Jacksonville, AL. Just as professing Christians cannot follow Christ while serving Mammon, they are not being faithful to the Prince of Peace while glorifying Mars. It’s nothing new. The worldly principles of violence and war entered the church within its first three centuries of existence.
The invasion was largely triggered by Constantine’s supposed vision of a Chi-Rho cross in the sky encouraging him, in Greek, with the words “In this Sign, Conquer.” (ἐν τούτῳ νίκα or, translated into Latin, In hoc signo vinces.) He then proceeded to win the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312). Emperor Constantine may have been a sincere believer, but the vision sounds apocryphal. The accounts of the vision or dream by church fathers Lactantius and Eusebius are contradictory. In addition to being church leaders, the two were court historians who had a tendency to flatter Constantine.
If the story is not apocryphal, it was either wishful thinking or satanic deception. To borrow an analogy from an earlier Greek tale, Constantine went on to serve as a Trojan Horse inside Christianity. The linking of Christ and Caesar brought some short-term benefits but the long-term harm has been immense. The facilitation of war by the chaplains of power has been one sad effect.
Turning to the U.S.A.: With all of the clerical and pewful cheering on behalf of recent wars, the intertwining of cross and flag, and the blessings bestowed on every Commander in Chief by the leading evangelists of the day, it can be difficult to discern the testimony for peace by theologically conservative Christianity. This testimony can be found primarily, but not only, among the historic peace churches: the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, Schwenkfelders, Quakers, Moravians, and German Baptist Brethren. Roman Catholicism places some limits on the martial spirit with its doctrine of just war, derived from Augustine and Aquinas. Dispensationalism—one of two main sources for fundamentalism—was traditionally apolitical and encouraged neutrality in fallen, worldly activities such as warfare. This influence can be seen in figures from A.C. Gaebelein to Watchman Nee. As a young man, evangelist D.L. Moody refused to enlist in the Civil War because he was a conscientious objector. He recalled, “There has never been a time in my life when I felt I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow human being. In this respect I am a Quaker.”
Faced with the prospect of war between England and Russia, in 1885, William Booth publicly declared that every true soldier of the Salvation Army should “shut his ears to all the worldly, unscriptural, unchristian talk about war being a necessity.” He warned, “Oh, what vice, what blasphemies, what cursing, what devilries of every kind accompany and follow in the train of war.” In a subsequent War Cry editorial, Booth looked forward to the day when the Prince of Peace would abolish “this inhuman and fiendish system of wholesale murder.” The focus of the conflict between the English and Russian empires? Afghanistan. Some things never change.
The Christian statesman William Jennings Bryan was directly influenced by the great writer Leo Tolstoy. The two talked for twelve straight hours at Tolstoy’s home during Bryan’s international trip in 1903. As a result of this visit, and earlier writings, Tolstoy’s nonviolent views were spread to American Christians who were far more culturally provincial, theologically conservative, and politically mainstream than the Russian anarcho-pacifist himself. A decade later, when Secretary of State Bryan broke with Woodrow Wilson because the president was pushing the nation into World War I, he became the first holder of that high position to resign over a matter of political principle. He was also the last. In accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in 1900, Bryan said, “If true Christianity consists in carrying out in our daily lives the teachings of Christ, who will say that we are commanded to civilize with dynamite and proselyte with the sword? Imperialism finds no warrant in the Bible. The command, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,’ has no Gatling gun attachment. . . . Compare, if you will, the swaggering, bullying, brutal doctrine of imperialism with the golden rule and the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’”
On the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, in 1940, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing its “utter abhorrence of war as an instrument of International policy.” The nine-point statement concluded, “Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ. Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations. War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no black out of love in time of war.” There was not a single resolution issued by the Southern Baptists during World War II or Vietnam expressing support for the president or the troops, but there were resolutions in support of conscientious objectors. The bold 1940 resolution can be found even today on the SBC website but the Southern Baptists have changed their tune . . . and their lyrics . . . perhaps even their hymnal.
As late as 1970, Francis Schaeffer, an orthodox Presbyterian, was warning, “In the United States many churches display the American flag. The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other. Does having two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American Establishment are equal? If it does, you are really in trouble. . . . Equating of any other loyalty with our loyalty to God is sin.” Ironically, Schaeffer’s later writings helped give rise to the Moral Majority, with its endorsement of Constantinianism and the Mush God of American civil religion.
To their credit, Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) condemned the Iraq War as unjust in 2002-03. Unfortunately, there was no teeth to their pronouncements. I am not a Roman Catholic, but if I were, I would want my pope armed with anathemas and bulls of excommunication. What is the point of having an episcopal form of government headed by the vicar of Christ if he does not wield at least one of the two swords of Gelasius?
The supreme pontiff ought to have disciplined disobedient children like Senators Tom Daschle, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Pete Dominici, Susan Collins, and Sam Brownback. When it comes to peace, the Catholic hierarchy if often politely correct, but it is no Erasmus of Rotterdam, Dorothy Day, or Thomas Merton in denouncing militarism and the perfidy of its practitioners. Too much diffidence and compromise. That’s one of the fruit of the spirit of Constantine and a corollary of cultural synthesis. A huge bureaucracy enmeshed with worldly wealth and power is not in a position to be too radical in its opposition to the world, even when the opposition is sincere.
Without jargon or hedging, the French Catholic mathematician-scientist-philosopher-mystic Blaise Pascal put it simply centuries ago: “[Q:] Why do you kill me? [A:] What! Do you not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner. But since you live on the other side, I am a hero, and it is just. . . . Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?” (Pensées, V: 293-94)
Still, the peace rhetoric of the papacy is much to be preferred to the refined war mongering of Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. As Congress was preparing to give President Bush a blank check to wage war against Iraq, in October 2002, Land organized an open letter to Bush, signed by prominent evangelical Protestants, that began, “In this decisive hour of our nation’s history we are writing to express our deep appreciation for your bold, courageous, and visionary leadership. Americans everywhere have been inspired by your eloquent and clear articulation of our nation’s highest ideals of freedom and of our resolve to defend that freedom both here and across the globe. We believe that your policies concerning the ongoing international terrorist campaign against America are both right and just.” Specifically, the planned attack on Iraq was sanctified as a just war. After the bombing and invasion, Land remained confident of God’s blessing on the undertaking, writing, “I believe we are seeing in Iraq an illustration of waging a war of defense and liberation according to the criteria of just war.”
Recently, I wrote about Christmas presents for children. The fine book by Laurence M. Vance entitled Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State (Vance Publications, 2nd ed., 2008) would be a good Christmas present for adults. Vance writes regularly for LewRockwell.com. You may be a Christian—or non-Christian—who does not embrace pacifism. That’s okay. The perfect need not be the enemy of the good. Most of us can agree that most of the wars in which we have been involved during the past century have been unjustified wars of aggression and greed, having more to do with empire and monopoly than with national defense or humanitarian crusades.
In 1761, William Law, the Anglican divine who helped lead John Wesley to evangelicalism and eventually flowered as a Christian mystic, wrote about war in his final book, An Address to the Clergy. He did so with truth and eloquence. Sadly, but predictably, his condemnation of Christian war was deleted when the book was reprinted by evangelical publishers in the 1890s and 1970s. Not uplifting, too discomforting, I suppose. Law wrote,
“Look now at warring Christendom, what smallest drop of pity towards sinners is to be found in it? Or how could a spirit all hellish more fully contrive and hasten their destruction? It stirs up and kindles every passion of fallen nature that is contrary to the all-humble, all-meek, all-loving, all-forgiving, all-saving Spirit of Christ. It unites, it drives and compels nameless numbers of unconverted sinners to fall, murdering and murdered among flashes of fire with the wrath and swiftness of lightning, into a fire infinitely worse than that in which they died. . . . Here, my pen trembles in my hand. But when, O when, will one single Christian Church, people, or language, tremble at the share they have in this death of sinners?”
“. . . Again, would you further see the fall of the universal Church, from being led by the Spirit of Christ to be guided by the inspiration of the great fiery Dragon, look at all European Christendom sailing round the globe with fire and sword and every murdering art of war, to seize the possessions and kill the inhabitants of both the Indies. . . . To this day what wars of Christians against Christians, blended with scalping heathens, still keep staining the earth and the seas with human blood, for a miserable share in the spoils of a plundered heathen world! — a world, which should have heard or seen or felt nothing from the followers of Christ, but a divine love, that had forced them from distant lands and through the perils of long seas to visit strangers with those glad tidings of peace and salvation to all the world, which angels from heaven and shepherds on earth proclaimed at the birth of Christ.”
The Christmas story of incarnation and rejoicing is not only about personal salvation, about God and sinners reconciled. It is also about social reconciliation, about temporal peace and justice. As Mary said to her cousin Elizabeth “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” As the angels sang after the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men!”
I don’t get it. St. Paul said soldiers could keep soldiering; thus, it seems war is not inherently wrong. If war is not inherently wrong, I don’t see that we have an a priori reason for stating that Constantine’s vision was either “wishful thinking or satanic deception.” Nor does it seem to justify the initial stark contrast made between serving the Prince of Peace or the Lord of War. The Lord God of hosts and King of kings, who came not to bring peace but a sword–He took sides in war often enough in the Old Covenant; is it consistent that He condemn all war whatsoever in the New?
Granted, much of the rubber-stamp endorsement that we encounter for modern wars is disgusting; I also am revolted by it. But rubber-stamp endorsement of pacifism applies the religious to the secular realm just as much as rubber-stamp endorsement of war. One can’t avoid having the “worldly principles of violence and war” enter the moral discussions and thereby enter the realm of the Church, because otherwise one can’t morally evaluate any war–unless war is condemned as an entirely bad thing–to which this article seems to incline.
Of course, I am from the Church that has St. Martin of Tours, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Louis IX, soldier-saints all. So one might expect these opinions from me. Nevertheless, C.S. Lewis wrote an excellent essay on pacifism and its problems, which I recommend to all who would like to hear a lucid discussion of “Why I am not a pacifist.”
In Eastern Christianity there are parallel strains of both pacifism and what amounts to a type of just war doctrine. Fr. Alexander Webster has written a couple books on this subject, without attempting to reconcile the two strains.
Elizabeth Anscombe suspected that the doctrine of pacifism is actually conducive to the utter savagery of unrestricted warfare and imperialism.
Her point being that whenever someone critiques something like the Iraq invasion, pacifism provides a made-to-order straw man for the militarism-proponents to pooh-pooh.
If you are opposed to any given war or any given atrocity, you inevitably find yourself being labeled as a pacifist. So choosing not to install an occupation government in a faraway country gets equated with, say, letting barbarians break into your house and murder your family. Choosing not to starve children to death via blockade is equated with standing by and uttering futile platitudes while somebody else murders children.
In other words, the strong position pacifism occupies as an ideal sets up a false dichotomy in the collective consciousness, one of pacifism vs. imperialism — akin to the false dichotomy of corporate capitalism vs. socialism. (This is not to deny that the overwhelming majority of wars have, historically, been unjust — in context, Anscombe made her case in a condemnation of President Truman’s decision to A-bomb Japan.)
It may also be worth noting that St. Augustine — respected by most Protestants as well as by Catholics — devoted considerable thought to the question in one of his letters to Boniface, and asserted pretty unambiguously that one could indeed be both a good Christian and a soldier.
Anscombe criticized pacifism because it blurs the distinction between murder and a justified killing. In other words, pacifism to Anscombe amounts to a denial of justice. Her pamphlet denouncing Oxford’s decision to grant Truman an honorary doctrine is as much a critique of pacifism as it is a critique of Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. Her pamphlet can be found here:
Rob, Thank you for the reference to the Orthodoxy tradition.
James, J.D., AML, My essay is not a detailed, full-blown argument for pacifism. It takes issue with the war-cheering engaged by most American Christians, predominately evangelical Protestant. So that’s why I cite Christians who might be respected by evangelicals (assuming they know church history).
Lewis is one of my favorite writers but I think that essay is weak. Written during WW II, he comes off sounding like a better Englishman than a Christian. I think it’s another case of cultural synthesis, something CSL was usually good at avoiding. When it came to war, he was not able to embrace the counterculturalness of Christianity and I can’t say I blame him too much. He certainly did not go to the extremes of war glorification or national idolatry that you find with many American Christians.
Paul may have told soldiers to keep soldiering but, if so, it was akin to telling slaves to keep slaving. That does not mean he was holding up slavery as an ideal or even as something morally neutral. More to the point, Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. . . . Repay no one evil for evil . . . Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 13:14-21) Basically, a reiteration of the Sermon on the Mount principles. In contrast to the weapons of “worldly warfare,” Paul told believers, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers…” (II Cor. 10:3-4; Eph. 6:12)
I realize that embracing Christian pacifism is to swim upstream and this includes Christianity itself. Biblical proof-texting will not persuade. Most of the respectable authorities for the various denominations are on the side of “just war.” But I see just war as just one more loophole that was devised by men unable or unwilling to live up to the mandate of Christ as expressed in His words and example, and in those of his first-century followers.
Christians in the Augustinian-Thomist tradition and I are not going to agree on this issue. That’s why I write, “You may be a Christian—or non-Christian—who does not embrace pacifism. That’s okay. The perfect need not be the enemy of the good. Most of us can agree that most of the wars in which we have been involved during the past century have been unjustified wars of aggression and greed, having more to do with empire and monopoly than with national defense or humanitarian crusades.” I hope you won’t miss the bigger point just because you don’t agree with consistent nonviolence. The curse of Constantinianism includes endorsement of war but it’s not limited to that effect. Mixing up the church and the world is a serious error, whether you think war is sometimes justified or not.
This is a fine, one-sided, and eloquent expression of pacifism.
Not being Christian, I have always thought that you need a secret decoder ring to read the bible and support violence by the state. I mean allowing yourself to become a martyr has to be the ultimate pacifist act – right? A popular bumper sticker, at least in my area of the country, is the one that reads: “Who would Jesus bomb?” I am not trying to be snarky or disrespectful, to my mind it is a valid question.
I suppose it is important to recognize that war is an action of the state. It is an action, where one state imposes its will upon another state through violence. I just do not see how the teachings of Christ support that worldly action. And of course, “Just War” theory presupposes that a “Just State” has a right to accrue power and wealth sufficient to wage war. I get off the bus before that stop, so I don’t really have to go beyond my personal beliefs on pacifism.
Jeff your posts this week and last week have a nice resonance. If there were more Christians like you, there would be fewer heathens like me.
I’m not a pacifist, but I appreciate the critique of the deal the bishops cut with Constantine. This was a general who had a reputation for sitting anyone who crossed him on a stake, until they died a slow, agonizing death. Naturally, when he declared himself a Christian, everyone in his entourage said “Oh, I’m a Christian too.” He used the church to solidify his shaky emperial edifice — that was the motivation for the Council of Nicaea, which is one reason I don’t pay much attention to the council’s pronouncements on orthodoxy. Jesus didn’t need such pronouncements, but The Empire did. In a modern context, in a republic that has acquired imperial tendencies, its good to remember that, right or wrong, our country is not the Kingdom of God. Our constitution separated the church from the state, not only to keep the state free of dictation from ecclesiastical hierarchies, but also to preserve the church from the profane hand of the civil magistrate (as James Madison put it). It is said when church’s throw away that protection of their spiritual purity, and cater to Caesar.
If you enjoyed the gratuitous, unenlightened, Constantine-bashing part of this jeremiad, you’ll love Cornel West’s “Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism” (http://www.amazon.com/Democracy-Matters-Winning-Against-Imperialism/dp/1594200297). Aside from Taylor’s regrettable ignorance of Constantine’s vision and its role in history, I agree with the sentiment that “War is the health of the State.” And for all Constantine’s faults, Christians ought to be more startled by his treatment of Athanasius than his miraculous acceptance of Christianity (http://www.amazon.com/Athanasius-Constantius-Theology-Politics-Constantinian/dp/067400549X).
One problem I see with Christian pacifism is that its hermeneutic is problematic in that it mistakenly applies to states and governments Biblical principles meant for individuals. On the other hand, just war doctrine, while both valid and helpful, can certainly be fudged in any number of ways. The correct approach is to apply just war theory consistently and then once determination is made, to stick to it.
Eastern Christianity views war as always less than the ideal; in that sense it’s a result of the Fall and is an effect of sin, and thus is always “sinful.” Yet, the Church also plainly admits that it’s sometimes necessary.
There will always be evil. If we do not wish to be subjugated by evil, we will fight it.
“What is the point of having an episcopal form of government headed by the vicar of Christ if he does not wield at least one of the two swords of Gelasius?”
Which reduces to “how can the Church advocate for peace without a sword?”
Trust in God in ALL things.
Bob, I agree we need to fight evil. The question is how? With the sword of the Spirit or with bullets and bombs? In writing to Christians in the seat of imperial power, Paul tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
When Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he did not provide a loophole “…and the warmakers who are motivated by justice or love.” With that kind of thinking, we move into Orwellian territory of “war is peace” and “love is hate.”
Even if we think Jesus was a little too naive and soft-hearted, the same can’t be said for Paul, the realist and ex-persecutor. He was personally acquainted with using violence for a “righteous” cause. Yet he says the exact same thing as Jesus.
Rob, The kind of pacifism I believe in is all about individuals, not governments. “Blessed are the peacemakers” is not directed to states. It makes no sense in a worldly context. The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, and vice versa. Instead of the Sermon on the Mount to guide its conduct, the most successful states use Machiavelli’s Prince.
Machiavelli is an astute observer of human nature and the world as it REALLY IS. Obama was channeling him the other night: “I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world.” As if that’s some profound observation! Evil exists. Is anyone disputing that fact?
The Machiavellian turn always begins with “But…” The best lies are true, as my college friend Collin used to say. Just enough truth to make them believable. You see the same thing with the ancient serpent who queried Eve. First he asked, “Did God say,…” Eve corrects him. Then we read, “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die…'” There is a way that seems right to man, but that way leads to death.
Machiavelli’s rules work well in the fallen world of power, greed, and destruction. They are realistic in assessing the selfish, fallen nature of humanity but then they take the next step in embracing that nature rather than resisting. Instead of fighting evil, his advice is to join in the evil. That’s the way to get ahead. Lie, cheat, kill, pose as religious, do whatever it takes to achieve and maintain power & glory.
That’s the world’s rule book and the wisest rulers make good use of it. Christians are supposed to have a higher loyalty and a heavenly citizenship. It is not surprising that our rule book is rather different. It’s one of the reasons Senator Harold Hughes (D-IA) decided not to run for president in 1972. He came to the conclusion that he could not be faithful to Christ if he became “leader of the free world.”
American exceptionalism is a lie. Our nation is no exception to the rule. Evil exists and it exists in the motivations and actions of our rulers as much as anywhere else on earth.
>James Tillman said:
>I don’t get it. St. Paul said soldiers could keep soldiering; thus, >it seems war is not inherently wrong. If war is not inherently >wrong, I don’t see that we have an a priori reason for stating that >Constantine’s vision was either “wishful thinking or satanic >deception.”
How does a Christian love his neighbor and kill him at the same time? How do we simultaneously believe that Muslims need the Gospel and that Muslims need to die? I grant that Paul gave soldiers permission to continue to be soldiers. But what of Tertullian’s understanding – that if a Christian were to be a soldier, he must hold some post that does not require him to kill?
>Nor does it seem to justify the initial stark contrast made between >serving the Prince of Peace or the Lord of War. The Lord God of >hosts and King of kings, who came not to bring peace but a sword–He >took sides in war often enough in the Old Covenant; is it consistent >that He condemn all war whatsoever in the New?
This is a question of hermeneutics. It seems to me that this is the difference between the Old Covenant (Lev. 18:5) and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). The Old Covenant was a typological intrusion of the kingdom of God within the borders of Canaan. The New Covenant is the tension between the “already” of the King having come and the “not yet” of waiting for his kingdom to come in power and glory. Until he comes again, we are to love our neighbors and pray for them – not kill them – unless you want to go the way of theonomy.
Malcolm X’s summary of what Islam taught him might neatly summarize the views expressed here about pacifism and just war, individual application and application to states in an evil world:
Be good and kind, treat everyone you meet with courtesy and respect, but if a man lays a hand on you, put him in the cemetery.
I’m especially grateful for reminding me of William Jennings Bryan. I’ve wrestled a good deal with pacifism and political engagement. I know that plenty of Mennonites wouldn’t approve of holding political office but I’ve come to think that politics is part of life – for Christians as well as everyone else. I don’t believe that politics is in and of itself marred by violence and coercion, any more than family life or the operation of a large institution. But, I do think there’s a moment when political space closes down to the point where resignation is the only principled thing to do.
Today I heard that Peter Tatchell, the courageous Green Party candidate for Oxford East is standing down due to injuries received during a beating by Mugabe’s henchmen. It seems to be a day to talk about resignations.
While pacifists are often dismissed as hopelessly naive (“What about Hitler?”, “What if your wife is being raped?”), I would argue that supporters of “just war” are also naive. While the principles of just war articulate an important set of requirements that must be fulfilled in order to go to war they are only clear and unambiguous in theory. In practice empires will find a way to use them to justify their warring behavior–thereby using them as a fig leaf to cover their arguably unjust actions. Mr Taylor cites one example of this in the lead up to the Iraq war when Richard Land and his (mostly) fellow evangelicals provided the administration and congress the cover they needed. Other examples–that to me are more disturbing than Land et al.–include George Weigel’s utter twisting of just war doctrine to justify PREEMPTIVE war in the case of Iraq (he did this in “First Things” post 9/11).
The point is that it is naive to think that the leaders of states will NOT mobilize its clergy (among other actors) to rally support for its wars. It is naive to think they will NOT seek cover from the church. It is naive to think they will NOT use a carefully developed and argued set of standards (just war principles) to pave the way for war. They will do all of this and more.
All of this reminds us that the issue (for the church at least) goes back NOT to a debate about pacifism versus just war, but rather to the important question of allegiance and to whom our allegiance is due. And IF Jesus’ teaching was only directed at individuals (I would argue it was directed at communities if not states), then it is incumbent upon individuals who follow Jesus not to kill, not to hate, not to dehumanize. What this says about soldiering should be clear whatever one’s view of pacifism or just war.
Thank you for your post. My response to the Nobel Speech, after I finished soaking my head, was to pull from the shelf John Howard Yoder’s The Christian WItness to the State, a short but packed rebuttal to Niebuhr’s (by which I mean Reinhold, not his smarter brother) consignment of pacifists to total irrelevance. As you know, Yoder understood pacifists and rigorous just(ified) war theorists to be allies, since at least they agree that there were some acts of lethality one must not do and that it may well be better to die oneself than commit atrocities. That, of course, is no way to run an empire.
Obama’s passing references in his speech to what might be Just War Theory (it’s impossible to tell, since his words in that regard were mostly exercises in sheer airy vagueness) might be a place to start in arguing for limits to the nation-state’s violence, (what Yoder would call appealing to middle axioms), but I’m not holding my breath. It’s not JWT or pacifist language in itself that matters, since principles without practiced application mean little or nothing. Analogous to the use of bioethics in the medical-industrial complex, nation-states generally appeal to JWT to provide cover for what they already want to do.
Thank you for this truthful statement on Christ’s peace, Jeff. What strikes me is that the biblical and philisophical objections to the Sermon on the Mount never vary, as evidenced by the comments here. The failure to convince Christians that Christ is the Prince of Peace isn’t found in lack of good reasons – and you’ve covered all of them in your responses.
As a former Army Ranger and West Point cadet, I got a good look at the reality of bloodshed, and what constant preparation for bloodshed does to the soul. Quite simply, violence destroys the soul as much as the body. Thank God, I was saved, and received discharge as a Catholic conscientious objector. And I’ve spent the last five years trying to communicate what I saw.
I don’t know if it is possible to defeat this idol, this god of war, with words alone. It’s going to take a lot more Dorothy Days, a lot more Saint Francises, and yes, even a lot more Saint Martin of Tours – Saint Martin was a conscientious objector in the Roman army, and thus began his conversion. May many more of us follow their holy example!
You don’t want the churches to get involved in worldly matters like wars, but you want them to denounce the US and its wars? I don’t quite understand this.
Jeff: I believe that your assessment of Constantine’s vision is very shallow. You presume too much to conclude that it was simply either a fabrication or a “satanic deception.” There is such a thing as just war; fighting (and even killing) is at times, sadly, very necessary. What James has called “rubber-stamp pacifism” is socially and morally irresponsible.
It is the duty of the state to defend itself and its citizens, to defend its allies, and to defend those who cannot defend themselves, if they can do so in a responsible manner. Neglection of that duty is a grave evil. It is the primary responsibility of the state, and from a purely Christian (and especially Catholic) perspective, leaving any of these parties high and dry in a time of need would not be morally permissible. You may be right if you condemn America’s recent foreign wars; I might be ready to agree with you on that point. However, condemnation of armed conflict across the board is ludicrous. The world we live in is fallen. Men think nothing of stepping on the backs of others to rise to the next grade of power, and many have no qualms about breaking the backs of another in that pursuit. Fallen man is by nature competitive and opportunistic. We must face reality or we will pay for it to the detriment of civilization. Britain and France played the “peace at all costs” game with Hitler for two or three years before they woke up and found that confronting him with force was the only option available to them to stop the advance of what was obviously a terrible evil. Pacifism has no place in the real world; it is unrealistic, escapist and irresponsible. Islam would have conquered Europe many times over, Spain would be a communist dictatorship, Nazism would never have been checked and defeated, etc., etc., etc., without the employment of armed confrontation and engagement with intent to kill the enemy. War is terrible; war is tragic; sometimes it is the only viable option. You can’t pray away murder of priests, raping of nuns, and subjection of the populace to tyranny, servitude, and persecution. Sometimes it’s necessary to take action.
“A good war is better than a bad peace.”
– G.K. Chesterton
Marion, you say that “Pacifism has no place in the real world; it is unrealistic, escapist and irresponsible”, yet Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church teach that “love of one’s enemies constitutes the nucleus of the Christian revolution”.
In a fallen world, the just-war is necessary. But in a fallen world, the just-war is also an impossibility. The Catholic Church teaches that we are called to abolish war through the progressive replacement of military force with legal force. It does so because war is always a defeat, no matter how necessary. War is necessary for peace only in the same sense that a rope is necessary for a noose.
Nate: how can something be both necessary and impossible at the same time? I fully appreciate the Holy Father’s (and Christ’s) call for love of one’s enemies, but I also appreciate Christ’s driving of the money changers from the temple. We are called to accept personal suffering, but the state is not called to turn a blind eye to injustice or the suffering of the innocent. I hate proof-texting, but this is right from the Catechism:
Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. (CCC #2265)
I appeal again to history. What are we to do about the Hitlers, the Robespierres, the Muammar Qaddafis of the world?
Marion, Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, has said interesting things about the just-war theory. In 2001, he said, “In the preparation of the Catechism, there were two problems: the death penalty and just war theory were the most debated.” Later, in 2003, he said, “given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a “just war.” These thoughts parallel the Second Vatican Council’s, which asked the modern world to reconsider war.
As a philosophy, the just-war theory is sound. But in practice, in a fallen world with fallen hearts, an actual just-war is in my opinion quite simply impossible. The Catholic Church certainly seems to be coming to that conclusion. Regardless of what happens in the future, presently the Church has called for the abolition of war – putting in its place a strong system of international law.
Nate, before I can even begin to ponder whether the abolition of war is remotely possible, can you give me an answer to the question of what one is supposed to do in the face of an evil like Hitler’s, Robespierre’s, Qadaffi’s? Should Christians have opened the gates to the Turks at Vienna (or maybe left them unmanned)? Should a Catholic husband appeal – in the name of Christ! – to the serial rapist who breaks into his house and drags his wife off the bed next to him? Perhaps we should sit idly by and pray as they “strangle the last king with the entrails of the last priest,” as Denis Diderot exclaims? No.
“In practice” is exactly the point I’m trying to press. In practice, how can one put an end to certain evils without physical force?
Alfredo, You write, “You don’t want the churches to get involved in worldly matters like wars, but you want them to denounce the US and its wars? I don’t quite understand this.” I don’t care whether or not churches denounce the wars of the U.S. government. I can respect churches who want to stick to the more clearly spiritual aspects of life and refrain from sociopolitical and secular institutional commentary. I just don’t want churches to endorse warfare. Denounce it or be silent, is my suggestion. To support human vengeance and slaughter is wrong, regardless of the reasons given in support.
Marion, Thank you for taking the time to write a detailed response. You eloquently set forth your point of view, but I still disagree. I would agree with you if I weren’t a Christian–or at least the kind of Christian I am. Siarlys quoted Malcolm X as saying, “Be good and kind, treat everyone you meet with courtesy and respect, but if a man lays a hand on you, put him in the cemetery.” That’s fine if you’re a Muslim and trying to follow Malcolm X, but I’m a Christian and I’m trying to follow Jesus Christ. Malcolm was expressing the “By any means necessary” common sense of the world, but Christians belong to a different kingdom, with different values and a different standard of wisdom. We can choose to embrace or reject those values.
Jesus kicked the moneychangers out of the Temple. He did not kill them. He overturned tables and drove them out. According to John, he fashioned a whip to drive them out. But he did not kill anyone and there is no report of physical injury. He did not even call upon his disciples to join in the cleansing of the Temple. If that’s the best analogy to warfare Christians can cite, it’s pretty weak. I might be willing to take a more favorable view of war when governments agree to limit their weaponry to hand-crafted whips. I understand that technology has evolved, but Christ did not wield a sword, let alone injure anyone with a sword, in cleansing the Temple. I mean a physical sword. He did use the sword of the Spirit, which is the same weapon we are instructed to use in opposing injustice and promoting the kingdom.
God is a ruler who expresses himself through war and peace, justice and mercy. He is not competely nonviolent, as the Old Testament, the apocalyptic portions of the Gospels, and the book of Revelation clearly show us. But in this age, under the New Covenant, He reserves to himself the right of vengeance and violence. He has not delegated that power to his people (unlike the theocratic days under the Old Covenant). Jesus Christ had a perfect right to be violent in his Father’s house, but He chose to not be violent.
The argument that Christ’s disciples can use force in defense of others, if not in defense of ourselves, is untenable. Neither Jesus nor Paul provided us with that loophole. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his brothers.” That is self-sacrificial (suicidal) love, not homicidal love. Laying down your life for those you love is not the same as taking someone else’s life.
When Peter tried to do this very thing in the Garden of Gethsemane, in defense of Jesus, the Master rebuked him and healed the ear of his enemy’s servant. You might say, “But that’s because Jesus knew he had to be arrested and crucified for God’s plan to be achieved.” True enough, but Christ did not say, “You do not know what you are doing; the Son of Man must be taken away like a sheep to the slaughter…” Instead, he gave another blanket condemnation of violence: “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” That wouldn’t make a catchy recruiting slogan for the military.
I don’t agree that my interpretation of Constantine’s vision is shallow. It was either given by God, imagined by Constantine, fabricated by Constantine or Eusebius, or inspired by Satan. The content and context were antithetical to everything we know about the New Testament. Constantine subsequently used the Chi-Rho symbol on his shields, like a good luck charm. Do you really think God spoke, using the cross or title of our Savior, to encourage one political leader to lead his soldiers in killing the soldiers of a rival political leader? Bush and Cheney essentially gave the same impression and it’s just as absurd in their case.
If God really did tell Constantine to militarily conquer under that sign, then I think we should admit the canon did not close by 100 A.D. and we’d better add the book of Constantine as a corrective to Matthew, Luke, Romans, Galatians, James, I John, etc. There is a reason that Christians did not serve in the Roman army before Constantine and did serve afterwards. There is a reason that Tertullian, the father of Latin Christianity, freely condemned war and entanglements with empire. The church had not yet fallen, in a fall that was analogous to what happened in Eden. It doesn’t mean that everything was pure prior to 312 A.D. or everything was corrupt afterwards, but there was a seismic shift for the worse.
You write, “It is the duty of the state to defend itself and its citizens, to defend its allies, and to defend those who cannot defend themselves, if they can do so in a responsible manner.” Who defines “responsible”? The state itself. It has an elastic definition. If you say the church defines “responsible,” I would ask, Where do you get this idea? It did not come from Jesus, Paul, or any other apostolic writer. I respect Augustine, but he was wrong about a lot of things, including war. As much as we may like Augustine or Aquinas, Chesterton or Lewis, we ought to admit that these men do not have equal authority to Jesus Christ or his handpicked apostles. As Jesus told the pharisees and scribes when they objected to his transgression of religious tradition, “Why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?…For the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God.” (Mt. 15:3, 6)
The state may have a duty to do all kinds of things; it is our duty as Christians to obey God. We are told by Paul in Romans 13 to obey the government, but that is not a blank check. We know from the example of Peter and the others in Jerusalem that we must “obey God rather than men” when the two come into conflict (Acts 5:27-29).
You write, “However, condemnation of armed conflict across the board is ludicrous. The world we live in is fallen. Men think nothing of stepping on the backs of others to rise to the next grade of power, and many have no qualms about breaking the backs of another in that pursuit. Fallen man is by nature competitive and opportunistic. We must face reality or we will pay for it to the detriment of civilization….Pacifism has no place in the real world; it is unrealistic, escapist and irresponsible.” No one is recommending that we ignore reality and we all understand that we live in a fallen world. But we’re not called to ADD to the fallenness by EMULATING the world. We are the church; not the world.
To me, those words are reminiscent of the realpolitik, anti-Christian philosophy of Machiavelli or Nietzsche. In essence, you seem to have a problem with the “weak” and “unrealistic” nonviolent nature of New Testament religion. But that’s the only religion we were given as Christians…at least originally, before boatloads of shit and hoopla were added to it. I’m not discounting all post-apostolic thought and practice, but I want to see conformity-to-the-ideal in those subsequent things. That’s my bias as a Christian; many believers have a different standard.
Nate, Thank you for your comments. I visited your website and found it very inspiring. I agree that reasoning and words seem powerless to defeat the cult of Mars. But I don’t have much else to give, at least outside of my small circle of friends and family. I’m a writer and a teacher, so I use words as best I can. Of course, as you realize, fighting (worldly) war is not an end in itself. It is important because it’s a component of the kingdom of God.
Phil, W.J. Bryan is a great hero of mine. Not perfect, but very good when it comes to a politician. If you’re not the “spiritual-only,” world-withdrawing kind of Christian, I recommend the example of Bryan. He showed that sincere, faithful Christianity can be put into practice in the political realm. Not that he was the first or last to do this, of course.
Brian, I am an indebted to John Howard Yoder and the Anabaptist tradition, including the pro-Anabaptist writings of Leonard Verduin out of the Reformed tradition. I recommend H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book Christ and Culture for anyone seeking a summary of different points of view within Christendom regarding church and state/civilization.
Robb, I agree with what you and Brian say about the Just War Theory as a giant loophole for both politicians seeking divine sanction for war and Christians seeking to evade the teachings of Christ. It is better than endorsement of all war, but its application is so subjective that it ends up being rather meaningless. It has more commonly been used to excuse and promote war than to avoid or oppose war, which makes sense since it was devised as an alternative to pacifism. Every government is going to claim to be acting justly and every Christian who wants to support the war is going to believe it.
I did not mean to upset Catholics by writing as I did. My intended audience was evangelical Protestants who support war without thinking twice. I mentioned the popes in passing to acknowledge that there is a Roman Catholic tradition of objecting to some wars. I assumed someone would notice the oversight if I did not do so. The Catholic hierarchy is weak when it comes to standing up for peace, but the evangelical Protestant hierarchy is even weaker. That’s my point. All believers, regardless of church or theology, could be inspired by anti-war, pro-peace brothers and sisters from the past, from Francis of Assisi to Mark Hatfield. (Alas, Bill Kauffman depressed me by noting that the latter publicly encouraged the waging of the Iraq War; I guess everyone has feet of clay.)
My intent is to unite moralists, populists, and libertarians– regardless of religion–when it comes to society and politics. We don’t have to sacrifice our theology to work together on some common causes. Whether you’re (1) a complete pacifist; (2) a Just War advocate; (3) a national-defense, patriotic Jacksonian; (4) an anarchosocialist, anti-imperialist Chomskyite; or (5) a non-coercive libertarian, is there ANY overriding justification, let alone glorification, of the Iraq War? The war in Afghanistan, as it has been waged? The Persian Gulf War? The invasion of Grenada or Panama? Vietnam? Korea? World War I? Even World War II is debatable from all five perspectives, although I won’t do it here.
What do any of these wars have to do with peace, with justice, with national defense, with human rights, or with freedom? Let’s not lose sight of our common aims even though we may irritate one another on occasion. Socially and politically speaking, we may end up at the same place by different routes. That’s a good thing. That’s how coalitions are built.
Jeff, thanks for the reply. But now I have to put the question to you: would you or would you not use violence to restrain a rapist? Would you or would you not stand up for a kid getting the shit kicked out of him on the playground? Would you or would you not, as President of the United States, order military action against foreign powers that are landing troops on beaches in Virginia or California? I agree that defense (of oneself or another) against aggression should be restrained as far as possible, but what choice do you have here? This is away from the coffee tables and the blogosphere – you may have the right (even the duty, one might argue) to sacrifice yourself, but you do not have the right to sacrifice others, even in order to avoid a war. Do you believe that the Allies were right in allowing Poland to fall to a massacre at the hands of the German army? Are concentration camps to be allowed in the name of “peace”? I simply cannot fathom in my little brain how anyone can say that Christ would wish that we sit on our hands when the establishment is starving, working, gassing and shooting people to death because of their ethnicity or their religion. Sometimes, peace – a bad peace – is evil. It is no true peace at all.
I beg someone to give me an honest answer. What do you believe is the just response to the rapist holding your wife, the infantry on the beach, the knife-wielding communist in the rectory?
Just curious, but are you an anarchocapitalist?
It seems to me, that by the very definition of the state, that a true pacifist must necessarily be an anarchist, as all states enforce their monopoly on retaliatory violence through violence. In other words, it is theoretically impossible for a state to exist without it being inherently violent.
And as a true pacifist must be a anarchist, he or she must also be an anarchocapitalist, for if one is not allowed to commit violence toward another by their code of ethics, they cannot possibly prevent the free market from emerging, as it would be impossible to forcibly prevent people from engaging in voluntary market transactions.
By the way, Tolstoy is my hero!
Jeff, What’s your position on the 9/11 attack and sundry incidences of personal Jihad that’s occurred in the West since?
Is there justification for a “just war” with Islam? Islamic Jihadists?
Assuming Bush was wrong in attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, what would have been the proper response to the 9/11 attack?
As to ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ I take that not so much as a commandment as a statement of fact. You will love your neighbor as yourself, period. If you’re brutalizing him, you’re doing it to yourself, too, just like the image in the mirror. Likewise the opposite and, hence, the hope for the world.
We can project our fear or extend our love, and that’s what we’ll experience. It’s really that simple.
Jeff, I feel that you are right. These others who cling to violence and cruelty.. why do you want to call yours Christian? Why not just admit that you are not Christian. You are something else but you do not follow the teaching of Jesus. If you cannot accept the word of Jesus and the word of God, just admit it. Admit you are not Christians because you don’t like the teaching of Jesus.
As to this stupid rape question that fellow keeps harping about: as a Christian, no, you can’t. Period. You cannot use violence against the rapist, against Hitler, against a “commie” with a knife, or anything else. Someone said to Jesus, what about when they steal your coat? Jesus said, give them your shirt too. Jesus said turn the other cheek, not put the bastard in the cemetary. Jesus symbolically drove the money changers out of the temple because they were committing blasphemy.. an offence against the sanctity of the temple, a sneer against God. But raping your wife is not a sneer against God, no matter how much you wish it were so.
Just admit you can’t be a Christian because you don’t agree with Jesus. At least it would be the honest thing to do.
I have to say I fully agree with Marion on this topic. Pacifists are very principled and philosophically consistent, but in my mind they are committing the idolatry of putting their philosophical/abstract committment to non-violence ahead of their committment to Christ’s greater law of Love. Exhibit A: Casper S. has just stated he would allow his wife to be raped – philosophically consistent to be sure, but morally repugnant. As Marion alluded to, sometimes force or violence is the more loving response. Jesus frequently warned against allowing strict interpretation of laws or customs to interfere with the greater law of Love, e.g. healing on the sabbath, etc..
To me, the proper view is not to eschew violence completely, but rather to bring the use of violence under the will of God – to use it appropriately, responsibly, motivated by love. The justice system and law enforcement are examples of moving in that direction (although imperfect to be sure). To those who say there are always loopholes to justify anything, well, yes, but that is the difference between abstract philosophy where everything is clean-cut and neat, and application to the real-world, where things get messy. But we do the best we can in humble reliance on God’s grace.
Anton, do you think God loves the young woman who is gang-raped to death in Rwanda? Does he not love her enough to protect her?
If there is an idol in the room, it is the materialism that misperceives the Christian battle as primarily one of flesh and blood rather than primarily of spirit and truth. We are called to fight the good fight, and to combat injustice, and to defend the vulnerable. But if saving your wife from rape is more important than anything else in the world – even loving as Jesus loved, even defending the truth about the sanctity of life (including your enemy’s life), then we have turned our wives into idols.
I will not nuke a city to defend my wife, and I will not kill a man to defend my wife. I will not shed blood, because our enemies blood is precious too. I will wrestle and maybe even throw a few punches or kicks, and give my wife time to escape. But there is a line we cannot cross – the line Christ never crossed, the line Peter crossed in the garden, when he tried to kill a man. When we use the sword to shed the blood of our brothers and sisters, we give in to the idols of materialism that deny the victory of the resurrection and that give primacy not to truth, but to a mere prolongation of life.
To fight the way Jesus fought means to risk losing like he did. But if we lose like Jesus did, we will surely win like he did.
Anton, thank you for stating accurately and concisely what I’ve been trying to get across for the last day on this board.
Our Lady of Victory, pray for us.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.
I don’t consider the doctrine of the Roman Church particularly authoritative to what I should or should not do, but it may offer a correct conclusion at times. It does not appear to offer a resolution of the discussion here, because it poses both that war is morally unjustified, and that self defence may be morally mandatory. I also wonder how the localists would respond to the notion that a world wide legal framework should replace war as a means of solving disputes? Do we beef up the UN, or the World Court? Or how do we arrange that? Fortunately, the Bishop of Rome has neither authority nor responsibility to implement such a framework, but it remains an interesting question.
A couple of years ago, the Wittenburg Door posed that war is inconsistent with Christian faith. Then accepting the argument that it would be unrealistic for a state to refrain on principle and at all times from war, added “I didn’t say it’s realistic. But that’s what the man (Jesus) said.” I don’t think we can get much more definite than that. The necessity to wage war, or for that matter to kill a man intent on rape, may be a violation of Christian ethics, but given the state of the world, it may also be necessary. No nation is, or can be, a Christian nation, because it is not realistic for a nation to practice what Christ advocated. Individuals have to choose, sometimes, to do what is necessary, but there should at least be some regret that it is necessary, because it shouldn’t be. But it is, nonetheless.
I would have volunteered for three wars in the history of this nation: the revolutionary war, the civil war, and World War II. Maybe parts of the war of 1812, but that had its dubious aspects. I would have regretted that some poor kid from the slums of London lost his life to a bullet I fired, but if it came down to him or me, his army or my country, my dream for what my country could be without the rule of England, I would have fired. If we both lived, I would hope we could sit down over lunch to talk over old times afterward. But, remember that the protagonist in Cold Mountain lost his life trying to allow for that, to a young man who was focused on being quick on the trigger.
Bob, There is no “just war” with Islam, in my opinion. I don’t believe in Holy Wars. For example, as much as I like Bernard of Clairvaux, he was misguided in encouraging the Second Crusade. The 9/11 attack should have been treated as the criminal act it was, rather than as an act of war. The criminals should have been tracked down, arrested, tried, and punished if convicted. So police action, rather than military action, was called for. Ron Paul suggested using the constitutional provision of Letters of Marque and Reprisal. That would have been another option, but it still would have been a judicial rather than martial option. Governments cannot turn the other cheek to criminal behavior, especially murder and other violent acts, but governments are not held to the same standards as Christian individuals.
Marion’s hypothetical acts are timeworn red herrings used against the principle of nonviolence. I don’t consider them a serious argument, but I’ll respond briefly. You mention rape and a kid getting beat up on a playground. When was the last time a U.S. war was triggered by either of those events? Those are crimes, not acts of war. If a horrific crime occurs against you or your loved ones, I think God will understand and forgive if you exceed the bounds of love for all, even the criminal, in your response. It is a very human response to want revenge or to use force in defense of those we love. Objectively, it is a moral failure, but it is understandable and I’m not going to judge in judgement.
But those cases have nothing to do with war. Nothing to do with men in offices thousands of miles away cold-bloodedly plotting to attack complete strangers who have done them no personal harm. Nothing to do with enlisted men who then go out to kill complete strangers who have done them no personal harm. We’re not talking about neighbors rallying with their guns to defend themselves and their families from violent invaders on a personal level. We’re talking about professional soldiers impersonally killing people because our government has a quarrel with their government. That is not part of Christ’s program.
When were the beaches of Virginia or California invaded? Even the Japanese government didn’t invade the actual United States. It bombed a colony thousands of miles away from the U.S. Yes, the President would need to respond militarily to an invasion of our country, but I’m talking about what we, as individual Christians, ought to be doing, not what the President of the United States should be doing.
Nobody is advocating or excusing concentration camps. Your logic is flawed. It’s the same flawed logic that endorses imperialism over neutrality (“isolationism”). World War II was caused by imperialism and violence, not neutrality and peace. If all governments had minded their own business, in a humble and truly defensive way, and eschewed violence, there would not have been all of the bloodshed, suffering, and chaos. You object to Christians in the U.S. advocating pacifism. What about Christians in Nazi Germany? Were they correct in loyally cheering on the army and navy of the Third Reich? Would a little more pacifism on the part of German Lutherans and Catholics not have benefited their own country and the rest of the world?
The principle of peace or belligerence must be applicable to all. It works for peace, but when it comes to belligerence, you’re just going to get a much bloodier world and you end up endorsing the actions of Hitler and Stalin because they, too, claimed to be acting justly. There is no exceptionalism in the real world. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Mark, I don’t call myself an anarchocapitalist. I don’t call myself an anarchocapitalist partly because I don’t like capitalism as an economic system (usury, banks, market speculation, materialism), but I do like free enterprise (laissez faire), so this may be a matter of semantics.
I’m an anarchist of sorts, although I don’t believe complete anarchy is achievable or workable in the present world. I am a decentralist when it comes to human power. Unlike many anarchists and libertarians, I am a Christian so I don’t have a problem with authority or force per se. I’m willing to bow to my Creator and try to be obedient to Him (although I constantly fail in many ways, big and small).
I’m an “All or Nothing” person. My ideal form of government is rule by one–specifically by God (divine monarchy or theocracy = ALL). I’m borrowing that idea not only from Scripture but also from The Statesman (Plato). Since that’s not possible on earth at this time, I would like no human government at all (= NOTHING). It is safest to disperse power as widely as possible in corrupt circumstances (again, Plato). Anarchy also allows for direct rule of each individual by God himself, thus human government does not interfere with divine government. But since we are living in a fallen world with lots of people who are willing to submit to God’s rule and with all of us falling far short of His ideals, anarchy will not work. So, I endorse democracy as the next best thing (Plato once again).
I side with Augustine over Aquinas on this question. At best, human government is a necessary evil. It would not have existed if Man had not fallen and lost his state of Edenic innocence, purity, and freedom.
It’s interesting to discuss and debate these ideas, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we’re more important or infallible than we are. I’m just saying what I think. I’m sure I’m wrong about some things, but I try my best to be consistent and correct. I assume you’re doing the same thing. If we agree on 80% or 90%, we shouldn’t let the 20% or 10% come between us too much. Best Christmas wishes to everyone, whether you like what I write or not.
Objectively, it is a moral failure, but it is understandable and I’m not going to SIT in judgement.
But since we are living in a fallen world with lots of people who are UNwilling to submit to God’s rule and with all of us falling far short of His ideals, anarchy will not work.
One of the reasons X-tianity is an impossible religion, a disaster.
Only a tyrant asks you to do something he knows you can never do.
I don’t like churches (or any other religions, for that matter). I’ve seen the harm they do.
Jeff, thank you for the kindness of a reply. You and I are going to have to enjoy our disagreement, at least in this matter. I look forward to your future blogs. Keep up the good work and we’ll engage, heartily and happily, in future threads.
Thank you for your response.
Yes, it is simply a difference of semantics. Anarchocapitalists believe, not in coporatism (what you call “capitalism”), but in the free market (laissez faire). I am sorry you associate the word “capitalism” with the corporate state. Perhaps that indicates to me that the intellectual battle is already lost, because most people these days (not just you) equate “capitalism” with the corporate state, said system actually being a form of socialism or fascism.
Don’t be put off by the fact that many libertarians are atheists and agnostics as there are plenty of libertarians who describe themselves as Christians, including myself. I agree with you about respecting the authority of God, however you should make a distinction here between the authority of God (which is enforced by conscience) and arbitrary human authority (which is enforced by violence). If I were you I would avoid the term “theocracy” altogether, as in conventional usage it means “rule by men who claim to be speaking for God,” NOT “rule by God.” I think you and I can agree that Jesus was no fan of arbitrary human authority.
I have no children, so I have a little free time here on Christmas day, so I’ll take the time to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Wow! I’m late to the game here, but bear with me.
I don’t know that there’s ever been a huge cheering section amongst the Christian community for any war. That is, to support an action does not imply that a Christian has lost his way or is in conflict with the teachings of Christ. I also don’t buy into the various arguments that “most” of the wars of the last century were unjust or acts of imperialism or our gov’t forcing its will on others. (Such a debate would require specifics that would be a digression from the point of this thread.)
It is always preferrable to avoid violence. It is always preferrable to avoid inflicting serious harm if violence must be unleashed. It is always preferrable to cripple rather than to kill. Note the pattern here. And all of this comes after the total exhaustion of every viable non-violent alternative.
I also do not believe that because someone like the Pope proclaims a given war as unjust then it must be true. He may lead Christ’s church, but he isn’t Christ.
Iraq was in need of regime change. This is beyond dispute, as Hussein and his boys terrorized and brutalized their own people simply because they could and they enjoyed it. I liken this situation to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Hussein & Co were the bandits who mugged the victim, which was fellow Iraqis and neighboring states. The USA was the Samaritan, except we came upon the crime in progress and did the right thing. Personally, I think Hussein gave plenty of reasons for our actions and would have continued supplying more reasons had we continued with the fictitious “containment” some think was working. It would have been unChristian to allow him to remain in power working his personal “magic” upon his long suffering people.
The main problem with pacifist/just war people is their difficulty understanding Christian teaching. How are we judged but by what is in our hearts? If this is true, and I believe Scripture teaches this, then our intention determines what is just in our actions. Therefor, to lie to a criminal to protect lives or property is not sinful. To fight to protect either from such people isn’t, either. The difference between killing and murder is intent and to use words like murder in every discussion of war is equally a strawman, a lie and a distortion of Christian teaching. (I’m responding to all comments and quotes supporting the Jeff’s postion—just a quick clarification if one is needed.)
Thus, war is not in and of itself inherently evil or sinful. It was when Hitler moved on Poland and the free world, for example. It wasn’t when we joined the fight against him. Bad things happen in war to innocent bystanders and even this does not determine the morality of war, or rather, the morality of every nation involved. In the war against radical islamists, who have for the last 1400 years or so maintained the same game plan, it seems that killing them is the only option available while they have the means to move about the earth. NO ONE has made any advances in the realm of diplomacy with these people. This is a simple fact. “Turn the other cheek”, “Laying down one’s life for another” and other such misunderstood verses do not play here. If I lay down my life to save another, I’m in compliance with the spirit of that verse. If I lay down my life feeling certain that the other will be killed anyway, then it’s just suicide and meaningless, especially if I had the means to prevent both my death and the other’s. Sometimes that means killing the offender to save the two lives. This is NOT unChristian. It’s merely unfortunate. The offender had the choice of turning from his path or risking death. The same is true of war and those who start them. The defenders are allowed to defend. Nations are not under the encouragement to turn the other cheek and let its people die.
It’s all about intention, and in every instance there is an appropriate response. Putting aside the fact that as imperfect beings we may not be perfect in that response, we can however make determinations regarding support for military responses and still be Christ followers in doing so. It is naive to believe that the military is not a force for peace, that they can never be considered peacemakers or peacekeepers. Too often, history has shown, war is what brought about peace.
I won’t mince words. If you support war in the name of the Christian God, you are a moron. If you think that whatever deity exists gives two shits who wins a war, you’re a double moron. The insignificant squabbles of a freshly sapient species on a puny planet orbiting an inconsequential star are meaningless to anything as powerful as a god who can create universes on a whim.
Corporatism is the direct outgrowth of laissez faire, which is therefore an unstable and transitory condition. The only way to sustain true laissez faire is to establish a regulatory regime which curbs the tendency of capital to concentrate into fewer and fewer hands, which then generates the wealth to dominate the state. It is not too much different from Los Zetas accumulating the money to hire the special weapons and tactics guys and be more powerful than the government. Only difference is, they didn’t have a government license, and grew more rapidly than most capitalists. We might, if we are very lucky, get to a balanced form of libertarian socialism, where government is limited to doing what it must, and what it is actually fairly good at, while being barred from all decisions that had best be left up to individual initiative. Distributist economies require a good deal of regulation, because the market doesn’t impose a price on externalities.
Iraq was no doubt in need of regime change, but it was a disaster for us to provide it, particularly when and how we did, and under the delusions which guided our president at the time. We simply created a vacuum, into which moved El Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Hussein never let those guys get a foothold, if only because he didn’t own them. Osama called Hussein an apostate.
Although I grew up on World War II movies, in an era when American gloried in the defeat of Hitler, it is worth noting that we only got into the war after Japan attacked us, and Hitler declared war on us. We didn’t take the initiative merely because Hitler was evil. Between the Taft isolationists and the pacifists, America was dead set against going to war, for what may have been the best reasons in our history.
There is nothing about Islam which has been consistent for 1400 years, except possibly belief in one God (al-Lah in Arabic, The God). Like Christianity, everything else has been up for grabs, interpreted, re-interpreted, and fought over WITHIN the faith for 1400 years. “Radical” Islamists didn’t exist until 50 years ago. Feudal Islamists did, but not radical Islamists. In any case, a Christian approach to war does not begin with “Onward Christian Soldiers,” it begins with, what did Jesus say, and, since we are NOT Jesus, what can we do?
War in the name of the Christian God is indeed ludicrous. However, I’m not so sure that God NEVER cares about who wins. God may have cared very much who won World War II, but God didn’t get us into that mess, and he didn’t get us out of it, at least not unscathed. Likewise, Abraham Lincoln pointed out that God has his own motives — but I suspect God did care, not only who won the Civil War, but when, and in what condition. If the Union had been restored too quickly, then slavery would not have been abolished.
Funny how Marshall Art cites the parable of the Good Samaritan to support US invasion of and intervention in Iraq. Trouble is, the Good Samaritan didn’t break up a “211-in-progress.” He ministered to the physical needs of the victim long after the bad guys had lammed.
To briefly digress from the subject of this thread, I have often of late cited the same parable as support for what I consider to be the sine qua non precondition for health care reform in the US: Separation of Health and State. I.e. the Samaritan was hands-on, at the outset, with his delivery of health care. Later on, he delegated that care to another and prepaid him out-of-pocket.
Although the Lord likely did not intend the parable to be a brief against ObamaCare, it works that way for me!
“Iraq was in need of regime change. This is beyond dispute, as Hussein and his boys terrorized and brutalized their own people simply because they could and they enjoyed it.”
Hmm, couldn’t we just apply this to Red China as well?
How about the Kingdom of Saud?
“In the war against radical islamists, who have for the last 1400 years or so maintained the same game plan, it seems that killing them is the only option available while they have the means to move about the earth. NO ONE has made any advances in the realm of diplomacy with these people.”
St. Francsis of Assisi did in 1219. It was called making witness.
I wasn’t familiar with the quote from Parson Law’s Address and appreciate your including it in your piece.
I remember reading his Serious Call almost thirty years ago in a course on Anglican Divinity at Yale Div School. I was the only one in class who thought well of the book and wondered if the strong contempt for Law registered by my classmates and our instructor reflected poorly on their judgment or my own.
I don’t wonder anymore.
Thanks for a timely message, Professor Taylor, one reminding us that “glad tidings of peace and salvation” emerge from “divine love”, not the business end of a gun.
I appreciate Marshall Art’s detailed rebuttal, but I have a basic disagreement with his assumption concerning morality: “How are we judged but by what is in our hearts? If this is true, and I believe Scripture teaches this, then our intention determines what is just in our actions.” I do not believe Scripture teaches this. Paul writes about freedom of conscience in relatively minor, gray areas of life–some regard certain days as special while others regard them as all alike; weaker brothers refuse to eat meat sacrificed to idols while others do so without scruples because they recognize that idols are not real, etc. But we are not talking about a minor or unaddressed issue when we talk about violence. Jesus, Paul, John, and other first-century pillars of the church were very clear.
Allowing intention to determine Christian morality and ethics is a gigantic loophole, not only for war but for all kinds of unChristian behavior. You could make the same argument used on behalf of Christian violence for Christian homosexuality. If two men love each other and have good intentions, why should their union not be sanctified by the church and recognized by the state? Or if a man is stuck in a loveless marriage with a nagging wife, and he finds someone for whom he really cares and he intends to treat her well and he thanks God for this new love, why should he be criticized for breaking his marriage vows? Presto: Christian adultery. If intention trumps all, then all of the commandments and prescriptions of Christ and his apostles come to nought.
If you think this is far-fetched, consider the case made for same-sex marriage by many professing Christians. “But they love each other!” is the foundational argument. Giving so much power to individual intention is a variety of moral relativism. Ethics are no longer objective; they become subjective. You see this problem today not only with modernist Protestants and mushy evangelicals, but also with mushy Catholics. In the latest issue of Chronicles, “Joe Ecclesia” provides this story to his RC bishop:
“On another occasion, having grown loose with wine, a Protestant named Amanda told me, ‘I have this thing for bad boys, dependent guys, you know.’ Troubled by her promiscuity, and encouraged by a coworker, she atteded a retreat at a convent. There she sought out a nun for counseling … After Amanda had dilineated her penchant for sex and men, the nun regarded her gravely. ‘Do you give these men pleasure?’ she asked. ‘I’m pretty sure I do,’ Amanda said … The nun asked, ‘Do you give them love?’ Amanda nodded. ‘Do you give of yourself?’ Amanda nodded again. The nun smiled and said, ‘Love is the key. You bring love to lonely souls. As long as your ideal is pleasure and comfort for them, there is no sin.'”
Also, don’t forget that humans are capable of immense deception. We deceive others and we deceive ourselves. What was George W. Bush’s intention in waging war in Iraq? Was it really what he stated publicly? Did he even acknowledge to himself his real motivation? Motives are also rarely unmixed. What was Dick Cheney’s intention? I suspect it was something less than pure, and he was more likely than Bush to be calling the shots back in 2001-03.
When Marshall says, “Too often, history has shown, war is what brought about peace,” I think he and I have different definitions of the word “peace.” Orwell’s War is Peace slogan comes to mind. They are opposites. War does not produce peace any more than evil produces good. Mental gymnastics can make a case, but it’s nonsense in the real world. As the Master said, an evil tree brings forth evil fruit and cannot bring forth good fruit (Mt. 7:15-20). He also noted that Satan cannot cast out Satan; only the Spirit of God can do that (Mt. 12:22-28).
World War II is often the first and last refuge for war advocates. How can anyone challenge the necessity of the “Good War” by the “Greatest Generation”? Before I do some challenging, I would stipulate up front that I think it’s a mistake for Christians to allow worldly events (history) to interpret, or sit in judgement of, kingdom principles (Christian ethics). That’s a backwards approach. But if we want to hold the utility and reality of the Sermon on the Mount up to the light of World War II, let’s ask what that war accomplished.
First, I’d repeat what I wrote above, “World War II was caused by imperialism and violence, not neutrality and peace. If all governments had minded their own business, in a humble and truly defensive way, and eschewed violence, there would not have been all of the bloodshed, suffering, and chaos. You object to Christians in the U.S. advocating pacifism. What about Christians in Nazi Germany? Were they correct in loyally cheering on the army and navy of the Third Reich? Would a little more pacifism on the part of German Lutherans and Catholics not have benefited their own country and the rest of the world?”
Second, I’d note that our (American) involvement in WWII was not motivated by a desire to save the Jews or to defend ourselves. The U.S. elite gushed over Mussolini throughout the 1920s. Hitler was obviously evil, but our government had relatively friendly relations with him throughout the 1930s. Fascism was not the problem, from our policy makers’ perspective. Stalin was no better than Hitler yet we allied ourselves with his regime throughout the first half of the 1940s.
WWII produced about 60 million deaths and a great deal more suffering, in terms of wounds, suffering, and fear. WWII did not prevent the Holocaust. WWII set the stage for four decades of Cold War. It allowed Stalin to conquer millions in Eastern Europe and keep them enslaved to an imperial power and local despots for 40 years. WWII triggered the creation of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction: the atomic bomb. For the first time, human beings were able to destroy the planet. A scientific advance, but not so much a step toward morality or wisdom. We used that weapon twice on Japanese civilians, having previously bombed German and Japanese civilians with conventional weapons (thereby further eroding social and governmental morality when it came to war).
WWII accelerated “modernization,” which had some beneficial effects to American society but many baneful as well. WWII laid to rest the traditional U.S. foreign policy of neutrality and nonintervention (“isolationism”), institutionalizing “perpetual war for perpetual peace” (Beard and Barnes) and the garrison state at home. Big government and big business received a windfall. Small government, frugal republicanism, free enterprise, and civil liberties took a hit.
A case can made that WWII was, on balance, a good thing, but it was obviously not only a good thing. It was also a bad thing. If the Allied victory–and the Allies included Stalin and Mao–is praised as necessary and good (and from a political science perspective I won’t argue with that assertion), it is stacking the deck to ignore the less-good side effects. The Good War was also the Bad War.
As big as it was, the primacy of WWII in our minds is in some ways an illusion. Christians point to WWII in justifying war, but should it loom so large in our mind to the exclusion of New Testament teachings and the example of the early, pre-Constantine church? WWII was not the second “world war,” from a European perspective. There was Alexander. There were the Roman conquests under the republic and the empire. Charlemagne and the HRE. The Crusades. The Hundred Years’ War, the Thirty Years’ War, the War of the Spanish Successsion, the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars. All were big in their day. All involving multiple nations and grand alliances. All producing much bloodshed and suffering. All were justified and glorified by religion, be it pagan or Christian.
If the world survives another 500 years, WWII will be forgotten except among academics. Instead, Christians will be invoking World War IX or the War of the Chinese Succession to justify wholesale violence. There’s nothing new under the sun. When we cite a specific war to trump the words of Christ, we fall victim to the traps of being time and place-bound. We should learn from history, and we can do our best to create a better history, but it should not determine our morals.
Lastly, Marshall’s argument that personal intention is the basis of Christian ethics reminded me immediately of Pascal’s argument against Jesuit casuistry in his Provincial Letters (1656-57). Our friends at Wikipedia sum up the PL: “Pascal denounced casuistry as the mere use of complex reasoning to justify moral laxity and all sorts of sins.” Letter VII is especially relevant. It shows how some Jesuit theologians used the concept of “directing the intention” to allow professing Christians to “perform certain awkward commissions with a good conscience” by “deflecting their intention from the evil of which they are the accessories and applying it to the profit they get out of it.” Homicide was specifically justified in this way. Loopholes were supplied to the rich and powerful to get around the law of the Gospel which bids us “not to render evil for evil, and to leave vengeance to God.”
In his introduction to the Provincial Letters, A.J. Krailsheimer observes, “When the Jesuits became confessors to the great and began to move in high society, they were particularly anxious not to dismay their penitents with excessive rigour, and tried to adapt the traditional moral teachings of the Church to the imperious demands of a formally Christian but essentially worldly society. Their casuists began to make concessions to the highly born which lesser beings could not be expected to enjoy, but which set a tone.”
In Letter XIV, Pascal–an Augustinian in his view of devotion and grace–addressed the Jesuits directly: “The chaste bride of God’s son who, like her bridegroom, knows how to shed her blood for others, but not to shed the blood of others for herself, has a particular horror of murder, in accordance with the particular enlightenment bestowed by God. She considers all men not merely as men, but as made in the image of the God she worships. She has a holy respect for each of them, which makes them all worthy of veneration, as being redeemed at an infinite price to be made temples of the living God. Thus she believes that the death of a man killed without the orders of God is not only murder but sacrilege…”
Pascal, a faithful Catholic, was using some wishful thinking in this passage, but certainly Protestantism has also failed to live up to this ideal … which is the main point of “Repelling the Martian Invasion” (the TAC website recognizes the crux of my article in its tagline: “Jeff Taylor on where the religious Right goes wrong”).
Good points, Mark, Octopus, and William. Law’s “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life” (1728) was a classic for many generations. It influenced not only the Wesleys, but also Geo. Whitefield and Sam’l Johnson. “An Address to the Clergy,” which I quote, was written much later (1761). If “A Serious Call” has been mostly forgotten, “An Address” was never known. Yet it is a superb book. Law had long since moved away from his early formal, legalistic approach to Christianity, but he retained his power of logic and writing. It is a good book for all Christians, clergy or not.
This might not have been a response aimed at me by J from Dag, but few support war in the name of God, though some or perhaps many might see Christian duty in taking up arms. Again, this is not supported in Scripture as being necessarily unChristian. Also, I would reiterate that I don’t think it’s a very Christian act to allow people to die in the name of God anymore than it is Christian to kill them in the name of God. Most states have a simple rule of thumb that I think can be said to be Christian in spirit: Only force necessary to repel or halt an attack is legal. One can turn the other cheek if only one’s cheek is at stake. But to stand by while the cheek of others are hit, when one has the ability to prevent it is to be complicit in the attack. This is a long way of saying that there are instances where I believe we would indeed be judged as having made the wrong choice if our might was not used for good.
That we did not go to Iraq with the perfect plan is really besides the point. There was a sense of urgency, particularly after 9/11, with regards to taking the initiative rather than sit back and wait for another (please don’t bring up Iraq/9-11 connections as I don’t mean to imply there were any—but it doesn’t matter). With that urgency, we went with what we had. Scum will not wait until you have the best plan in place. We could have done a better job at the start, but to have waited could also have made it more difficult. It’s something we will never know, but feel free to assume an air of satisfaction as an “I told you so” kind of person if you think you saw it as a bad idea. Some just don’t get it.
Those Americans opposed to war against Hitler turned out to be real fools, didn’t they? Of course we weren’t prepared when he invaded Poland and we weren’t when Pearl was attacked. But unlike today, the nation came together and mobilized in a manner not seen since (and for which we as a nation should be ashamed–such mobilization could cure many of our nation’s ills).
Siarlys Jenkins knows little of Islam to contend it hasn’t been consistent in its history. Despite conflict between sects, they all come together against things non-Islam. Indeed, they would unite to convert or enslave us all and then fight amongst each other later if they could. Early in our nation’s history, as we lost cargo and sailors to the Barbary pirates, (before we had a Navy to kick butt), our ambassador was told the same things we are told by the radicals now. In fact, you can look it up and see that people like bin Laden use almost the exact same words. The religion was spread in its infancy under the very same concept that the radicals fight under today. It is those who are the least zealous that we need to find and support if they are willing to live in peace. The true Islamic believers are the ones that most closely resemble Muhammed and his murderous followers. There is nothing in the history of Christianity that compares because there is nothing in Christianity that can be interpreted to compel the same behavior. Muslims kill because their religion tells them to. Christians kill by twisting Scripture to justify it. No comparison.
You’ve simply restated my comments. I said that our actions were as if the Samaritan acted before the victim suffered the mugging. Can you imagine Christ presenting a parable of a man watching a guy getting his ass kicked, letting it continue to its conclusion and THEN helping the guy? No. He came upon him after the fact. But just try talking a mugger, or group of them, out of their plan and see how that works for you. If it’s one guy, you might scare him off to look for another opportunity where he can again try to isolate one victim. But if there’s two or more, they’ll likely beat you as well. What do you do? You can try to talk them out of it, but will likely have to fight or take a beating yourself. If the victim can run away, you’ve laid down your life. If he gets beaten, too, you’ve accomplished nothing on his behalf.
I’m unaware of any stories of Chinese or Saudi leaders brutalizing for fun. Plus, they haven’t shown themselves to be openly messing with their neighbors in the manner that Hussein has with Kuwait and Israel. That we haven’t taken on every scumbag in the world at the same time is a lame argument. As far as St. Francis, I’m unaware of any such stories of him versus Islam. But I am aware of is that 790 years later, we still have Muslims killing Americans and other innocents around the world.
Here’s the thing: If we could gather all the radicals together and convince them that we’re nice guys and that their ways are really, really bad and they should give them up, that would be swell. But we can’t even get gang-bangers to cut the crap and most of them would rather not die for their cause. There is nothing we can offer the radicals that they’d want other than conversion to Islam or subservience to them. Feel free if you like. I’ll fight them should the need for my services arise and I believe God will not condemn me for it. That’s because I wouldn’t be killing them out of a desire to kill anyone, but to protect others from them. That’s a noble thing, a good thing and a Christian thing to do.
You beg the question when you write, “I wouldn’t be killing them out of a desire to kill anyone, but to protect others from them. That’s a noble thing, a good thing and a Christian thing to do.” This is question-begging, precisely because whether or not violence is ever “the Christian thing to do” is being contested here. And it’s being contested for good reasons (thanks to Jeff Taylor for pointing some of them out).
You show little evidence of thinking christologically, i.e., in and from the self-revelation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It becomes difficult to pen sentences like the one just quoted if begin to think from the witness of Christ. For if killing people to protect others is the Christian thing to do, we have to say, on the basis of the witness of the scriptures, that Christ was the first non-Christian. When the crunch came and the powers colluded to kill God’s Son, he refused to fight with the weapons of this world.
Thus, if allowing the wicked to do harm against the innocent is a grave moral failure, then we can say that God is guilty of the gravest moral failure, not only for allowing evil acts against innocent people to continue daily, but even more for giving up his own innocent Son to torture and crucifixion.
Lastly, the theological critique of violence doesn’t turn on it being the most effective way to stop other peoples’ violence. It doesn’t always work (though neither does violence). Rather, Christian nonviolence turns on conformity with the shape of God’s will for the world manifested in Jesus. Jesus’s own triumph over sin and death was hardly effective in any simple since—he was crucified. His was no dreamy-eyed idealism, since he seemed to know all along the way what his summons to radical love would ultimately entail. No, defeat was evidently a part of a larger plan, one that would involve swallowing up death and defeat in final victory.
We don’t have to follow Jesus in our day, as many elected not to in his day. But if we do want to follow him, we should think twice about taking up means to fight evil that were renounced by the One we claim to follow.
Marshall Art wrote: “Can you imagine Christ presenting a parable of a man watching a guy getting his ass kicked, letting it continue to its conclusion and THEN helping the guy?”
No more than I can imagine Christ presenting a parable of a man who, claiming another guy might get beat up, slays those he suspects of intending to–and alleges are able to–perpetrate the hypothetical attack.
Fortunately, none of us needs to imagine Christ presenting any parables other than those He actually told. Which, IMO, are quite sufficient to guide and inform our Christian behavior.
I am always amused by bald statements, such as Marshall Art offers here, in the nature of “Siarlys Jenkins knows little of Islam…” That, and the paragraph which follows it, are worthy of a typical school yard exchange of “did not, did too, is not, is so” forever and ever. Enlighten us Marshall. What DO you know about Islam?
I’ve spent more time reading the Bible than reading the Qu’ran, but I have a reasonably good working knowledge of the latter. How much of it have you read? How many Muslims do you know personally? Have you read the history of the Rashidun caliphs, the Ummayad caliphs, the Abassid caliphs? Do you know the difference between the caliphate of Baghdad and the Fatamid caliphate of Egypt? The quarrel between them helped make the initial success of the crusades possible. Do you know the difference between Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Zia ul-Haq? Do you know the relation of the Seljuk Turks to the Abassid caliphs, the difference between the Ottoman and Seljuk Turks, or why Mustafa Kemal insisted on a secular state on the ruins of an empire technically a successor to the caliphate? Oh, and how about the Ummayad caliphate of Cordoba?
I am not unlearned in the fact that Islam has, many times in its history generated violent Jihad against both neighboring Muslims and neighboring non-Muslims. That would include the Almoravids, the Almohades, and the more recent exploits of Ahmad al-Kabir in the western Sudan. I suggest you read God’s Crucible, by David Levering Lewis, Africa, Biography of the Continent by John Reader, and a bit of the Qu’ran, and talk to a few American Muslims, before expecting blanket statements like “you don’t know anything” to be taken seriously. Then, we would need more time and space than this site offers to really sort out all the relevant facts and categories and periods. The fact that there are so many facts and categories and periods to sort out was actually my original point.
Now, as to the Barbary pirates, they were a peculiar result of the Ottoman sultans being too weak to exercise jurisdiction over the further reaches of their nominal empire, the opportunities to prey on the Spanish empire at the height of its wealth (not unlike the Brethren of the Coast, used to such good effect by the English in securing Jamaica), and the fact that most kingdoms in Europe would cheerfully pay them bribes to be left alone. There was little of religious fervor to that episode. Do you think al Qaeda would even consider being paid a bribe not to hijack our planes, even if we were so foolish as to offer it?
Now perhaps you are aware that part of the operation in the Mediterranean was endeavoring to replace the Bashaw of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, with our ally, Hamet, who had a plausible claim of his own to the throne. Oh yes, in between the marines bombarding Tripoli, the American navy was thick with our own Muslim allies. There is no point in treating all Muslims as our natural enemies — if we repeat that often enough, they might all start to believe it, and act accordingly. How do you think Lawrence of Arabia lined up a whole series of Arabic tribes to fight against the Turkish empire? They hated the Turkish empire, even if the Sultan was nominally the Commander of the Faithful. Sort of like, the Pope commands all Christians, right? Never did.
Very eloquent, Charlie. I especially appreciate what you write about the crucifixion. Constantine’s supposed vision centered on a form of the cross. The word “crusade” comes from cross. Yet the cross of Calvary, as distinct from its politicized successors, is all about nonviolent resistance to evil. Not passive acceptance of evil. It is real resistance, but conducted on a spiritual, not worldly, level.
Thank you for your knowledgeable summation, Siarlys. There are different types of Muslims, and differing levels of commitment and sincerity, and various degrees of accommodation with culture, just as there are among Christians. Most of the Muslims I have known (from Bosnia, Somalia, and Sudan) have become Americanized, for better and worse, to the extent that jihad terrorism and forceable conversion hold no interest for them. That’s not to deny that there are Muslims in the U.S. and elsewhere who are violent fanatics who need to be kept in check by various legal (not military) methods, including force and punishment when necessary. But to hate, fear, or kill all Muslims is an untenable position.
Marshall writes, “Those Americans opposed to war against Hitler turned out to be real fools, didn’t they?” I don’t think so. Even if they were wrong, it does not make what they were doing foolish. They were being true to their principles, given the information and their understanding at the time. Committed to the traditional U.S. foreign policy of neutrality in European imperial conflicts, preferring a republic rather than an empire, suspicious of a vast military establishment, and skeptical of FDR’s veracity and motivation, they opposed U.S. entry into the war. They included a majority of Americans right up to Pearl Harbor. Few were pacifists. Christian pacifism has never found much support in America. They were realists.
Marshall assumes that conquest of half of Europe by Stalin and the Communists was preferable to conquest by Hitler and the Fascists. Perhaps, but it does not make the anti-interventionists foolish. Many of them were concerned about the ripple effects of an alliance with Stalin. Marshall’s breezy dismissal of Robert Taft, Burton Wheeler, Bennett Champ Clark, Charles Lindbergh, Robert McCormick, General Robert Wood, General Smedley Butler, and other patriots implies a Panglossian view of the world. FDR and Churchill maneuvered a resistant nation into the war and what a wonderful world we’ve had as a result. It is also surprising that someone who is presumably a conservative is so hostile to his conservative forebears. Intervention in the war was led by liberal Democratic internationalists, with an assist from their Republican counterparts. The conservative nationalists of the day were united in opposition to war.
Marshall writes, “Early in our nation’s history, as we lost cargo and sailors to the Barbary pirates, (before we had a Navy to kick butt) …” We did have a navy during the Jefferson administration but it was not the sprawling, expensive entity that was developed a century later. Republicans like Jefferson were suspicious of a standing army and navy for good reason. A large, permanent, professional military class is a threat to liberty at home, a burden on taxpayers, and a tool of ambitious rulers. Exactly why Hamilton was so enamored with militarism. His heroes included Caesar and Bonaparte. Today, we live in a Hamiltonian nation, despite the innate “isolationism” of most Americans.
The U.S. Navy’s website (http://www.navy.com) is entitled “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good” Oh, thanks for letting us know. Note the emphasis on “global.” National defense is passé in an age of global empire. That’s why we needed a Department of Homeland Security, the creation of which was a tacit admission that the Department of Defense was not defending our nation. It was too busy maintaining our global empire (or being a global force for good). BTW, euphemistically equating military violence with “kicking butt” sounds more like Toby Keith than Jesus Christ.
Marshall writes, “I’m unaware of any stories of Chinese or Saudi leaders brutalizing for fun.” I think to refer to brutalization “for fun” trivializes the oppression and atrocities of all concerned. I don’t think a desire for fun has motivated Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Saud monarchy and its Wahhabi religious allies, or the Chinese communists. There are various motivations, including power and fanaticism, but “fun” isn’t one of them. And to lump Hussein and bin Laden together, Iraq and Afghanistan together, is illogical. They have little in common. Hussein was no more a devout Muslim statesman than was Cheney a devout Christian statesman. Also, the oppression of the Chinese leadership (which has been consistently courted and coddled by the U.S. business and political elites since the 1960s) is on a scale that dwarfs anything envisioned by the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran. There is no moral consistency because money and geopolitics are at stake. This inconsistency casts doubt on the stated moral concerns of our government about the “Axis of Evil.” Our friendliness with Red Chinese dictators also calls into question our government’s professed motivation for the Cold War.
While I partly agree with Marshall’s point distinguishing Islamic belligerency from Christian belligerency, he condemns his own theological position by writing, “Muslims kill because their religion tells them to. Christians kill by twisting Scripture to justify it.” If we have to twist Scripture to justify killing, maybe we shouldn’t kill.
One correction I’d like to make to my December 14 comment: I called C.S. Lewis’ essay “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” weak. Upon rereading the essay, I realized I was wrong. I disagree with it, but it’s strong. James Tillman was right about that.
[…] The Neocon/Evangelical Alliance by Jeff Taylor […]
While I entirely agree that most military conflicts in American history have been grounded in adventurism and acquisitiveness rather than just war theory, and while I appreciate the erudition of this essay, whose quotations were a delight to review, this argument seems to crumble before the very Just War theory it criticizes.
No doubt, no good thing, including Christianity, can itself be spread by the sword; and yet, as we know, God has brought good from evil many times in our history, as conquest became the occasion for ministry and conversion. But evangelization has never been the chief reason men engaged in war, and so the question one should ask is What does Christianity teach us about the wars in which men have always historically engaged? There are three competing answers:
Yours, which suggests as did that of some ancient Christians, that the Christian must be a pacifist. If all Christians were pacifists, they would be dead, but they would not by martyrs (witnesses), because there would be no one left to whom their deaths would witness save their executioners.
Pascal’s, which you misrepresent. The point of Pascal’s passage, and that of all the passages gathered in Chapter V of the Pensees is that true justice is impossible in this world. This world is an abyss, as fallen and corrupt; we cannot even know justice in this world, though we sense painfully its absence; we cannot experience it amid the flux of human passions. His creation of a radical aporia between the order of Justice (God) and of the world insists that the two cannot and shall not meet — and only fools and philosophers think they could. He thus presumes war will continue and, in a sense, should continue, because it has nothing to do with the economy of our redemption and everything to do with the conditions that remind us daily of our need to be redeemed.
Aquinas’s, whose four criteria sound helpful and compelling: a) gravity and certainty of the danger posed; b)last resort; c) likely success; d) proportion, where likely result is less dire than the posed danger. These criteria are only meaningful if we presume that human reason can attain a partial and prudential knowledge of justice; that the world itself is not pure corruption, but still manifests within itself the goodness of God and not merely the falleness of mankind. We must presume, in other words, that we can meaningfully speak about temporal justice without in the process necessarily engaging in self-deception.
These criteria can only be applied by the legitimate leader who would actually wage war, and not by, say, a priest or bishop, because each of them requires knowledge internal to the decision. Could John Paul II have known whether Iraq possessed nuclear arms? Could it say for certain that the U.S. had failed to exercise every alternative before the invasion?
The Iraq war was not a just war, we can say decisively in retrospect; and if the Bush administration had not been pursuing a larger agenda to remake the post-Cold War world under U.S. hegemony, none of us would have even entertained the possibility. But, your suggestion that the Pope should have “condemned” the Iraq was as unjust (which he did not, though he opposed the war) would be tantamount to your giving me authority in the following situation: a robber attacks you in a dark alley, you see that he has a knife and knows how to use it, and you prepare to defend yourself even to the extent of possibily killing the robber. Would you wait for my consultation before doing so? Would you hang upon my judgment about the relative capacities of the robber’s knife, or would you feel that your own judgments, internal to the situation, have a certain autonomy?
The Vicar of Christ did during the Iraq War what Jesus teaches in the Gospel: turning the other cheek does not mean merely taking another licking; in presenting one’s other cheek to be struck, one puts the moral onus on the agent. “Think a moment,” it says, “Do you really believe you should do this?” Only the legitimate executive of the law of the U.S. could have performed this act of moral scrutiny.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t change the probable fact that the Iraq war was founded on lies and ambition (what mix of which we still do not know). I merely want to establish that a) just war doctrine rightly suggests that the use of force is a legitimate indeed fully justified action under certain conditions, and that this affirms the presence of justice in the world rather than serves (as Pascal thought) as a concession to the total depravation of mankind; and, b) that the decisions that just war doctrine guides are proper to heads of state; it is not a weapon of the Church, but a doctrinal guideline to help human beings make a particular kind of decision proper to their particular vocation. To ask for something different would turn the Church into a rationalized technocracy rather than the voice of the Gospel reminding us all of our personal responsibility for our own actions.
James, Thank you for your comments. It’s nice when we can disagree without acrimony. I see your point about the difference between pacifism and Pascal, but I think it’s more a matter of emphasis than substance. My type of pacifism and Pascal’s thought are not incompatible.
I agree that “This world is an abyss, as fallen and corrupt; we cannot even know justice in this world, though we sense painfully its absence; we cannot experience it amid the flux of human passions. His creation of a radical aporia between the order of Justice (God) and of the world insists that the two cannot and shall not meet — and only fools and philosophers think they could. He thus presumes war will continue and, in a sense, should continue, because it has nothing to do with the economy of our redemption and everything to do with the conditions that remind us daily of our need to be redeemed.”
Only an overly idealistic, naive pacifist would disagree with that summary of Pascalian thought. Evangelicals such as myself, who believe in a millenarian return of Christ, are especially cognizant of the fallenness of the world and the futility of trying to create the kingdom on earth without Christ’s literal presence (although that does not excuse us from doing our best, in humble and realistic ways, to encourage justice through personal acts). In other words, the full-blown kingdom is not going to be created by the church alone. The radical, permanent restructuring of the world and its values will occur upon the return of Christ.
I don’t expect that pacifism will ever spread through the earth in this age and it is clearly unworkable, in terms of human government. Obama DOES have a duty to use military force, as Bush did before him. He can use it justly or not (and that’s where Aquinas’ criteria have some utility, although they are too broadly drawn and subjectively interpreted), but you can’t expect a lion to behave like a lamb. U.S. presidents have a right and duty to use force as worldly leaders, but not as Christians.
Pascal’s pessimism regarding the world is similar to that of another Augustinian: Luther. Both fit into the “Christ and culture in paradox” (dualistic) camp, as defined by H. Richard Niebuhr. Neither were as radical in their sociopolitical application of the Gospel as were the Anabaptists, but they were set apart from other positions, exemplified by Aquinas and Calvin, for instance, which were more likely to accomodate or have sanguinity toward the world.
Pascal was not a pure pacifist, but he recognized the irrationality of war, and he objected to the watering down of moral standards to suit worldly-minded Christians, which is why I quote him.
Again, thank you for contributing, even if we disagree on some things. The same to Marshall Art, who is obviously intelligent and knowledgeable. I’m glad you’ve taken the time to participate in our little, or not so little, discussion.
Good, Jeff, and thanks. You’ve taken us back to the foundations of the Gospel and of theology; I’ll leave us there for now, since I’m hoping to get an essay up in the next few months on Creation. Perhaps it is odd that I feel we have solved something by arriving at the foundations schism between Protestant and Catholic Christianity, but there we are.
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