June 10, 2007

Am I Going to Hell over the Iraq War? I

Out of all the Catholic Bishops in the USCCB exactly 1, John Michel Botean forthrightly condemned the Iraq war as unjust. You can find a PDF of his 2003 condemnation at the Center for Christian Nonviolence. Bishop John Michael has a tiny flock. In the past, he himself has categorized it as "5000 souls, on a good day". I happen to be one of them.

The invasion of Iraq has, therefore, occupied my moral thinking at a somewhat different level than most. There aren't too many Catholics who had to call up their bishops and ask whether they were going to be excommunicated over this war. I did, and the question wasn't easily dismissed. In fact, it never really has been dismissed.

For various irrelevant reasons, this conversation has been suspended. Recently it reopened (again for reasons well known to me but irrelevant to the conversation) and I've been corresponding with my bishop. He gave permission to write about this and hopefully this will be of use more generally.

At stake is a couple of issues. If this truly is a demonic war (as Bishop John Michael recently called it in the diocesan newsletter "Unirea" (Union), this is not something to be sneezed at. What makes the war demonic and how are we to fix it? What is this war anyway? Who are the sides? What evil did and do they do to merit a war being fought at all?

The approach to use for Catholics is just war doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church covers it in a nutshell in paragraph 2309:


The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
there must be serious prospects of success;
the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

So why write about this? It, frankly, has been seriously impacting my blog output. I've been thinking a great deal about the subject and find that I'm very dissatisfied by the level of ongoing analysis. Other questions which normally grab my interest have paled lately and I find myself turning back to the question of justice in war. So far, I find the anti-war side relatively unhinged from reality because they generally simplify the evil that Saddam did to a question of WMD. The pro-war side is little better because, having lost the moral certainty that Saddam was in possession of WMD they have largely abandoned the field. So I remain pro-war but unsatisfied with the canned arguments of both sides and in a relatively unique position, being under the personal jurisdiction of the most anti-war Catholic bishop in the US who, coincidentally, is my personal friend.

The funny thing is that precisely because he cares for me that he will and has gone after me hammer and tongs. He wants to save me from Hell, you see. It's not only his job, his vocation, but also his personal desire.

My own friendship does not permit me to engage in quiet dissent either, though for other reasons. I find nothing wrong with his application of the moral law. But I see him applying that law to a set of facts that do not actually exist and this has led him to error. So we wrestle with each other.

Posted by TMLutas at June 10, 2007 10:15 AM