A New Perspective on Pacifism

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from "Not Quite a Perfect Fit"
Frederica Mathewes-Green

It may be right to die, but it is never right to kill. Christians are called to be something different in the world, a new thing the wearied, bloodied globe had never seen: people who love their enemies. When we twist hot metal around the body of a boy in a jeep, we are not showing him love.

I learned to keep my mouth shut about this in pro-life circles. I would unfailingly be told that refraining from killing was impractical; people would explain to me that of course Jesus didn't mean it literally. (What else did he not mean literally? Was he just kidding about sexual morality, too? This genre of Biblical interpretation reminded me uneasily of the bland, self-serving liberals in my previous denomination.) I was told that principled non-violence was self-indulgent, impractical, and fell short of the noble heights of courage that only war can call forth. The reasoning seemed to be that it took more courage to stand before your enemy holding a gun than it took to stand there empty-handed.

Entire essay

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Regarding the reasons given by people in "pro-life circles" (an odd phrase for a Christian to use), it is true that many lame arguments are given for why war or killing is not immoral. Good writers usually take on the toughest arguments of their opponents, however, and refrain from using casual strawman arguments.

I thought the article was beneath Frederica's talents.

Dear Downto,

All I can respond is that in personal communication that has not been my experience, so I found the article a breath of fresh air.

As to the use of "pro-life" circles--there are a great many pro-life people who are not Christian in pro-life circles. I'd like to ask your perspective on why you view the phrase as odd for a Christian. I didn't think anything of it, but it often happens that I miss entirely nuances and even overt circumstances that are more apparent to others. If you drop by again, please feel free to comment or to drop me a personal line. Thanks.



The thing that has always bothered me about pacifism is WWII.

Dear TSO,

Yes. It bothers me as well. And I've yet to see a good defense of pacifism that does justice to WWII. But in all WWII is the exception that proves the rule. I rather wonder if it isn't the one case of truly just war in modern times. (WWI is a classic example of precisely the opposite, curiously). But WWII is not a sufficient obstacle if one feels commanded by the Savior to do otherwise. I just find the WWII provides too much of a shield for those who do not wish to examine the issue on the basis of its intrinsic merit or lack thereof. And I do note that it is ALWAYS WWII that is cited.

More troubling about WWII is the fact that we weren't really interested in stopping what would have been the truly just cause--the Holocaust (as exhibited by Ship of Fools). Oh well, it was probably the zeitgeist.



WWI is a classic example of precisely the opposite, curiously.

So it was unjust of France to resist the German invasion?

I mention WWII because it only takes one exception to disprove an ideology.

Dear Tom,

If I speak very frankly, I must begin to wonder. However, I also have to say that it is not for me to make this decision for others. It was all very well and good that Gandhi thought the Jews should just march into the ovens, but then Gandhi wasn't doing it.

However, I strongly resent those who tell me that I must accept the fact that it would ever be legitmate for me to kill someone, circumstances of war or otherwise. (And please note, I do not accuse you of doing so--though there are some about who do claim this.) And what some who oppose pacifism seem to say to me is that I must universally accept the fact that the license to murder is open to me under certain circumstances. I don't think so. I also don't think it is quite so open as many might suggest through any variety of doctrines.

Can I judge the justness of France's actions--no. (And I was referring more to the inception of the war and the entire mess in Serbia than I was to the later expansion of the war efforts). Still, I am probably wrong in this. But no more wrong than one who would insist that it is my duty in a just war to violate one of the Ten Commandments and to go directly against some of the injuctions of the Savior Himself. No amount of argumentation will ever convince me that "Greater love hath no man than this--that he lay down his life for his friends," means that I should kill others in the defense of my friends. Rather, I lay down my life, just as Jesus did, without protest and without violence. The question remains, should everyone do so? No, I do believe that there is freedom of conscience in the matter. I am troubled by "just war" doctrine because I think it is subterfuge; nevertheless, I cannot object to the notion that if you as a person are directly threatened you have the right to defend yourself BUT that all measures short of lethal should be exhausted first. In other words, I don't need "just war" to suggest a right to defend self and family IF conscience otherwise allows.

Perhaps there are at least two issues here--personal and communal. And so long as that is true, then the communal must be informed by the variety of the personal.




Courteously, I beg to differ. Ideologies, ideas, and philosophies are not mathematics. A single negative instance does not "disprove" them. If so Aristotleian philosphy would long ago have succumbed under the weight of what can be disproven within and about it. Rather, a negative example is an invitation to revise, revamp, and even reconstruct the idea, philosophy, or ideology in such a way as to accomodate that negative instance. A negative example is further a strong palliative to the temptation to exercise any set of merely Earthly ideals to an extreme. But one negative example does not mean that most of the time the approach does not hold.



War must be chosen only when any other choice would be worse. "Just" war does not, IMHO, mean that the people who wage it are doing good; it means that they are ordering men to do evil things (namely, to muder other men), but it would be worse not to do so, because "the enemy" is engaged in a colossal crime.

I don't believe that WWII is the only example of that, nor do I believe that the Holocaust would have been the only way WWII could become a justifiable war. If that's the case, then German and Soviet aggression in Poland should simply be overlooked?

The Korean War is another example of a war that had to be fought, IMHO. It was an unjustified, aggressive war waged by North Korea, supplied by the Soviet Union, backed eventually by China as well.

I would also put the first Iraq War in the category, and I'd say the jury's out on the second: clearly in my eyes, the situation had to be resolved sooner or later.

Peace, as the Second Vatican Council said, is not merely the absence of hostilities. I would say (feel free to correct me if you disagree) that in some cases, the absence of hostilities is a false peace that allows men to perpetrate horrible crimes, while other men ignore these crimes for the sake of "peace". In here I would list Rwanda as the prime example: UN "peacekeepers" had precisely the opposite effect to what was intended. I could name many other examples.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 16, 2004 9:22 AM.

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