Pacifism and the Pope

Liberation of ParisOver at the Washington Post, Michael Peppard writes:

Like 159,000 other people, I follow Pope Francis (@Pontifex) on Twitter—in Latin. I enjoy the chance to refine my declensions and conjugations while pausing in reflection on the beautiful words of Franciscus.

But Monday’s first tweet offered no succor. “Numquam plus bellum! Numquam plus bellum!” shouted my Twitter feed, like a shrill alarm on a groggy holiday morning.

…The “just war” tradition of the Catholic Church focuses on principles such as just cause, proportionality, last resort, and serious prospect of success, among others. In recent years, some have developed the principle of “responsibility to protect” as a corollary to the received tradition. Some usually progressive American Catholic voices, such as Michael Sean Winters, have argued that military intervention in Syria does qualify as just.

But from Pope Francis’s statements and previous writings, he leans away from the “just war” discourse and toward the just peacemaking school of thought—or outright pacifism. Conflict has been present from the time of Cain and Abel, he said in On Heaven and Earth, but “I believe that war must never be the path to resolution.”

Andrew Sullivan adds:

[J]ust war theory did nothing to prevent the disaster in Iraq. Christians may need, given the terrifying spread of religious terrorism and unimaginably advanced and increasingly accessible means for widespread destruction, to recalibrate toward a more pacifist position.

I’m not quite sure that I see the logic of that. The mess in Iraq was the product of many things, but a failure in the theory of just war was not one of them.

Sullivan is, of course, right to worry about the danger posed by the conjunction of spreading religious terrorism and increasing access to weapons of terrible power. And force is very far from being the only response to the challenge that this poses. Indeed, there are circumstances when it might be the worst response.

But to move from that idea to consider (Sullivan is careful to use the qualifier “may”) recalibrating “toward a more pacifist position” is to take a more than a few steps too far.

We are a species with an immense capacity for violence, and that will never change. And we are not always the most benign of creatures. And that will never change.

That means that it’s good for us to hear a loud voice calling for peace, but it also means that sometimes we will need to ignore it.

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