US Catholic Faith in Real Life

"War" is a force that gives us meaning

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint |
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There have been plenty of opinions expressed and words exchanged over the HHS mandate, the administration’s religious conscience compromise, and about what exactly constitutes religious freedom. Many of the words have been heated and intense, and an alarming number of them have involved war imagery.

We've heard the headlines: Faithful Americans are "under attack" from a government "assualting" religious freedom. The administration has “started a war” with Catholics. Bishops may have “won the battle” but will “lose the war.” A law struck down in Washington state mandating pharmacists to carry emergency contraceptives is described as a win that marks “an important battle in the national war for conscience protection." We hear of Protestants “closing ranks” and joining with Catholics over this issue that is “worth fighting and dying over” that has created a "state of emergency" in our nation.

Americans should be familiar with what war actually looks like, considering that we’ve been involved in wars for the last ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq—wars where real men and women have left to serve and have not returned; real wars where innocent civilians died from bombs and explosions.

Though I understand using metaphors and imagery to enhance a point, especially as the mandate and compromise has deeply affronted many Americans, how does it look for us to be calling the contraception debate “war” when today alone we hear reports of Red Cross aid being denied in a bombed-out section of Syria (truly in a state of emergency), or the upcoming talks between President Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the use of military force in Iran?

The way that war has historically worked is that a winner is declared when the other side has suffered more casualties, too bloodied and beaten or starved and hopeless to continue. Or, in more recent cases, a stalemate is reached, and the war is quietly ended, with a wake of destruction left behind. Is this really how we want the contraception debate to play out? If we insist on calling this war, then we should equally insist on calling for just ways of deescalating conflict and restoring peace, or using peaceful intervention techniques to reach compromise.

Chris Hedges wrote in his 2003 book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Anchor Books): "The only antidote to ward off self-destruction and the indiscriminate use of force is humility and, ultimately, compassion."

Though his words were meant to apply to situations of armed conflict, we can still learn from them here. As this supposed war rages on, may we be humble and compassionate in striving to reach its end.