Moral Responsibility

As Christians, we bear a moral responsibility for what goes on in our country in our names. Pope John XXIII reminded us that we must work for peace and justice with everything at our disposal. This has never been truer that it is today.
In an age of terrorism, real and manufactured fear keeps us cowering while our elected and military leaders move full speed ahead to win the so-called war on terrorism. Terrorism is a threat; however, it is a threat which will never be resolved at the tip of the sword. Until we come to our senses and deal with the root causes of terrorism (poverty, exploitation, wealth amassed by the few, the arms race and arms trade, and Pax Americana), we will not deal effectively with terrorism.
I have finished reading Charlie Savage’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Takeover: The return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy which is a very scary book. As the administration wages its war on terror, treaties to which we are signatories, international conventions and well-established moral principles are jettisoned. In the name of security and expediency, we throw away what we know to be moral. The government fabricated a scenario for a preemptive war with Iraq–a war for oil and hegemony in the Middle East and we bought it in the name of security–get them over there. We and our elected officials in Congress sit by and let the government take away our freedom in the name of the war on terrorism. We imprison “terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where there are no courts or judges and we deny them the basic human right to habeas corpus. Some of these so-called terrorists were handed over by people collecting large bounties. We torture these prisoners while we are denying that we utilize torture. Our leaders defiantly define torture to suit their own needs. They say we have not used advanced interrogation techniques and then we find out we have used waterboarding. When they wanted to extract more sensitive information more quickly, they then shipped the prisoners to nations where people have fewer qualms about torture. When we look for evidence, we find that it has been destroyed in the name of security. When Congress or the courts say that the administration cannot engage in these programs to combat terrorism, our leaders respond that the president can determine what is permissible in times of war.
As the hostess in the bed and breakfast in Ireland told us last summer, America has lost its position of moral leadership in the world. She was right. I have been reading the works of Thomas Merton. It is amazing that you can read Merton today and substitute the word “terrorism” for Communism. Merton bemoans the abdication of moral principles:
One of the grave problems of religion in our time is posed by the almost total lack of protest on the part of religious people and clergy in the face of enormous social evils. It is not that these people are wicked or perverse…but simply that they are no longer fully capable of seeing and evaluating certain evils as they truly are: as crimes against God and betrayals of the Christian ethic of love. (The Nonviolent Alternative, p. 129)
To wit, he writes about how we were appalled at the German buzz bombing of civilians in England and eventually decided that it was all right for us to fire bomb Dresden and Tokyo. Eventually, we even justified the use of nuclear weapons on civilian centers in Japan.
Terrorism is a reality which must be contained; however, the war must be waged in accord with moral principles. War is an abomination. Civilians and combatants are fair game for the war machine. Given the propensity to glide from just war into the atrocities of total war, war cannot be justified. Long before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pope Pius XII realized that war is not the way to solve differences. Pope Paul VI pleaded with the United Nation, “No more war. Never again war.” The Popes and American Bishops recognize that the arms race is sucking the life out of us. We can fund defense without qualm or question but we cannot fund health care for our most precious resource—our children.
John F. Kennedy warned us that we must overcome war or it will overcome us. War has overcome us. We know no other way to resolve differences. The pattern that persisted in Ireland before the recent truce and shared governance now persists in like pattern in Israel/Palestine. Loyalists kill Republicans. Israelis kill Palestinians. Republicans then kill Loyalists. Palestinians then kill Israelis. Republicans want total control of the Emerald Island. Loyalists want control of Northern Ireland under the Crown. Israel wants all of Palestine. The Palestinians want their homeland. The dance of violence goes on. It spirals downward destroying people and depleting resources. There seems to be no way out of the cycle of violence. Violence is killing us!
Unfortunately, all too many Christians live comfortable lives and see very little connection between current events and their moral responsibilities. We work and play and go to church on Sunday. We watch television and let the media numb our consciences with their palaver. We fiddle while America burns.
We let government and special interests in New Orleans execute a plan to move the poor people out of their homes and their city. We let our government deny the human rights of political prisoners at Gitmo and elsewhere. We let our government kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displace 3+ million more so we can divide up their oil between the major oil companies. We let our President convince us to put our heads in the sand and deny climate change so that big business can get on with the business of big business—exploitation for profit.
It is time to wake up and speak out. We have a moral responsibility to let our leaders know that we will not tolerate immorality for any reason, including terrorism. We must remind our leaders that we are people of faith and conviction. We must let people know that we are the disciples of the Prince of Peace and that we will not tolerate violence in any form. Our God is the God of Peace. She brooks no violence whatsoever.
We will confront terrorism. But, our approach will be just nonviolence. We will put away our swords. We will feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. We will clothe the naked and care the sick. We will visit the imprisoned and work for the abolition of the death penalty. We will love one another. We will forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We will strive for nuclear disarmament. We will call for a halt to the arms race. We will buy from and invest in socially responsible companies. We will write our elected leaders. We will proclaim our moral principles in letters to the editor. We will speak out for the God of Peace at the golf course, the park and the office.

Leave a Reply