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By John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, July 1, 2017 – The Catholic News Service released a story on Thursday in which Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in Rome. His talk was a mix of uplifting sentiments and unbalanced, misleading statements. Half-truths, which out of context might suggest that some atheists’ objections to Christianity have merit. Atheists on the right, for instance, often accuse Christians of embracing naive pacifism and poverty.
Never With Violence
Let’s start with the headline — which no, the Pope didn’t write. But the official Catholic News Service released it, and I’ve seen no correction from Rome. The story is titled: “Pope: Christians fight evil with love, sacrifice, never with violence.”
Here’s how the story unpacked that:
In the Gospel of Matthew (10:16-22), Jesus warned his disciples that he was sending them “like sheep in the midst of wolves.” They could be shrewd and prudent, the pope said, but never violent because evil can never be defeated with evil.
That is why Jesus sent his people into the world like himself, as sheep — without sharp teeth, without claws, without weapons — Pope Francis said. In fact, “true defeat” for a Christian is to succumb to the temptation of responding to the world’s resistance and hatred with violence, revenge and evil.
The only weapons Christians possess are the Gospel and the hopeful assurance that God is always by their side, especially in the worst of times.
Reading that, I spattered coffee on the screen. My father got on a troop ship in 1945 as part of the U.S. Army. He went to “fight evil.” With violence. So does courageous a Kurdish sniper in the video below. She’s part of a women’s self-defense militia that duels with the rapists and killers of ISIS.
These Christians Fight
As The Stream has reported, thousands of Syrian Christians fight alongside the Kurds. Are they being un-Christian? Would the editors of CNS care to fly over to Raqqa, disdaining any military protection, and explain that to those Christians — whose sisters and daughters face kidnapping and sale to sex-trafficking gangs?
At this point, defenders of squishy, quasi-pacifism might say, “Of course, there are certain exceptions. Like the Holocaust.” To which the proper answer is: “What part of ‘never’ don’t you understand? Never means NEVER.”
Drip by drip, the incessant stream of such unbalanced, one-sided assertions makes the faith itself less plausible. If Christian morality were in fact that absurd, how could we go on defending it? Why should we?
And full-on, consistent pacifists are making inroads under Pope Francis. They held a conference at the Vatican last year. The Church is mulling whether to make a saint of the political crank Dorothy Day, who opposed fighting the Nazis in Europe, the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, or the North Korean regime that invaded then-helpless South Korea. Pope Francis himself in 2015 denounced all weapons manufacturers as “un-Christian.” In the same speech, he complained that the Allies had not bombed the train tracks leading to Auschwitz. Which would have required… hold your breath… weapons.
Making Converts for the Alt-Right
Such sloppy, lazy rhetoric has consequences. It makes some Christians squeamish or cowardly about the just use of prudent force against evil. But it also does something worse.
Drip by drip, the incessant stream of such unbalanced, one-sided assertions about Christian morality makes the faith itself less plausible. If the implications or consequences of Christian morality were in fact that absurd, how could we go on defending it? Why should we?
Are we really to believe that Christian morality requires open borders to Islam (as Pope Francis has suggested)? That it considers the use of violence against ISIS somehow a compromise of “pure” Christian principles? That the Church wishes everyone on earth to be as materially poor as Jesus and His apostles?
Loving Poverty Rather than the Poor
The pope said that almost explicitly in the same address. As CNS reports:
The Christian lifestyle must be marked by “poverty,” he said, noting how Jesus talks to his disciples more about “stripping” themselves than about “getting dressed.”
“Indeed, a Christian who is not humble and poor, detached from wealth and power and, above all, detached from him- or herself, does not resemble Jesus,” he said.
Again, these are half-truths. Put baldly, without the proper context that explains the good uses of wealth or the need for wise stewardship, they encourage extreme positions that preen as “pure” and “prophetic.” Positions like that of David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox theologian who wrote in First Things that it is intrinsically evil to acquire investment capital — full stop.
Qualifying extreme statements like these does not amount to “watering down” Christianity — unless you think that Christianity is poison. Pacifism and hatred of private property are not elements of the “pure” Christianity, which we compromise because we live in a fallen world. Or because we are worldly. They are falsehoods. They’re little pieces of the truth torn away from its body and cloned in a lab — like monstrous toes or giant prostates.
It’s the task of our pastors to present the full truth of Christ in the bright light of reason. Not to pose as other-worldly prophets, at the cost of replacing Christian truth with a Gnostic caricature incompatible with life. Christ came to give us life, and that more abundantly.