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(RNS) The central problem is not that the just war doctrine is being dismissed or condemned, but that both sides in the debate over Syria are citing just war theory, but are reaching diametrically opposed conclusions.

9 Comments

  1. If the RC hierarchy, any Christian denomination outside the “peace church” traditions, and/or theologians generally are pacifist, it’s news to pacifists (even or perhaps especially to the theologically-trained among that tribe…)

    I think the foregoing also slightly mischaracterizes the historical role of just war within the Catholic tradition. Doctrine determines sacramental practice, not the other way around (“lex orandi, lex credendi”). Just war tradition did not function in the early church to say that there were certain virtuous wars where Christians were permitted to kill without sinning. If you killed in a just war, you needed to confess it as a sin and do penance for the act just as you would with any other act of homicide, but just war criteria lessened the personal imputability of the sin and therefore the penance. In the actual sacramental life of the Church, homicide was a material sin and just war considerations functioned only to determine the degree of subjective imputability for the objectively wrong action. Do a little digging in historical theology for some of the research underlying this:

    http://vox-nova.com/2011/05/23/osborn-on-the-origins-of-just-war-tradition/

    I think it’s sound. The earliest canons of the Church do _not_ allow soldiers who have killed in battle to receive the Eucharist without doing penance for that sin.

  2. It would be much simpler to say that self-defense is justified when one is attacked by another and the one being attacked has done no wrong.

    If wrongs by the one being attacked are in the mind of the attacker, as in the case of Bashar al-Assad, as in the case of Hitler against other European nations, as in the case of the Japanese attack against our fleet in Pearl Harbor–and all of their atrocious attacks against many of their neighbors in the Far East, defense and even retaliation to prevent more of the same would be justified, at least in the minds of those being attacked.

    The same held true for the United States as a result of 9/11, but that was expanded with lies by the Bush/Cheney administration to expand as justification for their military invasion of Iraq.

    I think Nicholas Hahn is guilty of double-talk when he refers to a “morally desirable act of charity.” Charity by whom? Charity toward whom? Charity as a reaction to what action? What is charitable about destruction, murder?

    I don’t think the term “charity” should be substituted for justified self-defense or joining others in self-defense because they are unable to defend themselves against atrocities. We must decide whether we’re going to join one or the other, for example, in the Syrian Civil War.

    Whenever we get into thought and discussion about faith and morals, especially those “based on myths,” we are always going to end up with troublesome disagreements. Myth is a substitute for known reality. Argument based on myth cannot usually be sustained by logic because myth is not logic. Myth was an invented explanation about unknown things before the human race grew older, discovered scientific realism, and continued to expand that kind of knowledge.

    “Muddled clear moral thinking” in no way represents the thinking or the desired action of the “Catholic left” as claimed by Sean Winters. Rather, it is”muddled clear” thinking on his part to even accuse the “Catholic left” of that. Winters’ bias is clear, like most who disagree with the middle or the left for any reason. The so-called “Catholic left,” whoever they are, presumably all those who disagree with Winters or his camp, are guilty of “muddled clear … thinking” about everything in Winters’ mind.

    We can forget Augustine. We can forget Thomas Aquinas–as most Catholic seminaries did for a long time after Vatican II. They lived in a different age, colored more by myth as reality. Sharper philosophy and almost all of science as we know it, didn’t even exist. That is why even the ideas of Jesus must be adjusted to what we know better now as–never presuming to equate ourselves with the almighty, infinite “God.” Presuming to know God and speak for God is the real atheism.

    It is usually claimed that there has been only one “infallible” declaration by a pope since that ides was forced on the bishops who eventually voted for it under the pressure of Pio Nono in Vatican I. That is wrong. Even the declaration of infallibility was a presumed, infallible declaration. The reason it has only been practiced once since it’s original declaration–by Pius XII in his declaration of the Assumption–is because it was so presumptuous, so monarchical, so unfounded.

    It is time to quit trying to “count the number of angels who can stand on the head of a pin,” stop fussing with the presumed idea of a “justified war” and confine ourselves to the describing the plain evil of those who attack others because they disagree with them and want them out of their way. Often, both sides can be at fault, but usually one more than the other.

    The gassing of soldiers by the Germans in World War I and the Jews by Hitler in World War II, Hitler’s invasions of other European countries leading up to and during that war, agent orange, the unwarranted destruction in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon twelve years ago today, and the inhumane al-Assad’s use of saran gas last month are real incidents we can measure and discuss. We do not need to get into the fine points of moral philosophy. People did evil against innocent people. It’s as simple as that.

  3. It is true, the Church for the last 1600 years has clung to the theory that violence may be justifiable under strict conditions.

    However the standards of Just War Theory are not taught at Seminary, nor are they preached from the pulpit, nor do the so-called Military Chaplains instruct those Catholic men and (even more sadly) women in the Armed Forces, who are most in need of it. http://centerforchristiannonviolence.org/data/Media/QAoGN_03_Just_War_Theory.mp3

    The truth is that Just War Theory is a Theory. It is also a bogus Theory, and in practice has been proven to be fallacious. Scripture experts are unanimous that Christ completely rejected violence, and Church Historians confirm, that until Constantine, the Church condemned violence and enmity unilaterally.

    The fact that modern Church authors refer to great Saints and great minds post-Constantine, to their efforts to justify the theory of Just War is an excellent example of how the post-Constantinan Church clings on to this issue with all it’s might. Despite the fact that Popes have been calling for Peace for years.

    The more fundamental issue, is while Pope Francis, and the Popes before him for centuries have been calling for peace, there is an institutionalised and enshrined licence for violence and enmity in a theory, the theory of Just War. I explain in an article on my blog, http://catholicscout.wordpress.com/ how the theory undermines both Gospel and Papal teaching, and what is needed in-fact is for the Pope to condemn the theory.

  4. I’d like to hear you say more about your claim that just peacemaking is “not as clearly articulated nor as readily applicable to real-world circumstances.”

    The ten practices, clearly articulated in several volumes by dozens of scholars, have been observed over time as successful strategies for averting or ending violent conflict, in real-world circumstances. And supported by just war theorists and pacifists, alike.

    If we’re talking “last resort,” we have to talk about what we tried first. Just Peacemaking is what we do first.

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