Animus and the Just War Theory

A common complaint of the moderns laws of war is that they are nothing but a set of legal hurdles that should be overcome to legitimize uses of force in the international arena.  International lawyers are often accused of conducting “legal gymnastics” in order to justify a particular action.  On the flip side of the same coin, some nations are accused of “lawfare,” or utilizing international law as weapon itself to seek out selfish ends.  

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that this should be the case in the practice of modern international law, particularly as it relates to the use of force.  The notion of what constitutes a legally permissible use of force is almost exclusively focused on objective factors.  Has the United Nations authorized a use of force by whatever criteria they deem appropriate at the time?  Is a nation acting in self-defense, even against a threat that is not yet fully materialized?  Has another nation asked for assistance against a threat they deem to authorize a use of force? Is another nation failing to  fully address a threat I deem to constitute an immediate threat?

These are all important questions to ask and should be asked prior to an international use of force.  They are required to answer the requirement of a justa causa, the objective legal claim upon which a use of force could be claimed.  This is a basic requirement that originated in just war theory and continues to this day.  The problem, however, is that is has led to a international system where, if a legally articulate claim can be made under international law, nations feel free to utilize the use of force.  

Earlier understandings of international law, however, included an additional element that is no longer included in legal calculations leading to war: animus.  This element required a “rightful intention,” the subjective counterweight to the justa causa. Under this element, the use of force must  be carried out with the sole purpose of correcting a larger evil and establishing a good end.  Uses of force resulting from personal hatred, desire for glory, or other less noble ends were considered sinful, even if there was a valid justa causa.

The reasons for excluding animus as an element for a just war are understandable.  The law is not generally fond of subjective elements, given the difficulty of proof.  However, I do wonder if the absence of a subjective element has led to belief that if an objective violation can be found nations may feel free to use force when it suits their ends.  Many of the greatest philosophers and theologians included the subjective notion of animus in determining right and wrong, perhaps it is time to rethink its exclusion from the law of war.


The Devil and Politics

C.S. Lewis makes a great point concerning the Devil: he always sends errors into the world in pairs and opposites.  Being human as we are, we immediately identify which of the two evils we think is the worst and identify with the opposite.  This allows us to feel superior and part of a team, but that opposite is still evil and will lead us into sin.  Our task is to keep to the path of Christian love and navigate our way between the two evils.  

This challenge is often at its height during election season.  We are so focused on what we see as the sins and evils of one side, that we slip into the evils of the other. I can’t help but believe this is exactly the Devil’s plan.  Remember that the Devil is smarter than us all, and it is only though wisdom, not clever arguments, that he can defeated.  

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t vote for either side, choosing to sit on a fence that may not bear the weight.  Rather, I think we should be ever mindful not to applaud blindly at every thing one side says simply because we hate the other.  Both sides must be called out and challenged when they fail to live up to the ideals of our Christian faith.

“He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” ~ C.S. Lewis 

A bit incongruent perhaps, but…

For those fans of C.S. Lewis, particularly the Screwtape Letters, I point you in the direction of a wonderful audiobook rendering which can be found on YouTube.

I say incongruent because it was performed by John Cleese, of Monty Python fame.  No intent to judge, but he did not seem to be much of a champion of Christianity.  Perhaps that’s why he made such a perfect Screwtape?

Anyway, enjoy.  I did.

My simple thoughts on the Trinity

Following a wonderful discussion with some colleagues on the nature of good and evil, I came home and did a little deep thinking (whilst enjoying my pipe of course!).  Anyway, the following were my by no means original thoughts:

– Perhaps the explanation that most makes sense to my feeble mind is starting with the proposition that God is love. It is impossible to love without something TO love. The lover must have a beloved. Given that God the Father existed before time, he must have a Beloved that also existed before time. Christ IS that Beloved, and the love that exists between God the Father and Christ is the Holy Spirit. In this way I cannot imagine a God that is not a triune God.  

– In a similar vein is the explanation of evil. Love cannot exist between man and God if man does not have free will, for it is impossible to love anything unless one is free to love or not love. And because love between God and man is the highest good, God must give man free will. And because man has free will, and because man is a fallen being, man may choose to do evil. If God were to remove man’s free will in order to prevent him from doing evil, the greater evil of the loss of love between man and God would result.

– So how to explain when God does intervene, such as in the case of miracles. Given that miracles are by there very nature a mystery, I suppose it should be no surprise that God’s reason for intervening with miracles is also a mystery. However, I believe it lends credence to the idea that the Saints are beloved by God, and when we pray to them to intercede on our behalf, miracles sometimes result. 

As I said, by no means original thoughts, but they seemed particularly clear to me tonight.

Shifting Sands Part II

Ross Douthat posted another fantastic column in the NYT that tracks nicely with last post’s theme of the shifting view of law, morality and ethics with the Catholic Church in the United States.  Douthat rightly questions the view of conservative Catholics as “order-obsessed absolutists desperate to believing in an unchanging, unchangeable Catholicism.”  He points to the myriad ways the Church has changed dramatically is the last half-century:

A transformation in the church’s attitude toward liberal democracy and religious freedom. A transformation in the church’s attitude toward other Christian churches and non-Christian religions. A total renovation of the church’s liturgy, one with inevitable implications for sacramental life, theology, biblical interpretation, the works, that was staggering in hindsight but accepted at the time by everyone except a tiny minority. A revolution in sacred architecture, albeit one that stalled out once it became apparent that it was, you know, kind of terrible. Massive shifts in church rhetoric around issues of personal morality (sexual morality very much included) even where the formal teaching remained intact. Stark changes in the way the church talks about sin, hell and damnation, and openings (again, including among conservative Catholics) to theological perspectives once considered flatly heterodox. Clear changes, slow-moving or swift, in the Vatican’s public stance on hot-button issues like the death penalty and torture (and perhaps soon just war theory as well). The purging or diminution of a host of Catholic distinctives, from meatless Fridays to communion on the tongue to the ban on cremation to … well, like I said, it’s a partial list, so I’ll stop there.

Speaking of marriage and the reception of divorce and remarried Catholics to communion, Douthat  suggests that conservative Catholics have drawn a line at “certain essentials of the faith.”  Whereas conservative Catholics saw an ally in these essentials with Popes JP2 and B16, they are unsure (at best) about Pope Francis, who has consistently emphasized the pastoral over the doctrinal.  However, as I mentioned in the last post, I think a lack of acceptance towards human failure goes against the natural Catholic inclination.  So why the adamant opposition to these particular changes?

One answer could be the heavy infusion of former Protestants into the Catholic intellectual tradition, with the associated Protestant inclination towards strict adherence to church law/ethics/morality.  In fact, Douthat’s article is a response to Damon Linker, who initially came into the church because he “longed to find an absolute moral Truth and craved a sense of belonging with others who recognized and ordered their lives according to that Truth.” Although he seems to have abandoned that need, it is a real phenomenon that should be taken into account.

However, I think there may be something different happening here, and why this issue has spurred such angst in both “conservative” and “traditional” Catholics. Douthat notes that “the church’s understanding of marriage is so close to the heart of Catholic moral and sacramental theology.”  The current primary point of contention, Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, is essential to the sacramental theology of the Eucharist.  Most conservatives are focused less on the argument over relaxing the standards for declarations of nullity, but rather more on the issue of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist.  Conservatives and traditionalists see the Eucharist as so central to the faith that officially endorsing reception by unrepentant sinners strikes at its centrality in Catholic sacramental life.

As a side note, it says something very interesting about the modern psyche that this is such a point of contention between liberals and conservatives.  From what I read (I wasn’t alive then), up to fifty or sixty years ago a much smaller percentage of Catholics received communion when attending Mass.  This wasn’t because they were all divorce and remarried, but due to what Archbishop Chaput referred to as “an excessive fear of our own sins.”  A Catholic who was aware of having committed a mortal sin would not have thought about receiving the Eucharist until they had received absolution. Now, as Chaput puts it, “far too many of us receive Communion unthinkingly, reflexively, with no sense of the urgent need for our own self-examination, humility and conversion.”

So, are conservatives saying enough is enough and drawing a line in the sand on the issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, or is there something particular about this issue?  I think it may be the latter for an interesting reason: this issue blends the boundary between pastoral practice and doctrinal change to an unusual degree.

To a liberal, allowing the divorce and remarried to receive communion is about meeting spiritually wounded people where they are at and making them feel welcome in the community.  They understand the powerful place the Eucharist has in the church and to deny someone the Eucharist may drive them from the church.

To a conservative, allowing someone to receive Eucharist who is in an acknowledged state of sin, for which they cannot be absolved while they choose to stay in the relationship, undermines the entire doctrinal framework of sin, absolution, and the Eucharist. They see an already devalued Eucharist resulting from poor liturgical practice, and view reception while mortal sin as undermining its sacramental understanding as well.  Again, given the centrality of the Eucharistic to the Catholic faith, it’s understandable why conservatives are so upset.

To conclude, I think Douthat is correct in stating conservatives aren’t “order-obsessed absolutists” resisting change in any form.  They have seen dramatic upheaval in the church and are understandably concerned the fundamental nature of the Eucharist is being undermined.  Whereas a church liberal may see heartless adherence to outdated doctrine, there is something unique to this particular issue and it should be viewed in this context.