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September 2005 Archives
The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist is guaranteed to heighten the culture war among an evenly divided electorate. With religious issues at the heart of much of the Supreme Court controversy, it is fascinating how much bile tinges the accusations of both sides—but particularly those who fashion themselves to be more religious by dint of their membership in the Republican Party. Election polling last year suggested that frequent church attendees among Catholics were more likely to be Republican supporters. This has been taken to mean that someone wearing the "faithful Catholic" label, such as Judge John Roberts, will faithfully reinforce the Republican agenda. The Catholic vote is so important to future Republican political success, don't be surprised if the nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is a Catholic woman.
But are "faithful Catholics" truly faithful to our Catholicism? A new study in the journal Foreign Affairs indicates that church attendance is among the strongest single predictors of whether someone supports the Bush War in Iraq, despite our late Pope's having labeled this conflict "a defeat for humanity." Gallup polling data also suggests strong support among this group for the death penalty, with 60% of practicing Catholics in favor of it. Catholic women are 40% more likely to seek abortions compared to Protestant women, according to data published in 1999, despite the Bishops' fervent opposition to abortion. We clearly have a tremendous amount of work to do among ourselves with regard to discovering the central tenet of our faith: that Jesus preached exclusively a gospel of love and self-sacrifice.
Defenders of the use of violence, like the Heritage Foundation-affiliated Catholic League, will argue that we need more violence-accommodating people (like them) on the Supreme Court. The jury is still out in this regard on Judge Roberts, who in his last Appellate Court decision enabled the sham trials that are about to commence under military auspices at Guantanamo Bay. Conservative Catholics may hope for someone who shares their harsh and simplistic view of abortion, but will these nominees have the strength of character to combat all the other occasions where fellow Catholics continue to advocate elements of a culture of death? Will they have the courage to stand up to the cruelty of the death penalty, which society imposes almost exclusively on those who cannot afford legal representation? Will they have the courage to compel the Bush Administration to end its policies of hiding tortured detainees from Congress and from the Red Cross? Will they have the courage to hold the Federal Government accountable for its vast underfunding of special education across the country?
The simultaneous replacement of Chief Justice Rehnquist compels us to ask some truly important questions of both nominees, in the wake of the dramatically consequential Bush v Gore decision over which Rehnquist presided. Regardless of one's political stripe, we must all agree that decision-making cannot be allowed that dispenses with the central principal of the Court's authority, namely the requirement that they provide a meaningful and generalizable rationale for their decisions (missing in Bush v Gore). "Because we say so" simply isn't good enough. In Bush v Gore, the Court never explained why it had the jurisdiction to stop the vote counting in Florida. The criminal conflict of interest of one justice, himself a Catholic whose wife was an employee of the Bush Campaign, has never been addressed by this Court.
Deciding the Florida election for Mr. Bush in a 5-to-4 decision turned out to be one of mammoth consequences, in its empowerment of the advocates of violence who have brought us hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq. Now we are faced with the prospect of possibly hundreds or thousands of deaths in New Orleans because of the absence of needed National Guard troops (many in Iraq) that would have evacuated all the hospitals and poor neighborhoods there after the flood. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the five Supreme Court justices who put Mr. Bush in office in 2000 bear significant responsibility for ignoring the law of unintended consequences that has led to all these deaths.
Pope John Paul II said just before the launching of the failed Bush War in Iraq, "Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man." We really will have accomplished something if we end up with two new Supreme Court justices who could ratify a judgment like that.
It is the human instinct to seek revenge. Thus after September 11, 2001, a stunned country found itself in the thrall of a few politicians who played to the nation's lowest instincts. Things could easily have been different. A more mature political response might have been one in which a president stood up and said that the United States would not succumb to fear and stoop to the methods of terrorists, but would seek to use all of the tools of the modern age for the alleviation of poverty and for the heightening of international understanding. Such would have been the Christian response, as is made manifestly clear in the Catholic scriptural readings for September 11, 2005.
Instead, we have witnessed four years of non-stop mutual recrimination and violence. It is worth asking whether the invasion of Afghanistan, which most everyone hailed as a logical consequence of Sept 11, has really made us any safer. The largely unseen consequences include monumental resurgence of heroin production, severe internecine violence, and daily injury to US Military personnel. Meanwhile, the number of international terrorist incidents has escalated four-fold since the US invasion of Afghanistan. If we thought that taking over that distant country would make us safer, we have been proven wrong.
The terrorists have also won at a more personal level. The massive redirection of financial and human resources away from problems like the protection of New Orleans is a testament to how much bin Laden has changed our lives. But more profoundly, our population has been hyped into a sense of anxiety over terrorism not seen since the 1950s. Can anyone truly say that the threats we face now as a nation match those of the Cold War, when nuclear weapons constantly targeted all our major cities?
The wholesale exploitation of Sept 11 to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq, with the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the resultant catastrophe of psychological injury to the children and adults there, is yet again a validation of Jesus' central message that violence begets only violence. There was a time when American presidents were embarrassed to wear their Christianity on their sleeve. They recognized that the perceived need to use violence in service of the national interest created an intrinsic contradiction with allegiance to Jesus' command of love toward our enemies. Now we have an Administration which, under the cover of the Christian name, has made violence its raison d'etre.
As we remember those innocent souls who lost their lives four years ago, let us also remember the more than one hundred people who have since died in the name of each victim of September 11. May we have the courage to awaken as a nation to the realization in Christ's name that the only path to "national security" is, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "War no more." No nation state can hope to achieve this perfection to which Jesus has called us, but all Christians should be able to agree that we should be part of the solution and not the devil at the heart of the problem.
Amidst the disaster of dueling hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, the American public is increasingly numb to the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq. US casualties surged past 1900 this week as a result of another roadside bomb, and virtually unnoticed was the destruction of another Iraqi city--Tal Afar, near the Syrian border. How many civilians were killed there? How many people's homes and livelihoods destroyed? Does anyone have any illusions that this cycle of destruction will result in peace someday?
Meanwhile, little noticed amidst President Bush's rare mea culpas about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was an acknowledgement of that most fundamental of Christian dogmas: we need each other. Mr. Bush went to the United Nations last week with a desperate plea for others to help the US in Iraq, and to thank all the nations that had come to our assistance in responding to the hurricane. It was a far cry from the unilateralist message brought by unconfirmed Ambassador John Bolton, who sought last minute to ram through hundreds of changes in the reform resolutions meant for the signatures of all the world's leaders.
Most particularly, Mr. Bush was forced to repudiate one of his central strategic aims of just two weeks ago, namely the neutralization of the Millennium Development Goals to significantly impact world poverty. Mr. Bolton had sought to eliminate all references to the MDGs, but Mr. Bush ultimately reaffirmed them in general terms in his remarks to the General Assembly. Remarkably, he said, "To spread a vision of hope, the United States is determined to help nations that are struggling with poverty. We are committed to the Millennium Development goals. This is an ambitious agenda that includes cutting poverty and hunger in half, ensuring that every boy and girl in the world has access to primary education, and halting the spread of AIDS -- all by 2015."
The one huge inconsistency is the Administration's having sabotaged international efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush said Thursday, "We must send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsor terror and pursue weapons of mass murder: You will not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world." This remark must be viewed currently as one of total hypocrisy, as the US seeks to weasel out of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to restart the production of fissile plutonium in Idaho, to design a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons for first use on the battlefield, and to plant such weapons in space. It is our responsibility to take Mr. Bush at his word, and to prevent him from being "allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world" through all these initiatives.
Otherwise, the sentiments now emerging from the Administration this week offer a glimmer of Christian hope, from this often values-free presidency: expressing remorse for hurting people with federal disaster management policies; asking for help and acknowledging our limitations, when he said, "The world is more compassionate and hopeful when we act together"; finally, recognizing that constructive solutions are more productive than threats at accomplishing laudable goals. He dwelt at length on international negotiations over farm subsidies, saying, "The United States is ready to eliminate all tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to free flow of goods and services as other nations do the same. This is key to overcoming poverty in the world's poorest nations. It's essential we promote prosperity and opportunity for all nations. By expanding trade, we spread hope and opportunity to the corners of the world, and we strike a blow against the terrorists who feed on anger and resentment."
After years of belittling and hobbling the United Nations, Mr. Bush began his remarks with the remarkable and unexpected words, "Thank you for your dedication to the vital work and great ideals of this institution." Perhaps a light has finally appeared in Washington, as a public policy of destruction stumbles briefly aside and for the moment allows a new spirit of constructive thinking to enter in. The proof will be found ultimately in how they back down from all the killing in Iraq, and from the mindless talk of developing new generations of nuclear and space-based weapons. Now that we've seen real threats to our national security, in the form of this cavalcade of hurricanes that must be related to global warming, the real test of national leadership will be to stop killing for oil in Iraq and start conserving energy to arrest global warming here at home.
People of many faiths are gathering this weekend in Washington DC to protest the ongoing killing in Iraq, with religious services on Sunday and lobbying on Monday. A new analysis has suggested that at least 45,000 Iraqi civilians are now being killed each year. Despite press reports playing up suicide bombings as the primary culprit for all the destruction in Iraq, these calculations suggest that most deaths are still caused directly by American military forces. With 600 traffic checkpoints in Baghdad alone, and the doors kicked down on 2000 private Iraqi homes a day, the daily life of average people in Iraq is unspeakably grim. It is impossible for us as Americans to imagine ourselves and our children living under these kinds of daily threats to our lives and our mental health. But the astounding irony is that it is being done by Americans, who pride themselves in being protectors of civil rights, in the name of freedom from fear, which is unimaginable for average Iraqis in the foreseeable future.
Attempts to demonize the opposition have also come under new scrutiny. An article in the Christian Science Monitor cites the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) for new findings suggesting that US and Iraqi authorities have knowingly propagated a “myth” that foreigners are fueling the Iraqi insurgency. CSIS suggests that the true number is less than 10% of the estimated 30,000 insurgents. Meanwhile, new allegations have been published of US Military abuse of prisoners in Iraq by officers of the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army. Three former soldiers gave evidence last week to Human Rights Watch and to Republican Senators John Warner and John McCain alleging widespread use of blunt trauma with the intent to break limbs, exposure to extremes of temperature, and malicious sleep deprivation at “Camp Mercury” near Falluja. President Bush’s well-calculated effort to paint his torture policies as the result of “a few bad apples” are now proving that it is George Appleseed himself who bears the full moral responsibility for the inhumane treatment of these thousands of people in their own country.
How can we as Catholics tolerate the perpetuation of torture in our name; of killing without end, for purposes of a heretofore unexplained Administration imperative for permanent occupation of Iraq; of military adventurism dedicated to maintaining an oil-based economy that is driving the indisputable fact of global climate change, even as the number and intensity of hurricanes around the world is spiraling upward? The good men and women of the US Military have dutifully complied with orders from the top, and our continued support for the civilian leadership places moral responsibility for all the killing squarely on our own shoulders. Are "preserving our way of life" or "defending American credibility" reason enough to stay one more day in Iraq? As St. Paul writes this weekend so beautifully in Philippians 2, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."
First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama