Author: Tobias Winright

Seeds of Re-Creation

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 10, 2011: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65:10-14; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23 The readings for today bring back memories of my childhood on a small farm in northwest Ohio. Each year, before planting seeds for corn and soy beans, my brothers and I walked beside a tractor, picked up rocks (the glaciers left behind a lot in that neck of the woods), and tossed them onto the wagon behind the tractor. Certainly not a fun chore for four preteen boys, but we got paid a little bit for doing it, and I also really came to know the lay of the land. This annual activity was necessary to prepare the soil to yield a good crop. In these readings, the “end” (Is 55:11) or “purpose” (or “goal”) that God has is, as the responsorial Psalm emphasizes, “a fruitful harvest.” For the Judean exiles in Babylon (c. 540 B.C.E., during the final years of their captivity there), the message of hope and consolation that the anonymous prophet known as Second Isaiah offered was reinforced with such language, framing the promise of restoration as a new exodus into the Promised Land. This word, or seed, says the LORD, “shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” In the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the good...

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Deliberating on Drones and Just War

Kenneth R. Himes, O.F.M., in his article, “Intervention, Just War, and U.S. National Security,” which appeared in Theological Studies 65 (2004): 141-157, observed: “As has often been the case with jus in bello deliberations, the engine driving the debate is new technology” (152). A mere seven years later, the military technology du jour is the unmanned aerial drone–a topic I hope to think and write more about in the near future. I thought of Himes’ quote about jus in bello (justice in the conduct of war) in this connection because, on the one hand, the drones are precision guided and, as a recent article in the New York Times reports, “administration officials say [drone technology] has helped paralyze Al Qaeda in the region” of Pakistan; yet, on the other hand, others have expressed concerns about the data we actually have about casualties from drone strikes, including civilian deaths and injuries. In the aforementioned New York Times article, one military ethicist instead focuses on jus ad bellum (justice in embarking upon war) and, indeed, on only one criterion, just cause: “There’s a kind of nostalgia for the way wars used to be,” said Deane-Peter Baker, an ethics professor at the United States Naval Academy, referring to noble notions of knight-on-knight conflict. Drones are part of a post-heroic age, he said, and in his view it is not always a problem if...

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Update on Intervention in Libya

Over at Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Kim Lawton interviews Notre Dame’s Gerard Powers who reassesses the US/NATO intervention underway in Libya. It’s a brief piece, but I think Powers raises the right concerns: 1) Was the intervention morally justified in the first place? 2) Are the means being employed morally justified? 3) Is attention being given to how to foster and implement post-conflict justice? In my view, a case could have been made that the intervention was justified. There was just cause, namely, to stop the bloodshed of civilians that was underway and to prevent escalation of the violence to genocidal proportions. However, the other criteria of jus ad bellum (justice in embarking upon armed intervention) also need to be satisfied (legitimate authority, last resort, proportionality, probability of success), and I’m not sure these were satisfactorily addressed. Moreover, the armed intervention by third-party forces (US/NATO/UN) should have not taken sides in the conflict, which is actually a civil war; rather, the third-party forces should have prevented forces on either side from putting civilians in the crossfire of danger. That might have encouraged a cease-fire at some point so that a negotiated settlement might result. As for the means used (jus in bello), I agree with Powers that the air-strike approach alone is problematic. It protects our forces’ lives, which is important, but this should not be done at a...

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Report from the Annual Convention of the College Theology Society

Today is the final day of the 57th Annual Convention of the College Theology Society. Several of us contributors and a number of friends and colleagues have attended a number of excellent papers (of course, some were not so excellent). This year’s theme has been “They Shall Be Called Children of God: Violence, Transformation, and the Sacred.” The National Catholic Reporter has provided (and will provide more in the coming days) some coverage of it. Overall, some 260 persons were registered for the convention. Plenary talks were given by William T. Cavanaugh (“Violence Religious and Secular: Questioning the Categories”), M. Shawn Copeland (“God Among the Ruins: Companion and Co-Sufferer”), James T. Logan (an African-American Mennonite theologian whose book on prisons and punishment I reviewed for Christian Century; he offered a great response to Copeland’s talk), and Todd David Whitmore (“Theology as Gospel Mimesis: Lessons from a Conflict Zone”). During a fourth plenary, “Alive Man Walking: One Person’s Story of Exoneration from Death Row,” Shujaa Graham, of the Witness to Innocence Project, movingly shared his story of being on–and released from–death row with us. During the banquet last night, Peter Steinfels and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, who were honored with the CTS Presidential Award, also spoke. Afterwards, during the CTS Celebration that began at 9:30 p.m. and included music and singing (a tradition here), a number of us stayed up late reflecting...

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Sixteen Years of Catholic Education without Hearing about Distributive Justice?

Appearing with Stephen Schneck on the O\’Reilly Factor, Vincent Miller pointed out to Bill O’Reilly that the “Catholic church speaks about distributive justice.” O’Reilly then said, “The Catholic church teaches about distributive justice. I’ve never heard that. I went to sixteen years of Catholic school. I never heard that.” Oh, really, O’Reilly? If that’s the case, then someone fumbled the ball when he attended Chaminade High and Marist College. It would be interesting to find the textbooks that were used during the 1950s and 1960s when he was in school. Textbooks that were used in Catholic high schools and colleges earlier in the twentieth century–on morality, politics, economics, social reconstruction–by the likes of John A. Ryan and Virgil Michel, OSB typically devoted a chapter to justice, with subheadings referring to commutative justice, distributive justice, retributive justice, legal justice, and social justice. Quotes on the topic are also frequently found in these texts from papal encyclicals, including Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum: “Among the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for their people, the first and chief is to act with justice–with that justice which is called in the Schools distributive–towards each and every class” (no. 27, emphasis in original, quoted in John A. Ryan and Francis J. Bolland, CSC, Catholic Principles of Politics, rev. ed. [Macmillan Co., 1958], p....

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