Responding to a Holy War Isn’t a Holy War


Some of the difficulty that leads the West into what I termed, earlier, as an autoimmune disorder may derive from a sense that acknowledging that somebody is fighting a holy war against us means that our response amounts to a holy war against them.  That sense arises because we misunderstand one of the central dynamics that has made our culture unique.

I’m reading an excellent book by my friend and fellow Catholic Andrew McNabb, and among his insights is that, even as we can become entangled in the natural things of this world (our biology, our human nature, and our social tendencies), identifying and understanding how those things work doesn’t negate God, nor does it make them antithetical to Him. This part of the book is in poetic form:

We are, ourselves, truly, when we are among others, living in, society. …

… Society, because when in this world, it is through our social constructs that we live, daily, and it is through our social constructs, so often imperfect, that we can become ensnared.

The imagery of being “ensnared” is apt, because the way not to become ensnared is to understand and straighten the snares.  In that way, we can see when social constructs are leading us toward destructive ends and fulfill our responsibility to develop social constructs that point toward right, moral ends.  In the case of multiple threads of current events, we have a responsibility to ensure a society of free inquiry in which (in religious terms) all people are free to pursue God and meaning as their spirits move them.

A Christian — in his capacity as such — should not judge others and should not engage in anything resembling a “holy war,” but we’re also members of a society with responsibilities quite apart from religion.  Those responsibilities entail ensuring safety and fostering an environment of freedom.  Failing to protect our neighbors from a clear threat is tantamount to hurting them because, being human, we have the capacity to assess threats one step removed.

The Catholic Catechism, for one, explicitly recognizes this framework, which is intrinsic to thoughts about just war and just punishment.  It acknowledges a legitimate civic authority that has roles apart from the Church and religion.  Indeed, progressives pick up this sort of thinking when they want to argue for a governmental role in asserting morality through welfare and social justice and even environmentalism.

Not as Christian believers, but as citizens, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the civilization that we’ve set up.  Our beliefs inform our actions and provided some underlying principles for our civilization, but protecting our society is not the same as protecting a given belief system.  When Islamic radicals come at us with their holy war, we don’t respond with holy war, but neither do we use our theological pacifism to undermine a just response as citizens.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I agree with your basic premise, but I think American reluctance is simpler. Essentially, we are so steeped in “Freedom of religion” that a religious war seems almost inconceivable. In fact, it is Un-American. We are told to think of it as a “clash of cultures”

    Should such a war develop, a footnote from history. The Muslims feared the Knights Templar for many reasons, but two are noteworthy. The knights did not shave and had full beards, making them “manly” in the Muslim understanding. They were forbidden by their vows from retreating if outnumbered less than 3 to 1. Consequently, since they would not retreat,you were more likely to be killed if you engaged them. So much for the 72 virgins theory. Seriously, medieval history seems to show the Muslims had a greater fear of death than is currently advertised. “fun fact” when Chinese Gordon appeared in the Sudan, circa 1880,, some of the local troops still wore crusader armor.