In 2000, our editors wrote: “Will Nelson Mandela ever stop astounding and humbling the world by the force of his moral vision and the transformative authority of his personal courage and conviction?” The question was in response to Mandela's efforts to end Brundi's civil war, but it expresses what has been said in so many of the tributes in the week since his death, in wonder over how much he was able to accomplish. Commonweal over the years chronicled Mandela's fight against apartheid, his imprisonment, and his release and subsequent election as president of South Africa. But we'd like to single out this brief item our editors composed after Mandela's 1990 U.S. tour. Read it here.
Thirty years ago Friday, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin came to Fordham University to deliver a follow-up lecture on the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace” [.pdf], a presentation in which he introduced his formulation for a consistent ethic of life [.pdf].
I was a freshman at Fordham in December 1983; dealing for the first time with end-of-term papers and final exams, I did not attend the lecture. But it was big news on campus (and off), its key passages highlighted in the official student paper and discussed in my theology, philosophy, and political science courses in the semesters to come. To an eighteen-year-old recently compelled by the 1980 proclamation from President Carter to register for the draft, and made further anxious (like many of my classmates) by the belligerence of the Reagan administration’s nuclear-weapons rhetoric—limned with references to scripture—Bernardin’s wedding of issues made sudden, stunning sense. A pro-life position consisted of more than focusing singularly on abortion; it also meant opposing what he called “the moral and political futility of nuclear war” and directing states “against the exercise” of capital punishment. A formulation like “consistent ethic of life” provided shape for inchoate railings against what I was beginning to think of as the injustices of the day, coming along in time for the moral and political awakening common to first-year students. I still remember the weather (pouring Bronx rain) and how my mother drove the seventy miles from New Jersey to hear Bernardin in person, a basket of all my younger brothers’ laundry in the back seat because the washing machine had broken down and she needed to stop at a Laundromat on the way home.
That’s my personal reflection, in service of directing you to a more thorough and informed discussion over on our website. To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Bernardin’s lecture, we’ve asked four contributors to reassess his idea for a consistent ethic of life and to comment on its influence and its relevance today. Lisa Fullam, David Cloutier, Robert P. Imbelli, and Cathleen Kaveny are the participants in the discussion, “Consistent Ethic of Life, Thirty Years Later,” which you can find here. Once you’ve read it, come back to this post to share your comments.
Now featured on the website, the editors on negotiating with Iran, and the first in our special series on raising kids Catholic (more on that below).
From the editorial “The Threat of Peace”:
Iran insists that its nuclear industry is intended only for peaceful purposes. But it would be irresponsible to take Iranian promises at face value. … Still, almost by definition, most efforts to avoid war involve dealing with dangerous and untrustworthy foes. Consequently, confidence-building steps are necessary. Led by Secretary of State John Kerry, the international community has proposed an interim agreement to test the regime’s real intentions…. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a vociferous opponent of any interim deal, claiming that if sanctions are lifted even temporarily it will be impossible to re-impose them. Netanyahu and some in Congress want the sanctions tightened further, arguing that only the harshest pressure can force the Iranians to make meaningful concessions. Given his previous objections to the administration’s Iran policy, Netanyahu’s new-found faith in sanctions is curious, to say the least. …
Diplomacy rarely succeeds unless each party offers the other a way to save face with hardliners at home. In that light, the sort of interim agreement Secretary Kerry is proposing seems worth the limited risks involved.
Also live, the first in our multipart series “Raising Catholic Kids,” in which we asked parents to discuss and reflect on their experiences in “rooting family in faith.” We’ll be posting new installments on a regular basis in coming days, and we’ll be packaging the series so that as new articles go live they’re collected all in one place. Featured today, J. Peter Nixon:
I have two children of my own now. Many parents react to perceived deficiencies in their own childhood by leaning violently in the other direction. I am no different. I have done everything in my power to give my children the deep roots in the Catholic tradition that I did not have. My wife and I have made the financial sacrifice to send our children to Catholic school, a sacrifice that will become all the more difficult as they enter (God willing!) the local Catholic high school. Both of us pursued graduate work in theology and we are deeply involved in a wonderful parish where we are active in a variety of ministries.
Aside from the investment in their education, I did not do most of these things for my children. I did them because they seemed at least a meager return for what God has done for me in Jesus Christ. But I have also tried to live my faith in a way that would make it truly attractive and credible to my children.
Every now and then I feel that it’s working.
Read the whole thing here, and remember to check back at the homepage as we post additional pieces. And as the series concludes, we’ll be featuring as an online exclusive some reflections by young people (who to some might still count as kids) on what they learned being raised in Catholic families.
Two minutes of silence are observed in the UK at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month: November 11 when the guns of the Great War fell silent in 1918. The U.S. has renamed this "Veteran's Day," in honor of the fallen from all of our 20th and 21st century wars, but in the UK, World War I is still is considered the Great War. Here is the BBC story of today's observances.
Today is the 95th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the slaughter of the Great War. Very soon, 2014, we will be observing the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war. Several books have appeared retelling the story of the events leading to the outbreak of hositilies in August 1914. I am currently reading Margaret MacMillan's The War that Ended Peace, and during the summer finished Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europse Went to War in 1914.
How did the war break out? It depends on when the authors think incipient hostilities began.Read more
"With guns of love brought into battle, the nights will burn like never before;
Pride will fall and foundations rattle, when guns of love put an end to war."
Whether or not the potential attacks on Syria transgress the stringent conditions of a just war, what should be said of the money accruing to investors shrewd enough to have invested in it? A friend sent me this intriguing story from USA Today, and I found myself wondering, in Baltimore Catechism terms, about war profiteering. Is it a sin to accept an unsavory dividend from investments in, say, Northrop Grumman or Boeing, when the weaponry they help produce is deployed in a “just war?’ Blessed Pope John Paul II never pronounced on this, but when he was Karol Wojtyla, he wrote a suggestive poem about something like it.
Our September 27 issue is now live. Here are some of the stories we’re highlighting.
Paul Moses, in “Here to Stay,” looks at how Latinos are changing the country and the church.
[Long] term, it’s unclear how Latino voters will respond as their incomes rise—and as they are assimilated into American culture. Will they follow the path of other once-impoverished immigrant communities, such as Italians? Another open question is how many Latino Catholics in this country will remain Catholic. Young Latinos are not immune to the effects of secularism. Nor will they be unaffected by Protestant efforts to win them over—a trend across Latin America.
What is clear, as the Pew Research Hispanic Center predicted in 2007, is that “Latinos will bring about important changes in the nation’s largest religious institution.” Like politicians, Catholic bishops are learning that they can’t succeed if Latino Catholics don’t share their priorities. The bishops’ campaign against the Obama administration’s contraception-coverage mandate may have helped Mitt Romney take 59 percent of the white Catholic vote, but the Latino-Catholic vote overrode it to deliver the overall Catholic vote to Obama. The bishops’ new, more activist approach to seeking citizenship for undocumented immigrants—urging priests to give homilies on the subject, targeting members of Congress with phone calls, parish pilgrimages, and Masses dedicated to immigration reform—seems to reflect an awareness of the 2012 election’s demographic lesson. This new approach is similar to the one often taken to abortion or same-sex marriage. In June, when Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to all parishes of the Archdiocese of New York asking Catholics to support the bishops on “two important issues,” immigration reform and abortion, he mentioned immigration first.
Andrew J. Bacevich and R. Scott Appleby debate the current state of the peace movement, and whether it’s capable of exerting influence on U.S. policy [subscription]. “For Dorothy Day,” Bacevich writes,
The unfolding of salvation history may have provided an appropriate context in which to situate the Catholic Worker movement (or Christianity as a whole). In that context, the timetable may be unknown, but the outcome is predetermined. The Good News ultimately culminates in good news. Hence Day’s counsel of patience.
For the peace movement, however, it’s what happens in the meantime that counts. Whatever may await humanity at the end of time, afflictions endured in the here-and-now matter a great deal. Peace activists cannot state with confidence that history will ultimately yield a happy verdict. The persistence of large-scale political violence suggests grimmer possibilities.
Andrew Bacevich’s essay is confused—theologically, conceptually, and factually. As a result, it delivers half-truths, not least regarding “the peace movement.” Let’s begin with the theological. Dorothy Day is not our only option for gauging the impact of peacebuilding. Indeed, Bacevich’s version of Day is not even a recognizable theological option. Contra Bacevich, Kingdom of God theology—what he refers to as “salvation history”—hardly ignores “afflictions endured in the here-and-now”; nor does it postpone the pursuit of justice and the repair of the earth until “the end of time.” The reason Day and her followers concentrated on the works of mercy, prophetic witness, and solidarity with the victims of structural, cultural, and physical violence is that such actions constitute participation in God’s redemptive presence now, here, on this earth. Living as the poor and among the homeless, eschewing all forms of violence, railing against militarism—these were not futile acts or hollow metaphors but primary symbols, fully participating in the reality to which they refer.
Also in the new issue, Lucja Swiatkowski Cannon on the grim and largely untold real history of Poland’s wartime suffering, Celia Wren on the PBS series “The Hollow Crown,” and Mary Frances Coady on her sojourn through the Jordan desert.
And, E. J. Dionne Jr. writes on the repercussions of last week’s vote in Colorado that saw proponents of recently passed gun laws recalled from office – this more or less the same time as Iowa passes a law allowing the blind to carry weapons in public, as new data reveals the effect of gun violence on women, and as authorities continue to investigate the latest mass shooting: eleven reported killed today at the Washington, D.C., naval yard.
Now featured on the homepage: George Hunsinger evaluates the proposed attack on Syria by the criteria of just war--and finds it wanting.
How should U.S. citizens and their elected representatives decide this dreadful question? A defensible case for the attack on Syria would have to satisfy traditional “just war” standards. In its modern form the just-war tradition (jus ad bellum) involves at least four primary elements: just cause, legitimate authority, last resort, and reasonable chance of success. If these criteria remain unmet, the recourse to war is unjustified.
In my view, the proposed attack on Syria meets none of these standards. Let us review them in order.
Read the whole thing here.
The past few days have seen a burst of commentary from Catholic writers about the proposed attack in Syria. This blog has featured a lot, and the current issue of the magazine has Gabriel Said Reynolds's essential short take. A few other items of note, and feel free to add more in the comments:
Maryann Cusimano Love on the "just war" question in the Huffington Post
Drew Christiansen, S.J., on the role of prayer in Washington Post "On Faith"
R. R. Reno on "symbolic killing" in First Things
The USCCB's letter to President Obama
E. J. Dionne's column in praise of democracy, today in the Washington Post
Michael Sean Winters taking the liberal interventionist route in National Catholic Reporter
And, of course, the Pope has been leading the way from last week's Angelus to his letter to President Putin to his forceful social media activism, about which I wrote a short piece in the Washington Post's "On Faith" section. My take-home point was: "Prayerful, prophetic denunciation of war is one papal tradition that the reform-minded Francis will not be changing."
Elizabeth Tenety offered a round-up of some of these critiques from the commentariat, and then posed the question of whether all the Catholics in political power in the United States are listening.
Finally, if you're in the New York area, I'm sure the Pope's out-front anti-war message will become a topic of conversation at our Fordham panel about Pope Francis on Mon, Sept 9, at Lincoln Center campus. Info and RSVP HERE.
Oakley Hall’s 1958 novel Warlock is a western in the way The Godfather is a crime novel or The Road a piece of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, which is to say it belongs to its genre but also subverts it. The novel harnesses familiar ideas—in this case, violence, honor, and the limits of law—for fictional storytelling, while examining how they can influence, direct, and legitimize cultural, personal, and political activity in the real world.
It’s no Zane Grey, as Robert Stone—whose own work takes up questions of violence and political conflict—acknowledges in his introduction to the 2006 reissue of Warlock, which in its depiction of duels, massacres, vendettas, and assassinations reveals how deadly force so often springs from nothing more than a desire to project credibility. The characters in Warlock aren’t necessarily interested in killing one another; they’re worried what people will think if they don’t—whether it’s avenging this murder or that insult, or preemptively eliminating a perceived enemy, even when the lack of clear evidence would seem to demand restraint. Protecting one’s reputation proves a poor justification for violence, Hall makes clear in Warlock, even while (or by) acknowledging that his characters have no real choice but to act as if it’s the best one.
But that’s a novel, and Hall’s thematic intent precludes epiphanies of self-awareness and the throwing down of guns. Real-world actors operate under no such constraints, though, and so credibility would seem an even worse excuse in this realm, especially when it comes to war. Yet there were John McCain and Lindsey Graham on Monday using the word again, a couple of days after Barack Obama—sidling up to it himself because of his own unforced error with the rhetoric of red lines—brought Congress into the decision-making on Syria. (Tuesday, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, John Boehner and Eric Cantor employed its go-to variation: inaction will “embolden other regimes.”)
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Jonathan Mercer has twice made the case against using credibility as a cri de guerre—first in May, and then again last week to reflect developments since evidence of the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians came to light.Read more
It is unlikely that what these Trappist nuns in Syria have to say about Obama’s plan of attack will be heard in the Congressional debate, exemplifying, as it does, the Christian realism so alien to the Obama administration and both major political parties. It would be nice if even a few of our otherwise outspoken bishops would join their demonstrably loud voices to those of these brave women.
Here is some of that open letter of the Trappist nuns of Azeir, Syria. The rest is in the link above:
The people are straining their eyes and ears in front of the television: all they’re waiting for is a word from Obama!
A word from Obama? Will the Nobel Peace Prize winner drop his sentence of war onto us? Despite all justice, all common sense, all mercy, all humility, all wisdom?
The Pope has spoken up, patriarchs and bishops have spoken up, numberless witnesses have spoken up, analysts and people of experience have spoken up, even the opponents of the regime have spoken up…. Yet here we all are, waiting for just one word from the great Obama? And if it weren’t him, it would be someone else. It isn’t he who is “the great one,” it is the Evil One who these days is really acting up.
The problem is that it has become too easy to pass lies off as noble gestures, to pass ruthless self-interest off as a search for justice, to pass the need to appear [strong] and to wield power off as a “moral responsibility not to look away…”
God have mercy on them. On us.
Two new stories now featured on our homepage.
First, the editors on reading the mission statement of Matt Malone, SJ, editor of America, about the challenges facing his magazine and the Catholic media at large. A pressing concern of Malone’s is
what he perceives to be the destructive influence of secular political ideology on Catholic unity. “We view ideology as largely inimical to Christian discipleship,” he writes, arguing that “our secular, civic discourse...is a mortal threat to the ecclesiastical discourse.” In an effort to combat this “factionalism,” America will no longer allow writers to use the terms “liberal,” “conservative,” or “moderate” “when referring to our fellow Catholics in an ecclesiastical context.” That editorial experiment will bear watching.
Factionalism can indeed be a threat to the church (or to the country), but honest disagreement is not always destructive of ecclesial communion; in fact, it is often constitutive of it. As John Courtney Murray, SJ, once wrote, “disagreement is a rare achievement, and most of what is called disagreement is simply confusion.” Paul took on Peter in the most direct way on the question of whether the promises of Christ could be extended to the uncircumcised. The church as we know it would not exist but for that bit of factionalism. The number of such disagreements throughout the church’s history is hard to exaggerate. In fact, church unity is more often threatened when not enough room is made for the airing and resolution of honest disagreement. Nor does it do any good to pretend that the contemporary church is actually a community of harmony and virtue simply because ideally it should be. American Catholics belong to the church, but also to many other communities and organizations. They cannot, and should not, leave those attachments behind at the church door, nor should they regard their political commitments as peripheral to their Christian witness. Quite the contrary. For example, while America’s mission statement confesses a “bias” for the “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable,” it asserts that the poor have no “special parties to speak for them.” Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that all parties speak for the poor equally, or equally well.
Read the whole thing here.
Also featured now, E. J. Dionne Jr. and the position President Obama finds himself in on Syria:
[I]f Obama wanted to shift our foreign policy away from the Middle East, the Middle East had other ideas. Even before the latest reports that Syria’s government had used chemical weapons against its own people, the military’s takeover in Egypt, following abuses by the Muslim Brotherhood government, blew up the administration’s hopes for a gradual movement there toward more democratic rule.
Now, the president’s own unambiguous red line against the regime’s use of chemical weapons and his statements declaring that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad should be ousted leave him little choice but to take military action. This is the conclusion Obama has drawn, however uneasy he has been about intervening in the Syrian civil war. He no longer has the option of standing aside.
The result is an agonizing set of questions and potential contradictions. Can military strikes of any kind be the sort of “narrow” or -- and this has always been a strange word for war -- “surgical” intervention that does not drag the United States deeply into the conflict? Yet if the strikes are limited enough so as not to endanger Assad’s regime, is the Syrian leader then in a position to pronounce his survival a form of victory against the United States and its allies? Does Obama really want to get the U.S. involved, however tangentially, in a new Middle Eastern war without a debate in Congress and some explicit form of congressional approval?
WIth two bishops from Aleppo and Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio still missing, the number of authoritative Christian leaders "on the ground" in Syria has dwindled. That makes it all the more important to consider the few remaining voices, as Christians ponder military action in Syria.
Today Vatican Insider reports that Gregory III Laham, the Greek Catholic Patiarch of Antioch and leader of the Melkite church, is leading a charge to stop a possible attack on Syria:
This attack being planned by the United States is a criminal act, which will only reap more victims, in addition to the tens of thousands of these two years of war. This will destroy the Arab world's trust in the West.
In a further comment that ought to give pause to those supporting a righteous use of force, he says that an attack would be "no less serious than the use of chemical weapons."
Asia News first carried the story, which is still developing.
In related news, Paul Vallely, British biographer of Pope Francis, argues in the Church Times that military action in Syria would "not yet" satisfy just war criteria. Specifically, the principles of last resort, competent authority, proportionality, and prospect of success have not been met. He concludes:
The outraged demand that "something must be done" should not bully us into doing the wrong thing. A signal needs to be sent to President Assad that he cannot use chemical weapons with impunity. But it could yet be diplomatic. Russia and Iran were both pressured to shift on their intransigence against UN weapons inspections. That has shown that the international disunity on which the Assad regime has relied need not be permanent. There is more to be achieved by diplomacy before the Cruise missiles are dispatched.
Indeed, everyone feels that something must be done.
But the cautionary voices in the United States continue to make strong cases. The tweets of Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) of The Atlantic, for example, offer link after link to compelling arguments against military action. This morning, he offered a pithy parable:
Grease fire breaks out at meeting of Syria hawks. They pour water on it. "We couldn't do nothing!"
It's been almost two weeks since Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit leader of interreligious peacebuilding in Syria, has vanished. It's been more than one week since the date after which he told his friends "to raise the alarm" if they had not heard from him. They -- and we -- are still waiting.
The coverage of his disapperance has been relatively widespread. John Allen's Friday column led with the story, tying it to the previous kidnappings of the Syrian Orthodox bishop and Greek Orthodox metropolitan of Aleppo. It even made the print edition of the Wall Street Journal. But no one seems to know what, if anything, can be done.
I only met Fr. Paolo once, sharing a meal, when he visited Fordham University in 2011. I obviously can't claim him has a friend. But I have been unexpectedly angry, disdainful, and plaintive in heart since hearing of his alleged kidnapping. Part of my response comes from my writing a book about early Christianity in Syria at the same time as its current civil war. Another part of it comes from having written scholarship about the art of the medieval monastery, Mar Musa al-Habashi, which is what Fr. Paolo refounded after centuries of abandonment and made into a site of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims who wanted to meet in peace and prayer.Read more
Now on the website, a special package of Commonweal articles from sociologist of religion Robert N. Bellah, who died at the end of July. Bellah was a contributor to the magazine since the early 1980s, writing on such subjects as the changing nature of the relationship between religion and power; American economic competitiveness and the pastoral letter Economic Justice for All; and the implications of "the Bush doctrine." You can find it here.
Now featured on the home page, stories from our new issue.
In “Beyond the Stalemate” (subscription), Peter Steinfels looks at where we are forty years after Roe:
That Americans and American Catholics remain divided over abortion is, in important ways, to our credit. But some divisions are more necessary, compelling, or expedient than others. Some are well considered and executed, others are not. Some are paralyzing and self-destructive, others point toward fruitful resolution. Forty years after Roe, it is incumbent on Catholics to reexamine their stance toward abortion and its legalization.
There is natural resistance to any such reexamination. This is a topic associated with too much pain—and often hidden pain—along with too much hypocrisy, illusion, and male betrayal. Many Catholics who are angry at church leaders or prolife activists for their harsh rhetoric, political absolutism, moral righteousness, or general attitudes toward women and sexuality simply refuse to think about the topic further. Prolife leaders, on the other hand, boost morale by seizing on any uptick in public opinion, any success in a state legislature, and every fresh summons from religious authorities as confirmation that their present course, no matter how inadequate or counterproductive, is unassailable. …
My own reexamination of the Catholic stance on abortion begins with two simple statements and then attempts to determine what conclusions and practical proposals might flow from them.
First statement: From the very earliest stages of its life, the unborn offspring of human beings constitutes an individual member of the human species deserving the same protections from harm and destruction owed to born humans.
Second statement: This conviction, taught by the Catholic Church and shared by many people, religious and non-religious, is nowhere near as obvious as many of us who hold it suppose.
David Rieff sees trouble in the calls for “humanitarian war” in Syria:
If the conditions on the ground in Syria today, after two years of unbridled civil war, were more akin to those in Libya at the time French president Nicolas Sarkozy persuaded his NATO partners to act, or to those in Mali at the time of the recent French military intervention than they are to the conditions in Iraq or Afghanistan, then the ardor of the liberal hawks and the neoconservatives for intervention there would not seem so reckless. After all, the interventions in Libya and Mali both seemed to recapitulate the so-called humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, where the core of the debate was never whether a U.S. or NATO intervention would be successful—this, probably rightly, was taken for granted—but only whether there was really a will in Washington, Brussels, London, or Paris to intervene in a Bosnia, Rwanda, or Kosovo. But even most of those who think the United States must act in Syria concede that not only is an effective military intervention there likely to prove far more difficult than in Iraq, let alone in Mali or Kosovo; it is also by no means sure that any political result that is now imaginable will be much of an improvement over a continuation of the Assad dictatorship.
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