Wrestling With a Violent Faith

Now that summer is here I am enjoying my favorite summer routine:  my morning swim with the Masters at the college, the drive to church for Liturgy of the Hours followed by morning mass, then home for breakfast in my backyard.  It’s a great way to start the day!  I enjoy reflecting on scripture while sitting in the midst of my garden, but the readings lately (mostly about mercy, forgiveness, & being perfect; Mt 5:38-42; Mt 5:43-48) have me pondering the more violent nature of the Bible & the role of God in some of the more gruesome stories.  If we are all children of God, and we are all loved and treasured, then how can “God” be on one side against another in so many violent conflicts?  I’m not a theology major, but my gut instinct says, “I don’t buy it.”  I feel a bit like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (Gn 32:23-33), but I firmly believe that a strong faith in anything becomes stronger by wrestling with the tough questions; even if that means wrestling with God herself!

Pax Christi’s blog posts very good articles on a variety of topics, and lately there seem to be a growing number of posts about drones.  In a recent post by Bishop Richard Pates I was struck by the idea that we (people in general, but especially people who like to bury their heads in the sand) like our conflicts to be neat, clean, & tidy. We choose not to think about the ugly, dirty horrors associated with war. Instead we want to feel justified in our part in it so that we can continue to enjoy our lifestyle & still sleep at night.  In his article, Drones Aren’t the Murky Moral Subject We Pretend, Bishop Pates raises an important question that Western Society never seems to consider, and that is, “What if Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia used drones for targeted killings here in the US?”  According to one Mother Jones report there are 11 countries with armed drones and about 76 countries with drone technology.

So, here we go again.  Just yesterday we learned that yet another drone strike has killed 17 people in Pakistan.  So many thoughts racing through my head right now, but the bottom line for me is this:  Violence begets violence, and, no matter where you stand on the issue of drone use or the so-called “war on terror”, there are 17 dead & there are now 17 families that have good reason to hate Americans.  And don’t even get me started on the number of innocent lives lost because men, women & children just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or because the “intelligence” was wrong!  This is not part of a foreign policy that will ever produce peace; it will only ever produce greater violence here on American soil & throughout the world.  Maybe that sounds a little melo-dramatic, but my mind races to see the big picture in the immediate future & way down the road.  Sorry.  It’s a character flaw.

If “wrestling with God” on tough issues strengthens my faith, then wrestling with tough questions in the political arena should strengthen my political opinions (if it doesn’t just push me right over the deep end!).  Reconciling faith & politics is always a challenge.  I’ve never been the kind of Catholic that “follows blindly” everything that comes out of the Vatican or the USCCB, especially when it drips of exclusionary, or overtly warmongering-patriotic language.  Forming political opinions, likewise, shouldn’t just be regurgitated partisan rhetoric.  When I compare the many different world religions I am always drawn to the simple fact that all of them have at their core a call to “love your neighbor as yourself”, and a call to peaceful coexistence.  So why can’t we just practice that?  Why do people & governments continue to perpetuate mistrust, violence, and hatred?  I know I’m being naive here, but it should really be this simple.

Certainly I do not have any answers or solutions (I’m still busy wrestling), but I think that the starting point must be simply seeing the other person/nation as human, flawed, and deserving of respect, if not love.  I agree with something Col. Potter once said in “M*A*S*H*” (my favorite TV series), “I think there should be a rule of war saying you have to see someone up close and get to know ’em before it’s ok to shoot ’em.”  Maybe then we’d have a better chance for real & lasting peace in the world.


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