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A question of faith

Robert Alvarez | Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I recently had a minor existential crisis, although, surprisingly, this one wasn’t related to post-graduation anxiety. No, this crisis came to me in the realization that if I wanted to call myself Catholic, pacifism was my only option and anything other than pacifism was a confirmation of my lack of faith. However, given the trials of pacifism, I couldn’t readily assent to it.
I should probably first explain what pacifism is. Pacifism is often falsely identified as passivism, a group of holier-than-thou people who abstain from the world to create their city on a hill. This type of people frustrates me to no end. As Catholics, we are not called to “pass” on the world, as if society were some type of buffet where we get to pick and choose which parts we want. We have been put in this world to live in this world, to wrestle with its messiness, to struggle with our own meanness and hope that by the grace of God we might be able to realize a fraction of His eternal love here on Earth. True pacifists do not abstain from the world out of a misplaced sense of purity. They recognize their full guilt in the evils of the world and work to absolve themselves and their community of those evils.
The tool of their trade, however, is love. Now, before that statement gets an eye roll as the ravings of another delusional hippie, let me remind the reader that God is love. The pacifist claims, as his tool, God himself (from the Catholic perspective, at least). This is the type of pure agapic, self-giving love that does not discriminate between friend or foe. This type of love forces us as Catholics to view each other as a constitutive part of one’s own salvation. There is no personal salvation for a Catholic, for once I became selfish enough only to have concern for my own salvation, that is when I would lose it. Mirroring our triune God, salvation comes in pairs (or triples, I guess). For violence, this means by killing an enemy combatant I’m destroying a constitutive part of our salvation.
The methods of love can never include violence, or at the very minimum, the taking of another life. Love is creative by nature; violence is destructive. The usage of violence only begets more violence. And I mean only. Violence, both overt and insidious structural violence, creates wounds that are only made deeper by more violence. Syria is a perfect example of this: cultural and ethnic factions caught in a genocidal war due to their history of distrust and pain. Violence won’t end their pain and never will. Name me one war that ended all wars and I’ll believe violence can be used to prevent violence. This preludes just war theory as well. I do not deny that in war there might be one side with a greater moral imperative. I deny, however, that there is a war a Catholic can assent to while holding love as his or her greatest ideal. I also deny that war will end conflict. Try to justify the death of a father to the pain of a fatherless child and you will understand why violence doesn’t end violence, but rather, perpetuates it. Love is the salve that heals the wounds caused by violence. If you want to end violence, love is the only way.
Pacifism, at this point, becomes a question of faith in love. Do we have enough faith in God to trust that His love will carry us through violence? Death becomes something the pacifist has to evaluate. Is death something to be feared? If I believe in the resurrection, the answer is no. Death is evil, it is a perversion, it is something to be hated and fought against with every ounce of life, but if one’s ally is love, death should not be feared, for it was found to be impotent 2,000 years ago.
These thoughts left me with the question of whether or not I could be a pacifist. During World War II, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement wrote in the organization’s periodical that she and the New York house maintained pacifism and opposed American military involvement in the war. Could I be a pacifist in this situation? Do I believe God to be great enough that Hitler could be overcome by love? It’s an absurd question, but Jesus Christ had a habit of asking his followers absurd questions with absurd answers. As a people who take up Christ’s love as our mantle, another question must be asked: Do we want to be saints? I’m afraid I still don’t know my answer.

Robert Alvarez is majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. He is
living in Zahm House. He welcomes all dialogue on the viewpoints he
expresses. He can be reached at
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.