I asked Cal Thomas a few months ago why so many Christians were
so enthusiastic about war with Iraq, if the Pope was so resolutely
He answered, "I
have no idea."
You can say that again.
Mr. Thomas, normally
a sensible man writing from an evangelical Christian point of
view, has just announced that the biblical "Time
for War" is at hand.
Wilson, that most peaceable, honest, Christian creature, Thomas
explains that "Peace
is a byproduct — a benefit — when evil is vanquished."
Thomas is probably the most widely syndicated Christian columnist
in America. So he merits our attention. He
is sounding a clarion call to those who regard him as their authority
on political questions. He has now told them that evil can be
vanquished, that it will only take one little war, and that,
when it is over, we can have peace.
Marx believed that, but Jesus Christ didn't, Augustine of Hippo didn't,
and certainly Pope John Paul II does not.
Which is another
way of saying, "Hogwash!"
disputed assumption about the nature of evil and peace constitutes
the defective ingredient
at the foundation of Mr. Thomas's case, it begs a bit of belaboring.
that the revolution (Lenin called it the "permanent revolution") would end with
a version of heaven on earth, but only after the dictatorship
of the proletariat, the last stage of history and Marx's materialist
counterpart of the Second Coming of Christ and the ensuing establishment
of a new heaven and a new earth.
For Marx, "peace" would
prevail after the emergence of "truly socialist man." Marx
explains in his German Ideology that, in post-revolutionary society,
there would be no exchange — no longer would that original sin
of the division of labor haunt us. We would all be "like
Robinson Crusoe." And there would be peace. Evil (for Marx,
the past) would be vanquished and the tension of history would
told us otherwise: Good men and bad men would cohabit the earth
the end times. The
wheat and the tares would never be separated out from one another.
There would be wars and rumors of wars. And Christ cautioned
his apostles even further, in a warning fraught with political
implications: "In the world you will have trouble, but be
brave, for I have conquered the world." (John 16:33)
Please note, for the record, that
Christ said that He had already conquered the world, and
still warned His apostles that they (and we) would have trouble
in it. This might prove to be somewhat troubling indeed, to those
who were hoping, with Mr. Thomas, to enjoy true peace if only
we would embark on this one manageable little world war in the
Middle East first.
Mr. Thomas dismisses that knotty problem,
however, with his discovery of two new godlings who redefine
evil in a nice, manageable, human sort of way, and, en passant, rearrange
human nature altogether. Embracing their treatise that redefines
good and evil, Mr. Thomas announces: "Listen Up, Christians!
Evil can be conquered, even without the United Nations!"
It comes as
no surprise, alas, that these sources of the new definitions
of good and evil are Lawrence
F. Kaplan and William Kristol. I refer to them as godlings to
be consistent with the words of temptation in Genesis, "You
shall be as gods, knowing the difference between good and evil." In
their new ordering of good and evil, Mr. Thomas finds sufficient
justification (note: I did not say "argument") to condemn
entire nations, dehumanize millions of people, elevate to semi-divinity
those who agree with him, and reject out of hand any rational
discourse, all in 800 words.
Quite a feat, to be sure.
For Mr. Thomas, "peace" is
the good to be sought here. And it is fair to say that his argument
implies that peace is the absence of Saddam. Like Thomas Hobbes,
Mr. Thomas has, for this occasion, set aside the pursuit of the summum
bonum, the traditional goal of a thoughtful, spiritual life
within western civilization, and replaced it with the pursuit
of the elimination of a summum malum, which (for the moment)
How evil is
evil? "(Saddam) has
imprisoned, tortured, gassed, shot and bombed thousands upon
thousands of his own subjects. He has launched wars of aggression
against his neighbors and still seeks to dominate the Middle
East. He has expended vast resources on the development of weapons
of mass destruction. He is at once a tyrant, an aggressor and,
in his own avowed objectives, a threat to civilization."
Now a quick
look back on the history of the past hundred years might find
dozens of tyrants who meet
these criteria. Some of those tyrants have been our allies (Stalin).
Some of them we have embraced as "strategic counterweights" to
our enemies (Mao). Some of them Madeline Albright has danced
for (Kim Jong Il). And dozens of them have gone on killing and
raping without the United States lifting a finger to stop them.
But what specific difference have
the godlings found that makes Saddam the unique crucible of evil
whose defeat will bring on that post-eschatological peace?
Thomas doesn't say.
Instead, he smears anyone who would
has declared for war. Fine. But he doesn't stop there. He has given this war a power that
is not only historic, but transcendental. While Christ cautioned
us that true salvation and peace were possible only in the afterlife,
Mr. Thomas now unites himself with the authority of the godlings
on the nature of good and evil. Prophetically proclaiming that
now is the "Time for War" of Ecclesiastes 3:8, he bypasses
the New Testament and embraces the worldview of the godlings
rational persons might conclude that Saddam is like a lot of
other bad guys, past and present,
the godlings reject such an approach, for fear, perhaps, that
it will impose the normal, civilized limits of human conduct
on what must be an unlimited effort. The concept of such limits
can be found as far back as Aristotle, but emerge as a central
theme in Augustine and in the Founding Fathers. The ideological
campaign to eradicate the summum malum, on the other hand,
has no limits because the Manichaean evil itself is unlimited,
and must be met on its own ground.
order imposes limits on the warmaking power of the president.
Those limits have been
ignored. The doctrine of just war imposes limits on the warmaking
power of civilized rulers. Those limits have been dismissed in
a breathtaking exercise of "situation ethics" by those
in the philosophical community one would least expect to do so.
When such limits are broken, those
who break them know better than to appeal to the authority of
the constitution, or the doctrine, they are breaking. Instead,
they humbly claim the authority of Divine Providence, whose power
is unlimited, and who conveniently confers upon the self-designated
recipient a generous dollop of power that is normally the province
of the Almighty, the exercise of which by mere men is normally
illegal and immoral but not in this case because God is smiling
upon us and upon our efforts.
Care to disagree? Be careful. The
back of the hand of Mr. Thomas is coming your way, and right
behind it is the tide of history.
praises the godlings for their wholesale condemnation, including
dehumanization, of anyone
who disagrees with them: "They indict nations and organizations
that refuse to confront evil," he cheers. He applauds their
attempt to reduce those who disagree to the level of barbarian
vermin: "The debate over war with Iraq has shown that too
many opinion makers, elected officials and others who guide the
fortunes of the world's sole superpower have lost their capacity
to identify evil and to act against it. Even when it stares them
in the face," they announce, and Mr. Thomas nods.
After dehumanizing Saddam, the godlings
find it convenient to dehumanize everyone else who disagrees
with them. Uncivilized, to be sure, but effective.
is happening here: the gnostic assumption of a power that God
Himself does not exercise (the
removing of the rational intellect from his creatures), at odds
with the Gospel and claiming a superiority to it, blithely relegates
anyone who disagrees with them to the realm of the subhuman.
The standard of the godlings is so perfect that it need not even
be subject to rational discussion or to reflection in the light
of Scripture. In fact, to subject it to such discussion would
be a perverse indulgence in consorting with barbarians who have
no capacity to perceive evil, recognize it for what it is, or
to act upon it. Mr. Thomas, his anchor now long gone, glides
effortlessly far to the left of the most extreme of the liberation
theologians — and I'm sure, if discussion were permitted, it
would come to him as quite a surprise.
Don't bother. Mr. Thomas is busily
cheering the death of rational discourse. Being a good Christian,
he does not want actively to endorse the dehumanization of large
parts of the human race, he just wants to embrace its consequences. "The
time for debate is over… The time for war is now!" Enquote.
But Mr. Thomas
ignores the truth that is staring him in his face: The language
he applauds here is
clearly non-Christian; in fact, it is Hegelian. Not only does
it claim to be the new source of good and evil, it even endows
the godlings with the authority to dispense justice, as they
gaily "indict" entire countries, organizations, and
even public officials because it appears these barbarians disagree
with them. The gnostic conceit is palpable: if you disagree with
us, you have "lost your capacity to identify evil and to
act against it." First the verdict, then the trial. We godlings
are above it all. Bombs away.
nicely dehumanizes the entire array of opposition to the war
on Iraq, and the beauty
of it — and its neo-Marxist character — is that it does so without
any allowance for rational discussion! So, in asserting that
they and those who agree with them are the only truly human actors
left, they contemptuously deny reason, rational discussion, and
civilized discourse to the rest of what used to be humanity.
Talk about the end of history!
in his eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, declared that "heretofore philosophy has only
interpreted the world. The point is, to change it." I can
find no indication that Mr. Thomas and the godlings have any
problem with Marx in this regard.
contrast to Mr. Thomas's succumbing
to "The Closing of the American Mind," a most unexpected
invitation to rational discourse appeared on the same day as
Mr. Thomas's denial of rationality. While many of his fellow
evangelicals see Israel's role in the conflict as their ticket
for a front-row seat at Armageddon, Mr. Thomas avoids even the
mention of Israel in his call for war. But former
National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski defies Mr. Thomas's
rational discourse, and invites a closer look at the role of
In fact, he calls for more discussion all around, and insists
that it focus on (of all things) the questions that Mr. Thomas
and the godlings and many other fervent supporters of the war
have gone to such great lengths to avoid:
"In addition, the manner in which
the United States defined its "war on terrorism" has
struck many abroad as excessively theological ("evildoers
who hate freedom") and unrelated to any political context.
The evident reluctance to see a connection between Middle Eastern
terrorists and the political problems of the Middle East fueled
suspicions that the United States was exploiting the campaign
against terrorism largely for political and regional ends. Moreover,
the increasingly shrill but unsubstantiated efforts to connect
Iraq with al Qaeda have also given rise to the question of whether
that alleged (or emerging) linkage is the reason for U.S. policy
or, increasingly, the result of it.
not been helped by the evident, if unstated, endorsement by President
Bush of Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's notions of how to deal with both
the Palestinians and the region as a whole. The European press
has commented more widely than the U.S. press on the striking
similarity between current U.S. policies in the Middle East and
the recommendations prepared in 1996 by several American admirers
of Israel's Likud Party for the then-prime minister, Binyamin
admirers are now occupying positions of influence in the administration
is seen as the reason
the United States is so eager to wage war against Iraq, so willing
to accept the scuttling of the Oslo peace process between Israel
and the Palestinians and so abrupt in rejecting European urgings
for joint U.S.-European initiatives to promote peace between
Israel and the Palestinians."
So many unsubstantiated efforts, so
many striking similarities, so many troublesome questions.
But don't bother Mr. Thomas with such
nettlesome distractions. It's time for the war!
Manion [send him mail] writes
from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. He avoids Marlyland whenever