Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Challenge of Peace

Nineteen years ago, on the 6th anniversary of the publication of the US Roman Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, Pax Christi USA compiled and published a book entitled, Dear Bishops: Open Letters on the Morality of Nuclear Deterrence Addressed to the US Catholic Bishops.

With today being the 63rd anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attack (on the Japanese city of Hiroshima), it seems fitting to share one of these letters. This particular letter was written by Joan Chittister, OSB.


Dear Bishops,

One of my most hopeful moments of church came when the bishops of the United States were willing to wrestle with the questions of nuclear morality in a nuclear world. One of my most disappointing moments, on the other hand, came when you failed to say that deterrence that is aimed at the destruction of the globe is morally unacceptable, that a defense system that has already begun to erode the social fiber of our country with its lustful, gluttonous, profligate use of resources could possible be a sinless activity.

How can we possibly say that what is immoral to use is moral to design and develop and deploy? How can we possibly say that to abort a fetus is morally wrong but that the weapons intended only to abort the whole human race is not? How can we possibly make ourselves and our generation more worthy of the ultimate act of retaliation than at any other possible moment in history?

Isn’t the arrogance of those postures alone a sin against the Holy Spirit?

How is it that we can ask people to be prepared to die in nuclear warfare in the name of a “defense” that is destructive but refuse to ask them to be prepared to die in passive resistance in the name of the gospel? All that would happen to us if we faced a nuclear attack without weapons is that we would die, but isn’t that the very posture that we clearly espouse even now in the name of “defense”? And isn’t that precisely the kind of deterrence that we expect from the non-nuclear world even now?

The point is that we say nuclear weapons alone can be a deterrence to nuclear war. But surely there is a rational and Christian deterrence as well that would be equally effective.

It was a Christian state that designed the Holocaust, and Christian countries that waged the Inquisition, and Christian states that burned witches and napalmed Vietnamese villages and used the atomic bomb [on civilian populations], not once but twice, for experimental purposes. Now, with all the planet and universal human morality and civilization itself at stake, in an age when errors cannot be forgiven, we are begging you, lead this Christian state to more than that.

The Rule of Benedict requires humility as the cornerstone of spirituality built in the patriarchal culture of imperial Rome. We need that same humility now from the church. Call the country to negotiations, to human respect, to faith and to humility in our dealing with both the little and the great ones of the world.

There is an ancient proverb that teaches, “Wherever there is excess in anything, something is lacking.” Finish the fine work you have begun and give the nation what it lacks, to its peril, in its excessive militarism – the challenge of peace.

– Joan Chittister, OSB

Recommended Off-site Links:
Hiroshima Marks Bomb Anniversary with Hopes for US Change – Agence France Presse, August 6, 2008.
The Lies of Hiroshima Live On, Props in the War Crimes of the 20th Century – John Pilger (The Guardian, August 6, 2008).


kevin57 said...

What was most impressive about the Bishops' Pastoral on War and Peace was not so much its conclusions, but on its processes. It was truly and admirably dialogical. Neocons and pacifists, army generals and peace activists were consulted. Was this done with the recent pastoral on gays? Nope. Shows how far we have fallen as a Church.

Anonymous said...

I think there has been great progress in places you might expect it.

For many years at St Blog's, August 6-9 was the occasion of huge combox flame wars in many of the prominent blogs (such as Amy Welborn's and Mark Shea's, to cite just 2 of the most prominent).

What is interesting to me is how over time, more and more conservative American Catholics felt comfortable in strongly questioning the use of nuclear weapons in WW2 in objective (if not subjective) terms.

This shift was important, because it laid the groundwork for what happened in the past 3+ years on the issue of torture under American auspices.

There has been an enormous cleavage among conservative American Catholics between those who might be called Catholic Americans - who embrace openly or covertly a consequentialist approach to national security - and American Catholics who struggle to resist that. Mark Shea has in particularly led some of the most pioneering stuff happening at St Blog's in the past decade (progressive Catholics who image we've led this are sorta kidding ourselves - no one harvests the crop they themselves sow).

Consequentialism is deadly. Not only in warfare but in other moral areas, some of which are areas where progressives appear quite tempted to be consequentialist too.

All manner of people who tend to be marginalized - the gay and lesbian, the black, the disabled, the unborn, those in the shadows of life - are canaries in the mineshaft of consequentialism, because in a consequentialist world we are not valued very much. (Personally, *that's* where I think issues of sexual orientation take on a moral gravity that is actually much more in synch with the deepest levels of Catholic moral theology than many people on the right or left appear to understand. To put it bluntly, whereas in a secular consequentialist world, gay "rights" flow from the same privacy "rights" that enshrine a right to kill unborn human beings, in a Catholic moral world the inherent dignity of each human being regardless of value or worth to anyone else is the source of the inherent dignity of gay and unborn human beings that is not to be devalued by anyone else.)