Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Thought Experiment

A CORRESPONDENT lately upbraided me for transcribing the text of a Confederate monument, this giving the appearance of me supporting the dreadful practice of slavery. That was not my intent. But we now often assume that anyone who fought for the Confederacy must have supported its 'peculiar institution' and therefore must be evil.

But please indulge me for proposing a modest "thought experiment".  Perhaps this will shed some light on the above matter.

Imagine, if you will, that the United States today has an abhorrent, evil institution, so widespread that the news media, entertainers, educators, politicians, businessmen, and even religious leaders thoroughly support it. Imagine also that nearly every town has a group of prominent citizens who actively promote this evil. This evil institution is so ingrained in our culture that it is a cornerstone of the economy.  But you don't have to imagine this:  this institution is legalized abortion.  Our economy is so dependent on abortion, that if it were eliminated, our workforce would decline by at least 25%, and it would have a greater economic effect than even the elimination of slavery in the Old South.  But the widespread support for this peculiar institution is practical and ingrained, and only its most hardcore supporters could be said to be truly demonic.

Now imagine that the United Nations, due to the Islamization of many of its most powerful member-nations, decrees that abortion is a scourge on humanity.  I would go along with that. In reaction, the United States, in protest, leaves the U.N.  No longer having a seat on the Security Council, the other nations on that Council, being Muslim, then authorizes war against the U.S., for the specific purpose of restoring unity to the brotherhood of nations, and also for eliminating the evil institution of abortion. Having inherited the militaries of Europe, Canada, and much of Asia, the Islamic countries of the United Nations are a formidable military power and immediately launch air and naval attacks on the U.S., while building up a vast invasion army. Unfortunately, increased social spending in the United States has led to a large reduction in its armed forces, and the regular forces, although valiant, prove inadequate to repel the invasion.

Now, what would I do, being anti-abortion?  Obviously I support the sentiment of this imaginary U.N. in wanting to outlaw abortion.  Would I join forces with the invading army, and help to finally get rid of this great evil?

So what would I do?  I would take my 12-gauge shotgun and kill any foreign invader I'd find.  I would organize with my friends and neighbors to set up militias, guerilla groups, spy rings, and underground saboteur cells to kill enemy soldiers, harass their supply lines, and disrupt the foreign command and control.  We would be patriots and gladly live and die for America and her freedoms.  As we are greatly outnumbered, our cause is doomed to failure.  But we "displayed a courage so superb that it gave a new and brighter luster to the annals of valor."  As the United States is Islamized following the war, prominent supporters of abortion are executed and the scourge of abortion is finally wiped from the face of the earth, and American fighters are to be forever demonized as supporters of that great evil.  But the true American patriots, few in number, will remember that it was noble to defend one's beloved homeland, despite its faults.

I hope this little mental exercise proves its point.  Defending one's own homeland is no vice, despite the evils that may exist there.  Moral theology recognizes that self-defense is a legitimate use of lethal force, and that cowardice is a vice.

8 comments:

  1. "I would take my 12-gauge shotgun and kill any foreign invader I'd find."

    How Catholic, how Christian!

    This paragraph repudiates the entire NT. 2000 years ago Palestine was occupied by ruthless, pagan foreign invaders. Jesus did not kill them (as the Jews looking for the Messiah expected) -- he healed them. And when they finally came to scourge and kill him, he made no resistance.

    Who won in the end?

    For the first three centuries of the church, Catholic Christians made no resistance. Instead they gave us a line of glorious martyrs, and the church grew with each drop of their blood.

    Who won in the end?

    The church is the body of Christ. Christ does not and cannot kill (see Evangelium Vitae. If you choose to kill, by that very choice you separate yourself from the body of Christ. There is nothing in this world or beyond that I would fear more.

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  2. So Christendom should not have defended herself at the Battle of Lepanto and at the Gates of Vienna?

    In this thought experiment, I chose to defend myself and my friends and neighbors. So self-defense ought to be outlawed? Not according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now, the Catechism says that such defense ought to be moderate, and that killing in general still remains wrong, and ought to be avoided.

    In the scenario I presented, what side would you take? Would you do nothing? Would you allow the invaders to desecrate and destroy Catholic Churches? Suppose they were going to kill a loved one: would you let them? Even if your loved one was pleading for you to save him? Forget the idea of invasion: would you ignore pleas of help from a loved one if it were merely a robber threatening him? How are these two scenarios different?

    If you choose not to defend your loved one, doesn't that make you guilty of a sin of omission? The Catechism says that people have a grave duty to defend the lives of their dependents, and civil authorities have the same grave duty.

    The Roman were invited into Palestine by the various warring factions to act as peacekeepers. And that is precisely what the Romans did; keep the peace, and peace was what the Romans did very well, even if they had to create a desert to do so. The Romans granted to the Jews an exception unheard of in the ancient world: they did not have to sacrifice to the Roman Gods, rather they were allowed to pray instead for the good health of the Emperor. The Jews in the time of Jesus were operating under a legitimate government (even King Herod and the Temple Priests agreed), and not an invasion force, which makes a great deal of difference.

    Read the Old Testament and the book of Revelation to see what Christ does to his enemies. If someone wants to set up an opposition between the Gospels and the rest of Scripture, then that is problematic. Good Jesus is also Christ the King who will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

    Modern America is in the midst of a great evil, but like the early Christians, I think it would be greatly immoral to attempt to change it by force. Instead, we suffer and hopefully make a good example.

    I think you may have missed a big point of my whole thought experiment. Note that I did not side with those wanting to get rid of abortion by force. The rest was just self-defense, as mentioned earlier. As a Christian, I must preach and practice peace, as an extremely grave duty.

    But we must pray that this scenario never comes to pass, for warfare is perhaps the greatest of all opportunities for sin.

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  3. Oh, and I just want to make it clear that I don't want to scandalize anyone. I would recommend reading that section of the Catechism linked above.

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  4. Thank you; a thought-provoking analogy.

    I was surprised, though, by your statement that abortion is so much of our economy that if it were eliminated, our workforce would decline by at least 25%. I'd like to learn more about that – can you recommend any sources (preferably online)?

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  5. First, my apologies to others who may try to read these comments, for the length of this interchange. I would be entirely satisfied to transfer it to some other venue of the blogger's choice. But until then ---

    Q: "So Christendom should not have defended herself at the Battle of Lepanto and at the Gates of Vienna?"

    A: "Christendom" was not one of the parties at these battles -- they were contests between "principalities and powers" of this world. That is not to say that the outcomes did not affect the church.

    Q: "So self-defense ought to be outlawed?"

    A: "Outlawing" anything is a secular/mundane action. Jesus' teaching was that self-defense should not be utilized -- "But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other:" Agreed, the CCC is somewhat wishy-washy on this point, but you are correct, in the end, it too teaches that killing is wrong.

    Q: "In the scenario I presented, what side would you take?"

    A: The only honest answer is that I do not know -- my spirit says I should not defend myself, but sometimes my body does not do what my spirit says it should -- you know, St. Paul and all that? Here is the dilemma in concrete form: I own several guns (mostly handguns) of large caliber. I have been shooting since the age of five, and it is no bragging on my part to say that I am a "dead shot" (though in this context it is an inexcusable pun). But never have I used any of these weapons or skills to kill anything. In the future, if faced with any of these scenarios, would my body pick up one of the guns and use it? I don't know if I could resist the urge.

    Q: "Would you do nothing?"

    A: Of course not. Hopefully I would do as Jesus commanded, and the glorious martyrs practiced...I would love my neighbor, pray, teach/preach, offer up my example -- I would use whatever means I could find, but without using force.

    Q: "Would you allow the invaders to desecrate and destroy Catholic Churches?"

    A: The first Catholic Churches in America were at times descrated and destroyed; we did not kill the destroyers, we prayed for them. Even today Catholic Churches are descrated and destroyed in many places around the world. Again, we do not kill the destroyers, we pray for them, we negotiate with their governments, etc.

    Q: "Suppose they were going to kill a loved one: would you let them? Even if your loved one was pleading for you to save him? Forget the idea of invasion: would you ignore pleas of help from a loved one if it were merely a robber threatening him? How are these two scenarios different?"

    A: This would be the hardest trial of all, and my resolve well might break (see above). Fortunately, there are other ways to defend someone besides killing another person -- one could even kneel down and pray. By the way, at the level of the victim, I fail to see any difference between the two scenarios.

    Q: "If you choose not to defend your loved one, doesn't that make you guilty of a sin of omission?"

    A: Sophistry. Again and in addition, defense is not restricted to killing others.

    Q: "The Roman were invited into Palestine by the various warring factions to act as peacekeepers."

    A: Hardly. Pompey's conquest of Judea was his choice (a good one from the Roman perspective) of a military strategy. Of course the contending factions in Judea sent him deputations to try to gain his favor and support. But these contending factions were Jewish aristocracy. The public resisted the Roman occupation bitterly through repeated rebellions until final defeat in 135 AD.

    Q: "The Jews in the time of Jesus were operating under a legitimate government (even King Herod and the Temple Priests agreed), and not an invasion force, which makes a great deal of difference."

    A: As stated above, the Romans indeed were an invasion force. Herod reigned only because he and the Romans thought they could scratch each others' backs. The government of Herod was a usurption of a usurper who had usurped his predecessor, on back through I forget how many iterations. It was strictly a matter of force -- nothing legal about it.

    Q: "Read... the book of Revelation to see what Christ does to his enemies."

    A: Revelation is a classic drama, filled with all sorts of metaphors and other literary devices. And what Christ will do in the Last Judgment is not relevant to his strictly pacific instructions to his followers

    Q: "If someone wants to set up an opposition between the Gospels and the rest of Scripture..."

    A: There is no way such an opposition can exist.

    Q: "Good Jesus is also Christ the King who will rule the nations with a rod of iron."

    A: Metaphor -- "My kingdom is not of this world."

    Q: "Modern America is in the midst of a great evil, but like the early Christians, I think it would be greatly immoral to attempt to change it by force. Instead, we suffer and hopefully make a good example."

    A: Amen!

    Q: "As a Christian, I must preach and practice peace, as an extremely grave duty."

    A: Amen again.

    Q: "But we must pray that this scenario never comes to pass, for warfare is perhaps the greatest of all opportunities for sin."

    A: I certainly have lived through many examples that prove your point beyond any possible quibbling.

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  6. Irene:

    A) I am a sinner.

    B) I've been experiencing high levels of testosterone as of late, which may explain my bravado. Hoo-yah! Bring'em on! Grunt grunt grunt, sweat sweat.

    But maybe in the situation I've invented I may actually be a coward, or be an exemplary Christian. Hard to tell.

    C) But must all Christians flee the world and be strictly pacifists? The Old Testament Church was hardly pacifist. What about when Christians gain the rule of government? Should they abandon the use of the military, police, and the courts, all of which use force, even deadly force? Catholic thinking from Saint Augustine until today says otherwise, although we ought to hold ourselves to a much higher standard, and I don't argue about that.

    D) There are far too many people who would love to have faithful Christians abandon political involvement because of these moral difficulties, but that isn't an option.

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  7. Elizabeth,

    Look up the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which will has plenty of demographic information online.

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