Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Waterboarding doesn't save lives

From the Coalition for Clarity Facebook page, Sean Daily shares an article from Forbes:

It’s now widely known that claims made in previously secret memos about the efficacy of so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques – such as that it was from waterboarding Abu Zubaydah that the so-called “dirty bomb” plot of Jose Padilla was thwarted – are false. Padilla was arrested in May 2002, long before waterboarding began months later, and the plot was uncovered using traditional interrogation techniques.

What isn’t widely known is how the insistence of decision-makers to persist with the coercive interrogation techniques and other mistaken tactics like the outsourcing of interrogations to foreign countries – ignoring the pleas of CIA and FBI professionals in the field – cost lives too. Besides the Limburg, there were attacks in London, Madrid, Bali, and Riyadh that might have been stopped if the professionals were listened to. And if leads were followed bin Laden probably could have been found years earlier.

So not only are Enhanced Interrogation Techniques evil, but they also don't work. Who could possibly have foreseen this?

Turns out, waterboarding doesn't save lives. Torture doesn't help fight terror. Evil, once again, has shown to be ineffective as well as wrong.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sharing some posts about the death penalty

I've written two recent posts about the death penalty, in light of Governor Rick Perry's entry into the presidential race. They are here:

Death is irrevocable

and

Dead wrong: Rick Perry and the death penalty

Please feel free to comment either there or here about these posts.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Right?

You've probably already seen this:

An American former military contractor who claims he was imprisoned and tortured by the US army in Iraq has been allowed by a judge to sue the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally for damages.

The man, an army veteran whose identity has been withheld, worked as a translator for the US marines in the volatile Anbar province when he was detained for nine months at Camp Cropper, a US military facility near Baghdad airport dedicated to holding "high-value" detainees.

The government says he was suspected of helping to pass classified information to the enemy and helping anti-coalition forces enter Iraq. But he was never charged with a crime, and says he never broke the law.

What happened to this man? Here are some of the allegations:

In November 2005, when he was to go on home leave, Navy Criminal Investigative Service agents questioned him about his work, refusing his requests for representation by his employer, the Marines or an attorney. The Justice Department says he was told he was suspected of helping provide classified information to the enemy and helping anti-coalition forces attempting to cross from Syria into Iraq.

He says he refused to answer questions because of concern about confidentiality, and the agents handcuffed and blindfolded him, kicked him in the back and threatened to shoot him if he tried to escape. He was then transferred to an unidentified location for three days before being flown to Camp Cropper. [...]

He claims guards tortured him by repeatedly choking him, exposing him to extreme cold and continuous artificial light, blindfolding and hooding him, waking him by banging on a door or slamming a window when he tried to sleep and blasting music into his cell at "intolerably loud volumes."
But none of that is real torture, right? And the man was suspected of collaborating with terrorists, which makes it all good, right?

Right?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Praying for Somalia

I posted about this earlier tonight on my main blog, but I wanted to share it here, too:

The United Nations has declared a famine in two areas of southern Somalia as the region suffers the worst drought in more than half a century.

The UN said the humanitarian situation in southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle had deteriorated rapidly.

It is the first time that the country has seen famine in 19 years.

Meanwhile, the UN and US have said aid agencies need further safety guarantees from armed groups in Somalia to allow staff to reach those in need.

Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group which controls large swathes of south and central Somalia, had imposed a ban on foreign aid agencies in its territories in 2009, but has recently allowed limited access.

An estimated 10 million people have been affected in East Africa by the worst drought in more than half a century. More than 166,000 desperate Somalis are estimated to have fled their country to neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia.

The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said $300m (£186m) was needed to address the famine in the next two months.

The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, said the response by many European and developed countries to the crisis in the Horn of Africa had been "derisory and dangerously inadequate".

"The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become. It is time for the world to help," he said.

Read the rest here.

Catholic social justice teaching makes it clear that these are our brothers and sisters suffering so horrifically from the effects of this drought and the resulting famine. Political realities have only made the situation worse than it would otherwise be. Pope Benedict XVI has called on the nations of the world to rush to Somalia's aid.

Let us pray for the suffering, and do what we can to help.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Isn't it time to bring them home?

Although this blog has tended to focus on torture (e.g. "enhanced interrogation") when discussing our wars, I think it's a good thing from time to time to reflect that the bar set for a war to be a Just War is rather high, that some of our present foreign engagements either never met that standard or no longer do, and that we're continuing to keep our service men and women in harm's way regardless of such considerations:

Five American soldiers died Monday when a barrage of rockets slammed into a base in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad — the largest, single-day loss of life for U.S. forces in Iraq in two years.

The attack follows warnings from Shiite militants backed by Iran and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that they would violently resist any effort to keep American troops in Iraq past their year-end deadline to go home. [...]

The five fatalities Monday were the most in a single day since May 11, 2009, when five troops died in a noncombat incident. On April 10, 2009, six U.S. troops died — five in combat in the northern city of Mosul and one north of Baghdad in a noncombat related incident.

According to an Associated Press tally, 4,459 American service members have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003.

And that doesn't include the 1,500 and counting US troops killed in Afghanistan since the start of fighting there.

Isn't it time--more than time--to bring our men and women home from Iraq and Afghanistan? Do we really need to be involved in three foreign wars at this point in history? Is there any just reason to remain in these countries and continue to put our men and women in harm's way?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A new Jay Study on clergy sexual abuse - UPDATED

*UPDATE at bottom of post.*

The John Jay College of Law at CUNY has released a new study on patterns in Catholic clergy who sexually abused minors. This will add information to their impressive earlier study from 2004.

Clarity is good in every aspect of life, both inside and outside the institutions of the Church. And while our bishops have individually been hit-and-miss in being transparent and decisive, it does my heart good to know that the USCCB is putting serious time and money (about $2M) into this kind of self-examination. Call it an examination of conscience.

Lots of pixels are flashing because the study notes the "permissive culture of the '60s, '70s" as a factor in the recent scandal. I have no doubt that is true. But it is far from the only factor, and it does little good to point to a factor which is in the past and beyond our control.

More reasoned articles point out that this spike in abusive behavior had many causes, some of which were historically rooted.

Other causes are structural, and those are the ones we can actually do something about.

The Vatican is making moves in that direction, and these are welcome. But the Church is more than just a hierarchy, and the diocese is not a subsidiary of the Vatican. We cannot and should not rely on the Pope to police the bishops.

Rather, each of us - lay, cleric, or consecrated religious - has a part to play in the reform that is needed.

I don't know all the steps we need to take, but at least three come to mind immediately:

  1. Pray - pray for ourselves, that we may grow in virtue and holiness; and pray for our clergy and other religious leaders (teachers, administrators, etc.) that they be given the grace, the wisdom, and the courage to do what is right for the Church, and especially for those most vulnerable

  2. Learn - this study acknowledges just how complex the life of a priest can be; it may not be more difficult than a layperson's life, but it is difficult in a different way; understanding the various causes can help us spot problems as they're still in the temptation stage, or at least prevent further harm from being done

  3. Act - not everyone is in a position to take direct action, but some of us are; we may be a friend of a priest, or may sit on the parish council; we may have the ear of the bishop; we may just be good with words; in any case, we must both support priests and other religious leaders, and also hold them accountable in both word and action

We can all of us do the first; most of us can do the second; perhaps only a few will do the third. But as members of the One Body of Christ, we all have a part to play in expelling the disease of abuse, and in bringing healing to those who are harmed.

*Update*
The New York Times raised some important questions about the study, particularly that the study defines the line between "pedophilia" (abuse of pre-pubescent children) and "ephebophilia" (abuse of pubescent children) at age 10, while the medical and psychological standard is age 13. I haven't seen a good reason for the study to draw this line where they did.

So the report raises some questions about its own validity. I don't want to dismiss the report altogether, but questions are worth asking, and need answering. This is part of the learning we all have to do.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Torture works" isn't an argument

Joshua Mercer makes the point that "torture works" isn't an argument in favor of torture, even if torture did work, which is doubtful.

Hat tip: Mark Shea, who has some comments of his own here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

When mercy seasons justice

(Cross-posted at And Sometimes Tea)

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

When I first learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a United States military team, I felt...surprised. Bin Laden has been such a shadowy figure for so long that I suppose it didn't seem very real to me, to think that a military operation had been carried out successfully in such a cut and dried manner against someone who somehow seemed less than real. But there was no denying that news of his death was...good news, right?

I visited a few places--Facebook being one of them--and felt a little uneasy by the enthusiasm in some quarters for the news, especially for that enthusiasm as shown by fellow Catholics. Surely we could be glad that the terrorist mastermind of 9/11 has left this earth before committing any new crime of a comparable level without openly celebrating his killing, couldn't we?

The statement from the Vatican's spokeman seemed to strike the right note:
Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.
A far cry, this measured, reflective tone, from some other things I saw here and there on the Catholic blogosphere which seemed to rejoice in Osama bin Laden's death, and which actually credited either yesterday's celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, or the newly Blessed Pope John Paul II, with the success of the operation in killing the terrorist mastermind. Two things come to mind: one, that yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday, and that no one living could survive "Divine Justice Sunday" should God ever decide to hold such a day; and two, that the author of Evangelium Vitae--the Gospel of Life--might admit sorrowfully that the death of an aggressor who could not be safely captured might be necessary, but would never celebrate such a fact.

It is possible, though we will not know in this life, that Osama bin Laden was not beyond the reach of God's mercy; certainly the fact that he remained alive for so long after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 was a mercy in itself, since the increased amount of time was time for him to repent. If he did not avail himself of repentance--if he did not seek forgiveness--if he will reside for all eternity in the flames of Hell--that is not something to rejoice about, either. That fate awaits all of us who turn our backs on God and refuse to listen to Him, who spurn His repeated offers of that Divine Mercy without which none of us has any hope at all.

A few Catholic bloggers and writers have mentioned that they have prayed for bin Laden and those killed along with him (and, indeed, some of them may have been innocent of everything but relationship to an evil man, which is not always something one can do anything about). Some said such prayers came naturally; others admitted to struggling with the idea, which is perfectly understandable given the situation. It did not occur to me to pray for those killed until after I'd read those posts, but I did pray once I had read them--I prayed that the mercy I hope for myself would be extended to those who died yesterday, and that if by their own choices they were beyond the reach of redemption, that my prayers help other poor souls awaiting liberty from purgatory. It does not matter if that sort of thing doesn't come naturally to us; it only matters if there is some person for whom we would absolutely refuse to pray--because that refusal would mean real hatred, which is what would cause us actually to wish someone were in Hell and to refuse to pray that they were not beyond redemption.

It may be objected that Osama bin Laden's crimes against humanity already prove him beyond redemption. Blessed John Paul II wrote this, though, about the world's first murderer, the first man guilty of such a crime against the tiny handful of humanity then born:
And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, "put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him" (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel's death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is precisely here that the paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth. (Evangelium Vitae, 9)
It is justice that a murderer be stopped, even if stopping him ends up demanding the use of lethal force. But it is mercy to pray for his soul and the souls of those who perished with him, and further to pray for those tempted to commit acts of violence in retaliation, that they will heed the voice of God and turn from evil. And as we pray, so we hope that others will one day pray for us; as we cry to God for mercy even upon the soul of a man whose life was characterized by great evil, so we hope that others will shout for mercy for us when our days on this earth have ended.

On the passing of Osama bin Laden

When I heard the news on the radio last night, my immediate response was to offer prayer for the repose of his soul. If there's even the slightest chance the man is not in Hell, he needs all the help he can get.

This is, I hope, a Catholic response.

On the one hand, it is right and proper to rejoice in the defeat of one's enemy. And Osama bin Laden, by his own description, was our enemy. His actions were horrific and without excuse, and his defeat is a victory not only for the USA but for all those whom al-Qaeda targeted.

On the other, every human death is a tragedy, albeit a tragedy laced with hope, as we know from our celebrations of our Lord's resurrection. Osama bin Laden, before anything else, is a human person, and is a beloved child of God.

My prayers also go up on behalf of the team that conducted the operation. From some of President Obama's comments, it sounds as if the goal was to capture him, and that Bin Laden was killed in the course of that attempt. But the statement, "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body," makes it sound as if bin Laden was assassinated after the fighting had finished. This would not be a morally just action, even on a battlefield.

Now, it goes without saying that I am in no position to judge the morality of actions that I know about only from summary news reports. And I hope it is obvious that I consider this a day of legitimate and true joy for the US. But this joy is tainted with sorrow, and with a sincere concern that our joy will turn to arrogance or forgetfulness of our own sins, and of our constant call to charity.

Hence my prayers for his soul. I know only of his public acts of violence and aggression; I know nothing of the state of his soul. I do know my own faults, and I hope that people will pray for me at my death. The Golden Rule dictates I do to others as I would have done to me, so...

From the gates of Hell, rescue his soul, O Lord. Amen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Aborting government

(Cross-posted at And Sometimes Tea)

In approximately six hours, the threat of a federal government shutdown may be realized if Congress can't pass a budget. And yes, the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood has remained a live one:

"We know the whole world is watching us today," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

He, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner all agreed a shutdown posed risks to an economy still recovering from the worst recession in decades. But there were disagreements aplenty among the principal players in an early test of divided government — Obama in the White House, fellow Democrats in control in the Senate and a new, tea party-flavored Republican majority in the House.

For much of the day, Reid and Boehner disagreed about what the disagreement was about. [...]

Originally, Republicans wanted to ban federal funds for Planned Parenthood, a health care services provider that is also the nation's largest provider of abortions.

Federal funds may not be used to pay for abortions except in strictly regulated cases, but supporters of the ban said cutting off government funds for the organization — currently about $330 million a year — would make it harder for it to use its own money for the same purpose.

Democrats rejected the proposal in private talks. Officials in both parties said Republicans returned earlier in the week with a proposal to distribute federal funds for family planning and related health services to the states, rather than directly to Planned Parenthood and other organizations.

Democrats said they rejected that proposal, as well, and then refused to agree to allow a separate Senate vote on the issue as part of debate over any compromise bill.

Instead, they launched a sustained campaign at both ends of the Capitol to criticize Republicans.

I highly doubt the whole world is watching this budget showdown; most Americans aren't even paying all that much attention. Because, if they were, I think more Americans would be outraged that the Democrats in Congress are ready to abort the funding of the federal government rather than stop funding the nation's largest abortion chop-shops run by Planned Parenthood.

For my part, I think that there are several bloated government projects that could stand to be aborted. Consider this list of some such projects from last year, courtesy of the Citizens Against Government Waste. Here are some of my favorites:
$12,500,000 by Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) for 13 projects, including: $2,750,000 for polymer research; $1,000,000 for wheat genetic research; $1,000,000 for a phosphorous reduction cooperative agreement through the Kansas Livestock Foundation; and $250,000 for workforce development and out-migration through the Kansas Farm Bureau Foundation (KFBF). In addition to the appropriation, KFBF has also applied for a $7 million stimulus grant for rural broadband deployment. To add insult to injury, the Kansas Farm Bureau, which is conveniently located at the same address as the foundation, had a fund balance of $98 million at the end of 2007. [...]

$775,000 for the Institute for Food Science and Engineering (IFSE) requested by Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee member Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.). One of IFSE’s research areas is called “Pickle Science and Technology” which the institute’s website boasts, “is dedicated to increasing product value by improving production and quality of pickled vegetables. The program, which enjoys significant industry support, includes the annual national evaluation of pickled vegetable products.” With the continued spending of taxpayer money on initiatives like these, it is not surprising that taxpayers are in a financial pickle of more than $12.7 trillion in debt. [...]

$61,600,000 for 30 projects by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), including: $14,000,000 for the Cooperative Institute and Research Center for Southeast Weather and Hydrology at the University of Alabama; $6,000,000 for six projects for the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville; $1,000,000 for the Tools for Tolerance program at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California; $250,000 for a wireless area network for the city of Hartselle (population 13,888); $200,000 for the Cherokee County Methamphetamine and Marijuana Reduction program; and $150,000 for Zelpha’s Cultural Development Corporation for the University of Alabama’s After-School Delinquency Prevention program. [...]

$1,200,000 by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House appropriator Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) for the American Museum of Natural History for infectious disease research. Funding museum research in a defense bill really bugs taxpayers. [...]

$1,250,000 by Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) for research into the long-term environmental and economic impacts of the development of a coal liquefaction sector in China. Sen. Byrd has directed $2,070,150 to this project over the past three years. [...]
I could go on, but you get the point--and that's before we look at the number of "historic" small theaters, museums, and other businesses being restored with federal money, because apparently the people who actually live near these things don't care to spend state or local funds to fix them up. Something to bear in mind as you work on your taxes this weekend, anyway.

So, I'm all for a government shutdown, if it comes to that. I'd much rather abort wasteful government than continue to permit federal funds to finance the Abortion Kings of America over at Margaret Sanger's racist, eugenicist organization, Planned Parenthood (unofficial slogan: "We kill more of the poor than drugs and gun violence combined!"). Let's hope enough of the new Republicans are thinking the same thing tonight.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We are not Globocop

Sorry this blog has not been updated in so long. I plan to work harder on getting at least a weekly post out.

A reader asks Mark Shea about Libya. Here's part of Mark's answer:
Now consider: Libya has not attacked us. It poses no lasting, grave, and certain threat to us. The competent authority in international peace-keeping is not us, but the UN (as we ourselves agreed by signing on with the UN), and the evils of our intruding into the internal affairs of this (and a hundred other) countries is not proving to produce evils and disorders less grave than the evil to be eliminated.

In short, we are not Globocop, we are a hubris-filled nation drunk on the blood of the unborn, gluttonous for Mammon, teetering on the brink of financial ruin, in hock up to our ears, with an over-extended and increasingly exhausted military that was not intended to maintain an expanding Empire while attempting to build the Great Society abroad. This is their war, not ours.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mark Shea on true and false courage

A terrific piece from Mark:

Similarly, many a radically selfish person has managed to convince himself he was a soul dedicated to the Good of Mankind or the Love of God even as he was about the business of doing some miserable piece of self-serving filth and telling himself throughout the whole affair that the gag reflex he felt was what truly courageous people must muscle down as they defy God and conscience for the Greater Good.

If that is so, then how do we make the distinction between a radically good and radically evil act? How do we tell that one is advocating radical evil and another is advocating radical Christian charity?

The answer is the cross. What marks out Jesus' radical act of courage is that He is brave in offering His own life, not some other innocent person. Conversely, if somebody is "courageously" willing to make some innocent person suffer or die, that's your first clue that they are not courageous for the things of God.

And so, for instance, Himmler is very brave with the lives of innocent people and singularly protective of his own. Likewise, Myers does not volunteer his own body to be reduced to a piece of meat for the sake of Science, much less for the sake of a baby. He demonstrates a congenital inability to distinguish brutality from courage and regards himself as brave for, among other things, being unmoved by the thought of stabbing a defenseless baby to death with scissors. The distinction between that act and interposing one's body between the baby and a fiend like himself is lost on a moral monster like Myers, as it is on Himmler. Like Jeffrey Dahmer, he is "unafraid" to reduce persons to meat. (And, oddly, nobody frets about his "incivility" or the effect he might have on some Jared Loughner in his class.)

In the same way, the Croatian guard is "brave" enough to slaughter innocents, but not enough to slaughter his nationalism on the cross of Christ.

Go read the whole thing here.

We've seen the "false courage" motif crop up in torture debates. The idea is that those who oppose torture are too cowardly to "man up" and do What Must Be Done to Defend Our Nation. The response to that is simple: a nation that can only be defended by having recourse to torture--or, indeed, any other intrinsic evil--is a nation no longer worthy of defending.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More fun with the death penalty

Mark posts over at Inside Catholic on the death penalty with predictable results.

Here's the skinny:

  1. The Church teaches, as she has always taught, that a legitimate government has the authority to execute a criminal

  2. The Church teaches, as she has always taught, that the government has the responsibility to use capital punishment rarely, when a criminal's sure threat posed to the common good cannot be otherwise met

  3. John Paul II and the Catechism teach that such circumstances under which the death penalty may be justly and prudently imposed are so rare as to be nonexistent, for practical purposes

  4. However, neither JP2 nor the Catechism impose the burden of sin on any governmental officers who impose or enforce a sentence of capital punishment - given that the process is imposed and executed as justly as possible


Mark calls this position "death penalty minimalism" which seems a good enough moniker to me. It is consistent with the philosophical principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and with the ancient tradition of Catholic moral teaching. It is consistent with scripture and with all the saints I know of.

Some go further, calling for an all-out abolition of the death penalty; this is acceptable under Catholic teaching, so long as they do not oppose the State's obligation to defend the common good.

Some argue strongly to retain the legal option of the death penalty; this is acceptable under Catholic teaching, so long as they recognize that capital punishment is a tool that poses dangers as great or greater than those it solves, and must be used with extreme caution.

I don't have strong opinions on the issue myself, except to maintain clarity that Catholic moral teaching does not necessarily map to party policy, and may have a variety of practical implementations.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Love your neighbor as yourself

I keep noticing, both in the comments here and on other sites, that some people seem to see a contradiction between the divine command to love one's neighbor and the natural right to defend oneself and others.

The Catholic Church sees no such contradiction. There are a few basic principles which allow us to find clarity in complex situations.

The first principle is simply the Law of Love, also known as the two Greatest Commandments:
"Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?" And he [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22.36-40)

Now, "Love" in the Christian tradition means much more than a nice feeling or an attraction or any such emotion. Love is an act, the most fundamental act of a person. It is to will what is good. Love delights in a good that is present, and pursues a good that is absent. The love of charity, the perfection of love to which we are called, seeks the good of union with God, which is the highest good, and the one that all persons share in.

In other words, to love God is to delight in his glory. To love myself is to seek union with God. And to love my neighbor is to seek my neighbor's union with God.

Now, this sounds very abstract and mystical, but it has some very practical implications. Perhaps most importantly, it shows us the priority of goods in the world. Everything God has made is good in itself; but not everything is good for me (or for my neighbor) at any given time. Things are good insofar as they draw us closer to God.

So, my physical safety and integrity are good things. Most of the time, being healthy and secure is a real help toward union with God. But there are times when my physical or social safety becomes an obstacle to union with God. To admit I am a practicing Christian at school or at work can lead to ostracization. To serve the poor and the sick risks infection or theft of my property. To refuse undue honor to Muhammad or to the Koran, in some parts of the world today, risks imprisonment, torture, or even death.

In other words, when even a good so important as my physical integrity is set against the good of God, the choice must be for God.

Martyrdom is not something we seek out for its own sake. It is something we endure only when necessity drives us to it. So, when possible, we try to hold onto both goods: bodily integrity and union with God. Under normal circumstances, these goods are not opposed to one another. Martyrdom - of any kind or degree - is not normal.

Now, if we love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be concerned for their physical integrity as for our own. That is, whenever it does not conflict with union with God, we will seek to defend and promote their bodily good. In families, this means caring for and sticking up for one another. In communities, this takes both personal forms - such as intervening when you witness a crime in progress - to institutional forms - such as the police and military.

The whole notion of rights to self defense and just war are founded, in the Catholic tradition, on the law of love. They are legitimate rights, but they are limited because they are not ends or obligations in themselves; they are for the sake of union with God.

So, I do not have the right to defend myself by any means necessary. Rather, I have the right to defend myself insofar as I do not commit a sin in doing so. I can fire a gun at my attacker, even shoot to kill if that is the only way to defeat the attack; but I cannot poison him, or maim him, or use deadly force where lesser force is a real option. In other words, I may not commit murder, even to prevent my own murder.

Likewise, the State has the obligation to defend the common good, and so (as noted) has the right to detain and punish criminals up to depriving them of life. It has the right to maintain a military fighting force, and to engage an attacking enemy. But the State does not have the right to murder. It has no right to kill a criminal when other means of defending the common good will do; and it has no right to use military force when other options for defense are available. It has no right, ever, to attack a neighbor. The only truly just war is a war of defense.

This will make clear, I hope, the second principle, that we may never do evil, even for apparently good reasons or seeking good consequences. Murder, the deliberate taking of innocent life, is always and under any circumstances, wrong. For that matter, any deliberate attempt to harm another person in any way, that is, to act contrary to their good, is an evil act.

The second principle simply states that nothing supersedes or dispenses from the first principle.

Hopefully, this will make the theory usually called "double effect" more clear. Double effect is a last-resort theory for extraordinary circumstances, when no choice is an unmixed good. It does not permit anyone, ever, to choose an evil act under any circumstances. Rather, it acknowledges that there are times when, no matter what one does, something bad will likely result.

  1. First, I make sure what I am going to do is itself a good act; for example, I am defending myself and/or my children against an attacker

  2. Next, I see what possible evils could result; for example, I recognize that I will likely injure, perhaps even kill, the attacker; I also risk injury or death myself

  3. Finally, I make sure that the evil I risk or allow is not disproportionate to the good I seek; for example, if my attacker has a pocket knife, I don't respond with a 9mm

This principle applies to acts of individuals as well as institutional acts of governments. Morality doesn't change with size; only the means available change.

I hope this clarifies why, from the perspective of Catholic moral teaching, torture and abortion and euthanasia are always wrong; the death penalty, self defense, and defensive war must be used with extreme caution, if ever; and "pre-emptive" wars are inherently unjust.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Solidarity

It's been a while since I've posted here; I'm hoping to get back onto a regular posting schedule again in this new year.

I'm sure you've already seen this, but it's worth sharing:
Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

Often times, the proponents of torture will use language that demonizes all Muslim people, as will, indeed, others caught up in propaganda. I have seen and heard the words "Muslim" or "Islamic" used as synonyms for "terrorist," sometimes by people who should know better. But not only is this unjust to the sort of Muslims described above, it has the effect of placing a whole category of people into a sort of "nonperson" or depersonalized status.

Just as proponents of abortion often refer to "fetuses" or "embryos" or even "zygotes" as if these terms clearly denote someone who is less than human, so too do people at various times in history tend to depersonalize whole cultures and societies with whom they might be at war. During World War II, for instance, epithets like "Huns" and "Japs" were used to refer not only to enemy soldiers, but to everyone who had the misfortune of living in Germany or Japan; from there it was a short step to the view that there was really no such thing as a noncombatant, and that everyone within the enemy countries' borders was "fair game" for acts of war.

The brave Muslims who attended Mass with their Christian neighbors as a rebuke to the terrorists have demonstrated three important things: the kind of solidarity that all human beings should strive for with each other, the courage to reject evils being done in the name of the religion they practice, and the committment to peaceful and civil relations with all the people in their nation. We should at least have the similar courage to correct anyone who says that "the Muslims" are the problem in regard to modern-day peace efforts; the terrorists are the problem, but many Muslims are tired of being associated with the intolerant and irrational thuggery and violence that terrorists create.