Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day and the Pacifist Conscience

Another Memorial Day is upon us. Social media sites are filling up with the call to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  One cannot log onto facebook without seeing earnest images of military graveyards or soldiers in wheel chairs, paired with reminders that Memorial Day is not just about a long weekend and a barbeque party.

The images and messages do their inevitable work on me. I feel compassion for those who lost so much. I see the numbers--the nearly half million American soldiers who died in WWII--and think about them and the millions of others around the world who died during that conflict--both soldiers and civilians. And then I think of all the other wars, all the soldiers who came home physically or emotionally scarred, or who never came home at all. And I think, "Yes. We must remember."

But what does it mean to "remember" the wages of war and the sacrifices of our soldiers? The standard American answer is this: We remember that "freedom doesn't come free," that soldiers died and sacrificed themselves so that we can enjoy our freedom and way of life, and we remember this in order to express our gratitude to them.

But this answer, however much it resonates with those around me, doesn't quite capture how I feel when I reflect on our wars and the sacrifices of our soldiers. Here's the problem: Sometimes soldiers have been called into service by our government, torn from their families, required to fight and die--and their sacrifice didn't contribute to our freedom or way of life. They were sent off to fight optional wars for questionable purposes. And while it makes their loss more bearable to suppose that it served some great good, sometimes that's just not true. Sometimes our government made a bad decision, and our soldiers' bravery and sacrifices served a dubious cause. And I want to remember them, too. I want to remember and grieve for them, too. I want to honor them, too.

Part of what makes it difficult for me to earnestly repeat the platitudes so often quoted on Memorial Day is this: I believe that the number of cases in which our soldiers were sent out needlessly is far greater than most people seem to suppose. For much of my life I've described myself as a pacifist, although what I've meant by that term has evolved over the years. Sometimes I question whether the term is entirely fitting, since I worry about the kind of dogmatic or uncompromising implications that "pacifism" is often taken to connote ("It is NEVER morally permissible to resort to war").

It is more accurate to say that I am deeply skeptical of war. I look at the world around me and I see a war system. By this I mean that nations treat war and the threat of war as go-to responses to the range of threats that they face, and they devote often enormous resources to improving their capacity to wage war successfully. And what is the result? In a sense, it has become true that we have no choice but to go to war in many of the cases that we do--no choice but to send our soldiers out to kill and die. But the reason we have no choice is because we've put all our eggs in the military basket, so to speak. We haven't explored the nonviolent alternatives enough even to know what they might be, let alone invested in our capacity to deploy these nonviolent measures effectively.

How many trillions have we spent on the military budget? Can any of us honestly say that, yes, the US government has devoted just as much in financial and personal resources, in time and talent and energy, in training and preparation, in order to turn war into a genuine last resort, one that comes only after the enormous battery of powerful nonviolent tools we've developed have failed us?

No. We don't have an enormous battery of powerful nonviolent tools. Certainly nothing to compare with our military arsenals. Is that because there aren't in principle such nonviolent tools? Or is it because we haven't spent nearly the resources to discover them and develop them that we've devoted to developing military tools?

Too often in international conflicts, the only real alternative to walloping others with our big stick is approaching them and saying, "Hey, you really don't want me to wallop you with this big stick, do you?" Far too often, this is what diplomacy amounts to, and when others don't respond to it--when they get defensive, when their egos won't allow them to "lose face"--we say, "See? Some people just can't be reasoned with." And we wallop them with our big stick.

Is it ever the case that wielding a big stick on the international stage is the only way to promote our safety, our prosperity, our freedom? Perhaps so. But our big stick is people. People who are taken away from their homes and families, often for long stretches of time. People who suffer and sometimes die. People who kill and who live with the memory of those they killed. People who sometimes come home without arms and legs, or who come home with post trauma.

And our big stick wallops people--and usually not the ones who respond defiantly to our underdeveloped efforts at diplomacy, the big egos in charge. Usually it's people very much like our own soldiers, people with families they've been taken away from, people who would rather live and love than fight and die. And then there's the "collateral damage"--again people, in this case civilians, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the big stick fell.

Is it sometimes necessary to resort to a big stick? Perhaps so. But the costs are so high that we'd better make damned sure we've explored the alternatives, cultivated our capacity to pursue the alternatives effectively, and exhausted the alternatives before we send real human beings out to kill and die for our sakes. For me, remembering and honoring those who've died in war should mean redoubling our commitment to reducing--and perhaps one day eliminating--the need for war.

Going to war may sometimes be the best we can do under the circumstances. But we need to keep in mind our role in shaping those circumstances. And we need to look for ways to change them.

I am grateful that when our collective fixation on military solutions puts us into a situation where the only option is war, there are those who are willing to leave home, to leave love and comfort, and to risk themselves for our sakes. But I also want to honor those who were sent out to fight and die when war wasn't the only option--and not by pretending that it was. I think we honor all of them by striving to expand our options, by increasing the range of national alternatives to our big stick made of human lives.


  1. Amen. You expressed my feeling perfectly. Thanks for writing.

  2. Hey Eric, this has nothing to do with the topic, but I'm wondering if you've read Stephen R L Clark's work.

  3. Øystein EvensenMay 29, 2012 at 8:53 AM

    For most of my life I described myself as a pacifist too and your thoughts on this resonate strongly with my own convictions. I wrote a paper on Christian pacifism based in large part on your work on personal pacifism. In some ways I would still describe myself as a personal pacifist, but it has become problematic for me to do so. We have conscription in Norway, but because of my terrible eyesight I could not enter the armed forces as a combatant. Last year however, when I finished my degree in theology, I was called upon to serve my country as a military chaplain. I knew this could happen and I was prepared to be a conscientious objector, but the more I thought about it I could see no compelling moral reasons why I shouldn’t serve God, my fellow men and my country in this way. As a chaplain I am a non-combatant, I do not have to carry a gun (and I choose not to) and it is expected of me to be critical of military operations that I find morally indefensible. I take no active part in any military operation, I do not have to defend warfare and I arguably do not have to break my personal commitment to non-violence (although some would say that wearing a uniform automatically does that).

    I administer religious services, provide counselling and pastoral care, teach ethics and make waffles. I’m an ordained minister, why shouldn’t I provide these things for these people who perhaps need them more than anyone? Out of some misplaced principle? Would our armed forced or our world be better off if all chaplains or all Christians were conscientious objectors? I think not. I think I can make a positive difference, to teach these soldiers to value human life, to think for themselves and seek peaceful resolutions even in and despite war. Thankfully we live in a time in which military personnel is not expected to follow orders blindly, but be critical and refuse to follow orders that is contrary to the international humanitarian conventions or causes needless or extravagant sufferings. The military system is not irredeemable. (Continued)

  4. Øystein EvensenMay 29, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    I’m not comfortable with having a military rank (although I have bragged about it) and I’m against conscription, but apart from that it is a meaningful job. Despite this I have applied for a job as a civilian minister now that my obligatory year is coming to an end. The distance between the military system and my own convictions are just too great. I have to get out of it for my own partly selfish reasons.

    I would currently describe myself as an agnostic on the pacifist issue. I think there are decent moral individuals on both sides. I am, on the other hand, like you very critical of war and I’m ardently against militarism in all its forms. If anything, the military should only be the last resort of the State, to be used when all other options have failed, or perhaps as a deterrent to maintain the balance of power and discourage misuse of power. This raises a whole lot of other difficult questions, such as when is the last resort justifiable? When we are invaded? To prevent acts of genocide? And how should we deter would-be-dictators and tyrants without being tyrannical ourselves, and how do we maintain a balance of power without creation an environment of universal international suspicion and endless military escalation like we saw in the power game between the USA and the former USSR? I don’t have the answer to these questions, so I remain an agnostic, but I’m determined to look for them. The Centre for Global Nonkilling endorsed by the International Committee of the Red Cross is doing some profound and interesting studies on whether an international society without war and killing is possible. Their conclusions are so far positive (but then again, they may be biased). Have no fear; I may become a pacifist yet!

  5. Øystein EvensenMay 29, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    p. 2, para 2, line 10 without creating an...

  6. Alex--I have Clark's book, UNDERSTANDING FAITH, which I think is very good overall. I bought it after reading an editorial of his on the new atheists.

    1. I'm not real familiar with blogs. Can I ask more about this through a different venue?

  7. Øystein,

    I have great sympathy for your perspective on this, and for your decision to serve as a military chaplain. And it's good to hear that there are people out there who've actually encountered my work on personal pacifism! (I'd actually be interested in seeing that paper you wrote...)

  8. I believe it’s not only the case that it is never morally permissible to resort to war, but also that it is never morally permissible to resort to violence. No matter what supposedly one is trying to protect. Christ did not resort to any violence to protect His own life, and did not want His disciples to resort to violence either.

    I understand the practical considerations people use about when they argue that violence is sometimes justified. But I think the world is such that resorting to violence does never produce something good, all things considered. I think that every time one thinks that by using violence one is achieving some greater good one is in fact fooling oneself. Creation is not a marketplace between good and evil, where good and evil are measured against each other. It’s never the case that one pays with a little evil in order to obtain a lot of good. Evil is intrinsically unredeemable. I think that theism entails this, and moreover that the actual world we live in bears this out.

    To put it differently. I think that if one out of a thousand would never resort to violence then our world would be a better place. And that if 500 out of a thousand would never resort to violence then our world would be an even better place. And if 999 out of a thousand would never resort to violence then our world would be a still better place.

  9. Øystein EvensenMay 30, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    That paper, which in english would be titled "Beati pacifici – Christian Comitment to Pacifism", is not among my finest works. I tried to combine the insights of Adin Ballou, Stanley Hauerwas, you and my own underdeveloped thoughts in less than ten pages. I should have narrowed down the scope some. I could send it to you, but I must warn you that it's in norwegian and that my thoughts on the issue have developed over the years. I believed then that all Christians should be pacifists and I'm no longer sure of that. I still believe that the Church should advocate peace and non-retaliation and should never defend war.
    I have translated an excerpt:

    Is pacifism a waiver of a necessary responsibility?
    Regardless of the reasons one may have for pacifism an important objection to it is that pacifists enjoy the freedom they have to follow their conviction only because non-pacifists have been willing to fight to defend it. Furthermore one could argue that in a world still affected by violence and injustice individual pacifists and non-violent communities can only survive because they live under the protection of sympathetic power structures willing to use force. This willingness must not be mistaken for a violent drive: most do not want to kill. Rather, the willingness to kill for others, to get blood on their hands, is a sacrifice, perhaps a bigger cross to bear than most pacifists are willing to carry. Although we can all admire such men as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Oscar Romero who truly fought, suffered and sacrificed for their conviction, most pacifists are never put in a position where their conviction costs anything.

    Christian Pacifists do not have to be arrogant or militant. They do not have to stop paying their taxes or protest outside of military recruitment offices. But if a personal or a vocational pacifist agree that there may be circumstances in this world in which the use of violent force is either necessary or the least of two evils, doesn't the use of such force become not only a question of right but a question of duty? Is it permissible to commit oneself to an absolute pacifism* if one does not expect the rest society to do so?

    The world does not lack in people willing to use violence, and this willingness is more part of the problem with illegitimate use of force than it is part of the solution. Regardless of whether or not violence is necessary, society can benefit from the voice of those going against this trend and who work actively and with dedication for alternate solutions (This is an important motivation for those Eric Reitan calls personal pacifists. (Reitan 2000:38)). Most non-pacifists would agree that when such solutions are available they are often preferable...

    *I define absolute pacifism here not as objective pacifism (morally expected of all), but as the unwillingness to use violence under any circumstance, be it for personal, religious or objective moral reasons.

  10. Hi Dianelos

    I wonder if you could just clarify this stance against an example. Imagine I am at a supermarket carpark, getting my two year old boys from the car, when a psychopath bent upon destruction snatches one of my sons, throws him in the back of his car and attempts to drive away. My instinct would be to intervene. If I can wrestle him to the ground and call for help, then this is what I will do. I submit the world is made a better place if my son is not subjected to the horrors that would have otherwise awaited him, and that the violence of restraining the perpetrator is an insignificant price to pay in the pursuit of this good.

    Are you proposing that I am in fact fooling myself, and that standing aside and letting the suffering occur is the more desirable outcome?


  11. I don't think it's entirely true that Jesus did not resort to violence or coercion.

  12. Hi Bernard,

    My instinct would to intervene too; and in fact that’s what I would almost certainly do. But here we are discussing about what one should do, and what the overall implications for society would be.

    Now before proceeding I’d like to suppose that the evil-doer is not a psychopath, for people with mental illness represent a special case which may justify the use of violence. Let’s then assume the more general case of a normal adult attempting to do violence against one’s child. Then, I say, not to resist him is the right thing to do, and the world that would result if more people never resisted (and also never cooperated with) evil would be a better world. It is an unusual idea, but I think it is in fact true. The reasoning behind it is basically this: Violence has always some rationale going for it, violence is evil, and evil feeds on evil. Thus a culture in which violence is in some cases justified falls into a self-sustained loop of evil which in the end produces a constant stream of suffering. A culture in which violence is never waged by a number of people is a culture where many who would otherwise tend to resort to violence will find it increasingly unattractive or shameful to do so – and thus this society will slowly escape that loop of self-inflicted suffering.

    Incidentally violence is just one example of evil. The same principle works I think with other evils, such as greed, pride, etc. What I am saying is that Christ’s ethics understood literally is not only a very beautiful idea, but also a very useful one. Indeed I think that in the long term it is the only solution to society’s problems. If I am right then it is quite remarkable that the world is such that the most beautiful ethics is also the most pragmatically useful one.

  13. Hi Dianelos

    Well, I would suggest that standing back and allowing one's child to be murdered, when a little force can avoid the consequence, is an appalling framework upon which to build an ethical foundation.

    The justification appears to be the rather abstract hope that somehow, in the greater scheme of things, this will wash out in a world where less hurt occurs. But the problem is that this is courageously speculative take on human nature, and on the implications of non-resistance, one that is tremendously hard to justify empirically.

    In the essence, one is justifying the harming of one's children (and if you stand back, then this is what you are doing, knowingly subjecting them to harm) on the back of a vague, hopeful and entirely unsubstantiated dogma. Note that this would also be a commitment to a society where the police are never justified in arresting an individual who doesn't want to be arrested, where the passerby, hearing the cries of the rape victim, keeps on walking. If you're wrong in your guesswork here, the implications of your error are clearly terrible.


  14. Øystein EvensenMay 31, 2012 at 6:21 AM

    Hi Bernard

    Non-resistance is usually meant to signify the non-resistance of evil with evil or injury with injury, and not absolute non-resistance in the sense of not intervening to prevent evil or harm. The great 19th-century pacifist and, along with Thoreau arguable the father of modern non-violent-resistance (a less misleading term), Adin Ballou distinguished between injurious, absolutely injurious and uninjurious physical force. Only the first two can be considered violent and he argued that it is only the second of these (actions that maim or kill, or cause other irreparable trauma) which a Christian pacifist cannot consistently do. Physical force that is uninjurious can be both benevolent and necessary, such as when you grab a kid about to run in front of a car or even when you restrain a violent perpetrator. "Thus maniacs, the insane, the delirious sick, ill-natured children, the intellectually or morally non-compos mentis, the intoxicated and the violently passionate, are frequently disposed to perpetrate outrages and inflict injuries, either on themselves or others, which ought to be kindly and uninjuriously prevented by the muscular energy of their friends." I would say that this form of pacifism is consistent with the choice to wrestle an assailant to the ground, arrest uncooperative suspects and intervene to prevent murder and rape. What kind of force a committed pacifist (in the broad sense of pacifism) can use in intervention (pepper spray, tasers?) is more difficult to determine.


  15. Your essay reminds me of the truth of Stanley Hauerwas new book, War and the American Difference: "I hope, therefore, that my attempt to (re)describe war as an alternative to the sacrifice of the cross at once illumines why war is so morally compelling and why the church is an alternative to war."
    "War is a moral necessity for America..." it "is America's central liturgical act..."

    Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way [30th anniversary edition] may be of interest. I would be glad to send the word doc to anyone interested, Contact info on

  16. Even though Evensen draws distinctions between injurious, absolutely injurious and uninjurious physical force, when it comes to actual situations these distinctions may not work as one doesn’t necessarily have time to deliberate about which action to take and of course in some situations the ONLY outcome one will have to take is to kill or maim or cause irreparable trauma. It would be similar to consulting an ethics manual before one decides what they are going to do. Second, it seems that though Evensen would allow for uninjurious force Dianelos Georgoudis would not.

  17. Øystein EvensenMay 31, 2012 at 4:46 PM


    Situations that involve violence are indeed chaotic and we often have to act on instinct rather than follow a clearly worked out plan. In an attempt to restrain an armed intruder in your home, there is no way you can guarantee that he will not be harmed in the process. But it doesn't follow that it is not beneficial to have thought about the above mentioned distinctions beforehand. Part of my job is to teach military ethics or ethics for use in armed conflicts. We are well aware of the fact that unpredicted situations can arise in such conflicts in which the soldier does not have time to reflect on what he learned in my class, but this does not mean that what he has learned and reflected upon before does not influence his actions under stress. We try to give them robust attitudes more than academic knowledge. If I go into every situation with the basic attitude that all persons have inviolable value and rights and that I will do my utmost to keep them from harm, this will influence how I act towards someone even in a chaotic forceful encounter. And I can make choices that will make it more or less likely for me to be able to inflict irreparable harm on others. If you are committed to non-violence, or less strictly to non-killing, you should not have a gun in your house, even if you just intend to shoot intruders in the foot or shoulder.

    As for your second point, Dianelos can speak for himself but it seems that he adheres more strictly to the idea of non-resistance than Ballou would. I mentioned Ballou's position to show that there is a middle ground between absolute nonintervention and lethal resistance. I'm not really sure what to make of Dianelos' take on this since it seems to me that even the love of our enemies require us to prevent them from doing irreparable harm to others, at least if it does not involve doing irreparable harm to them. I do not see this as resisting evil with evil. My own position is less defined. I lean towards the conviction that we should avoid doing irreparable harm to others even when faced with violence and threats against our lives, but I'm not sure if this should be an absolute rule. There are situations in which lethal force seems justified. As a military chaplain I do not condemn the profession of my employer, but I would be thrilled to hear that the UN had banned all use of lethal weapons and that the police and armed forces of this world was able to effectively keep the peace using non-lethal weapons and other even less violent alternatives.

    1. Cool stuff. A few things.

      A. I GENERALLY don't have a problem with the distinctions that are made and don't doubt that they should be used. Obvoiously there will be situations when injurious harm should not be used. So, for sure, you want to be able to make those distinctions. However, it seems that no matter how much training you have it's no guarantee that the situation is not ambiguous enough not to use deadly force.
      B. What I'm speaking about is situations wherein you have no option but to kill someone. Is there NEVER a time in which you would kill someone? Where that is not justifiable?
      C. I'm NOT committed to non-violence. That's the point. Not under every and any circumstance. I think that is hard to show from the scriptures.

  18. I mean non-resistance in the literal sense. To never use violence against any human being of normal cognitive faculties (which excludes small children, the infirm of mind very old, people who suffer from mental illness, etc). The general idea is to consider that one’s moral responsibility ends at one’s fingertips. That one’s duty is to not add violence to the world and not to save the world from the violence it contains. Or that creaturely freedom is absolutely holy and inviolable. Or that we are not asked to fight against evil but rather to not give in to it – and indeed to ignore it and to behave to our fellow creatures as if each one of them were Christ.

    Now my contention here is not that this was Jesus’s teaching. (Even though I think it was; I notice that in the Gospels He does not say “Do not resist evil using injurious force”). Nor do I here contend that non-resistance is a true ethical principle. Nor that by exercising non-resistance the fruits will be great in the afterlife. My contention rather is a practical and utilitarian one, namely this: Would a society where more people try to embrace non-resistance become a better or a worse society (according to the widely accepted criteria)? My claim is that, against what one would unreflectively respond, and given what we know about human nature and about how the world works, the more one thinks about this question the clearer it becomes that society would become a better place.

    What’s more, I now tend to think that unless we embrace non-resistance humanity’s future will be gloomy indeed. I believe that non-resistance is not simply the finer option, but really the only option for building a good future.

    1. Øystein EvensenJune 1, 2012 at 2:19 PM

      So, violence against small children and very old people is acceptable? I agree that it is permissible to restrain a child that's having a fit and hurting him/herself and others, but I wouldn't exactly call this violence as long as you do not intentionally hurt the child. Could you clarify what you mean by violence?

    2. "The general idea is to consider that one’s moral responsibility ends at one’s fingertips. That one’s duty is to not add violence to the world and not to save the world from the violence it contains. Or that creaturely freedom is absolutely holy and inviolable. Or that we are not asked to fight against evil but rather to not give in to it – and indeed to ignore it and to behave to our fellow creatures as if each one of them were Christ."

      I can respect that, at least much of it (I don't agree however that our moral responsibility ends at our fingertips). I don't think society should follow this principle, but as a form of individual witness it may work as a powerful message: I refuse to let evil dictate my actions. It has a somewhat buddhist flavor to it, if you don't mind me saying so, but to me that's not a bad thing. Siddhartha and Jesus had a lot in common, although their differences should not be undermined. Jesus did say that we should not resist evil, however we interpret that, but how do you explain the cleansing of the temple? And I would assume that you see it as a Christian duty to bring relief to the suffering: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the forsaken and so forth.

      Øystein Evensen

  19. Øystein EvensenJune 1, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    So, violence against small children and very old people is acceptable? I agree that it is permissible to restrain a child that's having a fit and hurting him/herself and others, but I wouldn't exactly call this violence as long as you do not intentionally hurt the child. Could you clarify what you mean by violence?

  20. Øystein EvensenJune 1, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Sorry, didn't intend to post that twice.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Øystein,

    By “violence” I mean to apply on somebody physical or other forces against their will.

  23. Saldakordos,

    Jesus did say that we should not resist evil, however we interpret that, but how do you explain the cleansing of the temple?

    I interpret that metaphorically. The temple that is to be the house of prayer but which we have made the house of merchandise – is ourselves.

    And I would assume that you see it as a Christian duty to bring relief to the suffering: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the forsaken and so forth.

    Of course – as long as it does not entail to do violence.

    I don't agree however that our moral responsibility ends at our fingertips

    I can see now that the way I expressed that can be misleading. I meant that we are not responsible for the workings of the natural world, nor for how other persons use their will, but only for how we use our will. And the power of our will only reaches down to our fingertips.

  24. I really don’t think you are thinking wholistically here Dianelos. Think the big picture. Think about the Kingdom. Think God as SOVEREIGN, meaning ruler over a domain that has supreme, permanent governing authority. Think PROVIDENCE.

    Now you want to say that the Kingdom of God is fundamentally against violence and the point that anything that is TRULY "kingdom" would NEVER use violent means to achieve it's goals. Never. Because the Kingdom of God is basically the Reign of God in the hearts of people where the perfect love of God is internalized and replicated. And to the extent that one does live in violence, that one is NOT living in the Kingdom. Of course, this would make it go without saying that Christians would not participate in war or military violence of any type. And so what this would imply is that Christians should live in a state of NON-VIOLENCE. That’s essentially where you’re coming from right?

    But if God is “at war” with the kingdom of darkness then I cannot see how one can CONSISTENTLY say that living in the Kingdom of God in this fallen world MANDATES absolute NON-PARTICIPATION in violence. It doesn't even work that way for God. How would it work that way for us? The Kingdom of God is NOT violent but the interaction between the Kingdom of God and the fallenness of this world MAY entail violence.

    Now God has a “greater good purpose” for creation. I mean I assume that and I think Eric does as well. What this means is that violence doesn't only occur in judgement or vengeance. It occurs also in protection and security. This is where the “greater good purpose” idea comes in. Think of a medical doctor who sets a broken leg. There is a lot of pain. Or think about killing cancer cells. Pain is involved there as well, but that pain is for the greater good of the patient. Its for the “setting things right” right?

    Well you don’t see anything less than this in both the Old and New Testaments. Let me ask this question. Would you consider Jesus' cursing of the fig tree and it's subsequent death a VIOLENT act? If so, why? If not, why not? Now think about that. If violence has ANYTHING to do with the intentional promulgation of death, decay, and destruction, I find it very hard NOT to consider Jesus' CURSE of the plant a violent act. We are not talking about just eating a pear or something. We are talking about calling down DEATH on something...and it taking place. And YES, he did it FOR A GOOD REASON. A lesson. Just like some might argue that he sent the demons into the pigs to kill them FOR A GOOD REASON. Get the picture?

    Even with JESUS, we find times where Jesus BRINGS DEATH of plants and animals...that we argue are for ultimately JUSTIFIABLE reasons. Doesn't this tell us anything? So, calling down death on something living or consigning something to death--ANYTHING living--just to make a point is to USE death as a means. This can apply to God using LEPROSY to teach Miriam a lesson in Exodus

    This goes along with the broad idea that God can (AND WILL) use violent means for "greater good" ends--but only when necessary.


  25. If this is true and if we are truly supposed to be like God, it would seem to me that we would NOT be pacifists, in the strict sense. We would be more like "AGONIZED PARTICIPANTS" who work WITHIN evil patterns, structures, and systems to FREE ourselves and others from those things. We would do ALL things in love. Unconditional love. From our loving stance, we would do all we could to PROMOTE THE GOOD. One doesn't have to love to be just and fair...but one CANNOT love and be UNjust and UNfair. This means we would do what we can to promote whatever is good and lovely and minimize whatever is evil and profane. In all things we would love...EVEN WHEN WE HAVE TO RESORT TO VIOLENCE. We would promote all avenues of "win/win" situations. We would do our utmost to serve those others. If need be, we would foster all types of strategic non-violent resistance to oppressive systems and regimes. If nothing else worked, and gross injustice and inhumanity contintued, we would consider using violence. In this, we do ONLY what we have a VERY, VERY last resort. We would try every non-violent means we could before we exercised any type of violence. We would do this soberly, consceientiously, and yes, sorrowfully. Very sorrowfully. Thinking about Greg Boyd’s chess game analogy, in our "sacrificing the rook for the queen" moments, we'd mourn over the losses, just like Jesus mourned over Jerusalem that one time. We would NEVER objectify our "enemy", but would EMPATHIZE with them and continue to seek after them. And we would work our butts off for the restoration and reconciliation of ANYTHING possible from that ordeal. We would live in the tension of the fallen world with our hearts set on eternity--a NON-VIOLENT eternity---and try to replicate that as much as possible here in the now.

    Doesn't THIS look like the all-loving, all-good God who "wars" against the Kingdom of Darkness??

  26. I don’t think that God is at war with the kingdom of darkness, or anything else for that matter. Actually I find the idea incoherent. How can God, the ground of all being, the omniscient omnipotent all-loving person, be at war with anything? To be at war entails to be challenged or be threatened, but this cannot be the case for God.

    Let me be clear; I do think there is the spirit of evil, the “deceiver”. But it exists in our imperfection, in our being far from God, in our having lost sight of God. And I think it is that spirit of deception that tells us to be self-righteous, to look down at others, to hate, to do violence – convincing us that is all for a good cause. But there is nothing good in not being Christ-like.

    Let us read the Beatitudes once again. They do not say blessed the Christian soldier (who according to “Mere Christianity” loves his enemies and also kills them). Rather they speak of the meek, of the merciful, of the peacemakers, of the pure in heart who shall see God. Do you think that the pure in heart, those who see God, ever feel the need to resort to violence?

    Finally, by “violence” I mean the use of physical and other forces on people of normal cognitive faculties against their will. This does not include fig trees (that story has a metaphorical meaning anyway) or a medical doctor who sets a broken leg.

  27. Hi Dianelos

    I agree with you that pacifism is the goal, and that the harder we seek non-violent solutions, the better the ultimate outcomes. Nevertheless, I don't see how this intention can be extended quite as far as you would propose without getting some fairly odd definitions of desirable outcomes.

    So, to return to the example I proposed earlier, you have argued the world is ultimately a better place if the father stands by and allows his son to be murdered. I can't yet see the kind of calculus involved from your perspective. My naive response is simply that intervening has too many upsides for this to be a credible stance. Consider we get out of the intervention a child with a chance to live their life, the avoidance of crushing parental grief, the opportunity to protect future victims by putting the offender in a situation where positive interventions are at least possible. All of them huge societal benefits. Against this, we have the breaking of a putative principle, maybe some bruises, but where is the huge cost inflicted in real terms, one so significant that it can reasonably be thought to outweight the loss of life?

    I ask because I am not sure if there is a cost you anticipate that I can't see, or if rather we simply have a rock bottom difference of values here, where for you the very principle of non violence is more valuable than human life.


  28. Hmmmm…OK…when I say “Kingdom of Darkness” I’m not thinking of it the same as you ie., “influence.” What I mean by it is that there is actual free-will sentient beings who act contrary to the purposes of God. While there are some problems with Greg Boyd’s chess-master analogy, I do see “the game” as real. I work with an open theistic metaphysic. There is genuine give and take. There is a genuine “game” going on between God and other free-will sentient beings.

    Second, the story of the fig tree. You say it has a metaphorical meaning anyway. But the story itself is of a historical nature. I assume it actually happened but may have something to teach us. Again, the point I was making was that, if this happened (which I have no reason to believe it didn‘t), we are talking about Jesus calling death, decay and destruction on creation. I’m not concerned with whether it has some metaphorical teaching or not. We not only see this here, but in both testaments throughout. Again, God smites Miriam with leprosy, that is decay and destruction. What about the forty-two boys mauled by a bear in 2 Kings 2. God can’t be a part of that can he? Ananias and Sapphira? Its also all has “metaphorical meaning anyway?” C’mon.

    @Bernard: Dianelos wants to say that if we don’t “resist evil with evil” the world would be better off. But let’s say that is not how the world works. Let’s say that the world actually is worse off. That by not using some force we don’t end up with a zero-sum game but in the negative. Or let’s say there are unintended consequences to our actions that end up in the negative. Should not our “default position” be to use force when (we think) necessary?

  29. Hi Brandon

    Force when necessary? Well yes, but there's something self defining about that isn't there? the argument is probably more about when it is necessary, and Dianelos might argue, never.

    I think what the pacifist argument offers us is the important remonder that our capcity ot do untold damage through violence, even when we are at the time acting with the best of intentions, is spectacular. That violence has about it a quality that is at times self justifying, and frequently habit forming. Often it's the easier, cheaper solution (in the short term). The bar for what is deemed absolutely necessary has the potential to slip lower and lower, until violence is normalised.

    So, although I can imagine circumstances where violence is, by my judgement, necesary, I like the way the pacifist demands we interrogate every action thoroughly. Are we absolutely sure there is no alternative available? Seeking the alternative first is also a habit forming behaviour, and a very fine one. Where I live it is illegal for a parent to smack a child as part of the disciplining process. There was the predictable outcry at the time, yet I do think the net effect has been a raising of the bar, and turning of our attention to gentler solutions.

    So, I think I would describe the desirable default position as one of no violence, where violence is acceptable only when every other alternative has been explored.


  30. Bernard,

    I very much liked your previous post. I’d only like to add this:

    It is very difficult to really practice non-violence, especially given that we participate in societies which to a large degree are built on violence, albeit mostly invisible one. And it does happen in our stressful lives that we sometimes get angry and use oral violence against those who are close to us and whom we love – only to regret it a little later.

    Nevertheless I have found that even only believing in non-violence has a remarkable positive effect in one’s life. In religious terms believing in non-violence, i.e. accepting that non-violence is a good ethical principle, moves one a little closer to the nature of Christ and thus closer to the vision of God. In practical terms believing in non-violence blunts the force of one’s self-righteous anger, which is the motivation behind much violence and evil we do in our lives. Indeed the sheer beauty and power of non-violence makes self-righteous anger appear vacuous and a little ridiculous.

  31. Amen to that, Dianelos


  32. Someone pointed this blog to me, thought I'd perhaps add something.

    When we speak of non-violence we speak of a negative. What is the positive? Avoiding some actions may be very helpful, but without a clear sense of where we are going with it, the avoidance may make us personally feel better, but get us nowhere better.

    When Jesus died for our sins, he died so that we might be with God. When we refuse to kill we do so as an invitation to the other that we might be with each other. When the father or mother wrestles the kidnapper to the ground to save their child, the possibility for being with the kidnapper is not precluded. When Jesus acts out in the Temple, he is not ending the possibility of relationship, but rather is showing a better relationship.
    Obviously, the line between violence and non-violence is, at times, very difficult to discern. But if we have the objective of really loving the other, of doing what it takes to be together, where no one dominates the other, where we each stand as brothers and sisters before God, then it will be ok.

    We may never really know truth, perhaps in heaven; but we can know love.