The Pope, of whom some folk may think I’ve been unduly critical (though I suspect at least one of our contributors thinks I haven’t been half tough enough), said the other day that committing violence in the name of religion is blasphemy; I’m pleased to say that for once we’re in agreement.
Violence, and our propensity for it are, for me, signs of our fallen nature – Cain slew Abel and we’ve been at it ever since. If you ask which came first, violence or religion, you can see quick enough where the former comes from. Jessica has quoted Lord Byron’s famous lines: ‘Christians have burned each other / quite persuaded, that all the Apostles would have done as they did’, to good effect in a post which concluded that ‘We learn more when we realise that the Apostles did not burn each other’. Sinful mankind has allowed its lusts for power and control to enrol religion in its cause. This, for many Baptists, is a second fall – that of the churches themselves, and is what I would mean if I referred to Constantine’s conversion as a mixed blessing. I acknowledge the point made elsewhere on this blog that without some sort of State protection, things can get dire for Christians, but I say in response that the faith once given has paid a price for that protection – included in that has been one of supporting war.
I am not a pacifist (which will, I suppose, come as a great surprise given my genial and uncombative nature 🙂 ), but I see the case for it. However, in this world we cannot live up to Our Lord’s injuction to turn the other cheek, only because sometimes our head may not be on our shoulders by then. Aquinas and the Catholic Church did us a favour by rationalising the concept of the ‘Just War’. For the war to be just, the cause must be a good one, and that has been the point at which, in practice, the ideal has failed because the State (and for a war to be ‘just’ it has to have sanction from a proper State) tends to define its will as ‘good’. The fight must be conducted in a way which minimises casualties and it must be a last resort. I would say all these would be met in a war against Isis.
I am not going to enter onto the question of Isis and Islam. It is clear that the men running Isis claim to be acting in the name of Islam and have their reasons for so doing; it is equally clear many Muslims resent this identity. Our conflict is with the men of violence. It seems to me that the international organisation which have preserved a form of peace during my lifetime are no longer working well, and that our secular leaders need a lead. Pope Francis could do us all a favour if he would by convening a conference at which he reminded those leaders about the ‘Just War’. Would that be to identify Christianity with violence? No, it would be to identify it with ending savagery and barbarism – it would be the real Just War.