Monday, November 12, 2007

Sacrificial Violence in Today’s Wars

Boston Globe columnist James Carroll writes from a depth of understanding and insight unusual among practitioners of his craft. That could be due to his MA from St. Paul’s Seminary and vocational experience that includes serving as a priest and chaplain before leaving the priesthood to become a writer.

We are told in Carroll’s biography that he lectures widely on Jewish-Christian reconciliation, on Catholic reform, and on the question of war and peace. He is a regular participant in on-going Jewish-Christian-Muslim encounters at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Carroll’s columns are not superficial, throw-away commentary on the issues of the day. Instead he probes the earliest history of the human soul to shed light on such present day phenomena as the sacrificial violence evident in all wars.

In today’s column, The Primitive Impulses of War, Carroll writes:

This form of violence, that is, amounts to a control on violence. "Redemption" is the social calm that follows on the elimination of violent urges when they are "appeased" through ritualized killing. A social need is satisfied.

Sacrificial violence (whether directed at an Aztec virgin, or the goat of Leviticus or Jesus) serves the cause of peace. This process becomes "religious" when the social need is attributed to a deity, to whom the victim is "offered."

Despite the secular assumption that such impulses belong to a primitive past, they are universally at work whenever humans go to war. This comes clear with a closer look at the event commemorated in Europe and America this week - World War I.

Yesterday, was Veterans Day in America, Nov. 11, 2007. Our ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as threatening situations in Iran and Pakistan, summon us to more than the typical moment’s reflection given on a holiday weekend.

Carroll reminds us that primitive impulses continue to influence our nation’s foreign policy:

Sacrifice for its own sake takes on mystical significance that, in a secular age, can no longer be described or defended. But it can be discerned, for example, in the anguished hope that troops will not have died in vain if others follow them. Once these subliminal currents are openly acknowledged, they can finally be left behind. In America lately, God is banished as an open sponsor of the war, but if God does not will this slaughter of innocents, who does?

Good question. Perhaps someone in the Bush Administration will step forward with the answer.

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