"Just war theory" has been around for centuries as an effort to help combatants and their leaders determine what kind of actions are morally justified in war and under what circumstances war itself can be justified.
In Catholic tradition it goes back at least to Thomas Aquinas, but many of the tenets of just war theory were codified in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. One of those tenets has to do with proportionality, meaning that the force used cannot be out of proportion to whatever injury was suffered.
In simpler days -- back when maybe you could outrun arrows -- just war theory had more usefulness than it seems to today when we have nuclear weapons, suicide bombers and sky-high unmanned drones that can drop death on human targets by remote control.
It's some of these more modern complications that have caused some people -- including now participants in a recent Vatican conference -- to question and even reject just war theory as unworkable today and even as an encouragement to military solutions.
As the National Catholic Reporter story to which I just linked you reports: participants in that conference "have bluntly rejected the Catholic church's long-held teachings on just war theory, saying they have too often been used to justify violent conflicts and the global church must reconsider Jesus' teachings on nonviolence.
"Members of a three-day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi have also strongly called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other 'major teaching document,' reorienting the church's teachings on violence."
This is exactly the kind of discussion that religious communities should be leading.
Some of the voices heard at the Vatican conference may seem a little radical in wanting to do away with just war theory, but if this tool is to be evaluated honestly (or at all), such voices are necessary to get the ball rolling.
I am not a pacifist, believing, as I do, that sometimes military force is necessary to protect innocent people from tyrannical force. I like the thinking behind Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, who is quoted by NCR, which reported this:
"Dennis also said she understands that people may raise concerns in rejecting the just war theory over needing to stop unjust aggressors. Her group, she said, agrees that violent aggressors have to be stopped.
"'The question is how,' said Dennis. 'Our belief would be that as long as we keep saying we can do it with military force, we will not invest the creative energy, the deep thinking, the financial and human resources in creating or identifying the alternatives that actually could make a difference.'"
If religions are not being leaders in establishing peace, who will be? This area is one in which religion can lead, despite the many examples of having blood on its own hands for supporting and at times beginning and encouraging war. That mixed history should give people of faith some humility and a deeper desire to find ways to promote peace.
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WE ALL WILL SAY THIS, INSHALLAH
What's with what seems to be the growing fear of Arabic? As this column makes clear, using such Arabic terms as "inshallah," which means "God willing," is good for everyone. Indeed, I use it fairly frequently. If you get used to using it, too, one day, inshallah, you will tell me merci.