Botching Aquinas in the New York Times

by Ramesh Ponnuru

There’s hardly any argument to be found in Richard Parker’s op-ed in the Times (“Why Christians Must Support Gun Control”), and what little can be found is wrong.

Christianity demands action. It insists on the protection of the innocent. In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas justified war in self-defense, but he also opposed the killing of innocent civilians. “Aquinas holds that causing the death of innocents in a foreseeable manner, whether intentionally or indirectly,” according to the Cambridge divinity scholar Daniel H. Weiss, “is never justified.”

And yet Christian evangelicals, particularly white Southern Baptists, have generally parted ways with Catholics on gun laws.

It is not especially odd that white Southern Baptists have failed to go along with an obvious misinterpretation of Aquinas. If he had held the view attributed to him, it would mean that he had practically endorsed pacifism—since even a just war of self-defense entails foreseeably although unintentionally causing the death of innocents. You’ve never heard that Aquinas was a pacifist? That’s because he wasn’t one.

Anyway, you don’t need to cite Aquinas to show that public authorities should do what they reasonably can to protect innocent people from being killed—a proposition nobody involved in the debate over American gun policy disputes. What  is disputed is whether a prohibition on whatever guns Parker wishes to ban would be a sensible way to advance that end. It is a question that Parker, too busy suggesting that Vice President Mike Pence is an insincere Christian for disagreeing with him, almost entirely ignores.

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