Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fr. Richard Neuhaus on "The Warrior Class"

... Of course there are Christians who don’t think Christians have any business being in the military to begin with. The thinking of two generations of Protestant clergy was formed by Roland Bainton’s 1979 book, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace. Bainton didn’t convert all of them to pacifism. Not by a long shot. But he entrenched the feeling that there is something deeply dubious about the morality of Christians in military service.

Bainton’s history has been sharply challenged. Of particular interest is Louis Swift’s The Early Fathers on War and Military Service. Oliver and Joan O’Donovan’s From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Source Book in Christian Political Thought also has instructive material. There is no doubt that in the first century, Christians were ambivalent, to say the least, about serving in the Roman military and, for that matter, about the empire itself. Whether this had to do primarily with the morality of warfare or with idolatry is much disputed. Soldiers were required to take an oath to the gods of the empire and to the emperor, and such oaths were forbidden for Christians. All that changed dramatically by the fourth century and the dawn of what came to be called Christendom. The argument over whether Christendom represented a triumph of the gospel or the fall of the Church continues to this day, and probably will continue until Our Lord returns in glory. Refracted through the twists and turns of history, it has everything to do with today’s debates over religion and the political order in our society.

The undeniable fact is that today hundreds of thousands of devout Christians serve in America’s armed forces. If, as some contend, pacifism is a mark of the Church, they are all guilty of mortal sin and are beyond the pale. With relatively few exceptions, and for good reasons both humanly natural and theological, Christians in America don’t believe that. This is not the place to engage all the arguments involved between pacifism and just-war doctrine. It is the place to note that what Kaplan and others call the “warrior class” is increasingly divorced not only from civilian society but from the society that ought to matter most, the Church.

Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, The Warrior Class First Things "On the Square" Dec. 14, 2007