If the Vatican Goes Pacifist, What’s Next: Universal Celibacy?

Universal Pacifism is as crackpot and un-Christian as demanding that everyone enter a monastery.

By John Zmirak Published on April 23, 2016

In case you haven’t been following it, the Vatican just sponsored a conference of Christian pacifists — shortly after inviting pro-choice socialist Bernie Sanders to address a meeting on economics and culture. This news should cheer anyone who thinks that the post-Christian West is dangerously militaristic, and afflicted by the anarchy of laissez-faire capitalism. For those of us back on our home planet, of course, reactions are rather different.

As Mark Tooley noted in The Detroit News, the conference urged

that the Church “no longer use or teach ‘just war theory’ and continue to advocate “for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons.”

[The event] was hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and by a longtime leftist Catholic advocacy group, Pax Christi. A Catholic activist with Washington, DC-based Sojourners, a mostly liberal Protestant political action caucus headed by pacifist Jim Wallis, was a prominent voice among the 80 participants.

“There is no ‘just war,’” claimed the public declaration of this gathering. It also urged Pope Francis towards an encyclical or “major teaching document” shifting the church decisively against all war.

Tooley ably responded:

What would … Catholic peaceniks suggest for Iraqi and Syrian villages protected by American air power from ISIS brutality, or Nigerians needing armed protection from Boko Haram as their daughters are kidnapped and young men slaughtered? What forms of creative nonviolence should they instead pursue?

All branches of Christianity are called to work and pray for peace whenever possible. But since the time of the apostles, Christianity has recognized that justice and love also sometimes require armed force.

We should thank Mr. Tooley for wrestling this tar baby to the ground. Let me offer another approach — which starts with a thought experiment.

Imagine if the Vatican were to hold a conference for advocates of universal celibacy, for Christians who did for Jesus’s words about being a “eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven” what pacifists do with “turn the other cheek”: rip it out of context and make it a universal command for every situation and every Christian. So just as every Christian must abstain from any violence, he must also refrain from sex, marriage and children. What would we think?

Don’t sell the idea short. If implemented consistently, Eunuchism would solve every problem in the Church in just 70 short years. We’d have no more issues with worldly, self-satisfied Christians — nor with wild-eyed radicals. We could stop wasting money building Christian schools and expanding church facilities. We could take the billions we saved on diapers and tuition, and share it with the global poor. Just think of all the madrasas, hospitals and sustainable organic farming collectives we could fund in Iran or Pakistan, if we simply accepted this “radical Gospel imperative” and renounced the selfish, fallen, animal urge to breed and feed our own biological offspring. Jesus never did that. Why should we?

Could it be that for 2,000 years our ancestors allowed themselves to compromise the Gospel, whose full message our generation — the last generation of Christians — has finally seen clearly? What a wondrous, God-given privilege. How very special we are, as the first Christians in history to faithfully follow Jesus! We would earn the praise of environmental scientists, of LGBT activists, of virtually every NGO at the United Nations, and deep, heartfelt encouragement from our friends in the Muslim community. The chorus of approval would be almost literally deafening, as a grateful world waved us goodbye. As Jesus noted, we would have fully “received our reward.” (Matt 6:5)

If Christian leaders, with the encouragement of the Vatican, advanced such a theory, what should be our reaction? Should we wade into detailed analysis of scripture, and engage the Eunuchists’ theory — conceding that if their textual arguments proved convincing, we might have to accept their conclusion?

I bet that most of us wouldn’t. We’d reject this theory out of hand because its conclusions are clearly absurd, and we would treat Eunuchism’s proponents like sadly addled eccentrics.

But we might feel a little uneasy. Some would accuse us of worldliness, of pragmatism or utilitarianism, because we allowed the practical outcome of an argument to stop us from engaging it. But in fact we’d be practicing sanity, and sound philosophy, and acting in the spirit of orthodox Christians for the past 2,000 years. I will lay out the reasons below, noting as I go how the approach applies with equal force against any argument for universal Christian pacifism.

  1. The theory was not accepted by the early Church as demanded by the Gospel. Since the early Church, Christian leaders have accepted married couples, treated marriage as holy, and encouraged the rearing of families — asking only that couples be faithful. Likewise, since the early Church, the same leaders welcomed soldiers and allowed them to serve in various armies, asking only that they serve justly. For that matter, Jesus Himself never told married couples to separate — or the soldiers he met to throw down their weapons. If intercourse or warfare were intrinsically evil, Jesus then sinned by tacitly sanctioning them. So either this teaching isn’t Christian, or it’s more Christian than Jesus.
  2. This theory is incompatible with human life. Eunuchism, if we succeeded in preaching it to every person on earth — as Jesus said we ought to preach the Gospel — would wipe out the human race, full stop. So it cannot be good, since He wishes our race to prosper, because He loves us. If only Christians were convinced, then the Church would disappear and leave behind a pagan world. Pacifism, if it spread worldwide, would leave Christian nations defenseless from conquest and persecution at the hands of aggressive non-Christians. If its message of “non-resistance” to violence were practiced consistently, it would mean that we’d have no police either, and that parents should not defend their helpless children from murder or rape. If all people of good will converted to this way of thinking, then the world would be run by sociopaths and criminals — whom we will have always with us. So if this theory really were demanded by the Gospel it would prove that the Gospel is evil.

If someone approaches you with a theory about what Christianity “really” means — a theory curiously pleasing to the Church’s enemies and persecutors — which negates our every God-given animal instinct, 2,000 years of Christian practice, and the example of Jesus himself, what should you say? What if the widespread acceptance of that theory would wipe out Christianity, or even the human race? Do you really need to wade into that activist’s shiny rationalizations? Do they deserve the patience two Christians might afford each other arguing over, say, the most effective strategies for helping the poor?

If ever there’s an widespread upsurge of sinful militarism among Christians, it won’t be stopped by plunging headlong into the arms of the opposite error. The great Christian philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe — who damned the American bombing of Hiroshima as too indiscriminately destructive — considered pacifism the handmaiden and enabler of ruthless, bloodthirsty warfare. By dismantling the carefully thought-out, prayed-over rules which Christians have tried (not always successfully) to obey over many centuries, pacifism offers us a false and poisonous choice: Be ready to watch invaders overrun your country and rape your daughters, or slaughter your enemies’ children in their cradles. The true Christian will do neither.

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  • Clark Coleman

    Pacifism is more appealing when applied to abstract and remote possibilities, like some hypothetical future war halfway around the world. When you are walking down a street and see a rapist attacking a child, what can you do to prevent it that does not involve at least a credible threat of force? Calling the police is just a means of requesting that someone else threaten violence, right? So, what if a pacifist shouts at the attacker to stop and the attacker does not stop?

    Pacifism is a fine theory for those who live in an antiseptic world in which they rarely encounter evil face to face.

  • Jeannine

    Passive resistance worked for Gandhi because his opponents were the British: civilized and Christian, at least by upbringing.
    Had he been “resisting” the Nazis, his movement would have had a very short life indeed.

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