Is there such a thing as a just war? When is personal violence acceptable? Under what circumstances are magic users justified in casting curses?
The reaction to Fighting Evil Is Not A Fantasy Sport has been overwhelmingly positive. The criticism it received came from hawks, not doves… though I suspect some of my pacifist friends politely declined to comment. Its primary purpose was to argue against those who want to use the evil of the Islamic State to create a holy war of Christianity vs. Islam, but it concluded with a prayer that is clearly and undeniably a curse.
I cursed the Islamic State to a painful death and a stern judgment, followed by oblivion. No bathing them in white light, no mirror spells, no prayers for their conversion to some other religion. Death and oblivion.
That’s not a very universalist thing to do, now is it?
I sometimes joke that while I don’t believe in hell, I’d be willing to create one for telemarketers. The human desire to punish those who harm us and others is strong, and sometimes our instinctual desires are not compatible with our higher values. I became a universalist long before I left Christianity because I could not reconcile the idea of infinite punishment for finite sins with a God who is supposedly all-good.
But when I read about the things the Islamic State does and I hear their plans for the world, I don’t just want them stopped. I want them wiped off the face of the Earth and their vile ideology forever wiped out of consciousness.
Does that require consigning them to eternal oblivion? Maybe.
I don’t know what comes after death. Maybe the atheists are right and we’re all headed to eternal oblivion. Maybe there is a heaven and hell… though I think it’s highly unlikely. Maybe reincarnation is real and the members of the Islamic State can look forward to many iterations of harsh lives and brutal deaths.
Or maybe the ancient Egyptians were right and their hearts will be weighed against the Feather of Ma’at. If so, they have sealed their own fate – no negative confession will hide their crimes.
I don’t have the responsibility of determining their afterlife and I’m glad I don’t. I do have the responsibility for stating what behaviors I will and won’t tolerate in this world. The Islamic State has gone far beyond the “gentle correction” and “forceful restraint” stages – they’re now clearly in the stage where they must be stopped by any means necessary in order to prevent them from doing even greater harm.This curse violates the Wiccan Rede: “an it harm none, do what you will.” I’m not a Wiccan, but the Rede is a good general guideline for living. But as with all general guidelines, what’s simple and easy in the middle gets complicated around the edges. We’re in constant competition with others, not to mention the fact that we must kill and eat other living things in order to live. The Wiccan Rede strikes me as primarily a public relations campaign to convince the public they have no reason to fear witches.
But as Peter Grey said, “In our desire to harm none we have become harmless.” We tolerate the intolerable. We preach being non-judgmental and so we decline to pass judgments that are necessary. We refuse to pick up the sword and draw clear, bright lines around harmful behaviors. We refuse to cut the false away from the true. We hesitate to use the sword to defend ourselves and others against evil.
Yes, it’s a slippery slope from “by any means necessary” to Guantánamo Bay and waterboarding. But the slippery slope isn’t just a logical fallacy, it’s also ethical laziness. It’s a refusal to do the hard work of examining each situation on its own merits and making a clear call as to the most virtuous course of action.
Winston Churchill was right: “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” Benjamin Franklin was right: “there was never a good war, or a bad peace.” But Martin Luther King, Jr. was right too: “peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice.”
Will this curse rebound on me? I’ve seen no evidence the Three-fold Law is real, and karma is far more complex than some supernatural system of moral accounting. However, ordinary experience tells us that when we do dirty work we can’t keep ourselves spotlessly clean.
But sometimes dirty work is also necessary work, and if we are committed to justice and not just to keeping ourselves clean, we won’t be afraid to get our hands dirty.
I’m not the President of the United States – I can’t order military attacks on the Islamic State. I can’t pick up a rifle and go fight them. But I can pray for justice, and sometimes prayers for justice have very specific requests. I have no interest in punishing the Islamic State. I have every interest in stopping them – by any means necessary.