Sunday, July 20, 2003
The moral vacuum at the top isn't restricted to the catholics and it's been going on for a long time.
"The Catholic Spirit is not alone in its views on the war. The leaders of many Christian denominations share them. How are the people in the pews to judge the credibility of such claims? For starters, they could review what church officials have said about past wars, and evaluate their assertions about the current war in that light. It's very unfortunate when a congregation gets overpopulated with sweetness and light fluffy bunny christians. It's even more unfortunate when you get those people in leadership positions. Of course it's stylish to be that way. It's trendy to quote Ghandi. It's very very passe to believe in evil. It indicates negative traits in one who discusses it. You must be simplistic, unsubtle, foolish.
Most mainline American church leaders strongly opposed the 1991 Gulf War. We know now, of course, that Operation Desert Storm liberated Kuwait from Saddam's brutal clutches with astonishingly few casualties. But in 1990, high-profile church officials insisted that the coming war was theologically illegitimate, and predicted "unspeakable loss of lives." The National Council of Churches condemned U.S. plans to free Kuwait, faulting America's "illogical pursuit of militarism and war." One council representative, a Methodist bishop, denounced the United States as the "real aggressor."
In the years leading up to World War II, church leaders were also in the forefront of America's peace movement. In a recent issue of the Weekly Standard, Joseph Loconte of the Heritage Foundation details this embarrassing and largely forgotten episode in American church history.
According to Loconte, as Hitler rolled through Europe, many American church officials seemed more interested in denouncing their own nation than in protesting the Führer's crimes. John Haynes Holmes, a New York Unitarian minister, was typical. "If America goes into the war," he intoned in 1940, "it will not be for idealistic reasons but to serve her own imperialistic interests."
Like their counterparts today, World War II-era church leaders called repeatedly for "peace at any price." Between 1938 and 1941 -- as Hitler bombed London and marched into Paris -- church groups issued 50 statements insisting that a just and durable peace was possible. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the famous Baptist preacher, insisted that American entry into the war could not be justified. "We see clearly," he wrote, "that a war for democracy is a contradiction in terms, that war itself is democracy's chief enemy."
Predictably, Christian leaders also urged Americans to meet Hitler's aggression with love and forgiveness. Here's Albert Palmer, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary: "If your enemy hunger, feed him -- and understand him." Some leaders claimed that Hitler would respond positively to worldwide peace marches, which would show him that violence was unnecessary. "Without military opposition," Palmer wrote ingenuously, "the Hitlers wither away."
Why do church leaders find it so hard to understand the requirements of war? Too frequently, they reflexively quote the Beatitudes -- "blessed are the peacemakers" -- while forgetting the bedrock Christian teaching on original sin. History's lesson is clear: Where ruthless tyrants threaten great evil, it's both dangerous and morally irresponsible to urge a free people to "turn the other cheek."
The great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr -- one of the 1940s' Christian realists -- understood this well. Niebuhr berated his fellow theologians for their "sentimental illusions" about the nature of the evil that Hitler represented. Christian forgiveness alone, he wrote, could never stem this horrific tide. As a result, Christians had a duty to confront evil at a more fundamental level.
Niebuhr declared that those who failed to resist Hitler's tyranny were assisting in its triumph. "This form of pacifism," he warned, "is not only heretical when judged by the standards of the total gospel. It is equally heretical when judged by the facts of human existence." Today's church leaders -- loath to face up to their many past mistakes -- would do well to ponder Niebuhr's words."
"If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched 'em like a father and cared for 'em like a mother... well, you wouldn't catch me sayin' things like 'there's two sides to every question' and 'we must respect other people's beliefs.' You wouldn't find me just bein' generally nice in the hope that it'd all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgiving sword. And I did say burnin', Mister Oats, 'cos that's what it'd be. You say you people don't burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that's what true faith would mean, y'see? Sacrificin' your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin' the truth of it, workin' for it, breathing the soul of it. That's religion. Anything else is just... is just bein' nice. And a way of keepin' in touch with the neighbors."The irony of course is that the people who spout off on this stuff haven't actually studied Ghandi or Just War theory. They just grabbed on to the simplistic. 'War is never the answer- America is evil', bandwagon and never paused to reflect on the actual ramifications of their philosophy.
"Anyway, that's what I'd be, if I really believed. And I don't think that's fashionable right now, 'cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say 'oh deary me, we must debate this.' That's my two pennyworth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie. Don't chase faith 'cos you'll never catch it. But perhaps you can live faithfully."
-Terry Pratchet "Carpe Jugulum"
"He who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by non-violently facing death, may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden."You have to actually study Ghandi to get to that. Or to realize that the British had completely disarmed the population of India. They didn't resist violently because they had no effective means to do so and because the character of their oppressor was such that they could be guilted. Both of those factors tend to be overlooked by the peace-vigil crowd.
And as to what to do when confronted with real evil... you can just see the 'Error: file not found' message flash in their eyes when you mention it. To recognize evil is to recognize black and white. That recognition then requires judgement. Judgement is hard work with no guarantee of being right. You have to just do the best you can. It's much easier to tell yourself that there are no absolutes only shades of grey.
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