But our involvement in violence isn’t just the stuff of fiction. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world and the highest rate of firearm homicide among developed nations. Our prison system, which is itself a kind of graduate school of violence, is the largest in the world by far, dwarfing even China, with four times our population. On the other hand, we share with China and a handful of other tyrannies (like North Korea) a deep and abiding commitment to the death penalty.
We spend more on our military than nearly the rest of the world combined, and we are the world’s leading exporter of weapons. If there’s a lethal conflict anywhere in the world the chances are good that one or both sides are using American arms. And we are often one of those sides. In the last 100 years, the United States has been a main antagonist in 25 wars, often as the aggressor.
In any given year, the United States is at war in at least one country and often, as now, in several at one time. Our over 700 military bases around the globe speak to the American conviction that war is the best, even the first, response to any provocation. And none of that counts the US role in the violent overthrow of unfriendly regimes, from Iran’s Mossadegh in 1953, to South Vietnam’s Diem in 1963, to the democratically elected governments of Honduras and Ukraine in 2009 and 2014, respectively.
And yes, behind it all stands the American holocaust of abortion. In this “Christian” country of ours, over 55 million unborn children have been ripped from their mothers’ wombs since 1973, all enabled by a political and economic system that rewards the maximization of personal desire and glorifies the triumph of the strong over the weak. We stew in a petri dish of resentment and violence against the most vulnerable – “choice,” they call it – and yet we wonder why our politics, foreign policy, culture and economy wind up looking the same.
Catholics are supposed to know better. We’re supposed to be followers of Jesus Christ – first, last and always – with every other motivation and loyalty trumped by that inestimable identity.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ Rather, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21
It’s true that the Church does not command pacifism (though she does praise it, c.f. Gaudium et Spes, #78). It’s true that in a fallen world it is sometimes necessary to use the weapons of war in the common defense. (CCC #2307-2317) But we do so only reluctantly, even regrettably, under strict conditions and always with the aim of minimizing the loss of life, restoring peace and reconciling with our enemies, who like us are children of God.
As Mark Shea writes, “The distance between asking, as the Church does, ‘How can we avoid harming or killing unless absolutely necessary?’ and ‘When do we get to kill?’ is the immense gulf between how the Church thinks about human life and how post-moderns – whether Nancy Pelosi looking for loopholes for abortion or ‘conservatives’ looking for loopholes for unjust war and torture – think.”
Why is that? Why do followers of Jesus Christ even have to be reminded of these things? Why do they have to be called – insistently, urgently – away from privileging violence as the answer to the challenges we face? In “