The Case Against All War!

Saturday, October 18, 2003



Over the months I have been blogging, I have received a couple of emails regarding my position that the war in Iraq did not meet the criteria of a just war. It failed to meet the criteria for a just war because there is no such thing as a pre-emptive just war. Also, the UN was the only proper authority to declare the type of war in question, and the ends never justify the means. I have an article devoted to this subject in a point by point examination of Church teaching on just war, and the hierarchy seems to back me on this particular issue.

I continue to maintain that the war in Iraq was not a just war. However, in today's article, I want to go even further. Not only was the war in Iraq unjust, but even if the Bush adminstration had met the criteria for a just war, I argue that war is not the proper means to maintain peace! In other words, I am proposing that a Christian should not only demand just wars, but should be so open to alternatives to war that all war is viewed as an unecessary evil.

There will be those who call such a position un-Catholic from the very start. These folks will argue that the just war doctrine is firmly part of the deposit of faith. So, let me begin with a section of The Catechism of the Catholic Church that demonstrates that my position is not prohibited by the Vatican:
2306 Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death.

In my opinion, there are two laws at work when we speak about war, and both laws issue from God. There is the law of justice, and the law of love.

Under the law of justice, we are rightly angered when the dignity of another human person is violated, and we have a legitimate claim to self defense and defence of the victims of injustice. This law operates in the universe regardless of whether human beings act on it or not. In many courts, justice is imagined as a blindfolded woman holding scales.

Justice is the original balance and harmony of the created order. Sin, by definition, violates justice, and in doing so introduces imbalance into the universe. Yet, the universe will try to correct itself. In the East, this is called the law of karma. In the West, we refer to it as the law of justice. Saint Paul tells us that what a person sows, they will reap (Gal 6:7).

In the Old Testament, humanity is often seen as an instrument of God's justice. Thus, if a man kills, he is to be put to death by the community: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life (Lv 24:18-20). The ancient Hebrews even went to war on occassions where they felt justified by divine power against pagans whom they believed were morally abhorrent.

The Old Testament does contain commands to mercy as well, and the Jewish Rabbis did teach the idea of frogiveness prior to Christ. There was a sense in which forgiveness was seen as a gift and privilage to another that would bind justice to send good things your way. Christ seems to confirm and develop some of this thought, but there is more to Christ's teaching, as we shall see.

Christ introduces a new principle into theological discourse in the great sermon recorded in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels:

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn and offer the other one as well.

Notice that Christ does not say, "When someone strikes you on your right cheek, just walk away." Nor does Christ even say, "When someone strikes you on your right cheeck, do nothing." Rather, Christ says, "turn and offer the other one as well."

What I see happening here is that Christ is saying that the law of justice must be fulfilled. Sin has introduced disorder and imbalance in the universe, and order and balance must be restored. A cheek must be offered for the cheek that was offended. So, Christ commands his followers to offer their own cheek as retribution for the offended cheek!

To show how serious Jesus was about his own teaching, he told his disciples to put their swords away when he was arrested (and said the one lives by the sword will die by it - as the law of justice implies). He also told Pilate that he could have an army of heavenly hosts ready to free him. Yet, he willingly laid down his life in the face of injustice, offering hsi own life in atonement for sinners!

Jesus, the just one, died for we who are sinners. By his death, compassion was awakened in our hearts and we were changed. We learned what love is by his mighty deed of love! The power of his love was vindicated and revealed to us in his resurrection. His act fulfilled the law of justice for us, and through his act, we were changed from sinners to those who strive for sanctity!

I spoke of two laws: the law of justice and the law of love. I will explain the law of love a bit, but let me fiorst draw an analogy to laws of science that will help us grapple with this.

According to the laws of gravity, there is no way a heaping ton of metal should ever lift itself off the ground. However, the laws of areodynamics allow us to devise an airplane that seems to defy the law of gravity. In truth, gravity continues to operate on an airplane, even when it is in flight. However, a "higher law" permits the airplane to appear to violate the laws of gravity.

Christ introduces the law of love, which is not really a new law. Moses knew of the law of love, and the two great commandments to love God above all, and our neigbor as ourselves were already found in the Old Testament (the first commandment is in Dt 6:5, and the second commandment in Lv 19:18). Just as the laws of areodynamics existed before airplanes were invented, the law of love has always operated in the universe.

Christ tells us that he came not to abolish the law, but to bring it to completion (see Matthew 5:17). The Jesus portrayed int he Gospel is not overturning the Old Testament, nor abolishing the law of justice. However, he is bringing all things together to completion in his own words and deeds which culminate on the cross.

Christ is revealing to us the hitherto hidden aspects of the law of love that will permit us to fly above the wordly way of justice. Christians are not called to simply be just. We are called to be loving!

I would argue that under the law of love, war can never be the solution to conflict and threat!

I am not saying that just wars do not exist. The law of justice can be fulfilled in a just war, and the Church has rightly developed a tradition that helps us identify situations where a war can be called just. The war in Iraq failed to meet these criteria. Yet, a person who engages on righteous side of a just war does not commit a sin.

However, Christians are called to not only avoid sin, but to go beyond the avoidance of evil to do what is good. We are called to not act justly, but to act lovingly. We are called to be perfect! (see Matthew 5:48).

Thomas Aquinas argued the case for just war in the middle ages. Yet, Aquinas also argued that the ministerial priest is exempt from military duty because of the law of charity. We are all called to charity, and we are all called to a common priesthood (see 1 Pet 2:9 and Lumen Gentium 10 of the Vat II documents). It is not wrong for a Christian or a Catholic to forsake all war.

It is praiseworthy to forsake all use of military force!

To do so is to act as a person called to a royal priesthood in Jesus Christ: one who lives according to the law of love.

I am not trying to put down those Catholics who serve in the military. A soldier can fulfill the law of justice, and their willingness to lay down their lives to protect the weak and the innocent is virtuous. At the same time, simply because a soldier has virtue does not mean that those who are not soldiers lack virtue. I am willing to die for my country, but I refuse to kill for it!

When critics ask me why I don't support the troops in Iraq, my own response is that I do support them. I pray for them, pay my taxes, and want them to come home safely and as quickly as possible. I even admire their virtuous traits, but I disagree with the method of war as a means of conflict resolution between nation states.

Christ taught us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." According to the law of justice, the measure of mercy given to us will be the mercy we give out to others. A Christian cannot err by by being too merciful. The more mercy we show, the more mercy we will be shown to us.

As we saw in the passage regarding the turning of the cheek, we can offer our own sufferings at the enemies vicariously for those who persecute us, just as Jesus offered his suffering on the cross for each one of us! It is a thouroughly Christian response to evil to absorb it, take it upon yourself, and offer it up for the one who injures you.

When I speak like this, many people accuse me of being extremely naive, and start making judgments of hypocricy against me. They will argue that this is nice talk, but when have I ever put it in practice.

About two years ago, I was tutoring an inner city youth as part of Project Gabriel. For those who are unfamiliar, Project Gabriel is part of the pro-life movement, and tries to stop abortions by offering unwed mothers services that will help them decide to keep their children. One of the services I chose to offer was to tutor a single mother's older children so she could spend time with her new born baby.

Approaching the home of this woman, I was accosted by three teenagers who grabbed me by the neck, punched and kicked me, and asked for my money. I wrestled in high school and college, and also took martial arts in college. These three youths were not much larger than I am, and they obviously had no training in fighting. A part of me thought for a milli-second, "I can take these kids out." Yet, the instantaneous response to that thought was "What would Jesus do?"

I looked the kid who had my throat straight in the eye and said, "Do you belive in Jesus Christ?". He said, "What?". I repeated the question. He responded, "I believe in the black God." (I'm white, and my assailants were black). I said, "There is only one God. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." He said, "Yeah. I believe in Jesus." So, I asked, "Would Jesus want you to do this."

The kids were a bit thrown by this whole line of approach. One of them did pull out a knife, held it to my neck and said, "Shut the F**k up!" They took a couple more jabs at me. But in the end, they let me go, and never did get my wallet, which was in my back pocket the whole time of this incident.

This is not the first time I ever took the approach of active non-violent resistance in situations of direct physical threat. As a child, I was quite small for my age. On occassion, I was bullied by the larger kids. Not through any particular virtue, I learned that active non-violent resistance actually can change hearts. If I fought back, I would often lose, because the other kid was too large. If I ran or cried, I would be bullied worse.

I learned to turn the other cheek often stopped the bullying. When the larger kid would hit me and maybe even knock me down, I would simply stand back up, and look him in the eye and tell him to hit me again. It only took one or two times before he'd say, "You're nuts" and just leave me alone. Indeed, some of the bullies came to have a sort of respect, and even a bit of fear of me. One actually said, "I don't ever want to get him really mad, because you can't stop him." He and I eventually became friends in high school.

But what was most gratifying is that the largest kid in the grade school class came to stop bullying smaller kids, and started sticking up for them after I stood up to him one time. Active non-violent resitance can change hearts!

I do not claim to be a saint yet. I must confess that even as I knew the experience of being bullied as a child, I turned right around and bullied my younger siblings, and I've committed other sins. So don't canonize me just yet. Maybe I fell into the temptation to bully because of a feeling of powerlessness while being bullied. Maybe the tyrants of the world are also nursing wounds from bullies in their lives. At any rate, I am not perfect. I am not boasting of unique holiness, so much as relaying personal stories that demonstrate active non-violence can work in real life.

Those who think I am just crazy have also critisized my position because they claim it is irresponsible. People have argued with me that it is fine to turn the other cheek when you are the only one threatened, but what about when it is someone else, such as your wife and kids.

I have a couple of points about this type of scenario. First, the highest virtue would be to lay down your life to protect those whom you love. Of course, this raises the issue of whether offering your life will be effective at stopping the threat. I will return to that one in a moment.

However, before addressing the first point in more detail, I want to mak a second important point. A person doing right is not morally responsible for what a sinner does!

If my family is threatened by an evil-doer, I am not ultimately the one who must face judgment and justice for what happens to my wife and children. To argue this is to blame the victim. The evil-doer, and the evil-doer alone is responsible for the evil done to my wife and family!

This point is important as we discuss issues such as what should have been done about Saddam Hussein. There are those who say that we who opposed the war in Iraq are guilty of permitting butchery. This is absurd moral reasoning. I never butchered anyone. Saddam Hussein is the murdering thug, not jcecil3!

So, are we to do absolutely nothing in the face of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein? I do not really hold this position, though a Biblical case could be made for doing nothing. Peter tells us the state has authority from God that should not be challenged (Rom 13:1, 1 Pet 2:13-14), and both Peter and Paul encouraged slaves to simply obey their masters, rather than escape or revolt. This is the position I call "pacifism", and I am not really a passivist.

Rather than passivism, I argue for active non-violent resistance to evil. What this means is that we cannot do nothing. It is appropriate to protest evil and work within the systems of the world to try to effect change, even occassionally using civil disobedience as a method. When civil disobedience is used, to fulfill justice, we must accept the consequences of breaking the law, and be careful to do no harm to others. What we do must never employ violence. It is the same principle Operation Rescue tried to employ to stop abortion, and I actually went on some rescue missions back in college. I have also been arrested for federal trespassing while protesting an American nuclear test site on Native American land.

Indeed, I see the anti-war movement, the anti-death penalty movement, the anti-euthenasia movement, and the anti-abortion movement all tied together with John Paul II's notion of defending a culture of life against a culture of death. From the womb until natural death, the sanctity of human life and the incomparable value of the human person was revealed in the incarnation fo God in human flesh.

We must be willing to sacrifice everything - even our own lives - when confronted with evil. But this does not mean we are willing to kill to stop evil. Rather than overcoming evil by matching its force and tactics, we will seek to overcome evil with good.

The distinction between total passivism and active non-violent resistance to evil is that the former is the philosophy of doing nothing but trusting God. The latter says trust God, but also act. Just don't act in a violent way. I believe this is what Jesus actually did, as he challenged his opponents with word and deed occassionally, even flipping tables over at one time to protest evil.

Saint Paul tells us the following:

Do not repay anyone eveil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengence is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Rather, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21)

Paul is telling us that the law of justice will never be violated, and we can leave justice in the hands of God. To make his point, he quotes Lv 19:18 and Dt 32:41 on wrath belonging to God. God does not need human help to enforce justice violently. Evil-doers will answer for the evil they do, if not in this life, then in the next. We do not need wars and death penalties and so forth to make justice to occur. Justice is a law of the universe, and will occur by God's doing without our help.

Yet, Paul is telling us something more. He quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 about doing good to enemies and emphasizes that we actually conquer evil by doing good to our enemy. Acting as Christ has taught us to act by blessing our enemies, praying for them, and acting charitably toward them while offering our bodies in retribution for thier injustice has the effect of a burning coal on the head of the evil doer. It melts the coldness of such a person and changes them!

It could be argued that by trying to make ourselves instruments of justice, we are dehumanized. Don't conservatives ever wonder about the psycological profile of a state executer, or the highly trained killing machine some soldiers become?

Let's look at some practical applications of active non-violent resitance:

In the middle ages, Sultan Malek-al-Khamil of Egypt waged a war against Christians and put a price on the head of any Christian who entered his region. Saint Francis of Assisi went to talk to this Sultan. The Sultan was not converted to Christianity, and continued to defend his lands against crusaders, but the remarkable thing is that he let Francis live in the first place, and even offered Francis an escort back to safety! What a remarkable and relevant witness for us today!

Prior to the development of just war theory by Saint Augustine, most (if not all) early Christians were passivists or practioners of active non-violent resistance. For example, Saint Martin of Tours completely laid down his arms when he made his conversion in the fourth century. He was imprisoned for desertion. Indeed, part of the Roman Empire's justification for killing Christians is that they threatened the security of the state because of their refusal to bear arms. The early Christians displayed the power of active non-violence resistance by shedding their very blood until the Empire was converted!

In our modern era, we saw the power of active non-violence in such figures as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. The active non-violent resistance to evil by MLK lead to civil rights legislation, and Gandhi freed an entire nation from oppression. Both figures explicitly stated that they drew inspiration for their tactics from the Gospels, and I see no New Testament justification for a different approach. Indeed, since one of the criteria for a just war is "last resort", I would argue no war can be called just until active non-violent resistance has been tried and failed!

I have heard it argued that Gandhi and King only succeeded because the British and Americans are different from evil empires like the Nazis and Communists. I have two responses to this.

First, anyone who looks at the British history of colonialism cannot sustain this argument. The British tried to commit genocide against the Irish, and there is filmed evidence of atrocious acts by British soldiers against the Indian population during Gandhi's struggle. The same applies to the behavior of many whites in the deep South of America. The power of active non-violent resistance did not work because the Americans and British were morally superior to Nazis and Communists. It worked because the method changes evil people into those who learn compassion! The British and Americans did not start out as morally superior to the Germans and Russians. They were made morally superior by what occurred through the power of active non-violent resistance!

Second, if we need a different example to drive home that active non-violent resitance workls outside of a Western context, look to Tiananmen Square, where a lone man stood up to Chinese tanks.

How would active non-violent resistance work against a Saddam Hussein?

Partly, it needs to come from within Iraq. Yet, those of us outside of Iraq could have helped nudge it along. If Saddam truly was the threat that the Bush administration said he was, why not gather the United Nations to assemble an army of people to carry food, medicine, clothing and other humanitarian supplies into Iraq completely unarmed?

Do we really belive that if a million people from accross the globe had marched into Iraq, that one man could have such a hold on his people that they crutally execute these do-gooders? I just cannot believe that the minions of Saddam would obey him if literally millions of people across the globe walked into their country un-armed offering to help the poorest of the poor. Such an action would rendered Saddam an irrelavant figure to be easily ignored.

What if instead of spending countless time and energy and trillions of dollars on finding more and more efficient ways to kill each other, we instead spent the same energy, time and money on finding efficient ways to make peace with one another?

I know, I know,....readers who have lasted this long into the article are saying, "Jcecil3, you're a dreamer. But we have to live in reality."

Well, I hear John Lennon singing in my ear:

(John Lennon)
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try

Ok,ok - I never really liked this line, but keep going....

No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Another line I never really liked....

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Then there's this other crazy dreamer who may be more to the liking of conservatives:

Isaiah 11: 1-13

But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

(The Lord, Jesus Christ)

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit that all Christians pray for.

Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,

Christ doesn't listen to American war machine propoganda, or anybody's propaganda - he sees the truth.

But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted.

He will have a preferential option for the poor - like the peasants of Africa and all developing nations, including Iraq.

He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.

Those who would bomb children should beware!

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.

There will be one world government (like the United Nations) with absolute peace - a dream that seems unrealistic will be realized, and Jesus proclaimed that this kingdom was already at hand in him and continues to break in where the Spirit blows!

On that day, The root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, The Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious. On that day, The Lord shall again take it in hand to reclaim the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria and Egypt, Pathros, Ethiopia, and Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the isles of the sea. He shall raise a signal to the nations and gather the outcasts of Israel; The dispersed of Judah he shall assemble from the four corners of the earth. The envy of Ephraim shall pass away, and the rivalry of Judah be removed; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not be hostile to Ephraim;

The scattered Jewish people are already gathered in Zion. The great day of the Lord is nearer now than any time in history! While we wait for the Second Coming, we should work - work for the in-breaking of the Reign of God - the fulfillment of peace and justice througout the world. This is our duty as Christians!

Jesus was a sort of dreamer who preached that God's reign was breaking into human reality thorugh his words and deeds. As his followers, we should live as though the dream of God's final reign is breaking into our reality right now through our words and deeds. Refusing to fight in a war is living as though the day when the lion and lamb will lie down together is breaking into reality even now.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me by emailing


posted by Jcecil3 3:45 PM

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