This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The danger of absolute justifications for the use of force

As we might expect, well-meaning pastors are sometimes tempted to ease the conscience of the warrior by providing easy justifications for the terrible work that must be done. Usually this justification is formulated in such a way that it relieves the warrior of any responsibility for his actions, offering him the false assurance that he can emerge from this bloody trial as white as snow. This was the approach of Martin Luther, as one notable example, but Catholics as well are not immune to the impulse, and we find similar attempts in the writings of the Jesuits. We can summarize their rationale as follows:

Government authority was instituted by God and has its justification for exercising its power. Since the exercise of this power has always and everywhere involved the use of the sword, then it is not the human actor who is morally responsible for the bloodshed, but God Himself, via government authority. In this way the responsibility for the havoc is at the feet of God, and although the sword is in the hands of the soldier (or the policeman or the executioner), it is truly the hand of God that does the work. Man in this case is merely the instrument of God’s justice.

This is all very clean and pleasing but it must be rejected for several reasons. First and foremost, it degrades the soldier by robbing him of his moral participation in his own vocation. If it is really the hand of God, then the soldier himself is neither good nor evil but is a dehumanized vehicle for divine action. Second, it blurs the line between the imperfect human order and the perfection of the divine, offering a promise of moral perfection on a plane where such a state is not possible. Third, it hides the fact that the execution of the work is done by a flawed human being, and presents it as the direct work of God, and since the work of God is always perfect and blameless, certain actions that should never be construed as perfect are whitewashed. That is to say, the imperfect human actors smuggle in evil under the umbrella of the divine prerogative. This is when we find inhuman and immoral means deployed in war, for example the dismissive attitude toward collateral damage, or the use of torture against prisoners. All of these cease to be ‘lesser evils’ and become an expression of God’s pure will, purely realized on the temporal plane.

In his efforts to ‘reassure’ the soldier, and to reinforce a conscience that might otherwise be doubtful and hesitant, such teachers do great violence to their patients. This approach eliminates the need, not only for a serious spiritual preparation for the work, but for spiritual cleansing after the fact. Why would anyone need inner healing after an act that was merely the will of God? It also encourages just the kind of naivety that we’ve been arguing against, since once these assurances are made it becomes far more difficult to stop short at the minimum necessary force and to understand that even the warrior for good suffers the more damage he must do to the villain. The moral ambiguity of the thing disappears, and what perhaps should have caused hesitation now proceeds unquestioned and even glorified.

Again, when we come to the writings of certain Jesuits we find that, on the basis of certain Old Testaments scriptures, it is apparently permissible to commit acts of wanton unrighteousness by order of God. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and the wars fought by the Hebrews in order to establish themselves in the promised land, all of these are interpreted in such a way that suggest we should not really consider righteousness at all once we are convinced that we are acting on good authority, since in a convoluted way all authority is from God.

The problem here is that these explanations not only pave the way for heinous violence and harsh punishments (since we ‘the righteous’ suffer nothing by dealing them out, we deal them out freely), but they also commit a dual injustice by (1) distorting the image of God and (2) relieving men of the need to answer for their own unrighteousness.

It is far more realistic, honest, and spiritually healthy to take up the sword with the understanding that what we are about to do is not ‘sanctified violence’ but is rather a mandatory work of unrighteousness and that we are not saved from the consequences of this work simply because we are delegates of the divine will.

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