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Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Pacific alliance.

Beliefnet's lively new religion blog includes this post from Michael Kress yesterday:

Apologists for Evil? This weekend the Pope, unsurprisingly, joined the long list of religious leaders denouncing the U.S. attack on Iraq, saying it "threatens the future of humanity."
It is difficult to swallow such un-nuanced denunciations, especially from religious leaders. The Pope, or the string of left-leaning religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury, haven't called for Sadaam's immediate surrender, or for the immediate end of his ability to inflict inhumane horrors on his own people. As Edward M. Lempinen wrote in Salon, social progressives used to be interested in fighting evil; now they're merely fighting against war—two very different struggles. They used to recognize that war could play a role in toppling evil; now they too often sound like apologists for evil.
Jewish tradition recognizes the need for war sometimes. Even if the tradition had not come down this way, the realities of the past century would have taught the Jewish people the folly of unadulterated pacifism. Would that other religious leaders learned the same lesson.

While I agree that many religious leaders have been overly circumspect in their criticism of Saddam Hussein, Kress exaggerates the "un-nuanced" part a bit. On February 16, for example, the Pope said, "Certainly, the political leaders of Baghdad have the urgent duty to fully cooperate with the international community to eliminate every motive for an armed intervention." And the Vatican's emissary to the United Nations expanded on the need to enforce international law through the U.N. in a February 19 address to the Security Council.

But Kress isn't really quibbling with the words religious leaders are using. He's disputing the substance — because many Christian leaders have effectively embraced pacifism, even if their language still seems to hold open the possibility of a "just war."

The Pope offers a sterling example: On March 16, he said that "the use of force represents the last recourse, after having exhausted every other peaceful solution," but he also added:

"I belong to that generation that lived through and survived World War II. I have the duty of telling all young people, and those younger than me who have not had this experience: 'Never again war!', as Paul VI said in his first visit to the United Nations. We must do everything possible! We know well that it is not possible to ask for peace at all costs. But we all know how great, how very great, this responsibility is. Therefore, prayer and penance!"

How clear the tension is between the Pope's appeal — "Never again war!" — and his recognition that "it is not possible to ask for peace at all costs." If you don't embrace "peace at all costs," then the use of military force must enter the equation sometime well before the "last resort." But where? The problem is that there is not yet a way to pursue both a world free of military force and a world with a just peace. The United Nations has a tragically limited history as the guardian of a just peace. (Rwanda, anyone?)

I'm also reminded of an episode in Mario Vargas Llosa's novel about the assassination of the Dominican dictator Trujillo, The Feast of the Goat, in which a pious Catholic seeks the advice of the papal nuncio. He wants to know whether he will go to hell for participating in a plot to kill the tyrant. The papal nuncio shows him a passage by Thomas Aquinas which seems to imply that there is justification for deposing or even killing a tyrant, but the papal nuncio doesn't explicitly endorse the idea, either. The conspirator isn't absolved of a sin, but he comes to some degree of peace with the thought that his Catholicism doesn't obligate him to live in subjugation to a brutal despot. Some helpful discussions of this aspect of Aquinas's thought: here and here.

Michael Kress also links to an interesting article about the Jewish rejection of pacifism; the article identifies pacifism as a kind of idolatry. Militarism and nationalism also fit that bill. Finding a religiously and ethically coherent approach to modern military force is and ought to be an agonizing problem.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 25 March 2003 at 6:19 PM

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