grace, modern nation-state, peace, violence

The Strong No: Pax Christi v. Pax Americana

I firmly believe that at times, the Christian vocation is to say a very strong no. This can be seen as an “either/or” that so many theologians seek to avoid. Indeed it is often anathema: “You just did an either/or, not a both/and. You have ignored a truth that should be included!”

It should be recognized that whenever no is proclaimed, it is located in two spheres. It is first located within the grand yes to creation: creation is indeed good. In fact, it is very good. As Christians, we are in point of fact, incredibly strong materialists. The second sphere is that because the no to sin is located in the larger yes to creation, the no is an act of love. The no is inherently a call to justice and redemption — an act of the economy of grace first instituted by divine action. Thus the prophetic call, even those who carefully emphasize a radical discontinuity, is not committing an either/or. We should at the same time, however, be careful not to blunt the prophetic call. Instead the call must be sharp when it must, exactly because it does rest within the yes.

Thus we can recognize that the “peace” promised by the state, rooted in a flawed understanding of power — a self-serving, oppressive power, is over and against the peace of Christ. This is where we can call the state a simulacra of the ikon of God. We say no to such an understanding of power and therefore say no to the actions rooted in such power.

He is risen and the Roman soldiers, who represented the attempt by imperial power to keep Jesus in the tomb, were tossed about.

And so we join with Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton and Pax Christi:

And then as often, John Paul was especially aware of young people. He’s at the World Youth Day right now in Toronto where he really seems to be energized when he’s with young people — his concerns about them, what they will become. And so he asks the question, ‘Which voice will the young people of the 21st century choose to follow?’

A very important question. We come out of a century which was the most violent in all of human history. A new century, a new millennium is upon us; and which voice will the young people follow during this century? To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says, no matter how strange it may seem — and choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem. Choosing to reject the claims of evil no matter how sensible and attractive — and often they can seem to be sensible, reasonable, attractive — for the way of Jesus, which might seem foolish, utopian, idealistic, all the words that people use about the Gospel. Which choice will I make? Which choice will you make? And to identify those choices clearly in the world in which we live — the reality of the world where we are right now.

I have a conviction that it’s a choice between what we’d like to call pax Americana, or the other choice, pax Christi.
On October 7, when President Bush announced the war strikes on the Taliban in al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, he said, “We are a peaceful nation!” Then a few days later while speaking at the FBI headquarters, he declared, “This is the calling of United States — the most free nation in the world, a nation built on fundamental values that reject hate, reject violence, reject murderers, and rejects evil. He says we are a peaceful nation, and that’s what we stand for. He would call it, I’m sure, “peace America, or pax Americana.”

But to show you how wrong it is to think of this peaceful nation as following the way of pax Christi, I call to your attention to an article that appeared on the website by Arundhati Roy. And she pointed out that since World War II, since 1945, this peaceful nation has in fact been at war and bombed China, 1945 to ‘46, 1950 to 1953; Korea, 1950, 1953; Guatemala, 1954 — and for four decades we supported a cruel, low-intensity warfare there, killing 200,000 people; Indonesia, 1958; Cuba, 1959 and ‘60; Zaire, 1964; Peru, 1965; Laos, 1964 up to 1973; Vietnam, 1961 to 1973; Cambodia, 1969 to 1970; Granada, 1983; Libya, 1986; El Salvador, during all of the 1980s, again low intensity warfare killing tens-of-thousands of people; Nicaragua, the 1980s; Panama, 1989; Iraq, 1991, and still going on; Bosnia, 1995; Sudan, 1998; Yugoslavia, 1999. And now she says, we can add Afghanistan to that list.

Pax Americana: bombing, killing, wherever we decide. As Madeline Albright put it, “We are America. We are the indispensable nation. If we have to use force, it’s because we see further than anybody else.”

But pax Americana gets even worse when we begin to look at what is happening in the reality of the world in which we live; when we look at it even more closely. Many of us probably think that our present foreign policy — the war in Afghanistan, the war against the al-Qaeda, and the unending war that the President says we’re involved in — that this foreign policy is a result of September 11.

… The aim, simply put, was to establish unilateral control of the world. Such an aim would involve — and these are the kinds of words they use in the report — smashing all possible enemy threats — even before those threats become real. You may have heard we now have a pre-emptive military policy. We will attack another country whenever we decide that they are about to attack us, whether we have any proof or not, but we have a pre-emptive defense policy.

… [but] we could be the ones that would lead our Church and our nation away from pax Americana and to pax Christi, the only peace that really is peace. (15 seconds of applause).

I thank you for that response, and I leave you now with some very sober words, that will perhaps linger in our consciousness and help to continue to motivate us. The words were written, again by that Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, who is leading the way of India protesting against their nuclear weapons development. And at the end of the article which she writes deploring and protesting these weapons, she says this:

“The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that human kind has ever made.” and then she says, “If you are religious, believe in God, then remember, this is our challenge to God.” It is worded quite simply: “We, we, God’s creatures, have the power to destroy everything You have created.”

A very evil challenge that a religious person would make to God. It’s blasphemy:

“We can destroy everything You, God, have made — the God who made everything out of love, we can destroy out of our hate.”

But then she goes on to say, “If you’re not religious, then look at it this way: This world of ours is 4,600 million years old. It could end in an afternoon.”

Let that thought: if you are religious, that we do not want to offend God with that blasphemy. Or, if your faith doesn’t move you, the thought that we can destroy our world in an afternoon, let that move us to try with all that we can bring to it to reject pax Americana and to embrace pax Christi. Thank you.


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