I rarely read books more than once. They're always too many books waiting to be read. The book I'm reading right now is an exception. It's called The Civilization of Christianity. And the author is John L. McKenzie, a crusty old Jesuit priest and renowned Scripture scholar. McKenzie was 75 years old when he wrote this book, obviously at the stage where he didn't really care what anybody thought anymore, least of all the Catholic Church. "I'm so angry I have to write," he said. (He died five years after publication of this book, in 1991. RIP.) That's what makes this book so appealing to me. He speaks his mind, and a lot of the time his mind is not the mind of the Church. It's the hypocrisy he cannot stand.
The book's thesis is that there's "a deadly and irreconcilable opposition between Western civilization and Christianity, . . . one of them must destroy the other." The book is full of trenchant observation about the basic lunacy of what passes for moral guidance from the Church. He's unequivocal on the just war doctrine: "There is something fallacious about thinking which finds illicit sexual relations intrinsically evil, but killing people morally neutral; all you need is a sufficiently good reason. Why that does not work for sexual intercourse I do not know; I'm just too old to split moral hairs in this kind of stunt. There never has been a morally justifiable war; to find one is like discussing the number of angels who can sit or dance on the point of a needle, and about as useful in discussing how one may live a Christian life."
A few lines later he quotes a posthumous prayer written by Mark Twain, "the genial agnostic." This is called "The War Prayer," McKenzie likes it because it "so successfully skewered the hypocrisy of Christians." I like it too. Here it is:
Oh Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved fireside to smite the foe! Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling heads with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of Love Of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
Amen, indeed. There never has been a morally justifiable war.