Deadening of Conscience

One of our great problems is to see clearly what we have to resist. I would say that at the moment we have to understand better than we do the Cold War [War on Terrorism] mentality. If we do not understand it, we will run the risk of contributing to its confusions and thereby helping the enemies of man and peace. The great danger is that under the pressures of anxiety and fear, the alternation of crisis and relaxation and new crisis, the people of the world will come to accept gradually the idea of war, the idea of submission to total power, and the abdication of reason, spirit and individual conscience. The great peril of the Cold War [War on Terrorism] is the progressive deadening of conscience. (Thomas Merton, Cold War Letters, pp. 47-48)
We experienced a progressive deadening of conscience in the 20th century, the constant submission to total power—World War I, World War II, the “police action” in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq not to mention U. S. military interventions in the Philippines, Nicaragua, Honduras, Iran, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Chile, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Afghanistan. This century has not started off any better.
Recently, I was discussing the Iraq quagmire with a friend. He did not seem to be sympathetic to the war. When I mentioned that I was really afraid that we were being mendaciously built up for an attack on Iran, I added, “I don’t think the Iranians are going to stand by while we invade them.” His response was, “We will just have to use nuclear weapons.” He said it so matter of factly. I responded in disbelief, “Use nuclear weapons?” He said, “We have them. We might as well use them.” Speaking of deadening of conscience. Speaking of the ultimate immorality—the destruction of the human race.
As peacemakers, we often feel like we are spitting in the wind. We keep on keeping on and the forces of malevolence keep on keeping on and seem to be winning. The real axis of evil grinds on unscathed—war, poverty and racism.
Speaking recently at an Orbis Books convocation, Father Albert Nolan, South African Dominican, said, “Egotistical self-centeredness is the deepest problem of our day and Jesus’ own spirituality is the remedy. In fact, Jesus’ spirituality is more relevant today than it was in his time.” ( Jesus’ spirituality is the spirituality of the Nonviolent Lamb. It is the spirituality which tells us “to seek first the reign of God and his justice.” It is the spirituality of service, not domination and exploitation.
Few people question why we have engaged in all these wars. It comes down to what Paul calls the sin of “greed which is idolatry.” It is all about us. It is about domination and exploitation. It is about acquiring more and more while others have less and less. We have our idols, our possessions, our Imperial Comfort Zones. We need armies to defend what we have and to make it possible for us to get more.
Not only has the President refused to develop a realistic plan for Iraq, the Democratic Congress, elected with a mandate to change direction, has been totally impotent. My guess is that Congress will approve the President’s latest proposal in spite of the fact that Iraq is a quagmire and in spite of the fact that he his proposing a long-term intervention on the Korean model. It is not about democracy in Iraq. It is not about peace and justice. It is about American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. We think we have a divine mandate to rule the world. We keep on speaking out but they, the power brokers, keep on with war mongering. The acorn will not blossom into a pear tree. The sword will not bring peace and justice.
As peacemakers, we have choices. We can get totally frustrated and ask whether all our efforts are worth it. Hopefully, we will not let our consciences be deadened.
The recent revelation about Mother Teresa’s frustration and experience of the dark night of the soul is a model for us. Most of us will never experience the depth of the darkness she suffered. However, she kept on keeping on. Remember, she was not interested in results. Her mission was to be faithful to Jesus in season and out of season, when convenient and when inconvenient. Mother Teresa was able to be faithful because her life was grounded in prayer. She continuously placed herself in the presence of Jesus who called her to go into the “dark holes” of poverty and bring the Gospel light.
We are called to go into the dark holes of state murder (war), greed and violence and bring the light of the Gospel—the message of the Nonviolent Jesus.
There is hope. There is hope in Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community. Working together and across national boundaries, we can make a difference. We should take heart at the recent United Nations Report. Because of Millennium Development Goals (, child mortality has reached a record low. It is below 10 million. Over 9.7 million children below the age of five still died from mostly preventable deaths. This is not acceptable; however, the goal of reducing the rate by two thirds by 2015 seems to be on the right track.
There is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel (and it is not another train). Let us keep on keeping on. “Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

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