeless in its plainest literal sense, he or she runs into contradictions that force one to be more subtle.

I enjoy the thrill of the "aha moment" when a formula is solved and one recognizes that there is only one right answer, not based on the authority of a solution in the back of the book or the authority of a teacher, but because the answer is recognized as true always and everywhere regardless of what anyone else says.

Sometimes, however, we do turn to the answer in the back of the book or ask a teacher to give us the answer so that we can learn, ourselves, how to answer similar problems in the future.

I considered providing several quotations from the Q'ran compared to the teachings attributed to Jesus, but that becomes tedious.

To simply sum it up without quotations, the Q'ran not only allows killing for self defense against deadly attack or defense of another innocent person from deadly attack, but deadly defense of the religion of Islam from whatever Muslims deem offensive to the religion, which is not well defined.

It is true that the Q'ran states that there is to be no compulsion in religion, and it encourages Muslims to live peacefully with peaceful neighbors. It also says that whoever takes an innocent life takes all human life. Yet, it clearly implies that anyone who insults Islam is not an innocent person living peacefully with Muslims.

In historic context, the Q'ran may have been a moral advance for the Arab tribes who first received it. For a people who routinely waged wars over money or personal insults, and all sorts of less noble causes, limiting war to defense and holy war (jihad) against those offending the religion may have been a huge moral advance.

In that sense, I can say that Allah was speaking through Mohammed, peace be upon him. He was leading the Arab tribes of his day closer to the fullness of truth that Allah wills.

The Q'ran encourages Muslims to make war with polytheist with what seems to be little to no qualification, since worship of idols offends Islam.

Apostates are to be executed. If Muslims are a majority, other religions may not proseletize.

With Christians and Jews, it is more ambiguous whether Muslims can initiate war, but if the religion is perceived as offended, they are obligated to make war even with Christians and Jews as a defense.

Again, what constitutes offense against Islam is ill defined.

And the commands of the Q'ran permit all tactics and "stratagems" for war against Islam's enemies.

These "strategems", according to some Muslim scholars, include lying to those outside of Islam about what the religion teaches if such lying advances Islam.

These "strategems" also include terrorism for those like Bin Laden.

There is not a single passage that unambiguously and universally condemns the death of innocent people in the Western sense of non-combatants when read in full context. Though many Muslims seem to deplore killing non-combatants, the Q'ran seems to permit it.

In other words, a non-combatant or unarmed person can be guilty of a capitol offense, and Sura 8 even indicates the Muslims were commanded by Allah to wage war, even on an unarmed tribe.

If we turn to the example of Mohammed, peace be upon him, in trying to interpret some of the Q'ran, many Christians will inevitably have a hard time understanding Islam.

Mohammed oversaw the execution of over 800 Jews captured in battle in Medina. These were prisoners of war already under restraint.

Mohammed, peace be upon him, often led the Muslims into battle, even against unarmed people on occassion.

Maybe the religion does not explicitly teach "conversion by the sword", but it does permit violence in instances that are clearly contrary the teachings of Christ or the common view of justice in the West.

Furthermore, though not on the topic of warfare, his marriage to somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 or more wives is troublesome to us - especially given that his fourth wife, A'isha, was six years old at the time of marriage, and nine when the marriage was consummated.

In our minds, sex with a prepubescent child is generally considered repulsive, even when our own priests do such things.

How is Mohammed, peace be upon him, a perfect moral example compared to the poor, celibate, and non-violent witness of Jesus?

I cannot believe that the teachings on war allowing Muslims to kill non-Muslims over an ill defined offense against the religion in the Q'ran come from Allah in any literal sense of being a timeless dictation that came straight from heaven in pure and infallible form as literally applicable in its plainest sense for all times and all places.

To me, if those teachings are to be considered eternal truth, it is an evil and irrational teaching.

If Islam does not teach that, then the way to demonstrate it is by acting as though Islam does not teach that.

If Islam does teach that, or if some Muslims teach that, I feel compelled by the true G-d to say that such teaching is evil if understood as absolute truth.

I am willing to explore the social and economic conditions and factors that encourages people to take the Q'ran's violent passages literally. I do not blame religion alone for terror or war.

At the same time, when dealing with Islam, I am uncertain how to avoid the question that I simply do not agree with what is written in the Q'ran, and I do not admire Mohammed, peace be upon him, the way I admire Jesus.

There are self-defined Muslims, often educated in the West, who do have a sort of historic conscientiousness and ecumenical mind-set that holds fast to Islam as a religion conveying truth, while seeing the Q'ran's references to all of these sorts of jihad in a purely spiritual sense.

They can view the text as more a starting point to understanding Allah, and insist on subsequent developments in their own tradition that support the more spiritual reading of jihad.

And they can be quite "devout" in the sense of living with an outward religiousity surpassing my own less devout friends. These liberal or reform minded Muslims may have memorized the Q'ran in Arabic, stop what they are doing to pray five times a day, and so forth.

Within the Arab world among "devout" Muslims, these "liberals" are often viewed with the same suspicion as "liberals" in Christian tradition are viewed by "devout" but conservative Christians living in the West.

These so-called liberal or reform minded Muslims understand the Q'ran in its historic context as an advance, and accept subsequent advances that permit them to relativize passages implying Muslims are to wage war over the slightest question regarding their religion.

If the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world were comprised overwhelmingly of these liberals or the mystics, between them and the less devout, Islam would not produce any sort of large numbers of terrorists claiming Islam as their inspiration.

There may be some terrorists who claim Islam as their inspiration even if the liberals dominated, just as there are some Christians who shoot abortion doctors claiming inspiration from Christianity.

Liberal Christians often seek to dialogue with liberal Muslims and emphasize to conservative Christians things like that not all Muslims are terrorists.

We want our bothers and sisters in Christ to avoid insulting this form of Islam by reinforcing stereotypes and playing on fears or deliberately trying to hurt Muslim feelings.

And there are times we join with conservative Christians and conservative Muslims to question some of our secular agnostic liberal counter-parts on why raising a family seems to feel like a counter-cultural activity, or on abortion or drug abuse and so forth.

And we remind our Christian brothers and sisters that our hands are not entirely clean of blood. From the crusades, through the inquisitions, through colonialism, to the invasion of Iraq, either Christians or the West have resorted to unjust acts of violence.

And speaking of the invasion of Iraq, I somehow sense that Muslims would be less inclined to kill Christians or Americans if we had spent 300 billion dollars on helping the world's poor rather than on waging war with a sovereign state that had not attacked us and was not connected with terrorism.

In arguing for active non-violence with my fellow Catholics, it seems rather obvious to me that the Gospel calls us to be so busy doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and seeking the state of unceasing prayer that if we did this and met our family obligations, we simply don't have time for war.

Minimally, however, we Christians should remember the golden rule when we speak of Islam.

In a word, we should say nothing of Islam that would be more offensive than we want said of Christianity, and we should acknowledge our own faults in sorrow.

If we must offend in a spirit of fraternal rebuke, we need to be on firm ground in both our reasoning and our conduct.

And I fear that my attempt here to raise some questions could be taken in the spirit of unnecessary offense.

Again, I want to appeal to the "aha moment" of solving a math problem and highlight that the command of Jesus to do to others what you want done to yourself seems to me to be the obvious correct answer to moral questions that applies always and everywhere.

Even when I emphasize my Christian belief that Jesus is G-d become fully human, I am making a claim about humanity - each and every one of us. G-d became human because human nature is worthy of the divine, the center of G-d's attention, the image of G-d with an incomparable dignity.

Christians who take their creed seriously know that we do to each other, we do to G-d.

Yet, for those who deny that Jesus is G-d, and say that G-d is so transcendent that such a thing is impossible, it remains to me obvious that we must presume that all human beings are equal before this transcendent G-d in such a way that the moral demand to treat others as we wish to be treated and to do to nobody what you, yourself dislike are universally applicable.

It is like solving a math equation. The golden rule is self evidently true, no matter who said it or when. Indeed, many people said it before Jesus.

When Pope Benedict XVI hammers a theme of "reciprocity" from the Islam world, he is asking them to follow the golden rule.

Any Muslim, even the liberal, may have great difficulty believing Jesus is G-d, and wants to be able to say to Christians that Jesus is not G-d, and maybe ask the Christian how he or she could cling to such a claim.

In turn, any Christian, even the liberal, may have great difficulty accepting that every word of the Q'ran comes directly from Allah, or that Mohammed, peace be upon him, is a perfect moral example. We want to be able to express our difficulty and even ask how people cling to such claims in certain ways.

We would like to be able to have rational discussions - even respectful debates - about such matters with an agreement that such discussions should never lead to anyone killing the other over mere words.

What we all seek is that sort of "aha moment" where we recognize truth from Allah that simply has to be true - where X could only have one possible answer.

Unfortunately, the entire subject of religion can often be a bit more like calculus than simple arithmetic, because we are dealing with a transcendent God beyond full comprehension.

It may take time and patience to explain our respective positions fully, or to ensure that we fully understand the answers we each give one another when questions are asked.

If the Muslim wants me to understand her or his religion in its best light, bear in mind that the Christian wants the Muslim to understand Christianity in its best light.

So it isn't just a matter of being patient in explaining your own point of view, but being patient in hearing the other point of view.

And it means allowing some room for "honest mistakes" and accepting an apology when it is offered.

This all means that even if you have the solution to X, and feel you are a teacher, you do not kill the student still struggling with the equation.

Anyone who would kill another over religion seems to me to be an less perfect teacher compared to the teacher who patiently explains again another way.

I can judge that even if I do not know the solution for X.

If the teacher claiming to know the solution for X threatens to kill me for getting the wrong answer, I don't want to study with that teacher.

If knowing the solution for X requires adopting the mind-set that the wrong answer is worthy of death, I don't want to bother finding the solution for X. I'd rather live and let live.

As I mull through this sort of thing in prayer, a solution to X emerges in my mind, and I wonder if I am not experiencing something of what prophets really experienced.

True religion cannot ever place a moral obligation upon the true believer in the true G-d to kill another human being.

I ultimately don't care what the Bible, the Q'ran, the Upanishads, the Book of Mormon, various sacred traditions, or any religious text say to the contrary.

If you work miracles and told me G-d commands me to kill, I'd say your miracles come from the devil. If you tell me I must kill another in poetry exceeding the beauty of every book ever written, I will still believe you a false prophet, or one who has heard Allah incorrectly.

If Mohammed, peace be upon him, would never have agreed with me even if alive in our world today, I consider him a lesser prophet or teacher than even myself, much less Jesus, who I consider way above me.

There are examples in Mohammed's life, from what I have read, where he actually was quite permissive towards polytheists, and there is a strong tradition of rational discourse among Muslim scholars. Some ahadith imply Mohammed, himself, peace be upon him, made it clear that inner jihad over the ego is greater than military jihad against non-believers. Can Islam tap its greatest strength and sit with Christians in rational discourse once again?

Could we even entertain the possibility of praying together - or praying along-side of one another? Can we join together on issues where we share common cause, such as refuting atheism rationally, promoting prayer, doing charitable work among the poor, and so forth?

True religion cannot ever place a moral obligation upon the believer to kill another human being.

To put it in prophetic language:

Thus says the Lord G-d; Do not ever under circumstances claim that I commanded you to kill another human being, for the death of a human being is loathsome to me. I hate death so that I will open your graves and have you rise from them. And what you do to others will be done to you. Love one another as I love you. Do good to one another even when threatened with death, and when one of your siblings are threatened with death, seek the means to stop the aggressor that most limits the harm, even to the aggressor, for I hate death, says the Lord G-d.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More From John Allen

In his weekly All Things Catholic, Allen draws a comparison between Pope Benedict and G.K. Chesterton that is quite interesting and seems to be 'spot on'.


John Allen on Pope's Apology to Islam

Allen seems to understand the context of the Holy Father's misunderstood words very well, while also highlighting the sincerity of the Pope's apology.

He also highlights that Pope Benedict does hold a genuinely tougher stance on Islam than Pope John Paul II, more willing to discuss differences than gloss over them, and demanding reciprocity in matters like religious freedom.

Nevertheless, his recent quoting of a medieval texts taken in the wrong context in absolutely no way expresses the Holy Father's genuine thoughts.

To me, it is obvious the Pope did not intend the quote to reflect his own position, but this may not be as obvious to those who don't follow the man's writings or his style like we Catholic bloggers.

I pray his apology will be accepted in the genuine spirit of a humble admission of fault that the pope intends it.


A Very Thoughtful Editorial on Stem Cell Research

The NCR editorial this week is well thought out and covers all the bases remarkably well in such short space.


Feminism in the Heart of Islam

Sister Joan Chittister highlights that teenage girls in Syria are forming madrasas, Islamic schools, for girls as young as five and for girls only.

This is hugely significant and may wind up transforming Islam.

I do not mean to imply that these girls will grow up to be Western style feminists throwing off their hijab and demanding reproductive freedom and the right to become an iman.

I simply mean to say that when a large group traditionally excluded as a group from examining a religious text gains access to that text, new and unanticipated interpretations of the text enter into the tradition.

Sister Joan is right. A revolution is in progress.


Monday, September 18, 2006


Friday, September 15, 2006

Pope UNINTENTIONALLY Offends Muslims

The link above is to an article reporting Muslim offense at a recent lecture given by the Pope at his old stomping grounds as a university professor.

A reader had posted a provisional translation of the lecture in my comboxes a few days ago HERE.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Comprehensive View of Just War and Non-Violence

I've written on the subjects of active non-violence and just war doctrine so many times and approached it from so many different angles that it surprises me how frequent readers seem to still misunderstand key aspects of my point of view.

Though it will take me eleven pages in Word, I am setting out to hit every nuance as best I can in one place here.

I honestly believe that my point of view on these subjects is very close to or exactly the point of view of Pope Benedict, and a rationally defensible point of view according to principles of either revelation or natural law.

In saying this, I do not mean to merely say that I have some "authority" on my side that trumps disagreement, whether it is true or not that Pope Benedict and I are in agreement.

Rather, I intend to convey a sense that I see my point of view on these subjects as a close approximation of the timeless or eternal truth that applies always and everywhere, the way Benedict sees his own views in the context of a Roman Catholic faith that has lasted through the centuries and is widely shared today.

In other words, I do not believe that my point of view on active non-violence and just war is politically motivated, though it certainly has political applications.

At least one frequent reader is instinctively suspicious of claims to eternal truths formulated in the abstract and applied to concrete situations because of what he calls "Nuremburg effect".

Ideologies of the twentieth century have rightly made all of us suspicious of the ways the human mind can become ruthless in imposing an abstract order upon messy reality.

Indeed, the appeal of atheism is often a rejection of Christian fascism, while the repugnance of atheism is in Stalin's brutality outdoing anything done by the Church.

Often, we know right from wrong less as an abstract ideal and more from the situation in which we find ourselves on the ground.

Yet, Christ is recorded in the Gospels as the great simplifier who summed up the entire law and prophets in short and abstract quips: treat others as you want to be treated; love God with your whole heart mind and being, and your neighbor as yourself; love one another as I [Christ] have loved you.

When it comes to active non-violence and just war, I am attempting to formulate principles that apply always and everywhere in the same manner that the golden rule or the great commandments apply always and everywhere.

It surprises me that people are shocked that I not only criticize Bush's war in Iraq, but Clinton's air strikes in the Balkans, or the first Gulf War, or the use of nuclear force in WWII, and so forth.

It seems that the shock occurs when someone thought that I am using abstract logic to merely defend a political point of view.

I have written many times that even if I find myself in disagreement with Pope Benedict on some specific moral questions or non-solemnly defined doctrines of faith such as women's ordination, or the morality of using non-abortificient contraception in marriage, or gay unions, and so forth, I am not a relativist.

I do believe in dogma and absolute truth as a general principle, and simply disagree with him, or fail to fully apprehend the truth he wishes to convey, on some specifics.

Where I disagree with him, I do not intentionally base my disagreement on some secular principle and political motivations, but on what appear to me to areas of doctrine creating cognitive dissonance.

I perceive what seem to me to be internal inconsistencies in his presentation, or what appear to be failures to consider how some other Catholic principle he accepts might apply to the question at hand.

Of course, Benedict may very much feel that we who dissent are failing to consider or accept some other principle he sees as essential to Catholicism.

This does lead us naturally to the question that even if we all accept the general principle that absolute truth exists, maybe our ability to know it or apply it correctly is always suspect. That may sound dangerously close to practical or functional relativism.

Yet, it remains the case that I see it as one of the aspects of the absolute truth that it is difficult to discern.

I am admitting here a degree of epistemological humility.

None of us can individually fully comprehend and know absolute truth infallibly in this life time. Yet, each of us must live and make decisions in concrete history according to our best educated approximation of the truth at a given moment.

We must follow the morally certain dictates of conscience at every moment.

Conscience can err, and therefore we should seek to inform conscience with Church teaching giving it every benefit of the doubt and obeying if there is no reason not to obey.

Yet, at any given moment, we must act according to the dictates of conscience even if conscience conflicts with the Church and seems to demand disobedience to the Church.

Moral certainty does not mean absolute certainty. It means the highest degree of certainty of God's will that I can achieve at a given point in time.

And I may grow and change over time, as might a doctrine still under development.

I may be as convinced and morally certain as I can possibly be in the present moment that my view of active non-violence and just war is an accurate reflection of absolute truth - God's truth, even as I admit that I am a fallible human being who may be morally certain and still wrong!

Yet, to Roman Catholics, if what I lay out does, in fact, seem to be supported by the Pope and the bishops and is consistent with scripture, tradition, and natural law, then it follows that my fallible opinion should be taken with some seriousness by Catholics even if politically inconvenient and unpopular.

While it is true that I am a historically conditioned and even sinful human being capable of holding opinions on Church teaching that are corrupted by some non-Christian influence, the test of this remains the teaching itself.

If what I say seems supported by the Pope, a believeing and practicing Catholic should engage it seriously as not only my own proclivity, but a potential representation of teaching of the Church that may very well be a close approximation of absolute truth.

If a Catholic agrees I am representing Church teaching, and still disagrees with my view, that person should admit he or she is in dissent and come to terms with whether there are Catholic principles that allow such dissent.

In other words, I believe I am accurately representing the teaching of the Church, and one of those teachings that happens to make a great deal of sense to me.

I am writing this for relatively frequent readers, though anyone can follow along. Most of the readers I have in mind are Catholic.

Thus, I am going to forego my usual citations and block quotes of scripture and the CCC to lay this all out once again. I assume you have some familiarity. I will attempt to stick to the language of doctrine, but I am not going to provide "proof texts" so much as allusions.

The first point on just war or any form of the use of deadly force that I want to make is that it is never, under any circumstances, morally obligatory to actively kill a human being.

Just war doctrine does not mean that it is unjust to refuse to fight in a war!

I am not responsible for trying to prevent the next Adolf Hitler in history by killing him before he rises to power, as Rumsfeld argues, and as Weigel, Novak and Neuhaus argued in the past. That's silly.

My fallible mind cannot know who is going to be the next Hitler five years from now. God will not hold me responsible for what is literally impossible to know with even moral certainty, much less absolute certainty.

The commandment to avoid rash judgment prohibits me (or world leaders) from trying to predict the intentions of other people in the distant future. Our focus must be with current actions.

And we are not even morally culpable for the evil another does right now.

To dispel the counter argument I sense brewing in some minds where folks begin to imagine situations such as a serial killer torturing a baby to death right in front of me, I am not morally culpable for what another person does. Period.

The serial killer is guilty of murder - not the innocent bystander.

The only way a bystander is "guilty" is when he shares the desire of the aggressor, or makes himself complicit in some way through immoral cooperation with evil.

In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, it is sufficient to denounce evil actions to absolve one from sin of cooperation with evil.

This does not mean that I will not rightly feel some sort of moral obligation to do something, to stop the serial killer.

Nor am I saying that one would sin if one dealt a deadly blow to this serial killer.

All I am trying to establish here is that I am not under a moral obligation to kill the serial killer.

If I can stop him another way than killing him, or even if I believe in my heart that I can stop him another way and am mistaken, I am acting in a morally licit manner to chose the other way to try to stop him.

There is never an instance when I must kill a human being. Ever.

When we speak of the just use of deadly force, we are never speaking of a moral obligation to kill.

Rather, we are establishing strict and rigorous criteria where killing another human being is not the objectively and intrinsically the grave evil of murder!

This is an important point to emphasize. Where the strict and rigorous conditions that render killing a just act are not present, we do grave evil when we kill a human being.

To do so with full freedom, knowledge and deliberation is the mortal sin of murder. Bear that in mind as you read. This is the basis of a presumption against war.

For the purposes of this post, however, I wish to avoid constantly hammering the distinction between objectively evil acts and the subjective culpability or guilt for sin.

Thus, I will avoid mention of sin, while sticking to the problem of evil actions.

Killing a human being is an evil act where certain strict conditions of double effect are not present. On the flip side, we are never under a moral obligation to kill anyone.

Indeed, our Christian obligation is to cultivate love for all people and to show lavish mercy and forgiveness.

What does this mean?

This means that as Christians, the conditions for the just use of deadly force must be interpreted with a presumption against the use of deadly force.

Think of it this way: To err on the side of non-violence cannot be an evil act, where to err on the side of violence can be gravely evil.

I am not a pacifist, but I do believe in active non-violence, which is distinct and different from pacifism.

What is the distinction?

The pacifist may take the notion that we are not morally responsible for the actions of another person and conclude that he or she should do absolutely nothing to stop another person from doing evil aggressive acts. The pacifist may also develop strategies of life that avoid conflict or retreat from the world as a means of living out a non-violent life.

There are many Christians who hold the pacifist view. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it was often lived out in hermitages and religious life, and it finds expression among Protestants with the Amish. For the purposes of this post, I do not wish to dwell on this option further. To date, none of my readers seem to hold that view.

Active non-violence, on the other hand, does assume that when another person does evil, we are morally culpable to do something to try to stop the aggression.

However, we are not required to do physical violence to stop the aggression. Active non-violence does not avoid conflict or retreat from the world, but engages the aggressor in some non-violent way to attempt to change the behavior.

Using techniques of negotiation, diplomacy, reason, non-violent communication and non-violent psychology, grassroots political activity, international development, boycott and protest, and even literally turning the other cheek, active non-violence seeks various ways and means to change the heart of aggressors by appealing to conscience and removing the underlying grievances leading to war.

Active non-violence has always been part of the Christian tradition, though often as current flowing under the surface. I see aspects of it strongly represented in Francis of Assisi, such as when he tried to dialogue with an Islamic sultan waging war with Christians.

In the twentieth century, both within Christianity, and outside of it in examples such as Gandhi, active non-violence saw some amazing development in its philosophical underpinnings and its practical techniques. Even distinguishing itself from clearly strict pacifism was a major historical development of thought.

Active non-violence has achieved such successes as the independence of India, the fall of Pinochet, the fall of apartheid, and the fall of the Soviet Empire.

We are never under an obligation to do physical violence to another person. We can err on the side of grave evil when we chose to do violence, even to an aggressor.

There has been an amazing development in the principles and practice of active non-violence that make it a more viable option for Roman Catholics than ever. The Church explicitly supports those who renounce violence for the sake of the Gospel.

It is my contention that all Roman Catholics are called upon by God to give more serious consideration to adopting a life-style of active non-violence that adds to the presumption against war.

Yet, the Church also explicitly supports those who do not renounce all violence, so long as the strict and rigorous conditions of legitimate defense are employed always and everywhere that double effect may apply. She also recognizes the right and duty of the state to place an obligation on citizens who do not reject all violence to serve in national defense of the common good in various ways.

In interpreting those conditions that distinguish just uses of deadly force from unjust murder, there remains a presumption against violence that is made all the more urgent by the fact that active non-violence is always a morally licit option.

Just war doctrine has also developed over the 2000 year history of the Church. In saying the doctrine has developed, I mean to imply that what began as a sort of mushy and imprecise idea has sharpened over time.

Distinctions have been made, nuances and caveats added, new situations considered and so forth that we must be cautious in interpreting the tradition. We must not read it anachronistically.

For example, I am reasonably certain that when Aquinas speaks of the just use of military force to disarm an aggressor preemptively, he is speaking of the right of the king to disarm private militias within his own realm.

Today, we would consider this more as a police action, or issue of law enforcement, as distinct from just war doctrine.

In Aquinas' day, I do not believe the distinction between internal law enforcement and defense from external aggression was always as clear and as well thought out as it is to our minds.

In other words, I do not believe that Aquinas was intentionally providing fodder to neoconservative Republicans in 2002 to mount the case for disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction by military force.

Indeed, I hold the opinion Aquinas would consider the neoconservative argument as an absurd rationalization for unjust aggression.

In a similar vein, the vague concept that military force could be used to "right a wrong" likely had applications more appropriate to law enforcement today than to waging wars between nation states.

Even using terminology like "nation states" or "private militias", as I have done, is a little anachronistic. Aquinas lived in an age of city states and feudal fiefdoms and smal geolopitical regions where the entities I am calling "private militias" are the historic forerunners of what might eventually evolve into the Italian mafia.

The point I am emphasizing here is that we need to dig deeper into Aquinas' world view and the historical circumstances under which he wrote to derive the most likely eternal principles he dimly grasped as those principles would actually apply today to the new historical moment.

In other words, I believe it is the same error of the biblical fundamentalist in interpreting scripture anachronistically to take quotations of Aquinas out of historical context to rationalize the invasion of Iraq.

Speaking of biblical fundamentalism, it is also an error to turn to the Old Testament wars of Israel in an anachronistic fashion to derive principles of just war.

Furthermore, in trying to discern the eternal verities contained in Old Testament passages, we Christians must not only try to understand the historical and literary context of the passages in question, but we believe that there is a progressive revelation occurring in the Old Testament preparing the way for Christ.

The Old Testament must be interpreted in light of the New Testament.

Where there seems to be conflict between what is contained in the Old Testament understood in its historical context, and the teaching and example of Christ, we must admit a degree of misapprehension of God's will is occurring even as the eternal truth is being conveyed in some deeper sense.

Maybe Israel was morally right to be disgusted with neighbors who sacrificed their children to Moloch and practiced temple prostitution, even if morally wrong in the ways they expressed that deep disgust through wars of aggression and plunder.

We cannot derive from the Old Testament that there simply is no presumption against initiating war as an eternal verity. That seeming verity must be tested by the revelation of Christ.

I understand that some Jews reach the position of non-violence other ways, and I am addressing Christians - particularly Catholic Christians. We interpret the Old Testament in light of Christ.

It is difficult for many if not most Christians to imagine a situation where it is definitively clear Jesus would employ deadly force against another human being.

Even when just war defenders pull out Jesus' expression of just anger in the temple cleansing, I must point out that not one of the relevant texts say that he struck a human person. His act might be called physically violent in a sense - but the violence does not appear to be aimed at human persons.

This piece of datum alone - our difficulty imagining Jesus acting with deadly force - may reflect the supernatural sense of the faithful, if not natural law itself, that we know in our hearts a strong presumption against killing any human being, even in situations where it might be morally licit if not necessary!

We should be far more focused on cultivating the virtues of Christ than seeking excuses to act less like Christ than he seemed to ever act.

It is often said that just war doctrine originated as a controversial idea of Saint Augustine. The controversial nature of this idea is even more apparent when we examine the context of Augustine's writing supposedly supporting just war.

It is not clear in those writings whether Augustine is arguing that there is such a thing as a just war. He seems to be arguing the finer point that there are sometimes people do evil acts with good motives, and the ends may not justify the means.

In outlining the first jus ad bellum arguments in Church history, Augustine may very well have been arguing that war is evil even when waged with the noblest intentions.

Again, I am emphasizing that when just war doctrinal developments are read in historical context, there is, and always has been, a very strong presumption against the use of deadly force.

This also holds true in official pronouncements regarding the death penalty.

There is steady and constant effort in the tradition not to defend the practice in some absolute sense, but to limit it as much as possible and place morally licit applications of it under the strictest and most rigorous conditions that might even render it practically, if not theoretically, impossible.

We are never under a moral obligation to kill another human being. Ever.

Let us move from history to the present moment.

We have a daunting task set before us if we believe that there are just wars, and we do not personally feel called to totally renounce violence, and we are somehow to understand just war doctrine correctly and communicate it to a pluralistic society based on the Bible and Augustine and Aquinas.

For that very reason, the magisterium has tried to distill what is eternal wisdom from the tradition into categories and language that make sense to the modern ear. We find such teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

When neoconservatives quote Aquinas against the CCC or a papal address to rationalize wars the Popes oppose, I want to be clear that I believe that it is demonstrable that they are taking Aquinas out of context.

I am reasonably certain that Pope Benedict would agree.

In other words, I do not believe that when Pope Benedict suggests just war doctrine may develop to the point where we need to ask if any modern war is morally licit that he sees himself as introducing a new doctrine opposing the tradition.

Far from it. He sees the constant tradition of the Church as having a clear application that would raise the question whether the way wars are fought today can ever be called morally licit.

If I am correct, that means that those who disagree with the Pope are in dissent on a matter of doctrine. Of course, I withhold assent on some issues of doctrine not yet solemnly defined.

So, I am not saying dissent excludes one from the Church - but it needs to be clarified that disagreement with the Pope on just war doctrine is dissent with the Pope on just war doctrine.

In order to understand part of the doctrinal problem Benedict is grappling to convey - and a big part - we must bear in mind that the historical context of almost everything ever written on just war prior to the twentieth century dealt with conflicts fought with swords and clubs and so forth.

I believe that Pope Benedict shares my grave concern - a concern that stirs very strong passion in me and which he expresses in strongly emotional language - that modern warfare seems to inherently involve weapons and tactics that kill innocent people.

Earlier, I stated that the strict and rigorous conditions where deadly force may not be immoral apply to situations where "double effect" is present.

The principle of double effect holds that an act may be taken that has two direct foreseeable results, one intended, and the other unintended.

In close quarters, such as the sadist torturing a baby to death, when an aggressor threatens the life of an innocent human being, one may act in such a way as to stop the aggression as the direct and foreseeable consequence of your action.

Both the practitioner of active non-violence and the practitioner of just war agree that we can act to stop the aggression.

The practitioner of active non-violence may try talk, prayer, throwing his or her own body in the way.

He or she may even simply film the aggressor promising to distribute the images widely in an effort to shame the aggressor into changed behavior.

We might even resort to tossing a net over the aggressor, which is a form of violence, but not deadly.

The practitioner of just war may simply shoot a gun at the deadly aggressor if there appears no more probable way of stopping the aggressor.

In some cases, I won't fault such a person, even if I would not pull a trigger myself.

The intent of the practitioner of just war must not be to kill the aggressor who is killing an innocent human being. The intent is to stop the aggression. Other conditions apply, which we will explore momentarily.

The practitioner of just war cannot throw a grenade at the aggressor, because such an act would not fulfill the intended aim - which is to protect the baby.

The ends do not justify the means. You cannot kill the baby to save the baby. You cannot even kill this baby in order to save future babies from this particular aggressor.

The act of using weapons and tactics in war that have the foreseeable direct result of causing collateral damage weigh very heavily in the presumption against war I have been highlighting throughout this post.

Am I saying, along with Pope Benedict, that all modern warfare is potentially morally illicit?

Yes I am, and with caveats that I think the Pope intends to convey.

It is not that a just war is literally impossible as though all war is intrinsically evil.

If weapons and tactics are used that make collateral damage unlikely as a foreseen consequence, that particular factor weighing heavily in the presumption against war is removed.

Note, there would still remain a presumption against war for all the other reasons that I have outlined, but causing the foreseen death of innocent civilians would not be one of them.

Engaging in an act that directly kills innocent civilians as a foreseen consequence is gravely and intrinsically evil for the exact same reasons the Church says abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research are intrinsically immoral.

Indeed, waging war may be worse for society than merely permitting abortion. Waging a war is more like the state mandating abortion. Our cooperation with evil is increased when the state mandates death.

Intentions do not matter when it comes to killing innocent people.

Claiming you did not "target" the civilian does not let one off the moral hook for engaging in an action where it was foreseeable civilians would be killed.

Jus ad bellum does not excuse causing collateral damage by killing non-combatants.

And trying to redefine "civilian" such that every member of the enemy nation is a combatant is silly. A baby is never a combatant. If you have reason to believe dropping a bomb could kill babies, you cannot drop that bomb.

If waging a just war, one must use weapons and tactics where killing babies would truly seem unlikely.

In considering jus ad bellum questions, one must weigh how likely one is to succeed at war without using tactics that have a high probability of causing collateral damage.

I am now ready to explore jus ad bellum questions and it should be clear by now these conditions should be interpreted with a presumption against war that has a practical application of meaning the conditions very rarely apply.

There are several types of use of deadly force addressed in the CCC that are distinguished in ways Aquinas had not imagined.

For the purposes of this post, I do not want to deal with law enforcement (which can be just) or the death penalty (which is immoral today in practice, if not in theory).

There are two types of wars described in the CCC itself, and another in the writings of John Paul II. The three types of war are as follows:

1) A legitimate defense by military force of the nation from external threat.
2) A humanitarian intervention.
3) A just revolution against a despotic regime.

The same conditions seem to apply all three types of war.

First, a just war must be a defensive use of military force.

Interpreted with the presumption against war, the language used by the Church seems to clearly indicate that aggression by the enemy has already begun and is lasting, grave, and certain.

I do not believe that even a first strike of preemption against a tangible and imminent threat that has not yet struck is permitted when read with the proper presumptions against war that applies to modern warfare.

Given that we are never obligated to kill anyone, and active non-violence is always an option that is becoming a well developed tactic, we must wait to see if the tank driver will be stopped by the lone man standing in Tiananmen Square, so to speak.

We cannot wage war a moment prior to the non-violent resister or innocent civilian being killed. We are not morally culpable for the death of that innocent resister.

The aggressor is morally culpable for that!

Our responsibility prior to actually being attacked is to do everything we can to non-violently prevent war from starting - including active non-violence.

This leads to the second criteria of a just war: all other options must have been practically exhausted and war is truly a last resort. We can never say this until aggression has begun, and not a moment prior.

There must be a reasonable chance of success (no suicide war), using proportionate reason weighing the outcomes of war against the outcome of not going to war - with a very heavy weight applied to the question of collateral damage.

Finally, each type of war must be authorized by the legitimate authority responsible for the common good to wage the type of war in question.

Legitimate defense by a nation must be declared by those with authority for the common good of the nation. For example, the state of Texas cannot declare war on Mexico without federal Congressional authorization.

A humanitarian intervention must be authorized by an international body responsible for the international common good. Currently, the United Nations is the only internationally recognized institution with such authority.

The Church and I recognize the weaknesses of the United Nations and its failure to assume responsibility for the international common good in some instances where many wish it would do more to stop unjust aggression.

Even with its weaknesses, the United Nations remains the only type body that currently meets the criteria of being the type of body that can authorize a humanitarian intervention.

Perhaps NATO can authorize an intervention within NATO's domain of sovereignty, but for global purposes, the U.N. is the only show in town.

Thus, the presumption against war in dealing with a crisis like Lebanon or the Sudan demands that global citizens work to resolve the crisis peaceably, or, if believing a just military defense is needed, pressure the United Nations to authorize it.

Without that authorization, we must presume that military intervention, even in a humanitarian crisis, is not morally licit. We must work through other means while continuing to pressure the U.N.

When an internationally recognized authority does sanction a humanitarian intervention, the action must be a last resort after non-violence has failed, and it must be limitted in scope and precise in its aims and in accord with international laws.

In a just revolution it is less clear who may authorize the war, though it remains the teaching of the Church that the authority must be recognized by the people experiencing unjust aggression from a despotic regime.

Where is the infamous room for "prudent judgment" among officials responsible for declaring war?

After an attack, it is not absolutely necessary to wage war, and the scale of war must be prudently determined.

For example, does the defense begin when an enemy declares war, or after someone is killed? If the latter, do we mean the first citizen is killed? The second? Many? Do we send massive numbers of troops, or make a small defensive strike in the hope of sending a calibrated message? etc...

Prudence is not about the principles of just war, but their specific application once it is clear all strict and rigorous conditions have met minimum standards to overcome the strong presumption against war.

It seems clear to me that agression must have already begun to even begin to say the conditions for legitimate defense have begun to be met.

In just defense of a nation, the nation or its formal allies must be attacked and the defending nation must limit response to the attacker and its formal allies.

In the case of humanitarian intervention, there must be agression in progress against people - as with genocide or a brutal repression by a despot.

In the case of revoution, you must be revolting against a despot who has already made grave attacks on his own people.

All other conditions must also be met, but the primary condition of a just war is that it is a defensive use of military force against aggression already underway.

Once we move past jus ad bellum questions, we do need to pay attention to jus en bello questions.

Torture is intrinsically evil. Deliberately using weapons and tactics with the foreseeable consequence of killing civilians is intrinsically evil, and so forth. I won't dwell on this topic.

I have outlined the general principles now in great depth. How do these principles apply to America and our current war on terror and foreign policy?

America is not dealing with issues of a just internal revolution.

As much as many of us dislike the Bush Administration, we are not under the sort of direct attack from our own government that makes just revolution seriously thinkable.

We already saw that the United States is not the appropriate body to initiate a humanitarian intervention by its own authority. We must use our position in the United Nations to mount such interventions, or forgo them.

This leaves us with just defense of our own nation, which I will grant as extending to direct attacks on our formal allies.

Unless we are attacked by the party with whom we wage war, we do not have just cause to go to war. That was the critical issue with the invasion of Iraq.

Iraq had not attacked us or our allies at the time of invasion. There was no evidence of involvement between Iraq and Al Queda.

The question of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs was not an American concern providing just cause for war.

If we were concerned about this, we could work through the United Nations or work through other non-violent means to convince Iraq to disarm, but we could not invade for this reason.

Only aggression in progress justifies military response. There is no other just cause for war.

Those who argued that the 2003 invasion was a continuation of the First Gulf War made the best effort at true just war thinking - except that the First Gulf War was not between the United States and Iraq.

That was a U.N. intervention, and the U.N. considered the first war over and did not authorize the second invasion.

And there remain questions about the way the First Gulf War led to the death of hundreds of thousands of civilains.

Only a direct attack justifies a nation in declaring war.

This remains true with Iran.

We cannot attack Iran in any way shape or form apart from the U.N. even if we are morally certain that they actually possess or are in the process of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Only when and if they attack us or our formal allies can we mount a legitimate defense. Period.

America has made mistakes in war from an unjust revolution (King George wasn't killing us prior to the revolt), to carpet bombing Dresden, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Clinton's uses of air and missile strikes where there was no attack on the United States.

With Afghanistan, the Taliban government sided openly with Al Queda who had attacked us killing innocent civilians.

We had just cause for that war, presuming we could overcome the issue of potential collateral damage.

How do we overcome the presumption against war we hold due to the fact that modern warfare seems to inherently involve collateral damage as a condition for success?

I would answer this by saying that even with modern weaponry, it is not inherently the case that war must involve collateral damage - and I am not referring to so-called "smart bombs" as an out clause for modern war. They are not.

The United States is a large enough nation with advanced enough technology where we can place sufficient force on the ground to entice aggressors to lay down their arms voluntarily.

We shy from using sufficient ground force to deter agressors from fighting back because technology allows us to cave into our fear of death.

We cause collateral damage to save our own skins!

To use a different example than Afghanistan, if the U.N. authorizes American intervention in the Sudan, 140,000 of our troops could easily stand down the ill equipped and poorly trained janjaweed - probably without firing a shot.

If the enemy refuses to voluntarily stop aggression or disarm, as would have always been more likely with the muhajadeen, taliban and al Queda forces in Afghanistan, large ground force can wage a war that is less likely to cause collateral damage than air strikes and missiles - even if so-called smart bombs.

In order for America to have sufficient troop levels to forgo the use of heavy shock and awe air strikes and missile launches, I believe that we need to institute a draft.

Yet, I have stated all along that active non-violence is becoming a highly developed and viable option and alternative to war that every Roman Catholic could consider as a personal choice.

How do we square the desire to see more Catholics renounce all violence with a draft?


You make something like the Peace Corps an option for fulfilling the duty of conscription, and you make it foreign policy that we always send Peace Corp troops prior to using military force.

The Bible says we can conquer good by doing evil, and my basic attitude is that we should be so busy with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, prayer, and meeting family obligations that we have little time for war. A Peace Corps draft allows for this sort of life-style.

I would take the Peace Corp option.

My own biological brother, who served in the Navy for twenty years, would more likely take the military option.

Catholicism currently allows both choices in its teaching if the option were merely available.

And Catholicism demands that those who follow my brother's choice follow just war doctrine very strictly.

If just war doctrine is not adhered to strictly, the soldiers risk comitting murder!

Why have I said things like that Pat Buchanan is the only politician advocating just war principles, even though I think he is a nut on many issues?

Buchanan holds a sort of principle that could be described as "fortress America" - an isolationist view of how American military might should be used.

Buchanan is a Catholic but no pacifist, nor even an advocate of active non-violence like myself.

However, for those who do not chose pacifism or active non-violence as a way of life, his is the next closest option to true just war doctrine.

Pat does not believe in a weak military, because a strong military has a deterrent effect. I acknowledge that when active non-violence doesn't seem to produce results, deterrence is the next best thing.

Indeed, while active non-violence ultimately and primarily aims to change the behavior of aggressors by appealing to conscience, it often works because the aggressor can imagine the more violent alternatives.

In actually using that strong force for more than deterrence, Pat Buchanan and his paleoconservative type actually have a strong presumption against actual war. He pretty much would use it exactly as I advocate - only as a defense against direct attack.

He may not share my concerns entirely about collateral damage once we are attacked, but if we avoid war, it is sort of a non-issue. Where we may squabble is in producing weapons of mass destruction for deterrent purposes. Yet, many paleocons prefer conventional force to WMDs.

The other thing I like about Buchanan's otherwise nuttiness is that when it comes to the danger of foreign entanglements and the pitfalls of taking on things like nation building, Buchanan provides more "practical" reasons explaining how my abstract principles actually turn out to be "enlightened self interest".

Nation building, as opposed to an intervention to prevent a humanitarian crisis already in progress, is really a futile exercise.

Buchanan also questions all the ways we wind up getting too entangled in messy situations that cannot realistically be resolved by military force.

He puts dollars and cents around it, appeals to the American spirit, finds the best historical analogies, and counts every soldier unnecessarily killed to drive home the emotional cost.

At this point, I sense that some readers who had followed my arguments up to Buchanan's isolationist military policy are beginning to think I may have contradicted myself in some ways.

After all, I stated that if a humanitarian intervention is appropriate, the United Nations could authorize it, and America should help with ground troop support.

Buchanan would never go along with that!

But recall, I also said that in every kind of war, we interpret the application with a presumption against war and an awareness that killing human beings is never, ever, morally obligatory.

What I am emphasizing here is that if you chose not to renounce violence entirely, you must go through the United Nations to wage a humanitarian war.

Whether neocon Republican or non-peacenik Democrat, wars that are not the result of direct attack must be sanctioned by international authority.

As for me, I am not convinced military solutions are the only solutions to these types of crisis, and I want to put more effort into preventing the crisis state of affairs.

Thus, I want America using its Peace Corps abroad, while the military protects our shores at home.

I want the international community to promote peace and international development and human rights, but gernerally with non-violent means.

At this point, you may be thinking that I just said Buchanan was right that nation building is futile, so why am I suggesting Peace Corp volunteers can prevent a humanitarian crisis from developing?

I do not believe in nation building if it means attempting to mold another culture into the image of the United States at a macro level from above.

Change of an entire culture does not work well when it comes from the top down. It works better if it bubbles up from the bottom.

I do not believe the primary task of a Peace Corps is to change the governments of other nations.

I wrote on this at great length before, and I have been writing too much already.

To sum it up briefly, our efforts at international development must generally take a micro-economic approach.

Rather than trying to change a regime, we should seek to change the life of a family, or a small village, etc,....

Long range, I do believe that if we help those in the most dire need, that will have a transformative effect on other cultures.

We can also spread the concepts of active non-violence at the grassroots level so that people in other nations learn non-violent ways to resolve local conflicts, and then carry lessons learned to more macro change.

This allows change in the other cultures in ways that are more continuous with their own traditions than Americans dictating how to run the government and economy from above.

Of course, this all depends on the Peace Corps having adequate people power, financial resources, and training to work effectively.

A draft helps ensure that, and funds that currently are spent on weapons of mass destruction could be spent on this more moral option that focuses on people power for maintaining both a strong Peace Corps and strong military.

In other words, if Buchanan gave a liberal like myself a better Peace Corps than we have and the freedom to use federal monies in international development, I will give him a strong defense of our borders at home as long as it is never used prior to an actual attack - and he would deliver because he understands how it is in our best selfish interest to follow just war principles very strictly.

I am not campaigning for Buchanan, by the way. On issues like gays, multiculturalism, and so forth, he's a nut, IMHO. Besides, he ain't runnin'.

I am merely using him as a prominent paleoconservative, as oppossed to neoconservative, to highlight a conservative point I happen to like.

Let's return to Afghanistan.

We had just cause for war, and if sufficient troops were on the ground to reasonably believe collateral damage could be limited to no foreseen damage, how would the war play out?

We'd probably have our military troops home by now, because we would not be trying to rebuild a country that attacked us.

They would go in with one mission: Break up Al Queda and capture Osama Bin Laden alive if possible, or kill him if necessary under double effect.

When the job is done, they come home with no side ventures in Iraq unless and until Iraq attacks us, or is proven to be an ally of a party that has attacked us.

The message to the entire Arab world would have been crystal clear: you attack us, and we will get you. Leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone.

That's a far cry from the message that we are coming to spread the American way of life to you poor Muslim slobs who can't build your own countries.

If we want to help the Afghans rebuild, and they want our help, we send in the Peace Corps.

Any military presence that we keep in Afghanistan would have the sole mission to protect American Peace Corps volunteers if the Afghans accept it.

Anyone who wants a larger military operation for the purpose of some other type of grander nation building such as promoting democracy, go through the United Nations.

The importance of gaining United Nations' support for any larger mission than defense against attack is that it adds international credibility to whatever is being done.

If we are not defending ourselves from direct attack, have not been asked for Peace Corps help, and do not have U.N. support, the best thing to do is stay home.

That sends the clearest message that we are not out to colonize or take over oil reserves or anything of the sort.

I don't want to go into all the nuances of just law enforcement, but restrained and cooperative law enforcement may be used against terrorists when they are operating outside of a nation formally siding with and supporting an organization like Al Queda.

What do we do today now that Bush has taken us down paths so far from everything I describe?

We work step by painful step to responsibly disengage from Iraq and get back to what we really should be.

This includes trying to right the wrongs we have done recently, and leading up to 9/11. It also means being more involved in global economic justice and development.

The saddest thing about the war in Iraq, and what was most infuriating, is that the war was clearly unjust, and the negative outcome we are seeing today was so very predictable three years ago.

It was predicted by paleocons and peaceniks alike, not to mention quite a few military leaders!

But alas, according to the Biblical notion of justice, we shold expect to sow as we reap. If we do injustice, we pay a price for it.

As one reader frequently points out, maybe we need to work harder as Christians at cultivating virtue that will serve as an antidote to focus on how to simply avoid evil.

Recently, I wrote on the importance of prayer for peace, explaining that true for prayer for peace should move us to heart-wrenching cries of anguish and literal tears on behalf our enemies even before we decide to wage wars.

I wish to make one last point specifically on the war on terror.

We are in an ideological clash with what is called radically militant jihadist Islam - a group of people who are a minority of larger Islam who believe that God does want certain people to kill other people.

At the very root of all my thinking on this subject is the fundamental theological axiom that the true God never morally obliges anyone to kill another human being under any circumstance, and generally does not look too favorably on any kind of killing.

I believe that anyone - absolutely anyone - who thinks that God places a moral obligation to kill a human being on us is worshiping a false god - whether that person is Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, or whatever.

Those who interpret just war doctrine in such a way as to imply we must kill people are bordering on or comitting idolatry!

If we Christians acted as if it were true that we are never morally obliged to kill, and usually a mortal sin to kill, I believe that our actions would appeal to moderate and reform minded Muslims to recognize that the Allah they worship is more like our God than Bin Laden's idol.

In other words, waging war by strict just war principles interpreted with a strong presumption against war (including the en bello considerations I haven't covered such as refusing to use torture), helps win the battle for minds and hearts and helps marginalize idolatrous people.

Is everything I just wrote promoted by any political party today?


Why take it seriously then?

Because if I am right that the principles I have outlined here represent eternal and timeless truths as those principles correctly apply to what America can and should be, then we need a new political option on foreign policy.

That can begin as soon as upcoming elections.

I am trying to help anyone who cares to listen to imagine an alternative.