Since the time of Nero, the Church has taught that government has one primary duty assigned to it by God: to keep the peace. To what end? The Common Good. And so that the Church could be about her business of saving souls. To this end, the Church prays for all secular authority, regardless of the policy or structure. The Church has prayed with the same prayers for caliphs, dictators, monarchs, prime ministers, and presidents. Under those govts the Church works for her own ends, expanding the Kingdom of God even if local laws are athwart those ends. For this reason, the Church is, in the best cases, only a neutral observer of political struggles. As long as she is free to be about her business of saving souls, she is unconcerned. When a govt wanders away from the Common Good, the structures are not what is damned, but rather souls. The Church can’t step in, as such, but she can urge or even authorize her children to take action. This is the just war theory in brief. A govt is, at best, not an obstacle to the common good. When it becomes not only an obstacle, not only an active opponent but an open danger, then the lesser evil of violence against the state – if it can be victorious – can be justified.
You are not my supervisor! was mentioned in a previous post as the primary credo of our culture. This has been true for quite a long while, however. In some ways, America’s founders were saying exactly this to the British Crown. This is the raison d’etre of Protestantism. It’s a weed woven into nearly all aspects of our American culture. Another way it gets expressed is, “That’s not my truth…” There’s a reflection of this credo in our inability or unwillingness to express “my truth” as, well, you know, true. We are, generally, incapable of seeing a moral choice as anything but part of a spectrum. The vast majority of folks may say “X” while a few folks say “Y”. I’m sticking with the folks who say “Z” instead because, hey, that’s my choice. We pretend we are right. But we won’t back it up if pressed.
Why We Fight was commissioned by the United States Army Signal Corps in 1942 to help explain, first to draftees but later to the general public, why the U.S. had entered the war against the Axis Powers. Filmed by Frank Capra, the seven movies are at once education and indoctrination. The films want you to think a certain way about politics and then lead you to desired conclusions. They want to collapse the available moral spectrum, assumed in most of American life, to one of two choices – with the right choice being evidently right. At times of crisis, in the past, we have been able to overcome our congenital error of individualism and come together as a people. Why We Fight was a tool used by the US to help Americans understand that WW2 was such a time. It made an appeal on several levels: emotional, political, patriotic, and philosophical arguments were offered. The US was putting forth the claim that to fight in WW2 against fascism was a moral duty.
Although the first movie, Prelude to War, includes some very disturbing images to pull on our emotions, the movie actually gets into some very deep (by comparison) reasons for fighting against fascism both abroad and in the US. By extension – and in honor of the lives lost in the last century – those reasons apply today as well. Very (very) few people will disagree with the following: Fascism is bad. In fact, most folks would go even further and say, Fascism is evil. Today, though, asking why may not move us down the same conversation that Capra envisioned in 1942.
Why is fascism bad?
– Look at what they did!
Yes, but why is that bad?
– They killed the Jews and Gypsies and Gays!
Yes, but why is that bad?
– Oppressing their own people…
Yes, but why is that bad?
– They invaded Poland and Russia!
Yes, but why is that bad?
– They tried to take over the world!
Yes, but why is that bad?
This can continue for a long time unless the other party gives up. Some folks can engage a little in the proffered philosophical dialectic and we might be able to expand the questions:
It denies basic human freedom.
– Yes, but why is that bad?
Democratic principles are destroyed.
– Yes, but why are those a good thing?
The right to self-expression and liberty…
– Why is that morally better than what the Nazis offered?
Well, everybody knows…
– Yes, but what makes it objectively better?
– OK, but why were the allies ok with doing some of the same things?
– What makes socialism a better (or worse) system than fascism?
Mind you, I’m not debating facts here: fascism is bad. It kills people. It oppresses people.
Seriously, though, we can answer how but tell me why is that bad? Answers to that are either examples of the badness (still undefined – only more how), things that make folks angry and therefore must obviously make me angry too – and ergo bad. We shall ask again, with a Spock-like tone of voice, Why is it bad? Neither examples of badness nor emotional stirrings answer a why (although they can hint at an answer). Rather than data though, why is this evil? The answer can’t be a version of, “Don’t you know?!?!!”
If something is considered bad only because it is illegal, then a simple change in the laws can make it good. If something is considered bad only because it does bad things to people, then you have to tell me why those things are considered bad as well. If something is bad only because you don’t like it, or you disagree, then there are folks who do like it. It must be valid for them, right?
To answer the question fully you have to provide not a series of anecdotes or emotions, but an actual, objective, answer. If fascism is bad and we must fight it, it must be objectively bad, not subjectively so. If it is only subjectively bad – only bad because you say so, just now, here, then there may be a time and place where you say it’s good. Or there may be a time and place where other people would say it’s good (even if you don’t) and what makes them more or less right than you? Nothing at all if it is subjective. Fascism is their truth, not yours. But I refuse to yield that point: fascism is evil. Therefore, there must be an objective reason that fascism is evil. I have my own answer below, but I want to point out why this is important for our discussion of Kerygma.
You may never have thought about it before, but there is a reason fascism is bad. When I give you my reason, you may disagree with my reason (or you may agree with nuances, etc) but any appeal you will make – after thinking about it, if you get there – is to objective truth. If there is no external standard by why we can judge fascism to be bad – a standard that is not emotional feelings or patriotic stirrings about “freedom”, not a legal standard in some countries, not an appeal to history, authority or any of the other logical fallacies to which one may usually adhere; if there is no such standard then fascism might be good sometime, might be bad at other times. The proponent of and the opponent of fascism must both make such an appeal to some objective truth (which may be true or not) that supports them and can be debated with disinterest. Or else it’s only left at the level of “my truth” – even if “my truth” is shared by a few billion others. If there is no objective standard, even one over which we can disagree, we have no way of saying anything is bad: only that some folks don’t like it.
Your argument for an objective truth means that you imagine that somewhere there is something that must override mere human opinions about what is right and what is wrong. Fascism must always be wrong because of this objective truth to which all humans must agree and something is horribly wrong – broken, disordered – with those who disagree. It also means that you don’t really believe in “my truth” and “your truth” – or at least not in all cases. You actually believe that – at least for some things – there is something all humans must accept from external authority. To insist there is something that would decree fascism bad – external to any human being, measurement, or mismeasurement – is the proof that you’re ready (even if not willing) to try and look for the Golden Road.
As to my reasoning, even (perhaps especially) if you don’t believe in God, this sentence should make sense to you: At root, fascism is wrong because it posits the state in the role of God and the Glorious Leader in the role of Avatar or Messiah of that State-as-God. Everything else that is wrong with and about fascism flows from that root departure from the Golden Road. This State-as-God gets to define what it means to be human, what it means to be just, what it means to be a good citizen, what it means to be free. All relativism is eliminated by reifying the state as the delineator of objective reality. All fascism – even those that sought to curry religious favor – have this one genetic, if you will, defect.
The state becomes god. Nero had no mandate to kill anyone from the pantheon, but Romans had decided the Emperor was divine so his mandate let them kill Christians for being “atheists” and a danger to the state. Germany killed the Jews, degraded churches of all stripes, and then dressed up in a pseudohistory of neopaganism but in the end, even all the pagan gods were just ideological tools of the state. Stalin walked the soviets through the same process: destroying churches, degrading the hierarchy, killing Jews, and creating “Mother Russia” which met no one’s needs but was the object of everyone’s worship. America’s foundational documents assume rights come from “the creator” and are to be protected by the state, yet even the Modern Democracies drift toward fascism today, unmoored as they are from their religious roots: with the state coveting the place of god and pretending, herself, to be the source of “rights”, making new rights, and declaring older patterns to be those of “hate”.
For the Christian, this cannot be just a “feeling”, not just one possible truth selected from among many. The state-as-god is a violation of the 1st and the 2nd Commandments and so it is an objective evil. All the other evils (scapegoating, murders, genocide, political bullying, resource consumption, militarism, racism, slave labor, war) arise from this root evil. The state-as-god will even go so far as to declare these new evils as “goods”. The new deity makes new morals too. These new morals are a logical outcome: they will arise without regard to the documented intentions of the state or the glorious leader. If all truth is relative, there is no way to say “These new morals are evil”. The only thing you can say is “I don’t like it” or “We don’t want that here.” To insist that it is evil – objectively evil – is to appeal to the Tao I’ve been discussing in my other posts. It’s a tacit claim that there is order in the world, that some things are right and others are wrong.
PS: I do not mean here that anything anyone labels as fascist is, de facto, fascist. In some circles, I could be labeled fascist for using the phrase “objective truth”. That would prove a second point I am trying to make, we will leave that for a later post on religion and fascism which will help us connect this new Kerygma with the classic, Roman one.
PPS: At the Nuremberg trials, the folks saying “Well, you know, that was what we believed…” were the Nazis. They believed in relativism and subjective truths. If all we have to offer in reply is more relativism then we’ll all fail together. My truth, your truth, it just doesn’t matter.
This might seem like a not-so-subtle riff on the idea that “atheists can’t be moral”. It’s not that at all: a lot of Christians fall into this trap as well. We can do it blatantly when we say things like, “I’m Catholic and so I have to… but you can do anything you want.” or “I can’t vote according to Catholic teaching because I don’t want to force my religion on anyone else.” But we can do it subtly when we say things like, “I do this because God said so…” and don’t follow through with a reason that God said so. We do not do murder “because God said so.” God could not have said, “Murder is good.” God said, “do no murder” because murder is objectively evil. God said we are to love and forgive because to love and forgive are good things – in and of themselves. God is good.