Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Letter from Intelligence and Military Professionals on Use of Torture

Today, a letter was sent to the Judiciary Committee to the attention of Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Patrick Leahy. It represents the views of former US Government and military officials who served in the CIA, in the Army, in the Air Force, at the
Department of State and the FBI. It represents a consensus view that torture is an ineffective and immoral practice.

Read the letter

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Yea, those Muslims and their violence"

The Muslim world is furious; the rest of the world is nervous. The comments by the pope late last week marked his entry--whether intended or not--into the volatile world of religion and violence. And many Muslims are not liking what was said.

But was he only talking to them?

Christians seem oblivious of the connection between the remarks and our own practice of our own faith. On the topic of religion sanctioning violence, our response is, "yeah, those Muslims." Yet even though the pope used a Christian-Muslim dialogue to make his point, the speech itself was aimed at his own flock: the Christian world. And we too ought to feel the heat (as should Islamicists) of the pope's real bombshell last week at Regensburg: true faith has no room for violence.

Let the Muslim world ponder that claim. And let the Christian world—which has brought us World Wars, nuclear weapons, and now an ongoing hail of violence and threats of violence—ponder the claim with them.

By now most are familiar with the quote from the 15th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Debating with an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, the emperor took issue with the prophet's apparent approbation of violence and said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Yet that is not the end of the quote. It goes on to claim that "God is not pleased by blood....Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats....To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."
The pope states his interpretation here quite simply: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

How are we missing the relevance of these words for Western Christians who have put forward military might as a tool in "spreading freedom?" Certainly no one is saying the War on Terror is religious, but to hear the rhetoric and to see the ecclesial supporters, the whole enterprise has a kind of religious feel to it. And besides, if religious doctrine is no rational basis for war, is politics somehow okay?

George Weigel and Richard John Neuhaus seem increasingly perplexed by the growing pacifism of the Holy See. First they tried to dismiss John Paul the Great as a kindly old man who, of course, wants peace but really should stick to religion and let the U.S. exercise "prudential" warcraft. But now comes along Benedict, the one who in a May 2, 2003 Zenit interview said that "we should be asking whether it is still licit to speak of the very existence of a 'just war'."

And again in last week's Regensburg speech, the pope rejects the very basis for violence. It is not rational. One way of putting the pope's point is that the authentic commands of God are reasonable, even if faith is needed to penetrate their depths. And, of course, to see what the Father commands, we turn to the Son who shows us the face of the Father. In that turn, to Jesus Christ, we have full clarity. Christ offers a way of nonviolent, sacrificial love of friends and enemies. Period. No wiggle room for building nukes—whether it is Muslim Iran or Christian America-—or using violence to further principles.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

World Prayer for Peace, Assisi

The Community of Sant'Egidio just finished hosting the 20th annual inter-religious world prayer for peace in Assisi, an event that was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1986. Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter on peace to the gathering, and Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community, offered his typically wise and loving remarks.

I found his address at the end of the gathering particularly moving. He is so right in saying that conflict is not our metaphysical destiny, and right in pulling the rug out from the "realism" that finds war the only outcome to the mixing of religion and civilizations in the global theater. Riccardi reminds us that we are destined for peace and it is our obligation to actively seek it.

Find the list of all talks given at the gathering here.