I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, says the Lord. (Luke 4:43)
Again and again, mankind will be faced with this same choice: to say yes to the God who works only through the power of truth and love, or to build on something tangible and concrete—on violence. –Pope Benedict XVI.
We make our gravest mistakes when we consider our options with false presuppositions. Probably the most famous case in literature is Huckleberry Finn. He learned that his friend Jim was still legally bound in slavery. So Huck thought he had a moral obligation to send Jim back to his owner. Huck didn’t do it—but he thought he was sinning when he didn’t. His presupposition was false, so when he considered his options, right and wrong were literally reversed in his mind.
The Christian leaders of the Middle East and our Holy Father honestly ask us, the United States: How can you possibly imagine that shooting into Syria will do any good? The Church, speaking with breathtaking universality, is asking us this question. We need to consider the question in order to shake off a false supposition that our government seems to have–seems to have had for fifty years.
Yes, if we could bring the innocent dead in Syria back to life, we would. Yes, if we could impose world peace from the bridge of a battleship, we would. But neither of these options fall within the repertoire of the U.S. military.
On Sunday, Pope Francis pointed out that God and history will judge and condemn anyone who uses chemical weapons and kills the innocent. The Obama administration’s case for a military strike has a number of gaping holes in it, but the first is this: Yes, using chemical weapons violates international law. But so would our unilaterally striking in order to “enforce” the chemical-weapons ban. The chemical-weapons accord does not empower us to make a punitive strike. If we believe we have an obligation to strike, then we must confer with all the parties to the treaty—in other words, with the United Nations.
Now, President Lyndon Johnson famously said, “The U.N. couldn’t pour water out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.” Actually, President Johnson referred to a liquid other than water. “The U.N. couldn’t pour [something I won’t mention in church] out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.”
President Johnson said that when he thought he had an obligation to strike the Viet Cong. Maybe the U.N. does have trouble pouring water out of a boot. But the Pope knows what he’s talking about. I was watching a few minutes of news, and one of the pundits had the decency to mention that Pope Francis opposes a U.S. military strike. But then everyone on the set laughed it off with a “Well, of course he does.” As if the Pope lives in an ivory tower of religion, but we know the realities of a rough-and-tumble world. So let’s get real and start shooting.
But who, really, lives in a fantasy world of false presuppositions? Isn’t it a fantasy to imagine that shooting a bunch of Tomahawk missiles will lead to peace? Isn’t it a fantasy for us to think that we can launch one round of missiles, which will hit only what we want them to hit, and will hit everything we want them to hit, and then ‘our duty’ will be neatly done and over with? That is a fantasy. When Lyndon Johnson fantasized about surgically striking the Viet Cong into non-existence, it was a fantasy. When we fantasized about surgically striking the Iraqi Republican Guard into non-existence, it was a fantasy. Peace did not ensue. War ensued.
The Pope has asked every Catholic on earth to pray on Saturday evening, the vigil of our Lady’s birthday—he has asked us to pray that we don’t shoot. He has asked everyone to pray that there not be more shooting, but less.
I will lead a rosary for peace at the foot of the altar at the conclusion of the 4:30 Mass at Francis of Assisi Church, Rocky Mount, on Saturday. May God help us and preserve us from decisions made with false presuppositions. God will judge the wrong-doers. The U.S. is one of many countries in this fallen world. May we be a country with truth and love for our decision-making criteria. If we love the poor, innocent Syrians who lost their lives on August 21—and we do—if we love them, then let’s love the poor, innocent Syrians who would inevitably get killed if we fire off a bunch of Tomahawks, and not do it.