Pentagon Mammon Molds Christianity


The spiritual battlefield is the mind. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Are the human beings in this picture from Iraq committing murder or being complicit in the act(s) of murder? I am not asking whether they, individually, are committing the sin of murder but whether they are doing the objective evil of murder by killing human beings in an objectively unjust, preemptive war on Iraq? Is this priest in the name of Jesus morally endorsing the evil of murder, i.e., the unjustified taking of human life? Would the Christians who run Commonweal magazine be using up their page space to impart the thoughts and emotions this picture is intended to elicit, if it were not for the lucre that comes with it, the money that is perceived to be needed for the magazine’s or its staff’s survival?

Does not this one picture speak 10,000 words of generalized, superficial moral justification for the Pentagon and what those who control it today are about? Does it not speak 100,000 words of erroneous interpretation of the person and the teachings of the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels? From the Pentagon’s point of view does this advertisement have as it primary objective the recruiting of Catholic military chaplains? "No!" There are innumerably better and cheaper avenues to advertise to Catholic priests for ministry openings in the military than the Commonweal subscriber list! The Pentagon’s primary purpose in financing this ad through the Catholic Military Archdiocese is to morally validate for Christians the evil of war and Christian participation in that evil, and by logical extension to morally validate its own existence. Nothing says to the everyday person that a follower of Jesus Christ can kill people upon the orders of the local Grand Pooh-Bah like a picture in a well-known Catholic liberal magazine of a Catholic priest wearing a stole, with soldiers in combat fatigues carrying automatic weapons in their hands, praying to Jesus.

But here, in this present reflection, I wish to address the ostensible purpose for this and similar advertisements, namely, the military’s recruitment of clergy, as well as the moral probity of Catholic and other Christian journals welcoming such ads. America magazine has been taking such expensively placed advertisements for years, and often has had two or three such advertisements in the same issue. I guess the Christians at Commonweal felt they needed their share of this bottomless pot of Pentagon gold to compete or to maintain their standard of living. I am sure the same also was the incentive for the little elementary school weekly readers accepting military ads for publication — although to the best of my knowledge the Pentagon has not started recruiting chaplains in these grammar school publications yet.

I suppose this is as it has always been in Constantinian Christianity, whether it be in its conservative or its liberal incarnations. Big money — in order to get "Jesus’ approval" for what it needs Him to approve of to enhance its earthly well-being, success, survival and status — generates and propagates interpretations of Jesus and His teachings that are in its interest, regardless of what the words on the pages of the Gospels objectively communicate, e.g., "Love your enemies," "Put up your sword." It thereby creates a "sensus fidei" regarding moral theories acceptable in the Church — just as Camels creates a cognitive and emotional consensus in the secular world on how good its cigarettes are, objective empirical reality notwithstanding.

Should not Commonweal, America, etc. that take Pentagon cash in order to allow it access to their mailing lists under the auspices of recruiting Catholic chaplains for the military, at least put an asterisk with their advertisements indicating that, as a matter of policy, Catholic military chaplains do not teach the Catholic men and women coming into the military either the Catholic ethical stance of nonviolence or the standards of Catholic just/unjust war theory! That’s right! The only way that a Catholic man or woman in the military will ever find out about either of the two aspects of the Catholic moral stance related to war is if he or she personally goes to a chaplain and asks the priest face-to-face. Knowledge of neither stance related to killing and maiming human beings is given up-front, accurately and gratuitously by the Catholic Military Chaplaincy to each and every Catholic who enters the military.

Parenthetically but not insignificantly, my experience has led me to believe that very, very few Catholic military chaplains have been educated in the theology, history and spirituality of Gospel Nonviolence to a degree that would give them the pastoral ability to effectively teach or counsel in this area, which is an acceptable moral option in the Catholic Church. Maybe, as reason would seem to demand, future priests for the military are given a full slate of courses in this area at military chaplaincy school, since violence is what those in their spiritual care are involved in daily in some manner. Catholic seminaries in the U.S. almost universally teach the subject of Gospel Nonviolence superficially and anecdotally, if at all, rather than seriously and systematically. Hence few, if any, Catholic priests going into the military would have the requisite knowledge to give well-informed spiritual guidance to a Catholic man or woman struggling in conscience with the dissonance between the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospel and his Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies and participation in the realities of the mass homicide that is called war. For almost forty years I have heard stories from veterans whose experience on a personal level with a military chaplain(s), when struggling with the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospel and His Nonviolent Way — after exposure to the pernicious dimension war — was woeful, to hostile, to pastorally destructive.

However, neither Gospel Nonviolence nor Catholic Just/Unjust War Theory is taught as a matter of policy and/or practice by the military’s priests to Catholics entering the U.S. Military. I would submit that to intentionally proclaim the Gospel in great detail, except as it relates to the great moral problems that a bishop’s or priest’s people have to deal with, is to fail to proclaim the Gospel properly. Indeed it approaches a sacrilegious misuse one’s position as bishop, priest or minister to intentionally withhold segments of the Gospel and Church teaching that are vitally pertinent to a person’s situation in life at a particular moment in time. A Christian chaplain to the Prostitutes Union of Nevada (all groups should have a Christian chaplain if they want one because Christ came to save sinners, not the righteous) who told the men and women in that organization not to lie, not to steal, not to do drugs, to go to church on Sunday and love their neighbor, but never informed his congregation about the incompatibility of lust with the teaching and Way of the Jesus would be a spiritual and moral scoundrel making a good living by misrepresenting, as those who hired him want him to misrepresent, the teachings and Way of Jesus. Now, is lust less intrinsically gravely evil than murder, the unjustified killing of a human being(s)?

Of course, non-culpable ignorance of an evil makes it morally impossible to commit a sin in that area. Doing an act that is evil but that one does not know is evil is not sin, though it still is evil and will produce the bad fruits that evil produces. However, if a pastor’s or a diocese’s or a Church’s position is to intentionally not tell people that certain matters are objectively evil, which in fact are objectively evil, or to intentionally keep from those placed in their spiritual care the standards by which to distinguish good from evil and they thereby intentionally and premeditatively leave these people in a state of non-culpable ignorance so they cannot possibly be held morally responsible by God for the evil they do, then the question arises, why teach Christians that anything is evil? Or, is this strategy of spiritual "benign neglect" employed only when the teaching of what is evil or of what the standards are for discerning good from evil are teachings that if applied by the Christian Community could radically jeopardize the political and economic standing of the institutional Church? For otherwise, Church officials seem to have no problem placing heavy and detailed moral burdens on the shoulders of fellow Christians.

Perhaps then, honesty and basic human integrity demand that Commonweal, America, etc., place a double asterisk with these military priest-recruiting advertisements, since Catholic military chaplains are not allowed to publicly teach — to all Catholics entering the military and to continually publicly teach to all Catholics in the military — on the very moral issue that military personnel are uniquely and immediately involved in, namely, killing other human beings, other sons and daughters of the "Father of all." This means that only those priests could entertain becoming military chaplains who possessed a conscience that permitted them to morally interpret a fundamental principle of natural law, "Do good and avoid evil," in such a way that they would be morally certain that they were fulfilling their moral obligation to those immortal souls in their care by not telling them clearly, when they enter the military, the Catholic standards of good and evil that Catholics are morally bound to adhere to, "ad bellum" and "in bello," in order to justly kill another human being.

Maybe even a triple asterisk would be in order for these ads for the purpose of alerting any priest, minister or bishop to the tortuous and/or torturous moral consciousness he or she is going to have to submit to if they become one of the military’s paid chaplains. Leaving metanoia, change of mind, to the Drill Sergeant, while concerning oneself primarily with "strengthening" the souls of those who are daily committed to putting on the mind of the Drill Sergeant rather than the mind of Christ, is a highly "abnormal" Church ministry indeed — unless, of course, the Drill Sergeant and by extension the Pentagon, are about the business of helping young men and women put on the mind of Christ! The daily activities that military recruits are required to go through would not suggest to a reasonable person, however, that such is the case. Consider this reflection by the late Gordon Zahn, PhD, from his book WAR, CONSCIENCE AND DISSENT:

"Military planners operate on the basis of military expediency, and individual soldiers are trained to operate on the basis of unquestioning obedience to their military superiors…In the realm of copybook distinctions it may be a simple matter to divide the bombing of a city into separate acts of willed destruction of a war production plant and unwilled (though fully known and foreseen) destruction of thousands of innocent noncombatants. But it demands too much to believe that the man who loosed the bombs availed himself of such convenient moral schizophrenia — or that he saw any need for doing so. Our intensive military-training programs are designed to free men from the necessity of making such calculations by establishing in them as nearly automatic systems of stimulus-response patterns as possible. As far as the victims of his acts are concerned, our bomber friend had been rigorously trained to think of them either as purely expendable units or in terms of hatred or fear-inducing stereotypes which makes those victims fully deserving of their fate…

The military-training program is crucial here, in that it may be seen as a set of social controls designed to subject the individual trainee to a process of systematic depersonalization in the interest of increased military efficiency. The self-image of the morally responsible person vanishes and is replaced by a new orientation, in which the individual sees himself as an agent of destructive force completely responsive to the decisions and directives of his military superiors. This new "self-image" — and the awareness that his enemy counterpart has undergone the same change — makes it possible for him to assume the role of professional killer and to perform acts which, under other circumstances, he would have found unthinkable.

How else could he bridge the gap between the friendly repairman and the soldier spraying fiery death upon his screaming victims, between the playful collegian and the aviator lowering a blanket of death upon a flame-rimmed city? Certainly not by coldly rational calculations of good and evil effects. The secret lies in conditioning and not in conviction. The depersonalized agent sees no alternative; like Pilate, he washes his hands of all responsibility, leaving that to those who made the decisions and issued the orders. It also helps if he can be conditioned to regard the objects of his kill as similarly depersonalized agents — as the abstraction he knows simply as "enemy" — not as men with bodies that bleed and burn, with families and friends to mourn them, with loves and hopes and fears like his own. Once this level of conditioning is achieved, all things are possible. Men will follow orders to "take no prisoners"; or, having already taken them, to "deliver them to Paris, and be back in ten minutes." It becomes possible for them to liquidate innocent hostages in reprisal for a guerilla raid without suffering too many troubling qualms of conscience. In a very real sense, atrocities are the hallmark of the perfectly accomplished military-training program, for they represent the ultimate of obedience to military discipline.

Fortunately, the "ideal" is rarely achieved, despite the total mobilizing of psychological talent and resources. But it is achieved often enough — or, even when the finished product falls short of that ideal, the partial success is sufficient — to justify firm theological condemnation of that violation of God’s proudest creation which such depersonalization and dehumanization represent.

A very specific example, which again is in no sense hypothetical, may be in order here. A few years ago, a network radio program devoted a Sunday to on-the-scene interviews at one of the nation’s basic training centers. One such interview featured the instructor charged with the task of training the young recruits in the use of the bayonet. He complained that he encountered a great deal of resistance from the trainees, who were naturally repelled by the idea of plunging this weapon into the vitals of a living human being. But he had solved his pedagogical problem in a rather ingenious fashion. Experience had shown that this initial resistance faded away if the men were induced to imitate the roars and snarls of wild beasts as they charged the training dummy. To conclude the interview, a microphone was attached to the dummy so that the listening public might be entertained by the sound of the recruits as they growled and ripped away at their mock victim. This, one assumes, is the much-praised "making of men" that only recently was recommended by one of our leading bishops as the solution to the problem of juvenile delinquency. Perhaps the use of this technique [for solving the juvenile delinquency problem] is not widespread. But, widespread or not, this "making of men into beast" is thoroughly in keeping with the demands of modern war."

So the task for which a priest or minister is recruited by the military is clear. He or she is to be the agent who officially brings the entire symbol system and sacramental system of the Church to the military for purposes of morally endorsing and blessing the mind that the Catholic or Christian "puts on" at the hands of the Drill Sergeant, as being a mind in moral conformity with the mind of Christ. Their spiritual task is to strengthen the soul of the Christian so that he or she can carry on with vigor living and acting out of the mind given to him or her by the Drill Instructor.

As usual, ecumenical etiquette insists that I focus examples pertinent to my critique of the Churches through my own Church, i.e., Catholic. This I have done. However, everything raised here is pertinent to all the mainline and major Evangelical Churches. I assume that the Catholic magazines, Commonweal and America, as well as, all the other Christian journals and their staffs that take such advertising can find a superabundance of Catholic and Christian moral textbooks that will validate their accepting Pentagon mammon for placing ads for recruiting Catholic priests and other ordained Christian ministers to the military’s chaplaincy service. This is certain since the institutional Churches themselves — Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical — as they now operate, have no problem with priests and ministers entering the military service as officers and chaplains. Commonweal, America, and the other Christian publications alluded to above, and their staffs, are therefore morally covered and have a rock-solid defense before "the awesome judgment seat of Christ" for accepting such advertisements.

Or do they?

Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy is a priest of the Eastern Rite (Byzantine-Melkite) of the Catholic Church. Formerly a lawyer and a university educator, he is the founder and the original director of The Program for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution at the University of Notre Dame. He is also co-founder, along with Dorothy Day and others of Pax Christi-USA. He has conducted retreats and spoken at conferences throughout the world on the issue of the relationship of faith and violence and the nonviolence of the Jesus. He was the keynote speaker at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee for the 25th anniversary memorial of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. there. He is author of several books, including these: All Things Flee Thee because Thou Fleest Me: A Cry to the Churches and their Leaders to Return to the Nonviolent Jesus and His Nonviolent Way; Christian Just War Theory: The logic of Deceit; August 9: The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love. He has also authored innumerable articles on the subject of violence, religion and the nonviolent love of friends and enemies taught by Jesus by word and deed. His audio/video series, BEHOLD THE LAMB, is almost universally considered to be the most spiritually profound presentation on the matter of Gospel Nonviolent Love available in this format. BEHOLD THE LAMB is now available on mp3CD through his website, either at the cost of $5.00 for a disc or it can be acquired directly by an mp3 downloaded from the website for no cost. Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s work on behalf of peace within people and among people. He may be reached and his work may be accessed at the Center for Christian Non-Violence.

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