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The Wheaton from the Chaff

As a Wheaton alumnus who has been received into the Catholic Church—and thereby lost a chair at another evangelical school, Gordon College in Massachusetts—I read with interest Alan Jacobs’ account of Wheaton College’s dismissal of a convert to Catholicism (“To Be a Christian College,” April).

I certainly support Jacobs in every point he made. And may I say also that I have immense admiration for President Litfin. I consider him a trusted friend. Insofar as his task is to maintain Wheaton’s specifically evangelical identity, he acted well. I understand the dismissed professor, Joshua Hochschild, also takes this view.

As one whose background lay in the most praiseworthy sectors of American evangelicalism, and who considers the evangelicals to be very strong allies of the ancient Church, I find myself in the odd position of often explaining (to their credit) the evangelicals to Catholics, and at the same time assisting brilliant and devout young men, by this time numberless, in their pilgrimage toward the fullness of the Faith as that has been understood and taught by the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Doctors of the Church from the beginning.

I suppose that any orthodox Catholic would want to urge, in the conversation among academics anyway, that primary sources, so to speak, be brought into play. Having been a Protestant for fifty years, I am aware of the views that prevail in that quarter of Christendom on the big questions: the papacy, the Blessed Virgin, the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the sacraments. My experience, even in the higher reaches of evangelical academia, most notably in the seminaries, is that once you have explained what the Church actually teaches on a given point, the rejoinder is rarely, “That is heresy.” Rather, one hears often, “Oh. I had never thought of that.” Meanwhile, I have often pointed out to Catholic audiences that the reason their Protestant friends think that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary is that a lot of Catholics think that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The list in this connection is a very long one.

I would wish, most sedulously, to invite my evangelical brothers-in—arms, in this epoch when the Faith itself is being driven into the defensive by titanic forces, to consult such sources as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents of Vatican II, and to read such authors as Romano Guardini, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Karl Adam, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Louis Bouyer, and all the encyclicals of John Paul II. I think they will find it all fruitful, exhilarating, and even perhaps bracing.


Thomas Howard
St. John’s Seminary
Boston, Massachusetts


Being both a graduate of the English department at Wheaton College and an Episcopal clergyman, I was doubly intrigued to see how Alan Jacobs would consider the college’s decision not to renew Joshua Hochschild’s contract. At almost every turn, I found myself in agreement with Jacobs, most especially in his assertion that “it is important to avoid the claim that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are insignificant,” while at the same time maintaining that there is a great diversity among Protestants at the college itself.

My hesitation, however, surfaced when Jacobs included Anglicans within a list of Protestant bodies represented at Wheaton. Since Jacobs is a self-confessed Episcopalian, I would have thought that he would have included in his discussion the shifting sand upon which Anglicans stand between these two extremes within this discussion. I stand, as an Anglican, in what is clearly the “Catholic” camp, and I would assert that Anglicanism, in its ideal form, maintains a much greater concomitance with the Roman Catholic Church than with any other Protestant body.

I treasure and am grateful for my experience at Wheaton College (where I became an Anglican, incidentally) and would be honored to be able to teach the kinds of students Wheaton consistently attracts. But if the Statement of Faith as articulated by President Litfin remains the official interpretation, I could not, an Anglican, sign that statement in good conscience. If Wheaton is going to clarify its position regarding how the Statement of Faith is to be read in light of Roman Catholics, just consideration should also be given to the many Anglicans who share with most Roman Catholics the kinds of assumptions that make them “not Protestants” in Litfin’s estimation.


Rev. Matthew S.C. Olver
Church of the Incarnation
Dallas, Texas


In his intriguing article, Alan Jacobs asks, “Would the clause in the Statement of Faith affirming that ‘all human beings are born with a sinful nature that leads them to sin in thought, word, and deed’ need to be revised to make room for those who believe in Mary’s immaculate conception?” Allow me to ask as a follow-up: Could Martin Luther, given his views on the Immaculate Conception, teach at Wheaton? Suppose we construe Wheaton’s Statement of Faith to require those who teach there to subscribe to the Reformer’s meaning of justification by grace through faith. Would Augustine, given his views on inherent righteousness, grace-infused merit, and final justification, be allowed to teach there?

As an evangelical who teaches at an evangelical institution, I have nothing but the deepest respect for Wheaton College and for its place within evangelical higher education. But perhaps evangelical institutions of higher learning could benefit from a serious reexamination of our policies as to who can teach at our institutions. There is something at least paradoxical about Protestant statements of faith that would keep Luther or Augustine from teaching at Protestant schools.



Paul R. DeHart
Lee University
Cleveland, Tennessee


As an evangelical Christian in the mainline Presbyterian Church, I have had my faith renewed by the writings of C.S. Lewis. On several occasions, I have visited the Wade Center on the Wheaton campus and have benefited greatly from the writings not only of Lewis but also from the other six authors whose work is deposited there. Reading these seven authors has also awakened my catholic sensibilities. It has made me aware that, as Lewis says, “those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes.”

It occurs to me that of the seven authors represented in the Wade Center, none can be classified as evangelical in the sense that the word is used today. Two were Roman Catholic (Chesterton and Tolkien), and the others (including Lewis) all had some doctrinal positions that would not be in agreement with the Wheaton Statement of Faith. Indeed, none of the seven authors would be able to be hired to teach at Wheaton!


William J. McClain
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


On reading Alan Jacobs’ account of the inability of Wheaton College to tolerate even one Roman Catholic professor in its community, a phrase came to my mind: The Church needs to breathe with all three of its lungs. I mean, of course, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. These are the three main branches of Christian believers that have come through the twists and turns of history to our present day. Each has well-educated and articulate representatives who could serve with distinction on the Wheaton College faculty and contribute to its mission effectively. If the administration of the college is not able to see that because of deep-seated anti-Catholic prejudices, then there is no other word to describe the situation than small-mindedness. What else can one say about a school that takes pride in its Marion Wade Center—an advanced research collection featuring Catholics such as G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien—if the school cannot fathom the idea that they, or Eastern Orthodox or Catholic experts on them, could actually be members of the faculty?

If C.S. Lewis, the centerpiece of the Wade Center, were here today, he would be appalled at the idea that Wheaton is dumbing itself down by excluding Catholics from its faculty. I’m sure he could find some way to put the double-standard logic that allows Catholic students to attend Wheaton College into the words of Screwtape the devil.

What are the fruits of the Reformation? Either an insipid and self-dissolving liberalism or a neurotic fundamentalism or a small-minded and scandalously anti-intellectual (according to Wheaton’s own Mark Noll) evangelicalism. If this is the prism through which God’s light shines, then we need a different prism. Perhaps we should be asking not “Is the Reformation over?” but “Was the Reformation a mistake?” If Wheaton College is the best fruits of the Reformation, as it no doubt thinks of itself as being, then the answer to the latter question seems to be yes. This cannot possibly be what the Wheaton community desires as the result of its attitudes and policies.


Charles Kilby Bellinger
Arlington, Texas

As usual, Alan Jacobs is very irenic and winsome in his arguments. But I am not persuaded. While some evangelicals no doubt believe that the difference between Catholics and Protestants comes down to how each regards the Scriptures, I doubt that most theologians would agree. The fundamental difference has always been one of soteriology, and from that arises a difference in how each approaches the Scriptures. No doubt, as Jacobs argues, there are many common grounds on which evangelicals and Catholics may meet, but the theological differences are still significant enough that few evangelical colleges will wish to be placed in the ironic position of judging the “orthodoxy” of a Roman Catholic applicant to the faculty. Would such a test be the candidate’s adherence to the historic teachings of the Magisterium? Or to a new standard by which they would hope to find (or create) an “evangelicalized” Catholic? If Jacobs’ vision comes into being, it is likely to be at a brand-new institution, not at an established one such as Wheaton.


William Reichert
Rolling Hills Estates, California


Alan Jacobs’ nuanced attempt to explain the tension at Wheaton College over a Catholic faculty member avoids the elephant in the room: Evangelicals who form the constituency of Wheaton reject most of the core beliefs of Roman Catholicism. Likewise, Roman Catholicism rejects the core beliefs of such evangelicals. It is often considered impolite to mention these profound differences. Jacobs gingerly touches on a few but generally obscures them beneath a mountain of multifaceted qualifiers and subtle distinctions. Without rancor or malice, we need to define those irreconcilable differences.

The large majority of evangelicals (I am one) do not believe in sacramental theology nor in the special role of a “priest.” We believe there is but one mediator between man and God, Christ Jesus. As our high priest, he is all-sufficient. Thus, no other mediators or mediating works are necessary—no saints, no Mary, no penances, no indulgences. The blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. While the typical evangelical loves his church, he does not believe that the church contributes to one’s salvation. The church points to Christ and proclaims Christ but does not add anything to the finished work of Christ. No pope is necessary. No human interpreter of Christ and his doctrine is infallible. No magisterium is ultimately authoritative over all Christians. The Church has leaders, but they arise not through a strict, formalized rule of apostolic succession but by a less structured process of discernment and deployment. Though not every Christian is a leader, every Christian is a member of a “royal priesthood” gifted for a ministry of some kind.

The president of Wheaton rightly insists on preserving the evangelical, Protestant heritage—the DNA—of the college. Professor Hochschild is playing a crafty little game by pretending his Catholicism is compatible with Wheaton. He should leave graciously and cheerfully instead of pretending that the Reformation has expired.


Gary Hardaway
Lynden, Washington


Kudos to Alan Jacobs for his charitable and balanced article on Wheaton’s decision not to renew Joshua Hochschild’s contract because of his reception into the Roman Catholic Church. Jacobs walks a middle ground on the issue, and in this case I believe that, by and large, the middle ground is the area where wisdom is to be found. I suspect that, in this context, the middle ground may also be a courageous place to take a stand.

Jacobs’ article illustrates, it seems to me, the great need for evangelical colleges like Wheaton to face head-on the question of Catholic faculty. Jacobs mentions “Arminians and Calvinists, Anglicans and Dispensationalists, Baptists, Nazarenes, Plymouth Brethren.” These folk, he argues, may disagree on quite a few things, “but they all accept a doctrinal statement that draws heavily on the Nicene Creed. More important in the daily life of the college, they all use the Bible in a similar way.”

This may be true of Wheaton, but unfortunately, many of the evangelicals I meet in Christian colleges hardly know the Nicene Creed, and they certainly do not all use the Bible in a similar way.

Some of them are quite happy using the Bible according to the dictates of Enlightenment principles, others believe that we need to read the Bible literally wherever possible, and again others believe that individual Bible texts are there primarily to give therapeutic support to their subjective quest for emotional and spiritual healing. Perhaps as evangelicals we need to learn from Catholics, today more so than before, precisely because we have such a wide variety of approaches to Holy Scripture. As evangelicals, we need our Catholic brothers and sisters to remind us that the interpretation of scripture is not a purely personal matter. If there is a commonality in the “use” of the Bible among the various Protestant groups Jacobs mentions, too often such commonality lies in a complete disregard of ecclesial guidelines for interpretation.

Much of this has to do, I believe, with the lack of serious ecclesiological awareness among evangelicals. Which church one attends is generally a matter of relative indifference, and Jacobs seems to suggest that adding Catholics to the Wheaton faculty would put a strain on such ecclesial indifference: “What would it do to the Christian unity and fellowship of the faculty to have some among us who (while not doubting that the rest of us are Christians) do not believe that we belong to the Church in the form intended by Christ?”

The question is a fair one to ask. But do we need to believe that each person on the Wheaton faculty agrees that all other faculty “belong to the Church in the form intended by Christ”? Does the melting pot of evangelicalism really require Anglicans to believe that Baptists belong to the Church in the form intended by Christ, regardless of the question of infant baptism? Have Plymouth Brethren really come to accept that their fellow Christians in a Reformed church belong to the Church in the form intended by Christ? Perhaps today this is indeed largely the situation in which we find ourselves. If so, then with Catholicism—and with most Protestants and evangelicals of earlier generations—I am of the conviction that evangelicalism has gone off the rails in its ecclesiology. Perhaps as evangelicals we need to learn from Catholics, precisely because we need to be reminded that doctrinal and ecclesial differences really do have significance.



Hans Boersma
Regent College
Vancouver, British Columbia


I once heard a vice president of Marshall Field’s say that “success in merchandising depends upon being the first-choice store for a certain group of shoppers.” I think this observation is equally true for institutions that depend on voluntary support: private colleges, private clubs, Christian churches. When there ceases to be a distinction between Roman Catholic, Orthodox Catholic, and Anglo-Catholic and between Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran Protestants, then those institutional churches will lose the necessary support. When the Episcopal Church stopped worshipping in the “Anglican Way” with the change to a new prayer book, millions of Episcopalians left the church, which is today following Marshall Field’s toward nonexistence.

Wheaton College is supported by a particular group of Protestant Christians. It has an influence far beyond that of its inner circle. The same, of course, is true of the Roman Catholic Church. When a member of the faculty of Notre Dame converts to Unitarianism and supports legalized abortion, then Notre Dame, too, will be following Marshall Field’s.


Betsey Bobrinskoy
Chicago, Illinois


Alan Jacobs fails to mention Christendom College among the Catholic schools in America that have policies regarding non-Catholics. Christendom requires theology professors to swear allegiance to the Magisterium of the Church during the opening Mass of every school year. It is optional for teachers in other departments, but most of our teachers are Catholic, so they do it anyway. There is no policy against non-Catholics, except that they not teach in the theology department.



John O’Herron
Christendom College
Delaplane, Virginia


Alan Jacobs replies:

I am grateful to all those who responded to my essay; their comments deserve a more detailed response than I can give here.

I thank John O’Herron for his information about Christendom College. The practice there—in which an institution’s theologians have a unique role in safeguarding and representing the institution’s tradition—is a common one in Christian colleges and universities, but it is not Wheaton’s model.

At Wheaton, not just all faculty but all employees sign the Statement of Faith, which reminds us that everyone shares the task (though in varying ways) of conserving and articulating our evangelical tradition. So if we had a Catholic faculty member as a kind of second-class citizen, one whose presence we welcomed but not, strictly speaking, as “one of us,” then the biggest change to Wheaton would not be to have a Catholic faculty member but to have two tiers of employees, those fully and those partially on board with our mission. Because I think that much of the strength of Wheaton’s institutional conversation comes from its systemic character, my

hope is that if we open our doors to Catholic faculty, those doors will be all the way open. But my posi-tion just makes all the more serious the issues raised by my other interlocutors.

Matthew Olver claims that “Anglicanism, in its ideal form, maintains a much greater concomitance with the Roman Catholic Church than with any other Protestant body,” but of course Anglicans like Paul Zahl would say precisely the opposite and would be no less Anglican for doing so. And since no Anglo magisterium exists to determine what the “ideal form” of Anglicanism is, we Anglicans may (and do) position ourselves at various points along the spectrum. So I would say that it is not “as an Anglican” that Olver is unable to sign Wheaton’s Statement of Faith but as a particular kind of Anglican. To say that someone is an Anglican is not to say much about their level of agreement or disagreement with Wheaton’s theological views. (This is one of the reasons that, though still an Anglican, I am no longer an Episcopalian.)

I hope Paul DeHart will recognize my goodwill when I say that the question of whether Augustine or Luther could teach at Wheaton reminds me of one of the great debates of my childhood: What would happen if Superman fought Godzilla? When you try to bring together, in imagination, powerful beings from different worlds, the sheer speculation is dizzying. The real question would not be whether Wheaton would have Luther or Augustine, it is whether Luther or Augustine would recognize Wheaton as being a Christian school at all. And can you imagine Aquinas applying for a job at Notre Dame? We see the continuities between our views and theirs, but I am not confident that they would see things the same way.

Even though Lewis and Tolkien et al. are much closer to us in time—I am now thinking of the letters of William J. McClain and Charles Kilby Bellinger—some of the same caveats apply. Wheaton’s Statement of Faith, while drawing heavily on the central statements of historic Christian orthodoxy, makes provisions that are distinctive to our place and time—that are meant to address certain issues that the leadership of the college (and presumably its employees as well) believe to be especially significant for Christians here and now. For instance, the statement on Scripture would look different if it had been composed in a time when the authority of Scripture was not under significant attack, from within the Church as well as without. If faithful Christians in other times and places—or indeed in our own time and place—would think our statement odd, or incomplete, or too detailed, that does not necessarily reflect poorly on us or them. Different Christian institutions may have legitimately different roles and therefore legitimately different self-definitions.

This is why-pace William Reichert—Wheaton is not and has never been in the business of judging someone’s “orthodoxy,” whether they are Catholic or Protestant. We have a particular vision that we believe in strongly and wish were more widely shared in Christ’s Church, but I don’t think anyone at Wheaton has ever questioned the orthodoxy of someone who doesn’t share our every point of emphasis and conviction.

Christian orthodoxy, as I understand it, is encapsulated in the great creeds of Christ’s Church, especially the Nicene; and since Catholics obviously affirm that teaching, I cannot agree with Gary Hardaway that evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics do not share “core beliefs.” Hardaway may also be interested to know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this affirmation: “Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the one and only mediator between God and men.” Moreover, Professor Hochschild did leave Wheaton graciously, if not altogether cheerfully—he had good friends here and enjoyed his students, who also greatly respected him—and has played no games of any kind, “crafty” or otherwise, as I am sure the administration of Wheaton would be glad to affirm.

Hans Boersma’s letter is thoughtful and nuanced, as I would expect from him, and raises questions too deep to be addressed here. I will say, though, that when I claimed that Wheaton people “all use the Bible in a similar way,” what I had in mind was rhetoric rather than theology per se. That is, people of varying traditions tend to quote from their Bibles at the same points in debates and to address the same kinds of issues—and they expect those biblical references to have a certain force that they might not have for other Christians. This rhetoric is our inheritance from modern American evangelicalism and its fundamentalist predecessors, and it does indeed tend to smudge or even erase differences in the great Reformation traditions, so that, in the interdenominational evangelical context, one struggles to remember that, once upon a time, Calvinists and Wesleyans didn’t sound so much alike, even when they were quoting from the same Bible.

Thus my erstwhile colleague Mark Noll, sensing that this lack of differentiation weakens rather than strengthens the evangelical movement, has long been counseling his fellow evangelicals to draw more deeply from the wells of their own particular traditions. If we do so, our conversations are likely to be more pointed and sometimes more difficult, but will surely also be more productive.

And perhaps that practice will make us better able to embrace Catholics as our fellow workers in the vineyards of Christian higher education. If, on the other hand, we can embrace Catholics as fellow workers only because we (and they) have lost our awareness of what distinguishes these various traditions, then ours will be a hollow victory indeed, and a largely false “oneness.”

The question for Wheaton is simply whether its current hiring policies help or hinder its own mission to serve Christ and his Kingdom. I have argued that we may well have reached the point where the exclusion of Catholics hinders us; but it is both inaccurate and uncharitable to attribute that exclusion (as Charles Kilby Bellinger does) merely to “small-mindedness” and “deep-seated anti-Catholic prejudices.” Hans Boersma’s letter gives an indication of the real complexities at issue here. And in response to Betsey Brobinskoy: While I do not want Wheaton to go the way of Marshall Field’s or the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago—Lord preserve us!—I also think we have to follow the Lord’s call upon us without counting the cost. He has not promised any of us success in all our endeavors.

Finally, twenty-five years ago, as a new Christian and a graduate student in English at the University of Virginia, I awoke to find myself lost in a dark wood and was helped to escape Error by a long correspondence with one Thomas Howard, then of Gordon College. He introduced me to many of the books and thinkers that he mentions in his letter—and to Peter Kreeft, whose epistolary patience with me was similarly Christlike—and while I have remained (in the words of my beloved fellow Anglican Sir Thomas Browne) “of that Reformed new-cast Religion, wherein I dislike nothing but the Name,” the Catholic traditions that Tom showed me then have continued to sustain me spiritually and, I think, to give far greater depth and resonance to my teaching than I would ever have achieved otherwise. He also, in effect, got me my job at Wheaton. So to those who think that my tolerance of papistical nonsense and sophistry has far exceeded the bounds appropriate to a good evangelical and professor at Wheaton College, I say: Blame Tom Howard.

Warding Off Liberalism

Reading Joseph Pearce’s review (“The Watch and Ward Society,” April) of my book, Out of Due Time, I do not know whether to laugh or to cry. It must bring a smile to the lips of those who know me (and to my superiors) for me to be called a man of “liberal prejudices,” a person in “seeming sympathy toward Tyrrell’s point of view,” and so on. That certainly has not been my reputation. In fact, my interpretation of Wilfrid Ward does not differ (as Pearce should know) from that of Ward’s daughter Maisie (something I was much criticized for), who describes her father as an intelligent conservative caught between intransigent conservatives (whom the eminent historian and Newman scholar Sheridan Gilley calls the “hyper-orthodox”) and those much more radical theologically.

Though one would never know it from his comments, my book was the result of an enormous amount of primary and secondary research and of archival work in England and Scotland. (One of my readers called it “research rapture.”) I can confidently say that I know what I am talking about. I would not say that of Pearce. He assumes all sorts of things about me and my opinions that are false and that he should know are false if he actually took the time to read what I have said and if he knew the material. He has done a grave disservice to the readers of this journal and a grave injustice to me personally. There is a place for literary journalism and a place for scholarship. What Pearce does is not scholarship.


Dom Paschal Scotti
Portsmouth, Rhode Island


Joseph Pearce replies:

Needless to say, I have nothing personal against Dom Paschal Scotti. How can I have? I do not know him. Unlike his superiors, I have no inkling of his reputation, liberal or otherwise. I was, in fact, not judging him at all; I was judging his book. I complained that his book was plagued by “intellectual impressionism,” namely its failure to provide definitions and its spurning of clear meaning. Scotti’s letter suffers from the same impressionism. It gives the vague impression that I have done him an injustice because I do not know him as well as those who know him, but it fails to engage a solitary criticism that I made of his book. He doesn’t address my criticism of his use of words such as extreme and dogmatic or papal and rigid as pejorative synonyms. He doesn’t explain why he never refers to Tyrrell as a heretic but suggests that the notorious excommunicated Jesuit was merely being “adventurous” in his modernism. Since he fails to critique my critique, there is no point of engagement to which I can respond. It is hard to argue with an impression. It is even harder to grapple with the fog.

Whose Philosophy? Which Rationality?

R.R. Reno is right about greater emphasis on truth and objectivity in analytic philosophy as compared with most continental philosophy (“Theology’s Continental Captivity,” April). Analytic philosophers make important contributions to theodicy, moral theology, and other areas. But Reno passes over Hegel, whom Karl Barth called the “Protestant Aquinas,” too lightly. Yes, Hegel in the Phenomenology interprets the vocation of the philosopher to raise the “picture-thinking” of the Christian religion to a conceptual level, and he does not exactly see philosophy as the “handmaid” of theology. However, the greater part of his work is concerned with philosophical speculation on the Christian dogmas. In the Phenomenology itself, which he describes at the end as the “Golgotha” of Spirit, he engages in deep reflections on the nature of faith, in contrast to the dialectics of the Enlightenment, and on the nature of original sin, the atonement, the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Redemption, mutual forgiveness, and the emergence of the Spirit in the Christian community.

In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, he chides the theologians for giving lip service to the idea of Divine Providence while avoiding the hard work of showing how it has worked out in world history. He describes his Science of Logic as an investigation of the life of God before the creation of the world, and in his Philosophy of Nature he analyzes nature as an objectification of divine life. In his Philosophy of Right, he portrays the free modern state as the emergence of a political community based on (Protestant) Christian reconciliation of secularity and religion. And in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, he includes a separate treatise analyzing the “ontological” proof for the existence of God.

One of my doctoral students, Patricia Calton, has published Hegel’s Metaphysics of God, which expands on Hegel’s extraordinary trinitarian theology. Hans King’s The Incarnation of God is an extensive treatment of Hegel’s treatment of Christology. Hegel, as is well known, was not particularly enamored of Catholicism. But he compares Catholic theologians favorably with Protestant theologians for their commitment to philosophical reflection on theological truths, following in the footsteps of the patristic writers. The idea of philosophy as a “handmaiden” to theology as “queen” is not entirely overturned in Hegel. Rather, the truths of Christianity are a natural stepping-stone to philosophical speculation—and are, in a sense, foundational in Hegel’s approach.


Howard P. Kainz
Marquette University
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


After reading R.R. Reno’s comments about my book Foundations of Systematic Theology and how it exemplifies a “continental captivity” neglectful of analytical philosophy, I feel a kinship with Wittgenstein’s comment “My work consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important one.” For Reno examines not the metaphysical and phenomenological arguments I adduce in defense of the Christian faith but the analytical ones I fail to offer.

Nonetheless, Reno’s point is undeniable: Analytical philosophy is often overlooked by contemporary theology. And he usefully indicates those areas, particularly regarding notions of truth and objectivity, in which this method has something important to contribute. He is right, then, that my appeal to standards of rationality that in some measure transcend historical contexts should have made room for analytical philosophy alongside other modes of reasoning.

But one crucial argument of Foundations concerns the need for metaphysics in theology, a need rooted in the most basic affirmations of Catholic faith and thought. And it is precisely here that the theologian pauses before analytical method. For, one asks, is this philosophy too heavily freighted with weaknesses to be profoundly useful for theological reflection? Fergus Kerr, himself sympathetic to the analytical approach, has conceded that language about being “remains baffling” to most thinkers in this school. This candid admission should raise a warning flag.

For metaphysics in general, and a philosophy of being in particular, has been closely allied to Catholic theology for substantial reasons: (1) metaphysics grounds the predication of names to God (utilizing the analogy of being); (2) it opens up the participationist structure of reality (the ascent to God by way of the intelligibility of the existing real); (3) it warrants the distinction between esse and essence, thereby allowing God to be understood as the intensive act of existing without potentiality (supporting the Church’s understanding of God as the Unchanging One of Absolute Love); and (4) it offers an anthropology that establishes an eidetically discernable nature or form (thereby explaining how meaning and truth are not swallowed up in the maw of sociocultural contingency).

Given these reasons, it is unsurprising that in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) John Paul II insisted that a theology that shuns metaphysics is “radically unsuited” for mediating Revelation and argued that if theology is to function properly, the intellectus fidei needs the contributions of a philosophy of being. But it is just this metaphysical dimension, this philosophy of being, that goes wanting in analytical method.

While I argue in Foundations that continental thought may be appropriated by theology in a qualified manner (surely the contributions of Heidegger, Gadamer, and even Derrida cannot be ignored), one can hardly claim that theology is in “captivity” to it. Continental thought is attractive to theologians because it recognizes the importance of philosophy’s large-scale, sapiential task: to elaborate a comprehensive vision of humanity and the world—the discipline’s ancient and traditional goal. But theology can never be captive to any mode of reasoning, whatever its provenance, precisely because Christian thought has the obligation to judge and to sift every philosophy, as the entire Spoils-from-Egypt tradition testifies. Aquinas, for example, insists that theologians must subject philosophy to the service of faith, thereby changing water into wine. Cardinal Newman adds that the Church is a vast treasure-house, purifying ideas of their errors, then stamping them with a deep impress of the master’s image.

Adducing analytical thought’s strengths, as Professor Reno does, is surely legitimate. But this method’s significant weaknesses must also be forthrightly acknowledged. If analytical philosophy is to make some long-lasting contribution to theological reflection, then, I submit, it must be able to countenance not only the logic of argumentation and the clarification of concepts, it must be able, as well, to appropriate critically the contributions of continental thought and to consider seriously the larger questions inherent in a philosophy of being.



Rev. Thomas G. Guarino
Seton Hall University
South Orange, New Jersey


R.R. Reno replies:

Professor Kainz is right to point out that Hegel gives striking metaphysical form to Christian dogma. Yet we need to look at more than the content of his philosophy. The trajectory or momentum of Hegel’s thought is also very important. His genius was to reinterpret Christian doctrine as a reality-creating pattern rather than as a list of beliefs to which one must give assent. In this way, Hegel preserved the central role of Christianity as a cultural form or idea while he shifted focus away from the increasingly contested question of the truth of classical doctrine.

There are few card-carrying Hegelians these days, but nearly all Western intellectuals think in a broadly Hegelian way. If students are troubled about contradictions in the Bible, the professor lectures about the historical process of oral traditions and their diverse transitions into literary form. If we founder on the claim that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, we can turn to a book on the incarnational vision of Christianity. In each instance, just as Kainz says, the substance of our faith becomes a stepping-stone toward what really matters—an intellectual grasp of the reality-creating cultural patterns that give shape to our lives.

Knowing ourselves as formed by dynamics of social, historical, and psychological development is the dominant goal of modern education (it’s called critical thinking), and Hegel is its magisterial theoretician. So, by all means, study him but remember that classical Christian theology moves in a very different direction—knowing that a first-century Palestinian Jew, crucified in Jerusalem and raised on the third day, is the endpoint of the Christian search for truth. Receiving the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist is as close as we can get to the source and ground of all reality. Everything else that we might do with our minds, including the rare and unreliable impulse toward speculative thought, is but a stepping-stone.

If Kainz can make Hegel move toward the Eucharist rather than the so-called sacramental worldview, or toward Christ rather than the concept of incarnation, then my hat is off to him. The same is true for the children and grandchildren of Hegel. I’m sure that virtuosos of faith can provide telling critiques and offer striking reformulations, but in general most theologians who invest heavily in continental philosophy are swept along from Christ crucified and risen to the Idea of Christianity. Exhibit A: Karl Rahner.

I count Tom Guarino a friend, and I hope my essay conveyed my deep appreciation for his efforts to infuse contemporary theology with a commitment to truth. But we do disagree about philosophy. Guarino emphasizes “philosophy’s large-scale, sapiential task.” He implies that continental philosophy is true to this task, while analytic philosophy is mere expertise in logic and formal clarification of concepts. I agree about the core, sapiential task of philosophy, but I find myself drawing a very different conclusion.

Put bluntly, we are living in a time of cultural revolution. From Socrates to the modern era, the great sapiential task was to seek, cherish, and obey truth. Now, much of modern humanistic study wants to tell us that seeking truth amounts to self-deception, that to pretend to cherish truth is a mask for exercising power, and that obeying truth is nothing more than submission to the disguised will of another. This sentiment is the late, autumnal fruit of a continental tradition in philosophy that has consistently positioned itself in the Big Picture approach to the difficult problems of modern life.

The contrast to analytic philosophy is evident. Guarino may think analytic philosophy technical, formal, and small-minded. I think he is wrong. Thomas Nagel’s essays are precise, but they are not obscure. Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity is severely reasoned, but it is most definitely not narrow in conception or consequence. But even if he perseveres in his particular judgments, Guarino must allow that, overall, analytic philosophy has sustained precisely that which the supposedly metaphysical tradition of Hegel and Heidegger and beyond now encourages us to reject—a desire for, love of, and obedience to truth. Analytic philosophy may have many flaws, but it does not have a weakness for the relativism and subjectivism so prevalent today. Thus, at the deepest level, analytic philosophy is presently the most reliable steward of the sapiential task of philosophy.

As a Catholic theologian, I feel a special burden and obligation. By my reading, many academic theologians encourage and contribute to the present cultural revolution. Functioning as a chaplaincy to an elite culture of unbelief, modern theology has many strategies for evading the question of the truth of Christ, strategies that work very easily and all too suspiciously in tandem with continental philosophy. The Hegelian move from the “picture thinking” of the Bible to the higher realms of concepts is just one example. There are many variations on this theme, and we theologians love to traffic in meaning and symbols and concepts while dismissing ordinary questions of truth as “fundamentalist” or “literalist” or “naive.” Now, under the supposed sapiential guidance of postmodern philosophers, we can take a more direct route by decrying dogma as oppression and become patrons of inclusive faith: “True faith is openness to the Other.”

In this situation, I think it is imperative that doctrinally serious Catholic theology break off its current affair with postmodern, continental thought and turn to analytic philosophy in order to restore a robust theological commitment to truth.

The Albanian Persecution

In “Broken Promises” (April), Stephen Schwartz writes eloquently about the bloody persecution that Albania’s Catholics endured under that nation’s Communist dictatorship. One regrets that Schwartz chose to limit his eloquence to events past and his Christian solidarity to Roman Catholics.

Schwartz writes not one word about the perilous situation that Albania’s Orthodox Christian minority faces today from Albania’s Muslim majority—never mind a word about the Orthodox blood that was shed by Albania’s Communists. By no means were Roman Catholics the only martyrs and confessors for Jesus Christ in Red Albania.

In passing, Schwartz refers to “the liberation of Kosovo in 1999.” He appears to be unaware that one of the things Kosovo was “liberated” from was Christianity. In testimony before the U.S. Congressional Task Force for Human Rights on March 15, His Grace Teodosije, auxiliary bishop of Lipljan and vice-chairman for Kosovo and Metohija of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, spoke of the plight of the 200,000 Serbian Christians who have fled their homes in the face of Kosovar Albanian violence and of the dismal prospects of the remaining Kosovar Serbs for anything resembling a normal life.

“Our children are growing up in constant fear and uncertainty because the society being built around is not a society where all citizens are equal, but a society that is being tailored exclusively to meet the needs of the majority Albanian community, in which Serbs and other non-Albanians live as more or less welcome guests and strangers,” Bishop Teodosije testified.

“Unfortunately, this sort of relationship takes us right back to the organization of society in Kosovo which led to armed conflict and the intervention of the NATO forces. Did U.S. soldiers come to Kosovo in order to make it possible for one form of repression to be replaced with another? They certainly did not but, unfortunately, that is the reality that exists not only in our eyes, but also in the eyes of many objective international observers,” Bishop Teodosije said.

His Grace also provided documentation, yet again, of the systematic “torching and destruction of 150 holy shrines (in Kosovo and Metohija), several dating back to the Middle Ages, of irreplaceable value,” which fact has been corroborated by UNESCO, as well as “the eradication of cemeteries where almost all crosses have been obliterated.”

The restoration of “Albanian Catholic culture” is indeed a cause worth fostering. But this restoration will never happen in Albania or elsewhere in the region unless Christians in the West unite to defend equal human rights for Albanian Christians and Kosovar Christians alike.

Here is a God-sent opportunity for the Holy See to put some teeth into its talk about Catholic-Orthodox rapprochement.


Michael Redmond
Princeton, New Jersey


Stephen Schwartz replies:

I visit all the Albanian lands frequently and speak and read Serbian and Albanian. The claim that Orthodox Christians in Albania suffer any discrimination of any kind at the present time is not only a total invention, it is so novel I have never encountered it before. Orthodox Christians and people of Orthodox heritage—whether Albanian, Greek, or Vlach (a Romanian-speaking minority)—not only enjoy rights in Albania that Albanian and Vlach minorities do not possess in Orthodox Greece, they are highly placed in the Albanian state and media. If there is any controversy involving Orthodox Christians in Albania, it has to do with the scandalous fact that the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, Anastasios Yannoulatos, is an ethnic Greek and citizen of Greece, rather than an Albanian.

While the Albanian Communist regime repressed the Orthodox Church, ethnic Greeks and Vlachs of Orthodox background were favored cadres in the system of dictator Enver Hoxha. Many of them were former members of the so-called Democratic Army of Greece, a Communist terror force, which retreated into Albania.

The claim that Kosovo was “liberated from Christianity” is a despicable distortion. The Albanian Catholic Church maintains its houses of worship in every major Kosovo town. I visit them about twice a year. The Serbian Orthodox Church is protected by NATO troops. While numerous Serbs fled Kosovo after their brutal terror over Kosovar Albanians ended, the figure of 200,000 is exaggerated; Serbia did not and does not have the capacity to absorb 200,000 Serbian refugees from Kosovo.

It is undeniable that some Serbian Orthodox churches have been vandalized or demolished in Kosovo. It is also undeniable that most of those that were damaged were established in the period of Serbian imperialist rule beginning in 1912, with such construction expanded after 1987, to symbolize Serb domination of the province. Similarly, in the 1920s, with the independence of Poland from tsarist rule, the enormous and hideously ugly St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral that had been erected in Warsaw to represent Russian power over the Poles was leveled. I oppose double standards on these matters. The Albanians were, are, and will be the overwhelming majority in Kosovo, and they will soon be its masters. There is no reason they should be compelled to preserve or protect structures intended not for legitimate worship but as a form of cultural aggression.

The old Orthodox monasteries and churches of Kosovo, many of which were originally built by Macedonians, Bulgarians, and Vlachs, and which were then seized and taken over by Serbs, deserve to be and will be preserved, protected, and, where damaged, restored. The figure of 150 Serbian ”shrines” torched and destroyed in Kosovo is misleading and exaggerated; indeed, the manipulation employed in advancing this argument is obvious in the phrasing of Bishop Teodosije, who said only that “several” of the sites were ancient. At the same time, some 250 Muslim mosques were destroyed in Kosovo in the 1998-1999 period by Serbian terrorists. The latter acts have been documented without rhetorical excess, which is unnecessary since the vandalism speaks for itself.

It is seldom mentioned that the clerics of the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy who loudly protest their situation in Kosovo maintain an abusive usurpation of the properties of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Montenegro and Macedonia. The rights of the latter are completely denied. Now that Montenegro has declared its independence, the Montenegrin Orthodox should attain restoration of control over their churches. Albanian Catholics and Muslims, who are a substantial minority in Montenegro, support this position, as they also do regarding the Macedonian Orthodox Christians.

It is even less often mentioned that Serbian clerics from Kosovo and its neighboring regions, who continually come to the United States to bewail their situation, such as Bishops Artemije Radosavljevic and Amfilohije Radovic, are fanatical advocates for one of the worst Jew-baiters in twentieth-century history, the Serbian Orthodox cleric Nikolai Velimirovic. Men like Artemije and Amfilohije (both of whom I know personally) have proved extremely adroit at hiding their real views when they deal with Westerners. I myself was fooled more than once by Artemije.

The Holy See should be more concerned with justice for the memories of the martyred Croatian, Bosnian, Albanian, and other Catholics slain by Slobodan Milosevic’s terrorists, the latter blessed in their murderous activities by clerics like Amfilohije, than with an attempt to create a Catholic-Orthodox intrigue to defame Albanians, whether Muslim or otherwise.

War and Justice

George Weigel’s reasoned exposition of the just war tradition in support of our war in Iraq was superb (“Iraq: Then & Now,” April). He asks, “Who would have imagined, fifty years ago, that much of American liberalism, rather than making the moral and political case for deposing a genocidal maniac, would find itself in de facto alliance with the status quo forces in world politics?” The basic human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are universal. Mortar and brick cannot be equated to the infinite value of innocent human life. For Christians, this is articulated as “love your neighbor as yourself.” Which raises the question, If Americans or Europeans suffered like the people of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, would they not hope and pray for liberation? If so, then a component of liberalism’s opposition to the war in Iraq is elitism and bigotry, in effect saying, “The Iraqi people are fundamentally inferior to the well-educated, white sophisticates of the West.”

These comments are not meant to deny that, for some, opposition to the war is sincere, but only to state that, for many, the opposition is, to say the least, adulterated.

If the war in Iraq is not justified, then if the Eiffel Tower or the Bundestag or St. Peter’s Basilica is hit by a terrorist attack, turned to rubble, and 100,000 are people killed, why should the United States or Britain respond? Perhaps they will not.


Ronald G. Connolly
Walnut Creek, California


The remarks of George Weigel in the recent issue suggesting that Pope John Paul II was circumspect, if not implicitly supportive, concerning our war in Iraq are puzzling, to say the very least. Indeed, they are belied by the following words of then Cardinal Ratzinger: “The pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. . . . The Holy Father’s judgment is also convincing from a rational point of view: There was not sufficient reason to unleash a war in Iraq.”


Joseph C. Heim
California University of Pennsylvania
California, Pennsylvania


On the question of whether or not the UN possesses sovereign authority, I think George Weigel makes good arguments and I agree with him. Authority for making war has not been remanded to the UN. The corruption at the UN, while well documented, seems irrelevant to the main argument. The issue that troubles me is one that Weigel does not take up; in fact, I have not seen any commentators take it up. What has happened to Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution? The power to declare war in our constitutional system rests with Congress. We now have a president declaring that he is exercising his war powers in various matters, but constitutionally speaking we are not in a state of war. So my problem is not that we went to war without a UN resolution. It is that we went to war without having a declaration of war as our Constitution requires, as we did in Vietnam, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. Korea was officially a UN operation.

Weigel’s untold stories at the end of the article puzzle me as well. Does he really consider Iraq the “regime with the greatest democratic legitimacy in the modern history of the Middle East”? I would have thought that Israel or Turkey would lay claim to that title in the minds of most. Regarding recent positive developments in Libya and Lebanon, it does appear that the U.S. invasion of Iraq might have played a role. The invasion of Iraq might also have played a role in the aggressive approach Iran and North Korea have recently taken on acquiring nuclear weapons. Perhaps the war in Iraq also played a role in the decisive victory by Hamas in the most recent Palestinian elections.


John Neville
Halifax, Nova Scotia


I thought George Weigel’s article “Iraq: Then & Now” did a superb job of addressing the highly important question of the justness of Bush’s preemption doctrine. And how right he is as to the Europeans’ cartoonish image of America. I well remember being in Vienna in the months leading up to the Iraq invasion and simply laughing out loud at the marchers pouring through the city center with their signs urgently denouncing Bush’s “blood for oil.” I thought, “They really don’t understand America.”

That said, while having no doubts as to Bush’s passing of the initial just-cause question, I do begin to wonder if he equally passed the prudential “ought we then go to war” question—that must surely also be part of the moral equation. Bush supporter though I am and remain, do we have perhaps evidence of a certain arrogance that has led him, in spite of his inexperience in world politics, to prefer his own hunches over the expertise of State Department professionals? Do we have evidence of this way back in 2001, when, returning from Camp David, he announced his intention to pursue a “crusade . . . against terrorism,” thus betraying (a) a total insensitivity to the world situation (specifically, the Muslim world’s perception) and (b) a complete isolation from any State Department handlers who could have reined in this sort of remark? Is the mess-up we have today of any proper follow-up in Iraq simply an extension of this one remark, and the realities behind it?


Paul Miller
Bellevue, Washington


I think George Weigel’s recent article “Iraq: Then & Now” presented some of the best antiwar arguments I’ve heard in a long time. To start, he destroys the legitimate moral and legal authority of the UN by exposing the corruption in the Oil for Food program and then later insists the resolutions passed by this corrupt entity are somehow legally and morally binding on Saddam Hussein. This is the same UN whose resolutions the U.S. routinely ignores when contrary to its interests.

In the army, I learned to make decisions that would at least mitigate the effects of bad intelligence. Yet this seems to be a lesson lost on the Bush administration. Rather than bombing Saddam’s supposed terrorist training camps (like Reagan did with Libya), we invaded. Rather than bombing the supposed WMD facilities, we invaded. Instead of merely eliminating the threat of WMDs (if it existed), we’ve now assumed responsibility for a nation on the brink of civil war. With the legitimacy of our cause suspect, our efforts to bring peace to the region have become futile. I am reminded of what Pope John Paul II said prior to the war, “I will simply add today, faced with the constant degeneration of the crisis in the Middle East, that the solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution.” It seems he understood the consequences of war better than our president.


Nathan Crawford
Palatine, Illinois


George Weigel replies:

I thank all of those who took the trouble to write in response to “Iraq: Then & Now.” Ronald Connolly’s letter raises an interesting point: Did Pope John Paul II get it right when, at the United Nations in 1995, he proposed that the universal quest for freedom he discerned on the far side of the communist crack-up was an expression of moral truths hardwired into a universal human nature? If John Paul did in fact get it right, as I believe he did, then President Bush’s second inaugural address also got it right in identifying similar, universal aspirations. Now, to be sure, the late pope acknowledged in that same UN address that the political structure of freedom would take different forms in different cultures, and it remains to be seen how those forms will evolve—if they are given the chance to evolve—in the Arab Islamic world. Still, those who think that John Paul II and George W. Bush had utterly different views of the world, and of the moral responsibilities of statecraft, have to conjure with John Paul’s 1995 UN address, which is the most cogent papal statement on the universality of human rights in the Catholic human-rights tradition.

This brings me, if by a circuitous path, to Joseph Heim’s letter. I certainly didn’t suggest that the late pope was “circumspect” about, “if not implicitly supportive” of, U.S. military action in Iraq in March 2003, and a plain reading of my article will not support Heim’s suggestion. What I did want to underscore (in an article that was, after all, dedicated to a just-war analysis of the Iraq War) was that John Paul II, for all his manifest opposition to the use of military force in March 2003, never used the word unjust to describe what subsequently unfolded. Why? In part, I expect, because he did not wish to put a burden of conscience on Catholic members of the coalition armed forces; in part, I expect, because he agreed with the teaching of the catechism he had promulgated, that the final responsibility for making a moral assessment of the situation through the prism of just-war thinking lay with the relevant public authorities. Suffice it to say that, in the year and a half of conversations we shared after the beginning of the Iraq War, John Paul II, who was quite aware of what I had been writing about just-war thinking in the months and years after September 11, never suggested to me that I had somehow misrepresented his views on Iraq, or that my views were the result of a distorted understanding of the Catholic tradition. There is more to be said on all this, but now is not the time, nor this the forum, to say it.

John Neville raises the interesting question of the legal authority for the just war and how a revised just-war tradition, operating as a framework for collaborative moral reflection in the United States, would treat the tangled question of congressional and presidential war powers. As a matter of fact, the Congress did vote to authorize the use of American armed forces to enforce the dozen or more UN resolutions being defied by the Saddam Hussein regime—although some members of Congress (remember Senator Kerry?) seemed later to regret what they had done. I am not a constitutional lawyer, so I do not know whether the kind of congressional resolutions used as the legal authority for U.S. action in Afghanistan and Iraq met a strict test of constitutional propriety. What does seem clear, from a just-war point of view, is that an American president had better see to it that he has the people and their duly elected representatives behind him in situations like Afghanistan and Iraq—and that he bend every effort of public diplomacy to maintain that support (an issue I addressed in my article).

Perhaps I’m geographically challenged, but—and here I refer to Neville’s comments about political legitimacy—I don’t instinctively think of Turkey as part of the Middle East; neither, evidently, do those Turks who badly want to be part of the European Union. I surely agree with Neville that both the Turkish and Israeli governments enjoy the democratic legitimacy of having been elected by free and fair suffrage; the context of my article should have clarified any confusions of formulation, such that my point—that the present Iraqi government enjoys a democratic legitimacy hitherto unknown in the Arab Islamic world—was clear enough. North Korea and Iran were, of course, seeking nuclear weapons for decades before the Iraq War (and in the case of the Koreans, alas, succeeding in getting them). As for the oxymoronically named Palestinian Authority and its strange, recent election, I don’t know for sure why Hamas won, but I expect it has at least something to do with the Olympic-class corruption and incompetence of the PLO, which had run Palestine for years as the world’s biggest and seediest welfare client.

Paul Miller usefully raises the question of prudence in just-war thinking, which of course looms large in this instance, as in all others. I don’t agree, though, that President Bush’s vocabulary in 2001 had much to do with the mistakes the administration has made in Iraq since major combat ended (or, perhaps I should say, ended for the first time). The problem, as I obliquely suggested in the article, is that Americans don’t do empire very well—and if we are to continue to play the role of security-enforcer-of-last-resort in these first decades of the twenty-first century, we had better start learning quickly. That being said, and meant, it is also true that very few great powers have had to deal with circumstances as difficult as those the United States has faced in Iraq, which from the point of view of jihadist Muslims like the late, unlamented Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the current central front of a world war against the West.

Nathan Crawford suggests it’s all-or-nothing with the UN, and America uses the UN as its interests dictate. That is likely true, but if so, it is also true of the other 190 UN member states. And the sooner that is understood, the better for just-war reasoning, which is often befuddled these days by the unexamined assumption that the UN is a de facto world government that displays the attributes of legitimate sovereign authority in ways that satisfy the ius ad bellum’s first criterion: legitimate authority. That is a difficult, if not impossible, case to make—without, that is, turning classic just-war thinking into a form of international political correctness.