Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Saturday, April 08, 2006

A note on my Neo-Conned! essay

Back in Lent of 2003, Bp. John Botean, Romanian Catholic Eparch of Saint George in Canton OH, issued a startlingly specific condemnation of Catholic participation in the Iraq War. I thought then, and still think, that such a statement could not simply be issued and forgotten. The eparch's letter raised too many important issues for that to be its fate. I blogged to this effect on March 18, 2003 (updated March 20) calling attention to, and expressing serious reservations about, Bp. Botean's statement. Unfortunately, it appears that his letter, despite provoking serious questions on the use of canonical and moral authority, has been--at least at the hierarchical level--ignored.

Some time later, John Sharpe began assembling an impressive array of thinkers opposed to the Iraq War and, for obvious reasons, included Bp. Botean's letter in his collection. Despite my clear reservations about Bp. Botean's comments, Sharpe contacted me and asked permission to include my critique of Bp. Botean's comments in the book he edited, Neo-Conned! Just War Principles: a Condemnation of the War in Iraq (HIS Press, 2005). Happy to cooperate with those trying to make a serious contribution to public discourse, notwithstanding my disagreement with some of their positions, I gave that permission, and my essay on Bp. Botean's letter appears in Neo-Conned.

Since then, various promotional notices of Neo-Conned and some early (perhaps necessarily superficial) reviews of the book have, quite correctly, listed me as a contributor to Neo-Conned, but in a way that makes me feel like an usurper of the praise that those who agree with the book's major premise want to give its contributors, while simultaneously being presumed guilty by those opposed to the book's argument in that I published in Neo-Conned. Oh well, over time people will read Neo-Conned itself and form their own conclusions about what I did, and didn't, write.

Having said this much, though, and for what it might be worth, on the Iraq War I fall, if anywhere, in a very narrow no-man's-land. I say "if anywhere" because I have not really "taken a position" (whatever that exactly means) on the war for the simple reason that ordinary citizens (and I am unusually ordinary) generally do not have the information necessary to form persuasive opinions on such matters. Specifically, I think that Just War principles are primarily intended to inform governmental leaders in their decision-making (CCC 2309); the criteria by which we citizens relate to the government are distinguishable in a number of respects.

In any case, here in no-man's-land, we happy few think that a plausible case can be made for the United States to have invaded Iraq to rid that people of their mass-murdering, war-mongering, terrorist-abetting, eco-terrorist dictator Saddam Hussein, but that our staying there to try to establish a parliamentary democracy in a land with no 'democratic infra-structure' is, well, less plausible. I admit to being surprised that this reasoning finds so little resonance with others; it makes me wonder whether I/we have missed something important, but, there it is.

In any case, my comments about Bp. Botean, on my blog and in Neo-Conned, are only about the eparch's canonical and moral reasoning, on which topics I have some special qualifications to speak, and not about US participation in the Iraq War, on which matter I have no special qualifications with which to opine.

April 11: To my knowledge, Mark Brumley's criticism of Bp. Botean's letter has never been answered either.