Pacifism and Christianity

Catholic Christianity does not teach, nor has it ever taught absolute pacifism. By absolute pacifism I mean the belief that any use of force on the part of the state is illegitimate and immoral. This is different than saying that the use of force ought to be limited to just cause. Absolute pacifists say there is no such thing as a just cause. The Church teaches that there is.

I think that people who are unable to draw a distinction between an individual person and the state have a hard time agreeing with the Church's teaching. This disagreement produces lots of high-falutin' moralizing language and the attempts at proof-texting and the emphasis on the radical nature of the Christian call to non-violence. But radical used in this context refers to a belief that "goes beyond" or "goes ahead" of Christian teaching into the superior moral framework created by the one made uncomfortable by the teaching of the Catholic Church. This is why pacifism is most often embraced by those of a progressive disposition.

I probably need to qualify these remarks. It's perfectly reasonable to be an advocate for pacifism, it just cannot be the standard to which everyone is held. Advocacy of absolute pacifism is probably right for some, but not for everyone. The Church herself does not argue it and her members cannot be forced to embrace it. Maybe if it were more persuasive! But most people with common sense recognize that the demands of justice in a fallen world sometimes necessitate the use of force, and the Church agrees. This means not just just war but also the legitimate role of law enforcement through means of the police and other state offices.

Is the use of force always a failure, in some way, of human relations and human communities? Yes, of course - to use our recent visitor Scott's abused phrase it is probably an "ontological failure": a failure to live up to the greatness of our true God given being. Do we have a radical call to live a life of humility and are we called to turn the other cheek? Yes. But the Church is the Church not just of St. Francis of Assisi but also the Church of St. Joan of Arc.

1 comment:

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Please check out these references from the same remarkable book.




Plus an earlier essay written in 1999 in response to the Kosovo crisis (which nearly triggered WW3)