And now, it seems, we are preparing for another war. Or to be more precise, we, the people, seem to be left out of the process entirely. The slogan of a 'police action,' that shabby device for avoiding an honest declaration of war while still employing the means and destructiveness of war, will doubtless be put to work once again, so that even our elected representatives in Congress will not be called upon to pretend that they represent anyone or anything in particular; and we find ourselves like children on a roller coaster, looking over into a huge abyss that we know we are about to swoop down into, and probably wishing that we could take back our decision to show off by asking to ride this one.
I don't flatter myself that this blog has national or international clout. But I want to say a few things, clearly and out loud, while there is yet time to do so.
First, there is no case to regard the likely-imminent invasion of Syria as a just war. Being dressed in non-bellicose language and surrounded by legal pedantries won't make it not a war, especially not for the people who will be killed by it. This is not a war being fought in self-defense, and the effects of violence anywhere in the Middle East are incalculable and uncontrollable, making proportionality of force virtually impossible to attain. If you just feel like being in agony, stick your face in a hornets' nest; it's faster and less expensive.**
Second, I cherish the hope that this will wake the churches up a little bit, especially the Catholic Church. I love the Church deeply, and have never regretted my conversion for an instant; but one of the things about American Catholics in particular that upsets me to the point of anger, is our squalid marriage of faith to political allegiance. This is not the special province of traditionalists-qua-conservatives; progressives-qua-liberals are just as guilty; I don't respect the contempt for Church teaching shown by Nancy Pelosi any more than I respect the contempt for Church teaching shown by William F. Buckley. The plain demonstration that the Democratic Party, when push comes to shove, cannot be trusted not to go to war any more than the GOP (which at least has the balls to be brazen about it), may perhaps dispel the idea that the political parties we have in this country are something other than ideologically-tinged opportunists.
Lastly, I rather hope it interests somebody in the American churches that the Syrian Christians themselves don't want Syria invaded. Cardinal Rai, the Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, told Vatican Radio recently that the presence of Christians in the Middle East has been the chief moderating factor in the Middle East, and that every act of violence jeopardizes their existence. "As always, when there is chaos or war, Muslims in general attack Christians, they use them as scapegoats. I am sorry, but in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood were the ones to attack Coptic churches -- and Copts as well. Unfortunately this is the mentality of certain Muslims: every time there is a situation of chaos, Christians are attacked, without even knowing why." Middle Eastern Christians are one of the moderating influences in the region -- the tradition of dhimma is an ancient one, stemming from the Qur'an itself, and has borne fruit (if imperfectly) of plurality and harmony between the faiths. When the ostensibly Christian West deploys violent tactics, the natural scapegoats are the local Christians, and the Moslems who tolerate and defend them, so that not only do the religious minorities suffer, but even those members of the majority who would defend them are silenced, driven from the country, or killed, like the Christians themselves.
Clearly, what is needed here is more guns.
This is the result of something very simple and obvious, so simple and obvious that we have a difficult time believing it: namely, that war does not lead to peace. Not only do the ends not justify the means, the means are actually part and parcel with the end; it isn't simply that violence isn't noble enough to engender peace, it is that violence naturally breeds violence -- it is a matter of cause and effect. Self-defense can be justified, but let's not delude ourselves that that is what's at stake here. What is at stake is the false belief, which has become endemic in this country, that peace can be achieved by force -- a theory worthy of Looking-Glass Land.
We might, if we had been paying attention, have learned that lesson from the crucifix. Christianity was founded in an act of supreme self-sacrifice, of a deliberate refusal to counter violence with violence or hatred with hatred. Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? The reason that the Church did not either turn into a political revolt, or wither and die, upon the death of her Master, had to do with more than the mere fact of the Resurrection. That, by itself, would not have dispelled the impulse of revenge. It had to do with the spiritual force of the Passion, the choice of Jesus to be a willing victim, absorbing into Himself the force of violence and answering with compassion.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
And that same power is available to us. That is the point of the Incarnation: the Divine love that embraces suffering, in order that suffering may by that embrace be ended within the lover, has been not merely shown to humanity but actually made present and possible, "not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God." Trying to use violence to bring suffering to an end is not just wide of the mark; it is an exact reversal of the solution set forth and accepted by God Himself; it is an assent to the theory that It is expedient that one man should die for the people.
Of course, in a way, Caiaphas was right; St John says as much in his Gospel, stating that the High Priest unwittingly prophesied in those words. But the only reason he was right was because Jesus did choose to die for the people; in other words, he was right only because Jesus was the sort of man who would never have valued expediency over life.
*If you don't recognize something as universal as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I do not know what to do with you.
**Sticking one's face in a hornets' nest would probably lead to a trip to the ER, yes. But according to the internet, in which I have total confidence, the average trip to the emergency room costs a little over $1200. This means that if, say, we had not built the nuclear warheads we dropped on Japan sixty years ago, we could have afforded, as a nation, to stick our faces in more than eight million hornets' nests.