November 20, 2006
Listening to Andrew Greeley
— Martin E. Marty
Sightings will be on Thanksgiving hiatus this coming Thursday, but will return on Monday, November 27.
If all will have gone according to plan — Bible believers would cite James 4:13-15 — yesterday at noon in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Andrew M. Greeley will have discoursed with Harvard's Robert A. Orsi and been honored at the annual Marty Forum there. "The recipient of the 2006 Martin Marty Award for contributions to the public understanding of religion is best-selling author, priest, journalist, and sociologist Andrew M. Greeley ...."
Greeley is a fellow Aquarian and Chicagoan, born on the same day as M.E.M., and friend for fifty-plus years. Nine years into retirement, I don't frequent AAR meetings, but I stay interested, and could not resist (proudly) dropping in for "Andy's" award. I noted his latest book as recently as in last Monday's issue of Sightings ("Watch Your Language," November 13).
Father Greeley, who writes a weekly column which we see in the Chicago Sun-Times, last Friday wrote characteristically on the "Latest Disastrous Plan: More GIs to Iraq." From before the invasion, the Martys have agreed with Greeley columns most weeks, favoring them more than any other regular comment on the war. This week's was triggered by Sen. John McCain's call for 20,000 more troops to Iraq — or 100,000 more, as called for by some military and TV "experts" (Greeley's quotation marks). He also heard rumors that the Iraq Study Group may recommend more troops, and the New York Times concurs.
"What serious neutral expert could possibly predict that more troops will solve the problem? .... What reason is there to think that there is more that the United States government can do to 'win' the Iraq war? Or to retreat from it with its dignity not in tatters?" Greeley applauds President Reagan for having shown sense and class when suicide bombers blew up a Marine barracks in Lebanon. He took responsibility for the disaster, as "brave and honorable men do when they have produced a fiasco .... They don't ask more Americans to risk senseless deaths so that their leaders can try one last foolish attempt to save face."
Greeley continues: "The war is lost. It was lost before it began. The majority of the American electorate knows that. I daresay the majority of the Iraq Study Group also knows that." One can say all that and not be a pacifist, pessimist, un-patriot, opponent of "just war," or someone who demeans the brave men and women who will be among the next 20,000-100,000 risking death while wicked Iraqis kill each other by the hundreds of thousands and our noble troops by the thousand.
On occasion Greeley has said that those who vote for the war, knowing what we know, are participating in murder. I cannot go that far, given the fact that some complex judgment calls are still involved. But the priest in his pointedness makes me think and go to the sources. In our Lutheran-Catholic conversations, I have sometimes quoted a hawkish supporter of defensive war, Martin Luther, who wrote: "At the very outset I want to say that whoever starts a war is in the wrong." There can be lawful self-defense, he writes, but "take my advice, dear lords. Stay out of war unless you have to defend and protect yourselves and your office compels you to fight."
Luther and Greeley may both be wrong, and there are still those judgments to make about the beginnings and prosecution of the Iraq war — but both merit being heard in our time of confusion.
References and for Further Reading:
For information about Andrew Greeley's Sun-Times column, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Martin Luther comments on war in "Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved," in Theodore G. Tappert, ed., Selected Writings of Martin Luther (Fortress Press). The book mentioned in last week's column is the often-friendly-to-conservatives The Truth About Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe, by Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout (University of Chicago Press).
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.