The response of American Catholic intellectuals to the events of September 11 and their aftermath has been profoundly disappointing to anyone looking for some genuinely Catholic thinking. Most of what's been written and said by Catholic chatterers on left and right is Catholic in only the most superficial way: just war theory is talked about and magisterial documents appealed to, but only to ornament and defend convictions arrived at on quite other grounds, convictions drearily predictable from their proponents' location on the American political spectrum.
For the right, the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan has been not only morally defensible but obviously so, and claims to the contrary exhibit moral idiocy; for the left, it is equally obvious that there is rough moral parity between the U.S. government and al-Qaeda, and that what America has done and is doing in Afghanistan cannot successfully be defended. There are intermediate positions, of course; but what left-Catholics and right-Catholics have mostly exhibited, wherever exactly they are on the political spectrum, is a failure to think first as Catholics by succumbing to the temptation to think first as Americans.
These comments are intended as a corrective, a brief Catholic meditation on September 11 and its consequences. More specifically, they address the following question: Should American Catholics have supported or endorsed the U.S. government's declared intention to use lethal military force against the government and people of Afghanistan as an element of its response to September 11?
First, there is the question of the burden of proof. Clarity about this is essential, for from it all else flows. And the Catholic tradition is in fact abundantly clear about where the burden of proof lies when the possible use of lethal military force by a nation is concerned. It lies with those who would endorse or advocate it. Catholic citizens of the U.S. must, therefore, assume that a planned use of lethal military force by their country is illegitimate and unjust until this burden has been met. Good, convincing evidence must be brought to rebut this assumption; only then may a Catholic citizen endorse what is planned. The situation is closely analogous to that facing a jury in a U.S. court of law: the working assumption should be that the defendant is innocent, and the prosecution must rebut that assumption if the jury is properly to find the defendant guilty. Similarly, Catholics must begin by assuming that their country is unjustified in planning to use lethal military force, and must then await the meeting of the burden of proof.
Some Catholic commentators have claimed otherwise. George Weigel has been particularly vociferous on the burden-of-proof question. But he and others like him are, on this matter, bewitched by their political convictions into abandoning the grammar of the faith and thereby misrepresenting Catholic teaching to others. Anyone who doubts this should read those sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that deal with the Fifth Commandment, and most especially those sections (beginning at [section] 2302) that treat the safeguarding of peace. The Catechism's analysis makes sense only if the onus probandi lies with those who would argue that a particular decision to use lethal military force is just. They must show that the ius ad bellum criteria are met, and until they do Catholics must rest, happily or otherwise, with the default assumption that the planned use of lethal military force is not just--which means that, in the particular case before us, we American Catholics should not have supported our country's decision to use lethal military force against the government and people of Afghanistan until the burden of proof had been met.
So now the question is: Has the U.S. met the burden of proof? The answer is no--not before bombing began last October, and not even now that the Taliban have been replaced with a coalition government. Those who think that the burden of proof was met make a simple but damaging error: they are guilty of epistemic immodesty. That is, they think they are in a position to know more than they are in fact in a position to know, and as a result they make decisions that should not be made. The decision in question, recall, is whether to endorse an action that will kill large numbers of human beings, people made in God's image, people for whom Christ died. No Catholic should endorse such an action lightly or easily. The very thought of doing so should produce horror, a wail of anticipatory lament and repentance, and this means that the burden of proof is heavy. To meet it, much good evidence and argument is needed.
Where is Se evidence and argument to come from? How is the heavy burden to be met? Do we American …