I write the day after military action was launched. What happens in the days and weeks ahead nobody knows, and any speculation would be dated by the time you read this. So there is no point in that. What can be known now, and is very much worth trying to understand, is how the several religious communities have attempted to influence the decisions leading up to war. The following is an annotated summary of positions, arguments, admonitions, and agitations that reflect the ways in which religious leadership tried-for better and worse-to bring moral judgment to bear in a time of war.

“How does it feel to be all alone, or almost all alone?” The reporter’s question suggested that I was the only person in a Roman collar defending American policy in the media. He was not quite right about that, but it is true that there weren’t many of us. And I did not think of myself as defending American policy so much as trying to contribute a measure of moral clarity in a time of great confusion. Of course, I readily admit that those who disagree thought they were the ones providing moral clarity. Perhaps the best way to begin is to offer a précis of the arguments I’ve been making, with special reference to Catholic positions, and then come back to some alternative accounts of moral duty in a time of war. We will want to attend also to the sounds of oldline and evangelical Protestants, as well as Jews, in the public square.

Up until the first rocket hit Baghdad, the Pope was urging us to pray that Iraq would be disarmed without resort to military force. For months he tirelessly repeated that war is always a defeat for humanity, a failure to maintain the peace of right order. St. Augustine called the peace of right order tranquillitas ordinis. In addition, the Pope urgently reminded us that in history nothing is inevitable, and that with God all things are possible. In every statement I have made, I have underscored my unqualified agreement with that message of the Holy Father.

That message is entirely consistent with the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and others in the just war tradition that, in the absence of tranquillitas ordinis, war may sometimes be a moral duty in order to overturn injustice and protect the innocent. The cause must be just, and the just cause in this case is the disarmament of Iraq. That just cause was explicitly and consistently affirmed by the Pope, also in his messages to both Saddam Hussein and President Bush. And it was affirmed by multiple resolutions of the UN Security Council.

The question was whether that just cause could be vindicated without resort to military force. France-despite having voted for the unanimously approved Resolution 1441 that presumably gave Saddam one last chance to disarm-was in the lead of those contending that it would be wiser to wait and see what Iraq might do over a period of months or even years, during which time it could be safely contained without war. How best to vindicate the just cause, I insisted, is a matter of practical wisdom, of what is called prudential judgment. In just war doctrine, the Church’s competence and responsibility is to set forth the pertinent moral principles. As No. 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear, the application of those principles to specific cases is the responsibility of political leaders. It is true that religious leaders can claim that the principles are being ignored or misapplied, but in the latter case they do so at the considerable risk of exceeding their competence and undermining their credibility. The questions raised to religious spokesmen are inescapable: On the basis of what expert knowledge do you advocate policy x against policy y? By what authority or by whose authority do you speak?

Criminal Negligence

It was pointed out that for twelve years Saddam Hussein had successfully defied the Security Council, beginning with his refusal to disarm as required by the terms that ended the first Gulf War. He had been responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands (some authorities say over a million) people in aggressive war, and had used weapons of mass destruction to slaughter thousands of his own people. He possessed and was bent upon further developing more horrible weapons; he had publicly stated his support for the attack of September 11, and was in contact and declared sympathy with terrorists devoted to multiplying such attacks. None of these facts were in dispute.

In the judgment of the U.S. and many other governments, Saddam posed a grave and imminent threat to America, to world peace, and to the lives of innumerable innocents. If that judgment is correct, I argued, the use of military force to remove that threat is, in the absence of plausible alternatives, both justified and necessary. Then I always added this: heads of government who are convinced of the correctness of that judgment would be criminally negligent and in violation of their solemn oath to protect their people if they did not act to remove such a threat.

I emphasized that, as a theologian and moralist, I had no special competence to assess the threat posed by Iraq. On the basis of available evidence and my considered confidence in those responsible for making the relevant decisions, I was inclined to believe and I earnestly prayed that they would do the right thing. I was impressed by the degree to which opposing contentions turned on this question of confidence, or, rather, widespread lack of confidence in-indeed contempt for-George W. Bush. In the slogans of street demonstrators, but also in statements by churchmen, the opposition positions advanced frequently came down to little more than defamation of presidential character. It was not an edifying spectacle.

Discussions and debates sometimes turned on the meaning of preventive or preemptive war. Those terms were also used by the Administration, and I argued that they should not be. Some even spoke approvingly of “wars of choice.” War, if it is just, is not an option chosen but a duty imposed. Just war is in response to aggression. Iraq’s aggression was first against Kuwait, then in defiance of the terms of surrender, then in support of, if not direct participation in, acts of terrorism. Joined to that was the brutal aggression against its own citizens, and the possession of weapons of mass destruction which it could use or permit others to use for further aggression. Q: But how could we know what Saddam would do? A: We couldn’t know for sure. Q: Wouldn’t it be better to wait and see? A: To wait until he did what it was reasonable to believe he had the means and intention of doing would be to wait too long. Leaders guilty of such negligence would rightly be held morally accountable.

And so the arguments went back and forth. As it happens, there is in the Catholic tradition a considerable literature on prudential moral action in the face of aggressive threats and great injustice. Augustine, Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria, and Francisco Suarez, for example, all addressed these questions. The almost total absence of reference to such recognized authorities in statements by Catholics, including bishops and curial officials in Rome, was impressive. Of course there are novel elements in any historical circumstance, but it is particularly unseemly for Catholics to talk like neophiliacs, so enamored of the new that they forget the centuries of reflection that is the Catholic moral tradition.

The Locus of Moral Authority

A curiously prominent novelty in the discussion was the claim that the United Nations is the exclusive locus of moral authority in international affairs. As it happens, since 1945 only two wars-the Korean and the 1991 Gulf War-have been endorsed by the Security Council. And the Korean War was approved only by the happenstance that the Soviet Union was on one of its “walkouts” and therefore could not exercise its veto. Depending on the definition of what constitutes a war, there have been between 100 to 180 wars in the world since 1945. As it also happens, Resolution 1441, unanimously approved in November, demanded that Iraq disarm immediately or face the consequences. Nobody claimed that Iraq had complied, and proposals for “extended timelines” and the like appeared to invite no more than continuing defiance of the past twelve years. I agreed with those who said that no further UN “authorization” was required, if it was morally required in the first place.

The day after military action began, the evening news headlined, “Vatican condemns both sides for war.” Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Pope received news of the war with “deep pain.” The official statement explained: “On the one hand, it is to be regretted that the Iraqi government did not accept the resolutions of the United Nations and the appeal of the Pope himself, as both asked that the country disarm. On the other hand, it is to be deplored that the path of negotiations, according to international law, for a peaceful solution of the Iraqi drama has been interrupted.” On the one hand, on the other hand. What Saddam did was regretted; what Bush did was deplored. Some pounced on this as an instance of precisely that false evenhandedness of “moral equivalence” that John Paul so sharply opposed during the Cold War. Others deplored that in none of the statements issuing from the Holy See was there any reference to the totalitarian oppression and massive violation of human rights by the Saddam regime. The suggestion seemed to be that there were two heads of state, Saddam and Bush, who disagreed about how to implement UN resolutions, and the latter was guilty of abandoning the search for a peaceful solution by resorting to war. Moreover, there was no mention of the fact that in the 1991 Gulf War the U.S. had the backing of the Security Council and therefore had presumably satisfied the requirements of “international law,” and yet in 1991 the Pope condemned military action against Iraq in what George Weigel, author of the monumental biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, calls “apocalyptic” terms.

It is not easy to counter the complaint of those who say that the Holy See seriously confused the question of moral legitimacy in international affairs, sometimes leaving the impression that questions of war and peace, right and wrong, come down to how the Pope feels about things. I do not accept that complaint, but it is most particularly puzzling that, with respect to moral credibilty and authority, some in the Curia seem bent upon hitching the wagon of the Catholic Church to the dubiously constructed institution that is the UN. The life and mission of the Catholic Church will continue long after the UN is a historical footnote along with, say, the Congress of Vienna. The experience of the last quarter century seems to have been forgotten by some. When, for instance, the Pope was playing a crucial role in bringing about the end of the evil empire of the Soviet Union, the UN was more than simply useless. Why now is it the bearer of moral authority in international authorities? If indeed that is, as some contend, the position of the Catholic Church.

Pacem in Terris

The claim that the UN is the exclusive locus of legitimate authority in international affairs was over the past three months frequently asserted by leading churchmen, but it was not argued, and certainly it was not argued in terms of Catholic doctrine regarding legitimate authority. The week before the military action began, I was invited to give a lecture at the UN to the Pacem in Terris Society. The encyclical Pacem in Terris was issued by Pope John XXIII forty years ago this Holy Week. In working through it again, I was impressed by how judicious it is in its discussion of the UN, affirming it chiefly as a defender of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nowhere in the encyclical, or in John Paul II’s discussion of it in his world peace message this January, is there a suggestion that the UN has supplanted the nation-state. In fact, to the consternation of many world government proponents of the past and present, the UN is constituted on the premise of national sovereignty. Further, the Security Council-with its permanent members possessing the right to veto-very deliberately reflects the realities of politics among great powers. (At least what were thought to be the realities back in 1945 when it was envisioned that France might again be a great power.) The U.S. and others who wrote the UN Charter understood the Charter. Can anyone imagine a President of the United States declaring that, as a matter of principle, any use of American military power is subject to the veto of Russia, China, and France? Any President who said so would soon be out of office. Yet in the recent debate, that was precisely the interpretation of the Charter espoused by many, including prominent Catholic leaders.

The UN officials and leaders of nongovernmental organizations at the Pacem in Terris meeting were keenly aware that these were probably the most critical days for the UN since its founding. Some of them had over the years worked closely with the Holy See in countering UN policies with respect to abortion, family policy, population, and related questions. They were deeply troubled, as was I, by prelates associated with the Holy See now bent on so inflating the moral authority of the UN. It was strange to hear bishops seeming to suggest that the UN had also supplanted the Holy See, claiming for it a moral authority that many had previously associated with the Catholic Church.

And all present at the lecture were grimly aware of the possibility that the UN will go the way of the League of Nations if it is not prepared to support the enforcement of its own resolutions. That would seem to be the almost inevitable consequence if the UN persists in rejecting support such as that of the coalition led by the U.S. in Iraq. Contra the proponents of a world government, the UN is constituted by a recognition that there is a necessary connection between power and moral responsibility. Nations do and should act in their own interests, in the hope that interests can be coordinated to serve the common good. The UN has sometimes been useful toward that end, and many would understandably regret its self-inflicted diminishment or demise.

For the first time since the founding of the UN, opinion makers in the mainstream of American political discourse are advocating a formal or de facto withdrawal from the organization by the U.S. It is said by others that, if there were no UN, we would have to invent it, and there is something to that. I expect the UN will be significantly modified, but not before its present apparat puts up a vigorous fight to make it what it never was and was never meant to be. Or it will be replaced by new institutions more attuned to the nexus of power and responsibility and aimed at coordinating national interests in the service of peace, never forgetting that peace as tranquillitas ordinis will always be sadly deficient short of Our Lord’s return in glory.

Elevating the Public Discourse

In the debate leading up to military action, there was much understandable talk about the terrible consequences of war. The question of consequences bears strongly, of course, on the just war criterion of proportionality. One was struck by the ways in which the Bush Administration addressed the Iraq crisis with explicit reference to just war doctrine, including proportionality. Protests in Europe-more precisely, in what is now called Old Europe-frequently alluded to American inexperience and “cowboy” impetuosity. Such statements would be insulting were they not so demeaning of those who make them, including prelates associated with the Holy See. As it is, we must exercise a measure of patience with societies that have run out of steam and resent the vibrancy of America. A cardinal tells me that I must understand that his brethren in the Curia reflect the dominant views of their own countries, which are usually of the Old Europe. No doubt, but the Church is supposed to be universal, as in “catholic.”

On the putative dangers posed by American immaturity and inexperience, one might consult the history of, say, the last hundred years. I pointed out that the record of the U.S. in combating tyranny, defending freedom, providing humanitarian aid, motoring economic development, and securing a modicum of world order compares very favorably with the record of, for instance, Germany, France, Russia, or Italy. Yes, it was said in response, but you can’t expect Europeans to be grateful forever for what the U.S. did in two World Wars and the Cold War. In effect: What have you done for us lately? After all, the end of the Cold War was more than a decade ago. This seemed odd coming from bishops. It used to be said that Rome thinks in terms of centuries.

Ranking ecclesiastics took up the time of U.S. decision makers, badgering them about whether they had thought of this possible consequence or that. What about Muslim reaction? What about civilian casualties? The simple answer is that such consequences are unknowable and therefore unknown, except to God. I know that possible consequences have been considered, day and night for many months, by competent parties. I know there is a determination to minimize damage to innocents, and a reasoned expectation that successful action will weaken Islamist enemies of civilization and strengthen the Muslim forces of decency and freedom. The U.S. plans for changing the politics and culture of the Middle East, including Palestinian-Israeli relations, are indeed ambitious. Nobody can know for sure what will happen, but religious leaders should bring more to the discussion than their fears. Nervous hand-wringing is not a moral argument.

I had said that we should, with the Holy Father, be on our knees in prayer that Iraq will disarm without military action. If war comes, I said, we must pray that a just cause prevails-swiftly, surely, with minimal damage to innocents and with a clear determination to help the Iraqi people then freed from a brutal tyranny. Nobody asked or expected that the Catholic Church bless military action as though it were a Christian crusade. After the war, the Church, and the Holy Father in particular, will be indispensable as an interlocutor in moving Islam away from the most ominously destructive possibilities of a “clash of civilizations.” In sum, the position that some of us tried to advance during these weeks and months was this: Military action in order to disarm Iraq can be morally justified in terms of just war doctrine. Whether, in the retrospect of history, it will be viewed as a prudent course of action, nobody can know. If such action is undertaken, however, we have no moral alternative but to pray that a just cause will prevail justly.

And now war has come. By the time you read this, a great deal more will likely be known about consequences. At present, I’m afraid it must be said that the public witness of the Catholic Church, severely battered by the sex abuse scandals of the past year, has been further confused and weakened. Compared to, for instance, the leadership of oldline Protestantism, the Catholic bishops in the U.S. have been generally careful in their public statements, mainly confining themselves to raising questions. When military action commenced, Bishop Wilton Gregory of the U.S. episcopal conference issued a carefully crafted statement, noting that faithful Catholics and people of good will can disagree about the wisdom of the policy, and that the Church spiritually supports both those who conscientiously support and those who conscientiously oppose the war. The same carefulness did not characterize the statements by officials of the Holy See, some of whom have come unconscionably close to suggesting that Catholic Americans must choose between loyalty to their country and fidelity to the Church. If, as one curial archbishop has declared, the coalition led by the U.S. is engaged in a “crime against peace,” it would seem to follow that our soldiers are engaged in a criminal activity.

As you might imagine, I have received many messages taking issue with what I have said. A surprising number attribute to the Pope things he has not said. Don’t I know that the Pope has declared the war to be “illegal,” “immoral,” “in violation of the Church’s teaching,” and “a crime against humanity”? No, I don’t, and I don’t know that because he has never said what many are claiming he said. The “crime against humanity” line was cited even by the Wall Street Journal, which, to its credit, promptly retracted when the error was pointed out. There are times when Catholics, and all Christians, must choose between complicity in great injustice and fidelity to moral truth. That choice has over the centuries produced martyrs beyond numbering. For a curial official even to imply that coalition soldiers and others are facing such a choice is a reckless abuse of ecclesiastical office. Unless, of course, he really thinks that his view of the war is binding upon consciences. Were that the position of the Church, one would expect the Pope to say so, and the Pope has not said anything even remotely like that. It is to be feared that some churchmen are more enamored of being players in world politics than devoted to being shepherds of souls.

At the same time, and somewhat contradictorily, curial officials have said that they are not arguing moral theology but are making prudential judgments, drawing on “the Church’s vast experience in international affairs.” People may be forgiven if, faced with the choice between the geopolitical expertise of the Curia and that of the people surrounding George W. Bush and Tony Blair, they choose the latter. A crucial question is this: In the past three months, has the Holy See elevated the level of moral discourse or added to the discussion considerations that would otherwise have been neglected? It is not easy to answer that question in the affirmative.

His most devoted admirers acknowledge that the Pope bears a measure of responsibility for this unhappy circumstance. And it is a mildly amusing nuisance to hear chronic dissenters from firm magisterial teaching on faith and morals proclaim that, on war and peace, they are loyal to the Pope, while the champions of magisterial teaching are, in fact, dissenters. Well, let them have their little fun while they can. With respect to providing moral clarity about war and peace, it must candidly be admitted that this has not been this pontificate’s finest hour. But nobody should be shaken too severely. Flannery O’Connor said that we sometimes suffer more from the Church than for the Church. And it is really not suffering so much as it is a matter of disappointment, and more than a little embarrassment.

T he Religious Influence

Within hours of the military action, the Pew Research Center did a national survey to find out how statements by religious leaders affect views of the war. It turned out that “only ten percent” said statements of religious leaders were more determinative than-in order of influence-the opinions of family and friends, political commentators, elected leaders, and entertainment celebrities. (In terms of influence, celebrities were a distant last.) I’m surprised that the determinative influence of religious leaders was as high as ten percent. Apart from pacifists who are opposed in principle to all military actions, thoughtful people take their cues on such matters from those who they assume are most knowledgeable, which usually does not include priests, pastors, and rabbis. According to one news story on the survey, it showed that Catholic priests were “overwhelmingly” opposed to the war. This is based on the finding that 14 percent of Mass-goers said their priest spoke against the war and none said their priest spoke in favor of the war. Again, given the widespread pacifism among Catholic clergy, I am surprised that the number outspokenly opposed is so low. And what would it mean to preach what the reporter calls a “pro-war” homily? I doubt if any priest unfurled a flag in the pulpit and called for death to the infidels. And a good thing, too. Whoever paid for the Pew survey should ask for their money back.

Not, of course, that many religious leaders did not do their utmost to influence public opinion. There is, for instance, the moribund National Council of Churches (NCC), which is not much heard from in recent years, except when it gets an influx of outside funding to tout a favored issue. The NCC has been reduced to hiring itself out as a rent-a-blessing agency for leftist causes. The last time it got some national attention was its 2000 campaign to return little Élian Gonzalez to the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. The Rev. Robert Edgar, a former Democratic Congressman, is the general secretary of the NCC, and a while back he led a group that took out a full page ad in the New York Times and other papers (costing well over $100,000) addressed to President Bush: “Jesus Changed Your Heart. Now Let Him Change Your Mind.” The ad said, “You’ve proclaimed the crucial role of your faith in your life, and you’ve said that people of faith are often ‘our nation’s voice of conscience.’ Listen to our voices now.” I expect that Mr. Bush had different voices in mind.

After protesting America’s “unprovoked” attack on “a nation which is not threatening the United States,” and predicting that “it will bring death and destruction to Baghdad, a huge city filled with innocent civilians,” Mr. Edgar and his colleagues declared: “It is inconceivable that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and the Prince of Peace, would support this proposed attack.” After delivering themselves of Our Lord’s opinion on U.S. policy, the leaders concluded by casting doubt on George W. Bush’s faith: “If Jesus Christ truly ‘changed your heart’ as you have said, let him change your mind.” In other words, the authenticity of your faith is being tested by whether you agree with us who agree with Jesus. Call it arrogance or call it blasphemy or call it just plain dumb, the leadership of the Protestant liberal oldline has once again reacted in a manner utterly predictable and utterly shameless. Edgar led a “peace delegation” that was well received in France, Germany, and Iraq. He and his fellow delegates have complained loudly and persistently that Bush refuses to meet with them. I expect the President has heard their message that he is a usurper, a moron, and a war criminal, and really does not feel a pressing need to hear it again.

Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has an additional and somewhat more personal complaint. In the circles in which he moves in Europe and America, he says, the animosity toward Bush and his policies is so strong that “I am embarrassed to be an American.” I may be wrong, but I don’t think the President is inclined to give a great deal of weight to the social embarrassments of Bishop Griswold when pondering questions of national interest and the securing of world peace. Bishop Griswold’s complaint was voiced in connection with his delivering himself of moral reflections on the war. Not only is Bush’s policy immoral and illegal, but, among Bishop Griswold’s kind of people, it is thought to be in very bad taste. One counts on the Episcopalians to make the clinching argument against the war.

Evangelicals and Others

For the first time in years, the media have not been going on about the dangerous “religious right.” Perhaps because the assumption is that Bush embodies the danger. Newsweek ran a long cover story on his faith, revealing, inter alia, his creepy habit of getting up early in the morning to pray and read the Bible. The story was accompanied by a column that condescendingly chided Bush for his “God talk” and helpfully reminded him that “self-examination and repentant action are critical components of any faith.” (Albeit, one might note, not a conspicuous component in contemporary Islam.) Among many protesting U.S. policy, including the religiously credentialed, the theme that Bush is a religious fanatic who thinks he has a monopoly on knowing God’s purposes vied with the warning that he is a Texas cowboy set upon proving his manhood, regardless of the consequences for others.

The leaders of “the religious right,” and evangelical Protestants more generally, have not been notably vocal during these weeks and months. Several explanations are offered. Most evangelicals strongly support the Administration, it is said, and they assume the Administration knows that. Plus, most evangelicals do not belong to tightly organized denominations with national bureaucracies issuing pronouncements on public affairs. Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention has been outspokenly supportive, as have some leaders of “parachurch” organizations. And I imagine that in many local evangelical congregations there have been a good many sermons that the aforementioned reporter might call “pro-war.” But evangelical Protestant leaders have not been prominent in the public discussion. I suppose they figured they didn’t have to be.

If there were such a thing as a Ramsey Award and I was in charge of it, I might give it to the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). The late Paul Ramsey, a Methodist ethicist who taught for many years at Princeton, urged upon religious leaders certain “self-denying ordinances.” One such ordinance is the Wittgensteinian-sounding rule that, on those things on which one cannot speak with authority, one should remain silent. Put differently: when it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak. This came to mind as I was reading another roundup of religious pronouncements on the war. Last on the list was Gerald B. Kieschnick of the LCMS. He said, “We hold up the biblical principles of just war for our people’s consideration. But our people have the freedom to form their own conclusions.” I expect my friend Paul Ramsey would approve of Dr. Kieschnick’s getting the Ramsey Award.

The idea is not that religious leaders should remain silent in a time of war. Far from it. Precisely as religious leaders, they should have a great deal to say that needs saying: about conflict and reconciliation in a sinful world, about the relationship between peace and justice, about the virtues of courage and self-sacrifice, about the formation of conscience under conflicting pressures, about the source of the peace in which we ultimately trust. My point, in agreement with Paul Ramsey, is that the trouble begins when religious leaders abandon their presumed competence as theological and moral teachers in favor of political punditry and policy prescriptions. As individuals, they may of course express political opinions, which others may take for what they are worth. But any political statement that begins with “As religious leaders, we . . . ” should be accompanied by a warning label indicating the probable abuse of religion.

Then there is the Jewish community. Jews and Jewish organizations have been generally supportive of the action against Iraq. This has not escaped the attention of hard core anti-Semites who detect a Bush-Sharon conspiracy behind the entire war on terrorism, including September 11. Overt anti-Semitism is prominent in European protests, notably in France, but there are whiffs of it here as well, from both the left and the right. Pat Buchanan’s new magazine, the American Conservative, rails against Jews in high places who are promoting American “imperialism.” Buchanan rightly says that the charge of anti-Semitism is sometimes used to silence legitimate criticism, but then he tauntingly employs language that makes the charge almost irresistible. He says that the cabal of Jews in high office and influential publications who are driving Bush policy have loyalties divided between the U.S. and Israel. Or maybe not so divided after all. For them, he writes, it is a matter of “one nation, one leader, one party. Israel, Sharon, Likud.” Get it? Ein Volk, Ein Führer, Ein Partie. This is vile, and it morally discredits Mr. Buchanan’s potentially useful role in cautioning against those, both Jews and non-Jews, who sometimes appear to be beating the drums for perpetual warfare as the prescription for American vitality and leadership in the world.

Short of the City of God

Peace is a very great good. The statement is commonly attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Peace is not merely the absence of warfare but the presence of justice.” St. Augustine said it first in speaking of peace as tranquillitas ordinis. Right order is always in short supply. And there will always be disagreement over when the use of force is required to put to right grave disorder. Setting aside the principled pacifists, the inveterate Bush-haters, and those who are always on the side that is against America, there are millions of thoughtful people both here and abroad who are profoundly uneasy about, or strongly opposed to, the war in Iraq. I believe the war is just. Whether it turns out to have been wise depends upon contingencies that are known to none but God. There are great risks in such actions. There are, it can be reasonably argued, greater risks in inaction. The decision against military action is as much a morally fraught decision as the decision for military action.

As people have tried to make their decision over the past weeks and months, the sounds of religion in the public square have, with few exceptions, not been helpful. More often than not, religious leaders have sown confusion, inflamed passions, and demeaned the traditions they are called to represent by appending them to partisan political positions. As of this writing, our nation is at war. The sound of religion that is now required is the sound of urgent prayer that our cause may be just; that, if just, it may prevail swiftly and surely and with minimal damage to innocents; and that, if it prevails, it may secure a greater measure of the tranquillitas ordinis that, in the City of Man so far from the final triumph of the City of God, is never more than approximate and always provisional.

Articles by Richard John Neuhaus

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