Sunday, January 27, 2008

Catholics and War

I have been reading this article on War theory and Catholicism. The idea behind any type of War theory from the point of religion is to decipher when, if ever, war can be a justified action. The article I am reading is from the perspective of a Benedictine priest who lived from 1890-1938 , Fr. Virgil Michel. Fr. Michel is known for his renewed thinking in the area of liturgy, but as Tobias Winright points out in his article, Virgil Michel on Worship and War, Michel also has a line of thought on just war.
Like many other facets in his life, Michel, uses the spirit of the liturgy to explain his thoughts on war. He states that in the liturgy we find Catholics offering each other the kiss of peace as well as participating in the Eucharist which calls each person to participate in the peace of Christ, the perfection of love. Bearing that in mind, any action of war is inherently evil because it does not adhere to the principles set forth by the liturgy that are grounded in the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Michel states that modern warfare is particularly unjust because 1) The weapons of science and technology do not allow for less non-combatants to be killed, and 2) the wars of today are steeped in history that has long passed. To Michel war naturally begets violence and evil. For this purpose I am going to adhere to the intelligent simple definition of evil as that which is devoid of God.

Later on in this article, Michel is quoted as saying, "[war] must be rightly conducted: retrained within the limits of justice and love." (Michel The Christian World 182.) Michel, however, also states that he believes war is really only a choice between two evils.

Although the article does go into much more detail, I think I have given enough of Fr. Michel's principles to discuss my own points.

Here are my issues,

Fr. Michel's idea on just war theory developed along with a post-Vatican II ideology. Pre-Vatican II, just war theory was based on the traditional principles that St. Thomas Aquinas had set forth, including but not limited to proportionality and restraint. Michel likens WWII to the Gulf War in terms of Catholic war theory.

First off, supposing that war is evil (completely devoid of God) are any of the goods that come from war also intrinsically evil? Along this line of thinking that war is never a good it only follows that those things which come from war also can never be a good (see Aquinas). Where does that leave liberated countries and freed peoples?

Ok, so war = evil. Got it.

Next problem. He states that choosing war is also a choice between two evils. Michel states that even participation in war by means of self-defense is evil, although maybe not a mortal sin. is it possible that in a given situation there is no choice aimed toward the good? Being that Jesus did die for the sins of mankind, I find it utterly unreasonable that we ever have a choice only between evil and a lesser evil. There is always a way to choose the good. Which means, logically following, that one of the choices must be good. Misdiagnosis.

Ideally Michel states that whenever possible a country should only defend itself and never take aggressive action in war. Thinking back to WWII, most of Europe, by way of using that theory, would be subject to socialist Nazi rule right now. Not to mention that in trying to support themselves by means of only defense they European countries would have stretched their natural resources beyond their means thus pushing Europe further into decay. And what of the killing of millions of Jews? It took military action, not only pacifism, to stop the Nazi's from decimating the Jewish people.

I appreciate Fr. Michel's sincerity in trying to keep with the teachings of Christ, and to be true to our liturgy, however I do not think it is as simple as all that. There is no doubt that there is atrocity in way, most of the time committed on both sides, but i have a hard time saying that freeing Jews from a gas chamber or stopping the stoning of women is intrinsically evil because of the means of achievement. I don't have an answer, but I do believe that God always provides us with a choice toward the good, knowing the good is the difficult part.

Incidentally, Fr. Michel's idea on liturgy and the Mystical Body of the Church are most definitely worth reading, a possible post on those ideals later.

Article - Tobias L. Winright "Virgil Michel on Worship and War", in Worship.