As diplomats and world leaders ponder the next move in the Syrian conflict, and the world waits to see what the United States will do if diplomacy fails, what we hear today is fairly scary talk from Paul and even scarier from Jesus…. In this country in particular, the recourse to violence is as close as it gets to a cultural characteristic. Our stories and movies and now computer games seem to be built on the premise that the only way to defeat evil is through violence – usually involving guns or high explosives. We love that stuff. John Wayne is a cultural icon, not only here but in Ireland and much of the rest of the world. Dorothy Day? Not so much…
Whether rockets and bombs or drones, the delivery system of American retribution tends to be swift, deadly, and destructive. I well remember after having witnessed at first hand the devastation unleashed on Iraqi neighborhoods by American rockets both under President Clinton and President Bush the chilling remark of the American military commander, “we don’t count civilian casualties.” We don’t count the little boys killed playing soccer in the street or the children who were in the school playground when the missile struck. And these words of the American soldier who described his work: we kill people and break things. “War,” Donald Rumsfeld explained, “is messy.”
What St. Paul and Jesus are offering us is another way, one that would be hard to classify as pertaining only to individual personal relationships, and not to nations. Faced with real and undeniable evil, even malevolence, can we really call ourselves Christian if the only and ultimate sanction we count on is violence?
G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” [What’s Wrong with the World] Perhaps it’s time we tried it again.