Notable links from the week, with a smattering of commentary

Buzzfeed(!) profiles pioneering Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson. I blogged about Johnson’s book She Who Is back in 2009–see here, here, here, and here.

Nadia Bolz Weber preached a good Ash Wednesday sermon.

Rep. Paul Ryan thinks free school lunches are bad for kids’ souls. I take this a bit personally since I got free lunches when I was a kid and don’t think my soul is particularly worse off for it. You know what is bad for your spiritual and moral development? Being too poor to eat.

David Brooks wrote a great column about the evils of solitary confinement.

A wonderful essay from the New York Review of Books on the “secret life” of W. H. Auden. Apparently the great poet–who was also Christian, if a somewhat idiosyncratic one–did a lot of surreptitious charitable works, even when it made him look like a jerk in public.

The impending publication of some of his journals reignite the debate about whether philosopher Martin Heidegger was an anti-Semite.

The Democratic primary for D.C. mayor is next month, and the Washington Post has put together a helpful guide on where the candidates stand on various issues. I’m still undecided on this.

Political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. published an essay in Harper’s (not available online) about what he says (apparently; I haven’t actually read the essay) is the long decline of the American Left and its over-investment in the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party.  This garnered some push-back from various quarters (see here, here, and here, among others); Reed replied to some of these criticisms here. I’m probably less left-wing than most of the participants to this argument, but it’s hard to deny that conservatives have been more successful than the Left in recent decades in building a grass-roots movement that can drive policy changes. The GOP is far more beholden to the conservative movement than the Dems are to the Left. I don’t think, however, that investing in such a movement should prevent anyone from supporting the superior alternative (or lesser evil if you prefer) in a given election. And for left-of-center folks this will almost invariably be the Democrat.

On the situation in Ukraine, and the persistent demands that the U.S. “do something,” I found this helpful.

Music-wise, I’m still on a St. Vincent kick. Here’s a great live session from a couple of years ago.

Cautious optimism about the new pope

Look, I’m a Protestant, so no pope is ever going to satisfy me. And I totally get that progressive Catholics would be upset by the same-old, same-old on women’s rights, LGBT rights, and other issues about which the Catholic hierarchy remains steadfastly conservative.

But there are reasons for cautious optimism about Pope Francis (Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio). He is, by most accounts I’ve seen, a humble man attuned to the condition of the world’s poorest people and less hung up on doctrinal minutiae than his predecessor. He also appears to be more oriented toward ecumenism and interfaith relations and less concerned with asserting the superiority of Catholicism in all things. As a Jesuit, he reflects a tradition of engagement with and openness to the world that can be very appealing. I don’t expect him to revolutionize Catholicism, but these provide hints that he could do some real good.

One major concern that’s been raised is whether he’s got it in him to undertake certain reforms needed within the Vatican machinery, and given his age (and Benedict’s re-establishment of the precedent of papal retirements), it’s not unthinkable that his papacy may have little impact at all. But as a fellow Christian I’m certainly happy to pray for the new pontiff and pray that he will represent the love of Jesus to a world sorely in need of it (as we’re all called to do!).

Anglican-Roman doings

There’s been a lot of virtual ink spilled over the last week or so about the Vatican’s announcement that it will make it easier for Anglicans to convert, establishing, it appears, a more widespread use of the so-called Anglican Rite liturgy and allowing for some degree of self-governance for former Anglican communities. (Including continuing the practice of allowing married Anglican clergy to convert, be re-ordained, and lead these parishes.)

People have interpreted the announcement as everything from crass sheep-stealing, to creating a haven for Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination and/or gay clergy, to attempting to establish a united Christian front against Islam. But I think before we jump to conclusions about the significance of this move, it’s important to get at least some sense of who’s likely to actually make such a move.

A lot of the media reports have been focusing on “traditionalist Anglicans,” a vague and not terribly helpful term that could include everyone from a Nigerian charismatic-evangelical to the spikiest of high-church Anglo-Catholics. The former is, for obvious reasons, far less likely to swim the Tiber than the latter.

But even among Anglo-Catholics–a notoriously fissiparous lot–there are significant differences of opinion and practice. There are Anglo-Catholics who worship with the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (or its equivalent in other countries) and those who insist on using the 1928 BCP. There are Anglo-Catholic parishes that use the Catholic Tridentine Rite; there are others that use the reformed Roman rite (the so-called Novus Ordo). There are “Affirming” Anglo-Catholics who support the ordination of women and equality for LGBT Christians; there are others who take traditionalist positions on these matters (or, in some cases, a traditionalist position on one and a revisionist position on the other). There are Anglo-Papalists who identify very strongly with the Catholic Church and long for reunion with Rome, and there are even a few “Byzantine” Anglicans who identify with the spirituality and theology of the Eastern church. (Obviously not all these groupings are mutually exclusive.)

Needless to say, not all of these folks–even within the minority persuasion of Anglo-Catholicism–will be enticed to convert. It’s true that in addition to Anglo-Papalist types, there may be some people in the traditionalist wing of Anglo-Catholicism who will be tempted to convert not because they unhesitatingly accept all the claims of the Catholic Church but because they feel–rightly or wrongly–that Christian orthodoxy is a losing proposition within Anglicanism. Even still, it’s hard to imagine more than a small minority of Anglicans making the decision to go over to Rome. Whether the Pope showed ecumenical bad manners is debatable, but if Benedict’s goal was to absorb the Anglican Communion, Borg-like, into the Catholic Church, this is a peculiar way to go about it.

Yes, Virginia, the pope believes in global warming

Apparently some right-wing Catholics have interpreted the fact that the words “global warming” or “climate change” do not appear in Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical to mean that the pope is a global warming skeptic of some sort. Neil Ormerod, a Catholic theologian in Australia, attempts to set the record straight.

Like a pope needs an encyclical

I don’t know if I’ll get around to reading Caritas in Veritate in its entirety (so far I’ve only made it through the introduction), but John Schwenkler is going to be posting thoughts on each chapter once a week (see here for details), which will undoubtedly provide food for thought.

Spe salvi

New papal encyclical on Christian hope. Haven’t read it yet, but it looks good.

Preemption, prevention, and the Pope

Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus have both offered some critical comments on Pope Benedict’s Easter address where Benedict reiterated (by implication, at least) some of his criticisms of the Iraq war. Novak has consistently remained a steadfast supporter of President Bush, so his comments aren’t particularly novel or surprising; he offers the now-cliched rebuttal that the Pope, much like the “American Left” is ignoring all the “good news” coming out of Iraq.

Neuhaus, by contrast, has expressed at least some misgivings about the war over the last several months, but here tries to get the Bush Administration off the hook for its embrace of “preventive war,” which, as numerous theologians, including the Pope himself, have pointed out, is incompatible with Catholic teaching on Just War:

Talk about preemptive war was part of the Bush administration’s less than careful (others would say arrogant) strategic language, most assertively expressed in the statement on national security of September 2002. Language about preemptive war was provocative and entirely unnecessary. As George Weigel has explained (here and here) in the pages of First Things, traditional just-war doctrine adequately provides for the use of military force in the face of a clear and present threat of aggression. Such a use of force is more accurately described as defensive rather than preemptive, and it is worth keeping in mind that in 2003 all the countries with developed intelligence services agreed that Saddam Hussein had or was quickly developing weapons of mass destruction that he intended to use in aggressive war.

There needs to be a distinction made between “preemptive” war and “preventive” war. Fr. Neuhaus is correct that preemption is allowed for in Just War thinking. If a country is facing an imminent threat it needn’t wait for the other side to attack before engaging in defensive action. The textbook (literally) example of this is Israel’s preemptive attack which began the Six Day War.

But “preventive” war refers to initiating hostilities when the threat is only hypothetical. Daniel Larison dissects some of the problems with this concept here, but it is to say the least far harder to justify according to traditional Just War criteria.

Fr. Neuhaus, unfortunately, seems to be engaging in a bit of sleight-of-hand here when he talks about the supposed threat from Iraq as “clear and present threat of aggression” and says that “all the countries with developed intelligence services agreed that Saddam Hussein had or was quickly developing weapons of mass destruction that he intended to use in aggressive war.” The “threat” posed by Hussein’s regime was always a very hypothetical one, relying on a chain of inferences involving its possession of WMDs, its alleged ties to al-Qaeda (always the weakest of the Administration’s arguments), and the claim that it couldn’t be deterred from launching what would appear to be a suicidal attack on the U.S. via these terrorist proxies. Even Administration spokesmen shied away from describing this “threat” as “imminent.” In fact, President Bush himself in his 2003 State of the Union address said:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.

In fact, after it became clear that the threat from Saddam’s Iraq was largely illusory, there was a concerted effort by Administration spokesmen to deny that they ever claimed that the threat was “imminent.”

Now, it’s open to the defender of preventive war to argue that a threat needn’t be imminent for war to be justified, but that would represent a serious departure from the Just War tradition; to mention only one problem it’s very difficult to see how preventive war could be reconciled with the criterion of “last resort.” But, if so, it should at least be admitted that it is a departure. Either the Administration was claiming that that the threat from Saddam was imminent, in which case it was either wrong or dissembling, or it was not claiming the threat was imminent, in which case it went to war in contravention of accepted Just War principles.