Another day, and more mayhem, with no end in sight. Five police officers assassinated, others wounded, by snipers at a Black Lives Matter protest, after two black men were killed recently in dubious circumstances by (white) police officers. And, of course, dozens have been killed by bombings in the Middle East, Sunni versus Shiite, and those are just the ones that make the news over here. As you may be aware, most Islamic terrorism is committed against other Muslims, based on what (to us) seem like rather esoteric historical, genealogical and religious differences.
Yet they may say the same about us, as America descends into its own form of civil war.
The problem here is that a society can only function under the rule of law, which has two basic elements:
First, the society must be governed by well-thought-out written laws, and not by the arbitrary will of men, acting on the spur of the moment.
Second, there must be various powers and authorities that balance each other, so that no one person or group governs autocratically, with complete immunity from correction. These balances of powers are subsumed under the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches, which, respectively, make laws, enforce laws and judge whether and how a law has been broken.
The rule of law appears to have broken down completely in most areas of the Middle East, and the same thing is, to a lesser extent, happening in America. When certain segments of the population can rely upon immunity from prosecution (Hilary Clinton, politicians in general, and, to some extent, police and the military), the populace feels they can no longer rely upon the law, which becomes arbitrary, wobbly. Then the populace feels they have to take “the law” into their own hands.
But that leads to an oxymoronic situation, for if each man is his own law, then there is no law.
I have thought much about authority, which is defined as the “quality by which men make laws and expect obedience from others” (CCC 1897). I have thought about those who seek authority, a desire that is, to my mind, somewhat pathological. “Seek not to lord it over men” said Christ, and he is stating not just a supernatural, but a natural truth.
In many ways, the last person I would choose to be a police officer, or president of the United States, is the person who most wants to be a police officer or president. Public office, especially one with lots of authority, particularly wielding lethal force, should be a service, that one takes on as a burden, not something that one seeks with mouth a-panting and eyes a-blazing.
Yet our executive branch seems filled with such pathological types who have seen way too many movies, and cannot wait to strap on a gun and “enforce the law.” I did not watch the live-stream video of the death of Philando Castile, which was filmed by his girlfriend beside him, with his child in the back seat, as he was shot point-blank four times by an officer pointing a gun in the window, but what I did read and the still pictures were tragic enough. The other shooting of Alton Sterling outside a strip mall where he was selling CD’s (also recorded on video), was about as tragic: Shot point blank in the chest as he was held down by two officers; true enough, he did have a gun, but to defend himself against robbers, since the only job he could get was selling stuff on the street for cash.
Part of the problem is that many of our laws are niggling pieces of bad and ill-considered legislation, yet enforced with lethal weapons. And the police, desperate in the panic of the moment to defend their own lives, have recourse to such lethal force all too easily.
Now, in retaliation, the killing and wounding of police officers, with more violence threatened.
What is the answer?
That is a difficult question, for we live in a society that has let go of virtue and honor, of manners and civility, of family upbringing and the ties that bind us to God, to ourselves and to others. I am not much of an advocate for gun control, but when everyone has access to high-powered weapons, with little or no limitations, one can see the situation escalating very quickly. A state of nascent civil war may be upon us.
The only answer I can see, short of total martial law (which would breed other evils) is a return to virtue and to God, even if that means suffering violence. Returning violence for violence, especially against the innocent, only leads to chaos and mayhem.
Will the United States descend into a state similar to Iraq? One never knows, but we should pray that cooler heads prevail, and the rule of law reinforced.
We are perhaps now discovering the truth taught by Pope Leo XIII in 1885:
To exclude the Church, founded by God Himself, from life, from laws, from the education of youth, from domestic society is a grave and fatal error. A State from which religion is banished can never be well regulated (Immortale Dei, #32)
And by “religion,” the Pope means Catholicism, and not the false premises of Islam, or other erroneous faiths. The most fundamental oxymoron in all of this is that there is such a thing as a “God-less” or secular state. The only way to re-instantiate the rule of law is to re-instantiate the rule of God in the hearts and minds of the people.