Author - Daniel Philpott

Fr. Hamel’s Martyrdom – Or Is It?
More on Muslims at Mass
How to Think About Islam in These Times
Bridging Mars and Venus for Religious Freedom
The Culture War Over Religious Freedom Goes Global
How Christians Respond to Persecution: View the Rome Conference
After Orlando: The Culture War Over Islam Continues
Are There Still Just Wars? New Catholic Thinking on Peace
European Federalism is Catholic — So Brexit is Not
Obama at Hiroshima (longer version)

Fr. Hamel’s Martyrdom – Or Is It?

The recent killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel by two Muslim extremists has provoked a debate in Europe that has synthesized the question of Islam with the meaning of martyrdom.  New York Times columnist Ross Douthat considers the debate in his column of this morning.

He reports two dueling interpretations among Catholics.  Here is the conservative one:

To many conservative Catholics, Father Hamel is an archetypal Christian martyr — killed in a sacred space by men motivated by hatred of his faith, dying with the words, “Go away, Satan!” on his lips. To cultural conservatives more broadly, he’s a potent symbol of the jihadi threat to Europe’s peace.

But there is a different interpretation:

But within Catholicism there is also strong resistance to this interpretation. It starts at the very top, with Pope Francis, who has deliberately steered clear of the language of martyrdom — first describing the priest’s murder as “absurd,” and then using one of his in-flight press conferences to suggest that the killers were no more religiously-motivated than a random Catholic murderer in Italy.

 Meanwhile, amid calls of “Santo subito!” — “Sainthood now!” – two of the pope’s biographers, Austen Ivereigh and (in these pages) Paul Vallely, wrote essays warning against doing anything that might inflame interreligious tensions or otherwise play into the Islamic State’s bloodied hands.
In this narrative, which is also the narrative that many secular Europeans reached for, Father Hamel’s murder belongs not to the old iconography of a church militant under siege by unbelievers, but to the modern vision of a multicultural, multireligious society threatened primarily by ignorance and fear. So the appropriate response is to reassert the importance of religious tolerance, to highlight commonalities between French Muslims and their Catholic neighbors, to create a broad category of “peaceful religion” and cast jihadists outside it.

These interpretations, says Douthat, need not be mutually exclusive:

In theory, it should be possible (for a pope, especially!) to plainly call Father Hamel’s death a martyrdom while also rejecting sweeping narratives about Islamic violence or religious war.

Yet, Douthat ends up questioning the optimism of a certain post-Vatican II liberalism in whose eyes Fr. Hamel’s murder was never supposed to happen.

Bridging Mars and Venus for Religious Freedom

Robert Kagan once wrote a book called Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus.  In the past few years, the United States as well as several European countries, the European Union, and Canada have developed policies promoting religious freedom (though Canada has recently reversed course and closed its Office of Religious Freedom).  Does this development show a turn towards cooperation and emphasis on common priorities?

Perhaps, but Mars-and-Venus-like differences have persisted.  Europeans stress “religious engagement” and “Freedom of Religion or Belief” while the U.S. is more likely to trumpet religious freedom.  Europeans are prone to a multilateral approach while the United States finds it natural to go at it alone.  Western European states host more secular populations than the United States.

Seeing hope for cooperation among the U.S. and its European allies over a critically important principle but also realizing the need for bridging differences, the British Council awarded one of its “Bridging Voices” grants to the University of Sussex and the University of Notre Dame to pursue a pair of policy dialogues on “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Foreign Policy,” both of which were held in 2015 at Wilton Park in England and Georgetown University in the United States.  The results are summarized in a policy brief that presents recommendations for a unified foreign policy of promoting global religious freedom.






The Culture War Over Religious Freedom Goes Global

The afterglow of 4th of July fireworks is a good moment to reflect on religious freedom.  It used to be that Americans saw this principle as part of their common heritage, a constitutional principle that we teach to children in schools and that all take pride in.  Now we are starting to see religious freedom become one side in a culture war, even placed in scare quotes in the contemporary media.

Americans have also believed that their experiment in religious freedom was worth exporting.  President Roosevelt declared religious freedom as one of the “four freedoms” that made up U.S. aims in World War II.  After the war, the U.S. was instrumental in including religious freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Then, after the Cold War, in 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act , institutionalizing the promotion of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

A recent group of critics is calling into question this global promotion.  We’ve engaged them in debate previously here at ArcU (see here, here, and here).  In the past year, the two leading voices, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Saba Mahmood, have published books with Princeton University Press that look critically at religious freedom. I review these two books in a piece that Lawfare published last week.  I take issue with their critique and seek to defend religious freedom.


After Orlando: The Culture War Over Islam Continues

Before saying anything else about Orlando, my heart weeps and mourns, and I pray that all America would weep and mourn together, for the sufferers of this atrocity.

Now, an observation.  Over the past couple of days, a great deal has been said about Islam.  The debate follows almost exactly the pattern that it has followed at least as far back as the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  There is a culture war in the West over Islam.  It has played out again and again on cable news, talk radio, the internet, and in newspapers every time Islam appears in some way to be linked with violence.  The murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.  Al Qaeda’s bombings in Madrid and London.  Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.  The Iraqi civil war following the invasion of the U.S.  The Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI.  The building of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.  The Arab uprisings of 2011.  Shootings at Fort Hood and in San Bernardino.  The predations of Boko Haram and the Islamic State.  Charlie Hebdo.  And now Orlando.

There are hawks and doves.  Hawks hold that violence and intolerance are widespread in Islam; that Islam is hard wired for these pathologies through its texts and doctrines; that Islam is inhospitable to liberal democracy; and that the West must gird up for a long struggle against Islam’s threat.  Hawks have been excoriating President Obama for allegedly denying that Islam is behind violence like this as well as all those who have not recognized Islam for the violent religion that it is.  Donald Trump sings a hawkish tune.

Doves hold that Islam is pluralistic and diverse.  Like all religions, Islam has extremists, but they are few.  Where violence and intolerance do exist in Islam, it feeds off local and historically particular circumstances and are not hard-wired.  Islam is capable of democracy.  The west should acknowledge its own role in contributing to violence in Islam and engage in a dialogue that can increase the sphere of shared understanding.  They upbraid the hawks for being warmongers and point out that every religion has its peaceful and belligerent faces.

Which side is right?  Neither.  I will take a stab at explaining why in posts soon to come.  In the short run, here is a thoughtful statement by contemporary Muslim leaders mourning the Orlando shooting and affirming religious freedom.



Are There Still Just Wars? New Catholic Thinking on Peace

Maria Stephan, a policy analyst at the United States Institute of Peace, has written a fascinating piece about voices in the Catholic Church who are calling for the Church to move past thinking about a just war and to focus far more on building just peace.  The Church has allies in such a quest among other Christians and other faiths as well as secular voices.   The movement comes mostly from peace activists and is not on the verge of leading the magisterium of the Church to jettison the classic doctrine of a just war, dating back to St. Augustine.  Still, its message finds echoes among recent popes and now Pope Francis as well as among leaders and activists throughout the world.

I do not think that the Church should abandon is doctrine of the just war, for sometimes war is just and necessary, but still find Stephan’s message compelling insofar as possibilities for non-violent action are worth developing, pursuing and enacting.  Stephan’s book with political scientist Erica Chenoweth, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, is a landmark.  An article version of it opened my eyes to see that non-violent movements are not the rarified exceptions of a King or a Gandhi but rather part and parcel of global politics.  They are common; they work; and they produce better and more lasting change than violence.

Now she situates her thinking in the Catholic context:

But it seems that Pope Francis – who is by all accounts a progressive thinker, unafraid to challenge old Church doctrines – might welcome a debate over the church’s foundational tenets on war and peace.

“Faith and violence are incompatible,” he repeated in a 2013 mass prayer gathering at the Vatican. Like his predecessors of the past 50 years, he has called for the abolition of war. But this pontiff has gone one step further in pressing for nonviolent alternatives.

She continues:

The concept of “just peace” is not new. It first emerged in the United States in the mid-1980s, when an interdenominational group of Christian scholars advanced alternatives to war that culminated in a just-peace framework.

It included practices like supporting nonviolent direct action; cooperative conflict resolution; advancing democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; fostering just and sustainable economic development; and encouraging grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

She reports on a conference at Rome that she recently attended:

or some at the Rome conference, the pope’s endorsement of the gathering was long overdue for the church. Many of those in attendance, like Sister Nazek Matty from Erbil, Iraq, had known war for years and were sick of it. She and other participants pressed the church to place greater focus on nonmilitary responses to the Islamic State and expand the creative imagination to fight injustices with active nonviolent means.

During one of the plenary sessions, Father Francisco José de Roux, a Jesuit priest from Colombia, decried how, since the mid-1960s, supporters of both the government and FARC insurgents, including local priests, have justified violence in the name of a “just war.” The outcome? Nearly 50 years of civil war.

Other Catholic leaders in Colombia have supported nonviolent civic action and “zones of peace” to keep armed groups out of local communities and have helped advance peace talks expected to culminate in a final settlement later this year. By putting a just-peace approach at the center of its work, the Catholic Church in Colombia opened multiple avenues to effective nonviolent action.

There is much more that is worth reading in this provocative piece.

European Federalism is Catholic — So Brexit is Not

It is often forgotten that the founding of European federalism in the late 1940s and early 1950s was supported disproportionately and enthusiastically by the Catholic Church and Catholic-inspired Christian Democratic parties.  So it is not surprising that Britain’s bishops are now against Brexit.  See this fascinating piece on the subject in The Catholic Herald.  The origins of the Church’s position, according to the piece:

The most intellectually respectable of these strands leads back to the European Coal and Steel Community, formed after the Second World War by Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi. Of these, only Monnet – the French political economist who became the community’s first president – was not a conspicuously devout Catholic. (His private life was complicated: he was married to a woman who left her husband for him and had to travel to Moscow to obtain a divorce; the Monnets could not have a Catholic wedding until the first husband was dead, by which time Jean was 85. The ceremony took place in the basilica at Lourdes.)

Schuman, twice prime minister of France, and De Gasperi, eight times prime minister of Italy and founder of the Christian Democrats, were men of such personal holiness that there have been calls to canonise them. Adenauer, the scheming first Chancellor of West Germany, is not a candidate for sainthood – but he was a trenchantly Catholic statesman during a political career lasting 60 years.

For Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi, the European Economic Community was fundamentally a Catholic project with roots that – in their imaginations, at least – could be traced back to Charlemagne.

Protestant Britons smelled a rat. They portrayed the new alliance as an attempt to re-establish the Holy Roman Empire. There was a grain of truth in this charge – though this “imperial” realm was little more than a patchwork of quarrelsome German principalities. To quote Voltaire, it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

Likewise, there was always an element of fantasy in the goal of “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”, first set out in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. But the Catholic inspiration for the EEC, left unstated in treaties, was anything but frivolous.

In 2008 the Catholic historian Alan Fimister published a book arguing that Schuman’s plans for Europe were “to a remarkable degree, the conscious implementation of the Neo-Thomistic project of Pope Leo XIII”.

Schuman, De Gasperi and Adenauer all believed that the answer to totalitarian ideologies lay in Leo’s vision of the restoration of “the principles of the Christian life in civil and domestic society”.

But Schuman went further: he subscribed to the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain’s notion of supranational democracy as the foundation for a new Christendom. “He held fast to the magisterium’s demand that the final destination of Catholic political action must be the recognition by the civil order of the truth of the Faith,” writes Fimister.

And how was this to be achieved? By the voluntary submission of non-Catholic Europeans to the spiritual authority of Rome.



Obama at Hiroshima (longer version)

Here is a longer version of the op-ed I published at The New York Daily News arguing that President Obama should apologize for Hiroshima, with references to Catholic thought.

Once, in a talk to school students about sex, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said the following:

When, I wonder, did we in America ever get into this idea that freedom means having no boundaries and no limits? You know I think it began on the 6th of August 1945 at 8:15 am when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. That blotted out boundaries. The boundary of America that was the aid of nations, and the nations that were helped. It blotted out the boundary between life and death for the victims of nuclear incineration. Among them even the living were dead. It blotted out the boundary between the civilian and the military. And somehow or other, from that day on in our American life, we say we want no limits and no boundaries.

In dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Sheen reasoned, the U.S. had incurred a moral corruption that could not be easily contained.

As the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Barack Obama has insisted that he will not apologize for the bombings, doubtless aiming to ward off the domestic criticism that such contrition would garner.  Early in his presidency, his foes on the right lambasted him for an “apology tour” overseas.  A 2015 Pew Research Center Survey showed that 70% of Americans over 65 considered the atomic bombs justified, while 47% of 18- to 29-year-olds thought the same.

Would Obama be wrong to apologize, though?  When Archbishop Sheen called Hiroshima the destroyer of moral boundaries, he was speaking not from the left or the right side of the political spectrum, but rather from the heart of his church and from the standpoint of the natural law.  It is always wrong intentionally to kill an innocent person – that is, to murder.  And one should never adopt an immoral means to one’s end.  These are the precepts behind centuries-old laws of war, which have distinguished combatants, who may be targeted lawfully, from non-combatants, whose death one may never intend.

The deaths of non-combatants, the U.S. manifestly did intend when, for the first and only time in history, it used nuclear weapons.  Historians do not dispute that the primary reason for the bombs was to destroy the morale of Japan by killing its civilians, thereby hastening the end of the war.  Killing non-combatants – murder – was a means to an end.  The same reasoning had underlaid the United States’ obliteration bombing of Japanese cities, including Tokyo, as well as the Allies’ bombing of Hamburg and Dresden, Germany, earlier in the war.

Armchair analysts! will come the response.  Professors with their principles looking back 71 years later may well condemn the bombings but have considered little the pressures that President Harry Truman was under when he had to make his terrible decision of summer 1945.  Nor have the denizens of the faculty lounge come to grips with the number of lives of U.S. soldiers that would have been lost in a conventional invasion of mainland Japan, which some historians estimate to be 500,000, the charge will run.

The history of what did not happen, though, is always debatable.  Historical counterfactuals – what would have happened if X did not occur – are notoriously uncertain, perhaps just as uncertain as predictions about the future.  Even the assumption of a colossally bloody invasion of Japan rests upon the fixity of U.S. war aims such as unconditional surrender and the deposing of Japan’s Emperor.  Had war aims been relaxed, might an alternative peace have been possible?  The answers can only be speculative.

Far more certain is the moral law, which the Apostle Paul taught is inscribed on the heart.  If it is wrong without exception to kill civilians as the object of one’s action, then targeting the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be ruled out apart from how persuasive this or that historian’s counterfactuals may be.  The principle of non-combatant immunity is not the conclusion of a speculative university seminar but is rather a law that every soldier, including the commander in chief, is expected to know and follow.  General Curtis Le May, the architect of the campaign to bomb Japanese cities – no armchair analyst he – acknowledged as much when he quipped after the war that “if we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.”

While the arguments against the bomb can be rendered through reason, it is worth noting that those reasoning from the heart of the same tradition as Archbishop Sheen – the Catholic tradition – have reached the same conclusion that he did.  Courageously, theologian John Ford, S.J. wrote an article in 1944 – during the throes of the war – explaining why obliteration bombing could never pass moral muster.  Oxford philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, a Catholic and one of the greatest philosophical minds of the twentieth century, refused to attend the ceremony when Oxford awarded President Truman an honorary degree, explaining her decision in a pointed essay.  The great document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, the “magna carta” of modern Catholic social and political thought, condemned the bombing of cities outright, indenting the text, “[a]ny act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.”  Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical of 1993, Veritatis Splendor, rejected the proportionalist method of moral reasoning that would replace moral absolutes with a weighing of goods – the kind of reasoning that is required to justify the bombings.  John Paul II spoke about Hiroshima directly when he said to the Japanese ambassador to the Holy See in 1999, ““The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a message to all our contemporaries, inviting all the earth’s peoples to learn the lessons of history and to work for peace with ever greater determination. Indeed, they remind our contemporaries of all the crimes committed during the Second World War against civilian populations, crimes and acts of true genocide.”

War crimes leave wounds.  When a nation places its patriotism and its policy behind a gravely immoral deed and continues to justify this deed, it invites its citizens to commit further grave wrongs on the proportionalist rationale.  Not long after Hiroshima, the U.S. government rested the nation’s very defense on the threat to kill innocents in its policy of massive retaliation.  Again, Anscombe diagnosed the problem in an essay, “War and Murder,” which she concluded by writing, “[t]hose, therefore, who think they must be prepared to wage a war with Russia involving the deliberate massacre of cities, must be prepared to say to God: ‘We had to break your law, lest your Church fail. We could not obey your commandments, for we did not believe your promises.’”

In renouncing a moral wrong and inviting citizens to share in the contrition, a head of state can help to heal historical wounds and to nullify historical rationales for future crimes.  President Abraham Lincoln exercised such moral leadership when he called Americans – from both North and South – to repent for slavery.  More recently, President George H.W. Bush officially apologized to Japanese-Americans interned in World War II and President Bill Clinton apologized to Guatemalans for U.S. complicity in human rights violations during the Cold War.

The U.S. also has every right to ask Japan to apologize for its attack on Pearl Harbor and its atrocities during the war.  Such an apology from Japan may well be unlikely.  The apologies that Japanese prime ministers voiced in the 1990s for Japan’s crimes in the 1930s and 1940s provoked a nationalist backlash and public controversy as much as they did greater national contrition.

A U.S. president’s apology for the atomic bombs is also likely to provoke opposition from many American citizens, who will say that an apology for Hiroshima and Nagasaki breaks faith with the U.S. soldiers who fought and died in World War II.  An apology, though, does no dishonor to these soldiers, who fought a war whose cause was just.  Contrition would not detract in the slightest from the imperative of remembering and honoring their sacrifice.

Rather, were the lone superpower to apologize for its violations of the law of nations, it could set an example for other nations to follow.  It might deprive Japan’s latter day nationalists of some of their best arguments for rejecting contrition towards their own country’s history and make it easier for Japanese prime ministers to extend apologies to the U.S. as well as to China and Korea.  An apology for the dropping of the atomic bombs would elicit ire and fury in the short run, but with the passing of time may come to be seen as one of President Obama’s greatest acts of leadership.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.