Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, by God is a story that has always made me very uneasy. What’s with this sophomoric “test???” But that was one of the readings this Sunday and it led inevitably to thinking about all the ways children become the victims of our convictions that we absolutely know what God wants of us as his Anointed Ones.
It is impossible to turn on the television without hearing politicians engaged in saber-rattling, this time in relation to Iran. We speak too easily of bombing Iran to protect Israel even as we watch families slaughtered by their own government in Syria and even as the wounded return from wars already underway.
We speak of the effectiveness of sanctions. Do we still believe as Madeleine Albright said on 60 minutes in a 1996 interview with Leslie Stahl that the estimated 500,000 child deaths in Iraq caused by the sanctions was “worth it?”
Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children, once observed: “All wars, whether just or unjust, disastrous or victorious, are waged against the child.”
The article in The Catholic Worker (December 2011) that cites Jebb also quotes Laura Bush saying after the US invasion of Afghanistan: “The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control.”
She is right. But it is too simplistic and it is willful blindness to simply think of OTHERS being the perpetrators of cruelty, intimidation and control. We make war possible through our appetites and greed. Thomas Merton recognized this when he cautioned:
“Instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another” (“The Root of War,” The Catholic Worker, October 1941).
We, going about our middle-class lives, are helped by the media to view some lives as more precious than others. The drumbeat of American exceptionalism and the unique value of American lives, amplified by the media, allow us to speak too easily of bombing people in far away places: people without yearbook photos: farmers in Vietnam, Pacific Islanders, people in the mountains of Afghanistan or the sands of the Middle East.
Real exceptionalism is the kind Christ called for: to “do good to those who hate you.“ But that surely takes a lot more courage and effort. And it is less easily executed than dropping bombs from unmanned drones on people whose faces do not look out at us from our TV screens, who do not speak a language we understand but whose lives, many of them young and innocent, are erased as part of the collateral damage of war.
Like Abraham, if we need to sacrifice to the gods of our appetites and our aspirations, let’s look for a ram instead. And save the children.