If we can speak at all of an American collective memory, there are two archetypes which loom large in those shady mists -- the huckster, and the paranoid demagogue. Ted Cruz, the junior senator from the State of Texas, who has been a member of that august deliberative body for a little less than ten months, captures and distills down to its essence the features of both.
The huckster has deep American roots. An old folk tune, "The Dodger" celebrated this rapscallion. ("Dodger," in the slang of the day, meant something like "scam artist"). "The candidate's a dodger, yes a well-known dodger," is how the song began, as it cataloged all the walks of life that depend on scamming.
American literature is replete with hucksters. Mark Twain gave us those two fun-loving scamps, "the King" and "the Duke," who scammed their way down the Mississippi River. Pulp novels were filled with patent-medicine entrepreneurs and snake oil salesmen. And then there is the figure of Elmer Gantry, the religious scammer, preaching righteousness by day, sinning by night.
But the ultimate archetype was probably the real-life P.T. Barnum. Born in obscurity in Connecticut in 1810, he tried his hand at lottery promotions until they were outlawed. He then traveled the country with an elderly slave woman who pretended to have been George Washington's nursemaid when he was a small boy. He built a mermaid from the body parts of various animals and sold tickets to see the exotic specimen. When a distant cousin was born with dwarfism, Barnum transformed him into "General Tom Thumb," the shortest man on earth. He used hot air balloons and street shows to attract crowds to his exhibits. Always be self-promoting.
And Ted Cruz has successfully tapped into the P.T. Barnum that lies buried deep within the American psyche. His rise has been a single continuous act of self-promotion. In less than a year, he has made it plain that he did not win election to the Senate just to play the role of genial back-bencher, sweetly biding his time, doing deals, and living by the genteel rules of the old Senate. No siree, Ted Cruz does not "do collegial." He is a man on the move.
Consider his campaign for Senate in 2012. It may be hard to remember, but he was the underdog in the Republican primary. His opponent, David Dewhurst, the sitting Lieutenant Governor, was the consummate insider. A plutocrat's plutocrat, Dewhurst had practically unlimited campaign funds and the backing of Governor Rick Perry.
Dewhurst thought he'd win the primary the old-fashioned way, by spending a lot of money shouting "liberal! liberal! liberal!" so as to define the then-unknown Cruz. He did not reckon on Cruz' power to mount an insurgency. In May, 2012, in the first round of voting, Dewhurst narrowly missed outright victory, finishing just shy of 50 percent of the vote.
But Cruz was relentless. He worked the right-wing blogs. He brought in Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum to campaign with him. He looked to the very rich Club for Growth Super PAC for financial support. And in the end he drove the plodding, old-school Dewhurst into the ground and won the July run-off in a romp.
Cruz proudly advertises his membership in and support of the Tea Party movement. And a good half of the Tea Party is pure, old-fashioned American hokum. There are the conspiracy theorists selling their tales of devious plots by the Federal Reserve. And the gold dealers who spin elaborate yarns of out-of-control inflation which the government keeps secret. And there are the Second Amendment fanatics warning ominously about plots to disarm law-abiding American constitutionalists. There are even the patent-medicine folks. Newsmax, a principal Tea Party news organ, is filled daily with claims about cures for everything from diabetes to Alzheimer's.
This is Ted Cruz' natural habitat. These are his people. A Princeton undergrad, Harvard Law School graduate, former Supreme Court clerk and international lawyer, Cruz tries his level best to let none of that show when he launches into his old-time stem winders. There is no doubt that Cruz is an effective orator and with his cowboy boots he sure looks and acts like the Texan he is. And when he gets worked up, his speeches draw their lifeblood from the Tea Party's own scamming heart.
If this is one side of Ted Cruz, the other half hails direct from the fever swamp Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics." This mode of thinking is darkly conspiratorial. The world is sharply divided -- "us" against "them." And those who stand against the heroic defenders of justice and the American way are always secretly scheming to run not just the country but the entire world. In the early days of the Republic, it was the Free Masons. A little later, in the 1840s and 1850s, it was the Jesuits. In the years around 1900 it was the "Money Power."
Periodically in American history there arose demagogues who exploited these delusions of persecution. There was Huey Long in the 1930s with his slogan, "Every Man a King!" There was George Wallace in the 1960s, cynically exploiting racism in a presidential campaign that was nothing but pure mayhem.
And, of course, looming over both men, was Joe McCarthy, the junior Republican senator from Wisconsin in the 1950s. In a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1950, McCarthy claimed to be in possession of a list of 57 known Communists who worked in the State Department. Depending on his audience and the needs of the moment, McCarthy would repeat similar accusations many times, always varying the number of Communists. He accused fellow Senators of being closet Reds. He questioned the integrity of President Truman and claimed the Democratic Party was in league with treason.
Hofstadter published his essay on paranoid politics in 1964, inspired to his theme by that year's Barry Goldwater campaign for president. And while Hofstadter considered the whole panorama of American history, he clearly had one eye on Goldwater.
Goldwater surely attracted his share of paranoids. There were the John Birchers who feared the Communists under the bed; the neo-Confederate segregationists; and the libertarians who denounced the New Deal as illegitimate and viewed it as a long, slow, dismal march down the road to serfdom.
In Goldwater's day, however, the Republican Party's center of gravity was moderate. It even had a lively liberal wing, represented by the likes of Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton.
But to enter today's GOP base is to cross the border from reality into Glenn-Beckistan. There are the young-earth creationists who see the whole of empirical science as a diabolical plot to conceal divine creation. There are the global warming skeptics, found even in the pages of the formerly great Wall Street Journal.
And then there are the folks who come out of the woodwork at conservative workshops and rallies: The ones who want to abolish the IRS. Those who wish to dismantle whole government agencies. Those who believe Social Security is irretrievably insolvent, an accusation first made by Alf Landon in 1936. Even the next generation of segregationists who once thrilled to Wallace and Goldwater.
And Ted Cruz is their new heartthrob. He has already been credibly accused of McCarthyism -- by Senator Barbara Boxer, after Cruz launched an attack on a member of his own party -- former Senator Chuck Hagel. When Hagel was nominated to be Secretary of Defense, Cruz hit and hit hard. Had he been the recipient of mysterious funds from North Korea? Hagel did an interview with Al-Jazeera. Maybe he's an apologist for terror?
Cruz has all the hallmarks of the demagogic conspiracist. He has played around with Benghazi, that tragic attack on the American consulate which resulted in the deaths of our diplomats there. To the right wing, however, it is a conspiracy so vast it is beyond description to anyone not already in on it.
And now he has turned to the Affordable Care Act. His latest 21-hour marathon speech on the Senate floor, where he displayed astonishing bladder control, was a noisome combination of the huckster and paranoid styles. The ACA, he hissed, raises taxes, destroys jobs, and will even cripple American health care. He accused those Republicans who failed to unite behind him of the same appeasement Neville Chamberlain showed when he bowed and scraped before Hitler.
Half flim-flam man, half demagogue, this man means to be president. And America had better be alarmed about that.
What follows is by way of forming the proper frame of mind for examining our latest bibliography: “Contemporary Democratic Theory.”
“A democracy is more than a form of government, it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. [….] A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic.”—John Dewey
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“When we discuss democracy perhaps nothing gives rise to more confusion than the simple fact that ‘democracy’ refers to both an ideal and an actuality.”—Robert A. Dahl
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“There is no simple dichotomy between liberal and participatory democracy. [….] As one moves toward the participatory pole of the spectrum…politics becomes increasingly discursive, educational, oriented to truly public interests, and needful of active citizenship. In contrast, the liberal pole is dominated by voting, strategy, private interests, bargaining, exchange, spectacle, and limited involvement.”—John Dryzek
“All people should have the chance of a full life and not have to constantly worry about economic misery and social discrimination. There is some empirical evidence that deliberation helps secure social justice defined in this way. [….] To stress the importance and feasibility of deliberation does not mean, of course, that democracy should consist only of deliberation. It is also an essential element of democracy that preferences are aggregated, in particular, in elections and parliamentary votes. It is also proper in democracy that sometimes bargaining takes place. Finally, street protests, strikes, and the like [e.g., civil disobedience] belong in a democracy.”—Jürg Steiner
“Modern democracy is the tradition in which the implications of human responsibility for human arrangements are gradually made explicit—not only in cities and states, but also in civil society, in corporations, and in families. It consists in the attempt on the part of human beings to exercise collective responsibility over the arrangements governing them. Exercising this responsibility in the public sphere is a matter of holding rulers responsible for the arrangements they make on one’s behalf and holding one’s fellow citizens responsible for the role they play in determining who rules and what the arrangements are going to be. In the ancient world democracy meant direct rule by the commons. In the modern world it refers in the first instance to formal procedures that allow citizens to turn them out of office in favor of someone else. As Oliver O’Donovan points out, the modern legislature or parliament is supposed to conduct its deliberations against the background of, and in response to, a public discussion in which all members of the society are entitled to participate. In this respect, it differs from medieval councils, which served at the pleasure of monarchs and gave their advice to them privately.
But the meaning of democracy in the modern world is hardly exhausted by the procedural structures of government. Indeed, the structures of government, being largely administrative, tend to be largely bureaucratic in nature. They tend also to be large, hierarchical, and to some extent corrupt. As such, they are also resistant, for a variety of reasons, to being held responsible by the societies they are supposed to serve. It therefore makes sense to say that modern governmental structures are democratic only to the extent that they are actually responsive to a public discussion and an electoral process in which members of the society in question actually participate. Hence Dewey’s claim, in his early essay ‘The Ethics of Democracy,’ that ‘Democracy is a form of government only because it is a form of moral and spiritual association.’
In other words, a form of government ceases to be democratic insofar as the public life surrounding it ceases to be animated—ethically inspirited—by a concerted attempt on the part of citizens to hold one another responsible for the condition of the government and to hold governmental officials responsible to the governed. The activity of holding rulers and one’s fellow citizens responsible by offering reasons to them and demanding reasons from them places citizens in a moral association with one another—an association the spirit of which is mutual recognition and accountability. By allowing all citizens to express their own most deeply felt commitments and aspirations, as well as their interests, in the public discussion, a genuinely democratic community also implicitly affirms its members as spiritual beings. The spirit of democracy resides in a citizenry that practices accountability and mutual recognition. Where the spirit of democracy is lacking, the rhetoric of democracy becomes mere ideology, a decoration draped over institutions to enhance their authority by disguising their nondemocratic reality.
Democratic discussion cannot proceed from perfect agreement in spiritual outlook, because the most deeply felt commitments expressed in it are various, conflicting, and constantly in flux. Still, many are the citizens who aspire, in expressing their concerns, to bring about a more perfect union by their own lights. The United States of America is full of perfectionists bent on perfecting both themselves and the life that citizens share together. But democracy in this time and place has had to come to terms with a plurality of perfectionisms. American citizens are conscious to the extent to which their ideals of perfection conflict. While modern democracy has deep religious roots, and retains a perfectionist impulse, it should not be viewed as a species of religion. It has become an attempt on the part of human beings to take responsibility for shared arrangements, despite (and in light of) the differences in religious outlook that divide one person from another. Its wise defenders value it without proposing it as an object of worship in its own right. To bow down before democracy, or any other product of human effort, is idolatry.”—Jeffrey Stout (From a transcript—sans notes—of 2004 lecture, ‘The Spirit of Democracy,’ to general audiences at the University of Tennessee and the University of Notre Dame.)
“For democracy to be truly deliberative, there must be uptake and engagement—other people must hear or read, internalize and respond—for that public sphere activity to count as remotely deliberative. Furthermore, for that public sphere to count as richly democratic, it must be the case that most people are actively engaged in this sort of give-and-take with most other people. [….] Deliberation, on this account, is less a matter of making people ‘conversationally present’ and more a matter of making them ‘imaginatively present’ in the minds of deliberators. [….] Such internal dialogues can never wholly substitute for public ones. However well informed our imaginings, we will always need to cross-check the views we attribute to others against the views they actually profess themselves to hold. However astute our imaginings and extensive our internal dialogues, at some point or another we must let others speak, and vote, for themselves if our deliberations are to carry any genuinely democratic warrant. [….] ‘Democratic deliberation within’ never in itself settles things, and cannot in itself provide full democratic legitimacy to any outcomes. [….] It should thus be seen as an important concomitant to ordinary democratic processes, an essential supplement but nowise a substitute.”—Robert E. Goodin
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[The epistemic case for democracy argues that] “there are good theoretical reasons to believe that when it comes to epistemic reliability, under some reasonable assumptions, the rule of the many is likely to outperform any version of the rule of the few, at least if we assume that politics is akin to a complex and long enough maze, the knowledge of which cannot reside with any individual in particular or even just a few of them.”—Hélène Landemore
“Distributed intelligence…refers to an emergent phenomenon that can be traced not to individual minds but rather to the interaction between individual minds and between those minds and their environment. [….] [A] notion of democratic reason as distributed collective intelligence of the people is relevant for the epistemic argument for democracy in a least three ways. First, the idea of collective distributed intelligence is particularly useful to describe democracy as a system channeling the intelligence of the many and turning it into smart outputs. Democratic reason denotes a certain kind of distributed collective intelligence….
The concept of collective distributed intelligence also explains how the individual citizen cognitively unburdens him or herself by letting others, as well as the environment, process parts of the social calculus. From that point of view, the idea of democratic reason as collective distributed intelligence offers an answer to the apparent paradox of the right of the people to rule themselves and the simultaneous belief that they lack the cognitive competence for it.
Finally, combined with the concept of cognitive artifacts that contain the wisdom of the past, the idea of collective intelligence distributed not only through space over people and artifacts but over time as well introduces a temporal dimension to the concept of democratic reason. Democracies can learn, particularly from their own mistakes, how to immunize themselves against the worst forms of cognitive failures and to embody in durable institutions the lessons serve from such past failures and mistakes.”—Hélène Landemore
[Thanks again to Professor Jim Chen for helping me post this and other compilations online.]
The culture war is over. That may be the most important message contained in Pope Francis' remarkable interview with the Jesuit press last week. Yes, there will still be some skirmishing and some bumps and jostles along the way. But Pope Francis effectively challenged the central premise of the culture war -- that modern secular culture is at war with Christianity.
The Pope makes clear, in thoughtful, creative ways, that he does not see essential antagonism between Church and culture. Let's look first at his favorite artists. He has a fondness for the very secular Federico Fellini, especially his film La Strada, which depicts a young teen-age girl sold by her mother into servitude to an itinerant circus strong man. His favorite painter is Caravaggio, the intense and brooding Renaissance figure, a street brawler who wounded a police officer in a drunken rage and killed a man under mysterious circumstances. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- his deep sinfulness, Caravaggio knew the full range of human emotions, both the depths and the glories, and expressed them better on canvas better than any member of his generation. Thus, the pope suggests, we can find valuable lessons from the secular world. We can even find such lessons in the works of great sinners.
The Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis emphasizes, was open to culture in this way. The Council did not see contemporary culture as the enemy nor did it seek to oppose it. Rather, the Council sought "a re-reading of the Gospel in the light of contemporary culture." This was the meaning of Pope John XXIII's proclamation of "aggiornamento." Echoing the sainted Pope John, Francis insists that today's Catholics must remain in dialogue with the larger society.
The "culture war" model of the Church, in which Christian defenders of Fortress Ecclesia pull up the draw-bridges and prepare for a long, dark night of besiegement, has no place in Francis' thoughts. Partnership, friendship, or at least honest, self-reflective conversation -- these must be the essential features of the Church's relationship with secular culture.
And if the Church can learn from culture, Francis says, it can also learn from history. Indeed, through its study of history, Francis makes clear, the Church has already changed its teaching on some issues, sometimes quite dramatically.
Consider usury: There was a time, especially in the first millenium, when the Gospel precept, "Lend freely, taking nothing in return," was understood literally as a strict prohibition on the taking of interest. Thanks to centuries of experience, Catholic theologians and canonists, in dialogue with Christian merchants, eventually crafted a body of doctrine that accommodated the taking of moderate interest, while condemning sharp and extortionate practices.
The pope is fully aware of this process and, indeed, revealed himself to be remarkably open and flexible to doctrinal development of this sort. "God," the Pope asserted, "manifests himself in historical revelation, in history." "Time," Francis continued, "initiates processes... God is in history, in the processes."
This is true also of Jesus' teaching. His parables, after all, are meant to be read in history. What are they, after all, but open-ended narratives that force every generation to reflect, adapt, and reinterpret the Gospel message for its own day?
Francis' insights into the historicity of God and revelation lead him to his deep sensitivity about the historical process. The Church is not an unchanging monolith, a block of granite standing strong against the winds and tides of hostile forces.
On the contrary, the Church is always engaged with the world around it in an open-ended and unceasing quest for greater understanding. This feature, after all, is common to every sentient and growing entity. Francis illustrates this point when he discusses his own youthful faults and how he learned from them. To describe this growth in awareness, he uses the image of someone traveling along a highway: "Ours ... is a 'journey' faith, a historical faith." It is, in other words, a progressive faith, moving forward in time as it continually sharpens and strengthens its understanding of the human condition.
And if individuals enrich their faith experience over time, so does the Church. Taking note of the Church's essential historicity, Pope Francis called attention to a passage by the fifth-century St. Vincent of Lerins: "Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws [of historical development], consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age."
Thus, Francis says, a historically-grounded Church must learn from what has gone before. Francis acknowledges that there were concrete norms which the Church once condoned and even practiced and which it now finds reprehensible: "Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. Exegetes and theologians help the Church to mature in her judgment... The view of the Church's teachings as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong."
His discussion of history might be the single most revolutionary feature of Francis' interview. Let's see how it might play out with respect to same-sex attraction. In other parts of his interview, he reiterates his non-judgmental stance towards gays. The Church must not contribute to their "social wounding." The Church should realize not to "spiritually interfere" in the lives of gays. Francis acknowledges once again the welcoming parts of the Catechism and omits any mention of the condemnatory parts.
What comes next? Undoubtedly, on the subject of same-sex attraction, the pope is inviting dialogue. His statements, read in their completeness, must be seen as opening the door to "exegetes and theologians" to re-consider the Church's historic stance. Let's take science into account, let's come to a better awareness of human psychology, let's take a fresh look at revelation and tradition. And then us see where these inquiries lead us. Will we see substantive change in Church teaching? We could see the offensive parts of the Catechism removed fairly quickly. Deeper change may take a while longer. Ten years? Maybe 15? I certainly believe the door is open now in a way it has never been opened before.
On the other hand, I cannot imagine a fundamental alteration in the Church's position on abortion, although it is clear the pope wishes to change the way that teaching is presented. In his interview, he avoided all mention of the political dimension of abortion while focusing on pastoral needs.
Thus he discussed an all-too-typical situation in which a pastor confronts this human tragedy. A young woman went through a failed first marriage during which she had an abortion. Years go by. She is now married, with children. She is remorseful over her past and wishes to return to the Church. However the Church presents its doctrine on abortion, the Pope is saying, we must welcome this woman back and not drive her away with "small-mindedness."
To frame the question narrowly and to focus specially on the American context, I expect we might see at least some parts of the Church attempt to craft a bi-partisan or non-partisan approach to life issues. God, after all, can be found in both political parties. As Pope Francis says, God can be found "everywhere." But what cannot be found, in the Church of Pope Francis' dreams, is any room for the culture war.
The Syrians on both sides are systematically bombing hospitals and terrorizing medical personnel. Indeed, not only have doctors, nurses, and pharmacists been tortured and imprisoned, there are reports that the government has tortured patients including children within hospitals. According to an article in BioEdge, thirty-seven per cent of hospitals have been destroyed; twenty per cent have been seriously damaged; 15 thousand doctors have fled; a sophisticated health system has been thoroughly undermined. https://www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/10697
Even if the world successfully achieved the destruction of chemical weapons, the daily human rights violations resulting in even greater damage will continue unabated. In Syria, acts of moral monstrosity are common on both sides. This is not a case of the good guys v. the bad guys.
It is easy to condemn and right to do so. It is easy to think that we are morally superior. But I think it worthwhile to reflect on what might have driven the people on both sides to these acts of hatred and revenge. Unquestionably, they have dehumanized their enemies. It might be worthwhile to think about the forces that cause us to dehumanize others. Can we be sure we would turn the other cheek if members of our families had been tortured by others? Could we as soldiers violate orders to bomb hospitals if we knew we would be tortured for failure to comply. Maybe we could. Maybe we couldn’t.
In any event, I am confident that the same dynamics of dehumanization are alive within us if not to the same degree. We can be grateful most of us have had the moral luck not to be tested in the ways that have confronted Syrians on both sides of this conflict and the good fortune to live in a place of relative peace.
John Allen has described Pope Francis at six months as a "force of nature." He is certainly that. But what is it exactly that this force of nature wishes to accomplish?
The lens through which to view these past six months just might be a statement the Pope made to Latin American youth during his trip to Brazil in July, when he encouraged them "to make a mess." The mess he was calling for, however, was not some kind of chaotic nihilism, but the active, joyous living out of the Gospel. And so he went on: "I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves."
And if we look at what Pope Francis has accomplished these last six months, it has all been a practical living out of the advice he gave his enthusiastic, youthful audience.
It began on the evening of his election. The story that he informed the master of ceremonies who tried to vest him in elegant robes that the "carnival is over," is probably too good to be true. But without doubt, from the moment he stepped onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square, he was sending a message that his pontificate would be very different: The name Francis, the simple white cassock, a request that the crowd bless him, a reference to himself not as pope but as bishop of Rome.
And this unpredictable overturning of expectations remained a constant feature of Francis's early days. On Holy Thursday, just a few days after his election, he washed the feet of youthful prisoners in a Roman jail, including -- to the great dismay of traditionalists -- teenage Muslim women. Holy Thursday, Pope Francis signaled by his actions, was not about clericalism, it was not an austere re-enactment of the creation of the priesthood, but the precursor to God's great act of love -- the drama of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
Like his medieval namesake St. Francis, the Pope has a deep yearning for solidarity with the poor. He denounced late stage capitalism as creating a "throw-away" culture, in which we freely waste food and vital necessities even as a gulf widens between the opulent few and the struggling many.
He has shown a welcoming warmth toward immigrants. He traveled to Lampedusa, in the south of Italy, and a place of many tragedies, to commemorate those desperate souls who have died trying to make the passage between North Africa and Europe. He cast a garland of flowers into the sea as an act of mourning, and, just a few days ago, proposed that unused church buildings -- abandoned convents or monasteries -- be used as housing for immigrants.
His outreach to progressive Catholics has also been most welcome. The canonization process of Pope John XXIII had languished during the final days of John Paul II and Pope Benedict's pontificate. But Francis accelerated Good Pope John's cause with one grand gesture, declaring that this holy man, this symbol of reform and social justice, should be a saint even in the absence of the required second miracle.
He has also shown the warm ecumenical touch of John XXIII in his dealings with those of different faiths or none at all. He showed respect for non-believers in the earliest days of his pontificate when he met with the press for the first time. He prayed the apostolic blessing in silence, out of respect for the consciences of non-Catholics and atheists. In May, he declared that God's redemptive love embraced not just Catholics, or even all Christians, but also skeptics, agnostics, seekers, and atheists.
Just a few days ago, His Holiness followed up on these comments with a more formal letter to Eugenio Scalfari, the still-vigorous 89-year-old editor of the secular newspaper La Repubblica. He acknowledged that previous efforts at dialogue between Christians and atheists had failed, but he expressed hope that these conversations would soon be renewed. And the dialogue he wished for, he made clear, is one which "is open and free of preconceptions, and which reopens the doors to a responsible and fruitful encounter." Francis harbored the hope that both he and Scalfari may "seek the paths along which we may walk together."
And there are the provocative comments about gays and celibacy. Who can forget his airplane interview, returning from World Youth Day, where he informed his stunned audience that "if a person is gay, and follows the Lord, and has good will, then who am I to judge?" In making this statement, Pope Francis cited to that part of the Catholic Catechism which calls on Christians to welcome gays. He omitted all mention of the hostile sections.
Even though many on the right have tried to impute to Pope Francis the language of para. 2357 of the Catechism, which denounces same-sex attraction as a "grave depravity," I can find no instance where Pope Francis has used this language or referred to this part of the Catechism during his time as Pope. He has never gone back to say, "oops, I left out the part about condemning gays." It seems that he wants an open door on this matter, and he is inviting Christians of good will to drive the development of doctrine.
And now we have his new Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, raising the subject of mandatory priestly celibacy and musing out loud about the possibility of change. Yes, the distinction between discipline and dogma is standard Catholic fare, and yes, the rule concerning celibacy is a matter of discipline, which can change with the times. No the Secretary did not precisely break new ground. But as with gays, so with celibacy -- the question has been asked. Let's see where it goes.
Pope Francis has thus far lived up to the radicalism of his namesake. Granted, he will not move aggressively to make deep changes in the Church. The Pope, after all, must keep the Church unified. But he is putting back on the table, after a hiatus of nearly 40 years, some of the truly vital questions that must confront a living Church. He is making an exuberant "mess" for sure, but it is a good mess, a wondrous Christian mess. He has brought life to a Church and a faith that was in real danger of irrelevance and self-referentialism, a Church that was sliding into the grim ice age of a demographic winter. He has thrilled young people and has summoned them to the faith. Jon Stewart "loves this guy."
And this is as it should be. Christians, after all, are called to live out the Gospel in the world, not hunker down behind a wall of incense and lace. And Pope Francis is making sure of that.
“In 1982 [Ariel] Sharon persuaded Menahem Begin to undertake a wondrous adventure: conquering Lebanon and liquidating the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] there once and for all, putting in power a ‘friendly’ Christian regime. The offensive ended in a major political defeat. After the assassination, probably by the Syrians, of Beshir Gemayel, the president supposedly ‘elected’ under the Israeli heel, his forces [Christian Phalangists], the Israelis’ allies, committed a massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, killing between 800 and 1,500 civilians: men, women, children, and old people. [….] Phalangist leaders had been seen by many witnesses as the IDF’s [Israeli Defense Force] Beirut headquarters throughout the day preceding entry into the camps. According to a recent book of testimony, Mibeyrut ad Jenin (From Beirut to Jenin) (Hammeman and Gal, 2003), it appears that General Raphael Eytan, chief of staff at the time, prearranged the testimony of his officers before the [Israeli] commission [of inquiry conducted by Judge Kahan] so as to deny any planning or knowledge of what the Phalangists were going to perpetrate or what happened during the massacre itself.”—Sylvain Cypel, in his book Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (Other Press, 2006)
“The war, the massacre, and the PLO’s removal from Lebanon came to be viewed as a ‘turning point, the watershed that led to the intifada.’ The net effect was to broaden the ranks of Palestinians who became active. Offering a ‘new Palestinianism,’ the grassroots committees won increasing support from a broad cross section of the populace.”—May Elizabeth King, A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance (Nation Books, 2007).
What follows is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry, sans links and notes:
“The Sabra and Shatila massacre was the slaughter of between 762 and 3,500 civilians,* mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, by a Lebanese Christian militia in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon from approximately 6:00 pm 16 September to 8:00 am 18 September 1982.
The massacre was presented as retaliation for the assassination of newly elected Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Kataeb Party. It was wrongly assumed that Palestinian militants had carried out the assassination, now known to have been perpetrated by Lebanese militants with ties to Syria.
Israel invaded Lebanon with the intention of rooting out the PLO. Under the supervision of the Multinational Force the PLO withdrew from Lebanon following weeks of battles in West Beirut and shortly before the massacre took place. Various forces — Israeli, Phalangist and possibly also the South Lebanon Army (SLA) — were in the vicinity of the camps at the time of the slaughter, taking advantage of the fact that the multinational forces had removed barracks and mines that encircled Beirut’s Muslim neighborhoods and kept the Israelis at bay. The Israeli advance over West Beirut in the wake of the PLO withdrawal, which enabled the Phalangist raid, was considered a violation of the ceasefire agreement between the various forces. The actual killers were the ‘Young Men,’ a gang recruited by Elie Hobeika, the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief, from men who had been expelled from the Lebanese Forces for insubordination or criminal activities. [….]
The Israel Defense Forces surrounded the camps and at the Phalangists’ request, fired illuminating flares at night. In 1982, a UN commission chaired by Sean MacBride concluded that Israel bore responsibility for the violence. In 1983, the Israeli Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the incident, found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. Thus Israel was indirectly responsible, while Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, bore personal responsibility, forcing him to resign. [….]
* “In his book published soon after the massacre, the Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk of Le Monde Diplomatique, arrived at about 2,000 bodies disposed of after the massacre from official and Red Cross sources and ‘very roughly’ estimated 1,000 to 1,500 other victims disposed of by the Phalangists themselves to a total of 3,000–3,500.”
First Image / Second Image: Dia Al Azzawi’s epic work Sabra Shatila. “Described by Azzawi as ‘a manifesto of dismay and anger,’ Sabra Shatila was created by the artist in response to the 1982 massacre of civilians in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps during the Lebanese civil war.”
It is fair to say that the on-going story of Syria has brought to the forefront a new truth about the United States in the early twenty-first century: We have lost our thrill for war.
Let's begin by reviewing events in Syria: Beginning in late December 2012, there were repeated reports of small-scale use of chemical weapons. The evidence overwhelmingly implicated the government of Bashar al Assad. These small-scale attacks culminated on August 21, 2013, in the much larger attack on the Ghouta neighborhood outside Damascus, which resulted in close to 1,500 deaths. The agent of death was sarin gas, a potent nerve agent which, upon exposure, inexorably degrades the central nervous system, leaving its victims choking to death in their own bodily fluids.
Chemical weapons were routinely used in World War I. Their use caused such widespread revulsion that their utilization has thereafter been shunned in most global conflicts. Permitting their return now has serious consequences. While as a Catholic, I was among those who sided with Pope Francis, praying and fasting for peace, that does not mean that I fail to recognize the horror of these weapons. It is possible that a peaceful diplomatic solution may now be at hand, but it is not that which I wish to comment upon, but the real and palpable anti-war climate of opinion that has taken hold here in the United States. For it seems that we have crossed some kind of threshold in the last few weeks and it is good to know why.
The threshold I am referring to is our willingness as a nation to opt for war. From 1980 to, well, the last five or so years, as a nation we have favored a belligerent posture as our first response to crises overseas. Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980 because he promised a more aggressive response toward Iran, which was holding Americans hostage, and toward the Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan. After George H.W. Bush expelled the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, his approval rating approached 90 %, a record for American presidents (he would lose reelection in 1992 not because of the Persian Gulf War but because of a persistent recession).
And after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the American public vigorously affirmed the decision to go to war, first in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, even though the latter country had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Americans have repeatedly cheered on its armed forces, from Reagan's bombing of Libya and his invasion of Grenada, to George H.W. Bush's splendid little conflict in Panama.
But something has how shifted fundamentally. And no, it is not, as the right-wing alleges, the result of President Obama's decision to adopt a lower international profile. Remember, he was elected President in 2008 because he promised to withdraw us from wars, not foment new ones. His presidency is the result, not the cause, of America's rising tide of opposition to war.
No, it seems that something fundamental has changed in the American psychology about war. We no longer find war very appealing. Back in the Vietnam War, those old enough to remember might recall watching the ugliness of that war play out on the nightly news. Villages were destroyed for no good reason. Killing was conducted on an industrial scale. We measured our victories by the most macabre of metrics -- body counts. We out-killed them 10 to 1, and we still lost the bloody war. All that loss of life was for naught. The lasting image of the war, formed by popular entertainment, was of a morally ambiguous if not morally loathsome conflict. Just think of the Deer Hunter, or Apocalypse Now, or Full Metal Jacket.
And if the Vietnam War is remembered now for its wasteful destruction of human life, the Iraq War may be recalled for its blind squandering of American treasure. Bush and Cheney and their fellow apologists for war assured the American public that the incursion would be brief and might even succeed in being self-financing. The Iraqi people would welcome us as liberators. We would establish a free and democratic republic, get the oil flowing, and we would all live happily ever after.
We know how that turned out. And the price of failure? Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates at three trillion dollars. And while some economists argue that that figure is too high, others maintain that it is too low. Imagine the many more productive ways we could use three trillion dollars!
Common to both Vietnam and Iraq, finally, is a sense of the whole futility of war. And our sense of futility has been building, in the English speaking world, since World War I. The World War I poets were deeply familiar with that. Siegfried Sassoon was a highly decorated combat officer known for his daring and courage in battle. Yet all he could see was the absurdity of it all. Artillery had become mechanized killing, big guns "volleying doom for doom." The sheer randomness of life was too much for Sassoon. Wilfred Owen, another World War I poet, wrote an entire poem entitled "Futility," recalling the dying breaths of a falling comrade.
The defeat in Vietnam, the pitiless pointlessness of Iraq, these and other events, have helped democratize a brewing anti-war sentiment. No longer can an aversion to war be seen as an affectation of a few, or the domain of "out-of-touch liberals." The pessimism of Sassoon and Owen, of Francis Ford Coppola (director of Apocalypse Now), and the recent critics of Iraq, has taken new form as a mass movement. It is significant that the sternest opponents of war on Syria are right-wing Republicans, not progressive Congresspersons. While much of this is surely opportunistic -- many in the GOP will never miss a chance to destroy Obama -- some it is surely heartfelt.
Have we reached the end of western imperialism? Andreas Whittam Smith asks this provocative question in The Independent. While it might be premature to pronounce the death of the imperialistic urge, it may be the case that the West has lost the appetite for war. War's romance has vanished. No longer do we say, with Horace, "how sweet and proper it is to die for one's country" (dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori). As the Syrian debate progressed, support for war continuously dropped. The final Reuters survey indicated only 16 % in favor of military strikes.
While it is too early to concur with Smith, it is certainly the case that the American public has acquired a new sobriety about blood-letting. It is a sobriety born of exhaustion. We have now seen too many young women and men returning home limbless and shell-shocked. We have learned that war is not a cheap thrill. We are tired of war. But the hidden benefit is that this exhaustion now requires the finding of peaceful solutions to conflicts. We cannot withdraw from the world.
Let us always remember that chemical weapons are a wicked genie let loose upon the world. We now know, however, that we must result to the subtle arts of diplomacy to contain their spread and use. I hope we have the wisdom and maturity to see that process through successfully.
The conflict in Syria has raised afresh the question of a principled approach to “humanitarian intervention” in international law. Toward assessing the pro and con arguments, here is a list of the relevant literature (books, in English):
“What happened in Chile on 11 September 1973 did not suddenly reveal anything new about the ways in which men of power and privilege seek to protect their social order: the history of the last 150 years is spattered with such episodes. Even so, Chile has at least forced upon many people on the Left some uncomfortable reflections and questions about the ‘strategy’ which is appropriate in Western-type regimes for what is loosely called the ‘transition to socialism.’
Of course, the Wise Men of the Left, and others too, have hastened to proclaim that Chile is not France, or Italy, or Britain. This is quite true. No country is like any other: circumstances are always different, not only between one country and another, but between one period and another in the same country. Such wisdom makes it possible and plausible to argue that the experience of a country or period cannot provide conclusive ‘lessons.’ This is also true; and as a matter of general principle, one should be suspicious of people who have instant ‘lessons’ for every occasion. The chances are that they had them well before the occasion arose, and that they are merely trying to fit the experience to their prior views. So let us indeed be cautious about taking or giving ‘lessons.’
All the same, and however cautiously, there are things to be learnt from experience, or unlearnt, which comes to the same thing. Everybody said, quite rightly, that Chile, alone in Latin America, was a constitutional, parliamentary, liberal, pluralist society, a country which had politics: not exactly like the French, or the American, or the British, but well within the ‘democratic,’ or, as Marxists would call it, the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ fold. This being the case, and however cautious one wishes to be, what happened in Chile does pose certain questions, requires certain answers, may even provide certain reminders and warnings. It may for instance suggest that stadiums which can be used for purposes other than sport – such as herding left-wing political prisoners – exist not only in Santiago, but in Rome and Paris or for that matter London; or that there must be something wrong with a situation in which Marxism Today, the monthly ‘Theoretical and Discussion Journal of the (British) Communist Party’ has as its major article for its September 1973 issue a speech delivered in July by the General Secretary of the Chilean Communist Party, Luis Corvalan (now in jail awaiting trial, and possible execution), which is entitled We Say No to Civil War! But Stand Ready to Crush Sedition. In the light of what happened, this worthy slogan seems rather pathetic and suggests that there is something badly amiss here, that one must take stock, and try to see things more clearly. In so far as Chile was a bourgeois democracy, what happened there is about bourgeois democracy, and about what may also happen in other bourgeois democracies. After all, The Times, on the morrow of the coup, was writing (and the words ought to be carefully memorized by people on the Left): ‘... whether or not the armed forces were right to do what they have done, the circumstances were such that a reasonable military man could in good faith have thought it his constitutional duty to intervene.’ Should a similar episode occur in Britain, it is a fair bet that, whoever else is inside Wembley Stadium, it won’t be the Editor of The Times: he will be busy writing editorials regretting this and that, but agreeing, however reluctantly, that, taking all circumstances into account, and notwithstanding the agonizing character of the choice, there was no alternative but for reasonable military men ... and so on and so forth.
When Salvador Allende was elected to the presidency of Chile in September 1970, the regime that was then inaugurated was said to constitute a test case for the peaceful or parliamentary transition to socialism. As it turned out over the following three years, this was something of an exaggeration. It achieved a great deal by way of economic and social reform, under incredibly difficult conditions – but it remained a deliberately ‘moderate’ regime: indeed, it does not seem far-fetched to say that the cause of its death, or at least one main cause of it, was its stubborn ‘moderation.’ But no, we are now told by such experts as Professor Hugh Thomas, from the Graduate School of Contemporary European Studies at Reading University: the trouble was that Allende was much too influenced by such people as Marx and Lenin, ‘rather than Mill, or Tawney, or Aneurin Bevan, or any other European democratic socialist.’ This being the case, Professor Thomas cheerfully goes on, ‘the Chilean coup d’état cannot by any means be regarded as a defeat for democratic socialism but for Marxist socialism.’ All’s well then, at least for democratic socialism. Mind you, ‘no doubt Dr. Allende had his heart in the right place’ (we must be fair about this), but then ‘there are many reasons for thinking that his prescription was the wrong one for Chile’s maladies, and of course the result of trying to apply it may have led an “iron surgeon” to get to the bedside. The right prescription, of course, was Keynesian socialism, not Marxist.’ That’s it: the trouble with Allende is that he was not Harold Wilson, surrounded by advisers steeped in ‘Keynesian socialism’ as Professor Thomas obviously is.
We must not linger over the Thomases and their ready understanding of why Allende’s policies brought an ‘iron surgeon’ to the bedside of an ailing Chile. But even though the Chilean experience may not have been a test case for the ‘peaceful transition to socialism,’ it still offers a very suggestive example of what may happen when a government does give the impression, in a bourgeois democracy, that it genuinely intends to bring about really serious changes in the social order and to move in socialist directions, in however constitutional and gradual a manner; and whatever else may be said about Allende and his colleagues, and about their strategies and policies, there is no question that this is what they wanted to do. They were not, and their enemies knew them not to be, mere bourgeois politicians mouthing ‘socialist’ slogans. They were not ‘Keynesian socialists.’ They were serious and dedicated people, as many have shown by dying for what they believed in. It is this which makes the conservative response to them a matter of great interest and importance, and which makes it necessary for us to try to decode the message, the warning, the ‘lesson.’ For the experience may have crucial significance for other bourgeois democracies: indeed, there is surely no need to insist that some of it is bound to be directly relevant to any ‘model’ of radical social change in this kind of political system.
Perhaps the most important such message or warning or ‘lesson’ is also the most obvious, and therefore the most easily overlooked. It concerns the notion of class struggle. Assuming one may ignore the view that class struggle is the result of ‘extremist’ propaganda and agitation, there remains the fact that the Left is rather prone to a perspective according to which the class struggle is something waged by the workers and the subordinate classes against the dominant ones. It is of course that. But class struggle also means, and often means first of all, the struggle waged by the dominant class, and the state acting on its behalf, against the workers and the subordinate classes. By definition, struggle is not a one way process; but it is just as well to emphasize that it is actively waged by the dominant class or classes, and in many ways much more effectively waged by them than the struggle waged by the subordinate classes.
Secondly, but in the same context, there is a vast difference to be made – sufficiently vast as to require a difference of name – between on the one hand ‘ordinary’ class struggle, of the kind which goes on day in day out in capitalist societies, at economic, political, ideological, micro- and macro-, levels, and which is known to constitute no threat to the capitalist framework within which it occurs; and, on the other hand, class struggle which either does, or which is thought likely to, affect the social order in really fundamental ways. The first form of class struggle constitutes the stuff, or much of the stuff, of the politics of capitalist society. It is not unimportant, or a mere sham; but neither does it stretch the political system unduly. The latter form of struggle requires to be described not simply as class struggle, but as class war. Where men of power and privilege (and it is not necessarily those with most power and privilege who are the most uncompromising) do believe that they confront a real threat from below, that the world they know and like and want to preserve seems undermined or in the grip of evil and subversive forces, then an altogether different form of struggle comes into operation, whose acuity, dimensions and universality warrants the label ‘class war.’
Chile had known class struggle within a bourgeois democratic framework for many decades: that was its tradition. With the coming to the Presidency of Allende, the conservative forces progressively turned class struggle into class war – and here too, it is worth stressing that it was the conservative forces which turned the one into the other.” [….]
Salvador Allende’s “Last Words to the Nation.”
John Louth, Editor-in-Chief of Academic Law at Oxford University Press, has created a “debate map” “which indexes discussions by scholars of the public international law aspects of the debates over military intervention in Syria that have appeared in blogs and newspaper articles (plus two forthcoming journal articles and one recently published article).”
This is an extremely helpful resource and I hope it portends similar “maps” on other urgent debates in international law and politics.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, in discussing Syria, Norman Podhoretz portrays President Obama as a left wing radical out to undermine America’s power and influence in the world. He asserts that Americans have taken pride in the U.S.’s superpower status (never mind that the same Americans overwhelmingly oppose any kind of military action by the U.S. in Syria) and apparently he believes that the U.S. should do whatever it takes militarily to show what a great power we are. I suppose from the perspective of Podhoretz left wing radicalism is spreading throughout the country, not to mention vast swaths of the Republican Party. Someday Mr. Podhoretz will realize that the imperialistic days of the U.S. are numbered and that the limits of American power have been exposed. We have experienced defeats while having the audacity to declare “victory” in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Until Mr. Podhoretz recognizes our limits, he will appear as a fool masquerading as a sage.
More interesting, Mr. Podhoretz insists that the military permission Obama is seeking is unnecessary. That raises an interesting issue. Article 1 § 8 (11) gives Congress, not the President, the power to declare war. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. Even assuming armed forces is not limited to ground forces, President Obama could have acted on his own provided that he at least reported to Congress. Moreover, as a practical political matter many Presidents have pointedly ignored the War Powers Resolution including Reagan (sending troops to Lebanon); G.H.W. Bush (the initial stages of the Persian Gulf War); Clinton (sending troops to Haiti). Mr. Podhoretz is practically correct in claiming that the President does not need Congressional permission.
Nonetheless, the Congressional War Power is designed to make it difficult for us to engage in acts of war. It requires reflection and a certain degree of consensus. It is designed for Presidents to act after that process, not for Congress to ratify actions already taken. Ordinarily, the politics would have favored Obama’s taking military action without exposing the wisdom of it to the messiness of congressional politics. Perhaps he did not want to go to the G20 meeting in Russia having already acted. Perhaps he is one of those constitutional lawyers who sees the wisdom of congressional permission (though he did not see it in Libya).
Whatever the motivation, there is a chance the process will work. Because the American people no longer see us as world policeman, or because they think that futile military gestures are worse than no military gestures, Congress may refuse to give permission. Some think that a bad thing because Obama would look weak. I do not think ignoring the will of the people when the people are right is appropriate to help out the man without a plan. Some worry that if Obama is shown to be weak here, he will have less leverage in the debt ceiling negotiations. But the people will support him in those negotiations and the Republican suicidal tendencies will persist regardless of Obama’s perceived power. I say: worry about something else.
"War begets war, violence begets violence." With these words, Pope Francis called upon Catholics the world over to follow his lead and devote Saturday, September 7 to prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. What can we do to bring about peace in the world, the Pope fervently asked. We must touch peoples' hearts. And we do that through prayer.
The medieval Catholic Church developed the just-war doctrine as a means of resolving the relative justice or injustice of participation in war. In its most refined form, the just-war theory embraces a number of criteria governing entry into conflict and the means employed to fight a war. And it is worth reflecting upon these criteria in light of the Pope's heartfelt summons.
War, the medieval philosophers acknowledged, was one of the greatest evils human beings can inflict upon one another. Still, they asserted, where it has a reasonable chance of preventing a still greater evil, a state may go to war.
There is no doubt that the use of sarin gas against a civilian population is a very grave evil. For a moment, we should consider how people die from sarin gas. A particularly gruesome account of sarin's lethality has recently emerged from the archives of the Royal Air Force. Back in the early 1950s, the RAF engaged in a series of hideous experiments on human subjects to discover the concentration of sarin needed to kill young soldiers -- men of the age and physical condition they might confront should they ever come to blows with Russia.
The tests were not supposed to actually kill anyone. But one unfortunate airman, 20-year-old Ronald Maddison, received a fatal dose. An eyewitness described what he saw: "It was like being electrocuted, his whole body was convulsing. I have seen somebody suffer an epileptic fit, but you have never seen anything like what happened to that lad. The skin was vibrating and there was all this terrible stuff coming out of his mouth. It looked like . . . tapioca."
Bashar al Assad has rained exactly this sort of torturous death upon his people. Women, children, the old, the infirm -- all alike they have died agonizing deaths as sarin gas relentlessly degraded their nervous systems and caused them to choke in their own bodily fluids.
Let's not lose sight of the grotesque reality of chemical weapons. But what about military intervention? Can we make things better? War is evil. Assad is evil. But what is the likelihood of some targeted cruise missile strikes actually improving things? In the words of the philosophers, what is the reasonable likelihood of success?
First, it should be borne in mind that President Obama is not speaking of regime change. He has not even suggested undertaking an air campaign sufficient to eliminate Assad's large stockpiles of chemical weapons. And, indeed, such a campaign could quite possibly cause horrific casualties should nerve gas and other chemical agents be released in large quantities. The strategy, rather, seems to be to engage in a limited retaliatory strike, a calibrated response sufficient to signal Assad that he has crossed a line he must not cross over again.
It is at this point that two other features of just-war thought must enter the equation. Because war is a very grave evil, we must be vigilant not to cause collateral damage. And also, because of war's deeply wicked essence, it must truly be the last resort. All other options must be exhausted.
Let's talk first of collateral damage. Personally, I despise the expression "collateral damage." It is among the most Orwellian of terms. It masks the horror of war. War, after all, is not neat. Even just wars kill innocents. Just ponder the hundreds of thousands of Japanese non-combatants incinerated in the last days of World War II by our nightly fire-bombings of Japanese cities and then by two nuclear weapons. Our invasion of Iraq, its exponents promised us, would be brief and bloodless. And we know how that turned out.
What would be the collateral damage of a so-called surgical strike on Syria? Many would suffer, but let us consider one group in particular -- the Christian population of Syria. Christians are under siege throughout the Middle East. In Egypt, this summer, Islamic radicals targeted Coptic Christians across the country in bloody, fiery pogroms after Mohammed Morsi was removed from power. Christian institutions -- shrines, convents, hospitals, orphanages, places of worship -- were burnt and a number of Christians murdered in a rampage of violence some commentators have properly likened to Kristallnacht.
Indeed, the Egyptian mob attacks are part of a rising tide of violence against Christians throughout the Middle East. Dale Gavlak has recently documented an on-going "religicide" in Iraq. Our invasion of that nation succeeded in removing from power the bloody-minded Saddam Hussein but the costs of that operation continue to mount. Christian churches have been bombed, worshipers murdered, and leading Church officials murdered.
As in Egypt and Iraq, Christians make up a significant minority presence in Syria, perhaps ten percent of the population. The Christian presence in Syria goes back to the beginning. St. Peter is reputed to be not only the Bishop of Rome but, before that, the first Bishop of Antioch. Without a natural protector, Christians have depended on Syria's separation of religion and state for their defense. And with that barrier damaged or destroyed, Christians could be swept from the country. And it is foreseeable, perhaps even likely, that airstrikes on the Assad regime might hasten precisely that outcome.
War, the just-war theory finally counsels, must be the last resort. The religicide now haunting the Middle East teaches us why that should be so. I have not even mentioned the possibility that by striking at the Assad regime we could be emboldening the radical, al-Quaeda wing of the Syrian resistance. A Syrian rebel commander recently posted a video depicting how he killed an Assad supporter, cut open his chest, and sectioned and ate the poor man's heart. Who knows what atrocities a limited, clinical, retaliatory intervention might unleash? Credible commentators have suggested the breakdown and dissolution of the Syrian state itself.
I have not personally witnessed the horrors of war. But I know many who have. And I believe I would not be alone in saying that Pope Francis has struck exactly the right note -- "War begets war, violence begets violence." He acknowledges the hideousness of chemical weapons but fears for the consequences of retaliation. And he is not alone. I for one shall be fasting and praying for peace on Saturday, September 7. And I hope and pray that all like-minded Christians and other men and women of good will, might join in this summons. Who knows what good a motivated, non-violent Christianity might accomplish?
It seems as if Pope Francis has opened the door, ever so slightly, to a more open policy towards gays in the Catholic Church. When asked about gays in his airplane interview following his trip to Brazil, he famously responded: "If a person is gay and follows the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge?" While the interpretation of this statement has become a kind of theological Rorschach test -- people see in it what they want to see in it -- the pope himself has issued no clarifications. He seems to relish the ambiguity.
But if we see this statement as an olive branch, as an effort to accommodate to the Church people with same-sex attractions, then we are entitled to ask Catholic institutions to take the next step: Catholic entities, especially Catholic schools, should stop firing gays and gay-rights supporters. After all, the immediate context of Pope Francis' "who am to judge?" came amidst calls to fire Monsignor Battista Ricca from his position at the Vatican Bank after he was revealed to be gay.
Such a resolution, furthermore, would fit our back-to-school season. Just like New Year's celebrations, the back-to-school season is the start of a new academic year and the right time for fresh beginnings and new directions. And last year was a truly atrocious one for firings. Just consider:
In February, 2013, Mike Moroski was fired from his position as Assistant Principal at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati. By all accounts, he was well-regarded by students and colleagues alike. He kept a zero tolerance policy where school bullying was concerned and won respect for that. Furthermore, he did not shun students who got in trouble, but met with them, talked with them, and encouraged them to improve their conduct. He taught students leadership skills and helped encode in them the value of integrity -- being consistent in words and deeds.
But none of this mattered. Moroski harbored a forbidden political view -- a political view, not a theological one. He believed that the State should recognize same-sex unions and he said so on his blog. And for this thought-crime, he had to go. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati acted to discharge him from his position.
His students immediately noticed the flaw in the Archdiocese's reasoning: "They point out that his blog post supported gay civil unions but didn't ask the Catholic Church to sanction them." He had signed a promise not to contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church and his blog was careful not to cross that line. His stance was that the State -- but not the Church -- had the right and even the obligation to make marriage available to same-sex couples. This distinction, however, was lost on the Archdiocese.
Nor was this the only bleak news to come out of Ohio. In April, 2013, Carla Hale was fired from her position at Bishop Watterson High School in Clintonville, near Columbus. She had taught at the school for nearly 20 years when her mother passed away. Her mother's obituary made mention of Hale's long-time partner. Some parent, hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, sent the obituary to officials in the Diocese of Columbus. And the Diocese, acting apparently on a morals clause in Hale's contract, terminated her.
So much for the grief she must have been feeling from the loss of her mother. In mid-August, we learned that she settled a lawsuit against the Diocese but the settlement did not include the possibility of reinstatement.
And then this summer came word of the case of Ken Bencomo. Bencomo was a "star educator," a teacher at St. Lucy's Priory High School in Glendora, California. He had taught at the school for 17 years and for 10 of those years his superiors were aware that he was gay. Back in those happier years, he had even introduced his partner to school officials with no adverse consequences.
But in early July, following the Supreme Court's decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, striking down Proposition Eight, Bencomo took the apparently forbidden step of regularizing his relationship. He married his long-time partner Christopher Persky in a union that is fully valid under California law. Yes, St. Lucy's Priory High School probably has the constitutional right to terminate Bencomo for taking this step. But why do it?
Let us remember, once again, that Pope Francis made his statement about not judging gays in circumstances similar to the facts of these cases: Monsignor Ricca, in the pope's judgment, was just the man to help clean up the mess at the Vatican Bank. And he is gay. And 15 or so years ago, he had taken a lover, or two, or three. And the pope was willing to look past this history, and focus on Ricca's many fine qualities.
It is time, well past time, for Catholic schools to make this back-to-school resolution: No more firings of gays or gay-rights supporters in the new school year.
My contribution to this celebration is inclined toward the cerebral so, in honor of this day, here is a link to the latest draft of my bibliography for “Workers, the World of Work, and Labor Law,” available at the website for LAWCHA: Labor and Working-Class History Association. It is also found on the page for “Teaching Resources.”
“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. ... If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”—Frederick Douglass (emphasis added)
Thanks, first, to Jim Chen, for formatting this (and all my other) compilation(s), and second, to Ryan Poe at LAWCHA for posting the bibliography.
Image: Jacob Burck, The Lord Provides. Lithograph (1934). See too, Harry L. Katz, ed., Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1948. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1999.
This poster is found here.