California Nightmaring

Thursday, August 12, AD 2010

In a remarkably good article here at newgeography, Joel Kotkin details how California has been transformed from the Golden State to the state most likely to go bankrupt.  He sums up his argument as follows:

What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city—as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.

Kotkin notes that government spending was completely out of control prior to the present Great Recession:

Between 2003 and 2007, California state and local government spending grew 31 percent, even as the state’s population grew just 5 percent. The overall tax burden as a percentage of state income, once middling among the states, has risen to the sixth-highest in the nation, says the Tax Foundation. Since 1990, according to an analysis by California Lutheran University, the state’s share of overall U.S. employment has dropped a remarkable 10 percent. When the state economy has done well, it has usually been the result of asset inflation—first during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, and then during the housing boom, which was responsible for nearly half of all jobs created earlier in this decade.

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2 Responses to California Nightmaring

  • Truth.

    Sadly, the DNC propaganda apparatchnik/MSM will not cover the truth.

    It seems the geniuses and college professors that rule us are out to destroy the racist, unjust private economy, or they are really clueless.

  • All you have to do is look at the Bell Ca public officials or the state employees who work like crazy on thier last year in order to pad their lifetime retirement benefits. There are plenty of areas to point at when it comes to waste and fraud.

    I just wish the common sense would come back … It’s gone!

Conqueror of the Northwest

Wednesday, August 11, AD 2010

One of the largely unsung heroes of the American Revolution is George Rogers Clark.  The campaign that he fought in Illinois and Indiana secured to America a claim to these territories that was recognized in the treaty ending the war.

In 1778 Virginian Clark, at 25, was already a seasoned veteran of the savage warfare that raged on the Kentucky frontier throughout the Revolution.  Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamilton, known to the patriots as “Hair-buyer” Hamilton,  from Detroit constantly aided the Indians war against the settlers in Kentucky, and paid generous bounties to the Indians for the prisoners and scalps they brought him.

Clark realized that the best way to stop the raids into Kentucky was for the patriots to go on the offensive and seize British outposts north of the Ohio river.  Recruiting 150 men to form what he called the Illinois regiment, Clark, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia militia, led his force into Illinois and took Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778.  The men of the Illinois regiment received an enthusiastic reception from the French, largely due to the efforts of Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of the Illinois Country, and Frenchwomen soon busied themselves sewing flags for the regiment.  Cahokia and Vincennes were taken without firing a shot, and British power in Illinois and Indiana seemed to vanish over night.

Hamilton did not take long to respond.  He raised a force of 30 regulars, 145 French Canadian militiamen and 60 Indians, marched from Detroit and re-took Fort Sackville at Vincennes on December 17, planning to stay there for the winter and then retake Illinois in the spring of 1779.

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Proxy Morality: Taking Sides in History

Tuesday, August 10, AD 2010

Generally speaking, I think we would say that moral behavior consists of choosing to do right in one’s actions. However, there are a number of instances in which we tend to think of ourselves as behaving virtuously despite not having actually undertaken any action. These are means by which we tell ourselves that we have demonstrated we are “good people” without the burden of actually doing good things.

There are several different ways we do this which I’d like to address under the description of “proxy morality”, by which I mean instances in which someone assigns virtue to himself through no more action than identifying himself with some good which is performed by someone else. The first of these, one which I think people of all ideological persuasions fall into at times, is that of taking sides in history.

It is by now an old saw that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and I think there is a good deal of truth in this. Further, it can be of some moral benefit for us to look to history for people and actions to admire. The moment in which we find ourselves suddenly faced with some difficult moral decision is typically not the moment at which are most un-biased or deliberative, and so having clear examples to follow, if they are well chosen, can be a significant benefit.

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3 Responses to Proxy Morality: Taking Sides in History

Who's Gonna Grab the Third Rail?

Tuesday, August 10, AD 2010

That’s a line from a brief but astounding post by Kevin Williamson of NRO, which I’m reproducing in full here:

A little perspective from the debt commission:

“The commission leaders said that, at present, federal revenue is fully consumed by three programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. ‘The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans — the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries,’ [Alan] Simpson said.”

Three programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — consume 100 percent of federal revenue, and everything else is paid for with borrowed money.  This is why we cannot balance the budget by cutting military spending, foreign aid, food stamps, etc. There is not going to be a serious project to address our deficit/debt problem without deep, painful entitlement reform, and the longer we wait to admit that fact and get going on it, the worse it is going to be.

So, who’s gonna grab that third rail? George W. Bush tried and got hammered — an example that few if any in Washington are eager to follow.

Indeed. I think if this is going to happen, it’s going to have to come from the people (tea parties, perhaps?), because it seems suicidal for any politician to take it on without considerable popular support.

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3 Responses to Who's Gonna Grab the Third Rail?

  • Really? So FICA and Medicare withholding represent the entire federal revenue stream? Whatever happened to the federal income tax and other revenue sources?

    The reality is that we are being set up. The federal government is looking for ways to default on what it owes and it will be far easier to default on what it owes its own people through social security than what it owes foreign banks. Defaulting on foreign loans will affect its credit rating and ability to further borrow while leaving retirees high and dry will just hurt retirees.

  • Finaly someone has outlined the major problem of our deficit spending..Without borrowed money in the term of t notes, we would be bankrupted in regards to income. IT IS TIME for means testing and benefits of those who really do not need SS survie. A cap on those with a certain substainable income need to be removed from SS and Medicare needs to have a schedule of benefits and of premium cost similar to the income tax tables based on 1040 results of income each year to determine premiums and benefits. There will be the normal hue and cry, but our representatives need the backbone to make it happen.

  • They will never solve anything.

    Nearly that entire first paragraph is incorrect. SS and Medicare are (even today) fully funded out of specific FICA and Medicare taxes, not out of general (personal and corporate income taxes, excise taxes, etc.) tax revenues. In fact, the SS surpluses are spent in vote-buying gov programs, and the SS trust fund gets in return nonpublic US debt instruments that can only be repaid from new taxes. The fit hits the shan when the SS taxes paid in are insufficient to pay SS (30,000,000 baby boomer) benefits and the guv needs to tax we the people to repay worthless debt to pay SS beneficiaries.

    I’m too depressed to continue.

War Crimes

Tuesday, August 10, AD 2010

As the New York Times remembers Hiroshima, Richard Fernandez asks us to name the two greatest losses of civilian life in the Pacific war. (“Hint. In both cases the civilian casualties were greater than Hiroshima’s. In one case the event took place on American soil.”)

Meanwhile, Donald Sensing (Sense of Events) thinks it’s past time for Western churches to stop treating Japan as victim every Aug. 6 and 9:

I refuse on principle to pollute God’s ears with prayers dedicated only to Hiroshima Day and the dead of those cities while ignoring the tens of millions of Japanese-murdered souls who cry for remembrance, but do not get it, certainly not from the World Council of Churches and its allies who have no loathing but for their own civilization. If the prayers of the WCC’s service are to be offered, let them be uttered on Aug. 14, the day Japan announced its surrender, or on Sept. 2, the day the surrender instruments were signed aboard USS  Missouri. Let our churches no longer be accessories to Japan’s blood-soaked silence but instead be voices for the  millions of murdered victims of its bloodlust, imperialist militarism.

(HT: Bill Cork).

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97 Responses to War Crimes

  • Excellent post Christopher. Apparently Pius XII wasn’t as certain initially in his condemnation of the bombings as those members of Catholic blogdom in this country who engage in the self-flagellation ritual of spitting on the grave of Harry Truman in the annual August bomb follies. When the chief diplomat of the US mentioned an editorial of L Osservatore Romano that criticized the US for the bombings Pius responded that the editorial had not been authorized by him. I truly pray that those swift to condemn Truman never have to deal with making a decision that would kill hundreds of thousands, or likely kill millions if they do not make the decision. The cry of “consequentialism” is of course useful on Catholic blogs, and fairly useless when dealing with grim realities that constantly arise in war.

  • Sitting in Truman’s seat I may well have made the same decision. But I would not have tried to defend it before my Creator. The intrinsically evil nature of the act is not altered by either its good intentions or beneficial consequences. Some sins are simply more forgivable than others. While I’m willing to defend Truman I am unwilling to defend his decision, even though I certainly sympathize with his predicament. As wrong as his decision was, Truman is a far more morally sympathetic character than most of his vain and self-righteous critics.

  • Thanks for this post, Christopher. The last two paragraphs–yours and Michael’s–pretty well sum up where I am now.

    My sons and I visited the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force last month, and one of the exhibits is the original “Bockscar,” the B-29 which dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. I posed my sons by a Spad XIII (the same model as flown by Eddie Rickenbacker) and by an F-86 Sabre (Korea). I refused to do the same with Bockscar. I explained to my oldest (I was trying to keep my youngest from touching every. single. aircraft. in the museum) what it was, and also said that it killed thousands of innocent people, and was dropped by a Catholic cathedral. If nothing else, I think he’ll remember that and understand the horrid complexity of war, even when the war itself is necessary.

  • It’s true that the Japanese army committed atrocities during WWII with a greater death toll than Hiroshima, but when was the last time you read an article trying to justify the Rape of Nanking?

  • I’m not sure what VDH’s point was about the Tokyo raids. Because we had done much worse, Hiroshima is not bad?

    The correct moral decision is clear enough. The fact it would be difficult to follow through on it is no real surprise. Doing the right thing is rarely easy.

    I have no desire to villify Truman for dropping the bomb; but I don’t consider him a hero either.

  • The firebombings of earlier in the war both in Europe and Japan were clearly nothing more than acts of terror deliberately calculated to demoralize civilians… and Dresden was a particularly horrific example of this barbarism (cf.,

    “Bomber” Harris, the Brit commander behind Dresden and similar attacks, also memorialized in Britain by a statue in his honor, famously said he did “not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.”
    “the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive…should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany.”

    “It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.”

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only extensions of this immoral military doctrine. The Brits, who during Germany’s V-2 campaign suffered a small fraction of the casualities they themselves would inflict on a supine German civilian population, should have known better.

    Truman should also have known better.

  • I am not able to argue against any of the comments posted by Tom so I will not attempt it. To give the military the benefit of the doubt for their actions, many soldiers had to act on the notion “kill or be killed” – which is totally different than our plush civilian lives.

    Many soldiers did not know who they could trust and saw death because of it. Leaders tried to keep their soldiers alive. Many were battle weary from long months of fighting in extreme conditions. We take the emotinally scars of these individuals for granted.

    This was war. We were attacked. Japan would not surrender and contiuned torturing people. Truman was obligated to defend this country and our allies and wanted to bring the troups home. I am not sure that we now are qualified to make a judgement statement such as “Truman should also have known better”.

    The dropping of these bombs was a tragic event. With the determination of Imperial Japan, what would have stopped them? Should we consider additional bombing raids that would have killed more people any less evil? Would sending our soldiers into certain-death situations be less evil since many were physically and emotionally drained? Are we supposed to consider self-defense and defense of others as evil?!

  • I am not able to argue against any of the comments posted by Tom so I will not attempt it. To give the military the benefit of the doubt for their actions, many soldiers had to act on the notion “kill or be killed” – which is totally different than our plush civilian lives.

    Many soldiers did not know who they could trust and saw death because of it. Leaders tried to keep their soldiers alive. Many were battle weary from long months of fighting in extreme conditions. We take the emotional scars of these individuals for granted.

    This was war. We were attacked. Japan would not surrender and contiuned torturing people. Truman was obligated to defend this country and our allies and wanted to bring the troups home. I am not sure that we now are qualified to make a judgement statement such as “Truman should also have known better”.

    The dropping of these bombs was a tragic event. With the determination of Imperial Japan, what would have stopped them? Should we consider additional bombing raids that would have killed more people any less evil? Would sending our soldiers into certain-death situations be less evil since many were physically and emotionally drained? Are we supposed to consider self-defense and defense of others as evil?!

  • My opinion: liberal, left-wing catholics resurrect this uncharitable (“He who is without sin . . . , etc.) opinion each August in order (I think) to salve their consummate consciences for voting for abortion: because America Hiroshima is evil, don’t you know? But, it’s not evil to vote for abortion.


  • T. Shaw,

    Most, if not all of us who frequent here are adamantly opposed to abortion and I have never voted for anyone who supports the killing of the unborn (whether the candidate has a D or R after his name).

    This is not Vox Nova.

    But evil is evil, and wrong is wrong. I agree with the others that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were evils, as well as Dresden, etc. It should be no surprise that even generally good people can do evil things.

  • Of course, our national flirtation with war-crime-as-policy began with Lincoln, who unleashed Sherman on the civilian population of the South:

    Quoth Sherman,
    “The Government of the United States has in North Alabama any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war – to take their lives, their homes, their lands, their everything . . . . war is simply power unrestrained by constitution or compact…. We will . . . take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper.”

    Not rebellious southern civilians alone were subject to this policy, but the Indians too:

    “It is one of those irreconcilable conflicts that will end only in one way, one or the other must be exterminated . . . . We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to the extermination, men, women and children” … “The more Indians we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed next year… They all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers.”

    There’s no ambiguity about it: deliberate targeting of non-combatants and their homes and property is flat out immoral. I hope The American Catholic continues to rank the noun above the adjective.

  • Of course, our national flirtation with war-crime-as-policy began with Lincoln, who unleashed Sherman on the civilian population of the South

    Er, no.

    That hypothesis would be news to the Iroquois, who referred to George Washington as the “burner of towns” for his dispatch of John Sullivan to root out the pro-British tribes in 1779. Sullivan performed his mission with gusto, obliterating at least 40 Iroquois villages.

    Washington was actually rather disappointed with the results, truth be told.

  • There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the use of the word “moral”. The Church quite clearly teaches that morality is a personal attribute. A nation, an institution, a group cannot sin. It has no soul, no free will.

    [Likewise, the Church did not commit the sexual. They were acts of individuals. And again the Church did not cover up the acts. Those were decisions by individual bishops].

    The question then becomes “whose was the sin?” Who should be put on trial?

    There is a great deal of the disingenuous in those who point to others as the sinners. It is just a tad too easy at a distance of 60 years. And there is a touch of discerning the mote in the eye of others.

    Should not those who so quick to condemn the bombings, to condemn the war, be willing to give up all the benefits they enjoy as a result of the war?

    It seems to me that we Americans did what amounts to acts of contrition by rebuilding Germany and Japan after the war, and ridding those countries of the brutal regimes which oppressed them.

  • I think that several of the comments here misunderstand the upshot of the original post. Is it possible to hold both that

    (1) the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other bombings of non-combatants, both in WWII and after, is an intrinsically evil act


    (2) the agents responsible for committing those acts were in all liklihood not possessed of a desire to commit an intrinsically evil act, but by a desire to do the best thing possible in a very bad set of circumstances.

    Sometimes holier-than-thou-types seem not to understand that holding (2) does not remove the force of (1) but, if anything, testifies even more strongly to how pervasive sin is in the world: sometimes what seems to be the very best thing to an already compromised ethical agent (and who is not already compromised) is intrinsically evil.

    I take it that there exists an analogy between Truman and his desicion and the sister in charge of medical ethics at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, who ordered the D&E on the woman who appeared to be dying from priaclampsia [sic?].

  • Of course then we would have the burning of Chambersburg by the Confederates after the citizenry were unable to come up with the monetary ransom requested by the boys in gray.

    Then there is also the fact that the Confederate States decreed death for all former slaves in the Union Army and the officers who led them.

    “3. That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.

    4. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy.”

    Neo-Confederate apologists for the Confederacy have a lot to explain when they want to take Lincoln to task for “total war”.

  • One element I would like to raise in this thread is the alternatives to what Truman did. The opponents of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also oppose the fire bombing of Japanese cities which was the only way to destroy from the air the spread out Japanese industries. Presumably they would also have opposed an air tight blockade of the Home Islands, probably going on for years, in order to starve Japan into surrender. Of course while this was still going on Japan would have still controlled a large part of Asia and continued to kill, on average, some 300,000 civilians each and every month. An invasion of the Home Islands would have led to a mammoth death toll of civilians. During the battle of Manila in March of 45 MacArthur restricted the use of artillery and air power in order to attempt to spare civilian casualties. Some 100,000 civilians died anyway, some deliberately slain by the Japanese, but most simply dying as a result of being caught in the cross fire of two armies battling in an urban area.

    So, critics of Truman, you are in his shoes. What do you do? (I do hope that no one brings up the truly fatuous idea of inviting the Japanese military to observe a test of the bomb. The Japanese didn’t surrender after Hiroshima. A test of a bomb would have had no impact upon the Japanese government.)

  • I understand that the bombing of Dresden was immoral. It was (as far as I know) a civilian, not a military, target. But does that distinction apply to Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The Japanese civilians were doing machine work in their houses; the families were trained for combat. Granted, they weren’t uniformed, and who knows if they would have resisted or surrendered, but I don’t see how they can be classified as non-military.

  • Oh – let me add, “unless I’m wrong”. I’m no ethicist or historian.

  • Hindsight may be 20/20, but war crimes are forever.

  • Don, if I were Truman, I would not have insisted on unconditional surrender.

  • Actually Pinky Dresden was rather heavily involved in the German war effort. A good revisionist look at that bombing is linked to below:

    In regard to what an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands would have entailed the most recent study is linked below.

    “Giangreco, a longtime former editor for Military Review, synthesizes years of research in a definitive analysis of America’s motives for using atomic bombs against Japan in 1945. The nuclear bombing of Japan, he concludes, was undertaken in the context of Operation Downfall: a series of invasions of the Japanese islands American planners estimated would initially cause anywhere from a quarter-million to a million U.S. casualties, plus millions of Japanese. Giangreco presents the contexts of America’s growing war weariness and declining manpower resources. Above all, he demonstrates the Japanese militarists’ continuing belief that they could defeat the U.S. Japan had almost 13,000 planes available for suicide attacks, and plans for the defense of Kyushu, the U.S.’s initial invasion site, were elaborate and sophisticated, deploying over 900,000 men. Japanese and American documents presented here offer a chillingly clear-eyed picture of a battle of attrition so daunting that Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall considered using atomic and chemical weapons to support the operation. Faced with this conundrum, in Giangreco’s excellent examination, President Truman took what seemed the least worst option.”

  • “Don, if I were Truman, I would not have insisted on unconditional surrender.”

    What terms would you have offered Japan restrainedradical? Here are the terms Truman offered.

    Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender
    Issued, at Potsdam, July 26, 1945

    “1.We-the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war.

    2.The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.

    3.The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.

    4.The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.

    5.Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.

    6.There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.

    7.Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war-making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.

    8.The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.

    9.The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.

    10.We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.

    11.Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those which would enable her to re-arm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted.

    12.The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.

    13.We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”

  • So, critics of Truman, you are in his shoes. What do you do?

    If I were Truman my priority would have been to end the war quickly so as to prevent Soviet entry into the war (the fact that the Allies actually encouraged Soviet entry is one of the more boneheaded moves in all of diplomatic history). If ending the war quickly meant accepting something less than unconditional surrender (say, by letting the Japanese keep their Emperor), then it would have been cheap at the price.

    If you were going to use the atom bomb, I don’t see why you couldn’t have dropped it on a strictly military target (such as the troops at Kyushu). That would have achieved the same effect as Hiroshima without incinerating tens of thousands of women and children.

  • Arguing from counterfactuals is rather unhelpful in this instance. Our knowledge of what *may* have happened, given a different decision, is so slight as to provide no reason for acting. This is, by the way, why moral absolutes are important for Catholic theology. One does not have to provide an (impossible) answer to McClarey’s question–it is all just speculation at this point, anyhow–in order to determine that Truman’s act was wrong.

  • “If you were going to use the atom bomb, I don’t see why you couldn’t have dropped it on a strictly military target (such as the troops at Kyushu).”

    The Japanese located their military units in urban areas in the Home Islands.

    For example:
    “At the time of its bombing, Hiroshima was a city of considerable military significance. It contained the headquarters of the Fifth Division and Field Marshal Hata’s 2nd General Army Headquarters, which commanded the defence of all of southern Japan.”

    In regard to the Emperor, prior to Hiroshima, Japanese advocates of a negotiate piece assumed that such a peace would have to entail, at a minimum, no occupation of Japan, no dis-arming of Japan and Japan keeping some of its overseas conquests. Japanese militarists laughed at such peace advocates and assumed that Japan could stop an American invasion and cause the US, sick of war and high casualties, to withdraw from most of Asia and the Pacific. A negotiated peace is a fantasy.

  • “One does not have to provide an (impossible) answer to McClarey’s question–it is all just speculation at this point, anyhow–in order to determine that Truman’s act was wrong.”

    Wrong. Catholic moral theology has never simply thrown up its hands in regard to the real world. If Truman hadn’t dropped the bombs there would have been consequences, almost certainly terrible consequences. Condemning Truman without owning up to those consequences and accepting them, is to pretend that we live in a pacifist dream world rather than a world where the leaders of nations sometimes have to make decisions that will end up killing lots of people no matter what they do or not do. Condemning is easy, thinking through the consequences of acting or not acting is much harder and less pleasant, but must be done if moral theology is to be something more than a bat to swing in Catholic comboxes.

  • The Japanese located their military units in urban areas in the Home Islands.

    To suggest that the bomb couldn’t have been dropped on a military target in Japan without resulting in 95% civilian casualties is just silly. Dropping the bomb on the assembled forces at Kyushu would have had the same effect as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but without the massive civilian loss of life.

    In regard to the Emperor, prior to Hiroshima, Japanese advocates of a negotiate piece assumed that such a peace would have to entail, at a minimum, no occupation of Japan, no dis-arming of Japan and Japan keeping some of its overseas conquests.

    I would say these were the maximum expected demands, not the minimum. However, even if the above were what it would take to end the war without incinerating tens of thousands of women and children, I think Truman should have accepted them.

  • “I would say these were the maximum expected demands, not the minimum. However, even if the above were what it would take to end the war without incinerating tens of thousands of women and children, I think Truman should have accepted them.”

    Which of our Asian allies would you have advised to “suck it up” BA and continue to live under the Rising Sun? How do you think the American people would have reacted to the idea that the nation that brought them Pearl Harbor was going to retain some foreign conquests, not be occupied, not be disarmed and probably be ready for another go at the US in twenty years. Your suggestion might fit some fantasy world. It certainly could not have been implemented by any US President in 1945.

  • Oh, and BA, Hiroshima had 43,000 troops in it when the bomb was dropped.

  • Donald,

    You’re right, I’m sure America never would have stood for China or Korea living under oppression.

    Actually the Chinese wanted to make peace with Japan at the beginning of 1945, but didn’t out of deference to America. The idea that Truman bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki because he was concerned about the plight of the Chinese is the real fantasy.

    And as far as I can tell you have no answer as to why the bomb couldn’t be dropped on the troops at Kyushu.

  • Oh, and BA, Hiroshima had 43,000 troops in it when the bomb was dropped.

    And how many were there in Nagasaki?

  • Good way of completely avoiding the question of which of our Asian allies you would have thrown to the wolves BA. The idea that such a thing would have been entertained by the US government is a tribute to the absurdity that usually surrounds the August Follies. In regard to China making a separate peace with Japan, unless you can cite chapter and verse, I will also assume that this is a fantasy of yours. The Japanese army had actually gone on the offensive in 44 and 45 in China and controlled a huge amount of China.

    There was zero prospect that Japan was going to willingly withdraw from China absent surrender by Japan. As a matter of fact, several overseas commanders after Japan surrendered contemplated carrying on a war.

    As to your odd assumption that there were large military units in Kyushu out in the open waiting to be bombed, the military units of Japan were subject to conventional bombing like everything else in Japan. They were dispersed, with most of them located in urban centers, as was the case in Hiroshima.

  • And how many were there in Nagasaki?

    I don’t know how many strictly military folks there were, but I know the Japanese lady at Sasebo’s indoc mentioned that it was their primary Navy shipyards. (Sasebo became the largest afterwards.)

  • Presumably they would also have opposed an air tight blockade of the Home Islands, probably going on for years, in order to starve Japan into surrender.

    One thing about the blockade – it takes a lot longer (as you admit, years) and it can be reveresed, as well as regulated to allow certain subsistence amounts in (and refugees out, if you are so inclined), and the repeated opportunity to surrender, change minds, etc. With the bomb, it’s all over in an instant, and there is no going back.

  • Mitsubishi shipyards, if anyone wants to research.

  • I don’t know that a blockade would have taken years. Like Britain, Japan was and remains a net food importer, and our submarine force was annihilating their merchant marine at will. I don’t think their navy would have been able to escort sufficient convoys to keep them going for very long.

    Then again, famine and the attendant diseases can’t be flipped off like a light switch, either. I can easily see the civilian death toll from a blockade leaping into the high hundred thousands, if not more than a million, in relatively short order, even given a surrender.

    And as to subsistence blockades–well, that certainly hasn’t hurt the Kim tyrants in North Korea. That ratchets down the likelihood of surrender, I think, and ups the likelihood of continuous conventional bombardment.

  • The famine would have hit in the Spring of 1946. MacArthur only avoided the famine historically with huge shipments of food that he insisted be sent to Japan from the US. Needless to say, sending food to Japan was not popular. MacArthur in response to opposition said that he was responsible for keeping the Japanese alive and that he would resign rather than allow mass starvation on his watch. It was Mac’s finest moment in my opinion.

    I have my doubts that even mass starvation would have caused the Japanese to capitulate, absent intervention by Hirohito, something he was unwilling to do until after Nagasaki.

  • FWIW, there was a similar discussion here on a few days ago.

    Most opinions were that “The Bomb” was the right decision under the circumstances, for all the reasons above mentioned.

    This will be debated for many years to come, by those who will moralize and condemn those who had this truly terrible decision to make, in the dispassionate comfort of their safe armchairs.

    Does the end justify the means? No.
    Was this means justified? If the END was to prevent the continued destruction of human life, and in bringing the war to an abrupt end, prevent the killing of many more millions than “The Bomb” would kill, then yes, the MEANS was justified.

  • The only non-negotiable I would insisted on would have been withdrawal from occupied lands. Some disarmament would probably have been necessary too. I may also have insisted on a reparations fund.

  • Intrinsically immorlal means can never be justified by good ends/consequences. Truman was wrong. But he was still a good man trying hard to do the right thing. This is not all that different from the Sister Margaret McBride, who when confronted with the choice of directly taking a life (via a direct abortion) versus allowing that same life and that of another (the mother) to die did what most sensible and well-intentioned people would do — choose to have one person to survive rather than none. Very understandable. But still very wrong.

  • After Nagasaki, Japan agreed to all terms except removal of the emperor. It was rejected and conventional bombing continued, killing thousands more.

  • Your understanding of those events is faulty restrainedradical. Here is actually what was said on August 12 by the Allies:

    “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers who will take such steps as he deems proper to effectuate the surrender terms. …The ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people”

    The Allies heard nothing from Japan on August 13, and ordered a resumption of bombing for August 14, previously halted by Truman, the date when Hirohito, finally, eight days after Hiroshima and five days after Nagasaki, addressed Japan and ordered the capitulation:

    “Despite the best that has been done by everyone—the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people—the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

    Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

    Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.

    The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.”

    American bombing was halted after Hirohito’s address. Japanese units on the Asian mainland continued fighting for several days after Hirohito’s address.

  • Donald,

    You are misunderstanding my point–which is also the point of Catholic moral theology. To say that one need not provide answers to any of your multitudinous counterfactuals in order to determine that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was evil is just to say that the intentional killing of civilians is *intrinsically* evil. To say this, however, is not to say what you appear to think it says, that I–and the Church–are throwing up our hands with respect to “the real world.” Quite the contrary, the structure of reality, as revealed by Christ and his Church, is precisely what is being respected in the confident determination that some acts are so destructive of the imago dei that they can never, under any circumstances, be permitted–come what may. The intentional killing of innocents has always been regarded as such an act, and for good reason.

    From the perspective of Christian moral theology, it would have been better for Truman–and for any who were cooperators in this act–that the Japanese were militarily victorious than that he should have committed such an act. That is the hard truth.

    Now, you may disagree with the Christ and the Church’s teaching here–many do, Christians and non-Christians alike–but let us not be deceived by a sophistry which attempts to lessen the gravity of this evil act by appeal to a set of conjectures which remain just that, conjectures. From the perspective of Catholic moral theology, it is you, and not I, who are ignoring the “real world.”

  • Don, it’s not incumbent on one who is pointing out the immorality of intentional targeting of civilians to solve the problem of “what other course was there?”

    But the “other course” here would have been to continue the conventional war and perhaps pursuing something other than unconditional surrender.

    Oh, and with regard to the confederates, Bobby Lee in his forays north expressly forbade the type of tactics Sherman expressly adopted.

    Chambersburg should not have been burned, but by 1864 the Confederates were responding to Yankee war crimes, specifically in this case, Hunter’s devestation of civilian targets in the Shenandoah.

    Such is the logic of “total war”– it tends to suck in those who would otherwise not want to practice it.

  • One other thing: from the perspective of the civitas dei, which is the perspective that all Christians are exhorted to conform themselves to, it matters very little who wins what wars, what kinds of polity we are subject to here below, etc. For the Church, there are good things and bad things that accompany *any* political regime, and it is a dangerous, and finally idolatrous, mistake to believe that the defense of any particular civitas terrena–whether it be America in the 20th century, Rome in the 5th, or some future city–is worth the commission of an intrinsically evil act, which destroys one’s participation in the civitas dei.

    None of this entails pacifism. But it does entail our willingness to call a spade a spade.

  • From the perspective of Christian moral theology, it would have been better for Truman–and for any who were cooperators in this act–that the Japanese were militarily victorious than that he should have committed such an act. That is the hard truth.

    I’m not clear that “it would have been better” scenarios along these lines are all that useful. Frankly, from a perspective of Christian moral theology, it would be better if one no had earthly responsibilities for anyone else. Paul, after all, enjoins people not to even marry (and thus take on the responsibilities of a spouse) and for spouses to be celibate (and thus not take on the responsibilities of children) because earthly responsibilies tend to turn us away from true eternal priorities. And yet, we as Catholics also recognize that it is necessary that we as a human community have marriage, have children, have rulers and law, etc. Greater earthly responsibilities invariably distract people from their eternal destinations — something which I think Dante well summarizes the thinking of the Christian tradition on in Purgatorio. And yet, there is also a sense in which it is necessary that a portion of society make the sacrifice of focusing on earthly responsibility. Why?

    One other thing: from the perspective of the civitas dei, which is the perspective that all Christians are exhorted to conform themselves to, it matters very little who wins what wars, what kinds of polity we are subject to here below, etc.

    It seems to me that this misses an obvious issue, which is that the environment in which people find themselves often affects their ability to live in accordance with the the civitas dei. Look at conflicts such as the French Revolution or the Spanish Civil War in which one side was actively invested in stamping out the Church and perverting the order of society. To be sure, such situations offer the opportunity for martyrdom, but for most they offer the opportunity for apostacy, collaboration and corruption. I’m reminded similarly of some of the pieces I’ve read about the archives which are now open in Germany of East German secret police files, where people were constantly encouraged to inform on each other and rewarded for betraying of friends and family. Surely such an environment is destructive to many souls.

    Without question each society presents its own temptations and corruptions, and if anything I lean heavily in the direction of Christians seeking the path to God in their own societies as they exist rather than embracing a revolutionary ethic of overturning the social order in order to make society “more holy”. And armed struggle has a tendency to corrupt all sides. But I can’t see that complete indifference is the right response either.

  • Darwin,

    I mean “would have been better” in the strict sense that it is always better not to commit an intrinsically evil act than to commit one. I do not mean to say, nor is it true that, marriage, law-making, etc. fall under the same category. I am assuming here a post-lapsarian condition.

    As for your second comment: fair enough. I am more Pascalian in my outlook than most, and I am well aware that certain regimes produce certain evils that are on first blush more destructive than the evils of other regimes. (I am not so certain, however, that collaboration, apostasy, etc. are not equally prevalent in the West. There are more lapsed Catholics in American than any other denomination, they say.) But would you at least acknowledge that if my position leads to a skeptical indifferentism, it is nonetheless within the bounds of orthodoxy, and in fact corresponds nearly exactly with Augustine’s own view, whereas the danger in becoming too tied up with the “justness” of a particular regime on earth leads rather quickly to unorthodoxy and idolatry: one excuses intrinsic evils committed by that regime in order to ensure its own continued existence, rather than admitting that such an act has been committed?

    I fear that I discern something of this in McClarey’s hand-waving about the behavior of the Allies–and America in particular–in WWII.

  • Like Darwin, I can’t go so far as to say that it matters little who wins wars… Certainly there are just wars, and WWII was one example. It’s the old Thomistic distinction between jus ad bellum, whether a war is just in the first place, and jus in bello, whether a war is conducted in accordance with moral principles.

    Collateral damage is inevitable in modern warfare, but where the Allies went wrong was in aping the evil done by the Axis powers, i.e., deliberately targeting civilians and non-military targets for the purpose of “demoralizing” the populace.

  • (I am being especially procrastinatory today.)


    First, I agree that yours is a perfectly viable interpretation of where the Allies went wrong in WWII. I agree with it, in fact, and, as I said, nothing in my own position commits one to pacifism.

    But I still think that it is *also* true that, at least according to Augustine and several other thinkers in the Augustinian tradition, it *still* makes little difference what regime a Christian lives under, for the reason that *every* regime is dominated by the libido dominandi, and so, from the perspective of the civitas dei, they are all equal.

    Thomas, and the Thomistic tradition more generally, has a less skeptical view. One that, I hasten to add, is perfectly legitimate. It seems to me that the Church, within the bounds of orthodoxy, allows for a range of opinion on this matter.

    I am not so much bothered by any disagreement here as I am by the hesitancy to call a spade a spade.

  • Don (Kiwi)

    You seem to contradict yourself. First, you say that the ends cannot justify the means, and then you do precisely that – you state the end of ending the war justified the means of dropping the bomb. Am I missing something?

  • “The intentional killing of innocents has always been regarded as such an act, and for good reason.”

    Actually it depends on how you define intentional. Papal armies in the Middle Ages routinely besieged cities, a normal military operation of the time. The cities would be caused to surrender usually through blockades that produced starvation, and, inevitably, disease would usually explode in the cities. If any pope ever breathed a word against sieges as a method of warfare, I am unaware of it. This is quite a bit more of a complicated area than it seems at first glance.

  • That papal armies acted or did not act in certain ways with or without the permission of popes is immaterial. Are you denying that the slaughter of innocents has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act?

  • c matt.

    Re-reading my comment, I appear to do as you say. However, in the context of what was occuring – a war costing huge casualties on both sides, a stark choice became presented. Do we continue as we are, and lose many millions of lives, or do we introduce a new stratagem, and save arguably millions of lives which would otherwise be lost? ( the other choice was, as Wj said earlier, to lie down and be conquered, which to me , would be unacceptable)
    I guess the choice was therefore, a lesser of two evils. No doubt it can be debated whether or not a less evil choice is the correct moral choice in view of the principle, that the end does not justify the means.
    Quite a connundrum, isn’t it?

  • All ends are achieved by a means.

    But the end does not (necessarily) justify the means.

    Some means are justifiable, others are not.

  • Are you denying that the slaughter of innocents has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act?

    I think you mean “are you denying that…has ALWAYS been regarded as an intrinsically evil act,” or “are you CLAIMING…has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act.”

    Perhaps a better tact might be to find out when it was first enumerated as an intrinsic evil?

    I think the situation is significantly more complicated than folks are willing to consider– even with folks that I KNOW are honestly trying to just figure it out, there’s incredible simplification.

    Does it matter that there was warning given so the population had a chance to leave?
    Does it matter that military operations were moved into civilian areas, even into family dwellings?
    Does it matter that “aiming” with bombs in that day was more an art than a science?
    Do prior tactics of the Americans matter?
    Do prior tactics of the Allies matter?
    Does our responsibility to defend the innocent that WEREN’T in those cities matter?
    What effect does the (possible) Japanese military stopping civilians from evacuating have on the morality of it?
    How much information did they have about what was going on at ground level, and how much could they reasonably be expected to have?

    (stuff like this is probably why a lot of folks think morality should be restricted to philosophy, not the real world– it’s just not as simple IRL, even if it is still black and white)

    I know full well I don’t have nearly enough information to make an informed, binding judgement on these actions that happened before my parents were born. Luckily, I don’t have to; it’s useful to try to figure out, in case a similar case comes along, but it’s also important to keep in mind that it’s not cut and dried.

  • “That papal armies acted or did not act in certain ways with or without the permission of popes is immaterial. Are you denying that the slaughter of innocents has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act?”

    I think the praxis of the Church is always of importance, especially when that praxis went on for centuries. I am denying that the Church has condemned all military operations which, by their very nature, were bound to take quite a few innocent lives.

    Let’s think this through. Hiroshima is bombed from the air, either fire bombed or nuked. Bad, intrinsically immoral. Hiroshima is taken by the US in a ground assault in the spring of 46 which, in a house to house fight against the Japanese Army, kills most of the civilian population, who are caught in the cross fire. Morally acceptable. I assume the difference is one of intention, but I find that argument weak. A military man would have to be brain dead not to realize that large scale combat in an urban area is going to kill huge numbers of civilians. If mass casualties are foreseeable in a ground assault, how does that materially differ from mass casualties caused by an air assault? The current Church stance may be an argument for pacifism, but I do not think it adequately addresses that other measures taken in military operations, presumably morally licit, may kill just as many civilians, if not more, than the measures condemned.

    I might also note that in the spiritual realm popes have been quite willing to take actions which have had adverse impacts on innocent parties. A good example would be the Interdict which prevented the dispensing of the sacraments in nations or regions. Imagine a pope saying that a dying innocent could not have the comfort of the Last Rites. However, it was done, and not infrequently, for reasons that the popes employing it deemed good and sufficient. The last use of the Interdict, in a fairly mild form, was by Saint Pius X in the early years of the last century. The idea that innocents have an all-embracing immunity is one that is popular in the Church today, but it is rather a novel one.

  • Now you are just obfuscating. For who would not agree with your following assertion? (I certainly don’t disagree with it.)

    “I am denying that the Church has condemned all military operations which, by their very nature, were bound to take quite a few innocent lives.”

    We don’t need to go through the motions of explaining how the doctrine of double effect applies in ius in bello scenarios on this blog. I’ll just take it for granted that most people reading here have a working knowledge about how unintentional though foreseen civilian casualties, for example, are a different kind of thing than INTENTIONALLY DECIMATING A CIVILIAN TARGET.

    Most ALL military operations involve the unfortunate killing of innocents, and if the Church is to have a doctrine of just war at all, which she most assuredly does, then it is basic to such a doctrine to differentiate foreseen but unintended evils from evils intentionally committed. So while, for example, the intentional slaughter of women and children has always been rightly condemned by the Church–which is not to say that she has not at times engaged in this practice against her better lights (thereby proving true what she has to say about sin)–the unfortunate killing of innocents as a result of some other strategy which does not *directly* target them is a more difficult scenario to parse. There is an entire casuitical literature on this and related topics. We all know all the moves here.

    What you are now doing, in fact, is redescribing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as if this weren’t the intentional killing of civilians. But, on any plausible account of intentional acts (i.e. Thomas, Anscombe, Suarez, etc.), the bombing most clearly *was* an intentionally, and not merely foreseen, attack on noncombatants. Which is, as I said before, intrinsically evil.

    Either you do not understand or you do not agree with the distinction between foreseen and intended consequences–a distinction which is basic to Catholic moral theology. Which is it?

  • By the way, there is one other theological assumption in your response that I take issue with.

    1. The fact that the Church in the past–yea, even for centuries in the past–did or did not intentionally target or unjustly allow a disproportionate number of civilians to be killed in any of her wars is immaterial to the issue at hand. Why? That the Church acted one way or another in the past has, apart from her explicit teachings on doctrine and morals, no bearing on the normative status of that action. For centuries the Church abused the theology of indulgences; from this it does not follow that we, in the present, are supposed to be okay with the selling of indulgences on the grounds that the Church did it in the past. You are conflating two very different kinds of “tradition” and how they have normative bearing in Catholic theology.

    Of course, if you deny the distinction between an intended and a foreseen end, then you are a consequentialist. But if you are a consequentialist, then you have a problem with the decalogue. Do you have a problem with the decalogue?

  • I apologize for the somewhat heated and exasperated tone. If I had known that you denied the difference between an intended and foreseen end, I would have found your defense of the bombings much more intelligible–though not, I am afraid to say, any less repugnant.

  • “Either you do not understand or you do not agree with the distinction between foreseen and intended consequences–a distinction which is basic to Catholic moral theology.”

    My problem WJ is that what is considered as unforeseen in war in regard to civilian casualties is predictable as night follows day. Two corps battling each other in an urban area will produce large amounts of civilian deaths. A siege of a city will produce a large amount of civilian deaths. Foreseeability in this area seems like a very frail reed on which to make categorical distinctions. Because of the technology of the day, bombing an urban center in World War II was going to produce quite a few civilian casualties no matter what was done. My point is that if it is intrinsically evil to ever intentionally engage in the targeting of civilian populations in war, why is it not intrinsically evil to engage in actions in war which, completely predictably, will lead to civilian deaths? Hiding behind foreseeability in this area strikes me as exalting form over substance.

  • No sweat WJ. This is an area which people get passionate about. I certainly am in that category.

  • Donald, I think this response of yours points the way toward a difficult and important issue in the theology of Just War. At least we are now down to brass tacks, as it were. I am enjoying this quite a bit. You write:

    “My point is that if it is intrinsically evil to ever intentionally engage in the targeting of civilian populations in war, why is it not intrinsically evil to engage in actions in war which, completely predictably, will lead to civilian deaths?”

    The short answer to this is that the intentional targeting of a civilian is murder, and murder is always wrong. Why is it wrong? Well, even Augustine, who was not, I have to admit, terribly worried about civilian casualties, views murder as the sort of action which destroys the imago dei in the soul of the person committing it. (Indeed, murder is like any violation of the decalogue in this respect.) So the intentional targeting of a civilian is wrong not *only* because of what happens to the civilian (as you point out, the civilian may well be killed unintentionally via another strategy) but also what happens to you.

    In the second case, the military commander is intending to engage a lawful combatant, and he foresees that as a result of his action some number of civilians will die. This is not *intrinsically* evil, first, because there are some circumstances in which it is permitted; in a less tautological sense, it is not *intrinscially* evil because the ACTION in question is not murder, but some other action describable in a different way, and so the commander in question is not deprived of grace.

    Of course, it way well be the case, at least according to Just War Theory, that at some point the unintended yet foreseen civilian casualties issuing from some or other military strategy outweigh the good that is to be rationally expected to result from that strategy, and in this case the unintended yet foreseen killing of civilians is evil, though not intrinsically so. Some of Pope Benedict XVI’s skepticism as to whether any modern war can be “licit” (cf. interview with Zenit in March of 03 I believe) derives his beliefs that most contemporary wars cannot but fail to be just in their in bello execution. This is an important and complex issue, and it is not one about which I am certain.

    But can I ask a clarifying question? Do you deny the difference between an intentional and a foreseen end per se, or only the validity of this difference as it applies to actions in war?

  • As a follow up: I am not a pacifist, but it has always seemed to me that one of the strongest arguments for pacifism from a strictly theological point of view has to do with the *near impossibility* of ensuring that even the most just war from a ius ad bellum perspective will be able to be fought successfully and justly in bello. Many of your examples seem to support this view. I guess one can go one of two ways here. One can view the near impossibility of ius in bello conduct to constitute a strong argument for a practical, if not principled, pacifism, or one can argue that the Church’s understanding of ius in bello conduct has to be changed or expanded or loosened in some way.

  • “Do you deny the difference between an intentional and a foreseen end per se, or only the validity of this difference as it applies to actions in war?”

    Depends entirely on how likely a foreseeable end is. An artillery barrage is made of a grove of trees. Tragically some lumberjacks are killed. Clearly different from intentionally targeting the lumberjacks.

    A division of enemy troops are in a city filled with civilians and intermingled with the civilians. The artillery unit is told to attack the enemy and civilian deaths results. I don’t view that much differently from intentionally targeting the civilians, since their deaths are entirely predictable. Of course the artillery men didn’t want to kill the civilians, they were merely in the way of accomplishing the goal of winning the war. This area is tricky and filled with moral land mines. Whenever double effect is trotted out, I listen very carefully, but am rarely convinced by it.

  • If you hold that “of course the artillery men didn’t want to kill the civilians,” then you hold that they didn’t intentionally kill them. It seems to me that this is entirely different than the artillery unit intentionally targeting the civilians. Does it not seem so to you?

    I wonder what you make of double effect as it applies to abortion. Do you see the moral difference, that is, between surgically removing a mother’s fallopian tubes, knowing that the child inside them will die as a result of this procedure necessary for saving the mother’s life, and flooding the fallopian tubes with chemicals intended to kill the child? (There are any number of other scenarios, which all share the same structure.)

    The reason I ask is that in both cases the death of the child is entirely foreseeable.
    and directly killing

  • “It seems to me that this is entirely different than the artillery unit intentionally targeting the civilians. Does it not seem so to you?”

    Only if intention governs all. In that case why do the airmen of the Enola Gay not get a pass since they most definitely were not intending to kill civilians but rather to convince Japan to surrender? How does this differ materially from the artillery men intending to win a battle in a city, not intending to kill civilians, but knowing that civilians will be killed in large numbers by their bombardment?

    Frankly in the abortion case where the child cannot survive I see no problem with the desperate necessity of removing the fallopian tubes in order to preserve the mother’s life since the child simply cannot survive in any case. I pray for the day when technology will eliminate this sad quandry.

  • The answer to the first question is that you can’t separate intention from the object of the act. You can’t for example, burn your neighbor’s house to the ground and then say that your “intention” in doing so was to stop him from playing loud music. No, pretty clearly you intended to burn his house down with the further end in mind of ceasing his loud music. But this further end in mind does not mean that in burning his house down you acted unintentionally. So with Truman. The intention was clearly to kill large amounts of Japanese civilians with the further end of bringing the war to a speedy halt. This further end–bringing the war to a speedy halt–does not evacuate the intentional structure of the prior act. If you don’t mind a recommendation here, I suggest you read Anscombe’s classic work “Intention.” She demonstrates all this quite persuasively.

    Indeed, in the latter case, the whole point is that the removal of the fallopian tubes is a *different* act than the direct killing of the child. Which is why it is licit.

  • The intention was clearly to kill large amounts of Japanese civilians with the further end of bringing the war to a speedy halt.

    I have to disagree on the “clearly” part of that — you do NOT warn people to leave and give them time if you are trying to kill large numbers of them.

  • “The answer to the first question is that you can’t separate intention from the object of the act.”

    Ah but that is where foreseeability rears its ugly head. The artillery men bombarding the city filled with enemy troops know that large numbers of civilians will be killed. As a matter of fact Hiroshima had 43,000 Japanese troops in it. Once again, I do not think this is simple at all.

  • What is often ignored by Catholics who spill ink on this issue ignore is 1) The pertinnent Catholic moral principles involved and 2) The actual circumstances within Truman made his decision.

    With respect to the use of atomic weapons, Catholic moral theologian Father Heribert Jone defined them this way:

    The fourth condition required for positing an action that has an evil effect that there be a sufficient reason, i.e., a proportionate resulting good, to permit the evil effect. The morality of using either the atomic or hydrogen bomb as a weapon of war is therefore, not a question of principle, which remains unchangeable, but a question of fact, and the fact questioned is whether there can be a military objective so vital to an enemy, the destruction of which would be a sufficient reason to permit the death of a vast number of civilians who at most contribute only remotely and indirectly to the war effort. We think this proportion can exist 1) because today’s concept of “total war” has greatly restricted the meaning of the term “non-combatant”; 2) because in modern warfare the conscription of industry, as well as manpower, greatly extends the effort on the home front; and 3) because it is difficult to set limits to the defense action of a people whose physical and even spiritual existence is threatened by a godless tyranny. Therefore, while use of atomic weapons must be greatly restricted to the destruction of military objectives, nevertheless, it may be justified without doing violence to the principle of a twofold effect. (Moral Theology #219 pp. 143-44 1961 Edition)

    Unfortunately, all of the of Catholic moral theologians and writers who condemn the bombings demonstrate no knowledge of the circumstances involved. The most horrendous and despicable example, in my view, is the recent piece written by well-known Catholic author and senior apologist at Catholic Answers Jimmy Akin.

    The objections these people raise is that the atomic bomb drops cannot be justified because they targeted innocent civilians. To be sure, there is no moral justification for deliberately killing innocent people regardless of how noble your end purpose is. The ends do not justify the means. You cannot do evil so that good can become of it. True enough.

    However, this was not the case with atomic bombings. In WWII Japan, the meaning of the term non-combatant was not only “greatly restricted” it was completely obliterated. William Manchester, in his biography of General Douglass Mac Arthur states:

    Hirohito’s generals, grimly preparing for the invasion, had not abandoned hope of saving their homeland. Although a few strategic islands had been lost, they told each other, most of their conquests, including the Chinese heartland, were firmly in their hands, and the bulk of their army was undefeated. Even now they could scarcely believe that any foe would have the audacity to attempt landings in Japan itself. Allied troops, they boasted, would face the fiercest resistance in history. Over ten thousand kamikaze planes were readied for “Ketsu-Go,” Operation Decision. Behind the beaches, enormous connecting underground caves had been stocked with caches of food and thousands of tons of ammunition. Manning the nation’s ground defenses were 2,350,000 regular soldiers, 250,000 garrison troops, and 32,000,000 civilian militiamen, a total of 34,600,000, more than the combined armies of the United States, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. All males aged fifteen to sixty, and all females ages seventeen to forty-five, had been conscripted. Their weapons included ancient bronze cannon, muzzle loaded muskets, bamboo spears, and bows and arrows. Even little children had been trained to strap explosives around their waists, roll under tank treads, and blow themselves up. They were called “Sherman’s carpets.” This was the enemy the Pentagon had learned to fear and hate,a country of fanatics dedicated to hara-kiri, determined to slay as many invaders as possible as they went down fighting. [William Manchester: American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, pg. 510-511)]

    The mass conscription of “all males ages fifteen and all females ages seventeen to forty-five” is practically the entire adult population. With this, the entire country of Japan became a large military base and no longer a civilian, but a military asset, and therefore, a legitimate military target.

    This idea that the bomb drops were a deliberate attack on innocents is flat out false.

    Furthermore, given the alternatives, either an invasion or blockade would have killed more Japanese, not to mention caused more than a million Amreican casualties in the case of an invasion, the most merciful thing Truman could have done was to drop the bombs. He most certainly could have justifiede it before his creator.

  • Donald,

    I have to get to bed–not a night person–so I’ll conclude by reiterating a distinction which you seem to deny (why? I can’t understand). There is a difference between the object of an intentional action and the foreseeable consequences that follow from that action. If I burn my neighbor’s house down, there will be smoke. I foresee that the act of burning my neighbor’s house down will necessarily produce smoke, and yet the production of smoke is not my intent in burning his house down. My intent is simply: to burn his house down.


    I don’t understand you. Is your claim that there were NO innocent Japanese (as you argue in the first half of your longish post) or that there were in any case LESS (innocent) Japanese killed as a result of the bomb than through other means? If the first, then I don’t see why you mention the second; if the second, then everything I’ve already written here applies to that argument. (I don’t think you’ll get many people agreeing to your first claim, though.)

  • Greg.

    Very interesting, and confirms my thoughts and understanding of the situation.

  • Wj.

    If I burn my neighbour’s house down, there will be smoke………”

    INO, applying this thinking is obfuscation of conscience.
    You know that you wish to burn down his house and you know fires create smoke. You therefore cannot claim that the creation of smoke is non-culpable, while the burnng of the house is.

  • Just because an action is or may be the lesser of two evils (dropping the atom bomb vs. all out ground invasion of Japan) doesn’t make it good or justified, or a precedent to follow in the future. The lesser of two evils is still an evil. However, this being a fallen world, sometimes a lesser evil is the best we can do. Unfortunately, what often happens is that instead of simply making the least bad choice possible and asking God’s forgiveness for any sin involved, we try to paint that choice as being entirely good.

  • WJ:

    I did not say there were no innocent Japanese. What I said was that the line between combatant and non-combatant had been erased due to the mass civilian conscription and therefore we were not TARGETING innocents.

  • “If I burn my neighbor’s house down, there will be smoke. I foresee that the act of burning my neighbor’s house down will necessarily produce smoke, and yet the production of smoke is not my intent in burning his house down. My intent is simply: to burn his house down.”

    Your example WJ illustrates precisely where the diffculty in this area lies. Intention either always determines the morality of an action or it does not. I think neither at Hiroshima nor my artillery against a city example is the goal to kill civilians, rather the killing of civilians is a necessary part of the action being undertaken to reach another goal, winning a battle or a war. The difference you would raise between them is that the bomb was directed against civilians while the artillery men only kill civilians accidently. This distinction is of cold comfort morally I think when the deaths of the civilians from the use of the artillery are completely predictable and foreseeable. If the goal is allowed to make the action moral in the case of the artillery barrage, I am uncertain why the same logic is not applicable in the case of Hiroshima.

  • Going to have to agree with Greg M. that the notion of “civilian” took a rather major beating in this situation– probably why the Gen. Conv. spent so much time hammering out who is a civie and who isn’t.

    Is someone standing by the soldier and reloading a valid target?
    Are you not allowed to fire at a foxhole that’s trying to gun you down, because you can see they’ve got a red cross worker trying to patch them up?
    Can you destroy a yard full of military ships under construction or repair?
    Can you bomb the not-formally-military staffed bomb factory?
    If it’s required for someone to be a formal military to be a military target, how do you deal with informal attacks? (getting a bit to close to modern issues, so I’ll stop there)

  • Well, despite the best efforts of bombing apologists, we’re left at the end of the day with the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated, not because of their military value (which was slight and certainly less than many other potential targets), not because the civilians there were a threat (regimes like Japan’s always threaten that their civilians will rise up against any invader… they don’t), but because our bombing policy was, as I stated before, identical to “Bomber” Harris’ vision of demoralizing CIVILIAN populations.

    Thus, all this talk of Hiroshima’s bombing being justified either because of its military use or the ridiculous notion that the little old ladies and kids were armed threats to our forces, is bunk.

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wiped out in order to terrorize the populace and thus break the will of the military to resist.

    That END was produced immediately by the MEANS of purposeful destruction of innocent lives, NOT as a by-product or collateral result of legitimate bombing. Why can’t folks here acknowledge simply what everyone, especially Truman, knew at the time– the bombings were done to terrify the Japs so completely at our ability to incinerate civilian centers that their military would capitulate?

  • I think the evidence supports Tom’s contention. And I think the application of Catholic teaching yields a rather clear cut answer. That said, his moral error notwithstanding, Truman is still a far mor sympathetic character than many of his self-righteous critics.

    A man might deliberately kill his comrade in arms if that comrade is dying and in agony. Such an act is murder and intrinsically evil. Yet, I would hardly make it my business to scold him. All sins are forgivable of course — but some certainly more than others. Truman’s act was not heroic; it was wrong; but it was certainly understandable and forgivable.

  • Tom, you’re entitled to your own view, but not your own facts, and what you’re claiming as “facts” are far from proven.

    Feel free to call me whatever you like– heaven knows I can’t stop you– but your OPINIONS of what was true are far from persuasive, and should not be stated as if they are objective reality.

    (On a side note, I’m so sick of being one of the folks who has to say “hold up a sec, we don’t actually KNOW X, or Y, and Z is totally wrong.” Even when I agree with a conclusion, or don’t disagree, it’s a bad idea to let incorrect claims stand.)

  • Foxfier:
    It is completely appropriate to bomb a bomb factory, even knowing that some civilians will likely be killed. That is because a bomb factory is a military target. An entire city is not.

  • Mike-
    Military bases are sometimes cities. (Zip code, hospital/power/stores/water, own police force, civilian families, schools, etc.)

    Military bases, since they are military bases, are military targets.

    Thus, it’s clear that entire cities CAN be a military target.

  • Fair enough I suppose, but are you seriously suggesting that H or N were military bases? If so, then no need for further discussion since we occupy different universes.

  • Mike-
    Not going to fight this, because– like I said way up above– I don’t think we have enough information to do a decent job of it.

    My rough limit is basic damage control on the BS I _know_ I’m going to have to deal with in the next five years, in the form of “X who is (or was) a Catholic said Y, so it must be true, defend it.” Generally in the middle of family reunions or parties with geek friends.

    If you can’t make your argument off of facts, why on earth are you trying to state it as fact? Just throw in an “I” here or there, maybe in conjunction with “think” or “reason” or “believe,” refer to sources for your claims and bada bing: no conflict.

    Shoot, you could even say “I don’t see how it could be justified to bomb an entire city, because cities are not military targets” and it’s no longer something I, or some poor idiot like me, will have to defend. It’s your educated belief from the facts as you know them and your understanding of Catholic teachings. (Anybody talking Catholic theology with a half-dozen highly intelligent folks who have little to no use for organized religion, let alone the Church, needs to have their head examined. No offense to the real Catholic apologists among us.)

  • Foxfier,

    It’s not exactly as if there is no considered stance on this issue by the overwhelmingly vast majority of bishops, theologians, popes, etc. over the past fifty years. The only people who pretend as though this is somehow a difficult question for the Church to address are a handful of American Catholics.

    It is much better to do as Donald does: reject the reasoning of the Church forthrightly. It is no good pretending as though there is an epistemic difficulty here where there is not one.

  • Yay, appeal to authority, and total missing of the point.

    Have fun, I’m out.

  • “reject the reasoning of the Church forthrightly.”

    Questioning is not rejection, especially in an area such as this where we are not dealing with revealed truth, but rather the application of hair splitting logic.

  • (Same way I duck out when folks start bringing out “but all these guys say that the death penalty isn’t needed anymore! So I win!”)

  • Mike.

    Check the anecdotal historical evidence of who were in occupancy in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the military operations and indusctrial complexes attached to those cities.

    One could arguably conclude they were military bases.

  • I’m out after this one as well.

    Don, I didn’t mean to be inflammatory. I take it that you do reject the distinction between foreeseable consequences and intended ends *in certain instances*; but perhaps you only question their analytic efficacy. Fair enough. I think your position commits you to consequentialism (or at least some kind of proportionalism, a la McBrien, et. al.), which I don’t think you want to be committed to, but that’s a different topic. It is an important conversation to have, though.

    Foxfier, I wasn’t so much “appealing to authority” as showing that what you take to be a difficult, perplexing, epistemically vague scenario appears only to be so for a subset of American Catholics and not for the universal Church as a whole. This is an empirical claim.

  • Don the Kiwi,
    Sorry about the oddly abbreviated post above. I am well aware that both H and N contained both military operations and industrial complexes attached to the war effort. Same for Chicago and Detroit. And targeting those operations and complexes would have been morally licit, even if done quite imperfectly. But that is not what happened, and the evidence is quite clear that Truman knew exactly what he was doing. As I said earlier, I don’t really blame him — even if I can safely conclude from my comfortable perch that he were morally wrong. But I refuse to reason backwards either. Just because I’m sympathetic, actually very sympathetic, to the consequences, does not mean that the means were morally acceptable. They weren’t. Pretty much all of us do bad things for good reasons, and that does not make us bad people — just sinners.

  • Fortunately we don’t have to speculate on why Truman chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whether it was because the cities were military targets.

    His own press release states that the Potsdam ultimatum was issued to Japan (calling for their unconditional surrender) “to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction.” NOT the Japanese military, NOT the Japanese industrial ability, but the Japanese people themselves.

    Besides, the US had already joined in the British practice of terror bombing by helping in the destruction of Dresden and by firebombing Tokyo, a practice which indiscriminately killed thousands of civilians.

    As Doolittle’s raid early in the war demonstrated, it was entirely possible to target industry and military targets without wiping out entire cities.

    We simply adopted the Brit practice of firebombing, and ultimtely, nuclear bombing, to demoralize the civilian populaces of our enemies, not to advance a military objective.

  • Actually Tom Truman referred to the “military base of Hiroshima” when he announced the Hiroshima bombing. You can say that was incorrect, but that is how Truman looked at it.

    The firebombing of the cities of Japan wasn’t undertaken for terror purposes, but because that was the only way to take out the Japanese industries that tended to be located within residential areas. Precision bombing of Japanese industries was attempted until around March of 45 and had proven completely ineffective.

  • The Doolittle raid was a propaganda operation in 42. 15 of the 16 B-25s were lost, along with 80 airmen. The damage to Japan was completely negligible. From a morale standpoint in the US it was a success. From a military standpoint it was a disaster.

    The technology of the day made precision bombing usually a wistful dream rather than a reality.

    “In practice, the Norden (bombsight) never managed to produce accuracies remotely like those of which it was theoretically capable. The Royal Air Force were the first to use the B-17 in combat, and reported extremely poor results, eventually converting their aircraft to other duties. USAAF anti-shipping operations in the Far East were likewise generally unsuccessful, and although there were numerous claims of sinkings, the only confirmed successful action was during the Battle of the Philippines when B-17s damaged two Japanese transports, the cruiser Naka, and the destroyer Murasame, and sank one minesweeper. However these successes were the exception to the rule; actions during the Battle of Coral Sea or Battle of Midway, for instance, were entirely unsuccessful. The USAAF eventually replaced all of their anti-shipping B-17s with other aircraft, and came to use the skip bombing technique in direct low-level attacks.

    In Europe the Norden likewise demonstrated a poor real-world accuracy. Bombing was computed by assessing the proportion of hits falling within 1,000 feet (300 m) and 2,000 feet (600 m) circles about an MPI (mean point of impact). To achieve a perfect strike, a bomber group would have to unload all its bombs within the 1,000 ft circle. By the spring of 1943 some impressive results were being recorded. Over Bremen-Vegesack on 19 March, for instance, the 303d Bombardment Group dropped 76 per cent of its load within the 1,000 ft ring. Under perfect conditions only 50 percent of American bombs fell within a quarter of a mile of the target, and American flyers estimated that as many as 90 percent of bombs could miss their targets.[5][6][7] Nevertheless, many veteran B-17 and B-24 bombardiers swore by the Norden.”

  • There is an ongoing myth that the British were primarily interested in terror bombing for the heck of it since they could not bloody the Germans in any other way. This is the received wisdom after Vonnegut and Irving. But it makes very little sense for the British to lose all those highly trained men of the Bomber Command (55,000 killed) and spend all that money to build a large strategic force merely to terrorise the Germans. The bombers were the British contribution to the continental war, as they lacked the ability to insert their forces into the field in a decisive ways. A much fairer assessment is provided in this book .

  • Harry S Truman was a 33° Freemason, an enemy of the Catholic Faith, which may be why Nagasaki, the center of Japanese Catholicism, was targetted. (More Catholics were killed on August 9th, 1945 than in four centuries of brutal persecution.)

    General Tomoyuki Yamashita was executed for the atrocities committed in the Battle of Manila (the “one case [in which] the event took place on American soil” mentioned in the post), despite the fact that said atrocities were committed by troops who had disobeyed his order to withdraw from the city to avoid civilian casualties.

Pro-life Actress Patricia Neal Dies at 84

Tuesday, August 10, AD 2010

One of the great actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age has died, Patricia Neal.  I have always found her performances riveting.  The video at the beginning of the post is from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), one of the many films her acting helped make memorable.

A Catholic, Ms. Neal wandered from the Faith as a young woman.  She had an adulterous affair with Gary Cooper.  After she became pregnant, Cooper convinced her to have an abortion, something she bitterly regretted for the rest of her life.  Monsignor James Lisante, a good friend of hers, discussed this several years ago:

“I met Patricia Neal over 20 years ago, and we have become good friends ever since. One time when she was on my television show, I said to her, “Pat, in so many ways you are a female Job.” She had, as you know, several strokes which put her in a coma for a month. She had a daughter who died of the measles at the age of seven. She had a son who was hit when he was an infant by a car in New York City, and he remains alive but brain-damaged and will be forever. Another daughter who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction; a husband who was great to her once she had the strokes, but he ultimately left her for a younger woman.

And I said, “In your life, Pat, if there was one thing you could change, what would it be?” And Patricia Neal said, “Father, none of the things you just mentioned.” But she said, “Forty years ago I became involved with the actor Gary Cooper, and by him I became pregnant. As he was a married man and I was young in Hollywood and not wanting to ruin my career, we chose to have the baby aborted.” She said, “Father, alone in the night for over 40 years, I have cried for my child. And if there is one thing I wish I had the courage to do over in my life, I wish I had the courage to have that baby.””

Patricia Neal has put herself on the line in saying to many, many women who have experienced abortion or thought about abortion, “Don’t make my mistake. Let your baby live.” What’s particularly painful, but poignant in this story is that some years later, Patricia became good friends with Maria Cooper, the only child of Gary Cooper and his wife. And Maria Cooper said, “You know, I know you had the affair with my father and I have long ago forgiven that. But one thing I find it hard to accept is that as an only child, I so wish that you’d had my brother or my sister. Because in so many ways, I wish so much that you had chosen life.”

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4 Responses to Pro-life Actress Patricia Neal Dies at 84

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  • Wonderful tribute to a great lady. She has been one of my favorite actresses for years for the very reasons you describe. I did not know or had forgotten, however, that she was a Catholic “revert.”

    I remember her stating in her autobiography “As I Am” that the one thing she would do over again in her life would have been to have Gary Cooper’s baby instead of aborting him or her. In those days (unlike today) Hollywood strongly frowned on actresses having children out of wedlock or in adulterous affairs and doing so could derail or ruin one’s career.

    My personal favorite among her performances is her turn as Olivia Walton in “The Homecoming,” the TV movie that inspired “The Waltons.” It’s a beautiful but often overlooked Christmas classic.

  • Well I really knew anything about her prior to this article that I read when it came out. I was struck by Maria helping Patricia come back to the faith… What a story of forgiveness. I also went onto NNDB and they paint Patricia in a super negative light. Saying that her (ex) Husband was so good to her and she left him after he helped her out during her illness. They never mention him sheating and they never mention the abortion and the consequences. 1/2 a story.

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Great Jesuits 7: Vicar General of Illinois

Monday, August 9, AD 2010

Part 7 of my continuing series on great Jesuits in American history.  Born in Montreal on April 7, 1737,  Pierre Gibault early in life decided that he wished to be a Jesuit missionary priest.  Ordained on March 18, 1768, he was appointed by the Archbishop of Quebec to be the Vicar General of the Illinois country.  Father Gibault arrived in Kaskaskia in Illinois on September 8, 1768.  His flock consisted of French settlers, Indian converts, and members of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment who were temporarily stationed there.

As Vicar General of Illinois, Father Gibault had responsibility for a huge expanse of territory making up modern day Illinois and Indiana, very sparsely populated and with vast distances between the main settlements of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, Cahokia, Peoria, Saint Genevieve, Quiatenon and Saint Joseph.  When he first arrived in Vincennes, the local inhabitants, desperate for a priest, greeted him with the cry, “Save us Father;  we are nearly in Hell!”  The territory was quite dangerous, and as Father Gibault rode the circuit, he always carried with him a musket and two pistols.

Father Gibault toiled away at his frontier outposts until history intervened in the form of George Rogers Clark who led a force of Virginians in 1778 to conquer the Illinois from the British during the American Revolution.  After Clark and his men arrived in Kaskaskia, Father Gibault had a meeting with Clark in which he said that he supported the American cause, but that he wanted assurances that the Catholic faith would be respected by Clark and his men.  Clark told the priest that freedom of religion was enshrined in Virginia law, and he also advised Father Gibault of the treaty between France and America. 

Father Gibault threw his support to the Americans.  He helped rally the French settlers to the cause of the Americans, encouraged the men to enlist with the Americans, and out of his private resources helped pay for the cost of the American campaign in the Illinois country.  When Clark set out to reconquer Vincennes from the British, Father Gibault blessed the mixed French and American force.  A post tomorrow will detail the campaign of George Rogers Clark, which resulted in the conquest of what became the Northwest territory for the US.

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Scottish Cardinal Makes Fool of Himself

Sunday, August 8, AD 2010

The primate of Scotland, Keith Cardinal O’Brien, today in the newspaper Scotland on Sunday, decried the attempts by the United States Senate to investigate the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, who was convicted of the bombing on January 31, 2001, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  On August 20, 2009 al-Megrahi was released by the Scottish government to Libya, ostensibly on the compassionate grounds that he was dying of prostate cancer.

The text of the Cardinal’s article may be read here.

His argument basically consists of allegations that America has a “Culture of Vengeance” since we have the death penalty, while the Scottish justice system embraces compassion as demonstrated by the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber.

There is no polite way to put this.  The Cardinal’s article is rubbish from beginning to end.

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72 Responses to Scottish Cardinal Makes Fool of Himself

  • I see Cardinals Schonborn and Mahony have competition in being the most obnoxious prelates of the 21st century.

  • While I agree that the release on “compassionate grounds” was definitely suspect and I think that al-Megrahi got substantially less than justice would have required, I do have to take issue with one of your points, and ask a question in re: another.

    I disagree with your point #3. If al-Megrahi had been executed, then his victims would still be dead. I don’t precisely see the specific moral argument to be made for killing this man in this case, nor do I see how this specific case can be extrapolated to make an argument in favor of capital punishment generally speaking.

    Which brings me to my question. The only purpose I can see being served by executing al-Megrahi would be in service of precisely the sort of “Culture of Vengeance” that the Scottish primate accuses of pervading the U.S. justice system. Since you brought it up in your post, did you have a particular comment to that point? I’d say that, while it is more obvious in some places (e.g. Texas) than others, there is an argument to be made that our criminal justice system actually is focused inordinately on retributive “justice” and not on charitable justice – the latter being definable as a process of rehabilitating individuals to function in society, or at least to allow them to function away from the temptation to criminal behavior.

    I only bring up the latter here for contrast, because I could see it being argued from a Catholic position, whereas I don’t see a lot from that vantage point to recommend retributive justice. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

  • The Cardinal gets the prize for being close to the right answer by the wrong reasoning process. My question regarding the investigation is why did they wait until AFTER the gulf oil spill. I am not saying the investigation is wrong or shouldn’t happen. But the timing is very suspicious.

  • “I disagree with your point #3. If al-Megrahi had been executed, then his victims would still be dead. I don’t precisely see the specific moral argument to be made for killing this man in this case, nor do I see how this specific case can be extrapolated to make an argument in favor of capital punishment generally speaking.”

    When a particularly heinous crime is committed, the argument is often made that life imprisonment is an adequate substitute for the death penalty. This case graphically demonstrates that life imprisonment, at least in a European context, often does not mean life. Nine years for the 270 victims works out to slightly more than twelve days imprisonment per victim, about what someone in my county would get for a second driving while intoxicated conviction. This mocks any concept of justice.

  • I completely agree with the Cardinal. The American mentality of brutality, vengeance, and warmongering is out of sync with Catholic morality. It is quite questionable whether Americans who partake in these attitudes can be Catholics at all. Compassion and charity are more important than justice. The three theological virtues are love, faith, and hope, and justice is a result of love but not a virtue by itself (1 Cor 13:13). The sad fact about U.S. Catholicism is that there is no Catholic culture and practically no Catholic education. It is thoroughly Protestant. Thank God it has practically no influence on the Church Universal.

  • Thomas, are you saying that Scotland is now a Catholic nation with purely papist mores? Man, Knox must be rolling in his grave!

  • “Compassion and charity are more important than justice.”

    What you actually had in regard to the release was greed, trickery and injustice. If that represents the Scottish interpretation of Catholic morality Thomas, you and the Cardinal are welcome to it.

  • I think the issue we’re having here, Mr. McClarey, is less with this particular situation and more with the universal principle you seem to be espousing. Don’t think I don’t get hot under the collar thinking how Libya basically got their guy out of jail in exchange for an oil contract. I know that’s not justice. However, I don’t think that the Cardinal is wrong vis-a-vis Americans generally. I wouldn’t give a fig, honestly, if it were Scots who died rather than Americans – I just wouldn’t feel emotionally connected. It would still offend my sense of justice, but my sense of justice doesn’t raise the same stink as my desire to get even. The latter I try to ignore at all times.

    Is Card. O’Brien fundamentally wrong about why Scotland released al-Megrahi? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes. Is he right to say that we’re probably only making a stink because it was our people who died and we want him to “pay” for what he did? Fairly confident on another affirmative. Does this serve in any remote way as an argument in favor of the death penalty? Don’t quite see how, unless you’re approaching justice from a “we’ll make damn sure he gets what’s coming to him” perspective. Which really isn’t justice at all.

  • “I wouldn’t give a fig, honestly, if it were Scots who died rather than Americans – I just wouldn’t feel emotionally connected.”

    There we differ. To me the nationality of 270 innocents being murdered by a terrorist really isn’t of importance as compared to the enormity of the crime, and the lack of adequate punishment for the person behind the murders.

    As to your other point, the very essence of criminal justice is that the penalty be in proportion to the crime committed. Nine years for 270 murders is simply not commensurate with the offense. In civilized society people give up their right to private vengeance because they assume that the law will punish the guilty for the offense against them or their loved ones. This case makes a hollow mockery of that bargain.

  • Juniper,

    Nice to see the West Virginian anarchist make another commando appearance.

  • I tend to agree that leaving religion and the Irish troubles out of Lockerbie discussions facilitates constructive debate!

  • Again, Mr. McClarey, I’m not particularly contesting that the punishment in this case was inadequate. I think it was. But I’m less concerned about the lack of comeuppance to al-Megrahi, and more concerned that it was so easy a capitulation for the UK to make.

    Criminal justice, to my way of thinking, has as its object not the criminal per se, but society. The criminal is, of course, the proximate object, but not the fundamental one. Society must act on the lawbreaker in one of two ways: either (1) we confine him and attempt to rehabilitate him; or (2) whether due to the magnitude of the offense or the sociopathy of the offender, we keep him incarcerated for our collective protection. Clearly al-Megrahi falls into the latter class of offenders, and it is a grave miscarriage of justice that the government on whose soil the very crime was committed turned him loose for the benefit of possible oil contracts.

    What I remain mildly alarmed by your statement that:

    “Travesties like the release of the Lockerbie bomber are of course the best argument for the death penalty.”

    That really is a vengeful and, I would even go so far as to say, an uncivilized outlook. In a day and age where we have the affluence that we have, I don’t think that there’s any but a handful of good reasons to resort to execution as a primary punishment – least of all based on the possibility that otherwise the offender may not get punished “enough.”

    I still agree that the particular occasion for the Cardinal’s comments was…chosen poorly; however, I think that there is a kernel of rather unpleasant truth in the words.

  • Again with the Protestant bashing.

    I expected so much more from the post-councilar “we are the world” ecumenicists of liberal Catholicism.

  • “That really is a vengeful and, I would even go so far as to say, an uncivilized outlook.”

    Not at all. Both Church, the Catholic Church, and the State, almost all States, believed that the death penalty was an appropiate penalty under certain circumstances until the day before yesterday in historical terms. If putting someone to death is vengeful, I fail to see why locking someone up for the rest of his life is not. The papacy of course used to understand this, which is why the Vatican had the death penalty until 1969, not to mention the fact that while the popes ruled the papal states they ordered executions for capital crimes until the dissolution of the papal states in 1870.

  • “Who spills man’s blood, by man shall his blood be spilled. For man is made in God’s image.” Or, something to that effect. See Genesis.

    State punishment, constrained by justice and law, is not vengeance.

    Once upon a time, every sentient person knew that if he/she killed (also rape, armed robbery, etc.) another person, he was liable to hang. Things are so much better since mercy displaced justice. Are things better for murder victms? Oh, they’re already dead . . .

  • I would refer you to Daniel Moloney’s piece on mercy a few years back in First Things. It offers an understanding of mercy as not opposed to justice, but a refinement of justice – the adaptation of general rules of conduct to the particulars of each situation. IIRC, one point advanced by the author was that institutions run by fallible human beings were not notably reliable in the application of mercy.

    A while back, Peter Kreeft offered some remarks on how what is called ‘compassion’ is a degenerate version of charity – charity shorn of some crucial elements. That would seem to apply here. We would rather our clergy advance the view of the Church and not the zeitgeist. We are disappointed about two-thirds of the time.

  • @ Mr. Hargrave:

    I didn’t see any “liberal” Catholics laying about. As far as Protestants go, I don’t have much use for them.

    @ Mr. McClarey:

    I imagine the popes also had torture chambers at their disposal back in the day. I further imagine that they were put to use. Civilization and civilized sensibilities evolve. I don’t think that the fact that a thing used to be done is a particularly strong case for continuing to do that thing. By such logic, the rack would still be a valid form of information gathering.

  • DW,

    “Imagine” is the operative word. How easy it must be to form opinions based on imagination rather than facts.

    And re use for Protestants, just to be clear: I doubt that any reader of this blog cares who you have use for — and I doubt our Lord cares either.

  • Mike,

    I don’t conceive of God being nonchalant, generally. A comment was made, and then responded to, which I’m pretty sure happens on blogs. Kind of like trolling, rather than actually engaging in argument.

    To that point, “imagine” is not the operative word, in fact. The mental operation undertaken was more logical than that. Given that sundry popes of the medieval and Renaissance eras were far better temporal rulers than pontiffs – see, e.g., Julius II or any given Borgia – and given that the Papal States, as a secular entity, had the same interests and goals as any other European power, it does not require any noticeable stretching to the fabric of reality to infer that the Papal States would have used the same tools to further those interests and goals. That would include the torture of prisoners for information. Since such treatment had been the norm for centuries, if not millennia, I see no strong reason suggesting that the presence of Popes in the equation at this moment would change anything. I’m certainly open to evidence to the contrary.

    I should again elaborate, as well, as I sense your sensibilities may have been rankled by the Prot comment: I see no reason to bring them to the party, because I see no purpose served by bringing incomplete truth to a place where the fullness of truth resides. Given the name of the blog, I anticipated that understanding having some commonality. I apologize if you do not share it, and if I caused you offense.

  • Cardinal O’Brien’s repeated references to capital punishment are particularly gamy red herrings and about the clumsiest sleight of hand I’ve seen in a while.

    The senators aren’t demanding Megrahi be executed. Though that would have been a just punishment, given the crime. What they are *actually* demanding are answers as to why this remarkably hale terrorist received “compassionate” clemency when it is clear he is going to live for years. The Cardinal’s studious determination to avoid what looks, walks and quacks like a corrupt bargain is part of the problem.

    And, really, Mr. Wingley–excoriating America for a Protestant mindset while defending Calvinist-bathed Scotland is…risible.

  • As near as I can tell, that is *the* problem.

  • “I didn’t see any “liberal” Catholics laying about.”

    They know who they are.

    “As far as Protestants go, I don’t have much use for them.”

    Wonderful spirit of ecumenism there. This virulent anti-Protestant bigotry emanating from the Catholic left is amusing and sad at the same time.

    I mean, you don’t have “much use” for them? What does that even mean? And here I thought people were ends, not means. Tsk tsk.

  • Mr. Hargrave,

    Let me join you in pummeling this cadaverous filly.

    Having had no recourse, at times, but to fulfill my canonical obligations in the dens of liberal Catholicism, I can claim some familiarity with their ways and means. I think they more resemble than despise Protestants. As far as anti-Protestantism, I take that to be wrapped up in the definition of “Catholicism,” at least insofar as the latter is the fullness of truth and the former is a repository of fragments deluded into the conviction that they are all. Full truth must be against half-truth, so I suppose to be orthodoxly Catholic one might have to be anti-Protestant. But I wouldn’t call that bigotry…just being right.

    Hence, incidentally, why I do not have much use for Protestants qua Protestantism. I have seen nothing of value there that is not present in my own religion, whereas I have seen many things of no value being osmosed from them by liberal Catholicism – the adherents of which I similarly have little use for.

  • Der,

    I made an important distinction between Protestants, and Protestantism, in this post:

    It is one thing to oppose the ideas. No one is more opposed to the “Protestantization” of theology, the liturgy and aesthetics than myself.

    It is another thing to insult and degrade actual people, many of whom are sincere in their desire for a spiritual life. To even find people who take seriously the existence of God and what it means for their lives, I think, is a blessing in today’s society, which is weighed down with materialism and consumerism.

    A fair number of the Protestants I have met don’t even know what they’re missing in Catholicism. They are ripe for conversion, provided bigotry and pretension can be put aside.

  • What a despicable character the Cardinal is. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself as should be the people of Scotland. This is a mass murderer we are talking about!

  • Very interesting reading through the comments here. I thought I’d add my two cents, though I almost never comment.

    The primary reason the death penalty should be allowed, at least according to the catechism, is for the protection of society: “If…[it] is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” (CCC 2267)

    This actually gives us a way to reconcile the practices of the past with renewed desire to limit the death penalty. We have more advanced means of insuring that those who commit heinous crimes do not escape. There has been much talk of “punishment”; I’m not sure why Catholics should be worried about this sort of thing, particularly when it will handled most effectively in the afterlife by a most qualified judge. When used in the negative sense it can also tempt one to thoughts of vengeance. There is, of course “punishment” in a positive sense: punishment which has as its aim rehabilitation and correction. The catechism speaks of this type: It “has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense” it can “assume the value of expiation”, and “it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.” (2266)

    Of course, in contrast to the Cardinal, I think it would actually be more compassionate to leave a mass murderer in prison. One who has committed such deeds needs to have a complete sense of the consequences of his actions, and life in prison could more effectively provide a context for and a desire for “expiation”.

    In the pro-life sphere, I think it is very appropriate to advocate sparing the life of such men. Not so much because of a social sense of “compassion” (a concept which can be grossly misconstrued), but because we acknowledge that everyone has the right to life, and moreover, should be afforded ample opportunity for repentance and penitence.

    I have a great respect for the work of the contributors at American Catholic, and I really appreciate the posts and the perspectives. Hope this contributes to the discussion. God bless.

  • Mr. Hargrave,

    I can cop to the same experience, and I hope that my Protestant friends come to the realization of their situation and come back into the fold.

    I should probably have thrown the “qua” in there from the get-go. Although bigotry might be a slightly strong choice of word. I’ll definitely confess to being biased, though.

  • You prove the cardinal right. Justice has nothing to do with the victims. What you talk of is revenge.

  • Der,

    The initial comment, for clarification, was directed at a certain person who posts here under rotating identities, and who used to post for a certain blog that is well known for its undisguised contempt for Protestants and Americans in a constant game of “more-Catholic-than-thou” one-upsmanship.

  • I am tempted to introduce a cog in the wheel of this discussion… I find it strange that Catholics, who certainly do believe in the afterlife, are still arguing “a life for a life” in the case of murder. Sending a murderer to his or her death without getting a chance to repent does not seem Christian to me. And if the murderer does get a chance to repent, he or she will eventually get the reward we all hope for, eternal life. All we would be doing with the death penalty in this case would be to allow this person to get to this goal faster (even before us in time!) A better “punishment” would then seem to be holding this person in prison for the rest of his or her human life… Just a thought.

  • Though that seems to be part of the problem. The “compassion” that the Cardinal refers to releases a mass murderer from a life sentence. I’m not sure how much repentence one has when one if free to live as a hero in one’s home country.

  • “A better punishment would then seem to be holding this person in prison for the rest of his or her human life.”

    But *that’s the problem*–he was set free to a hero’s welcome and a long life. Where is there a hint of justice in that?

  • Marthe Lepine,

    It strikes me as utterly strange to take the approach of saying that life in prison is more of a punishment because it forces the criminal to remain in prison longer before receiving his eternal reward. Seriously?

    Honestly, I think part of the problem is that many on the “compassion” side of this have come to believe only vaguely in the concept of life after death. From a traditional point of view, earthly punishment and eternal punishment are fully separate questions. From an earthly point of view, certain serious crimes simply merit death, at a basic retributive level. Nothing personal, not because it will make any feel better, not because the families of the victims will have “closure” or some such nonsesne, but simply because there is an imbalance that has been created and this is how it is to be righted in the earthly sense. One might exert mercy or clemency in certain circumstances, but this would clearly be a matter of setting aside the demands of justice, the demands of justice do not themselves change.

    We, as Christians, have the duty to forgive and to help give someone facing capital punishment every opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness. What happens when an executed criminal faces God is, clearly, something between those two. It is not something for us to know, and indeed we may very much hope that each such person embraces God and recieves salvation.

    However, in the last sixty years or so, most people have lost this balanced approach.

  • “From an earthly point of view, certain serious crimes simply merit death…”
    But even the Pope is not that categorical… And I thought that we, as disciples of Christ, were supposed to be “in the world” but not “of the world”. Are really we supposed to be basing our judgment on “an earthly point of view”?
    On the other hand, my arguments are not directly linked to the case at hand but to the principle surrounding capital punishment. It is certainly reasonable to say that the Lockerbie bomber should have remained incarcerated, both as punishment and as a way of ensuring he does not get involved in similar crimes, which is certainly not impossible. And other prisoners around the world have been kept in prison while dying of cancer.
    And to come back to the possibility of repentance: It is unfortunate that the Lockerbie bomber has been freed for “business” reasons, but he may still meet opportunities for repentance. It is my understanding that God is tirelessly pursuing sinners to bring them to Himself (what is the expression? “the Hound of Heaven”?) and we will never know the real end of the story…

  • DarwinCatholic,

    Although I very much respect your opinions, I’m afraid I too have to disagree with your line of thinking. (And my disagreement has next to nothing to do with “compassion”.)

    When I read Evangelium Vitae (paragraph 67 deals with the death penalty), JPII makes it pretty clear that execution should be avoided if at all possible. Now, clearly there are exceptions, but the exceptions should only derive from practical considerations (eg., keeping society safe).

    As I read it, punishment alone is not a valid reason to administer the death penalty.

    Perhaps you have a different interpretation…?

  • “Mr. McClarey:

    I imagine the popes also had torture chambers at their disposal back in the day. I further imagine that they were put to use. Civilization and civilized sensibilities evolve.”

    Actually the popes did have official torturers and executioners. The name of the gentleman who performed this task for Pio Nono was Giovanni Battista Bugatti. He performed 516 executions for Pio Nono and his predecessors.

    “Civilization and civilized sensibilities evolve.” Considering the bloody Twentieth Century, the bloodiest by far in human history, and also considering the 44,000,000 and counting unborn children put to death by legal abortion in this country, I will assume that comment was meant humorously.

  • Two wrongs do not make a right. Certainly, a very large part of the Twentieth Century evolution of civilization and civilized sensibilities was not positive. But abortions and bloodshed during that century do not justify maintaining capital punishment… Given that even the Pope now teaches that it has to be avoided if at all possible, I think that some of us, among Catholics and followers of Christ, would be well advised to seriously examine their positions on that matter. If they are not willing to seriously consider current Papal teachings in this matter and avoid arguing that, due to the fact that previous popes in previous centuries thought and acted differently, JP2’s teaching is only a matter of opinion and can be disregarded because “we know better”. Founders of groups that separated from the Church and are now called Protestants also did think that “they knew better”!

  • John,

    I would agree with you that John Paul II pretty clearly thought that the death penalty should basically never be used in the modern world. A part of me would wish to contextualize that, given that he lived in a country which, through most of his adult life, far more often used the power of execution against innocent “polical criminals” than it did against actual offenders of any sort. However, contextualization is often the easy way out.

    Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t discuss the topic of capital punishment often is that it seems to me that the recent statements of our popes have been pretty directly in tension with the rest of Church tradition. And as that troubles me greatly, I tend to think it best to not express my opinion overmuch and to allow time and the Holy Spirit to sort things out in ways better than are known to me.

    That said, I think this tension in Church tradition is well summarized by the tension between the two paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church addressing the issue. On the one hand we have this:

    2266 The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.

    That seems to me to be saying exactly what I expressed above. And then in the next paragraph we have this:

    2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

    Here the purpose of secular punishment is no longer to redress the disorder caused by the offense, but rather to hold it in check for a while. Secular “justice” now serves not actually to punish, but simply to hold people in restraint until a threat has passed.

    I don’t know how to resolve these, but it seems to me that to take only the latter and not the former is to have an unbalanced view of earthly justice, and one largely out of keeping with our history. Perhaps much of this is — being of a strongly conservative temperment — I find it next to impossible to believe that conditions now are substantially different from how they were in the past. It doesn’t seem to me that there is one justice for today and another for yesterday. Nor that we have really got much better at restraining people from committing crimes than we were in the past.

  • “paragraph 67 deals with the death penalty”

    Whoops. The paragraph in question is actually 56, not 67.


  • DarwinCatholic,
    I am afraid you may be confusing Tradition and tradition… I think that the Tradition would be indicating that the Pope has the authority to teach and guide his flock according to the needs of the times. In earlier centuries, many things were accepted that are considered questionable nowadays, an example would be slavery. Therefore, if the Church had a different attitude towards capital punishment in earlier times, there is no “rule” against a certain evolution in the Church teaching, but there seems to be a rule, even a tradition, towards doing our best to respect the Pope”s teachings, because such teachings most probably express the will of God for our present times.

  • Within the context of John Paul II’s formulation — I guess I’d say that I disagree as to the extent to which society can be protected from certain types of crimes without recourse to the death penalty, in part because I think that protecting society goes more widely that simpy, “Making sure that particular person is not practically able to kill someone else in the future.”

    That said, this is not an issue that I’m passionate about in the US context. I think we use the death penalty so poorly, so late, and so inconsistently that there’s very little point, and certainly if there were some sort of principled trade-off available (“We’ll agree to restrictions on abortion if you’ll agree to abolishing the death penalty.”) I’d be happy to support such a compromise. I just get annoyed by some of the absolutist and a-historical rhetoric that gets rolled out by anti-death-penalty activists.

  • “But abortions and bloodshed during that century do not justify maintaining capital punishment… Given that even the Pope now teaches that it has to be avoided if at all possible, I think that some of us, among Catholics and followers of Christ, would be well advised to seriously examine their positions on that matter.”

    Ah, but the predecessors of John Paul II, certainly up to Pius XII, had an opposite view of capital punishment as did Saint Paul. When Popes and Saints are in conflict, I would tread cautiously, especially when a novel papal teaching happens to coincide with a secular movement against capital punishment. That is a strong indication to me that perhaps what is being pronounced is not part of the eternal teaching of Christ, but perhaps the reaction of a pope to intellectual trends of his time. Popes make many pronouncements during their reigns, most of which end up being forgotten or ignored by future popes. A good example of this is The Syallabus of Errors of Pio Nono.

  • That is a strange argument. You mean to say that whenever the Pope happens to hear about some secular movement against something like capital punishment, and happens to express some teaching that gives it validity, we are allowed to think that his judgement – or his discernment supported by the Holy Spirit sent by Christ who said that He would be with His Church till the end of times – has been weakened?

  • Please allow me an editorial change:
    …we are justified to think that his judgement…

  • DarwinCatholic,

    Well said. I actually see it from your point of view very clearly.

    It seems to me our late Holy Father had a confidence in modern technology and political good will that that I’m not so sure a lot of conservatives share. On the one hand, there is the issue of protection of society, on the other hand the issue of taking a life when it seems as though modern society has sufficient means of otherwise protecting itself. (read: advanced prison security)

    Which brings up the interesting question (which I think Don alludes to in the article): Is practical security (bars, gates, fences) the only consideration here? I think even the strongest advocates of the death penalty might admit that there are problems with the justice system in our society. Could it be argued that the death penalty is necessary because our justice system is not perfect? I don’t know.

    I do disagree, however, that even though “the punishment should fit the crime” that that punishment by necessity has to be the death penalty. I think this is the point which JPII makes most strongly. However, I do think that this topic can be validly debated from many angles.

    On an unrelated note, I do enjoy this blog. I especially enjoy Don’s unique perspective on all things political/historical and DarwinCatholic’s cultural and philosophical perspectives.

    Let’s continue to fight the good fight and remain united in our love for the Church and the faith!

  • “Let’s continue to fight the good fight and remain united in our love for the Church and the faith!”


  • “That is a strong indication to me that perhaps what is being pronounced is not part of the eternal teaching of Christ, but perhaps the reaction of a pope to intellectual trends of his time.”

    Boy, you’re a lot bolder than I am when interpreting papal documents.

    Do you mean that there is a fundamental theological contradiction (death penalty as means of punishment vs. dp as strictly a means of protection)? Or simply that different popes see different ways of applying the same principles?

  • “You mean to say that whenever the Pope happens to hear about some secular movement against something like capital punishment, and happens to express some teaching that gives it validity, we are allowed to think that his judgement – or his discernment supported by the Holy Spirit sent by Christ who said that He would be with His Church till the end of times – has been weakened?”

    When a Pope does an almost 180 on previous longstanding Church teaching, and the change happens to coincide with developments in the secular world, or be a reaction against developments in the secular world for that matter, it is proper I think to wonder if the Pope is giving us a valid new teaching or expressing a personal opinion. Of course, I assume that most popes must adhere to this belief, considering how many of them have ignored or reversed what previous popes taught. John Paul II did this more than most popes, but he was by no means unique in this regard. The Holy Spirit uses time to sort things out as Darwin observed earlier in this thread. That is why the Syllabus of Errors, or the papal condemnation of Magna Charta, or a thousand and one other items that could be named, are now historical curiosities rather than considered part of Church teaching. To some this fact might be considered disturbing. I do not find it so. The Church is a divine and human institution that proceeds through History with its many ups and downs. It does not surprise me that it can take a very long view to sort the wheat from the chaff, even in regard to Papal actions and teachings.

  • Just a minute, I had another thought. Did not St-Paul also instructed slaves to respect their masters and serve them as they would serve the Lord? But slavery was abolished in the US… This contradicts Paul, no?
    Different popes have lived in different times with different sensibilities, and responded to them.
    Some of the arguments I have read here about whether the Pope’s opinions do not always have to be accepted remind me too much of a time when I was much younger and Humanae Vitae was just published. Many people argued then that the Pope did not really understand the realities of having children in our times and that therefore his teaching about contraception was not absolutely binding. I even heard it during sessions organized by my parish. Sure, this teaching was part of an Encyclical Letter, but I have been led, particularly after listening to Father Corapi’s explanations, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church also contained official teachings of the Church. Some paragraphs of that book bearing on capital punishment have been quoted in earlier posts…

  • Actually Saint Paul’s admonition regarding slaves to obey their masters is a good example of a very high authority indeed in the Church giving a teaching that coincides with the reality of his times. It is not part of the eternal teaching of Christ.

  • Don,

    Fair enough. There is also, however, the distinction between popes disagreeing with each other, especially across different periods of history, and laymen taking an official current papal document with a grain of salt.

  • “with a grain of salt”

    I’m not accusing you of this, I’m speaking generally.

  • It seems to me that even if the Pope is expressing his personal opinion, it has much more weight that the personal opinions of each of us, members of the Catholic Church. He has been by God the authority to teach us, and again, I would refer back to what I said before about a lot of people using exactly the same argument when Humanae Vitae was published. I clearly remember that the question was raised of whether or not Humanae Vitae was infaillible teaching, and the opinion expressed that if it was not infaillible teaching, people were still allowed to “follow their conscience” (I did hear it in those exact words!) in making their own choice about contraception. I remember wondering at the time (I was not married, therefore it was not a serious concern for me) how it could happen that some people’s consciences could be going against the Pope’s teaching. Is it not the same Holy Spirit that is supposed to inform our consciences?

  • True John. It can easily become an all purpose excuse to ignore Papal teaching that one finds uncongenial. Although I find anti-death penalty arguments, including those made by John Paul II, to be fairly unconvincing, the death penalty, either pro or con, has never been a hot button issue for me like abortion. If clerics wish to make anti-death penalty pronouncements, that matters little to me so long as they are not dunderheads about it, and I believe Cardinal O’Brien went way across that line on Sunday.

  • I do agree wholeheartedly with that. The issue of the death penalty pales in comparison to abortion. It’s a tragedy when bishops and other Catholics don’t see likewise.

  • What’s wrong with the Syllabus of Errors.

  • The embarassment that many Catholics felt at the time in regard to the Syallabus is well demonstrated in this letter of Newman linked below.

    “Here I am led to interpose a remark;—it is plain, then, that there are those near, or with access, to the Holy Father, who would, if they could, go much further in the way of assertion and command, than the divine Assistentia, which overshadows him, wills or permits; so {280} that his acts and his words on doctrinal subjects must be carefully scrutinized and weighed, before we can be sure what really he has said. Utterances which must be received as coming from an Infallible Voice are not made every day, indeed they are very rare; and those which are by some persons affirmed or assumed to be such, do not always turn out what they are said to be; nay, even such as are really dogmatic must be read by definite rules and by traditional principles of interpretation, which are as cogent and unchangeable as the Pope’s own decisions themselves. What I have to say presently will illustrate this truth; meanwhile I use the circumstance which has led to my mentioning it, for another purpose here. When intelligence which we receive from Rome startles and pains us from its seemingly harsh or extreme character, let us learn to have some little faith and patience, and not take for granted that all that is reported is the truth. There are those who wish and try to carry measures and declare they have carried, when they have not carried them. How many strong things, for instance, have been reported with a sort of triumph on one side and with irritation and despondency on the other, of what the Vatican Council has done; whereas the very next year after it, Bishop Fessler, the Secretary General of the Council, brings out his work on “True and False Infallibility,” reducing what was said to be so monstrous to its true dimensions. When I see all this going on, those grand lines in the Greek Tragedy always rise on my lips—

    [Oupote tan Dios harmonian
    thnaton parexiasi boulai],—

    {281} and still more the consolation given us by a Divine Speaker that, though the swelling sea is so threatening to look at, yet there is One who rules it and says, “Hitherto shalt thou come and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed!”

    But to return:—the Syllabus then has no dogmatic force; it addresses us, not in its separate portions, but as a whole, and is to be received from the Pope by an act of obedience, not of faith, that obedience being shown by having recourse to the original and authoritative documents, (Allocutions and the like,) to which it pointedly refers. Moreover, when we turn to those documents, which are authoritative, we find the Syllabus cannot even be called an echo of the Apostolic Voice; for, in matters in which wording is so important, it is not an exact transcript of the words of the Pope, in its account of the errors condemned,—just as is natural in what is professedly an index for reference.”

    Newman was quite wrong. From first to last the Syllabus was the project of Pio Nono, a fact that became very clear soon after Newman wrote his letter. It was the cranky blast of a Pontiff who truly hated most of the developments of the nineteenth century.

    A few samples:

    11. The Church not only ought never to pass judgment on philosophy, but ought to tolerate the errors of philosophy, leaving it to correct itself.—Ibid., Dec. 21, 1863.

    15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.—Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862; Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

    17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ.—Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

    21. The Church has not the power of defining dogmatically that the religion of the Catholic Church is the only true religion.—Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

    22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church.—Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, “Tuas libenter,” Dec. 21, 1863.

    24. The Church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect.—Apostolic Letter “Ad Apostolicae,” Aug. 22, 1851.

    27. The sacred ministers of the Church and the Roman pontiff are to be absolutely excluded from every charge and dominion over temporal affairs.—Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862.

    38. The Roman pontiffs have, by their too arbitrary conduct, contributed to the division of the Church into Eastern and Western.—Apostolic Letter “Ad Apostolicae,” Aug. 22, 1851.

    55. The Church ought to be separated from the .State, and the State from the Church.—Allocution “Acerbissimum,” Sept. 27, 1852.

    63. It is lawful to refuse obedience to legitimate princes, and even to rebel against them.—Encyclical “Qui pluribus,” Nov. 9, 1864; Allocution “Quibusque vestrum,” Oct. 4, 1847; “Noscitis et Nobiscum,” Dec. 8, 1849; Apostolic Letter “Cum Catholica.”

    75. The children of the Christian and Catholic Church are divided amongst themselves about the compatibility of the temporal with the spiritual power.—”Ad Apostolicae,” Aug. 22, 1851

    76. The abolition of the temporal power of which the Apostolic See is possessed would contribute in the greatest degree to the liberty and prosperity of the Church.—Allocutions “Quibus quantisque,” April 20, 1849, “Si semper antea,” May 20, 1850.

    I will not debate whether Pius was right in condemning these propositions. I would argue that the position of the Church has changed from that pronounced by Pius in the Syllabus, and that this work is usually simply ignored.

  • The difference I would see in regards Humanae Vitae is: with Humanae Vitae Paul VI put himself in agreement with the entire history of Christian teaching on the topic.

    The thing which makes me a bit uncomfortable with the absolute condemnation of the death penalty (and note, John Paul II was clearly cognizant of this, and he did not unconditionally condemn the death penalty) is that in this case the long history of Christian tradition is on the other side of the issue: holding that the death penalty is acceptable in certain grave circumstances, and is not a contradiction to (or obstruction to) God’s mercy.

  • I have a different reason for supporting Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s release. I’m not convinced he did it. The evidence was flimsy. The judge later admitted that the prosecution’s main witness was unreliable. The UN observer reported that it was not a fair trial. His case was on appeal after it was ruled that a “miscarriage of justice” had occurred. His appeal was halted only by his release fueling speculation that he was released so that Scotland would not have to admit to convicting an innocent man and reimbursing the compensation that Libya paid the victims’ families.

  • “Nine years for the 270 victims works out to slightly more than twelve days imprisonment per victim…”

    A monstrous act of terrorism so lightly dealt with may not serve as a powerful disincentive towards future acts. Unless al-Megrahi spent the nine years hanging upside down over a tank of angry sea bass or something. Or am I buying into the…er… Culture of Vengeance, is it?

  • Well Restrained Radical here is the pertinent portion of the decision of the three judge panel that convicted him:

    “86] We now turn to the case against the first accused. We should make it clear at the outset that the entries in the second accused’s diary can form no part of any case against the first accused. The entries fall to be treated as equivalent to a statement made by a co-accused outwith the presence of the first accused. If both accused had been proved by other evidence to have been acting in concert in the commission of the crime libelled, then these entries could perhaps have been used as general evidence in the case as against any person proved to have been acting in concert. As we are of opinion however that it has not been proved that the second accused was a party to this crime, it follows that the normal rule must apply and the entries cannot be used against the first accused. We therefore put that matter entirely out of our minds.

    [87] On 15 June 1987 the first accused was issued with a passport with an expiry date of 14 June 1991 by the Libyan passport authority at the request of the ESO who supplied the details to be included. The name on the passport was Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad. Such a passport was known as a coded passport. There was no evidence as to why this passport was issued to him. It was used by the first accused on a visit to Nigeria in August 1987, returning to Tripoli via Zurich and Malta, travelling at least between Zurich and Tripoli on the same flights as Nassr Ashur who was also travelling on a coded passport. It was also used during 1987 for visits to Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus. The only use of this passport in 1988 was for an overnight visit to Malta on 20/21 December, and it was never used again. On that visit he arrived in Malta on flight KM231 about 5.30pm. He stayed overnight in the Holiday Inn, Sliema, using the name Abdusamad. He left on 21 December on flight LN147, scheduled to leave at 10.20am. The first accused travelled on his own passport in his own name on a number of occasions in 1988, particularly to Malta on 7 December where he stayed until 9 December when he departed for Prague, returning to Tripoli via Zurich and Malta on 16/17 December.

    [88] A major factor in the case against the first accused is the identification evidence of Mr Gauci. For the reasons we have already given, we accept the reliability of Mr Gauci on this matter, while recognising that this is not an unequivocal identification. From his evidence it could be inferred that the first accused was the person who bought the clothing which surrounded the explosive device. We have already accepted that the date of purchase of the clothing was 7 December 1988, and on that day the first accused arrived in Malta where he stayed until 9 December. He was staying at the Holiday Inn, Sliema, which is close to Mary’s House. If he was the purchaser of this miscellaneous collection of garments, it is not difficult to infer that he must have been aware of the purpose for which they were being bought. We accept the evidence that he was a member of the JSO, occupying posts of fairly high rank. One of these posts was head of airline security, from which it could be inferred that he would be aware at least in general terms of the nature of security precautions at airports from or to which LAA operated. He also appears to have been involved in military procurement. He was involved with Mr Bollier, albeit not specifically in connection with MST timers, and had along with Badri Hassan formed a company which leased premises from MEBO and intended to do business with MEBO. In his interview with Mr Salinger he denied any connection with MEBO, but we do not accept his denial. On 20 December 1988 he entered Malta using his passport in the name of Abdusamad. There is no apparent reason for this visit, so far as the evidence discloses. All that was revealed by acceptable evidence was that the first accused and the second accused together paid a brief visit to the house of Mr Vassallo at some time in the evening, and that the first accused made or attempted to make a phone call to the second accused at 7.11am the following morning. It is possible to infer that this visit under a false name the night before the explosive device was planted at Luqa, followed by his departure for Tripoli the following morning at or about the time the device must have been planted, was a visit connected with the planting of the device. Had there been any innocent explanation for this visit, obviously this inference could not be drawn. The only explanation that appeared in the evidence was contained in his interview with Mr Salinger, when he denied visiting Malta at that time and denied using the name Abdusamad or having had a passport in that name. Again, we do not accept his denial.


    [89] We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications. We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified. However, having considered the whole evidence in the case, including the uncertainties and qualifications, and the submissions of counsel, we are satisfied that the evidence as to the purchase of clothing in Malta, the presence of that clothing in the primary suitcase, the transmission of an item of baggage from Malta to London, the identification of the first accused (albeit not absolute), his movements under a false name at or around the material time, and the other background circumstances such as his association with Mr Bollier and with members of the JSO or Libyan military who purchased MST-13 timers, does fit together to form a real and convincing pattern. There is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused, and accordingly we find him guilty of the remaining charge in the Indictment as amended.”

  • The Syllabus of Errors certainly causes pause and helps us reflect on infallibility and the development of doctrine. Clearly point 15 appears to be directly contradicted by Dignitatis Humanae. They really are contradictory in their conclusions.

    I think Donald is right to some degree. Doctrine does develop. At the same time the Church makes statements that reflect a judgment of its time and, with changing political and social circumstances, can revise its judgment. Clearly that seems to be the case with Dignitatis Humanae and also much of the Syllabus.

    Humanae Vitae is clearly a restatement of traditional teaching whereas the teaching on the death penalty is, at a minimum, a development of doctrine as it seems to take the death penalty off the table as punisment. Even as a development of doctrine, the Church does teach that the death penalty is morally licit given the circumstances (that again) of defense.

    Under such a light one can question if the death penalty in the US is abused. One wonders however if, given the severity of the Pan Am bombing, an argument for the death penalty as defense can be made. Not that I’m making it. Too much trouble to try and more ornery sorts might make all sorts of simplistic hay out of it.

    Just saying that it may not be as simple as saying it is “vengence.” Especially since justice, human and divine, has clearly been offended in this case.

  • To Phillip: I agree with your comments. They give a balanced argument that is very reasonable. And as to whether or not the death penalty is being abused in the US, I cannot make a judgement, since I do not live in that country and therefore am not aware of all the circumstances of all cases. However, it does not seem that the actual number of executions is unreasonable, and criminals seem to spend such a long time on death row that their cases are most probably being studied in depth on all angles before the actual execution takes place, thus mitigating the risk of errors (we have had a number of such errors in Canada, but the accused had not been executed when the errors were found, thanks to the Lord). However what I get from comments on news sites such as my favorite,, is worrying me, since it happens very often (too often for my taste) that someone (often several people) will claim for the reinstatement of the death penalty each and every time a serious crime occurs. This worries me and gives the impression of a vengeful mentality among part of the population, and I think that it would be a good idea to try to do some education in the matter, such as the value of compassion and forgiveness, for example, and try to change hearts, at least among Catholics and other Christians in general. After all, are we not taught at one time or the other of our Catholic education that the first “canonized” saint was a criminal dying on a cross besides Jesus?

  • Compassion: An introduction for Cardinal O’Brien (and Scottish Justice Secretary Kenneth MacAskill)

    Why compassion would have kept al-Megrahi in prison.

    Scots desire justice and want justice to be tempered by compassion and mercy.

    Had compassionate heads prevailed, Scotland would have supported justice by honoring the just sentence of the court in this case, while providing the compassion and mercy so exemplified by the caring physicians, counselors and religious advisors that are part of our criminal justice system.

    When a justice system considers the important role of compassion and mercy it can never be in the sole context of the guilty criminal, as was done with this release.

    It was an insult to justice, compassion and mercy to minimize the gravity of the victims suffering – in this case, the 270 innocents murdered and the thousands who so loved them and suffer so much from the tragic, cruel taking of their cherished.

    Just because God has chosen to serve a cancerous death sentence upon this murderer, that gave no foundation for early release based upon compassion. We all die. And, accordingly, we should not judge why God has chosen cancer as that route for this murderous, unrepentant man.

    It was an insult to the 270 innocents murdered and the thousands of innocents so hurt by those deaths to condone the release of this criminal. Compassion and mercy must be upheld. And Scotland should have done so and would have, save for the decisions of an incompassionate few.

    Only a cruel cynic would give more weight to compassion and mercy for an unrepentant mass murderer than to the justice for the innocents murdered and the compassion due those 270 murdered and their loved ones left behind.

    And that is precisely what happened with al-Megrahi’s release.

    Justice, compassion and mercy were all best served by this mass murderer remaining in prison. Both justice and compassion rule in Scotland. Something failed with al-Megrahi’s release.

    May al-Megrahi repent.

    Blessings to the innocent murdered and their bereaved loved ones.

  • I agree, the question of the death penalty is not relevant to this case.

    However, the foundation of EV’s death penalty evaluation is defense of society based upon secular prison security. That foundation is what transferred into CCC as an amendment.

    Error filled secular foundations should not replace biblical, theological, traditional and rational teachings spanning nearly 2000 years.

    A proper evaluation of secular prisons is a requirement in both EV and CCC, if we are to give any deference to the secular foundations, which are the basis for EV and 2267.

    The objective reality of the newest Church position is that more murderers will be spared, at the cost of more innocent lives.

    Just the opposite of a defense of society foundation.

    That is the “practicable” reality of this newest Church position

    I think Cardinal Avery Dulles is correct. The Church will have to reassess their position and revert back to its traditional position.

  • A point that opponents of the death penalty don’t consider is that inmates imprisoned for life overwhelmingly commit the most mahem in the prison population. They kill other inmates, kill or maim guards, rape and/or mutilate other prisoners. These folks deserve your compassion too.

  • the latter being definable as a process of rehabilitating individuals to function in society, or at least to allow them to function away from the temptation to criminal behavior.

    Easier in theory than practice. As BPS points out, many of these lifetimers commit crimes while incarcerated. But, having said that, there is a distinct impression that the dp is overused. I have no problem with severely restricting its use as outlined in the CCC.

  • I believe there have been over the last decade a mean of about 8,400 homicide convictions recorded per year. Around about 15 years ago, the Bureau of Justic Statistics released a report which contained some interesting data: 4.4% of all instances of homicide had multiple victims, 0.75% had more than two victims, 0.15% had more than three. (I am not sure of the time span over which these homicides were collated). If you have 8,400 resolved homicides, 0.75% thereof is 63 homicides.

    There have been about 56 executions per year over the last decade.

  • When will O’Brien condemn God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?

    God: ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.’ Matthew 15:4

    Jesus: “So Pilate said to (Jesus), “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” Jesus answered (him), “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.” John 19:10-11

    Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus) replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

    Jesus: “You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca”, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Matthew 5:17-22.

    The Holy Spirit: God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11.

    Why is it that God says vengeance is Mine?

    Is it because vengeance is the province of the Most Holy?

  • Der Wolfenwalt says:

    “Don’t quite see how, unless you’re approaching justice from a “we’ll make damn sure he gets what’s coming to him” perspective. Which really isn’t justice at all.”

    See “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, by C.S. Lewis

    “I urge a return to the traditional or Retributive theory not solely, not even primarily, in the interests of society, but in the interests of the criminal.”

    “The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of (just) Desert. But the concept of (just) Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust. I do not here contend that the question ‘Is it deserved?’ is the only one we can reasonably ask about a punishment. We may very properly ask whether it is likely to deter others and to reform the criminal. But neither of these two last questions is a question about justice. There is no sense in talking about a ‘just deterrent’ or a ‘just cure’. We demand of a deterrent not whether it is just but whether it will deter. We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds. Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’. ”

    CCC 2266: “The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation.”

    The Catechism states: “The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” 2266 This is a specific reference to justice, just retribution, just deserts and the like, all of which redress the disorder.

    We must first recognize the guilt/sin/crime of the aggressor and hold them accountable for that crime/sin/disorder by way of penalty, meaning the penalty should be just and appropriate for the sin/crime/disorder and should represent justice, retributive justice, just deserts and their like which “redress the disorder caused by the offence” or to correct an imbalance, as defined within the example “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”

  • Exactly. We His children are to leave the punishment up to God. Nobody but God has to right to end a life. This is one of the arguments constantly brought up by anti-abortion people. Pro-life is not limited to anti-abortion. Even if a person has disobeyed God by taking a life, it does not justify other humans to take that person’s life, although we may think that that person has forfeited his or her own right to life by taking another’s life. In that story in the Acts of the Apostles, it is God who struck Ananias and Saphira, not the members of the community. I think it would be quite arrogant to decide to take God’s place in this matter. Of course, it has been done in the past, but it does not justify doing so now. Jesus has also said something like: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and this way you will accumulate punishments upon their head if they do not repent. Such punishment is no longer ours to administer. Of course it may seem frustrating at times, even unfair, that God’s justice, which is infinitely higher and different that that of humans, also includes relentlessly calling sinners to repent, even the worst sinners. Did not Jesus say that there will be more rejoicing in heaven for one sinner who has repented than for 99 others who do not need repentance? I have to admit that sometimes, when thinking about someone who has done me wrong, I am tempted to feel frustrated about God’s mercy and to play the role of the older brother of the prodigal son… Are not we all sinners?

Economics and Moral Hazard

Sunday, August 8, AD 2010

Another first rate video from the Econ 101 series of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.  This video exlores the concept of moral hazard in economics.  A moral hazard occurs in economics when one of the parties to a transaction is  insulated from bad effects if the transaction goes south.  This will cause that party to behave more recklessly than if the full impact of the failure of the transaction were felt.  Government bailouts of course establish a precedent that if a big business suffers a loss, that the government might bail it out.  No doubt many of our major financial institutions have learned the lesson that if a financial fiasco is large enough, Uncle Sucker will come to the rescue, and put the taxpayers on the hook for another few trillion that they can’t repay.  Moral hazard indeed!

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6 Responses to Economics and Moral Hazard

  • Excellent! FNM/FRE provided huge volumes of (explosive) hydrogen (liquidity – relatively unlimited dollars chasing after limited houses) that over-filled the housing bubble, which is bursting (gov loan modifications and tax credits – just lapsed – will spread out the pain over years) so violently.

    N.B. FNM/FRE already cost “we the people” almost $300 billion. They are in conservatorship. They owe outright $1.6 trillion (publically held debentures – needs to be addded to the national debt) and also indirectly owe on implied guaranties possibly up to $10 trillion of mortgage backed paper.

    The 2,300 page financial reform legislation does not mention FNM/FRE. These are two dem sacred cows which ‘they’ apparently want to keep available to do more of the same damage going forward.

    Slight clarification: FNM/FRE lowered standards for loans they would buy to re-package/securitize into mortgage-backed securities. They also unsoundly increased the max loan balances they would buy. The banks would not have lowered credit underwriting standards if FNM/FRE had maintained their standards because banks would have retained the loans and the risks.

    Thank Dodd and Frank.

    A qualifier: Many (except ever-present frauds) involved parties believed that real estate prices always rise, never decline. So, they blindly accepted paper collateralized by any piece of God’s green Earth, regardless of the owner’s creditworthiness. The problem is that collateral values often disappear when they are most needed to cover loan losses. Appraised values (comparable sales prices not stabilized for unsustainable price run-ups) were used to the exclusion of sound credit underwriting and realistc financial analysis. Sadly, pension fund managers who have almost no real estate expertise but needed to “chase” yields and believed they were secured by good real estate collateral.

    President George W. Bush (Lord, I miss him!) didn’t do his duty here, either.

    In 1999, HUD Honcho A. Cuomo dictated that the two cash sacred cows underwrite 50% of their business in “low to moderate income” loans. The rate of home ownership rose from say (depending on the study) 63% to 69%, above historical equilibrium. Last I read, 15% of single family mortagge loans are past due.

    You just gored two lib/dem “sacred cows.”

    Anticipate lib ad hominems, insults and lies aimed at you.

  • T. Shaw I agree with most of what you posted – but I have found that the picture becomes MUCH clearer when the “liberal – conservative – Democrat – Republican” filters are removed. The bottom line is Wall Street runs our government – the politicians play the “two-party” false dichotomy when in reality that are two sides of the same coin, they just have different pet issues.

  • Great video! I like hearing someone say what I couldn’t express due to my lack of knowledge on the subject. But it seems all too simple now – follow the money trail…

  • Jim,

    Thanks. Most of that post was factual.

    The non-facts were meant to answer dem/liberals’ denials of sacred cows’ -FNM/FRE/HUD/US government social engineering – complicity in the recent economical “pomp and circumstances.”

    If the US had limited government and limited moral hazard, the depth of the debacle may have been limited.

    Also, recently, I believe Wall Street ceded its monopoly control of the US government to the UAW (GM/Chrysler bondholders were robbed), public employee/teachers unions, public pension funds, etc.

  • Question for Don: What is money?

  • Pingback: Government Monopolies v. Competition « The American Catholic

Come, Come Ye Saints

Saturday, August 7, AD 2010

Something for the weekend.  A blues arrangement of the Mormon hymn Come, Come Ye Saints.  The hymn was written as the Mormons were making their epic trek in 1846 from Illinois to Utah in order to carve their new Zion out of the wilderness.

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
Tis better far for us to strive our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell –
All is well! All is well!
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
‘Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward if we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!
We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints, will be blessed.
We’ll make the air, with music ring, Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we’ll tell –
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again to see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell-
All is well! All is well!

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4 Responses to Come, Come Ye Saints

Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation

Friday, August 6, AD 2010


Easily the most controversial figure in the Civil War, probably the most controversial figure in American history, Nathan Bedford Forrest has always been the subject of fierce debate.  Self-made millionaire who rose from poverty with much of his money made as a slaver trader;  a semi-literate whose tactics and strategies as the most successful cavalry commander of the  Civil War are still studied at military academies around the world;  a brilliant general celebrated by the South and condemned by the North as the perpetrator of a massacre at Fort Pillow;  a man who killed in combat 31 Union soldiers in the War but who after the War constantly had former Union soldiers visit him to shake his hand; and  a racist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan after the War, but who also made a remarkable speech near the end of his life.

In 1875 Forrest was invited to address a meeting of the Independent Order of Pole Bearers, an early black civil rights organization in Memphis, at their Fourth of July barbecue on July 5.  Forrest was told by many whites that he should not accept, but Forrest went.  Just before he spoke he was presented a bouquet of flowers by Miss Flora Lewis, a daughter of one of the members of the Pole Bearers.   Here is Forrest’s speech.

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17 Responses to Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation

  • A highly successful cavalry general. “Get there first with the most.” True cavalryman, he understood cavalry tactics: audacity, economy of force, military intelligence/recon and mobility. General Custer’s Civil War record was also stellar.

    Praise the Lord! Apparently, he came to repent of his sins and sought to amend his life.

  • Very interesting.

  • Thank you for another excellent piece. AMERICAN CATHOLIC never fails to entertain and enlighten.

  • Fascinating, and as always, excellent work. I never knew Forrest had a change of heart. Good.

    Forrest had one of the great slap-down rants of all time, directed at Braxton Bragg (whom I heartily thank God wore the gray) after Bragg’s jealous mistreatment of him following the battle of Chickamauga:

    “I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to. You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any more orders to me, for I will not obey them, and I will hold you personally responsible for any further indignities you endeavor to inflict upon me. You have threatened to arrest me for not obeying your orders promptly. I dare you to do it, and I say to you that if you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life.”

  • Hey Donald,

    May I put this article up on my facebook page?

  • I have read that Forrest left the KKK when he felt it was going in a directrion he didn’t approve, and that he was recruited into it as a reconstructionist organization after Robt. E Lee recommended him instead of himself. Further that he also left the KKK to solidify his business interests. So I think there continue to be two sides to the NBForrest story

  • Go ahead Bret.

  • Another Gem from the McClarey mine.

    Thank you for the education.

  • Most of this is sourced indirectly via Hurst’s biography. The KKK in its original form was to fight reconstruction. While there was somewhat of a centralized organization, a lot of Klan folks weren’t organized. NB Forrest got threatened by Congress. The organization pretty much ceased to exist after that. It was reconstituted around the 1920s and took the character with which it is most often identified.

    Fort Pillow was mainly propaganda to help Lincoln’s re-election. After the election, the matter was basically dropped. The Union apparatus showed no interest in making Forrest pay for his alleged massacre at Ft. Pillow.

    Forrest did indeed convert to Christianity. I wish I had the quote handy, but he said during the war that he couldn’t convert yet because he had un-Christian things to do.

    Forrest had amassed a small fortune before the war, but the money was in slave trading, so he wasn’t respected by the landed aristocracy of the time. He was broke after the war and a railroad venture ensured he remained that way. During his last years, he did a lot of work on racial reconciliation. He thought it would be better for blacks and whites to be in solidarity in attacking reconstruction and the mismanagement that went along with it.

  • NB Forrest is no hero to Catholics. He is one of American history’s most dispicable personages. The Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist organization founded by former members of the Confederate Army of Tenn. with the specific goal of denying the civil rights of black people. The Army of Tennesee battle flag is a KKK symbol.

    Catholic immigrants to the United States have long been subject to intimidation by the KKK, both North and South. NB Forrest was a slave trader, war criminal, and domestic terrorist. How bizarrre it is to see an attempt to celebrate his life here at American Catholic.

  • What is bizarre Trevor is your unwillingness to even consider an event in Forrest’s life that indicates that he was trying to make amends for the racism of his life. Redemption is one of the key elements of the Catholic faith, and this story demonstrates that as long as there is life there is an opportunity for it.

  • There is nothing fascinatng or ‘redemptive’ about NB Forrest’s life Donald. The man was a slave trader, a civil war criminal, and a domestic terrorst. No amount of rhetoric on his part is going to change those facts.

    Put in its proper context, the speech which this story alludes to was part of an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to get nacent black political organizations like the Tennesee Independent Order of Pole Bearers to stop supporting black/Republican candidates and support the white Democrat candidates instead. The Klan was ultimately sucessful in that endevour as the black Republican political ascendency in Tennesee ended the following year in 1876. Thus ended black Tenneseean’s best chance for stopping the imposition of Jim Crow laws over their lives.

    From a religious perspective the Forrest speech would be better viewed as a story about Satan’s temptation. By appearing in the flesh amongst the black audience, smiling, acting friendly, and saying the right words, the worldly white supremicist Klan leader was able to convince his less sophisticated opponents to drop their own poliitical cause and join his. To their everlasting detriment.

  • As I said Trevor at the beginning of my post, Forrest is probably the most controversial figure in American history. On my blog Almost Chosen People, when I posted this, I received flak from a neo-Confederate named Bill. A debate between you and Bill would be amusing if not edifying.

    In regard to Forrest, you are quite incorrect as to whether he is fascinating. He obviously is, judging from the number of recent biographies and the fact that whenever his name appears in anything I write for a blog, the comments roll in.

    As for his speech, Forrest was invited to give it. He specifically indicates in it that he is not going to attempt to tell his listeners how to vote. I might also note that it would be a peculiar election strategy to think that sending Forrest of Fort Pillow and the Klan to a black group would be an effective form of political persuasion. By 1875 Forrest by all indications was no longer involved with the Klan and was not involved in politics. Forrest in his speech was not speaking for any party, but for himself. You are of course free to interpret his speech as arising from ulterior motives, but I do not think that the facts support such an interpretation.

  • I can’t help but chime in:

    Often Forrest’s reputation comes down to the controversies surrounding three specific parts of his life:

    1) His role as a slave-trader.
    2) His role in the Battle (Massacre) of Fort Pillow.
    3) His role in the Klan.

    There is no denying Forrest was a slave trader. However, the practice was perfectly legal at the time (Constitutionally protected even as evidenced by the Dred Scott decision) and he wasn’t the only person partaking in said practice. Of course this does not exonerate his participation therein from a moral standpoint, but this detail placed in it’s proper historical context is, as Michael Bradley (Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Escort and Staff, 2006, pg 215-6) passionately argues, an example of presentism; “Presentism would have us use our knowledge and values to judge the actions of the past, even though our knowledge and values were not accessible to the people of the past.” If the matter is argued even further, 13 out of 39 signing members of the Constitution were slave-traders/slave-owners themselves and during the 1858 debates with Douglas, Lincoln even remarked (a position he publicly held on numerous occasions following his election) that he did not think that the black man is “my equal in many respects, certainly not in color—perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowments…” (Shane Kastler, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption, 2010, 37-9). One thus wonders if the onslaught of criticism of Forrest’s slave-trading activities are as merited when so many prominent historical figures in US history are given passes for their words/actions in comparison.

    The Battle (Massacre) of Fort Pillow is a wonderful example of propaganda. There are numerous points of contention worth noting, but among the more noteworthy:

    A) Forrest’s official report for his activities was not offered or considered as evidence in his defense for 4 months; his report was submitted to his Commanding Officer, General Polk, who subsequently died during the Atlanta Campaign against General Sherman and the report was lost until later found by Polk’s replacement. Consequently, the Northern Congress wrote of the event as a “massacre” while distributing 40,000 copies decrying Forrest’s action as murder; oh yes, it was also 1864 and Lincoln was convinced he wouldn’t win re-election unless desperate measures were taken (Robert Selph Henry, First with the Most; Forrest, 1944, 248-9). Interestingly, too, that same Congress also exonerated Forrest but the Northern Press did not emphasize that detail with the same vigor it had in efforts of condemning him.

    B) Equally interesting, Fort Pillow was given 3 (count them, three) chances to surrender. The Fort was surrounded. The Federals were outnumbered. The main commanders of the Fort, Bradford and Booth, had zero combat experience. I could go on (Hell, just read Maness, Jordan & Pryor, Wyeth, Hurst, Wills, or anyone else that documents the event) and the outcome is pretty predictable.

    C) Did I also forget to mention that more than half the combatants were taken prisoner, given quarter, medical treatment and all prisoners of war were eventually exchanged to the federals? (Jordan & Pryor, 1899, reprinted 1996, 704).

    D) Oh, and did I also forget to mention that many of the Federal combatants did surrender, only to re-pick up their arms and start shooting again? (See Jordan & Pryor, Wyeth, Wills, Hurst, etc.) Interesting how the Congressional report condemning Forrest includes testimony by Federal soldiers saying that they never officially surrendered as well as re-fought after individual members surrendered, but the Northern Press, again, did not emphasize these points with the same vigor it had in condemning him. Here is where it might be reasonable to believe a conspiracy of sorts was taking place.

    E) More people died at the The Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) in one day than virtually all of Forrest’s war campaigns put together. You might be thinking, “So what difference does that make?” Well, there is only one real obvious difference, minus the commanders involved with each conflict: white people were killing white people instead of white people killing black people. Could it really be this simple? Maybe not. But when numerous colored regiments under the regional direction of Federal General Sturgis, among numerous others assigned by General Sherman to annihilate Forrest, fail miserably and repeatedly, it’s a tough recruiting tool to win public support, increase black enlistment, not appear incompetent, etc., when Forrest is consistently destroying those in his path. Plus how else can the Federals justify their losses beyond conceding that they did not adequately train members of their command? Cognitive dissonance and propaganda work miracles.

    A lot of ink has also been spilled about Forrest having a role in the Klan. Was he in the group or wasn’t he? According to Morton (1909), Forrest’s former artillery officer, he initiated Forrest as a member and as eventual Grand Dragon. According to Stanley Horn (1939), Forrest was probably a member but there is no conclusive evidence he ever held a leadership role. Pick and choose whatever you want to believe, but a few things are clear:

    A) Forrest wasn’t a founding member of the organization; it already existed for a year to 18 months before his alleged involvement.

    B) During Reconstruction ex-Confederates were denied the right to vote. The fear was that if they could vote, they would vote to maintain the Old South as well as white supremacy; indeed a reasonable fear. Consequently, however, rather than reconciliation or efforts to reconstruct the South for all its members, ex-Confederates were now singled out for discrimination. The Governor of Tennessee, Brownlow, went so far under a Reconstructionalist agenda to attempt to have all ex-Confederates shot by citizen militia groups under the pretense that all KKK members were clearly ex-Confederates fighting for the right to preserve the Old South (and by proxy obvious Klan members and/or sympathizers), while the offenders would never be brought to justice if Brownlow had his way. It should be noted that some might argue that this position taken by Brownlow and Reconstructionalists was justice for the plight of what blacks inhumanely suffered for centuries; others might argue, rightfully, however, that using more discrimination to fight discrimination solves nothing. Notwithstanding, once Brownlow resigned to pursue political aspirations as a Senator, Senter of the Democratic Party became the new Tennessee governor and voting rights were restored for all eligible citizens. In so doing, the KKK was officially disbanded; often attributed as the work of Forrest.

    C) New groups, in the name of the original, popped up. Many allegations have even surfaced that many of the newer groups were actually discontent Union-loyalists attempting to pursue their own agenda (Selph Henry, 450-1). I have even read some critics suggest that some of the “newer” Klan groups were discontent blacks; but you’d have to really buy into conspiracy theories and insane propaganda to believe that any group of people would vote/fight/kill against their own interests… oh, that does happen.

    In sum, Forrest is often judged for isolated incidents before the Civil War (e.g. slave-trading), during the Civil War (e.g. Fort Pillow) and immediately following the Civil War (e.g. KKK activities). Interestingly, however, the last 8 years of Forrest’s life are often ignored altogether. You might be thinking, “Why should anyone care?” Well, for one, Forrest converted to Christianity. Two, Forrest began to publicly preach racial reconciliation (e.g. evidenced by his speech to the Pole Bearers, among other things). Three, Forrest even alienated his traditionally white supporters in efforts to protect newly emancipated slaves (e.g. as a planter following the Civil War he actually paid black laborers more than his competitors/neighbors). Often the “so what?” question from these observations emerge. Detractors of Forrest often like to find instances of controversy while choosing to only provide certain pieces to make their case. Conversely, defenders of Forrest often like to emphasize Forrest’s war achievements in isolation from the rest of his life and not fully consider him as the incomplete, inconsistent, and contradictory person that he was.

    For what my stake in this larger debate entails, I would say this: defenders of Forrest have hurt Forrest’s reputation by refusing to acknowledge the man for all his faults. Instead, Forrest has become a symbol of white masculinity defending a way of life that may never have existed (e.g. read the Agrarian Manifesto by the 12 Southerners or Cash’s The Mind of the South for a better idea of what I’m talking about). Detractors of Forrest have done nothing but focus on the man for his faults, often cherry-picking details out of context or simply ignoring context altogether. Interestingly, neither defenders nor detractors have spoken much about Forrest’s last 8 years in great detail; almost as if to imply that neither is willing to consider Forrest as having developed a progressive attitude towards race late in his life. But what an irony it would be if the NAACP and the KKK have been using the same man to make an argument for their respective positions, when, in fact, Forrest is not the man either have claimed him to be. But it’s a lot easier to blindly accept what we’re told because, after all, history is always inclusive of—and written with—the minority position in mind. Or not.

  • Thank you Paul for your well-thought out comment. This is precisely the type of comment I hope to see when I post on historical topics here and at my blog on American history, Almost Chosen People:

    History must be approached on its own terms as you have done here. Establishing the facts of history can be difficult, but until we have established the facts, debate about what the facts mean is meaningless. In regard to Forrest and the Klan, I think he clearly was involved at a high level, and I will probably do a piece on that at Almost Chosen People as the length of the examination would warrant a full blog post.

  • In regard to Fort Pillow, another subject worthy of a lengthy blog post on Almost Chosen People, the historical controversy rages from the day of the taking of Fort Pillow to today. My position is as follows.

    Some Confederates did kill black and white Union soldiers, most of whom were Tennessee Unionists, after the fort was taken. Unfortunately this was not an uncommon occurrence after a fort was summoned to surrender and had to be taken by assault. The assaulting troops are usually in that situation highly enraged and it is extremely difficult for commanders to keep them under control in the immediate aftermath. There is little evidence that I can see that Forrest ordered his men to do such killings and a fair amount of evidence that Forrest took steps to end the killings as soon as he learned of them.

    This contemporary letter after the battle discusses what happened:
    “Letter of Surgeon Samuel H. Caldwell, Sixteenth Tennessee Cavalry

    Camp Near Brownsville, April 15, 1864.

    My Dear Darling Wife,
    We are just from Fort Pillow which fort we attacked on Tuesday the 13th.
    1864 & carried by storm. It was garrisoned by 400 white men and 400 negroes
    & out of the 800 only 168 are now living So you can guess how terrible was
    the slaughter. It was decidedly the most horrible sight that I have ever
    They refused to surrender—which incensed our men & if General Forrest had
    not run between our men & the Yanks with his pistol and sabre drawn not a
    man would have been spared—We took about a hundred & 25 white men & about 45
    negroes the rest of the 800 are numbered with the dead—They sure [lay]
    heaped upon each other 3 days—…

    Nothing more but remain your devoted husband.
    S. H. Caldwell.”

  • Your welcome.

    With regard to Fort Pillow, depending on whose account you read and lend credence towards, the Federal troops were composed mainly of former slaves, Tennessee Unionists and ex-Confederate deserters; all of whom were regarded as traitors in the eyes of Confederates. Throw in the sense of outrage in having to risk your life to fight a battle that could have been avoided and there is a lot of high emotion going on. Once more, there is also a lot of documentation alleging Bradford and his men were robbing, raping and harassing the locals; so goes the story Forrest viewed Fort Pillow as a meaningless strategic position but he was begged by the locals for protection including from his own men who had families in the area.

    One of the reasons why the allegations of “massacre” have gained a lot of traction, however, is that there is considerable speculation that Forrest lost control of his men; that is to say, he didn’t order a massacre but he didn’t prevent one from happening either. Richard Fuchs, at least, attempts to push this argument further by suggesting premeditated murder. Interestingly, however, Forrest ordered General Chalmers to direct the action since he arrived late on the scene and he also had 3 horses shot from under him during the initial fighting before the demand for surrender commenced. But getting into all these details is often ignored by detractors because, after all, by simply acknowledging that they could be wrong or have condemned Forrest irrespective of the facts, this concession opens itself to further attack insofar as what else detractors may have failed to recognize.

    With regard to the Klan, it’s suspicion of guilt versus confirmation thereof. During the Congressional Investigation of the Insurrectory States Forrest’s testimony definitely suggests he knew much more than he was willing to admit. Forrest’s testimony with the Cincinnati reporter that was offered into evidence also suggests Forrest held a high position of leadership, or at least was very influential, but once more there is no evidence to conclusively link Forrest to the Klan. Most historians often nonchalantly say Forrest had a role, but what is often omitted is that this so-called “link” is a suspicion rather than supported in fact. Consequently, the Northern Congress, to their credit, recognized the insufficient evidence and exonerated Forrest.

    Notwithstanding, I find it absolutely fascinating that once certain allegations go unchallenged it almost becomes accepted in lieu of fact. Perhaps the allegation is as good as fact without evidence to support the claim for some folks, but what often seems to happen is that once each allegation becomes accepted without proof, the severity of the charge(s) seems to escalate. For instance, the Memphis chapter of the NAACP has often charged Forrest as being the founder of the Klan; thus, as they have argued, this is grounds alone to remove his equestrian statue in a racially polarized city such as Memphis. Should anyone remind the NAACP that Forrest didn’t create the Klan, however, they often refuse to admit the carelessness in this charge.

    Even more strange is when civil rights groups in general try to argue the reasons surrounding Forrest’s interment locale. It often behooves these groups to recognize that Forrest specifically asked to be buried in Elmwood as opposed to a park dedicated in his honor. Why does this matter? When Forrest Park was built the equestrian statue was the second largest of it’s kind ever constructed, next to Napoleon’s, at a cost almost surpassing all other American monuments at that time; quite the accomplishment considering this money came out of the pockets of Memphis citizens dirt poor from Reconstruction. Moreover, a park built in the memory of a Confederate hero stands when none exists in honor of Martin Luther King in the city of Memphis only seems to further motivate detractors in their efforts to rewrite history to their liking.

    I would absolutely be curious to see new scholarship emerge about Forrest’s controversial roles as they are situated within a greater historical context versus isolated from the world he lived in. Too often scholars and detractors alike have extreme tunnel vision to the point that they appear more concerned with fulfilling political agendas than promoting genuine efforts to seek racial reconciliation. Because once we recognize that people in history are not as one-dimension as often asserted, the sooner we can shift from our inability/unwillingness to come to terms with our undesirable history and actually focus on ways to improve the social ills that plague us.

Culture War

Thursday, August 5, AD 2010

People justly tire of the term “culture war” and find themselves asking, like the philosopher Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

And yet watching the disparate reactions to yesterday’s Federal Court ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8 (for now) it struck me that the culture war terminology is quite apt. What is termed the culture was is essentially a zero sum game over which of two roughly equally numerous groups will be allowed to define the dominant understandings of culture and society in our country. by taking this to the federal level, same sex marriage advocates have made it clear that no degree of regional acceptance is satisfactory — their understanding of the nature of marriage must be the single dominant understanding enforced throughout the country, and those with a traditional understanding of marriage must be the ones who find themselves aliens within their country. And, presumably, is same sex marriage advocates lose, they will in turn consider themselves aliens within the country. Given that it is the most basic units and purposes of society which are in dispute, it seems hard to see how it can be any other way. And while the dispute is to an extent regional, it is much more so philosophical and ideological, making the culture war more resemble the Spanish Civil War than the American. Every city and region has representatives of both sides.

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19 Responses to Culture War

  • To your point about it being impossible to make the traditionalist case: I thought Frank Beckwith’s following comment over at What’s Wrong With the World was spot on:

    Political liberalism was invented in the mid-1980s in order to provide a theoretical foundation that can exclude religiously-informed policy proposals while seeming to defend religious liberty and citizen participation. There had, of course, always been many liberalisms, including the Lockean, Kantian, Millean, Hobbsean, and Roussean varieties. But each suffered from the same problem: each presupposed a particular philosophical anthropology as the correct account of humanity. This was a problem because popular liberalism suggested neutrality on matters of worldview. So, you could not very well say that the state should be neutral on such matters while requiring it to embrace a particular one. Social conservatives understood this since the mid-1950s, as seen in what Bill Buckley called “the great liberal dilemma.” But with the ascendancy of the religious right and its insistence that “liberalism” is not as neutral as its proponents claim–that it too tries to answer the same questions that traditional religions answer–folks like Rawls needed a new way to defend liberalism in a pluralistic society that was both morally required but did not depend on a particular metaphysics. Presto, we get “political liberalism,” and with its numerous defenders including Rawls, Gaus (who is more of a libertarian), Nagel, and to a certain extent Dworkin.

    So, instead of explicitly defending metaphysical liberalism, we get political liberalism with allegedly none of the metaphysical commitments. But, strangely, on every issue about which metaphysical liberalism would take a stand–e.g., abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage, etc.–political liberalism gets the exact same results. Wow, what a coincidence! But the benefit of political liberalism is you can rule your opponents’ views as a priori violations of political liberalism while saying that their views are still “rational.” This means you get to sound like you respect pluralism, diversity, and the rationality of your opponents’ point of view while shutting them out of the debate on “principled grounds.”

    This is why on the issue of homosexual conduct, those that are critical of it for moral reasons cannot be considered reasonable actors who simply disagree with others on the issue. They must be irrational. For if they are rational–that is, if there views are not unreasonable to hold–then the state cannot, according to the canons of liberalism, force these citizens to acquiesce in their public and private lives. But this means that same-sex unions would not be treated equally, since political liberalism would grant the legitimacy of those who think homosexual acts are immoral. Consequently, the bigot charge is so fierce and not well-argued. It is meant to intimidate and silence, not persuade or convince. For, again, to suggest the position is arguable is to grant it legitimacy, and that simply cannot be allowed.

    So, despite Rawls’ wonderful intention to provide a theoretical grounding on which people with differing points of view on worldview matters can dialogue in a climate of mutual respect and understanding, he failed miserably. For what he in fact did was give to either side in the culture war, the ultimate weapon: declare the other side “unreasonable,” for once that sticks the game is over and there is no need to treat the other with respect or equal regard.

  • Well, apparently the history standards used in CA are even worse than I thought if Judge Walker can say with a straight face that historically there were no restrictions on marriage based on gender and that marriage was traditionally a matter of mutual consent. Heck in many parts of the world today, mutual consent STILL has nothing to do with marriage. I bet he would die before giving the Catholic Church credit with introducing consent as a feature of marriage.

    And since when does marriage have nothing to do with procreation? Many states require blood tests for Ruebella, which has everything to do with preventing birth defects in the future children of the marriage. (They don’t excuse you from the blood test just because you say you don’t plan on having children.)

    Also, inheritance law is very much intertwined with marriage both now and historically. But hey, with after death conceptions now due to IVF technology, maybe our culture should just declare children chattel and stop trying to pretend everything that the adults want magically is good for the children. We can just declare it so and move on with clear consciences!

  • Why should they (gays) be happy? They may as well be miserable like the rest fo us. Farce/OFF

    Did the judge rule YOU cannot have religious morailty in LAW? I like that part. Get the welfare (Catholic Social Justice) state off our backs.

    To your point: J. M. Barrie, “God gave us memory so that we could have roses in December.”

  • The following comment of mine was censored by the Huffington Post and taken off the site. It stated, “This comment was removed in accordance with HuffPost’s moderation guidelines.” I was totally taken aback. My words were neither offensive or in bad taste in anyway. Here is what I wrote:

    When anyone is vocal against gay marriage and homosexuality, supporters of gay rights like to label them as intolerant, prejudice and ignorant. I don’t consider myself any of the three. I was taught that we are all part of the human race and, therefore, no one is better than anyone else, regardless of race, class or religion. I feel I have always been on the right side, fighting for the poor, the minority, etc. But being gay is a desire and not a right.
    Whatever people do in the privacy of their homes is their business. It is not anyone’s place on this earth to judge others’ actions and desires. I know people who are gay, and I treat them no differently, than I do anybody else. Everyone should be free from ridicule and attack, but to go so far as to give rights to an abnormal desire that contradicts nature since the beginning of time is wrong and can only lead to an untested and precarious road. You don’t have to be religious or a moralist to know that what isn’t natural shouldn’t be. Gay people should neither be attacked nor encouraged, but helped and prayed for. This ruling is misguided because the law has no place in sanctioning unnatural and defective desires and acts.

  • Well now you’ve said several offensive things. Calling homosexuality a “desire” and not a “right”. Calling it an “abnormal desire that contradicts nature” and labelling it “wrong.” Finally you call for us to “pray” for them. You are engaging in hate speech you know.

  • by taking this to the federal level, same sex marriage advocates have made it clear that no degree of regional acceptance is satisfactory — their understanding of the nature of marriage must be the single dominant understanding enforced throughout the country, and those with a traditional understanding of marriage must be the ones who find themselves aliens within their country

    well, obviously that was the goal all along. But they would not have gone the federal route if they could have won state by state. when the people are asked, they emphatically say no.

    Today, gender is not
    relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law.

    where the hell does he come up with this?

    It is not anyone’s place on this earth to judge others’ actions and desires.

    I would have to quibble with this. It is precisely our place to judge actions and desires. We do that all the time – it’s called enforcing the law. The judge himself did it in this case by judging that those whose actions/desires are that same sex couples should not be recognized as married are wrong.

    It is not our place to judge the eternal destination of someone’s soul because of those actions and desires.

  • The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household

    Great. So when does polygamy kick in? I chose a spouse in 2010, then I chose another spouse in 2011, then I chose another in 2012….

    Someone owes the Mormons a BIG time apology!

  • If those words were offensive, then most comments would be pulled, since I have seen a lot worse on the web. We have something in this country called freedom of speech. You may not agree with me, but I kept it clean. I guess they just thought my simple words would sway others.

  • I was being sarcastic. I actually agree with you.

  • But I suspect others would not be sarcastic if they said such to you. That’s why your post was pulled. Soon you may not be able to say it publicly.

  • Ruth,

    It’s pure and simple censorship.

    You are evil if you disagree with them. At least they are not planning to destroy you, yet.

  • Jess,

    …maybe our culture should just declare children chattel…

    Welcome to the Roman Republic circa 150 BC.

    Where children were actually described as property of the father (they were a strictly paternally driven society back then).

    So with that, progressives are advocating for a regression towards olde tyme Roman Law.

  • Dear Judge: repeat after me: The state did not create marriage. The state does not own marriage. The state receives marriage as a cultural institution. The state is not the culture, it serves the culture. The state is a servant obligated to respect and foster the culture’s pre-existing and more fundamental institutions. Marriage is a cultural institution constituting relations between a man and a woman, period.

  • Tony-
    Judge Walker would take your framework of thinking about marriage and say that homosexual unions are apart of the contemporary culture and that Prop 8 was the state trying to own marriage.

    But of course, I get what you are saying and you are correct: marriage is a pre-political, natural institution; the state has no competency to alter it.

    There is no chance for common ground on this issue: as Elizabeth Anscombe noted decades ago, this battle was lost when artificial contraception became normal.

    Time to get out your MacIntyre, reread it and weep.

  • Also, Frank Beckwith noted a key logical flaw in Walker’s opinion:

    “Oddly, the judge claims that the belief that heterosexual monogamy is better than homosexual unions cannot be one of the reasons. But in that case, the judge begs the question, since that is precisely why we should privilege male-female marriage. So, it turns out male-female marriage is unconstitutional become it is male-female marriage. That’s called begging the question.”

  • For the sake of a view from the other side, here’s a post by a Christian who voted against Prop 8 & now regrets it…good illustration of how constant media exposure can muddle thinking:

  • Fellow Catholics, we must beat on our own chests. Judge Walker’s reasoning is largely unassailable and may well be upheld by the Supreme Court, perhaps even with the votes of some Catholic justices. The case in favor of Prop 8 was prepared weakly, and the defendant (Gov. Schwarzenegger) didn’t really want to fight it. Both Schwarzenegger and the Attorney General of CA have since come out in support of same-sex marriage. Nobody saw that the issue shouldn’t be presented as about the nature of marriage but as about the nature of sex. It should have been built on “Male and female He created them” (Gen 1:26), by arguing that individuals (or, for Catholics, persons) by nature belong to one of two sexes and that there is no artificially chosen “gender”. Catholics appear to be about the only ones left who have an interest in pursuing the case. Will we even be strong enough to grasp the last and minute chance before the Supreme Court? Now or never. Unified and strong leadership by our bishops is necessary, as is support by our universities, media, and best legal minds.

  • Do any of you know anyone who is gay? Do any of you know any gay couples? There are many, many, gay couples in committed relationships who simply want the same benefits under the law. Spousal inheritance, survivor benefits, next of kin rights at the hospital, visitation rights. Have any of you read the science on homosexuality? It is not a choice, and it is natural. Homosexuality is present in nature in many different animal species. Homosexual people are physiologically different than straight people. 10% of all populations are historically gay, and not something people can control and not something you should discriminate against in civil law. It is the American Law we are talking about here. Now you can decide.. do you want to live in a Free country, where we are all able to pursue life, liberty and happiness, or would you rather your homosexual brothers and sisters just continue to commit suicide for fear of rejection by their families, be forced from their homes when their partners of sixty years pass away and their relatives come and take everything, or lose rights to children they raised in a break-up? Jesus Christ never spoke of homosexuality, and by the majority of theologians he was the radical liberal of his day. Learn to live and let live. The agreement two people have to each other under the law affects none but those two people. In a pluralistic, free society we have to learn that the law applies to EVERYONE, not just the majority. A man and a woman can still get married as they always could have so tell me how does this impact them? This is about equal protection under U.S. law for all families in this country. If you want the rule of religion to to be the basis of civil law in the country you live in, please go look at Muslim countries that run on Sharia law as an example of how backwards it could become. Separation of Church and state, as well as Freedom of Religion are a beautiful thing. Now, if you want to really focus on ridding the world of sexual deviance, take a look at your own “celibate”, child molesting priests and the Popes who shelter them.

  • David,

    There is an unselfconscious irony in someone showing up to demand tolerance, while loudly displaying his own intolerance of anyone with a view different from his own. A great deal of what you say is ignorant, or untrue, but what comes through very clearly is that you absolutely and unconditionally despise anyone who thinks different from you. How you expect this to be persuasive from those who differ from you because they have thought long and deeply about their beliefs is beyond me.

Edward Coles and Free Illinois

Thursday, August 5, AD 2010

Edward Coles, the second governor of Illinois, is largely forgotten today, which is a pity.  His actions in 1824 helped lead to Union victory in the Civil War.

Illinois came into the Union as a free state in 1818.  However, a majority of settlers in Illinois initially came from the South and some of them brought slaves, illegally, into the Sucker State.  In 1822 Edward Coles, a 36 year old native of Virginia who had settled in Illinois in 1818, was elected Governor.  Coles came from a slave-holding family, but he had long been convinced that slavery was morally wrong.  When he arrived in Illinois he freed his ten slaves and deeded to each head of a family 160 acres of land to help give them a new start in a free state.  He ran for governor because he was alarmed with the growing strength of pro-slavery forces in his new home state.  In a tight four way race he won.

As Governor, Coles fought against laws in Illinois that discriminated against blacks and against indenture laws that attempted to establish black slavery in Illinois under another name.  In 1823 pro-slavery forces had a call for a constitutional convention put on the ballot in 1824.  Had a convention been called, there is little doubt that Illinois would have been transformed into a slave state.  Working feverishly, Coles and his allies narrowly defeated the call for a constitutional convention at the ballot box in 1824 and Illinois remained a free state.  Had the Civil War begun with an Illinois that had been part of the Confederacy, or, more likely, split in two as Missouri was throughout the war between rival Union and Confederate camps, it is hard for me to see a Union victory.  Illinois contributed a quarter of a million men to the Union cause, and without those men the war in the West could never have been won.

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5 Responses to Edward Coles and Free Illinois

  • Fascinating. Thanks, Don. Never knew this even though I received my undergraduate degrees from an institution located smack dab in the middle of a county named after this remarkable gent.

  • I agree, very fascinating.

    I didn’t realize how divided Illinois was at the time.

    And an excellent analysis on Missouri. Though a “Union” state, the population was primarily a 60-40 (my guess) ‘States Right’ state.

    There were bloody reprisals all over the state and between Missouri Bushwackers, Confederate Irregulars, and ruffians of all sorts that engaged in inter-state terrorist activities (and war engagements).

  • “There were bloody reprisals all over the state”

    I suspect, though I can’t really prove it and haven’t seen this theory anywhere else, that this is the real reason Missouri came to be known as the Show Me State… because during the Civil War, your life literally depended on knowing where your neighbor’s, friends’, or family’s true loyalties really were.

    If you were loyal to the Union you couldn’t just assume your neighbor, for instance, was a Union man because if it turned out he wasn’t, he could end up killing you the next day. The fact that Union and Confederate sympathizers sometimes disguised themselves as members of the other side during guerrilla actions made things even more complicated.

  • Mike, I lived in Mattoon in Coles County for three years when I first started out as an attorney, and I am ashamed that I had no clue who Coles was at the time.

  • Didn’t know that Don. I used to drive to Mattoon for pizza (and hang with some fellas at the Sheraton (off I-57) back in the day. Even dated a Mattoon gal very briefly till she (understandably) lost interest in me.

WJBA? In 2010 Would Jesus (Along With His Apostles & Saints) Be Arrested For Hate Speech?

Wednesday, August 4, AD 2010

A few short years ago the mere suggestion that the Son of God, His Apostles and Saints would face arrest for hate speech would have seemed absolutely ludicrous. However, events have spiraled out of control across the western world. In his opinion that strikes down California’s recently voter approved marriage law, Judge Vaughn Walker wrote that those who speak in the name of religion to put across their views that same sex marriage is wrong are “harmful to gays and lesbians.”

Across Europe and Canada, faithful Christians speaking out for traditional marriage face the threat of being hauled off to court for citing the teachings of the Catholic Church and various Evangelical Churches. Where will this all end? Some see a great persecution coming against the Christian faithful. Though possible, one need remember that the Christian faith always grew when persecuted.

The Catholic Church has long taught that some individuals have an inclination toward same sex attraction; they are to be loved as all people are to be loved. The Church teaches that these feelings are not to be acted upon. The Church goes on to teach that all individuals are given a cross to carry in this world and for those who are same sex attracted; this is their cross. An organization exists for those who are same sex attracted called COURAGE. It has many chapters and members.

Recently a profile was done in The New York Times on same sex attracted Eve Tushnet, the Ivy League educated Catholic daughter of Harvard Law professors. She has chronicled her growth in Catholicism and the logic of the Church’s teachings on sexuality. For years the Catholic Church took some heat from some quarters of Christianity for not stating that anyone who is same sex attracted would be going to hell. The Church now is facing a maelstrom of vitriol from those who claim the Church hates homosexuals.

For the Church to change her teachings would be to deny not only what Christ said (Matthew 11:20-24,) but his Apostles, not to mention Saint Paul’s lengthy discourse on the subject (Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.)  In addition to the Apostles and saints, there is a rich history of saints writing on the subject, particularly the Early Church Fathers like Saint Augustine, St Justin Martyr, St. Basil and St John Chrysostom as well as Church intellectuals like St Thomas Aquinas, Saint Albert the Great (the greatest scientist of his time,) along with mystics like St Catherine of Sienna to name but a few. To say that the greatest minds of their respective eras were all wrong is simply breathtaking.

Many who disagree with the Church tend to forget that homosexuality was much more common and approved of by the Roman government in the early Christian era than it is even in 2010. Many in the upper echelons of Greek and Roman culture experimented with all sorts of sexual practices. It would have been far easier for Jesus, the apostles, saints and popes to approve of this conduct than it would to disapprove of it. Christianity might have grown at a faster pace. However, there was a reason for this swimming against the tide, and the faithful accepted it.

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4 Responses to WJBA? In 2010 Would Jesus (Along With His Apostles & Saints) Be Arrested For Hate Speech?

  • Great column as usual, Dave. It just blows my mind that our nation is no longer a republic of, for and by the people but an elite and arrogant oligarchy that is unleashing one perverted social experiment after another on us.

    The far left have the nerve to needle the conservatives for wanting to have less government yet have government restrict marriage. Quite the contrary, we want to be able to decide how our society should function, not have the government do so.

    It’s a shame that the voters in my state of California were robbed once again, but we can still hope for the Supreme Court to save the day. In the meantime, this should serve as a wakeup call for the voters, especially those in the 45 states who have kept marriage to one man and one woman, to vote the radicals out in the fall and make sure the Democrats never control government again as long as the militant secularists who are ruining this nation continue to call the shots for the party.

  • This is almost a grand slam!

    This is government hate speech against, and injurious to, Christians, Jews and Muslims.

    Oh, that’s okay!?

    Never mind.

    Thanks for voting for them dems.

  • Prepare for the worst. There is little doubt that in the near future Christians will be arrested and imprisoned by the American Socialist State if they continue to preach the gospel and traditional morality. The American politicians have created their long desired Atheistic State which will have no tolerance for believers. Prepare for the dark days of persecution but the good news is that it will separate the wheat from the shaff and the sheep from the goats.

  • But Jesus and the Apostles were arrested and even put to death for their speech.

    When DeGaulle was reproached for not taking more care against assassination, he replied: “It comes with the job”.

It's About the Children. Seriously.

Wednesday, August 4, AD 2010

I must confess that today’s judicial ruling out of California which overturned Proposition 8 has riled me up, suprisingly so. I heard about the ruling while listening to the livestream of a tech podcast in which one of the three podcasters is a lesbian (previously “married” in CA) and the other two (middle-aged married men) evidently supported the decision. The ease with which they threw out bromides (“finally, equality!”) bothered me, primarily because it revealed two things: 1. a group of intelligent people couldn’t grasp that there might be real objections to same sex “marriage”, and 2. as I’ve noted previously, too many (probably most) Americans simply don’t understand the essential nature of marriage. Simply put, the state’s interest isn’t strong feelings or commitment… it’s children. And — to state the obvious — a homosexual relationship isn’t structured towards procreation the way marriage is.

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29 Responses to It's About the Children. Seriously.

  • Well said.

  • Exactly. Americans, even conservative Protestants, have removed children from marriage. Without a procreative intent, admittedly, there is little reason to ban gay marriage. Or incest for that matter.

  • Americans?

    Westerners. America still has the highest birth rate in the Western world, and Utah has the highest birth rate out of all the states.

    Supposedly “family friendly” Europe cut children out of the picture a long time ago. All of the welfare provisions, reduced work weeks, paid maternity/paternity leave didn’t do a damned thing to reinforce families or birth rates.

    This is because Europe not only removed children from the marriage, but God from their lives and culture. Mormon Utah thrives for exactly the opposite reason. When will Catholics get it?

  • Actually, welfare did help increase the birth rate in Europe. The Scandinavian countries have the highest birth rates in Western Europe.

  • How would things look if marriage were dead? Out-of-wedlock births, acceptance of any cohabitation arrangement, the presumption that any relationship in non-binding…exactly what we have today. Marriage is dead as a norm in the West. There are only pockets and subcultures that preserve it.

    We talk about the “war on Christmas”. Christmas has been stripped of its old meaning and given a new purpose; a few of its traditions are unthinkingly continued. By the time the courts started enforcing “holiday pageants” in public schools, the war was long lost. That’s exactly what’s happened to marriage.

    Maybe my blood sugar is low or something, because even I am not usually this pessimistic. I’m just not seeing any reason to be encouraged.

  • Marriage is dead as a norm in the West.

    Yes, this is what I’ve been saying about the SSM debate all along. To those who ask, “How is SSM going to harm your (traditional) marriage?” I say, “It’s not — the damage has already been done. I just don’t see the reason to codify the death of marriage in law.”

  • Marriage is certainly in disrepair in the west. Many forces contributed to that, but the disentanglement of sex, children and marriage via modern birth control options is certainly a key part of it, resulting in the normalization of premarital sex, cohabitation, divorce, serial monogamy, etc. That said infidelity (i.e., extramarital sex) is still largely unaccepted in the US. Marriage may be in the ICU, but it is not dead yet.

  • Pingback: Supporting Gay Marriage: It’s Not About the Children. Seriously. « Agree to Disagree
  • The trolls are out.

  • restrainedradical wrote Thursday, August 5, 2010 A.D. at 8:29 am
    “Actually, welfare did help increase the birth rate in Europe. The Scandinavian countries have the highest birth rates in Western Europe”.

    The birth rate in Sweden is 1.67 children born/woman (2010 est.), i.e., less than replacement. Much of this is probably due to immigrant populations.

  • It seems to me that there is an assumption that the U.S. is a fine moral country.
    The opposite seems to be true. The number of child murders continues to increase.
    Poverty is widespread despite “Wars on Poverty” [because of?].
    The immigration question continues to fester. {On what moral basis can immigrants be denied entry?].
    The continued base treatment of Indians reeks to heaven.
    Justice Ginsberg speaks of “undesirable populations”.
    Multi-skillionaires give much money to killing babies in this country and abroad.
    Pornography becomes more and more widespread like a plague.
    Actors are treated as moral gurus, because their faces are familiar, not because they know how to behave.
    To put it succinctly: what is it in the U.S. which gives it any claim to be a light unto the nations?

  • I’m not sure I understand the argument. People who don’t procreate shouldn’t get married? Then where are the rallies against childless marriages? Why aren’t we banning people whose disabilities prevent them from having children from marrying? Or the elderly? Why aren’t we protecting the procreative institution of marriage from these barren impostors? And what about adoption? Since adoption by same-sex couples would challenge your argument, you must be against that, too. In which case, shouldn’t we stop straight couples from adopting, too? Those children may be in need of care, but of course the bigger need is for people to have their own babies. Please help me understand how we can include the disabled, the elderly, adoptive parents and those who are childless by choice into the Prop 8 campaign, because clearly we’re leaving a lot of people out.

  • Thanks for the comment, Maisha. You raise a common but good question with regard to our position, and it’s one that certainly seems to follow from my post. I somewhat oversimplified the argument last night, but in so doing left the door open for your objection. Let me see if I can offer at least a beginning of a response.

    Our position is that marriage is an institution in which a man and a woman come together with a desire to grow more deeply in love and with an openness to children, *even if children are for some reason impossible for them*. For us, the act of marital love — sexual union — is itself ordered towards procreation, even if in at any particular time procreation is impossible (perhaps due to infertility, because the woman is not in the fertile stage of her cycle, or whatever). So in the case of an elderly couple beyond childbearing years, the sexual union remains structurally oriented towards procreation.

    Such is obviously not the case for the same sex couple, however: same sexual acts of their nature cannot be procreative, while — all things being equal — heterosexual acts are always structurally procreative.

    That’s the beginning of a response… let me know where I’m unclear, and I’ll try to clarify.

  • When I comment on subjects like this my post is in danger of being deleted, which is ok, I have to answer to God for me, not whomever does the deleting.

    That being said:

    With the Catholic Church, the children are really just pawns. The real battle is keeping the pews full, I think for the power that gives the Church. I would like to think otherwise but I really do not, based upon personal experience.

    When divorce happens, the Church does and says nothing, to heal a marriage, when it is clear to the Church, as they have all the evidence they need in nullity cases, that a marriage has simply been abandoned and the abandoner has taken the spoils, including the children.

    Rather, should not individual priests and bishops in authority, address the situations, especially when these are presented to the Church for nullity investigations and work, tirelessly, pastorally and with canonical strictures, to restore marital union? Especially so when nullity is shown NOT to exist?

    No such thing happens, at all!

    No, Chris. I do not agree it is about the children. It is about power and control, although it should not be that way.

    If you must delete this, go ahead. I did not mean any disrespect by it. I just commented on my personal experience and from what I have heard from others, who have been through it.

    Regarding marriage, I believe, the chemical inability to make the sperm/egg do not invalidate, the inability to “perform the act” necessary for procreation, either physiologically or psychologically, is what validity and hence, real marriage, hinges on, provided the people are free of all other impediments.

  • If I’m following you correctly, Karl, two comments come to mind.

    First, there are programs present in the Church which try to heal broken/dying/weak marriages… Retrouvaille comes to mind.

    Second, I’m not sure what you think clerics can do to get two people back together who refuse to do so.

    Can you elaborate or clarify?

  • Going there would hijack the topic. I simply wanted to infuse my personal experience into my comment.

    I have never, once, seen the slightest concern for the scandal and abuse our five children have experienced by any of the priests or bishops who were supposed to pastor them. To this day the scandal is encouraged.

    Our acceptance of divorce has prepared the groundwork for this “dumbingdown” of marriage.

    It is about the children and their souls, that is clear, but I do not see the Catholic Church as having the moral high ground. Not over divorce, Chris.

    God is teaching his Church, if it will listen to spouses like myself and others who have seen its evil deeds, to repent and to LISTEN. Bur for twenty years, the ears of the Church have been sealed, in my personal experience.

    I hope, whatever it takes to break the back of the dead consciences of the Catholic intelligencia, lay and clerical, is done. They do not listen. They listen to “experts” they DONOT

  • LISTEN to their victims.

  • The Church must defend marriage, period, not selectively in the face of a homosexual challenge.

    It must cease allowing its teachers to stress the “benign” nature of divorce. It must do so with strong canonical sanctions. It must hold to account, with formal canonical sanctions those who abandon marriages, particularly when they do not seek counsel from the bishop or when they abuse those few specified canonically allowed circumstances when separation is allowed.
    Wrongful divorce must not be unaddressed, in public and those who refuse, without substantive, serious reasons, to work, endlessly if necessary, at reconciliation, especially if there are children involved, should be formally and very much in public, be admonished and in short order, formally excommunicated, if the refusal to work toward healing the marriage continues. All those who cooperate, formally, with the support of the unrepentant, should similarly be held to account, with more vigor if they are a religious or in any position of authority/importance in the Church.

    The Church has lost all credibiliy due to its generations of laxity regarding marriage. This is constantly used against the Church and justifiably so.

    Unless this is addressed and addressed, last year, the Church is the hypocrite it is so often accused of being.

    May God have mercy on His, very unfaithful Bride. It is those of us who are struggling to be faithful to both our spouses and our faith, who God requires
    His Bride to listen to. The Pope and the rest of the Catholic clergy need to understand how much harm they do each day our cries are left unanswered with almost anything but disdain, from those who should know better.

  • Karl,
    When you write that “the Church” has been moving in the direction of accepting divorce, I believe you should modify that by saying many [most?] priests and bishops have been moving in this direction. And it is, as you rightly note, part and parcel of the sexual scandals. Once start hedging – even in the smallest manner – on matters of Church teaching, the hedging simply grows.
    The hierarchy is mealy mouthed when it comes to the use of the pill. Most of the pills are abortifacient. All of them sterilize. How often do priests and bishops note this? How often do they remind the faithful that they are committing a mortal sin by the use of the pill?
    But I believe there is a mistaken notion that our bishops, as such, are a saintly lot. They are not. You have but to read a bit of the history of the episcopacy to realize that bishops do not contribute much to the list of saints, to those we are enjoined to emulate. They are for some reason a timid lot.

  • Unfortunately too true. We must remember that the priesthood and episcopacy are charisms, gifts for the good of the Church, and not holiness. A mother at home raising her children may have a far greater place in heaven than many a bishop.

  • How is SSM going to harm your (traditional) marriage?

    That is really the incorrect question – it should be “How is SSM going to strengthen marriage as an institution?”

    And the answer is, it is not. It will only further hide the now barely recognized fact that the proper end of intercourse is procreation.

  • I think there’s a real serious question whether ANY church in the USA takes marriage seriously–with (ironically) the possible exception of the Mormons. Among Catholics, even those who cannot remember the number of the commandments, let alone the content of the list, can tell you that when we want to divorce and remarry in church, we just get an annulment on some (frequently bogus) “psychological” ground. This happens no matter how long the supposedly invalid marriage has lasted or how many children it produced. This last point is especially important; the annulment regime now in force is saying that it is NOT important to stay married “for the children’s sake.”

  • ron chandonia, I agree that there have been serious abuses in Catholic Church annulments. But the idea of an annulment does not hinge on whether the apparent marriage lasted many years, nor on how many kids there are, nor on whether it is better for the kids’ sake to stay together. If a couple never did get married to begin with, despite appearances, then it means that they have been living an error for however long the apparent marriage has been going on, whether short or long. I accept that a long-lasting arrangement suggests that there must have been a real commitment to permanence, but there are other commitments needed for the marriage to have taken place to begin with.

    I know a couple who got married 20 years ago, and got an annulment 2 years ago: the guy had been a pornography addict and sexual deviant the entire period. He was incapable of a real commitment to marital fidelity at the time of the wedding, because he was addicted to porn.

    The Church usually states that if a couple has kids, they both have a deep, serious obligation to see to their welfare even if a divorce or annulment occurs. How can it be better for the kids for the Church and society to pretend that a marriage took place when it didn’t. I should think, generally, that a couple with young kids, who discover that they never did truly marry, ought to ask themselves whether they might have a moral obligation to actually make real the apparent marriage that they had been living in action, for the sake of the kids. But of course, nobody discovers this without a marital breakdown, and at that point it is often difficult to establish that it really would be better for the kids if their mom and dad got married even when they hate each other.

    Given that at least 30% of heterosexuals don’t seem to have a grave problem with the very idea of homosexual marriage, it is probable that many, many people don’t understand marriage enough to actually form a marriage bond with another person. Given that, it should not be surprising that many annulments are granted correctly.

  • May one not also ask what is the difference between gay “marriages” [sodomy] and marriages in which the female uses the pill to sterilize herself? Marriage is not even chiefly for procreation. Procreation is an added blessing. To reject that blessing is to reject the Almighty.

    Consider also the vow “until death”. As Harry Truman remarked “if a man will not keep his word to his wife, to whom will he keep it”? The Church does not prohibit divorce when it is but separation. It prohibits divorce – it points out the breaking of the vow – for “remarriage”.

  • Gabriel,
    It is my understanding that the Church does not so much prohibit divorce as simply not recognize it. Indeed, while legal separations may be favored over divorce as such, I believe that the Church understands that divorce under civil law is often necessary in order to ensure protection of the weak — usually but not always the wife or children. Consequently, what is not permitted is remarriage (absent an annulment of course), since the first (without an annulment) the marital sacrament remains in place and remarriage constitutes adultary.

    Thanks for the Truman quote. I was unaware of it.

  • How mislead and scandalous these comments are.

    How easily you have swallowed the Kool Aid of divorce to think that it is anything but condemned.

    Do you reacall it says…..God Hates Divorce. How easily man has rejected the expressed Will of God and searches for rationalizations for his sins.

    Watch and learn as society and the Catholic Church decay for their self-serving attitudes, especially towards marriage. The reconing will come.

  • Karl,
    Emoting about Kool Aid is not productive. While I’m hardly an advocate of divorce, and it is certainly true that the rate of broken marriages is scandalous, the fact is that obtaining a divorce in and of itself is not understood by the Church to be a sin. Indeed, the Church views a civil separation and a civil divorce indentically. Neither has any effect whatsoever on the marital Sacrament. The Church recognizes that the parties are not morally enjoined from selecting whichever legal route leads to greater justice under our civil law system. This is especially important in the case of serious abuse. Neither legal approach, however, permits “re-marriage” in the Christian sense, even if civil divorce does so under civil law. The sin occurs if a person bound by the marital sacrament to his spouse remarries or otherwise has relations with another regardless whether the married couple are separated, divorced, or neither. Note the important fact that the Church does not view civil divorce as disturbing the status of a Christian marriage.
    Of course, as I noted the rate of divorce is evidence of deep and disturbing problems within our society. The wounds, especially to children, are incalculable. But divorce is a symptom of sin, not the sin itself. This is pretty straightforward Church teaching.

  • Karl,
    Catechism 2383:
    “The Church teaches that the separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases. The Catechism states: “If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.”

    Which is to say “divorce” is a civil separation, not a breaking of the marriage vow.

Does the Devil Exist?

Wednesday, August 4, AD 2010

Does the devil exist? — That’s the question posed by Fr. N. Schwizer (Vivicat, August 3, 2010):

In the Gospel, we often hear of Jesus expelling demons. Perhaps this fact seems somewhat strange to us because being possessed by a demon seems to us as something exclusive to those times. However, it also happens today even though it may be less frequent.

But the ultimate question for mankind today is…..does the devil exist as a person or not? As it is, modern man and inclusively the modern Christian man hardly even believes in the devil. The devil has been able to succeed today with his best maneuver: to put his existence in doubt. [more]

Christ expelling the devil

To illustrate the point, Fr. Richard McBrien (National Catholic Reporter) mocks a certain Bishop Thomas Paprocki for announcing a special Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism, to be held in Baltimore in early November, just before the bishops’ semiannual meeting.

That the conference would focus on “not only the theological and scriptural foundations of the rite of exorcism” but “the necessary, practical insights into the many liturgical, canonical and pastoral issues associated with exorcisms and the church’s battle against the demonic presence in the world” is, to McBrien, a subject of ridicule:

The priest who sent me a copy of this letter wrote across the top, in capital letters, “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS? IN 2010.”

His question was rhetorical, of course.

Paprocki was recently appointed Bishop of Springfield, IL by Pope Benedict XVI, who has been known to take the existence of the devil — and exorcism — rather seriously himself.

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8 Responses to Does the Devil Exist?

  • I just just had a conversation about this the other day with a friend – she is of the opinion (I used to hold this view) that all “demonic” possession is simply mental illness and I pointed out that some folk exhibited no mental illness before their possession or after their exorcism and that scores of witnesses have testified to the supernatural events that take place during the rite…and that even rabbis at times have had to call upon Catholic priests to help their afflicted members throw off the demon…and frankly to not believe there is a devil is to deny the experience of Christ with Satan in the desert…I”ll take Christ’s word on this issue..

  • Of course the devil exists. He’s probably on the 9th Circuit.

  • Was there supposed to be a link to information about the conference? Because it’s not working when I click on it, it just sends me back to this article here.

    I cannot think of a better endorsement of my new bishop than to discover that Richard McBrien doesn’t like him! 🙂

  • Yes, she does; I used to date her.

  • j. christian, that was awesome!

  • Wow! Thank you for the link! I really appreciate it!


  • Who is Keyser Soze? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.

  • Yup, the Devil exists! It is the politicians like Palin and Obama and their type!

Proposition 8 Struck Down, For The Time Being

Wednesday, August 4, AD 2010

By now I’m sure you all know that Proposition 8 was struck down by a federal judge. Who knows what will happen on appeal. There is much to be said, but I want to focus on one narrow and possibly tangential point. This phrase from the judge’s ruling, a phrase being reposted on facebook in many statuses:

“A private moral view that Same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.”

The absurdity of that sentence really struck me. There was nothing “private” about the view of the “superiority” of hetereosexual couples. It has been carried on through generations of communities and in the present day was represented by 52% of Californians. How a popular decision that represented thousands of years of ethical thinking and concern for the family became a private morality is baffling.

More troubling is the implication of the judge that a “moral view” is not a proper basis for legislation. Since when has this been the case? Our laws on pedophilia, minimum wage, health care, torture, human rights, etc. are based at least on part on “moral views,” views that in some respects may be just as if not more private than the ones the judge rejects today.

If morality is not a basis for legislation, what on earth is? Morality guides us in making decisions; without a moral or ethical compass (or perhaps even without a religious one) there is no basis for legislation to be made. Laws are supposed to help make society run better, but there is no way to make society run better unless you have a notion of what a “better society” looks like, and you don’t get to that notion without morality.

State recognition of homosexual marriage is one thing, but this ruling attacks the foundation of our government. Morality must have a place in the public sphere and must be one of the foremost foundations of legislation.

To be sure, the judge is simply smoke-screening for the fact that he is imposing his own standards of morality. But the fact that his statement rejecting a moral basis for legislation is being so celebrated should worry all Americans.

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6 Responses to Proposition 8 Struck Down, For The Time Being

  • I heard several commentators on the radio using this language today. We need to put a stop to this “inferior” vs. “superior” language altogether. It is irrelevant to the question at hand and just pulls on the emotional strings of those on the fence who are concerned about “equality.”

    Gay marriages are not some form of marriage which we think is an “inferior form” to the “superior form” between heterosexuals. Gay marriage quite simply isn’t a “form” of marriage at all. It doesn’t exist. To let the pro-gay-marriage crowd frame it in these emotional, egalatarian-based terms is to get off track and play into their hands.

  • From the ruling:

    “Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage….. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage…”

    This passage from the ruling is the real core of this debate. Gender historically had and currently has nothing to do with the core of marriage? What an astonishingly bold and bald lie. That’s the level of unreality we are up against.

  • This is stupidity on afterburner. I’m actually ashamed of our judicial system; these judges are a joke. Between this and the “sweet mystery of life” passage, the rule of law is effectively dead. Pack up and go home.

    I suggest as a form of mass civil disobedience that all Christians commit a petty crime and use this decision and Casey as a defense. “The heart of liberty is to define one’s own concept of existence, and morality is no basis for legislation.” Our robed masters said so.

    There is no such thing as law free from morality; there is no metaphysically neutral politics. I have no sense for what greater good this progressive-liberal culture is aiming; what is its summum bonum? At least with Christianity, one knows where one stands. But where will this nonsense end? What moral outrage will we be forced to accept next year and the year after that?

    Not that I would do it, but I’m sort of starting to see why people burn American flags. I’m disgusted by this.

  • Really good article and pertinent to the points made here. I met the author, Thomas Messner, in my travels a few weeks ago, really smart with a law degree. Forgive me if it has already been discussed/posted here.

  • Given that the Dems control the Senate, is there any point to pushing for a removal from office of this judge? At this time the push would lose. Would that losing effort help or hurt the larger cultural war?

  • Depends on how strong a push you could mount. If anything, it should make those Senators up for re-election nervous to see the natives restless.

    The best push would be to push some of those Senators out (although I heard this guy was a Republican appointee).