January 31, 2005
What do you mean "we," white man?

I'm on PMC's email list now, and a little while ago the pastor sent along an invitation to an Ash Wednesday demonstration by a group called Pax Christi USA. The email's explanation of the demonstration's purpose read:

Pax Christi USA mourns the failure of U.S. policy and unequivocally condemns the illegal and immoral war on Iraq. No nation, regardless of its power or privilege, has the right to disregard the United Nations’ charter. The policy of “preemptive war” has been condemned by the Vatican, rejected by the United Nations Security Council … Pax Christi USA rejects war, preparations for war, and every form of violence and domination…Pax Christi USA deeply believes that the best way to truly support our troops is to bring them home rather than place them in the physical and moral jeopardy…

My first reaction to this was: the United Nations? Since when have anti-Constantinian Christians marched to support the authority of a secular global quasi-government? I understand the principle that a country should stick to an agreement it signed, but it's still a bizarre thing to put as the foremost reason for opposing the war. I though the authority of Jesus was the important thing here.

On further inspection it turns out that Pax Christi is actually a Catholic Worker-affiliated group, which is co-sponsoring the event with something called Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. I have the feeling that the interfaith nature of the event may have something to do with the way the statement was worded. In fact, this makes an interesting counterpoint to my last post regarding ecumenicism. Thinking you own God and are therefore entitled to impose him on others diminishes him, but thinking you own God and therefore don't have a right to impose him on others also diminishes him. If the U.N. seems more universal and therefore more "safe" an authority than God, we have a problem.

Of course, I suspect there's also the desire to put the U.S. in its place by means of an even bigger Caesar. I understand the temptation, but let's not go there, please, or the black-helicopter paranoiacs will have a point. There's only one being qualified to run the world, and it ain't Kofi Annan.

Posted by Camassia at January 31, 2005 06:41 PM | TrackBack

Hehe, I see you used the oft-quoted-by-Hauerwas (and others, I'm sure) Tonto principle :P

Posted by: Eric Lee on January 31, 2005 08:34 PM

Really, did Hauerwas use that joke? I didn't know that. Great minds think alike, I guess.:-)

Posted by: Camassia on January 31, 2005 08:43 PM

Interesting. I have the same problem with environmentalists who say we should preserve biodiversity for the sake of miracle medicines and ecotourism. Those reasons may be rational (like the Iraq war being illegal) but they don't inspire. Telling others why we personally care about something is what inspires. Even if others don't share the same beliefs they can still relate to the feeling and translate it into their own belief system. I'd rather hear representatives from ten religions say why their particular god is against this war than for an ecumenical/interfaith group to say the war is wrong because human groups and authorities and treaties say so. My $.02.

Posted by: Sylvia on January 31, 2005 08:50 PM

Um, yeah, the UN will save us:


Genocide? What genocide?

Right now I wouldn't take their word for which way is up.

Posted by: dave paisley on January 31, 2005 10:29 PM

Pax Christi is a Catholic peace organization that is actually organizationally distinct from Catholic Worker.

Because Pax Christi is Catholic, its pacifism comes from a different tradition than the Anabaptist strain that influences someone like Hauerwas. Catholic social teaching tends to be supportive of mechanisms of collective action that bring people of good will--whether Christian or non-Christian--together in pursuit of the common good. For this reason, the Catholic Church has tended to be supportive of both the United Nations and international law in general. The fact that they are flawed institutions that have many failings does not really deter the Church since we have, shall we say, a lot of personal experience with that problem!

On a related note, Catholic arguments about public policy--whether foreign or domestic--tend to stress natural law arguments that we believe all people of good will should be able to accept. There is, of course, something of a lively debate among Catholic moral theologians about whether natural law is really sufficient in and of itself, or if the truths of natural law are only ultimately discernable in light of revelation.

Hope this helps,


Posted by: Peter Nixon on January 31, 2005 11:10 PM

Yes, Neil Dhingra came around a while ago and tried to explain the theory that people could agree on points of natural-law reasoning. I'm not really that familiar with natural law, but I can't help feeling that the Catholic version of it has become as much a matter of faith as anything else. In fact, a lot of atheists today use arguments from nature to claim that there is no God.

I do see the point that the rule of law is an important Biblical theme, and international law is probably preferable to unrestrained Machiavellianism (although God knows there's plenty of Machiavellianism in the U.N.). Even Yoder argued that order is better than chaos, which is why Christians shouldn't rebel even against evil authorities. Still, the other major strand of opposition to the war has come from small-government types who doubt the feasibility of any grand international schemes, and they often sound compelling to me, so I don't see the point of alienating them by hanging so much of the argument on the U.N.

Actually, I was kind of thinking along Sylvia's lines that it would be more compelling, not to mention a lot more interesting, to have people from a bunch of different religions coming and explaining why they believe in nonviolence than trying to build an elusive natural-law consensus. This would also show rather than simply claim that people with widely different philosophical beliefs can get on without killing each other.

Posted by: Camassia on February 1, 2005 08:51 AM

Pax Christi is a Catholic peace organization that is actually organizationally distinct from Catholic Worker.

I think you meant, "Pax Christi is a Catholic peace organization that is actually organized, as distinct from Catholic Worker."

"Blessed are the peacemakers," Jesus said, and this has traditionally been understood primarily in a spirutal sense. As St. Jerome wrote, "What avails it to make peace between others, while in your own heart are wars of rebellious vices?"

Personally, I think Pax Christi preaches a too facile concept of Christian peacemaking, producing statements that sound largely indistinguishable from stock secular liberal statements and a kind of Pax Antiamericana posture.

Posted by: Tom on February 1, 2005 09:09 AM


Tom, I'm inclined to agree with your last paragraph, but not your second-to-last. I think there is considerable support in the tradition--from discussions in the early Church about whether soldiers could be accepted as catechcumens right up to the statesments of the present pontiff--for a concept of peacemaking that goes beyond a solely "spiritual" one.

But I agree that one of the problems about the way organizations like Pax Christi have gone about their work is that they often seem to have accepted the assumption that Christian peacemaking is about finding a more effective means of keeping order in the international arena. For myself, I'm inclined to Simon Weil's observation that "those who live by the sword, die by the sword, and those who refuse to live by the sword die on the cross."

This is not to say that Christian witness is incompatible with collective action in pursuit of the common good at the international level. But the two are not the same, and Pax Christi sometimes seems to confuse the two.

Posted by: Peter Nixon on February 1, 2005 09:44 AM

I'm not too sure what point Tom is making above with reference to St. Jerome. Surely the saint was making a point that would parallel the concept of removing the log from one's own eye BEFORE attempting to remove the speck from one's brother's eye? I don't think that Jerome was saying take care of your own vision and leave your brother to worry about his own lamps.
So: first pacify your own heart, and you will then be fit to work for a more universal peace.
I do agree with Tom, of course, that the concept of 'world peace' is both the half-crazed notion of effete, deluded liberals, and radically anti-American, to boot.

Posted by: Rob on February 1, 2005 09:49 AM

Yup, via the Hauerwas Archives, Hauerwas' adaptation of the Tonto Principle.

Hmm, speaking of Hauerwas and Natural Theology, have you read his book on the subject? Also found through the above Hauerwas archive link, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church's Witness and Natural Theology : Being Gifford Lectures Delivered at the University of St. Andrews in 2001. Like most of Hauerwas' stuff, I haven't read it (I've only read Resident Aliens so far).

Posted by: Eric Lee on February 1, 2005 03:11 PM

Actually, I've read practically no Hauerwas. I just know enough people who've studied under him that I've kind of absorbed him through osmosis. Better than I thought, apparently.

Rob, no baiting people with things they didn't say, please.

Posted by: Camassia on February 1, 2005 05:37 PM

Dear Camassia,

I think that we really have to, following Jean Porter and others, distinguish between two sorts of "natural law." The first - "modern" natural law - suggests that autonomous reason generates a universally valid moral code, and "then revelation steps in to confirm, correct and supplement the moral code which reason first generates." The second - "medieval" natural law - still grounds its account of the natural law "in naturally given aspects of human existence," but "these natural givens are interpreted within a framework of theological convictions. The scholastics appeal to scriptural and theological concepts to determine which aspects of human nature should be given greatest weight morally and to guide the formulation of specific moral judgements." "Medieval" natural law is based on a construal of shared human existence and shaped by reasoning, but particular theological considerations always guide the emphases upon certain aspects of that existence, and so we should expect that others will find it intelligible and reasonable, but not necessarily self-evident or beyond doubt. Thus, the earlier post of mine, following David Hollenbach, sugggested that the "reality of compassionate friendship" is "the ultimate mystery surrounding the fragments and pieces of human history." While I believe that this claim should be intelligible to all people as an interpretation of our shared humanity - Hollenbach even imagines it as a "radicalization" of Hume's sympathy and Habermas' call for the inclusion of the voices of the marginalized, I cannot extricate it from the particular framework of a Christian theology of the cross so that it exists in the realm of "modern" natural law's supposedly unquestionable deliverances of practical reason.*

The Catholic commitment to international law is not the result of the search for another Caesar. It is rooted in particular theological convictions, namely, that the "structural sin" of the desire for profit and power must be replaced by a "a commitment to the good of one's neighbor with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to 'lose oneself' for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to 'serve him' instead of oppressing him for one's own advantage" (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38). This commitment is "solidarity," an intensified sense of interdependence, and its international aspects include the "abandonment of the politics of blocs, the sacrifice of all forms of economic, military or political imperialism, and the transformation of mutual distrust into collaboration" (ibid, 39).

When it comes to just war theory, solidarity requires the recognition that, in Joseph Capizzi's words, despite the existence of various states, "there is a real universal human family transcending these real differences. Yes, unfortunately, the family is divided and sometimes divided in such a way that military force is an appropriate means of moving towards (but never fully achieving) reunification. Nevertheless, common membership in the family sets critical moral limits on any particular political community and its pursuit of its aims. These moral limits find partial expression in the ius gentium and positive international law. As Alberico Gentili already noted in 1588, the law of nations depends upon the natural kinship of all humankind."

We can then say that Pax Christ's appeal to the United Nations is an appeal to the ius gentium and positive international law as embodiments of solidarity, a "commitment to the good of one's neighbor" founded upon the reading of the tenth chapters of Matthew and Mark, and the 22nd chapter of Luke. The appeal is simultaneously an appeal to human reason and the authority of Jesus.



*Please read, especially for my quotations:

Posted by: Neil on February 1, 2005 10:46 PM

"...things they didn't say..."

I'm sorry if my sarcastic interpretation of "stock secular liberal statements" and "Pax Antiamericana posture" as "half-crazed notions of effete, deluded liberals" and "radically anti-American" is seen as rude. I took the originals to be somewhat dismissive of the good intentions of a cross-section of well-meaning people, and probably overreacted. Mea culpa.

Posted by: Rob on February 2, 2005 04:46 AM

There's another reason that the UN gets appealed to in this war in particular, and that is that part of Bush's original justification for attacking Iraq was that it was disregarding UN resolutions (the other part being the WMDs that Iraq turns out not to have had). This is why some people (not me), in this war in particular, didn't object to the war in principle but wanted it approved by the UN.

At the same time, I completely agree with Peter Nixon on this point: "This is not to say that Christian witness is incompatible with collective action in pursuit of the common good at the international level. But the two are not the same..." My own Christian pacifism isn't founded on any program for how best to bring peace at the international level; I believe I'm called to follow the example of the cross regardless. But at the same time that the UN, imperfect like any human organization, has its uses. It's not my ultimate authority (and it's not the main reason I objected to the war with Iraq), but it can sometimes serve my purposes.

On having people from a bunch of different religions explain why they believe in nonviolence, I'm reminded of a book by Yoder called _Nevertheless_, which explores a variety of different rationales for pacifism, discusses the limitations of each, and why each, nevertheless, offers a useful corrective to the usual thinking about war.

Posted by: Lynn Gazis-Sax on February 2, 2005 08:03 AM

I come across links to your blog often but haven't stopped by until now. Glad I did - I like what I see so far.

Anyway, I don't have much time, but I'd like to know what your mention of the Catholic Worker was meant to convey. Was it simply a point of reference, or an inference of deeper thought?

Also, Dorothy Day actually distanced herself from Pax Christi, which she helped found, later in her life. I can't remember exactly why, but I think it was partly due to its "organized" nature and de-emphasis of its own peculiar Catholicism. Could be wrong, though.

Posted by: Coleman on February 3, 2005 07:40 PM

Camassia, I wouldn't presume to try to add to the theological arguments offered here. However, I would say a couple of things about the quote from Pax Christi included in your post.

The fact is, sovereign nation-states can and do regularly disregard the United Nations in furtherance of their national interests. The UN is not a sovereign entity, and it has no power to enforce a veto over the actions of nation-states, except to the extent they are willing to voluntarily observe UN dictates and policies. In reality, the UN owes its very existence to the United States, and the U.S. even today is far more supportive of the UN than many other member states. Those who speak wishfully of the UN as though it were a "world government" of some sort would do well to remember these facts.

The UN, the Vatican, Pax Christi, and anyone else who wishes to condemn the concept of "preemptive war" are free to do so, but such condemnations and rejections are meaningless. The power to make war inherently includes the power to initiate war whenever deemed most advantageous. To maintain that a country cannot legally and morally initiate a war prior to an actual attack when that attack is perceived to be imminent is both naive and unrealistic.

Posted by: Tom Carter on February 8, 2005 06:21 AM
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