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letters | at the heart of terrorism

Faced with atrocity, we can bypass moral relativism

Jeff Jacoby’s “Terrorism is never justified” (Op-ed, May 15) gets my wholehearted endorsement. The chain of cause and effect between outrage and atrocity is often opaque, but its explication is rarely well served by moral relativism.

Jacoby’s indignation reminds me of some similar straight talk by William Sloane Coffin during the Vietnam War, while he was chaplain at Yale. His antiwar stance aroused the ire of some relativist critics who complained that he was ignoring atrocities committed by the other side. Coffin replied that you can’t use other people’s dirt as soap with which to wash your own hands clean.

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