Some Thoughts on Human Life, War, and the Possibility of Peace

Douglas P. McManaman
November 4th, 2018
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Reproduced with Permission

I would like to call attention to the fact that there is really nothing new in this gospel (Mk 12, 28). The words of Jesus are a concise summary of the first reading from Deuteronomy. Moses said to the people: "Fear the Lord, your God, and keep all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you. Hear then, Israel, be careful to observe them" (Dt 6, 2).

The commandments in the book of Exodus can be divided into two general categories. The first three commandments have to do with our relationship to God, and the last seven have to do with our relationship to our neighbor. And in the gospel reading, Jesus offers a summary of these commandments: Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and all your strength, and the second: You shall love your neighbor as yourself--as if your neighbor is another self, another you. To unravel these two commandments is to end up with the two tablets of the Law.

The reason that the commandments having to do with God are put first is that is that we simply cannot love our neighbor unless God is loved first, and God must be loved with our whole mind, heart, and strength. If not, we will love ourselves first and foremost, and we will love our neighbor only insofar as he or she is useful to us in some way. If we love God first and above all things, then we will be able to genuinely love our neighbor-- for our neighbor's sake, for his or her good; if not, we love ourselves first, and others are loved for their usefulness and productivity.

This is why the world is not at peace, but at war. It may not feel that we are at war, because we simply don't hear about what's happening in distant places, such as in the middle east; it's not covered in mainstream media--at least not here in the United States and Canada. But just last year alone in 2017, more than 50 thousand died in Yemen at the hands of the Saudis, with weapons produced in America and other military equipment produced in Canada, and right now millions of Yemenis are facing starvation, and 150 thousand--possibly more--have died in Afghanistan since 2001. And then there is Syria, and Libya, not to mention Iraq.

And there are some very interesting anti-war scholars in the U.S who understand a great many details of the war situation in the world today, who shed critical light on what is happening and why. Of course, it is very complicated, much of it shrouded in secrecy for reasons of "national security", and certainly weapons producers and the number of jobs they have created has something to do with the perpetuation of war, not to mention central banks, the Federal Reserve, etc. All this can be debated, and it is not easy to achieve clarity. But what is at the very root of the world's inability to achieve peace?

The problem is not knowledge, at least not fundamentally. The problem is in the will, in the heart, not in the mind. If it is a knowledge or information problem, it is only because it is first and fundamentally a problem of the will. The first reading provides a clue as to why we have not been able to bring about world peace: "...keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life." And the reading repeats it: "Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey."

There is a promise attached to the fulfillment of the commandments, and that promise is prosperity, or peace--since there is no state of prosperity that is not at the same time a state of peace. And that promise is repeated twice.

Although I enjoy listening to anti-war scholars in the U.S. and around the world, they are not consistent, at least not the majority of those I've encountered. We in the Church condemn unjust wars and the killing of non-combatants because human life is created by God, human life is sacred, it is intrinsically good. And God commanded us not to kill, but to revere individual human life. But this is not always the case with those who have spent their lives studying war. Some of them are on the political left and some on the political and economic right, but what they seem to have in common is a moral libertarianism which holds that it is perfectly okay to destroy innocent human life in the womb, if that is what the individual wants, or to intentionally end human life outside the womb if a person so desires it. This is not a completely consistent position. Their reasons for being against war are that it is irrational, it is costly, it is paid for by fiat currency which causes inflation, it is contrary to our own liberty and intervention is not in America's interest, etc. Some of these are valid points and worthy of serious consideration, but our primary reason is that an individual human person exists in the image and likeness of God; her life is holy, and she belongs to God, and if we love God, we will love all that belongs to God, and God commands us to love Him and all who belong to Him. If we do, there will be peace.

Catholics will not forget what Mother Teresa said on Capitol Hill at the National Prayer Breakfast during the Clinton administration (Feb 5th, 1994); she said there will never be peace in the world as long as we continue to permit the destruction of the most vulnerable and voiceless in the womb: "The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, ...if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?"

If we can justify that, we can justify anything. And that justification of incalculable evils is exactly what is happening around the world. There is no peace and prosperity, because the nations of the world insist on doing things their way, not God's way--and God's way is laid out in these readings today.

But if we love God with all our heart, and all our soul, mind and strength, we will love our neighbour as we love ourselves, and it won't be burdensome to keep those commandments, it won't be burdensome to honor mother and father, to forgive them for their failures against us, it won't be burdensome to revere human life for its own sake and not destroy life as a means to greater prosperity; it won't be a burden to remain faithful to our spouse and to live a chaste life, and it won't be a burden to respect the property of others, to refrain from theft and fraud at the root of which is fear and a lack of trust in the providence of God; and if we genuinely love others, we will not be able to lie to them. It is only difficult to keep these commandments because our love of self competes with the love of God.

The spiritual life is really about dying to that love of self and rising to a genuine love of God, to love God not for our sake, nor for his gifts, but to love God for His sake, because He is deserving of our complete worship and devotion.