On Just War

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This started as a response to Jack's comment below, but I thought it was worth making a full post of.

Thank you. Last night it dawned upon me what my objection to so-called "just war" actually is. The name "just war" makes it sound as though we are taking an intrinsically evil action and trying to make it good.

I think your point is what I state elsewhere somewhat differently. Just war does not magically take evil and make it good, rather it states doctrinally that there are times when a natural evil must be engaged in to prevent an even greater evil. When that must happen the evil of the action is not imputed to the actor as a sin. Thus the evil is always (on the part of those fighting justly) malum and, assuming it is conducted according to jus bellum not corporately culpum. That is not to say that no one sins in the course of the war. But you get my drift. I had always been thrown by the name of the doctrine. In fact it is really a "lesser of two evils doctrine" that is a principled application of a form of double-effect.

I might differ with you on the justness or unjustness of some of the conflicts you mention--that's a different issue and really a moot issue. It little matters how I view the issue, it is how the Lord views the issue that is the essence.

That said, I think it is important to note that there is still room and necessity for the individual in conscience to conclude that any participation in the destruction of human life (whether or not it is labeled "just") is, in fact, a matter of sin. These people are called pacifists and in some ways I believe they have chosen the better part, IF they truly live it out. While it may be just to defend oneself and one's country, it may be more noble and more persuasive to refuse to take someone else's life. I liken it to the Maccabbean brothers who one after another refused to eat pork and died for it.

But this is a matter for the individual conscience, and if the individual is persuaded that it is forbidden to kill for any reason whatsoever, then to kill would be a sin, just war or otherwise.

I think it is the balance between the pacifist voices and those not so inclined that need to try to inform any decision regarding war. What seems to happen too often is that the pacifist voice is dismissed as "cowardly" or shirking duty. I suppose it is possible, but I also think that it is equally possible that pacifists are speaking out of conscientious convictions every bit as deep and as driving as any imperative to war.

The extreme of pacifist doctrine leaves us in a very untenable position in a fallen world. People will always cause aggression and grievous harm to one another. So long as that is the case, we must have means in place to prevent atrocities like the Holocaust or Pol Pot's monstrous reign. And what do we do about Rwanda and Somalia if we must rely completely on non-combative means? Pacifists hold out the very real hope that prayer and virtuous living will change the world. I agree with them, it will. However, it will only change a fallen world, not redeem it utterly. I think we need to stay away from the dangers of neo-Rousseauian thinking. We are not noble savages. Rather the opposite, we are wonderful, fatally flawed creations--we will never create a Utopia and we will never stop war.

That however doesn't mean we oughtn't to try and that those so inclined ought not to argue against every instance of aggression. We need the properly informed, conscientious counterbalance to our wayward tendencies.

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I think that for a Christian the question of just war vs. pacifism boils down to how do we faithfully follow Jesus? For just war proponents, a just war is a way of defending the innocent from aggression, and thus loving our neighbor. It's an act of charity.

On the other hand, the pacifist will argue that Jesus didn't use violence to defend himself and specifically ordered his disciples not to use violence to defend him either. For the Christian pacifist nonviolence is about faithfulness first and effectiveness only secondly.

Frankly I'm not sure who has the better side of the argument. I do think we have to be wary of "re-interpreting" the Lord's commands in order to be more "realistic." The servant is not greater than his Master.

However, I think just war theory itself is radical enough that, if it was consistently applied, it would greatly alter the way we approach war. So maybe that's a good place to start.

I agree with this, and with the post on why we obsess about certain doctrines or thoughts. Even better, the posts made me reflect. Thanks :-)

When that must happen the evil of the action is not imputed to the actor as a sin.

I agree, if by "the evil of the action" you mean something like "the loss of some good which is an effect of the action."

(But then, I'm not sure I'd say such "natural" evil is ever imputed to the actor, but then I'm not sure I'm right.)

We can't, as you know, "do evil" that good may result, which means we can't "do evil" that greater evil may not result.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 17, 2004 8:16 AM.

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