Thursday, May 31, 2007

Renewing American Leadership: by Barack Obama

I first ran across this article today on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish.

Sullivan extracts a number of quotations that present Obama as hawkish, and defends that position against Jerome a Paris' use of the same quotations on Daily Kos.

Sullivan states that Obama's hawkishness appeals to him, because it shows an awareness of the threats in the world.

Paris is frightened by it, and believes there is an underlying American paranoia that causes us to act unjustly abroad with the consequence of becoming a target for terrorists.

I am an advocate of active non-violent who radically suggests a complete reversal of priorities in our federal discretionary spending.

I propose that we redirect the exact amount we spend on military into poverty alleviation and international development, and the amount that currently is spent on poverty alleviation and international development is what we should spend on the military.

Thus, I am sympathetic to Paris' critique of Obama's proposals.

That said, I am also believing Roman Catholic who admits the possibility, at least in theory, of a just war if non-combatants can be truly made immune.

In my mind, the 2003 invasion of Iraq does not even come close to meeting the conditions of a just war outlined by the Church, and I am in very good company saying that.

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, and before and after the 2003 invasion, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger stated that it was "obvious" from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that the invasion did not meet just war conditions.

My own preference would be that the president practiced active non-violent conflict resolution and supported international development as a way of preventing war and terrorism.

Should these techniques fail, my preference would be active non-violent resistance to evil aggression instead of resorting to military solutions.

Nevertheless, if the president would simply restrain the use of military force to the strict and rigorous conditions of just war doctrine, I would not fault him, nor would I fault Catholics who defend such a military policy.

When would Obama use military force?

Enhancing our military will not be enough. As commander in chief, I would also use our armed forces wisely. When we send our men and women into harm's way, I will clearly define the mission, seek out the advice of our military commanders, objectively evaluate intelligence, and ensure that our troops have the resources and the support they need. I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened.

We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability -- to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities. But when we do use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others -- as President George H. W. Bush did when we led the effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. The consequences of forgetting that lesson in the context of the current conflict in Iraq have been grave.
Assuming every effort is made to respect non-combatant immunity, this is just war doctrine folks.

The Bush doctrine of unilaterally and preemptively "destroying threats before they materialize" is not just war doctrine - not even close.

A nation may act unilaterally - but only in self-defense against agression underway against the nation acting unilaterally: "whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened."

When we go to war for any other reason, even to "confront mass atrocities", we cannot do so unilaterally and claim we are operating within the context of just war doctrine.

Here's a quote from the late, great John Paul II in his January 1, 2000 Message for the celebration of World Youth Day to back up that Obama's position on wars beyond self-defense is Catholic just war doctrine:
Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defense prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor. These measures however must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and, in any event, never left to the outcome of armed intervention alone.

The fullest and the best use must therefore be made of all the provisions of the United Nations Charter, further defining effective instruments and modes of intervention within the framework of international law. In this regard, the United Nations Organization itself must offer all its Member States an equal opportunity to be part of the decision-making process, eliminating privileges and discriminations which weaken its role and its credibility. (emphasis added)
So, Obama is not a pacifist, nor an advocate of active non-violence like myself. Instead, he advocates Roman Catholic just war doctrine, even though he isn't a Catholic.

Further, Obama does share some of my view on the means of preventing terrorism and war. Here is the key passage:
People around the world have heard a great deal of late about freedom on the march. Tragically, many have come to associate this with war, torture, and forcibly imposed regime change. To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.

Citizens everywhere should be able to choose their leaders in climates free of fear. America must commit to strengthening the pillars of a just society. We can help build accountable institutions that deliver services and opportunity: strong legislatures, independent judiciaries, honest police forces, free presses, vibrant civil societies. In countries wracked by poverty and conflict, citizens long to enjoy freedom from want. And since extremely poor societies and weak states provide optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism, and conflict, the United States has a direct national security interest in dramatically reducing global poverty and joining with our allies in sharing more of our riches to help those most in need. We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. Such states would also have greater institutional capacities to fight terrorism, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health-care infrastructures to prevent, detect, and treat deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and avian flu.

As president, I will double our annual investment in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012 and ensure that those new resources are directed toward worthwhile goals. For the last 20 years, U.S. foreign assistance funding has done little more than keep pace with inflation. It is in our national security interest to do better.
I am not endorsing Obama.

Personally, I like Kucinich's idea of a Department of Peace and his more radical embrace of non-violence better than Obama's approach. Furthermore, $50 billion in foreign aid by 2012 is chump change compared to the $700 billion we spend on the military today.

Moreover, there are many other issues to consider in voting: abortion, health care, the death penalty, the economy, and so on.

My point is less to endorse Obama, per se, as to clarify the difference between true just war doctrine and the distortion of the doctrine embraced by the neoconservatives who have been running this country for the last seven years with lots of Catholic support - and far too many Catholics wrongly accepting Bush's war doctrine as consistent with authentic Church doctrine.

The popular tide is changing as we see what is unfolding in Iraq, but many otherwise staunch Roman Catholics still seem confused about what a just war really looks like.

Just war doctrine looks, feels, smells, tastes and sounds more like Obama's approach than like Bush's immoral, illegal, unnecessary, ineffective, and counterproductive approach.


Educating Rudy

A Ron Paul supporter states the following while compiling a reading list for Rudy Giuliani:

"In the second Republican Presidential debate of 2007, Rudy Giuliani called Ron Paul's assertion that U.S. foreign policy was part of the reason we were attacked on 9/11 "absurd." In a press conference Paul gave on May 25, Paul presented Giuliani a reading list of books to better understand the consequences of U.S. foreign policy. This is a list of those books."
The reading list would actually be good for all the presidential candidates.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cinton Leads Dems, but Obama Would Take General Election

It's way to early to put any trust in political polls, but this strikes me as interesting.

According to a May 23 Zogby release, a poll of only Democrats puts Hillary Clinton ahead of Barack Obama.

However, when polling the general population, Barack Obama beats all candidates, including Clinton and all of the leading Republicans.



Friday, May 25, 2007

Congress Caves in to a Bully

Congress sent President Bush a new Iraq funding bill yesterday that lacked troop withdrawal deadlines demanded by liberal Democrats, but party leaders vowed it was only a temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops....

...In an anguished floor speech, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a longtime war opponent, said he would reluctantly support the spending bill. "We do not have it within our power to make the will of America the law of the land," Durbin said.

America was born out of a people's revolt against King George, and we put Democrats in office in 2006 to fight tooth and nail against King George today!

Voters understand that if King George had vetoed another war funding bill with a timeline, it would be King George - not Congress - who would be morally responsible for what happens to the troops!

Yes. We need to support our troops - and we need to end the war, and control of the purse ends the war.

Legislaters are elected to make the will of America the law of the land!

If you don't do what we elected you to do, you have no right to be in office - and you will not be if you keep caving in to King George.

Furthermore, it's not just America's democracy at stake here. The Nation reports the following:
The majority of Iraqi parliamentarians have signed a draft bill that would establish a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. Iraqi politicians are responding to popular sentiment in their country, as reflected by polls that show 65 percent of Iraqis want the occupation to end. Would that American politicians were as responsive to public opinion here; a recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 64 percent of Americans want out.
What ticks me off about this is not my own personal opinion about time-lines. Heck, my time-line goes back to March of 2003, or even back to 1991.

There has not ever been a day that I thought American troops should be in Iraq in my entire life.

I'm not arguing the merits or the demerits of time-lines here.

What steams me about this vote is that it isn't just my opinion being trampled on. I'm used to my personal opinions being a minority opinion.

What pisses me off is that the democrats are basically saying that they know the vast majority wants a timeline, they agree with time-lines in principle, but they just can't do it because big bad powerful King George won't let them even if he has to resort to getting more people killed if they try.


This is a democracy. Stand up to this big bully!

Call his bluff.

Clinton and Obama voted against this bill, though there was little real leadership to do what the people put democrats in office to do.

Be on notice dems - you've been screwing up on how you deal with abortion for decades, which pissed off enough voters to get Bush elected in 2004 by a hair, and now you're screwing up on war, which will piss the rest of us off.

You don't stand a chance in hell in 2008 if you don't develop some back-bone and fight tooth and nail - to the death (figuratively) - against this tyrant who has been running our country for the last 7 years.

Fight him on everything that has anything to do with Iraq. Fight, fight, fight.

Impeach the King if you have to. You certainly have grounds for it with this guy.

Stand up against him over and over. Let him veto you. Invite him to do it. Dare him to do it, and politically destroy him if he does.

If he knocks you down, stand back up and look him in the eye, and say "WE - the people of America - will not be bullied!"

That's what you were put in office to do.


The Pope's Communication Paradox

John Allen's commentary on the Pope's communication style is spot on.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

An Atheist Makes a Record Gift to a Catholic Archdiocese

Separately, just last week, I met a man who has worked for twelve years with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. He states he is an agnostic who never goes to church.

I asked him why he worked for CCHD, and he stated he likes the work they do, and the principles of Catholic social justice teaching - which he can articulate quite well.

It just goes to show you that there is something to this whole notion that some of the Church's teaching are based on a sort of natural law written on every human heart and discernible through natural reason without the aide of revelation.


What is the Difference Between Affect and Effect?

This is real break from theology and politics. I just want to vent my own little bit of frustration at something entirely trivial.

After a brief argument in a meeting this morning, I googled the difference between affect and effect, and am frustrated by the results, because it doesn't settle the question I have.

It seems that everyone writing on the subject on the internet agrees that there is a definitional difference between the two words, but the tendency is to make a blanket rule on when to use each word based on its part of speech.

If a verb, use affect. If a noun, use effect.

It is suggested that we can remember this easy formula by recalling that affect starts with "a" as does "action", and a verb is an action.

Further, "affect" seems to be used to mean to influence in the sense of causing an effect - implying no difference in the meaning, when there used to be a difference in meaning.

That's not the right way to discern the difference, if you ask me.

Every site admits that there are rare instances where effect can be a verb, and affect a noun. the real difference between the words is definitional.

The two words have a different definition in my mind, and it seems to me that we ought to preserve that difference, if we can, so that we can convey the difference when we need to do so.

Of course, there is a side of me that buys into the whole linguistic approach of Noam Chomsky that discerns what language means empirically - by how people actually speak and use words, rather than by prescription.

Words do change meaning over time. "Beads" no longer refers to prayers as it did in Chaucer's day. "Meat" no longer refers to all food, including bread, as it did in the King James Bible.

Maybe "affect" is on its way to entirely loosing its original meaning, and I'm the last english speaker on earth clinging to the old definition.

Nevertheless, there are times in my own writing where I chose to use "effect" over "affect" or vice-a-versa because I wish to communicate something.

Here's what started the brief "argument", if you want to call it that.

I'm sitting in a project planning meeting where we are discussing a new template for project initiation. Part of the template, the way it is currently written, requires that we identify the "affected" areas of our organization.

I think it should be the "effected" areas of our organization, and I said so, admitting I am nitpicking.

The whole room said almost all at once, "No. It's a verb. It should be 'affect'."

I dropped the subject.

Affect, as a verb, does have a primary dictionary definition of "to influence or effect change".

However, the secondary definition is "to act on the emotions, touch, or move". It can also have a tertiary definition that means to "attack or infect, as a disease" such as "Rheumatic fever can affect the heart".

As a noun, it is a "feeling or emotion, especially manifested by facial expression or body language" with what is called an "obsolete" secondary defintion of "a disposition or tendency".

The way I try to remember this is that "affect" is the root word of "affectionate", and "effect" is the word in "cause and effect".

When we speak of "affect" as influencing something, it influences feelings - or influences "affect" - having something of an emotional connotation.

To say, "He is an effective speaker" is not the same as saying "He is an affective speaker".

The former means that ideas are communicated clearly. The act of using words cause the desired effect of conveying an idea from one mind to the other. I may understand the speaker perfectly, and think he is full of shit.

The latter conveys the idea that the words influence a change in feeling. It isn't just that he communicates clearly. He communicates persuasively! He makes me feel something I would not otherwise feel.

To cause an effect is simply to set off a chain of events. To cause an affect is to influence a change of heart.

To effect something is to change it or set off causes that make certain things happen.

Effect can also have the connotation of influence, even with changing feelings and impressions, but in a much weaker sense.

To affect something is to influence the way people feel, where "something" refers to a group of people, or to the feeling being affected in the person or people.

Despite what the web sites say, in general, I think "effect" is the proper verb for most situations, even for describing the act of influencing people.

"Affect" is a strong way of implying that the effect in question changes affections. It should be reserved for making this strong implication of a change in affect.

Thus, I don't think it makes sense to speak of "affected" areas in an organization like a secular for-profit corporation.

In initiating a project, we are not trying to influence those areas - persuade them - cause a change of heart in the people in those areas.

We are effecting those areas - taking actions that will cause an effect, no matter how well this effect is emotionally received, if any emotions are involved at all.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rove's Ex-Aide Will Talk If Granted Immunity

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Susan Ralston, a former top assistant to President Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, is willing to tell Congress what she knows about contacts between White House officials and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- but only if she's granted immunity from prosecution, her lawyer has told congressional investigators.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Another Matt Talbot Post

Matt tells great and moving stories about growing up poor and his observations of poverty throughout his life.

This one tackles discipline of children.

I have only known a hand-full of people my own age who were raised without ever having been spanked. Every single one of that hand-full of people, I met in seminary - the kindest people you'd ever want to meet.

On the flip side, I've worked in prisons and inner-cities and so forth, and one thing I notice is that a good number of criminals have been disciplined pretty damn severely by their elders.

Of course, I was spanked, and I think I turned out allright. But as a parent, I cannot fathom how an adult ever feels justified hitting a child.

In my mind, even if physical discipline worked to curb behavior, it seems morally wrong for a big person to strike a little person.

But aside from that, I have absolutely evidence that I can draw from my own life experience that hitting a child has any benefit over not hitting a child.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Grinding My Axe About Judges

The Commonweal editors say the following about the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision to uphold the partial birth abortion ban:

Making Carhart even more complicated, however, is that the decision further embeds the principles of Roe in the Court's jurisprudence. Like Casey, this opinion strongly reaffirms a woman's fundamental constitutional right to an abortion, even as it seems to reinterpret the scope of Roe's stipulation that the state has a legitimate interest in regulating access to late-term abortions as long as such regulation does not impose an undue burden.
Pro-lifers, myself included, were pleased with the decision. Yet, few of us stop to think about the point that this decision did uphold the principles of Roe, as it should.

In the past, I have argued that any ruling that ultimately chips away at, or overturns Roe v. Wade must uphold precedent - the principle of stare decisis.

I've taken it on the chin from various pro-lifers who reject the principle of stare decisis, who argue that we need "orginalist" or "strict constructionalist" judges. They want judges who do not "legislate from the bench", and will reverse the direction of the court and overturn precedent.

They seem not to mind if a ruling overturning precedent is based almost entirely on the judges personal moral convictions, so long as a sort of fundamentalist and literalist reading of the constitutional text can lead to the desired judicial outcome.

I agree that judges should not "legislate from the bench". That's why we have a legislature. That's also why I argue that reducing abortions is a matter for the legislature, not judges!

Personally, I don't like fundamentalism, whether it is used as an approach to read the Bible or the CCC, or whether it is used as a way to read the constitution of the United States of America.

Taking text out of historical context and ignoring developments within an established tradition of textual interpretation is simply a poor way to handle texts. It gives too much power to individuals to do what is called "proof texting" to impose personal biases on the population at large.

I have argued on this blog that I would dance for joy if Roe were overturned, but I did not think a judge should ever be put on the bench who flat out denied that stare decisis is important. In stating this, I took a beating from pro-lifers for saying this.

During Justice John Roberts' confirmation hearings, in response to questions about stare decisis, he stated that he would introduce no "shock to the system". I stated that this is exactly what I mean, and I still took a beating.

I stated repeatedly that there appear to me to be ways that Roe can be chipped apart over time by presenting good cases to the court that exploit weaknesses in the reasoning of Roe and allow a continued development of new precedents.

I drew an analogy to the development of doctrine, demonstrating how the Church developed its understanding of salavation outside of the visible Catholic Church between Unum Sanctum and Vatican II.

So forgive me for "grinding my axe", but the recent decision to uphold the partial birth abortion ban does exactly what I said!

I confess, I did not see the way to do this with the partical birth abortion ban, per se, even though I am certainly against partial birth abortion. The way the Justices found is described by Commonweal as follows:
..., the majority deferred to the determination made by Congress - one Ginsburg scathingly dismissed - that there was little medical evidence that "partial-birth abortion" is ever necessary to protect a woman’s health. At the same time, however, the decision left room for a future challenge to the law should a specific case be brought forward establishing that the procedure is medically necessary to protect a woman’s health.
I am not a lawyer, as I've said many times. The nitty gritty specifics of how to go about chipping away at Roe while respecting precedent sometimes elude me or cannot be anticipated by me. I'm not trained for that.

My main beef with some of my fellow pro-lifers is not that they want to overturn Roe, or may be trained lawyers who see a path to chip away at it.

My main beef is that there seems to be an attitude among some, especially fellow non-lawyers, that Supreme Court Justices ought to be chosen like elected officials based on their personal religious beliefs and personal political opinions. It's as though they have to take a stand on individual political issues to be accepted.

Presidential elections then turn into an election for judges, instead of an election for the executive.

That's hogwash. A judge ought to be selected on precisely the opposite grounds many of these pro-lifers suggest. The judge should be chosen for her or his ability to set personal bias aside and use the text of the constitution as interpreted in American judicial tradition as objectively as possible.

As much as it irks me, Roe was decided based on legally valid reasoning within our tradition of jurisprudence. To suggest it is legally valid does not mean it is morally good. I am merely saying our laws do lend themselves to this interpretation.

Only where judges discerne that there is objectively room for more than one interpretation according to this method that respects precedent, which may be quite often, should the judge rely on his personal moral senses and a sort of intuitive sense of the spirit of the founders to discerne and decide between various valid interpretative options.

I'm not suggesting that personal character doesn't matter in selecting judges. We do not want judges who accept bribes, for example. Yet, personal character also means being able to transcend personal politics to fullfill the role of the judge with fairness, equity, and as much objectivity as can be humanly mustered.

What this means is simply that no president should be elected because he is going to put a man or woman on the bench who will rule a specific way on a specific issue.

Judges should be selected on the basis of judicial competence as demonstrated by their ability to apply valid legal reasoning consistent with America's constitution as interpreted within the tradition of American jurisprudence. That means that precedence does matter, even when it leaves room for development.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Republican Speaks Some Truth on Iraq

.... A few minutes after the debate ended here at the University of South Carolina, Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, ventured into the Spin Room to talk to reporters, only to find that they wanted to know whether he really blamed the United States for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Who did that?" Paul snapped. "Who blamed America?"

"Well, your critics felt that you did."

"No, I blamed bad policy over 50 years that leads to anti-Americanism," Paul said. "That's little bit different from saying 'blame America.' Don't put those words in my mouth."

"But the policies were bad American policies?"

"We've had an interventionist foreign policy for 50 years that has come back to haunt us," Paul continued. "So that's not 'Blame America' — that's demagoguing, distorting issues.... That's deceitful to say those kinds of things...."

It all started when Paul was asked how September 11 changed American foreign policy. "Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us?" Paul answered. "They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for ten years...."

Questioner Wendell Goler, of Fox News, asked, "Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?"

"I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it," Paul said. "They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there."
Since the first Republican debate in California, I've been hearing that Ron Paul is the man to watch: pro-life and anti-war.

I went to the issues section of his campaign site.

I can't say I agree with him on everything, but he has some good ideas.

I think he's right on debt, and wrong on taxes.

I think he's right on NAFTA, GATT, WTO and CAFTA, but wrong on the ICC and the UN.

I think he's right on the fact that Congress must authorize any war. He's also right on civil liberties. He's surprisingly tough on welfare for corporations.

He's morally wrong about immigration, and the idea that we "End birthright citizenship" is just plain unconstitutional (point 5 on border security and immigration reform).


Dalai Lama Eyes Retirement

I am confused.

I'm not a Tibetan Buddhist, and I confess my question is sparked by ignorance. It is my understanding that the Dalai Lama is supposed to be the reincarnation of past Dalai Lamas in an unbroken chain going back for centuries.

If my understanding is correct, how can one retire from being a Dalai Lama?

In my understanding, being a Dalai Lama is something you are by nature, not something you do by choice. Retiring from being the Dalai Lama would be analogous to a person saying "I'm retiring from being human."


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Wisdom of Gandhi

..., long after he had left South Africa, Gandhi received a letter urging world leaders to draw up a charter of human rights. "In my experience," Gandhi wrote back, "it is far more important to have a charter of human duties."
From Gandhi the Man: The Story of His Transformation (1997) by Erknath Easwaren, p.33


Poll For St. Blog's

I'm just dying of curiosity.

If Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican primary, and is running against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, where would the Catholic blogger vote go in 2008?


Humor by Tom Toles


This is Where Countering Fighting Violence With Violence Leads

Reporting from Gaza, Ibrahim Barzak writes the following:

There have been street battles between Hamas and Fatah before, but there are dangerous new elements this time. Now they are arresting or even shooting people for the way they look.

If you have a beard, you might be arrested by Fatah security for looking Islamic. If you have a chain around your neck or on your arm, Hamas gunmen might shoot you because you look secular.
There is an alternative to the cycle of violence that spirals downwards this far.


Busy day

I've been incredibly busy today putting out some fires, and have my JustFaith tonight. I haven't had time to review comments or make posts.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell Dies

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.


Is it Ethical to be Catholic?

James Allison offers a "queer perspective" on this question. One does not need to be gay to share Allison's perception of what it really means to be Catholic.


Giuliani Says He Will Not Challenge the Pope

Well, in the sense that he isn't running for Pope, I guess he is right.

However, his view shows a bit of ignorance of what the Pope has said regarding abortion. He already has publicly challenged the Pope, and needs to acknowledge that.

I'm not saying Giuliani can't go to communion, or that he should stop calling himself Catholic, or that he should be excommunicated, or anything like that. I'm not saying he is in sin. The conservative Catholic bloggers might say that, but I won't.

I'm just saying that Pope Benedict has been very clear and explicit that a politician cannot be pro-choice. If a Catholic politician is pro-choice, that is a direct challenge to what the Pope explicitly teaches.


The Iranian Point of View

The April/May issue of Pax Christi's newsletter describes how Iran views the impasse between themselves and the United States.


Catholic Charities Poverty Blog

This is definitely worth checking out.


Can the Latin Mass Make a Comeback

Andrew Santella wrote a pretty good piece on the topic for Slate on May 4, though I just read it today.


Some People Who Deserve a Long Time in Purgatory

I wish hell on nobody. Some people, however, probably deserve to spend some time in purgatory. Here are just a few people I think deserve some purgation:

1. The person who invented those faucets in public restrooms that require you to use one hand to hold the faucet to keep the water running.

2. The person who first thought it was a good idea to make a cubicle a permanent work station.

3. The persons who first created spam emails, junk snail mail, and telemarketing.

I'm sure readers can come up with others, but these three top my list.



Round Up of WaPo Editorials

There's some interesting perspectives offerred in today's Washington Post

In Rudy Tests the Pro-Lifers, E. J. Dionne Jr., who is a Catholic Democrat, asks whether the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in America is going to give Rudy Gialiani the same treatment given John Kerry in 2004?

In A Question of Race Vs. Class, Eugene Robinson asks whether Baruck Obama's daughters should benefit from affirmative action?

Robinson concludes, as I would and as Obama seems to, that we need a combination of class based affirmative action with some consideration for race until full racial equity is achieved.

Richard Cohen offers a humorous and poignant look at moralistic rhetoric of current political debates in Politics by the Pound.

David Ignatius states that we are Running Out of Time in Iraq.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Imagination and the Real World

Imagine that we lived in a world where the six and a half billion or so people on earth all thought and behaved very similar to Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Mahatma Gandhi, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Thomas Moore, and Elizabeth Anne Seton.

These are real people who actually existed. There is nothing imaginary about the names. What requires imagination is picturing a world where we all act like these sorts of people.

I think it is obvious that a world inhabited entirely by people like this would be a better place to live than the world we currently know as reality.

All of these people were or are very happy people, and highly effective people. Most of their names are widely known, even after their deaths.

I intentionally threw in a couple of people, including Catholic saints, who had married here. I just wanted to highlight that I am not advocating that we all become celibate ascetics.

I also very intentionally named Catholics and non-Catholics, just to highlight that whatever these people have in common could be considered "natural law", rather than the revealed beliefs of a specific religious institution.

One trait that all these people have in common is that all of them were or are known as "spiritual" or "religious" people who seemed to have placed God or a higher power sustaining the universe at the center of their lives.

It seems that fostering habits of prayer and meditation and developing a deep and personal relationship with God is central to living a happy and highly effective life.

Second, and very closely related, all of them lived a life dedicated to service of their fellow human beings. Indeed, in some cases, it isn't clear whether God came first, or the cause of humanity.

Third, not a single one of them advocated violence during the period of their lives where they became most well known to us. Indeed, most not only did not advocate violence, but most of them explicitly renounced violence as a way of life.

Every single one of them faced risks, including premature death because of their life-style choices.

Francis of Assisi faced the threat of martyrdom when trying to speak with the Sultan during the crusades, but survived that threat, only to die from the effects of malnutrition from living in solidarity with lepers and the poor later.

Mother Seton was not murdered, but she did risk malnutrition and disease by her life-style choice. The same could be said of Mother Teresa and the Buddha.

Nelson Mandela was not martyred, but faced death many times as well as imprisonment. The Dalai Lama currently lives in exile, even if comfortably.

Jesus, Gandhi, King, and Moore were assassinated or executed.

Imagine a world where the six and a half billion on earth all thought and acted like this.

And imagine that in that unreal world, one single Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein exists.

How would a world of six and a half billion "saints" deal with one single disturbed individual who would cause harm to innocent people for reasons few of us can imagine?

If we assume in our imaginary world that we're dealing with an adult fully formed into the likeness of Hitler or Hussein, I do not believe that our world of saints would ignore the one individual threatening innocent people with harm.

That would be a pacifist and almost libertarian solution - live and let live.

Our world of saints would do what these saints actually did do. They would be willing to lay down their own life for others. The six and a half billion saints would surround the person and admonish him to stop causing harm.

If our Hitler or Hussein was armed, they might one by one or in groups approach him to take away his weapon. As he killed each one, they would keep coming until he ran out of ammunition.

At that point, they would bloodlessly restrain this violent person and get him into rehabilitation.

Of course, even before our fully formed adult Hitler or Hussein came to be, this world of saints would have been reaching out to the isolated and alienated young man who seemed to be suffering some sort of deep psychological malaise or demonic possession.

The Hitler or the Hussein would not be likely to form into an adult genocidal megalomaniac, because someone would have been able to reach the young person with love and change his heart.

In the world we are imagining, there would also be no human being who would die of starvation. In our real world today, there is already enough food on the planet for everyone alive to eat a three or four thousand calorie per day diet.

In our imagined world of saints, that food would get distributed as it is needed, with no hard feelings towards those on the receiving end of charity.

Last week, I made some posts quoting the Gospel teachings on non-violence, imagining what life would be like if the reign of God were breaking into our world today, inviting everyone to embrace non-violence and the notion of diverting federal funds from military spending to international development and poverty alleviation.

The responses are typical. I am accused of living in a fantasy world, denying the reality of sin, and coddling criminals and appeasing terrorists.

Inevitably, when I bring up the idea of active non-violence, someone says something to the effect "How can you argue that we sit idly by and let a rapist or serial killer harm an innocent person."

I've stated this only about maybe a thousand times, and I'll state it again. I am not a pacifist. I never have been a pacifist. I am a believer in active non-violence, which is not passive and is not pacifist.

In order to understand my point of view, one has to get it entirely out of one's head that there are only two moral options for Christians - those two options being pacifism and just war theory.

There are at least three morally acceptable options for a Christian: pacifism, just war theory, and active non-violence. Maybe there are some other options too, but I'll highlight just these three.

The pacifist avoids all conflict, and refuses to wage war or form a police force or employ any sort of violence.

The key point of pacificism, however, is conflict avoidance.

The pacifist may very well argue that when we see a rapist, we can do nothing but pray or possibly verbally exhort the offender.

Pacificism can lead to withdrawal from the world - like a hermit or a monk.

The Roman Catholic Church has long supported this option as a possible life-style style choice and God given vocation that is morally praiseworthy, though not for everyone. It's certainly not for me.

Some denominations, like the Amish, do encourage all their adherents to embrace this option.

If we had six and half billion pacifists on earth, and one Hitler or Hussein, everyone might ignore the lone evil-doer while he went about systematically killing people and reloading ammunition as needed until he gets to the last one on earth.

Whether this position is morally acceptable or not, I am not a pacifist. I am willing to intervene to try to stop a maniac before he kills us all - especially our children.

Those who embrace just war theory do not avoid conflict like the pacifist.

They engage in conflict under strict circumstances using violence to oppose violence. This theory holds that we can use violence in defense of other people, such as shooting the psychopath threatening an innocent person with rape and murder.

The principle of double effect applies. When one action has two direct end results that are proportionate to one another, one may act with the intention of the good, even if it is known that the act will produce an evil effect. One can kill an aggressor to save an innocent human life.

The Roman Catholic Church and many other Christian bodies embrace this option as well, though there have been a number of attempts to try to clarify that it applies in very limited circumstances with certain specific means.

This theory does not imply that just war is obligatory, as though monks must abandon their pacificism to fight in a just war.

The theory merely holds that in extreme cases, taking up arms and dealing a deadly blow to an aggressor is not necessarily a sin.

I can buy that modest moral claim, though I think there is another option that is more effective.

A world of six and a half billion just war advocates might kill the Hitler or the Hussein when he acts with violent aggression.

But things can hairy here, as we see in every just war debate.

If we are all just war advocates, and I witness you in the act of killing a man you believe to be like Hitler, but I do not know what evil this man has done, I may feel compelled to deal you a deadly blow in defense of this man - even though you felt you were waging a just use of deadly force.

Thus, entire groups form of those who think one man was evil, and should have been killed, and those who think the same man was unjustly murdered. And these groups can wind up killing each other.

You killed a man you believed was doing evil. Even while you are in the act of killing the offender, I kill you because I don't believe the man was evil, and besides, he was my father. Your brother rushes forward and kills me because I was killing you. My brother kills your brother. Your cousin kills my brother.

Soon, we have a feud between two families.

Both sides feel they are fighting in a just war against the other side. Eventually, nobody even remembers how the war started. All that matters is winning against the evil foe - by any means necessary. Soon, we're all acting like Hitler to some degree.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who did grave and intrinsically evil acts that repulse all decent people, even those who are not as saintly as Mother Teresa.

Yet, few people in America stop to think about why a Saddam Hussein came to power in a country like Iraq.

When we look at the sectarian violence occurring in post invasion Iraq, is it any wonder that a leader trying to hold these people together might resort to some very heavy handed means?

Even the most just of leaders would seem to need to resort to violence.

Thus, we have Dick Cheney advocating that we occasionally walk on the dark side and employ torture to win this war.

There has to be another alternative.

Active non-violence is not like pacifism, because those who embrace it do not try to avoid conflict. Indeed, we sometimes try to stir up conflict!

I've been arrested protesting nuclear weapons. I have also risked arrest protesting abortion at Operation Rescue events too. (I'll offend both right and left stirring up conflict).

I've worked in inner-city neighborhoods where I've been mugged while trying to assist the poor.

On a much lesser scale, I confront employees who are not meeting expectations. I try to talk through conflicts with my wife.

I am not speaking from a dream world here.

Active non-violence tries to stir up conflict on occasion, and then resolve it. Just as our imaginary world of saints would have reached out to the lone Hitler or Hussein, the practitioner of non-violence knows that we need to reach out to people tending towards violence before they actually become violent.

This is "confrontational", because it means invading someone's personal space sometimes, not leaving them alone to cultivate their distorted thinking, challenging their distorted thought patterns early on, and so forth.

It also means confronting our own distorted thinking in dialogue with others. It means admitting that we are all sinners capable of evil.

If conflict cannot be resolved, precisely because of sin, we believe in active non-violent resistance to the most manifest evil. This is not a withdrawal from the violence of the world - but facing evil with the same courage that lead Jesus, Gandhi, King and Moore to lose their very lives in service to humanity.

I once stood face to face with a drug dealer telling me that I cannot walk down his street to get to the day care center where I was working. I looked him in the eye, which was literally about three inches from my own, and said, "You have no right to tell me where to walk." At one point, I marched my kids through his corner chanting "Say no to drugs!"

Why not call the cops?

In this inner-city area, there was a human chain from corner to corner for miles of voices that cried out "Five - Oh" as a police car headed down the street. There wasn't a chance of the cops catching the dealers, because of the network.

So you try other means. But I didn't shoot the guy, and never even got into a fight with him.

Active non-violent resistance to evil in the real world - the world we all know today - can take the form of a employee strike or some other mass demonstration aimed at obstructing those who do evil. It is very effective when it hits the financial bottom line of those doing evil. There is definitely strength in numbers.

On an individual level, confronted by a person even suspected of being a serial killing rapist, we're going to ask the hard and probing personal questions to uncover whether this person is in the psychological danger of committing rape and murder or not.

Indeed, many of us criticize the bishops on the abuse scandals precisely because there are not structures of accountability that aim at uncovering abuse earlier and taking appropriate action to stop it.

If we see the perpetrator in the actual act of murder, we strive to act in a manner to stop him or her. The only difference between us and the just war theorist is that we will try every other means we can imagine short of causing physical harm to the perpetrator to stop the act of aggression.

The human mind is capable of imagining so much more than just war theorists allow.

If the same ingenuity that designed a hydrogen bomb were put to use strategizing non-violent means of changing the behavior of aggressors, there would be peace.

This active non-violent resistance may involve throwing our own body between the perpetrator and the victim. It may involve using something as simple as a net. It may involve verbal exhortation like the pacifist, but we do not limit ourselves to this means. We also advocate prayer, like the pacifist, but also action.

We might even resort to restraining a violent person with a wrestling move or a net or a rope or something in extrme cases - though we prefer to win the heart over gaining physical control. But no matter what, we will not strike him or her with a club, a rock, a knife, a bullet, or a bomb.

If you stumbled upon us trying to stop the aggressor, you will know who the good guys and the bad guys are. The good guys will not kill the other or cause bodily harm, and the bad guys will kill the other or cause bodily harm.

We do not deny the reality of sin in the world. All of the physical violence in our real world is a sign of sin.

All physical violence is a sign of sin. There is no such thing as good violence. Violence never promotes the good. It always involves evil, even if the evil chosen is not always a personal sin.

Indeed, just war theory admits this. In the criteria of "proportionality", the evil effects of military defense against aggression cannot outweigh the evil effects of doing nothing. This presumes that even a just war has evil effects!

Active non-violence is not "doing nothing". It is doing something to oppose and resist evil. I would argue that the criteria of "last resort" in just war doctrine requires that active non-violence has been exhausted and aggression is already in progress against innocent people.

Even in such a situation, those who can still imagine a non-violent alternative should be encouraged to put it into practice!

Let's step back into our imaginary world for a moment. We already saw that if the six and a half billion people in the world believed in just war, we could still wind up in a global confrontation. A simple mistake in judgment could escalate to a world war over time.

My father was giving my sister the Heimlich maneuver, and you mistook it for an attack on an innocent little girl. I mistook your armed attack on my father as a crime in progress and deal you a deadly blow. Your brother comes afterme. Soon, we have a family feud lasting generations and becoming enmity between nations.

If we had six and a half billion saints, one the other hand, and only one Hitler or Hussein, we can imagine that the evil doer would be stopped by non-violent means eventually.

My father giving the Heimlich maneuver would not have been confronted by an armed defender of little girls. He would have been confronted by a person well trained in non-violent conflict resolution and non-violent resistance.

Can you even imagine Mother Teresa packing a pistol?

Mother Teresa might take action if she thought my father were attacking a little girl, but the action she would take would not likely be to shoot him.

If my father truly was a brutal man who beat up little girls and was willing to annihilate the whole world if opposed, our six and a half billion saints could stop him without violence.

Even a smaller number could do it with prayer, training, and imagination.

As I say, the aggressor will eventually run out of ammunition, if nothing else. At that point, we might throw a net over the guy, take him to a safe cell, and attempt rehabilitation therapy.

The trouble is that we don't have six and a half billion saints with only one Hitler or Hussein. Instead, we have a mix of saints like Francis of Assisi, evil doers like Hussein, and those in between who cling to just war theories - sometimes fighting one another in error.

But think of it this way. According to the Judeo-Christian world view, in the garden of Eden, we had a world of saints prior to the entry of sin into the world. At some point, things went awry.

Maybe you think the story of the garden is a myth. Maybe you take it literally. It doesn't really matter. What matters is what you think our human nature was originally intended to be by the creator.

We can also look forward to heaven to try to discern what God intends here and now. What does God intend of us?

That's how we discern natural law. Were we intended to be more like the saints I mention? Or more like Hussein and Hitler? Or is there some in between state that is actually the ideal?

When we all get to heaven, will we practice just war doctrine inside of the pearly gates? Are there cops in heaven?

If, like me, you believe that we were created to be more like the saints, then the question is why you do not personally strive to live that way - all the time - starting now.

You will fall short sometimes. Heck. Less than three years ago, I'm ashamed to admit, but I got into a heated debate with my own biological brother that turned into a little shoving match. We apologized and reconciled quickly. Yet, my point is that we all fall, but let's admit it's a fall. Resorting to violence is always a failure of imagination or a weakness of will power.

More and more parents are realizing this with child rearing. Teachers are being forced to embrace the point by the law. The ways our grandparents sometimes disciplined children was not the only or the best way to teach children to behave. The violence adults used in by-gone eras with children was actually due to an incredible lack of imagination and a lot of ignorance and not a little sin.

If the whole world were made up of saints, except for one Hitler, we can imagine what we collectively might do, especially with the strength that comes from encouraging one another. Six and a half billion people would easily find a non-violent way to stop a single Hussein.

We're called to act like the saints, even if there is a Hitler in the world. A Hitler cannot kill six million people by himself.

What if there were two evil doers - a Hitler and a Hussein? What if a third? What if a fourth, and so on....?

Is there some critical mass of evil doers that changes the way you are personally called to behave?

I don't think so. We're all called to be saints - all of us and all of the time. When we fall, we acknowledge our failing and get back up and try again - praying for the grace to do better next time - and rehearsing how we will do better in our mind.

If we can imagine six and half billion people non-violently restraining one single evil doer, at what critical mass does it kick in that we must all, to the last one, embrace just war doctrine - even if we think that this doctrine could lead otherwise good people to kill each other, instead of killing evil doers?

In the end, the choice between what we can do in the world we can imagine, and the what we actually do in the real world we experience tells us where we are headed. It tells us how we think God intended us to behave from the start, and how we think we'll be in heaven.

A proponent of just war should have no admiration for Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Thomas Moore. All three men should have violently revolted against their evil oppressors.

A proponent of just war should be troubled by Jesus.

When Peter pulled out the sword to defend Jesus against the soldiers coming for his arrest, why didn't Jesus allow Peter to defend him? Why did he say that we are to turn the other cheek? Why wasn't he more clear that there are just wars?

I do not believe that Jesus was a pacifist.

He confronts people and pisses them off way to often to be a pacifist. He seems far more concerned with reaching people and changing hearts than the pacifist trying to withdrawal from the world of conflict. He even turns over tables in an act of prophetic protest - though the texts indicate no harm to human persons in this act.

Yet, in the end, Jesus was willing to lay down his own life, rather than take up the sword to fight for his cause and the cause of the poor.

Embracing active non-violence in the real world we all experience is not a denial of the reality of sin in the world we all know.

We fully expect that if one embraces a life of active non-violence, one is likely to be physically hurt or murdered because of that choice.

The devil is going to use a human being or group of human beings to cause you bodily harm if you decide to live a life of active non-violence. This is not something that might happen to a few. It is something that will happen to most who choose this life-style. Active non-violence is not to be embraced by cowards.

And none of us are called to cowardice.

Active non-violence is to be embraced with those who have the courage of a Thomas Moore who would say, "I am the King's good servant, but God's good servant first." - right before his head came off.

When we say that active non-violence is more effective than the most just of all just wars, we do not mean to imply that the lion is going to lay down with the lamb in our own life-time, or before the second coming of Christ.

We simply mean to imply that it will lead to a measurably greater peace than any military solution could ever hope to achieve.

Look at the fall of the Soviet Empire when faced with Solidarity, or the fall of Apartheid, or the lone man who stood up to Communist tanks in Tiananmen Square, or the fall of Pinochet, or the civil rights movement in America, etc....

Active non-violence works better than war.


Because active non-violence aims at changing the heart of the aggressor, rather than the behavior. We're out to convert the Hitlers and Husseins of the world - not just kill them.

While there will always be violent people in the world, if we can change the hearts of half them, that will have greater effect than killing half of them.

The reason is simple. When you kill half the aggressors, the other half becomes more hardened and crafty, and they recruit some allies from among the friends and relatives of those killed. Often, those who join the evil doers are believers in just war who either rightly or wrongly believe your side unjustly killed their guy!

The American troops in Iraq have been seeing exactly this for four years now. You kill an insurgent, and all of the sudden, you've made an enemy of his cousin, who wasn't interested in killing Americans before that. You can't kill 'em all faster than they recruit.

On the other hand, if you converted half the evil doers without killing any of them, that half may make recruits of their cousins. Your own side will grow in numbers.

I'm not speaking of a conversion of one religious faith to another. I'm speaking of a conversion from the myth of redemptive violence to embracing the possibility of non-violent conflict resolution.

Even in the case of a clear military victory over evil-doers, if hearts are not changed, all that is accomplished is a temporary curbing of public behavior. The enemy can lay low until the victor is weak, and then rise again. We see this in the way a group like the IRA went on for decades despite various British crack-downs.

What about the victory over evil such as the end of World War II? Surely, this proves that war can accomplish good results, doesn't it?

I would argue that it was the post war reconstruction of Europe that did more to change hearts than the actual surrender of the Nazis. It was our effort not to repeat the mistakes of World War I, where Germany was left shamed, punished, and weak, that prevented a hypothetical World War III with Germany.

Peace is more than the absence of war. The cold war between America and the Soviets was not a true peace, though there has never been an open war between Russia and the United States.

Peace is harmonious relationships between nations. This is achieved through good communication, shared goals, respect for the human person and human rights, human development, economic justice, rational dialogue, diplomacy, and a genuine concern for the international common good.

We should be working for these goals at all times with a certainty that this is what peace is.

The first step of active non-violence is to surface conflict and attempt to resolve it. Many wars can be avoided - meaning that even before atrocities like genocide break out, we could be preventing the genocide from occurring.

We must openly challenge one another across the globe to respect human rights and international law. We must promote the cause of humanity and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, free the captive, heal the sick, and bury the dead.

This can include root cause analysis of why poverty exists, and advocacy to change those root causes, as well as direct service.

The spiritual works of mercy are to instruct the ignorant, bear wrongs patiently, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, forgive the sinner, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and deceased.

Basically, active non-violence is a choice to make one's self so busy about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that one doesn't have time for war, even when evil doers do go out of their way and come knocking on your door - which is what evil doers do.

Here's another way to think about it. Why play the game of evil doers by their rules? The evil doer threatens you with death, and you show no fear as you continue to go about promoting the sanctity of human life. That's very confusing to her or him.

Your very actions mock his threat and reduce the threat to nonsense. Even if he carries through on his threat - which some will do - you revealed the threat as powerless.

By acting like the threat of violence has no power over your life, the threat of violence will have no power over your life!

Embracing active non-violence is incredibly freeing. Nobody can stop you from doing what you want to do once you begin acting as though violence has no power over you.

This does not mean you will not feel fear. Everyone feels fear, whether a pacifist, just war theorist, or practitioner of active non-violence. Jesus felt fear in the garden.

But when you can imagine acting without fear even while feeling fear, it is a freeing experience. When you actually do practice what you imagine, it is even more empowering.

This is why I keep saying that Jesus did not say "Blessed are the peace wishers". He said "Blessed are peace makers". We have to do something - not just wish something.

Act with confidence in non-violence as best you can as close to always and everywhere that you can, and it will have an effect on yourself and other people.

And when the evil doers come knocking on your door with violent threats, your willingness to lay down your own life for others may convert the killer, which is the ultimate goal.

According to the Gospels, the man who ran the lance through Jesus' heart said, "Surely, this is the Son of God."

We do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for many reasons, and among those reasons, we know that some among those we help would have been Hitler or Hussein had we not helped!

By reaching that lonely or hurting child today, we prevented World War III tomorrow.

Of course, we also do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy simply because of human compassion. We do them with an awareness that each person is made in the image of God, and that by honoring that image, we show honor to God.

We do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy even when confronted by evil doers because we know that some of the evil doers will be converted by our non-violent witness, even if not all of them are converted.

The spiritual works of mercy do include instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, and admonishing the sinner. There is room for non-violent confrontation with evil in these acts.

The corporal works of mercy include liberating the captive and oppressed.

Challenging structures of evil and caring for human bodies and being concerned for political realities is consistent with the works.

We are not advocates of escapist withdrawal from the world that ignores evil. We simply chose in freedom to combat evil more effectively than violence can do.

We are simply confident that doing something positive for human persons even in the face of death is more effective than meeting the those threatening death with an equal threat of death.

How do we restore the world a little more today to the state God originally intended than it was yesterday? It certainly can't be through more violence. The cycle of violence must be ended. It is by producing more and more saints that we decrease the awful violence in our world - including terrorism.

We can encourage others to act like saints by acting as saints ourselves. As difficult as it is to put into practice, embracing active non-violence is the surest way to end the global war on terror. As an important benefit of equal importance, combating terrorism through active non-violence also will alleviate poverty.


Friday, May 11, 2007

The Argument for Arming Everyone

Sister Joan Chittister reflects on a comment made to her recently.

The comment was that if all the students at Virginia Tech carried guns, the recent massacre would not have occurred.

My own father, who doesn't own a gun, but supports gun rights, used to tell me that an armed society is a polite society.

Sister Joan asks why gun rights advocates who say such things don't believe that Iran should have nuclear weapons? Why not arm everyone?


Four Lessons From Vietnam

Reverend Wesley Grandberg-Michaelson draws four lessons for Congress from the Vitenam era about how to force an unwilling President to end an unpopular war.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Here We Go Again

The fifth bullet in Daily Kos' mid-day open thread sparked the question I have raised so often:

Here's a cool, if somewhat infuriating, graphic, depicting where all of our federal tax dollars will go in Bush's requested FY 2008 budget. Of the $1075 billion in discretionary spending, 67% or $717 billion, is targeted for military/national security spending.
How can Americans accept the fact that we spend 67% of our budget on killing people abroad, while we cannot raise a mere 1.0% to support the United Nations Millenium Goals to halve global poverty by 2015?

We already spend more than 45% of the total global spend on military!

Meanwhile, over 3 billion people live on less than $2 per day.

Even in America, over 700,000 people are homeless each night, roughly 37 million people live below our poverty line, mostly children, and over 46 million people are without adequate health insurance.

According to a 2004 wickepedia quote from Michael Zweig in, What's Class Got to do With It, American Society in Twenty-first Century:
..., in any given year 12 to 15 percent of the population is poor, over a ten-year period 40 percent experience poverty in at least one year because most poor people cycle in and out of poverty; they don't stay poor for long periods. Poverty is something that happens to the working class, not some marginal 'other' on the fringes of society.
Pope Paul VI stated that if we want peace, we must work for justice. In some scripture passages I posted yesterday, Saint Paul the Apostle tells us that we can actually conquer evil by doing good - that we heap burning coals on the head of an enemy by feeding her or him!

I do not want to downplay the role of prayer in embracing a life of active non-violence and promoting real social peace in the world. Every peace maker must be engaged in daily prayer until a habit forms of unceasing prayer. The more people who embrace prayer, the more possible peace becomes. We must pray especially for our enemies.

That said, I honestly believe something other than prayer is required. Let me rephrase. Fed by a daily discipline of quiet time with God, there are actions we can take while we continue to pray throughout our day.

I honestly believe with all my heart that if America spent $717 billion on effective global poverty reduction, and a mere $10.8 Billion on military defense, we would be at peace and terrorism would be permanentaly irradicated. It is my prayer that we will move in this direction.

People may think I am being unrealistic. I knew in 2002 that Bush's war was entirely unrealistic - that it would lead to disaster. I mean that I was absolutely certain we would be exactly where we are four years ago. I was more certain of the outcome of invading Iraq than I am generally am about anything.

I believe that the Gospel teachings on non-violence (some of which I posted yesterday) are really true - God's eternal word. I really and truly believe this.

I'm not what anyone would call a fundamentalist in the way I read scripture, but when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, I pretty much think God does intend for us to take the words fairly literally in their plainest sense.

I pray more people will believe Christ's words. They seem to me to be so obviously true. Until we spend more on saving lives than we spend on destroying life, there will be no peace and security in the world.


Imagine the Reign of God

This post expresses the type of thing I imagine almost every time I see a homeless person.


An Interesting New Blog

Written by an Eastern Orthodox strong admirer of Islam and Judaism with some familiarity with Catholicism, this blog will challenge us to imagine G-d in new ways.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Making Peace

Our Lord says the following:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Mt 5:9)
He does not say, "Blessed are those who wish for peace..." He says that the peace makers are blessed.
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment,....
The path to peace begins by transcending rash anger and desire for vengeance and control of others in our own hearts. The rest of the passage continues as follows:
...,and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. (Mt 5:21-26)
We must swallow our pride and settle with opponents "out of court" if possible - giving everyone her or his due, and maybe more than their due.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.
The Lord sure doesn't say that when your opponent clenches his fist, you are to kick him in the balls preemptively.

I do not think Christ is telling a battered woman to remain in a dangerous relationship. There is nothing against fleeing to safety, or even using non-violent means of resistance in the passage.

It seems clear, however, that Christ taught non-violence, even when faced with violence.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:38-48 )
Christ taught us that the heart of non-violence and transcending our own anger is forgiveness rooted in the mercy of God:
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Mt 6:14-15)

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye. (Mt 7:1-5)
The law of Christ and of the whole Bible can be summed up in a single line that the Catechism states applies in every single moral decision:
Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. (Mt 7:12)
Saint Paul summarized Christ's teachings this way:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Rather, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. (Rom 12:17-21)
Pray for the grace to desire what Christ taught, and to put into word and deed in every conceivable circumstance of your life.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millenium

I just finished reading this 1995 book length interview between an agnostic secular journalist, Peter Seewald, and the man then known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger - now Pope Benedict XVI.

I'm still collecting my thoughts, so I don't want to write a lengthy or detailed review.

A few things jump out at me.

As I suspected, Pope Benedict is no fundamentalist or Biblical literalist in the sense many Americans are.

Indeed, he explicitly refers to "American fundamentalism" as something antithetical and foreign to Roman Catholic faith. He compares it to Islamic fundamentalism - in 1995!

He seems remarkably prophetic in hind-sight with what is occurring in the middle east today. Those who think his views in opposition to America's military policy is naive should take a look at what he knew was comming six years before most Americans saw it.

His faith is informed strongly by higher criticism, though he speaks of a popular reading of the Bible that has validity. Surprisingly, he claims that liberation theology was most right or orthodox about this point!

Speaking of liberation theology, he states that when Guiterrez was silenced for a year, it was not intended as a "punishment" or a means of stopping liberation theology.

Rather, he states that the intent was simply to ask Guiterrez to slow down and reflect a little more on some specific areas where he was a little fuzzy.

Ratzinger explicitly states that the year of silence had good effect in helping liberation theology develop in more fruitful directions.

Something else that jumps out at me is that Ratzinger is a man who seems to either explicitly or subtely admit to doubt throughout the entire book.

Don't get me wrong. His deeper underlying faith shines through. Yet, it is an honest faith,..., a critical faith,..., a thinking faith open to hard questions.

He speaks repeatedly of a certain weariness that befalls the true Christian, even as one grows in a deeper joy.

This weariness is not something imposed from without by evil forces. It is willingness embraced as simply a part of Christian life. And it is an intellectual and emotional weriness.

In his emphasis on this "weariness", there is a stark contrast between him and Pope John Paul II. The contrast is emphasized most starkly when Seewald asks Ratzinger about John Paul's notion of a new spring-time of Christianity.

Benedict simply does not share John Paul's optimism for the future of the Church. He speaks of the future of the Church in various metaphors and images.

Ratzinger states that the Church will never be a super nova again exploding outward.

It is now a black hole collapsing inward and drawing humanity into some deep center.

The Church of the future will be tiny cells scattered throughout the earth. These cells cannot possibly sustain parish life as we know it today.

Christianity of tommorrow will cluster around little known hermits and obscure monastics.

And Ratzinger is completely at peace with this imagined future.

He insists that the past cannot ever possibly under any circumstances be repeated.

The Church of tommorow will not be like anything we know today or have known in the past.

There will be threads of continuity, a continuum of a living tradition, a consistent state of development, but not identity with some illusory golden era.

Ratzinger seems to admit that terrible things have been done in the name of Christ, and warns that fundamentalism leads to this - even Christian fundamentalism.

Interestingly, Ratzinger insists that the Church must remain separate from the state, and invented the separation of Church and state.

Secularism is a child of the Church, and can't wholly escape remembering in some vague way that she was born of the Church.

It is a little hard to describe how I form this view from explicit words on the page, but it seems to me that the Pope's so-called conservativism on issues like homosexuality or women's ordination is not based on deeply held personal convictions.

Or, to be more precise, if he does have a personal intellectual conviction in a conservative direction on these issues, it is held with nowhere near the level of certainty and conviction he has about God as love or the articles of the creed.

Rather than seeing these things as entirely outside of the pale of debate, he seems to subtely hint at a distinction between being a theologian, and being a bishop.

As a bishop, he must not express his own speculation, but speak in union with all the bishops throughout the world.

His public conservativism as a bishop seems to be a consequence of a public conservatism of the entire college of bishops.

He invites liberals to a sort of patience....are these things really worth dividing over? Can there be room for traditionalists as the Church moves into the future? Can we respect the majority consensus of the current college of bishops and their supporters?

Pope John Paul may have reinforced this in various ways, including his selection of bishops.

Yet, one gets a slight feeling as one plows through this book that maybe if the college of bishops were more open and daring, Ratzinger, as a bishop may have been somewhat more open and daring. Perhaps the same applies to the man as Pope.

There's more to consider. For the moment, I need to run.....


Monday, May 07, 2007

Crisis on Liberal Media Bias

Crisis magazine's lead feature this month claims that the mainstream media has a very clear liberal bias, and tries to demonstrate this.

Reading thorugh the article, I found myself getting frustrated because my opinion is that the mainstream media has a conservative bias.

Finally, I saw the crux of the problem in this single paragraph:

We need to claim what we are and what we believe. "A world where National Review is defined as conservative and Newsweek defined as liberal would be a better world, for it would be a more truthful one," Peggy Noonan observed. "Everyone gets labeled, tagged and defined, no one hides an agenda, the audience gets to listen, consider, weigh and allow for biases. A journalistic world where people declare where they stand is a better one."
The problem is that Crisis and the social conservatives it is claiming to represent define everything that is not conservative as "liberal". There is no such thing as "middle of the road" as far as they are concerned.

What Peggy Noonan should have stated is that National Review is conservative, and The Nation is liberal. Thus, Newsweek is somewhere in between - which is "middle of the road".


Friday, May 04, 2007

Pope to Issue Book on Christology

I've been busy on travel, and this may be old news to many bloggers. The John Allen "review" was posted last Friday.

For those who are as behind as I am, this may actually be an historic event, and I can't wait to see the English release.

What I believe is probably historic is not that a pope is writing about Jesus.

What is historic is to have a 448 page book on Jesus offered by a sitting pope that is not to be taken as doctrine or dogma!

Regarding his new work, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI states "everyone is free to contradict me."

I have to admit that one thing I am really liking about Pope Benedict is that whether I agree or disagree with him, he doesn't throw his papal weight around like his predecessors.

Don't get me wrong. The disciplinary actions against people like Thomas Reese or Jon Sobrino certainly have their sting. The Vatican Instruction on ordaining those with homosexual tendencies was another low point.

Yet, as much as these actions "sting" and effect real live people in very adverse ways, they do no real long range damage to the Church. They are not acts of magisterium defining even non-infallible authentic doctrine.

In a similar manner, the way the Holy Father is releasing this book is clearly not an attempt to define doctrine.

Consider how John Paul II would have made his views on Christology known (and did). He would issue an encyclical. Benedict, on the other hand, publishes a book as a theologian inviting a sort of peer review and open critique.

A while back, I recall Pope Benedict addressing an audience with priests in front of journalist where he stated explicitly that he wanted to speak "not as pope" for a moment, and went on to say that the Church needs to think about a better way of dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics.

At a synod a while back, Benedict seemed frustrated with the lack of open theological reflection by the bishops.

He even seemed to invite a discussion of married priesthood - which he seems to oppose by all outward signs. Yet, it is significant that he wanted discussion to occur in an open manner with some serious theological reflection.

In his first and only encyclical to date, Benedict wrote on the theme of "God is Love".

It was an intellectually deep, emotionally moving and engaging letter, but also a back to the basics kind of reflection on what everyone who went to Catholic schools learned in first grade. Many Catholics were dissappointed that the encyclical did not drop the hammer on anyone.

Personally, I find this style of papal leadership refreshing, and I look forward to reading his latest book!