Friends: Several of you (and it seems like there are only several of you in the pews today) have confessed to me their unease about the state of world. While some of you were sanguine about the current war at its start, you have begun to question the justification for its continuation.
It would be possible to cite a myriad of economic, political and social reasons for it, but we are in Church and it is Sunday, so we are pretty much confined to spiritual reasons. Despite this handicap, we all know that there are wars that are just and ones that are unjust, and so we may ask: “How do we know this is a just war?”
Today’s reading is from the Greek classics, specifically the account by Thucydides of the Peloponnesian War. The scene is a dialog between the superior forces of Athens and the pathetic elders of Melos, who are resisting the Athenians out of a quaint desire for self-determination.
The Melians start to whine that they had done nothing to offend the brawny men of Athens. But the Athenians tell them “Shut Up!” and then use their superior understanding of natural justice to dispose of the Melites’ faith in the sacred cow of manmade justice. The nineteenth century translator John Jason Owen renders the rather swarthy Athenian response in this way:
“You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
An illustration of this principle is the supermarket. Let’s say that you are in a supermarket and you pass a freezer marked “Fresh Fish.” Startled, you stop and notice that it contains the corpses of several of your co-workers, people at your stage in life and some of whom played woodwinds with you in Jazz Band back in High School. Because they are your equals in social status, you think “This is Unjust!” You cry, and perhaps rend garments, and certainly do not consider purchasing them to eat unless they are significantly cheaper by the pound than the Halibut and Perch that usually occupy the section. But ask yourself: when was the last time you rent your garments in a “Fresh Fish” section populated by fish? It would be chilling to do so!
Clearly, the finely-chiseled Athenians are correct that right is only a question between equals in power. Though we might find this at odds with some of the more knee-jerk liberal interpretations of the Holy Bible, we know its truth from daily experience. I remember my Uncle Kenneth used to box my ears until they bled, but I would let him do this because he would beat the tar out my mother, his sister, if I protested. Uncle Kenneth continued to do this until his mysterious accident in the Marinade Factory.
Those of you who have read more than most, may wonder if there is not some aspect of war that is governed by a moral God who would disapprove of the strong always winning? Certainly, the Melosians thought so. They bleat:
But we trust that the gods may grant us fortune as good as yours, since we are just men fighting against unjust
But the buff Athenian logic once again disposes of the wishful thinking of the puerile Melosiacs:
Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it when made: we found it existing before us, and shall leave it to exist for ever after us; all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do.
In the Greek days, as Thucydides said, “Baby, it’s a god-eat-god world!” And that is a Natural law, not a manmade one. But how do we square this law with Christ’s message of mercy? That’s easy: might is a gift that is bestowed on the right. Providence isn’t available to every Tom, Dick, or Abdul. Does God want to intercede in every conflict and aid the just against the superior powers of the unjust? No. That would keep him needlessly busy! Right makes might, and that’s how we can be confident that the mighty are indeed right.
In summary, the current war is a just one because we are at the vanguard of world military power, a place we would only be if we were pleasing to His Eyes. It is the tips of our spears that point out the direction of the just war. And, we are truly lucky to have a Commander-in-Chief who understands how automatic is the moral dimension of his foreign policy.
But of course, our methods have progressed from those of the Athenians of 416 B.C., who had not the benefit of Revelation. Our Christian nation stopped well short of executing every male old enough to fight, selling all the women and children into slavery, and colonizing the land as the Athenians did to Melos. And on that relative peg we may hang the cowboy hat of our moral superiority to the well intentioned but frequently more Ouzo-reliant and sheep-friendly Greeks.
Let me raise one last example, that of Margaret Gertrude, who has been collecting money for Church activities for the past twenty-four years. If I were to hypothetically review the account books and find that the old discrepancies had once more begun to re-appear, I would certainly be justified in assuming that God, resenting pilfering from his own house, would expect action. So, as her spiritual father, I would be justified in reminding her about the Wages of Sin. Rest assured, friends, that if I did so, I am quite sure that she would once again restore the missing funds. For, I am happy to say, she desires money less than she wishes to avoid taking a second tour of the vats of the Marinade Factory!
Labels: Sunday Sermon