By James V. Schall, S.J.
'The history of force does not at all prove that its use causes greater evil. Indeed, the opposite seems more true."
ON THE SURFACE, any attempt to juxtapose the notions of war and religion seems to be absurd. The two appear to be simply incompatible. Yet we are historical beings. We know from our past as well as from our present that religious beliefs and differences have been a major cause of war among men.
The conquest of Caanan, the fall of Constantinople, the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, the French Revolution, all had deep religious foundations. The sceptic can well suspect that one plausible way to eliminate war is to eliminate religion. Yet war is not so simple, nor is religion. War, in spite of its tragedy, can represent a certain defiance and independence of the spirit in the face of suppression and tyranny. Had no man, no people ever resorted to force to defend or promote their dignity or their homeland, could the human race have ever escaped mass slavery? Granted the human condition, it seems highly doubtful.
Contemporary religious literature speaks frequently of the "signs of the times." By this is meant that the Spirit of God really is active in the world, calling continually the faithful to witness to the new life which they have been given. The life of revealed religion is, moreover, pedagogic, that is, the work of the Spirit is gradual, persistent, aimed at bringing the total race of men in time to the full life of the people of God.
The slow elimination of slavery, the rise of the dignity of women, equality, tolerance and liberty have all been "signs of the times" in their day. They have all undergone an agonizing birth within the religious conscience. Very often, indeed, religious people opposed such developments with all their strength, yet they were, in fact, the signs of the dignity of the people and heritage of the race.
Today, a new phenomenon seems to be appearing on the religious scene. This is the ap
parently growing belief among all religious groups that "peace" is the ultimate and basic religious value of this generation. Formerly, peace was always considered to be the end-product, the result of justice or of liberty or of faith. Today, religious people seem much more likely to scale down the value of justice or of liberty or of faith if the promotion of these values or their defence should break the peace. Paul VI's words at the United Nations—No more war, ever again—are taken to be an absolute norm.
The question arises, therefore, is the rejection of violence in any form a true sign of the times? Are those who refuse any cooperation with war, violence or force really the witness to the movement of the Spirit in this generation? Certainly, for example, the gradual, but definite reduction of capital punishment as a licit or useful means available to the community is a clear sign of reserve and scruple revealed by men in power when it comes to executing a man even for seemingly the most necessary purposes. Yet not too many generations ago, the religious mind accepted the need for capital punishment almost without question. Is war following the same path?
The current context of discussion with regard to peace is, naturally enough, focused on the Bomb and on the war in Vietnam. This is unavoidable. The issue, however, goes considerably deeper. In one most obvious sense, of course. war is being eliminated. The evolution of modem society is in the direction of substituting the police (which is still force) for the army within larger national areas.
All large nations represent the pacification of warfare within growing areas by the centralizing of force within the confines of the government. The logic of this development, as Cardinal Ottaviani pointed out in a famous speech in the Council, is a world state. Clearly, this has been the dynamism • behind the formation of the United Nations. The United Nations is still more of a forum and a hope than a political reality with adequate force. Wars are not prevented, if indeed they are prevented, by the United Nations but rather by the military balance of the great powers. Further, we are not as yet certain that the ultimate elimination of wars within a world state would not in fact by a tyranny on a scale as yet undreamed of. Unfortun ately, the mere eradication of war is not the same as justice and liberty; our times have shown that it may be just the opposite.
TFIE TYPICAL religious mind of our times arrives at the conclusion the "absolute primacy of peace" via three avenues. The first type of religious thought is the oldest, rejecting force of any kind as a moral alternative. The Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren, and other groups have long subscribed to this belief and have sought by every means to protest against war. This view, represented among the Catholics by the Catholic Worker Movement, is consistent, religiously motivated, lived. Apparently it accepts the protection and freedom made possible by military power with uneasiness. In any case, it does not seek to emigrate to totalitarian states to witness to its beliefs in less friendly climes. This viewpoint simply cannot reconcile any use of force with religion.
The second type of religious mind arrives at the peace position via "the Bomb". The logic of defence is today based on the clear possibility of destroying an enemy country, on the willingness to sustain the same destruction of one's own country if absolutely necessary. Even to threaten to bring about such a condition seems to this type of mind impossible. The alternative of defence is ultimately worse than the alternative of capitulation. Most often, but not always, this theory hopefully places much weight upon the so-called signs of evolution within Communism itself. This in some way lessens the frightfulness of the alternative of capitulation.
Interestingly, this view shows little tolerance for those who fear Communism, suspecting all of being fascist. and seeing in them only a refusal to see the changes within Communism. Communism can be changed from within : therefore the argument about its nature and philosophy totally breaks down. Communism. further, is not the worst evil possible to man, war is. A choice between war and Cornmunism would give the nod to Communism. Unfortunately, this view tends to neglect the predominant influence of external force or containment in causing this evolution within Communism.
The final type of religious view is less consistent, less deserving of respect. Usually it is opposed to the war in Vietnam because it involves the killing of women and children, because it is not any of America's business to be there, because this area belongs to China's legitimate "sphere of influence". Little is said about the consequences of withdrawal, about terror tactics used by Communist forces, about the right of independence.
The current changing attitude of religious minds toward war and peace leaves many questions unanswered. It may be perfectly true, for example, that war is no longer a feasible instrument for men; it may be that the calls for peace at almost any price are authentically religious. Still. the religious mind is not free simply to be against war. This is especially true when such attitudes are, in fact, partial causes in prolonging a war and encouraging an enemy to believe that his threatening methods can win.
Certainly the overall effect of truces in Vietnam has been, in part, to provide the aggressor with an opportunity to strengthen his position and-therefore to_ make the end of the war less likely. Those religious minds who are so concerned about peace would like to believe that any efforts for peace, for that reason alone, cause peace. But this is not always the case. They may be the causes of greater and more dire consequences. The religious mind is not free of moral responsibility for such results simply on the ground that it thinks it is seeking peace. Ironically, the religious minds concerned about war do not have a monopoly on peace-seeking.
Perhaps the most crucial question the religious mind must ask itself is this: is there any longer value, any way of life that is worth fighting for? Does the logic of peace at any cost reduce all historical values And Jmnstuncommitments to the barest level of survival? When the values that the civilisation has created with the utmost difficulty are directly threatened at their very root by overwhelming force, is there left only the choice of surrendering them? Which is, in the end, the greater evil, the loss of one's civilisation and freedom or the yielding to totalitarianism without a murmur?
Strangely, few religious minds are willing to see the issue in such terms. They betray an uncanny facility to lapse into the clouds of their hopes, they cling to some desperate hope that the United Nations will come up with a solution, that Communism will evolve in a more peaceful manner. Such changes are possible, certainly, but this does not permit us to believe they have already happened.
For the public. conscious renunciation of force on a world scale as a matter of religious conviction is tantamount to allowing and encouraging the victory of the totalitarian state. The private religious mind may, of course, be willing to accept this alternative for itself, but should it do so, can it claim so innocently a lack of guilt for the consequences of such a belief? If the alternative to nuclear war is a world state with liberty and justice for all it is easy to renounce the resort to war. But if it is a concentration camp—admittedly a quite modern one which could perhaps change—can the attacks on the need for military power in the name of peace be quite so noble or selfrighteous? The religious mind believes enthusiastically that all power corrupts absolutely. It forgets, however, that lack of power also corrupts absolutely. Power is not evil in itself
THE FIRST TEMPTATION of the religious mind is the temptation to believe that the world should be perfect. Its second temptation is to believe that it is therefore already perfect. In this light, it is instructive to inquire about the theological implications of much of the peace philosophy extant in contemporary society. At its best, of course. it is based on the belief that man is not helpless before evil, that ways to peace can always be found, that man's blindness and sin are at the heart of his difficulties. Further, war always represents a failure on somebody's part; there is no war that could not have been avoided. This means that peace is always possible. Moreover, if some means cannot be used. then faith tells us that God will provide.
On the other hand, religion only betrays itself when it refuses to look at the world as it is. It is not religious to pretend something exists that in fact does not, or to deny some reality however unpleasant that is actually operative in human affairs. The modem religious pacifist. it would seem, does not really believe in the ex istence of this world as God made it and as lie allowed it to develop, a world that includes sin, evil, and suffering. Fundamentally, this is why he refuses to face the exigencies of war, why he lapses into a kind of misty abstractionism which believes that the perfect world is already present.
The attack of the pacifist upon those who recognise the need of facing the reality of war is often an attack on the structure of the world itself as it has been created, a refusal to admit the reality of evil and sin, a denial of the need to confront these realities.
The religious pacifist is quick to accuse the military and political mind of arrogance and of power-seeking. Yet, the military and political mind has at least this advantage over the religious mind; it is more incarnational, more ready to recognise what does exist, willing to do at least something that greater evils do not befall man. What has to be done is often enough not pleasant or progressive, but it does face the issue; it is not free to resort to abstractionism or hopes for a solution.
The religious mind can be so paralysed by the thought of suffering and death that it refuses to confront their reality. The rise of the peace movement, with its innocent, angry call for a halt to war, can only appear as a pious escapism to those actually responsible for protecting the lives and freedoms of others. Religion in this sense is, today, coming to appear irrelevant or even dangerous when it has little else to say to those responsible for protecting freedom except that they stop seeking power, that they cease bombing and fighting, that they negotiate with an enemy who has no visible intention of stopping aggression against others
Can there be any longer a religious approach to the use or necessity of force? etre the military and political leaders responsible for defence and liberty simply outside the sphere of religion? Is the religious mind left with no alternative except to condemn war and thereby. if it is logical, to prepare for eventual survival of some sort under a totalitarian state?
This seems to be a peculiarly Christian and Jewish problem since the Moslems, for example, have little hesitation in combating Communist influence with force when they feel it necessary (as in the case of Indonesia). Moreover, it is not
enough simply to plead for peace with the proviso that this peace be just and mutually agreeable to all parties. No one doubts this. But even a just peace cannot be made to happen by chance; it is not merely an accident. The problem revolves around an enemywho believes he is winning precisely by the use of force and terror, to whom such pleas appear as a general weakening of the will to prevent his expansion.
WHAT KIND OF A CHOICE are we dealing with in the case of modern war? The religious mind, in this area, is inclined to believe or to hope that there really is a simple choice between good and evil. But this is seldom the case, and it oversimplifies the human condition, especially for political and military leaders responsible for the lives and welfare of others. The question of modern war involves a choice among actions all of which have evil and dire consequences, including the choice not to act at all. Is man left helpless in this situation? Is there no moral choice left?
I believe there is, and it is the weakness of the religious mind as we have described it to neglect it. Cardinal Charles Journet has stated the issue well: "We have to consider whether a man in certain circumstances may only have the choice between two things which are in themselves sinful, and whether, therefore, he may not have the duty of selecting to commit the lesser evil." It is this situation, in which our public leadersifind themselves. No amount of criticism of them will ever release them from the painful alternatives among which they must choose.
In Vietnam, for example, war is an evil thing in itself. But that does not solve the problems. Practically any alternative open has a degree of evil connected with it. An American pull-out, in addition to making another war somewhere else more probable later, would probably result in the execution of anywhere from ten thousand to who knows how many people as a part of the "pacification" programme pursued along classic Communist lines. Now even granting that such a pullout would perhaps prevent a war with China, or would halt the killing of American and Vietnamese troops, still the fact is that the choice facing responsible leaders is not between good and good, or between good and evil, but between degrees of evil.
Whatever choice is made in the concrete, it will result in horrible consequences. But if action is not taken to prevent the greaterevil, then we are responsible for this greater evil. Can the possession and use of military force to preserve the liberty of ourselves and others be in fact the lesser evil and therefore, in these circumstances, to be chosen? This seems to be the case. This may cause great destruction, but so will the failure to use force cause great destruction. The only real problem is what kind of destruction is to be preferred.
However, there is another side to this argument. The fortunate accidents of history have, temporarily at least, given military superiority to the free world. Consequently, the climate of discussion about the liceity of such modern weaponry is addressed primarily to the Western world. It is interesting to note how little is actually seriously addressed to
the world behind the iron curtain. In any case, there is no a priori assurance that military superiority will remain permanently in the hands of the free world. Thus, the very discussions about the possibility of war take place within a sphere of liberty made possible by temporary military superiority. What is of interest here is that the greatest of our political and human traditions, those of freedom and democracy, are made possible by power.
This is why those who fear war and place peace as the highest value are so disturbing when they, following their own logic, have to scale down their own estimates of the value of , freedom and democracy when they are threatened, as they are. The paralysing fear of war, especially in religious circles, has had the regrettable effect of reducing liberty and democracy to the level of secondary values which the human race need not consider of absolute value for its preservation and progress.
The issues raised by the reality of force, therefore, are not easy ones for the religious mind. The history of force does not at all prove that its use causes greater evil. Indeed, the opposite seems more true, the failure to use adequate force energetically lies at the origin of most great wars of modern times. A strong case can be made for the proposition that a pacifist bent of mind in the face of aggression from totalitarian regimes has ultimately caused far greater evil than the adequate use of force in time. The pacifist mind, ironically, always seems to end up choosing the greater war. And what is perhaps even more disturbing, as in the ease of the Vichy philosophy of France, it ends up cooperating with a system that is contrary to human values.
The "signs of the times" are for peace. Yet, it would be ironic if this were to mean that a totalitarian-imposed peace were to be considered the will of God. This is why the witness to peace by religious groups cannot neglect the role of force in the human situation. This too is part of God's creation. Man's goal is not merely "peace" meaning the absence of actual war, but justice and liberty from which peace results, If the religious mind of our time does not allow man to defend what is noblest in him, will there be any future faith which is based on the possibility of freedom?