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Sympathy for the Dictator

Oh for cryin' out loud:

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace department and a former papal envoy to the United Nations, told a news conference on Tuesday it would be "illusory" to think the arrest of the former Iraqi president would heal all the damage caused by a war which the Holy See opposed.

"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said.

"Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," he said in answer to questions about Saddam's arrest.

Yes, let's "spare" the world those pictures, and maybe we can dress him up in purple robes for his trial. That way, Saddam Hussein can remain a mythic figure in the eyes of the dictators, murderers, and psychos of the world rather than the image of a man whose Earth-shattering sin has finally brought him low.

Look, I do believe that it is the place of Christians, particularly Christian clerics, to feel sympathy even for the Devil. But Martino seems clearly to place the blame for "this man's" destruction on the United States. Have compassion for him, by all means, but at least realize, oh leader of the Church, that it is his own doing. The world is not all dignity and affronts to dignity. There are sin and repercussions, too.

Unbelievable. Disheartening. Speechless.

To offer context for anybody who's come here via Instapundit, I wanted to note that I am a Catholic convert. Having said that, I'd like to inject a thought alongside the mockery of the Church with which my take on this specific incident has been aligned.

I believe that Lauryn Hill was way out of line in both the phrasing of and setting for her rebuke to the Vatican. Before folks take Martino's position as vindication of hers, and as those of other faiths or of no faith get their giggles at the expense of an authority whom they don't accept, we should have the intellectual integrity to consider the true direction of the grain in this splintering plank.

The abuse itself and the administrative scandal that joined it, the fact that such as Lauryn Hill were performing at a Vatican Christmas concert in the first place, the Church's reflexive internationalism in response to the Iraq war, and Martino's concern for the dictator's public image all stem from the same problem: secularism. I don't know what Hill's opinion was of the Iraq war, and I don't know what she considers herself to be politically. But I can guess. I don't need to guess, however, whether many who will be quick to scorn Cardinal Martino are also quick to scorn the Church's statements on the corrosion of social morality.

I'll join you in condemning the Cardinal's statement as one made more in line with the opinion of the international elite than according to a Christian worldview. However, before you extrapolate it to bear on other issues, ask yourself what view that same elite holds when it comes to sexual behavior and, together and separately, children. What is your view?

Hypocrisy and lost perspective are certainly starkly exposed in the light of Christ's message and His Church, but surely, even when it is a bad one, we ought to take the example thereby revealed as reason to seek its less-naked reflection in ourselves.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:09 AM EST


You should read the full article. The cardinal welcomed the capture of Saddam Hussein, stated that he should stand trial for his crimes, and hoped that the arrest would aid peace in the region. Still plenty to criticise in his other remarks, but your very "selective" editing of the remarks puts his comments in a very false light, at odds with his express statements. This is frankly dishonest--if inadvertent, ok a mistake--if part of a pattern, then religious bigotry.

john brungardt @ 12/16/2003 03:00 PM EST

In fairness, John, I want to point out that I believe you got your comment in before I'd added the context above that I'm Catholic.

Apart from that, the "pattern" about which I'm more concerned is Cardinal Martino's. I've read several reports of the same series of statements, and in all of them, the reference to Saddam's own sin seems to me lacking.

Justin Katz @ 12/16/2003 03:13 PM EST

I disagree with your argument that the problem is secularism. Most of the problems associated with the human species are the result of beliefs (and their subsequent actions) based on faith, rather than fact. By the way, I'm not just talking about the thousands of religions that have plagued mankind, but any religiosity including, for example, the environmental left who are just as willing to ignore facts and even out and out lie to protect their faith.

You seem to be asserting that religion is the genesis of morality. I would argue that there is no moral maxim asserted by any religion that did not exist before the written word. The moral code necessary for social structure can be found in rational and objective understanding of the inate social needs of the human species. In other words, the benefits of living together and the rules(morals) necessary for that to be possible.

While I don't believe that secularism, in and of itself, is the problem. I will say that if one is espousing secularism , but simply looking to replace religious social morality with a sort of "moral relativism", then I would reject that also.

Steve @ 12/16/2003 04:10 PM EST


It would take a book's worth of writing to cover the ground from where I stand to where you stand, and I just don't have the time to undertake it right now. (As it happens, I've written much of that book elsewhere on this Web site, if you care to look around.)

But quickly, suggesting that it is possible to construct a worldview completely on pure fact and reason is simply to espouse an impossibility. Moreover, the idea that humankind could actually live without recourse to faith on some level and without placing religious significance on something, is a utopian fantasy. This is particularly true if you wish to exclude moral relativism.

Of course, there is "no moral maxim asserted by any religion that did not exist before the written word"; God and reality do not flow from any human expression of religion. The reverse is true. And all of the instances of error that I list above result not from Christianity, nor from the morality made feasible by God's existence, but from the corrosion of traditional knowledge and moral absolutes that have accompanied the secularization of the West.

Justin Katz @ 12/16/2003 05:23 PM EST

Justin, Martino is typical of the anti-American, anti-Semitic, pro-Arab sentiment among many Vatican prelates. Remember the extremely warm curial response for Saddamite crony Tariq Aziz (complete with "God bless you; God bless Iraq" from the Pope)? Remember the cold shoulder Michael Novak got when arguing the U.S. case in Rome?

These comments reveal Martino to be a de facto collaborator.

Joseph D'Hippolito @ 12/16/2003 08:18 PM EST


Is it not enough simply to except life as it is. It is true that if you ask me how we came to be, or why, or for what ultimate purpose are we here, I cannot answer that, and neither can you or anyone else. My question to you would be: Do we help ourselves by making up an answer?

We are uncomfortable with our awareness of the often fragile and always finite nature of our lives, but is that a justifiable reason to give significance to "something", as you put it, even if that something has no basis in fact, simply because we have a psychological need to.

You seem to be saying that because we don't know everything, then we can't know anything and therefore must rely on faith. I could not disagree more. My ability to reason is the very thing that makes me human and reason cannot exist without knowledge and acceptance of fact and certainty. I'm not interested in constructing a worldview based on fact and reason, because I know that world already exists whether we humans aknowledge it or not.

I'm not quite sure what you were referring to that would take a book to express, but I will definitely read more of your site. I came here through Instapundit and liked what I read, which is why I took the time to voice my views.

Thanks for listening!


Steve @ 12/16/2003 09:10 PM EST


I'm grateful for your respectful tone and your interest, but I think you presume too much about what I "seem to be saying." In secular institutions, of course secular ideals are appropriate, but in an explicitly religious institution, they are corrosive, and that they are so obviously so makes for stark examples that apply to society when it becomes too focused on the material. Secularism is insufficient to constitute the entirety of a society. Similarly, of course the universe is rational, because God is rational, but humanity cannot, by its nature and limitations, comprehend the totality of the universe; even basic scientific principles require models.

That is to say that a rational worldview does not exist of itself, and any human worldview — which we construct as a function of living, not as a matter of choice — would have to make faith-based assumptions about the ways in which the universe is rational. It isn't a question of whether "we help ourselves by making up an answer," because, first, we can't know "what life is" and, second, it is human nature to guess at the blanks. In other words, it is irrelevant whether we have "a justifiable reason" to give significance to somethings, because we cannot help but do so.

Most importantly, however, it is not merely your "ability to reason" that makes you human. I'd say it's more true that it is your ability to be creative and to be purposefully irrational that makes you human. (That's not just romantic schlock; it's a restatement of certain thinking in the quest for artificial intelligence.) Moreover, you dramatically limit the power of reason by restricting it to facts and certainty.

As for the book comment, what I meant was that it would require a book's worth of writing merely to describe the stages between my own beliefs and those of somebody who believes that religion has "plagued mankind."

Justin Katz @ 12/16/2003 10:55 PM EST

Interesting to contrast the Cardinal's comments with a recent interview with the new bishop of Kirkuk while he was visiting Rome [the Chaldean church is in communion with Rome and the Pope approved the bishop's election]:

Q: You defend what the Americans did.

Bishop Sako: I am not trying to say that they are angels! They have their interests; they came to Iraq for that reason, not to free the Iraqis. But the fruit is, in fact, liberation....There are those who do not want an open and free Iraq. The authors of the continuing clashes are random splinters, without any popular support....The people appreciate freedom. At times they criticize the choices of the Americans, but the process under way is efficient....We are moderates by nature; the extremisms taking place are fomented from outside. It is very evident that democracy in Iraq would preoccupy the surrounding nations.


b.d.g. @ 12/16/2003 10:58 PM EST

You forgot to mention the Church's sympathy with the Palestinian thugocracy that desecrated thechurch of the nativity.

This is the same church that spoke in whispers in the face of European genocide if it spoke at all.

I can't tell you if it is secularism or what. I can tell you it is a church that has left the side of god for a place in the wilderness at best.

The scandal of the molested children is just another symptom. If Ms. Hill has embarassed herself at least she had the courage to embarass the church as well. It would be very good if the church had the bad manners of Ms. Hill. At least her bad manners were in the cause of right.

I seem to recall another entertainer (public speaker?) some time ago who spoke the truth at inconvenient places and times. Thank God he was Jewish.

M. Simon @ 12/17/2003 12:23 AM EST

As to the corrosion of social moraliity: It was a Greek who first took issue with abortion 500 years before Christ. In fact Christ himself has nothing to say on the matter despite exposure to the Greek culture.

The church only recently is catching up to that secular Greek.

Yet like that Greek I am not calling on men with swords (government ) to solve the problem. It is a problem of individual concience and must be solved at the level of the individual. We know from the experience of the abortion black market that government is powerless in the face of man's desires. The best government can do is keep the peace and even that only imperfectly.

I believe it is better for problems to be in the open where there is a chance of resolution vs hiding them for a feel good but unworkable solution.

The church has gone tthe way of all large organizations that do not respond to the will of the people. It has become more interested in self preservation than it's mission.

So what else is new?

M. Simon @ 12/17/2003 12:44 AM EST

Needless to say, the Vatican representative is not the only usual suspect to feel for Saddam

A writer interviewed by Al Jazeera and, separately, a reporter for The Independent (no surprises there, then) have also taken exception to the "humiliation" inflicted on Saddam.

By shaving him.

How the US Armed Iraq - And the Importance of Being Bearded


Expect to see similar complaints in the coming days.

The Tapir @ 12/17/2003 01:30 AM EST

M. Simon,

Oy. Most of your comments speak for themselves, I think.

Regarding Lauryn Hill, I hardly think it takes courage for an entertainer to snag handy global headlines as she did. It takes brazenness, but that's the business that she's in. A pop star attacking the Catholic Church has roughly the same courage as a business owner handing out fliers at a stoplight.

As for abortion (how did that come up?), whatever black market may exist for it in the absence of legal drive-through service, I don't imagine it would amount to between one and two million dead human beings per year in the United States alone. There is a black market for hitmen; should we legalize their trade?

At any rate, one could suggest that responding "to the will of the people" is fraught with its own dangers. Myself, I'd prefer that my Church conform to the will of God.

Justin Katz @ 12/17/2003 10:59 AM EST


I don't understand what you are talking about when you say 'secularist ideals inside a religion'. Secularism is defined as: 1. Religious skepticism or indifference. 2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education. Are you saying that there is a movement inside your religion that does not believe in religion, or are you reffering to definition number 2, and saying that there are too many people inside your religion advocating that religion and civil/public affairs should be kept seperate, in which case, I assume you believe that we should be a theocracy?

I know it would be futile for me to try and dissuade you from your belief in your God. Frankly, I give your God no more thought than I give to any of the thousands of other Gods that Man has conjured up. Apparently you agree with me on my dismissal of all of these thousands of Gods except for one. I have no more proof that your God exists than I do for Apollo, or Zeus, or Oden, or Thor and neither do you. And, According to your argument that we 'don't need any justifiable reason to give significance to something', why can't I simply believe that little purple and orange men living in an underground world are controlling the entire universe. My point is this: If we don't attach significance to truth based on provable facts, then we cease to improve and progress, which means we eventually cease to be. Just look at the most recent of human history. When religion ruled the world we had the dark ages; When religion was finally forced to take a back seat to the scientific method we had the age of enlightenment. All this brings me to my original point in my first post and that is the dangers inherent in the irrationality of religiosity.

You said that it is 'human nature to guess at the blanks', of course this is true, but these guesses/theories, at least the ones that have any relevance, are based on a string of already proven facts. Einstein did not pull his theories out of thin air, they were based on all his accumulated knowledge of proven scientific fact up to that point, and had to eventually be provable to have any worth. Some of his theories have proven to be true, some false, and some are still up in the air, all of which would be totally acceptable to him. When truth is the ultimate goal, proof that a theory was wrong just brings you one step closer to that truth. Religiosity does not allow disproof for it relies on faith. How can I argue against an idea that relies on a blind acceptance of a feeling in the absence of proof or evidence. So, I will ask you again: What is wrong with living and acting within the limit of our knowledge while constantly seeking to expand that knowledge? I hope that I have not offended you, but it is hard to argue against what I believe are the dangers of religiosity without pointing out what I believe to be an irrational belief, on your part, in a God.

With respect to your assertion that creativity is what makes one uniquely human, I must disagree (I know that's hard to believe, lol). Human creativity is nothing more than a rearrangement of already existing "things". There is nothing we can create that doesn't already exist. The Wright Brothers did not create flight, they figured out the necessary principles, through trial and error, and applied them. Oh sure, we can change substances at the most basic molecular level using the forces availble and known to us. For example, turning oil into plastic, but that's not creating, it's simply a rearranging of molecules. This is hardly uniquely human. Even inanimate objects can create. The mere spinning of the earth creates unique and never before existed atmospheric and oceanic conditions. The force of running water over soft rock created a unique little canyon in the western U.S. Also, other animals are capable of thinking of ways to change their environment to their benefit, such as other primates that make stick tools to pull termites out of their holes, or a raven using a rock to smash an egg open.

As for being "purposefully irrational" at best it's sounds to me like a procedure which in the end isn't irrational at all. At worst it sounds like an oxymoron, because anything that is irrational is of no purpose.

I'll leave it at that. This will be my last post on this thread, so you can have the last word if you wish to respond. Either way I appreciate the conversation and I'll continue to check out your blog.


Steve @ 12/17/2003 01:19 PM EST


As I began by saying, there's just too much distance between us to cover in a big-picture way. I disagree with just about every area of your thought, from your characterization of history, your concept of creativity, your apparent beliefs about human psychology, and on and on.

From one another's point of view, we might as well be casting dogmatic assertions back and forth. It is as if we live in different worlds. (And, as a matter of fact, in both theological and scientific senses, I've argued that that might actually be the case.)

Justin Katz @ 12/17/2003 01:38 PM EST