Contemplating evil in Ukraine
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It is both disappointing and even shocking that this past autumn, and after months of war in Ukraine, the current Roman pontiff, Francis, had to recently “clarify” his views. He called the war “senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.” In secular terms, that may be accurate, however, most unfortunate was that he chose not to employ biblical terms, which would, befitting his office, have injected a powerful moral and rhetorical component which would have distinguished his message from the strict secularists whose language dominates the “evils” that have taken place in Ukraine.
What is missing in the discussion regarding Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is the lack of a dominant moral narrative that would not only frame and contrast the competing values systems of both nations, but inject an uncompromising moral imperative that could further inspire Western moral resolve towards confronting Russian genocidal acts in Ukraine.
Russia is committing deliberate evil and sinful acts against Ukraine’s innocents for which it must repent and be made accountable. Russia’s actions must be judged and must be seen to be judged on the record. These evil acts include the deliberate targeting of civilians in residential neighborhoods by bombing, the conducting of summary executions of ordinary civilians in their cities, towns and villages, torture, the indiscriminate killing of evacuating civilians attempting to flee, the stealing of children and sending them to Russia, in addition to the rape of women, the destruction of hospitals, educational and cultural institutions.
Over 10 million people have been displaced and tens of thousands of innocents have been killed as a result of a deliberate effort by Russia to destroy the Ukrainian people. In purely secular terms, and according to the Geneva Conventions, Russia is perpetrating genocide against the Ukrainian people. Such behavior began in the earliest days of the war and was easily known to everyone.
Anyone who read Putin’s essay, “On the Historic Unity of Russian and Ukrainians” could clearly deduce that the end results could quite easily prognosed, if not fully imagined. Ukrainians were dehumanized. Ukrainians are not, according to Putin, a sovereign country or a distinct people, contrary to historic fact. This was the Kremlin’s ideological basis for genocide long before Russian troops crossed the border in late February. Ukraine’s subsequent fierce resistance to Putin’s authoritarian “Russky Mir” (Russian World) meant it would have to be ‘punished’ for refusing to submit.
This said, why was there a need for “clarity” so long into the war? The Vatican, if still overseen by John Paul II, would not have been beholden to the political machinations of the Roman Curia and concern itself with Church politics regarding future relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. The lives of millions would take precedence over earthly political interests.
In light of the evil being perpetrated by Russia, Karol Wojtyla would not have been recalcitrant to verbally confront the immoral and fearful tactics employed by Moscow. He was a witness to the Holocaust. He would have known the truth and the power of true words that would need to be spoken to malicious power. He would have courageously, and without compromise, stood up and spoken up against the use of immoral power. He would have resisted, without fear, any potential blackmail that Putin could employ. He would not have been fooled that the Russian church exists in servitude to Russian authoritarianism and Putin in particular, knowing full well that it had long ago abandoned its moral authority very much like the German church which had pledged its allegiance to Hitler. He, like Bonhoeffer, would have employed the spiritual insight to distinguish when religious authorities compromised their fealty to the essence of the Gospel and when they were ‘anti-human’ and ‘anti-life’. What is missing in the worldwide contemplation of the situation in war-torn Ukraine?
Simply put, a prophetic voice that would act as a critique of the guiding principles of the Russian world. A voice that not only emphasizes the plight of the innocents, those struggling to maintain basic human dignity and who are intentionally targeted through the use of military power, but a message that calls out the evil that is being perpetrated in Ukraine by Russian forces on a daily basis. Gospel language suggests that evil is the intentional destruction and killing of human life.
Russia is directly targeting the killing of innocents in Ukraine and is trying to destroy the Ukrainian nation. Russia is conducting a genocide in Ukraine. Put another way, the Russian Federation is slaughtering innocents. What is needed is an uncompromising “prophetic word” that judges Russia’s behavior to be evil and sinful and that it needs to repent of its evil ways. Such a message would more accurately frame Russia’s act of aggression and morally inspire those who believe in the dignity of all human beings to stand up and resist evil, whose ultimate goal is to destroy “innocents”.
The employment of a transcendent Old Testament “prophetic” voice would not only convey a message on the meaning of evil, but articulate an alternative voice to the Nietzschean-influenced secular relativism of the world’s political elite. Such a prophetic message not only condemns the killing of innocents, but has the power to inspire a justice-based principle for future peace and “blessing” and potentially unleashing the potential power of transformation.
God is not dead in Ukraine. Yet, an undisciplined and heretofore, unaccountable evil runs rampant through Ukraine’s lands. What is missing in the discourse regarding Russian actions in Ukraine is a relevant and applicable “theology of evil”, which, when applied, would act as a moral judgement of Russian behavior.
Yes, it is laudable to pray for peace and it is exemplary Christian behavior to give to the displaced and provide funds for refugees. It is impressive to formulate resolutions condemning Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine within our religious institutions. But it is not enough. It is essential for any faith confession to shine a light on the forces of darkness and express a biblically based condemnation of the deliberate destruction and killing of innocents.
To resist, and call out evil, is one of the most essential messages of ‘revealed’ religion. The strength and clarity of such a pronouncement will be clear and understood. For it will not only frame our understanding of what Russia is doing in Ukraine but act as an inspiration for the saving of thousands of lives, and for future peace, in addition to acting as a foundation to hold Russia accountable for its sins.