It's easy enough to say that torture is bad (though it took President Bush a while to do so). But how does one address this classic ethical dilemma: a nuclear bomb is ticking somewhere in an urban area. The bomb-setter has been captured but refuses to divulge the bomb's location. Does one honor the rule against torture, or use whatever methods it takes, including torture, to get information that will save millions of lives? Even in this case, there's no guarantee that torture will produce accurate information. But the argument remains—an undeniable good might be done for innumerable innocents at the expense of evil performed on a single evil one.
Yes, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. And yes, the rise of a stable, democratic Iraq would be a force for reform in the Middle East. But such benefits do not constitute a moral case for war. In the just war tradition, war is justifiable only as an emergency response undertaken in self-defense and as a last resort. Respect for the sovereignty of other states is a basic component of the international order. In other words, war is not an ordinary instrument for improving the world.
Media reports, ministerial gossip and congregational hand-wringing suggest that Christian denominations are constantly arguing over homosexuality. That is not the case. Roman Catholic theologian John Courtney Murray once said that a genuine argument is a moral achievement—it’s rare that people lay out arguments, listen to critiques and identify points of disagreement.
The Internal Revenue Service says that a sermon opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq preached at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, just prior to the 2004 presidential election may have violated IRS rules. The IRS prohibits churches and other nonprofit organizations from endorsing political candidates.
The food movement has called attention to the abuse of animals that are raised and killed on factory farms. But even farmers who raise animals in humane ways, in small-scale operations, intend for the animals to be slaughtered. Bob Comis, a professional pig farmer, asks how can he ethically raise pigs knowing that his ultimate aim is to kill and market them for consumption. “As a pig farmer, I lead an unethical life,” Comis confesses. “I am a slaveholder and a murderer” (American Scholar, Spring).