Revenge or Justice? (Letters)

The Christian Century, December 19, 2001 | Go to article overview

Revenge or Justice? (Letters)


READING James M. Wall's "Revenge or justice?" (Nov. 21-28) makes one wish that Wall would read Reinhold Niebuhr's An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. Wall claims that the nation's response to the atrocities we have suffered is revenge and not a quest for justice. Apparently he believes that our national response should have been, "Tsk, Tsk, you naughty folks have knocked down our favorite toy skyscrapers, but we're too noble to notice." If the only adequate response to evil is the paralysis of passivity, and if our armchair assessment of present military objectives in Afghanistan predicts inevitable failure, justice is no longer involved in the discussion. Such tactics would simply be an enormous evasion of reality.

Wall: "Revenge is never the best way to resolve problems or achieve justice." Reinhold Niebuhr's ethics were made of sterner stuff. "The very essence of politics is the achievment of justice through equilibria of power.... A responsible relationship to the political order, therefore, makes an unqualified disavowal of violence impossible. There may always be crises in which the cause of justice will have to be defended against those who will atttempt its violent destruction."

If liberal religion continues to redefine evil as a paltry nuisance rather than a terrifying reality, it will not speak with the prophetic voice to which it was summoned by Niebuhr. And the voice crying in the wilderness will not be a call to repentance but only a cracked reed that deserves to be ignored. …

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