In the movie The First Monday of October, Walter Matthau plays a liberal justice on the Supreme Court.
Early in the film, he eulogizes a deceased conservative colleague with whom he often argued strenuously. Matthau's character explains that, in fact, the two liked and respected each other.
"Together, we were like the buttresses of a great cathedral," he explains. "He pushed from the right, I pushed from the left and together we kept the wall up."
These two characters did not see their diverse views as barriers to justice but as gifts that helped each discern what is right.
One might argue that the bishops of the United States had a similar insight in preparing their document, Faithful Citizenship: a Call to Political Responsibility. For, in that document, they identify the diversity of America's Catholic community as one of the major assets Catholics bring to the public square.
Faithful Citizenship observes that America's 60 million-plus Catholics can be found everywhere. We belong to all the major political parties, are found among all racial, social, and economic groups, and among all professions and occupations. We are among the nation's power elite and amidst society's poor and vulnerable.
We also see this diversity among Catholics in our politics. Even though we are grounded in the same tradition and even when we share the same goals, Catholics may differ at times as to the best means to achieve them. There are Catholic liberals and Catholic conservatives. Some favor activist government. Others a less engaged public sector.
The diversity of the Catholic population serves to provide many outlets for sharing what Faithful Citizenship calls our "common commitment to protect human life and stand with those who are poor and vulnerable."
The "moral leaven" we are expected to provide to our democracy makes a difference because Catholics are a vital part of so many facets of our nation's daily life.
But diversity is an asset only if we let it be. For we can easily view varied experiences and outlooks as obstacles to unity and progress.
If, however, we see our diversity as a gift that fosters discernment, then the perspectives of those with different opinions can deepen our own insights and enrich our civic life. Viewed in this way, our different backgrounds can deepen our collective Catholic understanding of how our faith can transform our American culture.
Of course, this only works if we share - and genuinely heed - the lessons offered by our brothers and sisters in faith.
Enriching civic life
If we credit Catholics whose personal stories and public policy views differ from ours with sharing the same foundation in faith, then even the occasionally heated conflict over public policies can be constructive.
If we fail to value diversity, however, the conflict becomes corrosive and the "buttresses" all too easily become wrecking balls that weaken the structure rather than support it.
Our diversity is an asset we cannot afford to squander. Faithful citizens who appreciate that asset can truly enrich our civic life.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Iraq and war revisited: One more time
Judging from the torrent of e-mail I've received since my recent column on Iraq and the just war tradition, a lot of Catholics don't understand that venerable method of Christian moral reflection, or how it functions, or what it can -- and cannot -- do.
Among the riper comments:
"[Weigel's] justification was obviously bereft of any spiritual or scriptural underpinnings."
"Don't look now but the Fascists have returned . . . Should the Church be associated with . . . [Weigel's] right-wing, war hungry message?"
"I was shocked and appalled to read the column by George Weigel . . . it seems to me that he is making the case for 'the end justifies the means' . . . "
"I am dumbfounded by the false logic and unproven assumptions you use . . . Perhaps now that we have made Iraq safe for people like you, you would care to take a trip over and stand on a street corner . . . Without armed guards. Waving an American flag. And while we are at it, what makes you believe the Iraqis want a democratic form of government? Did anyone in your office ask them?"
". . . you are a victim of the 'Judas effect.' You have twisted the teaching of the Church to support your personal view of the world."
Just war tradition
In late April, after I keynoted a Rome conference on the future of Catholic thinking about world politics, a reporter asked what I thought about the response to my writing on Iraq and just war these past 18 months. I told her that I'd be grateful if my critics would at least assume that people who made, and make, the judgment that the Iraq War met the standards of a just war are morally serious and morally responsible. If only one side credits the moral seriousness of its opponents in a debate, what kind of dialogue is possible?
I also said that the comments I'd received illustrated the sad truth of something I'd been saying for years: that there has been a "great forgetting" of the just war tradition in U.S. Catholic life.
Some Catholics assume that modern weaponry has made the just war tradition obsolete; others seem to think it's a short, simple step from the Sermon on the Mount to formulating foreign policy; still others imagine that the just war tradition provides a crisp, standardized product, like Nabisco produces Oreos.
None of these assumptions has anything to do with the way the Catholic Church thinks normatively about war, its limits, and its possible service to the common good.
So let's try again: The just war tradition is a method of moral reasoning that tries to relate the proportionate and discriminate use of armed force to securing peace -- and the justice, freedom, order, and security that are the component parts of peace.
It's not a question of "peace" being here and the just war tradition there. The two go together. Indeed, any use of force that isn't ordered to public goods -- peace, security, freedom, order, justice -- is, by its nature, not morally justifiable; it's brigandage, or piracy, or plain old-fashioned mayhem.
War, in the just war tradition, is a moral term, and its moral justification derives from its capacity to advance the cause of the peace of order.
The just war tradition isn't algebra. It's not a question of lining everything up neatly on both sides of the equation in order to obtain the right answer.
The just war tradition is more like calculus: it's an art as much as a science, and it asks us to use our moral imaginations as well as our logical skills.
The tradition is also a developing body of thought; contemporary formulations of it must be in constant conversation across the generations and centuries with the old masters of moral reasoning.
As the Spanish will likely learn, a pacifism whose policy outcome is the appeasement of evil offers no respite from today's world disorder. Nor is the answer a crude Realpolitik in which might determines right.
Between those extremes is the Catholic tradition of moral reason, and moral reasoning about world politics for serious Catholics means engaging the just war tradition.
If the forgetting continues, the Terrible Simplifiers will make things more dangerous for the peace they, and the rest of us, seek.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.