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A Religious Wake-Up Call in the Matter of Drones

As a person of faith, in my case, of Christian faith, I am puzzled by the weak opposition, among our fellow citizens who are persons of faith, to the use of drones in Pakistan and other countries to implement American foreign policy.

What's wrong with drones, from a religious perspective?

For me, this has to mean, what's wrong with them from a Christian perspective.

Well, at least two things are wrong with them: They violate what can be called the "maximum" position of Christianity. The maximum position of Christianity is opposition to all wars and violence in favor of peace and non-violence.

"Thou shalt do no murder" is not a principle, in this maximum form of Christian ethics that admits exceptions. Drones are not only an instrument of war, which Christianity's founder explicitly opposed; but they are an instrument of pro-active war. You get your enemy before he can get you!

"Put away your sword" is something Jesus said to his followers in the Garden of

Gethsemane, when he was literally surrounded by weapons. Later that night, when he was hit on the face, he refused to hit back. He didn't even answer back.

Historically, this maximum position of Christianity has been held by the Quakers, the Mennonites, and certain courageous pacifists such as The Rev. Dick Sheppard and Vera Brittain. But drones are worse, because drones go against what could be called the "minimum" position of Christianity. The minimum position of Christianity is summed up in a concept known as "Just War Theory".

"Just War Theory" was developed, first, in the Fourth and Fifth Century A.D. by St. Augustine, a North African Christian, and later, during the Thirteenth Century, by Thomas Aquinas. "Just War Theory" was an attempt to ease the consciences of Christian princes and professional soldiers who were Christians, who instinctively realized that Christ Himself had not blessed war in any form. So St. Augustine, and later Thomas Aquinas, tried to come up with a rationalization for war in some cases.

Thus for example, if you went to war purely as a defensive response and with the idea that you would cease fighting the very moment the enemy had pulled back, that could be justified under "Just War Theory".

Or, if you could demonstrate "imminent threat" -- if you actually had definite information as to when and where an enemy was preparing to attack you, and only on your own land -- then you could justify trying to stop that enemy.

Or, if you could show that your defensive response was precisely in proportion to the attack you were getting -- and which you had done nothing to deserve -- and that you were not using weapons "disproportionate" to the weapons they had, then you could justify a military response.

In the latter case, your response had to be no stronger than whatever attack had provoked your response. You also, according to "Just War Theory", had to prove, before the forum of Christian opinion, usually represented by the Roman

Catholic Church, that your methods of fighting were "humane". Being humane did not just mean avoiding civilian casualties. Being humane meant treating your enemy, no matter how you might hate them in the heat of the moment, as human beings. You could not objectify your enemies as "The Bad Guys", even if you legitimately resisted them for a limited period.

Our country's use of drones in Pakistan and in the continuing undeclared "war against terrorism" fails the test of Christian ethics on every side. It fails the "maximum" test of Christian ethics, and it fails the "minimum" test. You don't have to be a pacifist to see this.

Our use of drones is only defensible on "Just War Theory" grounds, if we are able to demonstrate an immediate threat to this country that is specific and specifically premeditated with a specific objective. Unfortunately, the current administration, with its complex entanglements of secrecy and formal denials, has not been able to explain or demonstrate an immediate threat.

Our use of drones are out of "proportion" because it uses the most advanced technology in the world to assassinate people who can basically only throw the equivalent of sticks and stones back at you. Moreover, it gives these people no chance to surrender. It is like capital punishment without an arrest, a charge, a trial, or a right of appeal.

Our use of drones is not humane, because it totally objectifies the enemy by making them into a picture on a screen. There is not the faintest possibility, in the conduct of drone warfare by means of remote control, that you can regard the enemy as a fellow human citizen of the planet.

During this religious time of year it’s important that all of our citizens realize that our country’s use of drones in Pakistan and elsewhere are not moral.  These attacks violate the maximum position of the Christian religion, and of most spiritual teachers, of all faiths, since the world began; and it violates the minimum position of Christianity, which is the "Just War Theory”. "Just War Theory" was a temporary expedient, thought up to try and justify worldly warfare for Christian princes who had an uneasy conscience.

About all it ever blessed was a modest form of siege warfare, with almost no casualties at all, in places like the city-states of Sixteenth-Century Italy.

How can the Christian tradition be used to bless drone wars? It can't - unless you've got your tongue literally buried in your cheek.