To sleep in Earthly peace
On Christmas messages of peace, the limits of metaphor, and the quiet moral exercise of power
In his Christmas message, Pope Francis offered a prayer for "our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes due to the devastation caused by ten months of war. May the Lord inspire us to offer concrete gestures of solidarity to assist all those who are suffering, and may he enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war!"
■ Would the world be better if religious leaders were even more direct with their words? "Those who have the power" is an ambiguity; even though it isn't hard to read between the lines, it doesn't directly call out the obvious individual who has sufficient power to bring about such an end instantly. That might be a failure -- a missed opportunity to teach a moral lesson to a global flock.
■ But it might also be a way to force the people of the world to consider their own proximity to "the power" to stop bad things from happening. Holders of high religious office tend not to openly sanction violence, but they can (and perhaps should) cause their faithful to reflect on certain reluctant necessities.
■ Being strong enough to deter violence against the innocent may be such a reluctant necessity: The preacher may be obligated to embrace the aspiration that "One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again", but people may need to wrestle with the moral challenge of asking whether they possess a second-order "power to silence the thunder of weapons".
■ Again, on the first order, all fault for the suffering in Ukraine lies directly with the powerful inside the Kremlin. But it is a valid moral question to ask whether second-order ways of exercising power to "put an immediate end to this senseless war" might include training defensive forces, supplying defensive tools, and enduring some discomfort in order to starve an aggressor of revenues.
■ It's hard to imagine a peaceful world where devils aren't afraid of angels. As much of the world celebrates a holiday associated with peace -- both metaphorically and sometimes literally -- it is a worthy challenge to consider which exercises of power can be morally sound tools of achieving peace. It may be necessary to forsake aggression, but it probably isn't sufficient unless joined to efforts to deter aggression by others.