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Lyrics to “Rockin in the Free World“, Neil Young.

Brian Stewart of “The Bulwark” is bewildered that the Pope would say “weapons are not the solution” to what Stewart calls “Russia’s naked belligerence.”

In this month to consider the place of violence in our times, I am struck by how Stewart cannot conceive of anything but retaliation in response. To think otherwise is what he calls “an appalling fantasy of hope” that peace could arise “spontaneously out of either history or human nature.”

Of course he is right: peace will not arise spontaneously out of human nature. And yet he is so very wrong: more weapons will not solve the problem of violence.

How is War to be Measured?

Calling the Pope’s ideas as utopianism, Stewart disagrees with his statement that “every war leaves our world worse than it was before,” and argues that war should not be measured only by its consequences (namely, death and destruction) – but by the outcomes which it prevents. Such was the ethic used to justify using nuclear bombs in Japan. I am not sure the ethic holds up, especially if Putin comes to this conclusion and uses nuclear bombs to blast out of the corner in which he has put himself.

Stewart says the Vatican’s official position on the subjection of Ukraine is a scandal, and he writes:

Until the Holy Father and the Church of Rome can emphatically agree that military resistance to unprovoked aggression is right and just, the Vicar of Christ will deserve the scorn of the free world. Because it is the free world which understands that peace is not simply the absence of war, but a more robust and arduous condition of hostility toward tyranny and its depredations.

To read the entire article see “Pope Francis is Dangerously Wrong about Ukraine.”

From the Fantasy of the Free World

It is not my intent to argue in favour of the Pope, but Stewart’s assertions cannot go uncontested either, since he is merely expressing an ethic held without contradiction by so many in the West (ie: who are fully weaponized already). After all, Stewart presumes to represent “the scorn of the free world,” and assumes that it is the free world (as he conceives it) that actually understands what peace is all about. Talk about fantasy!

It is with amazing hubris that Stewart does not even question how unfree is the so-called free world, especially as the West is so enslaved to military might as the ultimate solution to all geopolitical conflicts. Or should I say, the West is as enslaved as any other world-power that presumes might is right.

Stewart suggests that he “understands that peace is not simply the absence of war, but a more robust and arduous condition of hostility toward tyranny and its depredations” – but he says nothing of how this more robust and arduous condition of hostility itself would ever stop. Indeed using his ethic, hostilities never will; indeed he has nothing to say about the ways of relating, costing, paying, dying to self that a more robust and arduous response to violence must be.

Stewart merely repeats (as some of my critics have parroted to me) that violence is the only solution to violence. And thus the fantasy continues; and thus the cycle of hostility rolls on.

There is nothing new about violence.

But what is swifter than Mercy

Around 379 AD, Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389) wrote to Theodore, bishop of Tynna, who was experiencing persecution where people were breaking into their church services, desecrating the altars, and stoning the clergy!

What wisdom could Gregory offer in the face of immediate and urgent attacks?

He appeals to his own “experience of many sorts of evil” – and yet – still encourages mercy:

Certainly what has happened was dreadful, and more than dreadful – no one will deny it: that our altars were insulted, our mysteries disturbed, and that we ourselves had to stand between the communicants and those who would stone them, and to make our intercessions a cure for stoning…

[But] what is swifter than mercy?

The disciples ask for the flames of Sodom to be upon those who drove Jesus away, but He deprecates revenge. Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, one of those who outraged Him, but Jesus restores it…

And what of the debtor in the Gospel who will not forgive as he has been forgiven? Is it not more bitterly exacted of him for this? And what says the pattern of prayer? Does it not desire that forgiveness may be earned by forgiveness?

Having so many examples, let us imitate the mercy of God, and not desire to learn from ourselves how great an evil is requital of sin.

Source: Letters of Faith Through the Seasons, James M. Houston.

More Enigma than Dogma

Of course this is fantastical, impractical, ridiculous… and the only way to counter evil violence rather than become a violent evil oneself. I know it is madness to suggest because I speak into a culture and an era where we think our lives are only lived in this moment, and that we must do everything we can to preserve it.

I clearly don’t believe that; and being free from the fantasy of a secular worldview, I trust what the world thinks is an appalling fantasy of hope – namely that death is not the worst thing for me, and that living and dying with Christ is eternally superior than living for myself and dying in self-perpetuating violence.

Life is short and then you die

As the ancients who went before us encourage, “let us imitate the mercy of God, and not desire to learn from ourselves how great an evil is requital of sin.”

If you have managed to read this to the end, and understand but disagree with this radical notion different from the normal world-retaliation-worldview, I encourage you to offer a cogent response.

Ad hominem and belligerent responses will not be helpful or welcomed.

I regularly return to this topic of responding to violence; most recently you may compare this article to “When Silence is not Golden” posted in March of this year.