[Tylko u nas] Tomasz Terlikowski: Three Pseudo-Christian Temptations

The war in Ukraine raises moral and theological questions. And it is not only a question of the problem of suffering or evil, but also of the role of the Church in the world, of the commitment of Christians, of the social dimension of religiosity.

This war, never enough to be remembered, also has a religious dimension. Putin launched it on the basis of religious issues, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is building a theological justification for this war, and the Holy See is clearly not taking up the challenge not only of diplomacy, but also of the theology of war and peace. Francis, focused on reconciliation and peace, does not find the right tone for this war, and is clearly unable to free himself from the “zeitgeist” in which it was formed. Other Christians, moreover, also have a problem with the theological and religious approach to this war, trying to go the hard way between rejecting the erroneous concept of “holy war” or “crusade” and, on the other hand, avoid spiritual parnassism. There is a third challenge, however, and that is the temptation to build “holy kingdoms” already here on earth.

War reveals these phenomena with all their force, shows against what Christians must defend themselves. So let’s stop, at least for a moment, at why they are wrong and what they really are. Let’s start by seeing this war as a “crusade”, a “holy war”. Such an attitude is taken, for example, by Patriarch Cyril (but also the other side, sometimes involuntarily slips in this direction). From this point of view, the war in Ukraine is a clash of Holy Russia against the sinful world of the West, and between Christianity and demonism. And leaving aside the empirical reality, which clearly shows that Russia is by no means “Holy Russia” and that it is in many ways more degenerate than the West it criticizes, it is hard not to notice that this very thought contains non-Christian elements. . The first is the belief that sacred ends can be achieved by immoral means (such as war, murder, and destruction). The second is to identify your side with holiness, which also has little to do with Christian realism. Is the Ukrainian side safe from this temptation? Of course not. Because the fact that it is waging a just war (and there is no doubt about it) does not entail any sanctification of war. War is wrong, there is no holiness in it, and people who have a duty to wage war should avoid simply sacrificing their actions, as this can easily lead to justifying what should not be excused.

The second temptation – related to the first – is the temptation to build “kingdoms of God” on earth. Such a “kingdom” remains the “Holy Russia” or the “Russian world” that Putin wants to build. Christianity – from the time of St. Augustine – makes it clear that such holy states do not exist. There are possible more or less just policies, better or worse states, but there are no states in the history of states that are the realization of the fullness of Christianity. Every system, besides the positive elements, also contains a dark side (which is often a condition of the functioning of the positive elements of the system). People, however believers, are also tempted to equate what they think and how they perceive the world with holiness, and to justify and sometimes even sanctify their own wickedness. And this is what makes us fully aware that there are no such thing as holy states, perfect holy political systems. Constructing them, or identifying what already exists with holiness, is therefore always wrong.

The third temptation, or a kind of “spiritual parnassism”, affects what appears to be primarily the Vatican today. It is an attempt to construct a religious message isolated from the reality of life, the reality of the human psyche and the experience of the individual. Forgiveness is of course the goal of Christians, but it is a process, symbolically demanding it from a victim who has just been raped is a secondary trauma, not proclaiming the Gospel of forgiveness, and limiting oneself to prayer and preaching, supplemented by charitable aid in times of war, is also an error of non-Christian separation from politics.

Christianity, if it wants to keep meaning, must seek an intermediate way, a specific middle way between these three temptations.

Leave a Comment