Just war theory obsolete in nuclear age, says Doug Roche

  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - A “theology of the street” put forward by retired Sen. Doug Roche could be the basis for Catholic participation in the peace movement, said Catholics for Peace spokesman Deacon Steve Barringer.

Delivering the annual chancellor’s lecture at the University of Toronto’s Jesuit faculty of theology, Regis College, Nov. 20, Roche proposed a Catholic response to modern warfare which would replace just war theory with a call to dialogue and peace building.

“I do not believe that God created the world in order for it to be blown up by nuclear weapons, sullied by environmental degradation or huge numbers of its inhabitants denied the fundamental requisites of human life and dignity,” Roche, a former cabinet minister in the Mulroney government, said.

The new reality of war in a globalized world requires new thinking about conflict and a new morality, Roche said.

“If religions do not become more prominently associated with this 21st-century struggle of humanity to find ways to live together in one world, then religions will find themselves even more marginalized from the decision-making processes,” said Roche.

That means a new urgency and decisiveness is required from Canada’s Catholics, said Barringer. Canadian bishops should be less circumspect about wading into public policy on Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, according to the Toronto deacon.

“The church is not afraid to give us moral teachings about marriage and abortion. It should have the courage to give us teaching about these moral questions — which go beyond partisan politics,” said Barringer.

In tossing aside the just war theory first proposed by St. Augustine of Hippo and elaborated by neo-scholastic theologians of the 18th and 19th centuries, Roche seems to be on the same wavelength as Pope Benedict XVI, said Fr. Damian MacPherson, the archdiocese of Toronto’s ecumenical and interfaith relations officer. The Pope himself has publicly doubted that in the age of nuclear weapons and other modern technologies of war there can be any such thing as a just war, MacPherson said.

“Nuclear weapons are so devastating in the modern age that to think of war as being just any more needs to be reconsidered.”

When elected Pope, Benedict XVI said he had chosen to name himself in part after Pope Benedict XV because that 20th-century pope had called the First World War “useless slaughter.” In 2006 the Pope called on all Christians “to mobilize all the powers that recognize how war is the worst solution for everyone.”

It’s important that Roche’s “theology of the street” does more than reject just war theory and in its place proposes a culture of dialogue, said MacPherson.

“He’s asking for a positive, behavioural modification in ethics — a universal ethics on a global scale of course — to deal with the vital questions of nuclear weapons, of an equal distribution of goods and services and the growing and unresolved problem of hunger,” said MacPherson. “This is the stuff that Canadian bishops should be saying.”

A transcript of Sen. Doug Roche's talk can be found here in PDF format

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