For a born-again Southern Baptist, Jimmy Carter might make a terrific pope, what with his knack for reporting to us what's on the mind of the Almighty these days. We may yet bestow on our ex-president a miter and a moniker -- James Earl I.
It happens that the present Roman pope, a very great saint, is aligned with His Holiness James over the desirability of peace in Iraq. A large number of Christian leaders are so aligned.
Like James Earl I, speaking urbi et orbe from the New York Times Op-Ed page this past Sunday, and like President Bush, who at his televised press conference said, "Our goal is peace," the preponderance of U.S. Christians have no wish for war.
Naturally, in that rigorous way he perfected after leaving the White House, Carter can't resist driving his studding nails deeper than anyone else's. Thus, he tells the Times' readers that Bush's "increasingly unilateral and domineering policies have brought international trust in our country to its lowest level"; the actions we contemplate in Iraq are "almost unprecedented"; we seek "to establish a Pax Americana in the region," while "undermining the United Nations."
Further, Carter knows that attacking "relatively defenseless" Iraqis doesn't qualify, theologically speaking, as "just war." He acknowledges war as a "final option" without noting that this has been Bush's position from the first.
Carter's moral clarity, however mistakenly applied, does have a lilt to it after the dissonant cynicism of the French, Germans and Russians. These oppose war, not to affirm religious principle but, seemingly, just to take the Americans down a peg. (One suspects that postwar surprises lie ahead for Perfidious France and the rest.)
Nevertheless, it would be good if we understood that orthodox theology isn't a matter of waiting for Jimmy Carter to descend from Sinai, with smoking-hot tablets under both arms. Michael Novak, even a better theologian than Pope Jimmy (and, to boot, a former speechwriter for George McGovern), recently sorted out the distinctions in a speech.
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