Here’s his gutless public statement:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
“If the righteous man is scarcely saved,
where will the impious and sinner appear?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. (1 Pe 4:12–19).
Rome has been abundantly clear that ISIS and the various other jihadists are committing horrific evil. But Rome has been less bellicose than a lot of American Catholics would like. Yesterday, when catholic.org briefly ran a reckless headline reporting that Francis was calling for an armed response to ISIS, the usual suspects leapt on it with alacrity. When it turned out that headline was garbage, the same suspects responded with complaints about our wimpy pope not being man enough to demand that somebody (though certainly not the usual suspects themselves) get sent off to war. Why can’t we have one of those badass pre-Vatican II popes instead of these wussy peaceniks? was the cry.
Don’t get me wrong. I think ISIS is going to require an armed response of some kind. What kind, I don’t know. But I’m extremely skeptical that the same subculture who have shown such massive lack of discernment in the past over everything from the Iraq War, to their hatred of Francis, to love for Cliven “Let me tell you about the Negro and use women and children as human shields” Bundy to screaming at children at the border to defenses of nuclear warfare and torture to a hundred other subjects in which they are completely and utterly wrong are the people I should trust to get it right when they start calling yet again for the US to plunge into yet another war as the first, last and only response. But at the same time, I think our responsibility for the last war and its catastrophic consequences (responsibility apologists for the last war are absolutely refusing to accept) means that we owe the victims of our foolish debacle defense, succor, evacuation, and asylum (the last part being something I doubt these warmongers want to give Iraqis any more than they want to give it to terrified Honduran kids. Warmongers tend to be good at being brave about other people sacrificing, not so much about themselves sacrificing.) But the reality is that evacuation and asylum are doable. The Kurds alone were able to get 20,000 people out a few days ago. And France–France!–has done more to give these people asylum than we have. The bellicose laptop bombardiers who say to our troops “Let’s you and them fight” should be the first to welcome the thousands of victims their last war created, if they are really all that big about sacrifice for the greater good.
So I get that part of the response to ISIS is going to have to involve arms. What I am not convinced of is that it should primarily be American arms (or at any rate, American troops) since I think the Muslim world (which does after all constitute the bulk of the victims of ISIS) has to repudiate and defeat these creeps. What I am absolutely *convinced* would be the exact worst thing in the world would be, as some of the Catholic laptop bombardiers insist) for the pope to call a “crusade”. All this stuff about Francis being a feminized moral pansy etc. blah blah is clueless for a couple of reasons.
First: If the Pope were to call a “crusade”against Islam it would absolutely guarantee more of the slaughter of innocent Christians all around the world. It would also be absolutely fruitless. It would unite the Muslim world against us instead of turning it against the nutjobs they fear with good reason. And it would be wrong, and stupid. And false to the faith. The mission of the Catholic Church is not to make war on a billion people, the vast majority of whom have done nothing wrong. It is a function of American Catholic cowardice, not of moral clarity, to even propose such an idea.
Here’s more reality: as we see from the first pope’s response to brutal persecution (a persecution in which he himself would be killed), one option the faith proposes to us that most Americans disregard with utter contempt is, well, martyrdom. And, (which is my point) he does so as his *first* option while we commonly express an eager willingness to commit the filthiest sins to avoid it.
“Oh sure, easy for you to say! But when these monsters take over the world in the coming Jihad you’ll be singing a different tune! We have to stop these bastards by any means necessary. The pope should have called a Crusade! This is the same sort of pantywaist stuff you spout when you mewl and puke about Hiroshima. Thank God that *real* men do what is necessary to win!”
To begin with, it’s not easy for me to say. I don’t want to die and I don’t want other people to die either. Indeed, I still hold to just war teaching and don’t have any particular objection to the use of force to stop ISIS, as I have just said. But I’m also aware that Just War teaching is specifically designed to make it really hard to go to war due to the Church’s preferential option for life. Moreover, just war is not at all a slam dunk here, particularly as we consider the last criterion of just war: that the evils resulting from it not outweigh the evils it inflicts. That said, I favor helping the people of Iraq fight off these thugs. I even favor helping Assad fight them in order to destroy this cancer. But it is a course fraught with peril and we should not make it our main focus. Our main focus should be on humanitarian aid to the victims we have done so much to create. It is Muslims who must bear the main brunt of dealing with the psychos in their ranks, not us.
Second: When you immediately move from what is obviously a regional conflict to crazy visions of ISIS taking over the world with a globe-spanning caliphate and breaking into your house to kill you, you a) are taking flight from reality and b) place yourself mentally in exactly the place the first pope actually, physically was in during the first century. And when you call for war crimes like incinerating children in their beds to save your skin (as you called for the war crime of torture during the last war and as you defend every year on Hiroshima Day), you demonstrate as clearly as can be the vast gulf that lies between you and Peter’s response.
Here’s the deal: While the Church’s developed teaching allows a place for self-defense, it by no means enjoins it on us as a duty and it leaves wide open the possibility of pacifism and martyrdom without any of the bellicose opprobrium the laptop bombardiers reserve for “moral cowards” like John Paul II or Francis when they fail to call for taking up arms. There’s a reason for that: Peter himself does not seem to have gotten the absolutely ridiculous memo from Christian self-defense dogmatists that when Jesus snorted “Enough!” at his dull-witted display of two swords on Holy Thursday, our Lord was secretly laying the groundwork for the divinely inspired second amendment and suggesting, “If somebody threatens you, stand your ground, cock your Glock, and blow his head off because nothing is more sacred than self-defense.”
Not that Peter did not have the normal human instinct for self defense. But after his brief altercation with Malchus’ ear, he seems to have really internalized this saying of Christ’s:
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:52–54).
Also this one:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mt 10:28–29).
And so the guy who once thought it his mission to kill people to defend Christ seems to have, as the passage from 1 Peter indicates, decided it was better, not only for him, but for his flock, to die without sinning than to sin without dying. It appears to have been far more important to Peter that Christians not be murderers, or thieves, or wrongdoers, or mischief-makers, than that they not light Nero’s gardens as human torches, or be ripped apart in the arena for the delectation of the mob. Consequently, when he writes to a Church facing its first really vicious imperial persecution, he says not one single word about fighting back, about how any kind of real man would protect his family, about how the pagan bastards deserve to have their heads cut off. Instead, he counsels his flock to suffer well and specifically tells them not to so much as back talk on their way to gruesome deaths that would make any modern, including me, curl up in a fetal position and blubber like a child to avoid:
For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (1 Pe 2:20–24).
If he were saying that stuff today, he would shrieked at as a dhimmi wuss by the laptop bombardiers.
So am I saying that the Chaldean Church should be left to die? Of course not. I’m saying that *we* have to be willing to die, and not pretend that shouting at our troops “Let’s you and them fight” while we ourselves do nothing to help is anything other than lazy cowardice. Part of saving the Chaldean Church will involve arms (and already has with the airstrikes Obama ordered to help out the Kurds). But a lot more is going to involve humanitarian aid, works of mercy, welcoming the stranger, and care for the least of these. And it will also involve–has already involved–martyrdom. Carping at the pope (who has no divisions) for not spouting bellicose rhetoric like a laptop bombardier, while turning a blind eye to how the first pope responded to martyrdom, is an act of worship to Mars, not Christ. The paradox of our faith is that it calls us to work as hard as we can within justice to keep martyrs from being made, while it also celebrates and commends veneration for those who, like Peter, accept the martyr’s crown. Peter discovered what an awful lot of Americans have yet to learn: that his false bravado in the Garden of Gethsemane was nothing compared to the true courage of the one who did not defend himself at all. All the chatter, so common in American culture, about “nuking them back to the Stone Age”…
and doing “whatever it takes” from Christians who have no problem at all with murdering thousands of civilians in order to win is light years away from Peter, who, following his Master, became man enough to die rather than commit a sin to save himself.
So God bless those who are helping the refugees in Iraq, both with arms and with humanitarian aid. And God bless our Holy Father as he continues to call for aid and to bless holy Christian martyrs. And God bless us with the wisdom to do all within justice–including just war where necessary and our debt of justice to give asylum to refugees–that we who are so swift to call for death to Muslims at the hands of others and so slow to the works of mercy, may learn to die to ourselves and live for Christ in the least of these.