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Syria: A Christian Response

Part of a long and thoughtful article by Sohrab Ahmari, writing at Commentary Magazine.

” … the troubling outcome of the Iraq project doesn’t automatically vindicate the reflexive Christian opposition to today’s escalation in Syria. Christian supporters and critics of Trump’s move must apply public moral reasoning informed by the faith’s rich tradition of thinking about war and peace. The critics, I believe, have the weaker case—for two reasons.

First, Christians cannot remain ambivalent in the face of grave evil. This is true of the individual soul, who is called to wage spiritual combat against the evil within his heart (cf. Mt. 15:19), but it is also true of powers and nations. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is instructive on this point: “Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes” (2313; emphasis added). And more: “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man” (2314).

It follows that Christians must support efforts to defang regimes that commit such crimes. According to the U.S. and numerous other Western intelligence agencies and civil-society organizations, the Assad regime is responsible for the vast majority of deaths in Syria’s civil war. It is the Assad regime that drops shrapnel-packed barrel bombs on densely packed civilian population centers. It is the Assad regime that runs industrial-scale torture facilities. And it is the butcher of Damascus who has used chlorine, sarin, and other chemical weapons against his own people, most recently in Eastern Ghouta.

Assad’s depravity goes far beyond cynical power politics and cruelty in wartime of which most nations through history have been guilty. Rather, Assad is racing for a place in the mass-murderer’s Hall of Infamy. Years from now, when the civil war is at last over and the West reckons with its failure to stop Assad’s killing machine in time to save half a million people and counting, it will not do for Christian opponents of military action to say: “But Iraq had gone so badly!” Or: “We couldn’t tell who was good and who evil in that fight!” Or: “Assad was fighting Islamists and protecting Syrian Christians!”

As Weigel wrote, “Whatever its psychological, spiritual, or intellectual origins, moral muteness in wartime is a form of moral judgment—a deficient and dangerous form of moral judgment.”

Second, Christians cannot remain ambivalent when the “minimum conditions of international order” are at stake. Christians, especially Catholic Christians, have spent two millennia thinking about world order. Through the ages, the Church and its greatest theological minds have constantly emphasized the need for a just, well-run, and peaceful order. As Weigel noted, however, the political peace that Christianity has in mind is not the permanent absence of conflict, a condition that is impossible to achieve so long as human life is disfigured by the mystery of evil—even after the Cross and the Resurrection.”