Russell Meyer is Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Lakeland, Florida. He is a member of the ELCA/MCA Liaison Committee, Ecumenical Coordinator for the Florida Bahamas Synod ELCA, board member of the Florida Council of Churches, and Treasurer of the North American Academy of Ecumenists. He is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Baker University.
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, … Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. (Luke 11.24-26)
Your wishes are bad, when you desire that one whom you hate or fear should be in such a condition that you can conquer him. (City of God, IV, 15)
Professor Weigel seeks to dispel darkness from the Church's witness against pre-emptive war. He maintains that the military has kept faith with Just War Theory even as it has faded from the active memory of many church leaders, who have lost the ability to reason morally in international affairs. Not to worry, though, for he holds that political leaders acquire a charism particular to their office to aid them in waging war as a moral category of statecraft.
Weigel's main complaint about the witness against war by many religious leaders is that they have confused the means by which war is fought with the reasons for waging war. In his opinion, the reasons that justify war mandate a pre-emptive policy against terrorism and rogue states. The manner of how war against them is waged is secondary. This position is offered without the slightest sense of irony. The new argument for pre-emptive war arises from the means by which post-modern conflict may be waged with weapons of mass destruction. The reasons why terrorists and rogue states initiate their hostile activities have no place in Weigel's formula. He assumes they are self-evidently evil because their activities do not discriminate properly between combatants and civilians - yet, this is the very concern of many voices against war.
The argument in his paper "Moral Clarity in a Time of War" suffers two kinds of weaknesses. One is internal and the other is external in scope. The internal weakness becomes more acutely felt in the context with the external one, so I begin there.
Just War Theory has its origins in Augustine's City of God. There, the Bishop of Hippo defends Christianity from the accusation that it brought on the weakness leading to Rome's downfall. Augustine's argument on war and peace is masterfully nuanced and beyond a full exploration here. Let it be noted that the Bishop finds Rome's weakness in her being an unjust and immoral empire. As her pagan sage Cicero noted, an institution of injustice cannot survive. Augustine writes, "nothing is so hurtful to a state as injustice; and that without justice a republic can neither be governed, nor even continue to exist." (CG II 21)
For Augustine, the concept of a just war arises with the notion that the ideal international order is a multitude of small kingdoms at peace with one another. "Human affairs being thus more happy, all kingdoms would have been small, rejoicing in neighborly concord; and thus there would have been very many kingdoms of nations in the world, as there are very many houses of citizens in a city." (CG, IV, 15) But belligerents, desiring to be build empires, attempt to lord over their neighbors and therefore need restraint. Thus, notions of just war not only exist to restrain evil but to restrain the aggressive growth of empire building, and perhaps more importantly, recover some sense of balance in size and strength among nations so that the world might approximate the ideal international order.
Now, Augustine's just war theorizing has its place after Constantine has instituted Christianity as the state religion. Indeed, just war thought is an historical product of Christendom. The height of its theory in later proponents such as Aquinas, Vitoria, Niebuhr, and Ramsey underscores how the moral question of war is both a decidedly Christian concern and, until now, a question of particular acuity for nations with large Christian populations. The American military and political establishments may still conceive of the United States as the leading Christian country in a self-sustaining Christendom, but a great many others have noted that the world is now post-Christian--that Christendom itself is past. This point is shockingly clear when one considers that the rogue states and terrorist organizations of today arise from radicalized Islamic populations and atheistic Oriental regimes. Yet this critical difference in contexts repeatedly goes unnoticed in the quick comparisons with Nazi Germany.
If Just War Theory is to shine a guiding light, it must take stock of this basic fact: there no longer is an overarching worldview which can give a common moral foundation. This is not to say that just war thought no longer is applicable. It is to say that the strategies for achieving the goals of just war theory require re-thinking so that the moral framework of the opponents is taken under consideration. When the opponents' moral framework is not calculated in the response to their aggression, the risk is real that the response will appear imperialistic. No amount of denial to the contrary will be convincing to anyone except the theorists of Christendom. Augustine's ideal of international order will remain a mirage.
The internal weakness of the Weigel's argument comes into view from those who seek to take account of the post-Christian world. Moral theology is a reflection upon anthropology in light of the Gospel, a reflection that must first grapple with who and what humanity is coram deo before it addresses any moral imperative. The post-Christendom evangelical anthropology of Rene Girard and others is significantly different from its Thomistic, Kantian, liberal or neo-conservative predecessors. When religious leaders lament that "violence cannot quell violence," it is not that they have forgotten moral theology so that they no longer discriminate between the responsibility of the state and the lawlessness of rogues and terrorists. Rather they are building on the insights of an evangelical anthropology. In the Cross of Christ, God shows the depth of humanity's inhumanity to itself. Jesus' death comes at the hands of legitimate political and religious authority, sanctioned by the people directly. Jesus declares forgiveness to his persecutors, and God forgives humankind by raising him from the dead. Here, the Gospel declares that only forgiveness casts out violence. Equally revealing, Christ's Passion and Resurrection also shows how easily humanity imitates itself in supporting the use of violence to restrain those described as evil, blasphemous or a threat to our own well-being.
We are a social creature whose strength and glory is made possible because of our ability to imitate one another. But the power of sin lies in the corruption of our desires to imitate that which is unholy. A call to arms rallies within a population such deep desires to be so united against a common foe that it loses the ability to be judicious and discriminating toward those it labels as the enemy. What charism political leaders have has historically more to do with rallying the population against a common - a unifying! - enemy. Legitimatizing such a charism encourages political leaders to pursue a kind of national righteousness rather than the sobering analysis of human culture provided by Calvary and the empty tomb.
Much more needs to be said about how our desires become corrupted by imitating those around us rather than following the Spirit of our Lord. The future of Just War Theory will depend upon its appropriation of evangelical anthropology in a post-Christian world. Otherwise, it will simply become a self-rationalizing tool for those with the means and power to attempt to make the world in their own image. Again, without the least sense of irony, Weigel advocates a version of just war that would create an international order that Augustine said "cannot continue to exist."
Copyright © Bethel College
Contact Mennonite Life