No Such Thing as a Holy War
By Valerie Elverton Dixon
Each year on June 6, we remember those who fought and those who died on D-Day and in all the battles of all the wars with deep gratitude. When we recall the individual human stories that woven together make the whole tapestry of history, we pause to consider the meaning of our own time, lives, stories, commitment, and faith.
Human blood is holy. We know from history that no matter the political and economic causes for a war, no matter the diplomatic blunders and miscommunications that failed to avert a war, no matter the fear, ignorance, will-to-power and blind stupidity that ignites a war, no matter the ideologies that clash and seek to explain and justify a war, no matter the complacency and conformity that agrees to a war, human blood once shed makes the struggle sacred.
Blood is the life stream that courses through our bodies carrying the nourishment to keep body and soul, breath and flesh a unified whole. When we lose too much blood, the body dies. Each drop of blood becomes a substitutionary sacrifice shed for the safety of others. However, there is no such thing as a holy war. There is no such thing as sacred violence. The sacred is sacred. Violence is violence. The sacred is one thing. Violence is something else altogether. Violence is a violation, a negation. The sacred is the sacrifice, the blood, the love.
We confuse the two at our peril. The sacred is that which is set apart for reverence. It is that which is dedicated to a particular transcendence or deity. It is a holiness that is associated with morality, with virtue, with human excellence. In war we see courage, loyalty, cunning, persistence, and other virtues. We also see deception, intransigence, self-serving greed, and other vices. The event of war in and of itself does not forge either virtue or vice. It is the quality and kind of decisions women and men decide in the crucible of war that brings forth the best or the worst of the human character. It is the love that shines forth in war that is sacred. People fight and die for the love of family, friends and comrades in arms. Freedom, nation, democracy are penultimate causes. The reason we remember those who fought and died, the reason they deserve our eternal gratitude is because of their association with the ultimate. It is because of their love.
Just peace theory exists to make war obsolete. It grows from the belief that the extreme violence that is war is not something encoded in human DNA. It is a choice, a response that comes about from the way we meet the challenge of evil in the world. As long as goodness and righteousness and justice exist, their opposites will also exist. The question becomes: how do w overcome evil, unrighteousness, and injustice. We do not overcome evil with more evil. We overcome it with good.
War is tragic. It is evil. There are no good wars. Elie Wiesel was correct when he said: "every war is absurd and meaningless." Our work is to understand the conditions that lead to war and to relieve those conditions. In his essay, "The Moral Equivalent of War", philosopher William James wrote of the religiosity of war, that apologists for war want us to think that war is an absolute good, "for it is human nature at its highest dynamic." James believed that humankind longs for the discipline, the sacrifice, the total commitment that war requires. Its moral equivalent therefore is to use this human longing to fight against Nature. He calls for a universal conscription for young people to work in various occupations from mine to factory and beyond.
I say: the moral equivalent of war is a total commitment to end ignorance and poverty, to provide schools, food, clean water, sanitation, and health care to every person on the planet. This is the good that can overcome evil.
When we pause to remember those who fought and died in war, those who are still fighting and still dying, let us honor their love. Our work is not to die for cause, country and creation, our work is to live for them. Our offering, our sacrifice, our total devotion ought to live love.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder JustPeaceTheory.com. She taught Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
By Valerie Elverton Dixon |
June 8, 2009; 2:09 PM ET
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