November 4, 2005
By Joseph Loconte
Peacemaking has always been a major theme in
Christianity, and pacifists a strong voice within the Christian
tradition. The founder of the faith, after all, is hailed by
believers as the Prince of Peace. Yet modern pacifists, for all
their citations of Scripture, seem miles away from the moral
insights of biblical religion.
Nowhere is this gulf more striking than in their posture toward
terrorism. Despite the record of gruesome violence since 9/11, many
Christian leaders still refuse to confront the radical evil of
militant Islam. Just last month, for example, England's House of
Bishops released a report -- "Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence
and Democracy Post 9/11" -- that managed never to mention the
horrific intentions of Osama bin Laden in the course of its 100
Instead, al Qaeda is likened to the Irish Republican Army. As the
bishops put it: "Terrorism, however destructive, has to be
understood, first of all, in political terms." The real problem,
they imply, is U.S. foreign policy, and the solution is "a
political settlement" that "meets some of the terrorist
Young men who blow themselves up in cafés, behead civil
servants and murder women and children do not have "concerns." They
have ambitions, stated openly and repeatedly. These include: the
eradication of Western influence from Muslim lands; the forced
conversion or elimination of alleged infidels; the use of nuclear
weapons against civilian populations; and the establishment of a
Taliban-like empire extending from Iraq to Indonesia.
Any religious critique of terrorism that fails to acknowledge these
ambitions is deeply impoverished. It produces a political theology
that helps to rationalize terrorist rage. It refuses to distinguish
between the acts of murderers and the use of government force to
Nevertheless, this theology is inspiring church manifestos on both
sides of the Atlantic. We hear it in the "Beatitudes of
Peacemaking" from Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National
Council of Churches. To Mr. Edgar, the "axis of evil" is composed
not of rogue states or religious movements but of "the pandemic of
poverty" and "the environmental degradation of planet earth." The
solution? A $50 billion peace fund to address the "root causes" of
terrorism: lack of health care and education. Not a penny, however,
to counter the propaganda outlets that saturate the Arab world in
an ideology of violence and victimhood.
These same pacifist assumptions are repeated by the United
Methodist Council of Bishops in a paper long on sloganeering and
short on logic. Peace and security will arrive, the bishops write,
"when all have access to and enjoy food, housing, clothing, medical
care...and a living wage." No mention of how a living wage might
tame bin Laden's cult of death. Finally, there is the document from
the liberal magazine Sojourners called "Confessing Christ in a
World of Violence," signed by scores of theology professors,
ethicists and church leaders. It rejects the "crude distinctions"
being made between Islamic radicalism and Western democracy. "The
distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation
and another, or one group and another," the petition reads. "It
runs straight through every human heart."
It's important to be aware of our own temptations to hubris, even
in wartime. But moral equivalence has nothing to do with the ethics
of the Bible. In the political arena it becomes a substitute for
responsible action. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, writing in
early 1941, when most of Europe was under Nazi control, assailed
such thinking as a kind of perfectionism derived from secular
culture. "This utopianism," he warned, "contributed to the
tardiness of the democracies in defending themselves against the
perils of a new barbarism."
Another form of barbarism now threatens the civilized world, what
some have called "fascism with an Islamic face." The danger of the
pacifist illusion is its campaign to persuade democracies to ignore
the true nature of this barbarism -- and to throw down their
defenses in the name of peace. Led by pacifist theologians such as
Stanley Hauerwas, the advocates of this campaign would make the
Sermon on the Mount a road map for U.S. foreign policy. "I do not
have a foreign policy," boasts Mr. Hauerwas. "I have something
better -- a church constituted by people who would rather die than
kill." Oddly, the hands-off attitude of religious utopians looks
like a more extreme version of the moral neutrality of
Christians have never viewed peace as the highest good. There are
other goods: protecting human dignity and restraining evil, for
example. A just peace can be the final result of these pursuits,
God willing. But if peace is made the supreme goal, if it consumes
all other virtues, it becomes an idol -- and a snare to the
statesman as well as the saint.
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 appeared in the Wall Street Journal Online
Peacemaking has always been a major theme in Christianity, and pacifists a strong voice within the Christian tradition. The founder of the faith, after all, is hailed by believers as the Prince of Peace.
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society
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