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Refining Just-war Ethics


HOW JUST IS THE WAR ON TERROR?: A Question of Morality
AMERICAN CATHOLICS TODAY: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church
ONE HUNDRED GREAT CATHOLIC BOOKS: From the Early Centuries to the Present
GOD IS NOT GREAT: How Religion Poisons Everything
Suffering and Healing

HOW JUST IS THE WAR ON TERROR?: A Question of Morality, by Eileen P. Flynn. Paulist Press. 121 pp. $14.95.

Reviewed by the REV. DANIEL KROGER, O.F.M., publisher/CEO of St. Anthony Messenger Press.

THE WAR ON TERROR will impact 2008 elections, so this book is timely. Offering an overview of war ethics, Flynn reminds readers that the way American officials and armed forces conduct themselves reflects upon every citizen.

Chapter One reviews the just-war tradition as a product of religious and secular elements. Flynn surveys Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria and international law to show that the Western tradition of ethics includes a set of principles about going to war and a set about fighting honorably.

Nations should not go to war unless the war: 1) is defensive; 2) is a last resort; 3) has a reasonable chance of success; 4) is fought to produce a just peace; 5) achieves greater good than evil.

Once engaged in war, armed forces must fight rightly. Civilians may not be targeted; military actions must be limited to what is needed to restore justice and establish peace.

Flynn observes that wars once considered just are not just by today’s standards. The Crusades and Europe’s wars of religion are prominent examples. Flynn insists that our present war on terror cannot overlook principles concerning justice. For example, war should be considered the last resort, not the first option for governments seeking justice. Today’s just-war tradition rejects both religion and revenge as legitimate reasons for declaring war.

Flynn writes for readers from varied religious and secular backgrounds. Thus, her focus is not on Catholic teachings or teachings of other religions. Catholic readers can examine the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2307-2310) for the Church’s just-war principles.

Catholics may remember that Pope John Paul II judged the invasion of Iraq unjust. Based on just-war principles, the pope pleaded with President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq.

In March 2003, President Bush called the invasion of Iraq a “preemptive” war. He claimed invading Iraq was just, based on findings that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Most members of Congress accepted the president’s judgment, presuming he had accurate intelligence information. Some ethicists disagreed with the president, because even if Iraq had such weapons, Iraq posed no imminent danger to the United States.

Concerning the moral qualities of good soldiers, Flynn discusses how soldiers should form their consciences, because they face difficult decisions in combat. Since March 2003, hundreds of thousands of Americans have fought honorably in Iraq. Thousands have given their lives; greater numbers were wounded.

Unfortunately, some soldiers acted shamefully, as proven in the Abu Ghraib case, where American soldiers tortured and abused prisoners. Concerning the case, Flynn observes: “It is surprising that volunteers for military service could exhibit the level of ignorance of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib, and the fact of this ignorance underscores the need for instruction in military ethics.”

Some accused guards argued that they were following orders, an excuse considered legally indefensible since the Nuremberg trials in 1946. Disobeying unethical orders is a moral obligation. While officers receive training in ethics, Flynn wonders if soldiers in today’s volunteer army grasp their obligations.

Discussing right conduct during war, Flynn reminds readers that terrorism and counterterrorism are nonconventional forms of war where the “rules of engagement” need constant scrutiny. For example, civilians are not to be targeted; however, when irregular fighters hide among civilians, there are bound to be unintended civilian casualties and “collateral damage.”

Furthermore, soldiers facing car bombs, IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and suicide bombers cannot engage in calm, ethical analysis. Flynn stresses that commanding officers are responsible for the conduct of their subordinates.

Flynn discusses conscience formation and the difficult decisions concerning war that governments, soldiers and citizens must make—usually with limited knowledge.

Flynn emphasizes the moral obligation of planning for postwar peace. Contemporary just-war ethics is enriched by focusing on postwar prospects. A just war includes a realistic plan for peace. The present events in Iraq demonstrate that the U.S. government lacked adequate plans for post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

The victory President Bush proclaimed after invading Iraq was not the beginning of a democratic Iraq. Instead, the fall of Hussein brought guerrilla warfare, as well as religious and civil strife.

Ultimately, this book raises a tough question: How far should America compromise its principles of democracy and freedom to fight the war on terror?

You can order HOW JUST IS THE WAR ON TERROR?: A Question of Morality from St. Francis Bookshop.


AMERICAN CATHOLICS TODAY: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church, by William V. D’Antonio, James D. Davidson, Dean R. Hoge, Mary L. Gautier. Sheed & Ward Book/Rowman & Littlefield, Publishers. 214 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by NORM LANGENBRUNNER, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, former high school teacher and current pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. He serves on the Archdiocesan Tribunal and on the Archdiocesan Education Commission.

“COMMITMENT TO THE CHURCH is in gradual decline.” This is the conclusion of a sociological study on trends among American Catholics. Using Gallup surveys from 1987, 1993, 1999 and 2005 (plus several other national surveys), four sociologists compiled an informative, substantive and perhaps provocative analysis of the state of Catholicism in the United States in this first decade of the 21st century.

They divide today’s Catholics into four generations: pre-Vatican II, Vatican II, post-Vatican II and the Millennials. They make a distinction between a Catholic’s commitment to the Church and a Catholic’s sense of what it means to be Catholic. They outline the major problems in the Church as laypeople see them. They conclude that the frequency with which a Catholic receives the sacraments is proportionate to the intensity of his or her commitment to the Church.

They found that older Catholics have a higher commitment to the institutional Church than younger ones, but both Vatican II and post-Vatican II Catholics do have a strong commitment. Because data for the Millennials is sparse, one must be cautious about interpreting it.

Catholics with a high level of commitment (21 percent) tended toward the notion that one must hold to all the teachings currently held by the Vatican to be considered “a good Catholic,” while most medium-committed Catholics (64 percent) did not think that dissent from some teachings keeps someone from being a good Catholic.

One outstanding caution from the authors opposes the common tendency to think of the 1950s as the criterion (a golden age) for judging all previous or future periods of U.S. Catholic Church history. If we note, for example, that in the mid-20th century Sunday Mass attendance was about 75 percent, we may be dismayed that in 2005 the rate was about 34 percent.

Several factors explain the difference, especially the significant cultural and theological changes of the past 50 years. These changes include a decline in anti-Catholicism, Catholics having fewer children, and the shift in pastoral teaching from sin and hell to forgiveness and the Kingdom of heaven. We must acknowledge that the 1950s are history and a new age has come. Nostalgia for the past does not set the plan for the future.

In the thinking of today’s Catholics, the chief problems facing the Church are the child-abuse scandal, the priest shortage and the gap between the Church and young adult Catholics. Older Catholics are concerned that younger ones are not involved in the Church. Younger Catholics are concerned about the glaring discrepancy they see between Church teaching and their own views on artificial contraception, abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women and of married men.

American Catholics Today addresses the state of the Catholic Church in our country in our day. It is a thoughtful and thought-provoking presentation, offering statistics from a number of surveys, comparisons with past times, conclusions about the Church’s status quo and suggestions for enhancing Catholic commitment, strengthening Catholic identity and directing Church leadership for a productive future.

This is a most helpful book. Bishops, priests and lay Church leaders will find it a compendium of insights and a handbook for dialogue and planning. Diocesan commissions, parish staffs, discussion groups and the so-called “Catholics in the pew” can benefit from the easy-to-follow analysis and will refer to its conclusions in talking about the Church of today and planning programs for the remainder of this decade.

Those concerned about the state of the Church can use this book to stay grounded in reality even as they work to strengthen the overall level of Church commitment.

You can order AMERICAN CATHOLICS TODAY: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church from St. Francis Bookshop.


ONE HUNDRED GREAT CATHOLIC BOOKS: From the Early Centuries to the Present, by Donald Brophy. BlueBridge. 222 pp. $16.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication and an avid reader.

AS ACQUIRING EDITOR and managing editor of Paulist Press for many years, Donald Brophy knows Catholic books well. He describes this volume as “simply one hundred books, chosen because they approach classic status (at least the older ones) and are considered worthy by readers to this day. But every choice is naturally subjective—the ‘greatness’ of any book is a very subjective matter.

“The brief summaries on these pages try to place them in historical context, give a short digest of their contents, and suggest what the experience of reading these books—some of them quite old—is like for a contemporary reader.” Brophy succeeds very well in carrying out this goal.

He writes, “To be in this volume a book has to be of interest to general readers. The contents gather a smattering of theology books, histories, a touch of philosophy, biography and autobiography, some poetry, a considerable amount of fiction, and a great deal of spiritual writing.”

Not all writers were Catholics when they wrote the books noted here (Chesterton, Orthodoxy) or ever became Catholic (John Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, or Simone Weil, Waiting for God), but the subject matter is always Catholic/catholic.

The first 30 books were written between the fourth and 20th centuries. Some were literary breakthroughs (Life of Antony, by St. Athanasius, for example, opened up the life of a non-martyr saint). Concerning The Little Flowers of St. Francis, Brophy writes, “Loving God basically comes down to letting go of all that is not God.”

Brophy mistakenly asserts that St. Bonaventure “ordered the destruction of all writings on Francis so that only the official version would survive.” A Franciscan general chapter ordered that destruction, not St. Bonaventure.

Women authors featured in this volume include Heloise, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Maria Montessori, Caryll Houselander, Simone Weil, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, Annie Dillard, Ann Belford Ulanov, Edith Stein, Jessica Powers, Elizabeth John, Patricia Hampl, Helen Prejean and Alice McDermott.

Recently published male authors in this book include Raymond Brown, Robert Ellsberg, Eamon Duffy, Robert Schreiter, Ronald Rolheiser, Paul Lakeland and Paul Elie.

This volume ends with a short listing of another 50 great Catholic books, 10 pages of notes on editions of the 100 titles featured and a five-page Index.

The books introduced here can open up many hearts.

You can order ONE HUNDRED GREAT CATHOLIC BOOKS: From the Early Centuries to the Present from St. Francis Bookshop.


GOD IS NOT GREAT: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens. Twelve/Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, U.S.; McClelland and Stewart, Canada. 307 pp. $24.99, U.S.; $32.99, Canada.

Reviewed by BRIAN WELTER, a doctoral student in theology from North Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada. He is a teacher of English as Second Language to Adults, and has a B.A. in history from the University of Saskatchewan, with a concentration in medieval, Renaissance and Reformation history.

AT THE BEGINNING of God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens attempts to cloak his book in academic, social scientific jargon so that it reads less like a rant—which it clearly is—and more like a sober, balanced study of religion—which it clearly is not.

According to Hitchens, there exist “four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.”

Hitchens engages in his own wish-thinking and misrepresentation. He judges past history by today’s standards, thus committing the imperialist’s error of universalizing to all times and places his own values. One of the contentions of God Is Not Great is that Christians, Muslims and Jews do this universalizing toward others. Hitchens never admits to this double standard—basic to the book—or explains it.

From his own modern, global, matriarchal perspective, he criticizes the Bible for silly nonissues: “[T]he context is oppressively confined and local. None of these provincials, or their deity, seems to have any idea of a world beyond the desert, the flocks and herds, and the imperatives of nomadic subsistence. This is forgivable on the part of the provincial yokels, obviously, but then what of their supreme guide and wrathful tyrant? Perhaps he was made in their image, even if not graven?”

Hitchens’s lack of respect for religious believers reflects a common attitude of atheists. Having decided that religious people are stupid, violent hypocrites, he acts as if he has the duty and right to debunk their “stupid” beliefs in as rude, shocking and disrespectful a manner as possible.

In addition to using words like “yokel” to describe believers, he engages in something that is essential to the bigot’s arsenal: crude anecdotalism.

“In 1844, one of the greatest American religious ‘revivals’ occurred,” writes Hitchens, “led by a semiliterate lunatic named George [William] Miller. Mr. Miller managed to crowd the mountaintops of America with credulous fools who (having sold their belongings cheap) became persuaded that the world would end on October 22 that year....When the ultimate failed to arrive, Miller’s choice of terms was highly suggestive. It was, he announced, ‘The Great Disappointment.’”

In this story, as in many others, the author chooses a happening that exposes the supposed falsehood, backwardness or stupidity of religion and the religious. As an extension of this, he also follows the well-worn path of antireligionists of cherry-picking the Bible, taking biblical scenes or injunctions out of the scriptural and historical context, rather than at least explaining why certain practices seem so strange.

Hitchens is as equally disrespectful of Islam as he is of Christianity. He displays ignorance about how religious tradition develops and comes to function. He targets with empty—though strongly worded—criticism the Islamic hadith, the series of stories about Muhammad and the earliest beginnings of Islam: “Great chunks of more or less straight biblical quotation can be found in the hadith, including the parable of the workers hired at the last moment, and the injunction ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand does,’ the last example meaning that this piece of pointless pseudoprofundity has a place in two sets of revealed Scripture.”

Given that Islam acknowledges Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” and its own tradition as in some way following on these earlier traditions, why wouldn’t Islam have borrowed greatly from the Hebrew and Greek Christian Scriptures?

This book is not a serious study of religion.

You can order GOD IS NOT GREAT: How Religion Poisons Everything from St. Francis Bookshop.



Suffering and Healing

Jesus’ triumph over suffering and death is celebrated in this post-Easter season. Why, then, does God allow suffering? These books tackle this pivotal question.

CREATED FOR JOY: A Christian View of Suffering, by Sidney Callahan (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 246 pp., $19.95), grew out of the personal experience of this Catholic psychologist (the deaths of her fourth son from sudden infant death syndrome and of her daughter-in-law just after childbirth and seeing the plumes of smoke from the World Trade Towers on 9/11). In this profound theological reflection on suffering. Callahan says faith tells us we were made by God to experience joy.

FINDING YOUR WAY THROUGH DOMESTIC ABUSE: A Guide to Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Healing, by Connie Fourré (Ave Maria Press, 187 pp., $12.95), and FINDING YOUR WAY THROUGH DIVORCE, by Kathy Brewer Gorham (Ave Maria Press, 123 pp., $10.95), are two very helpful books in this series. Speaking out of their own experience, both authors are practical, compassionate and faith-filled.

A HEALING YEAR: Daily Meditations for Living With Loss, by Alaric Lewis (ACTA Publications, 254 pp., $14.95). This parochial and music minister provides a year of meditations about how to find the presence of God in loss and grief. “Getting over it” is a lifelong process.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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