On Easter Sunday, I was able to sit in prayer for a while at the Shrine run by sweet Italian nuns on top of the Mountain of the Beatitudes, the most famous of Sermons. It was infinitely peaceful, and I needed it. Later it hit me: What if the mad leader of Iran fulfilled his pledge to wipe Israel from the map with the Iranian nuclear weapon, coming soon? What would we Christians do without the Mount of the Sermon?
Without Capernaum? Without Nazareth? Without Cana?
Without the lovely and mystical city of Jerusalem–without Golgotha, and the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Tomb?
Without the Sea of Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee), where Jesus after his Resurrection had Peter and the others cast their net on the other side of their boat?
Back in the 1940’s, when Reinhold Niebuhr started Christianity in Crisis to support the war against Nazism, he abandoned his earlier pacifism, and his earlier too-simply pious way of wishing evil away, and called for a new tough-minded Christian realism.
He rooted this realism in the writings of St. Augustine on the observable presence of sin wherever men live and act – even in the courts of law, even in marriage, to name two of the better human institutions.
Augustine voiced the awful conclusion that there will always be wars, despite the pious dreams of many. For wars flow from the inner heart of the City of Man, its egotism, pride, ambition, and other sins–that is, distorted acts of all kinds.
Because he rooted his new political realism in his own theological conversion–his new meditation on the wisdom and trustworthy observations of Augustine–Niebuhr called the new movement he called for by the theological name, Renewed Orthodoxy or Neo-Orthodoxy.
We again need such Christian realism. Such tough-mindedness. The most dreadful war of all time is just ahead of us, is already well begun. Many of us want to save the Christian Holy Places, and Israel, too–our best ally in the world, the creator of the most economically creative and democratic society in its region.
Fulfilling this desire will not be easy in the next twelve months, fateful months, clock-ticking months. If the nuclear capacity of Iran is not destroyed before functioning nuclear weapons are in their silos or other weapons platforms, the whole world will experience blackmail.
To make an object lesson, one nation in particular is on notice that it is listed as first for destruction.
How will we live with ourselves if Israel is annihilated with nuclear bombs? How will we survive? How will our understanding of the Word of God survive, if the fleshly, tangible heart of Jewish and Christian faith is obliterated?
Yes, we need a new, tough Christian Renewal of Orthodoxy, Neo-Orthodoxy, Christian realism. We face tough actions in the next month and the months after. In the next month, because Congress is about to work out a reconciliation of its two strong bills (in the Senate and in the House) setting in place very threatening sanctions against Iran’s capacity to function.
That bill then will go to the desk of President Obama, who may or may not sign it. Great pressure will have to be exerted, life-or-death pressure, to guarantee that that bill is signed. Our future depends on it.
If sanctions do not work, it will not be moral simply to take the easy road of allowing the Iranians to outwit us and outlast us. They intend to go ahead with their mad scheme. They calculate that we lack the moral strength to stop them.
Who is ready to say that as the last of all resorts the Iranian nuclear effort must be destroyed by force before it comes to term? I for one do say it. Maybe some can show that Christian realism, Neo-Orthodoxy, can be satisfied by an easier path. I do not think so, but I am open to argument.
What are the reasons against? What are the reasons for?
We do not have much time to wait before getting that argument going. We must get it done soon, in order to be able to act in time.
What is at stake is whether any future Christians will be able to sit and pray where Our Lord Jesus once preached the unforgettable Sermon. And much else besides.
Published in the First Things blog First Thoughts April 19, 2010