Category Archives: Thought Experiments

Our “Just” Wars

“I think that if there is one truth that people need to learn, in the world, especially today, it is this: the intellect is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, actual practice. It is constantly being blinded and perverted by the ends and aims of passion, and the evidence it presents to us with such a show of impartiality and objectivity is fraught with interest and propaganda. We have become marvelous at self-delusion; all the more so, because we have gone to such trouble to convince ourselves of our own absolute infallibility. The desires of the flesh — and by that I mean not only sinful desires, but even the ordinary, normal appetites for comfort and ease and human respect, are fruitful sources of every kind of error and misjudgment, and because we have these yearnings in us, our intellects (which, if they operated all alone in a vacuum, would indeed, register with pure impartiality what they saw) present to us everything distorted and accommodated to the norms of our desire.” Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Authority: “Love Your Enemies”

“When it comes to accepting God’s own authority about things that cannot possible by known in any other way except as revealed by His authority, people consider it insanity to incline their ears and listen. Things that cannot be known in any other way, they will not accept from this source. And yet they will meekly and passively accept the most appalling lies from newspapers when they scarcely need to crane their necks to see the truth in front of them, over the top of the sheet they are holding in their hands.” — Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain


“Instead of a world living in peace because it is without religion, why not imagine a world without nation states?… Every major war in the last 300 years has been fought by nation states, not by the Church… The state apparatus for investigating civilians now is far more extensive than anything dreamed up by the Spanish Inquisition, although both were created to serve the same purpose: to preserve a government’s public ideology and control of society, whether based on religion or on modern constitutional order.

“…The point is that the greatest threat to world peace and international justice is the nation state gone bad, claiming an absolute power, deciding questions and making ‘laws’ beyond its competence.

“Few there are, however, who would venture to ask if there might be a better way for humanity to organize itself for the sake of the common good. Few, that is, beyond a prophetic voice like that of Dorothy Day, speaking acerbically about ‘Holy Mother the State,’ or the ecclesiastical voice that calls the world, from generation to generation, to live at peace in the kingdom of God.”

Francis Cardinal George, “The Wrong Side of History

I like Francis Cardinal George’s take on this idea more than John Lennon’s, but it’s such a beautiful song, one must admit:


Those who demand unconditional support for the troops often speak in clichés. This satirical “Open Letter to a Soldier to Those Who Criticize the Troops” nails almost every one.

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Church bulletin on Veterans Day, 2013, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Athens, GA. "Thank you for serving our country & protecting our freedoms."

Church bulletin on Veterans Day, 2013, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Athens, GA. “Thank you for serving our country & protecting our freedoms.”


Imagine you are standing outside your house, and it’s on fire.

There are some firefighters across the street shooting (mostly innocent) people in a field. There are people dying left and right. When you ask the firefighters why they are killing people, they tell you that they are doing it for you, to protect your house from being set on fire.  house-on-fire1

You scream: “But I don’t want you to do that! I don’t want that!”

They look back and say, “Nobody wants this. We don’t want this either. But it has to happen, to protect your house.”

You look at your house. The fire is spreading.

You find out the mayor was the one who set your house on fire. The firefighters work for the mayor. It’s not their fault. The mayor told them to do it. So you decide to take it up with the mayor. When you object to your house being set on fire, the mayor says that in a time of crisis such as the one we’re in, with people being killed left and right in that field over there, the government gets special permission to do things that they wouldn’t normally be able to do, like set people’s houses on fire, in order to protect people’s houses from being set on fire.

I look at the house. It is now engulfed in flames. All of my neighbors’ houses are burning too.

That’s how I feel when I am told that the military is there to defend, preserve and protect my freedoms.

Firefighters (in theory used only to defend something) = military
Mayor = federal government
House = Bill of Rights

It’s patently absurd.

I scream into the night, “How can my house be protected and preserved while being on fire?”

The mayor says, “Well, see those people across the street, the ones that look different from you, the ones that are being killed left and right in that field over there? They would have set fire to your house if we’d given them the chance. Trust us. Aren’t you happy they didn’t set fire to your house?”

I say, “But my house is on fire!”

He says, “Who would you rather have set fire to your house, us or them?”

So I say to the firefighters: “Well, if my house is going to burn down either way, would you at least stop killing people in that field? Can we at least stop that?”

Then all hell breaks loose. My neighbors become apoplectic at the mere suggestion. They  surround me, a pack of wild dogs wearing yellow ribbons. I am reminded by my neighbors (whose houses are also on fire), that killing and violence is a part of life, and that it is necessary to prevent my house from being set on fire, and that I should be thankful for the firefighters who are willing to do “the dirty work” because without them, I wouldn’t even have a house in the first place. Then they appeal to my compassion, telling me how the firefighters are putting their lives on the line for my house, and they remind me how hard it is on the firefighters, and what a rough go of it they’ve had, and how they need my support. Meanwhile, screams of terror.

But if the firefighters hadn’t agreed to start killing people in that field on command, then the mayor would have never had license to set fire to my house. I care about the people in the field and I also care about my house.

So I go back to the firefighters and say: “Please, just stop doing what you’re doing! Can’t you see what’s happening?” And I feel like they stop for just a second, and look at me with sadness in their eyes, and say, “We would love nothing more, but the mayor told us that we have to do this or these people would set fire to your house.” I point to the charred rubble that was my house. They shrug and go back to doing what they’re doing.

Happy Veterans Day.

Quick Question

Imagine if a parishioner at your Church shot and killed an intruder in
his home. Should this man be honored as a “hero” at Mass? Should we
give him a standing ovation after partaking in the body and blood of
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace? Of course not!
A person was killed. It was probably a traumatic experience.
Impressionable youths are present. It would be entirely inappropriate
to celebrate or glorify this act of violence in the House of God.

Now imagine if a parishioner didn’t kill one person with a gun.
Imagine he killed about 10 people with a rocket launcher (nine
innocent civilians, including four children, and one enemy combatant).
Furthermore, this “enemy combatant” was not in the parishioner’s home
but rather in his own home on the other side of the world. This
“combatant” or “militant” never posed a direct threat to the parishioner’s family,
property, or way of life; rather, he posed an indirect threat to some
vague abstraction called the “national interest.”

Should we honor this person at Mass? Does it send the right message?
It’s generally wrong to kill people. Does one of the worst sins become
an act of “heroism” simply because the killer was wearing a government

If it’s inappropriate to celebrate or honor an individual act of justifiable homicide in the House of God, why is it appropriate to celebrate and honor those who kill on a larger scale for more dubious reasons?

It seems odd to me. Does it seem odd to anyone else?