July 14, 2005
By Joseph Loconte
The response to the terrorist attacks in London
last week suggests something about the soul of Western
Political leaders in Britain and the United States have repeated
their resolve to defeat the strategic threat of radical Islam.
Politicians understand the potential to wreak havoc on civilian
populations with the world's deadliest weapons. But many religious
figures in the West seem reluctant to confront the ambitions of
Osama bin Laden and his allies.
Of course, we expect church leaders to offer their prayers and
condolences in times of suffering, and such prayers were graciously
offered. Yet I can't help thinking that we expect something more:
Those who are attentive to things of the spirit should speak, with
clarity and force, about the existential threat these attacks
Instead, we hear wishful words of sweetness and light. A coalition
of churches in Britain has announced its desire "to grow together
in mutual understanding." The World Council of Churches reaffirms
its "commitment to building a just and peaceful world." Frank
Griswold, bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, says we must
"overcome the fears and hatreds that divide us." And Bob Edgar,
General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, challenges
all religious communities "to pursue peace in a thousand
What does any of this have to do with an enemy sworn to destroying
the foundations of civilized life? And where is the moral vision to
The problem with many church institutions, especially those in the
progressive wing, is that they regard war-any war-as the greatest
possible evil. They ignore centuries of Christian teaching about
the ethics of war, otherwise known as the just war tradition. It
argues that governments may, and sometimes must, wage war to
restrain the violence of wicked men. This is Christian realism: the
proposition that evil is a fact of human nature and that, in its
advanced forms, it will not yield to dialogue and diplomacy.
No one wants ministers to whip their flocks into a self-righteous
frenzy. Yet pacifism in the face of radical Islam will not protect
innocent lives, and it must not be the chief influence on
democratic governments. That was the grievous mistake of churches
in the 1930s, and it allowed the Nazis to nearly devour the whole
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr saw this as utopianism-a dreamlike
vision of human perfection that denies the unpleasant facts of
human existence. Utopians, Niebuhr said, can't distinguish between
"the peace of capitulation to tyranny and the peace of the Kingdom
of God." The political result, he warned, is to make democracies
"weak and irresolute before a resolute and terrible foe."
Prayers for peace are always to be welcomed. Yet so are prayers for
courage and strength-the strength to defeat the enemies of peace,
of decency, and of humanity itself.
Mr. Loconte is a
research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation and
editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront
Hitler's Gathering Storm" (Rowman & Littlefield). He served as
a member of the Congressional Task Force on the United
First aired on NPR's "All Things Considered"
The response to the terrorist attacks in London last week suggests something about the soul of Western democracies.
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society
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