Does the End Justify the Means?

Does the end justify the means? Of course not, we say, we are a Christian nation. But the letter of Archbishop Romero to President Carter shows that the government knew the consequences of its Central American policies in the 1970s and 1980s, and even so we went ahead with them. And so it came to pass that hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered. They were "collateral damage" in the Cold War. At least, this is what we say when we acknowledge the death toll, which is seldom. Historical revisionism is popular. War is hell, we say. So sad, too bad for them, what's on next?.

We like to think of ourselves as America the Beautiful, but all too often we are America the Merciless. We casually dispose of the lives of others without thought about the consequences. We were mad at Saddam, so we starved and murdered the ordinary people of Iraq with our vicious economic embargo. Tens of thousands more have died as a consequence of our invasion of that country. Never mind that everything the Republicans & Democrats told us about the invasion was a lie.

Jesus said, "All those who take the sword will perish by the sword." He also said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." And the Bible says, "Sow not in furrows of injustice lest you reap a seven-fold harvest."

Does anyone stop to think about what a "seven fold harvest" of the injustice that we have sown in Central America, Iraq, and elsewhere would look like? Seven times the destruction of Afghanistan? Seven times the destruction of Iraq? Seven times the slaughter we financed in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua? Of course not, most Americans believe we have an "Escape the consequences of your actions" card, direct from God

The doom of our nation is found in this willingness to justify any means by our allegedly good ends. We may shut our ears and eyes to the cries of our victims for mercy, remembrance, and justice, but God sees and hears and knows and loves and cares about every person that we have sacrificed for the "greater good" of the American Empire. There will one day be an accounting for our actions, just as all empires that have gone before us have faced. And we will not like the judgment any better than they did. "You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom will be divided and given to another."

We plainly see this doom approaching. Indeed, it is already happening, all around us, the beginning of sorrows is well advanced. The lines at our soup kitchens and homeless shelters and food pantries are longer than ever, and this is true for everyone who accompanies the poor in their present journey. Empires collapse first at the margins, and if you want to see the beginning of the final collapse and fall of the United States of America you need look no further than the closest neighborhood of the poor. Soon enough the collapse will come to our middle & upper class neighborhoods. Do not think that in our arrogance and wealth we will escape the poverty that is the fate of all the rich who use their resources frivolously and oppress the poor.

The Catholic Bishops of these United States also have a tendency to justify means by good ends. Many of them apparently believe that we can defend the lives of unborn children by sacrificing the poor elsewhere. They, like most Americans, have embraced moral relativism about the war in Iraq, professing an inability to make a judgment based on the complexity of the subject and the controversy that came with it. Yet, our national lust for war and our cultural embrace of abortion derive from the same moral errors. When we justify the murder of innocents anywhere, as the Catholic bishops have done regarding Afghanistan and Iraq, we damage the cause of protecting the lives of unborn children everywhere. We cannot defend the rights of unborn children by abandoning the innocent poor in other countries to military slaughter. About this kind of strategy, the pope said in his World Day of Peace message this year: "Evil is never defeated by evil; once that road is taken, rather than defeating evil, one will instead be defeated by evil" (emphasis in the original). Yet, by embracing moral relativism regarding the war in Iraq, this is exactly what many bishops have done, thus bringing even more shame & scandal on the Church..

It is not an accident that the pedophile scandal broke so suddenly after the bishops blessed the war in Afghanistan as "just". It was not an accident that the bishop who led the bishops in blessing that war -- Cardinal Law, formerly of Boston - was also one of the most egregious enablers of child victimization in the U.S. hierarchy. Both problems rest on the same foundation: the inability of many US Catholic bishops to see the poor and vulnerable as human persons. The actions of bishops which enabled sexual abuse and which gave religious blessing to the murder of the poor in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the same tragic, dehumanizing process at work: an ecclesiastical denial of the human dignity of weak and vulnerable human persons.

Too many bishops care too little about the lives of the poor and they listen too much to the bloodthirsty rhetoric of war and fear. Even though everything that was said by the leadership of the culture of death about the justification for the war has turned out to be falsehood, most bishops continue to embrace moral relativism about the war.

This end justifies the means moral relativism teaches us that if we are rich, and covet resources and imperial power and need to feed our jaded and perverted appetites with vicarious mass media blood sports, then it is perfectly fine to kill the poor and their children, to cause them grave harm and misery, destroy their schools, poison their wells, lay waste their fields, and generally wage total war against them. This they claim as successors to the apostles, and that is a terrible thing to contemplate. Put as plainly as this, they will no doubt rise up in horror and say "that isn't what we said," but in fact, translated into plain language, this is the real meaning of their end justifies the means attitude.

Robert Waldrop |