Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tough love, indeed

I've been thinking a lot about war and peace lately. Well, who hasn't been, I know, given the state of our world, but I'm coming at it more from the head than the heart this time around. Pacifism is a big topic in the Christian ethics class I'm taking, in part because it is so timely but also because some of the authors we are reading see it as the central, defining stance of Christianity.

The biggest surprise for me has been discovering myself seriously willing to consider the validity of the just war tradition. As I have hinted in earlier blogs, I am a child of a certain time and place and we aging flower children still tend to lean toward pacifism, but what I'm realizing (yet again) as I rethink this issue is that having children has changed everything. As a parent, I have a much greater appreciation for order and stability as foundational to living out our human calling and potential.

I still want to be a pacifist, but here's what I see more clearly now: If you reject the idea that force may regrettably be necessary at times in the name of justice, you bear a heavy burden of responsibility for those who suffer genocide, systematic starvation, and the other injustices we have seen in the closing years of the twentieth century. Some writers call that kind of military intervention policing, as opposed to warring. If you're willing to accept that we need a police force to maintain order in our own relatively tranquil civil society, isn't using military force to establish order and justice on wider basis the next logical step?

I do find some merit in this argument, but would I be willing to send my son or daughter off to do it? That's another matter altogether, and if it's selfish I'm willing to extend that selfishness to everyone on either side. I want to cry every time I hear another story about the death and misery and heartache that have come out of Iraq. Forget Saddam and forget the futile search for weapons of mass destruction; I can't imagine (approaching it from the heart, now) how spending human life this way could ever be right. Why should any mother's child be sacrificed?

For love, some would say. As an act of love and mercy, to deliver God's children from oppression.

And that thought takes me back to some of our earlier reading about euthanasia, where the more "conservative" thinkers remind us that we're not God, and because we're only "creatures--not Creator" there are limits to how far we have to go to make things turn out right. That's God's problem, in other word.

If it isn't right to kill people in order to preserve human dignity, or to relieve human suffering, why is it right to kill people in war in order to preserve peace?

Because in war (or at least in policing) the people we aim to kill are the bad guys, I suppose, but still.

Switching ethical questions, at dinner last weekend we were talking about capital punishment and one of my relatives said she thought it was justified in cases where very heinous crimes had been committed, and she listed a few examples. I asked if she saw executing those criminals as a matter of justice or vengeance, which really was a loaded question since I think most people can see that pursuing justice might be noble but pursuing vengeance probably isn't, regardless of how they feel about it. She dodged my question and said her reasoning was based neither on justice nor vengeance but rather on her belief that the people who committed such heinous crimes simply did not deserve to live.

Wow.

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