War is a sin, isn't it?


This is one of the most confusing and seemingly contradictory points of Catholic teaching. While we have a commandment that says "Thou shall not kill." we also have a Bible that is full of stories of war, fought by God's army against those portrayed as God's enemies. So is war good or bad?

First thing I will do is address the issue of the Bible's portrayal of war. All of these are found in the earlier parts of the Bible, written about a time during which God was indeed understood as a God of War - this is what the title "the Lord of Hosts" refers to, praising the God that fought off the Egyptians for the people of Israel, and allowed Israel to conquer their section of Palestine, their "Holy Land."

But that understanding of God evolved - it was primitive - I would even go so far as to say it was incorrect - a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of God's command. The most warlike book in the Bible, the Book of Joshua, demonstrates this point. God commanded Joshua to "cleanse the land." Joshua interpreted that command as "kill every man, woman and child in the land." This interpretation was influenced just as much by social and historical time and place as it was by divine revelation, and we even find, as we read through the Book of Joshua, that Joshua himself changes his policy of ethnic cleansing as time goes on, and by the end of the book is making alliances with those that earlier he understood as being intended by God for annhiliation.

So the Bible demonstrates an evolving perception of God himself - and we MUST understand that this perception reaches its ultimate form in the teachings of Jesus Christ (otherwise, why call ourselves Christians). What does he say about war?

"Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called children of God." Matthew 5:9

"Offer no resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other." Matthew 6:39

"Love your enemies; pray for your persecutors." Matthew 6:44

And so on. Jesus is very clear - war is not his will. Jesus conquers his enemies by loving them, by turning them into friends, even at the cost of his own life. And he calls us to do the same.

And it is VERY clear, to anyone who has ever read about or watched a documentary about World War II - this conflict was, on the whole an ABOMINATION to God. So much wanton destruction of God's sacred creation, cannot EVER be understood as God's will.

But this is the crucial fact - it is because that war is so horrible - that it was necessary to fight. Those who fought and died in that war, fighting against the forces of tyranny, that would have enslaved the world, did so so that we might have peace and freedom today.

And we need to understand that commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is a bit of a miss translation. It should actually read "Thou shalt not murder." As such, while recognizing that all human life is inherently sacred, also recognizes a possibility that at times killing might be necessary in order to save lives.

The Catholic Church recognizes that war, while abhorrent, is at times also necessary. This is what it defines as a "just war." Here is a quote from a previous page, which quoted Wikipedia:

“More recently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force":
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective
- there must be serious prospects of success
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition”

When these factors are not ALL present, as was the case in the Iraqi war, war is not justified, and is to be resisted, both by individuals, and by nations. I'm glad Canada had the wisdom to stay out of that one. War is not justified for the sake of material comforts, religious indoctrination, or increase of one nations sphere of influence - these have so often been the justifications for war throughout the centuries.

However, when these factors ARE present, the Church recognizes that we do have the right to defend ourselves and our families. As such, we can, and should recognize that those who fought in World War II, and those who fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, are heroes. The church recognizes that there can be no TRUE peace - when there is not also justice. Many of these "war heroes" are in fact peace-makers - because their sacrifice has made possible the freedom and peace we enjoy today.

Lest we forget; lest we forget.


Christ the King School Italy Trip visits Canadian War Memorial at Monte Casino, Italy.