Can a Catholic be a pacifist?
I’m probably genetically biased. My ancestors were Mennonites. Like the Amish and Quakers and some other sects that emigrated to Pennsylvania, the Mennonites are pacifists. They not only are against war, they register as conscientious objectors and will not join the military.
I don’t think it is possible to argue that a Catholic must be a pacifist, but it is certainly possible that a Catholic may be a committed pacifist. Here are some thoughts, which go beyond the simplistic objections to war that it is nasty and people get hurt and killed.
Indeed, my major objections to war is not that there is violence or even that life is taken. Violence and the taking of life may sometimes be necessary in the battle against evil.
My other objections to fighting in a war and joining the military are different:
1. When a person joins up to fight a war he or she must be totally loyal to his country and its leadership. This means the Christian soldier must swear allegiance to a worldly power and be willing to lay down his life for that power. Do we know of any worldly power that has the same aims and objectives of the Christian faith?
2. Wars are invariably fought to claim or defend worldly riches and power. Claims that wars are for “the defense of freedom” or “to liberate people from tyranny” or any other idealistic motives are usually false. They are public relations efforts–propaganda to get the masses behind the military machine of those in power.
3. When a person swears total allegiance to a worldly power and is prepared to lay down his life for that power he is very likely to be blind to the weaknesses and faults of that worldly power. This leads to a fearful loss of autonomy in the individual and a widening of power of the state over individuals. His total allegiance and obligation to follow orders may lead the individual into a blind commission of terrible sin.
4. Christ the Lamb teaches us that violence is not the answer. Christ’s way is to save others through identification with their suffering and to redeem them through an embrace of the suffering itself. This is also the example of the martyrs.
I admit that in the real world, if everyone were pacifists evil men would triumph. We need righteous rulers and those who would enforce justice if need be. The true pacifist does not judge those who, following their own conscience, feel it is right to join the military and serve their country. He applauds those who do so with courage and virtue, and if a war can be shown to be truly just, he does not protest even though he decides not to bear arms himself.
I also understand that true pacifism is not passive. Some of the bravest and most worthy men and women are those conscientious objectors who stepped forward to serve as ambulance men, chaplains, nurses and aid workers.
The Christian pacifist is not a worn out hippie peace-nik, but a realistic person who cannot reconcile the total commitment to an earthly power required from a soldier. At the same time the Christian pacifist must not waver from the realization that he is involved in a battle–and that he must be a warrior for Christ against evil wherever it exists.
This is the deeper commitment that a Catholic pacifist should have–not a shying away from all conflict, and certainly not a cowardly retreat from all forms of conflict, but a commitment to a war that is deeper and more far reaching than any human military conflict. The Catholic pacifist fights against spiritual and moral evil wherever it exists–he or she fights against “the world, the flesh and the devil”.