Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Am I a Pacifist?! (C.S. Lewis on Pacifism)

To be perfectly honest I don't know where I stand on this issue. Seeing the violence in this world it's hard not to desire pacifism everywhere, but I just don't know if it's possible...so if the context we find ourselves in is not pacifist, are we forced to conform to our innate sinfulness of evil?? I'm not sure...is war the better of two evils?

I just read C.S. Lewis' essay "Why I'm Not a Pacifist" and I have to admit I do lean Lewis' way a bit. Here are a few quotes...
"[Abolishing war by Pacifism] consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life must be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whatever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Doublasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. (pp. 44)" [Vegetarians?? lol...]

"If I am a Pacifist, I have Arthur and Aelfred, Elizabeth and Cromwell, Walpole and Burke, against me. I have my university, my school, and my parents against me. I have the literature of my country against me, and cannot even open my Beowulf, my Shakespeare, my Johnson, or my Wordsworth without being reproved (pp.45)...To be a Pacifist, I must part company with Homer and Virgil, with Plato and Aristotle, with Zarathustra and the Bhagavad-Gita, with Cicero and Montaigne, with Iceland and with Egypt. From this point of view, I am almost tempted to reply to the Pacifist as Johnson replied to Goldsmith, 'Nay Sir, if you will not take the universal opinion of mankind, I have no more to say.' (pp.46)"

"[Pacifism] It may spring from the belief that human history is a simple, unilinear movement from worse to better - what is called a belief in Progress - so that any given generation is always in all respects wiser than all previous generations. To those who believe thus, our ancestors are superseded and there seems nothing improbable in the claim that the whole world was wrong until the day before yesterday and now has suddenly become right. With such people I confess I cannot argue, for I do not share their basic assumption. (pp. 46)"

Discussing our Lord's words "turn the other cheek [Matthew 5:39]"
"[There are] three ways of of taking the command...One is the Pacifist interpretation; it means what it says and imposes a duty of nonresistance on all men in all circumstances...

Two...the minimising interpretation; it does not mean what it says but is merely an orientially hyperbolical way of saying that you should put up with a lot and be placable. Both you and I agree in rejecting this view [This view would deny the authority of Scripture!]...

Three the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told...that is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me and my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands no absolute mortification of that desire (pp. 49).
...if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim?

...the best way of bringing up a child was to let it hit its parents whenever it was in a temper, or, when it had grabbed at the jam, to give it the honey also.

...I think the meaning of the words was perfectly clear - 'insofar as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back.'

Indeed, as the audience were private people in a disarmed nation, it seems unlikely that they would have ever supposed Our Lord to be referring to war. War was not what they would have been thinking of. The frictions of daily life among villagers were more likely to be in their minds. (pp. 50)"


"St. Paul approves of the magistrates use of the sword (Romans 13:4) and so does St. Peter (1 Peter 2:14). (pp. 50-51)"

"For let us make no mistake. All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love. LIke the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil - every evil except dishonour and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it. (pp. 52)"

[Lewis, C.S. [Edited and introduction by Walter Hooper] The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses Revised and Expanded Edition. Collier Books: Macmillan Publishing Company; New York. 1980.]--> FYI...The hyperlink is a much newer version of this book.


Any thoughts...I'm still trying to work this out.

In Christ
Noah

[Update: Okay after a nights rest I think I'm a pacifistic non-pacifist... Also, this position, I believe, in no way affects my teaching a young boy that hitting a bully back is not something that could be done in obedience to Christ. He must turn the other cheek.]

9 comments:

Daniel said...

I'm trying very hard to work this out as well, of late. I never really thought about pacifism seriously before in my life, and frankly, the pacifism of the Mennonites and such is depressing to me in a way that I can not quite articulate. I think your view is maybe the best, that one should not lash out at another in hatred or injured pride.

But on the other hand, as far as WWJD goes, I really have a hard time imagining Christ ever striking even someone like Hitler, maybe its just a fault of my imagination but I think he would find another way.

No matter what, I have to examine my long held belief that it is OK to fight in most wars, or for that matter any war. Granted, you are not acting out of anger, but for the most part you are trying to kill people on the word of your leaders and their leaders, and it is hard to say who is justified, and to what degree. A movie scene that comes to my mind when I think about things like this is one from Private Ryan. A German and American soldier are fighting in close quarters in a building, scrambling for control of a knife. It is clear that both would rather just stop the struggle and go their separate ways, but the German ends up the victor, stabs the American, and shakily moves off. This is not a conflict born of personal wrath, but somehow it seems wrong that two ordinary men should fight each other in such a way.

gna said...

there are a few other pieces of the equation that I have to consider in this tough and controversial issue.
First there is the need to use the whole Word of God. He of the OT certainly is no pacifist and the notion that the Father’s Wrath is an expression of His Love (which I believe I ran across in John Piper and Jonathan Edwards in 'God’s Passion for His Glory')which is not easy to get my mind around. It rests dangerously near those ideas which, for now, must remain His; until He decides to reveal all that.

Also, I cannot restrict my view of Christ to Who He appeared to be in the incarnation. He also is the One who will be back for us. “ ‘....and He will rule over them with a rod of iron....’ " (Rev 2:27, ESV, the letter to the church at Thyatira, [which include dealing with “Jezebel”, whomever He means there] )
and Psalm 12:
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord;....(vv. 3-5b, ESV)

and Psalm 19:
....In them He has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
(vv. 4c-5, ESV)

All of which drives me back to what I understand of what Jesus means in the endless rumination of His NT commands to us. As in “without Me you can do nothing”. Or the relief for those of us who struggle with the problem of violence in the real world ~ in the OT “vengeance is Mine....”
For me, I think what He means is that I am to give up control to Him each morning, enter consciously His rest (Heb. 3 and 4), and give up responsibility. The mystics have taught me that in addition to living for His Glory and reminding the Church of its mission to do so, the endless refocusing of my mind upon Him is the only way that even momentary peace can be mine.

jacobschroeder said...

Pacifism is something I have wrestled with quite a bit as well. I was raised in a Mennonite church and am very glad to have been exposed to this issue. However, I don't know that I could take it quite to the extreme that some would. For instance, I would have a hard time justifying allowing somebody to attack, murder, rape, etc. another person, and would certainly not patiently sit around while somebody did such things to me. I believe the Bible has much do say about defending the weak. I do believe there are ways to go about this, however, and outright violence is probably not the best, certainly not the first, choice. But all these scenarios can get ridiculous and I do not claim to have everything figured out.

However, I do have stronger feelings about pacifism in regard to war and military service. Frequently, I hear the passage about turning the other cheek when people speak of pacifism or nonresistance. I don't know that this really applies to the bigger picture of human wars, as has been kindly pointed out by Mr. Lewis. I believe a more compelling argument for pacifism, however, would be Ephesians 6:12:

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (NIV)

Our calling in this world is not to fight men, but to wage war in a very real spiritual realm. Furthermore, Christ's final orders before his ascension reflected this mindset:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)

First of all Jesus says that all authority is his, so he has identified himself as our commander in chief (I am not suggesting that we not submit to our worldly authorities, but am emphasizing the order of rank here). He then commands his disciples to out and (perhaps we need a bumper sticker for this) make disciples, [not war]. Finally, he concludes by saying he is with them until the end of the age. Clearly the eleven disciples did not last until the end of the age, so I think Jesus is speaking here in a broader sense. I believe he is saying that he will be with his followers to accomplish this new task set before them all until the end of the age.

Unfortunately, it seems that American churches today have become so patriotic as to think of soldiers as the fulfillers of the Great Commission. Somehow I missed the connection. I am probably not making friends here, but soldiers are trained to kill, to send men directly into eternity, be it heaven or a very real hell. These soldiers are not missionaries. But, I digress.

There has been some discussion on this blog about the fact that God is certainly not opposed to war in the Old Testament and he promises war in the time to come. Not only this, but he promises war with an army led by Christ himself whose robe is dipped in blood. It's quite a gruesome image, really. So now we wonder, if God himself seems to make war so easily, why should we not participate in wars ourselves? Because our commander has not told us to. Show me where God's word instructs me to fight the rulers and people of this world and I will. The point is that it is God's decision. In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel both when and how to fight. In the end, God himself will lead the army. I cannot believe that God directly instructs President Bush, President Obama, or any other world leader I know of to wage war. These wars are waged by man, for man. It is worth mentioning here that even armies and nations in the Old Testament were punished horribly by God himself, sometimes even for acting as his instrument of correction for Israel.

Post continued…

jacobschroeder said...

Continuing…

Why then should our nations be above reproach when we wage war. Let's not forget that God still judges nations for their actions and we as a nation rarely seem to be in God's will. At any rate, we must not get so distracted by these wars as to miss the even more deadly battles going on that we cannot even see with our eyes. Our war purposefully gets no media coverage, but it is far more real than any human battle.

I do not deny that I feel very blessed to live in the "Land of the Free." I cannot deny that. However, I am not entirely proud of our history. Many people talk about what I great nation we are because we have religious freedom. We are so proud of the rights for which we have so desperately fought. I would like to challenge that way of thinking. I do not recall an incident in which either Christ or the early church fought for their rights, much less doing so proudly. What I do read of Jesus and his church who were persecuted mercilessly. God used such persecution miraculously and it spread his Word like wildfire. God instructed his people to rejoice in suffering and to endure persecution for His sake. In addition to this, he promises great rewards to those who patiently endure great hardship. Where then, are Christian men and women instructed to fight for their "religious rights." Certainly, religious freedom was not the sole reason for the great rebellion against the British Empire, and it certainly wasn't carried out entirely by Christians. However, there is and has always been an attitude among American Christians that it is acceptable to fight for your own freedom. I invite anybody to please show me where this is taught in the Bible. And if somebody asks me, "Aren't you grateful for your rights?" I will reply that I certainly am. However, if somebody told me they were going to kill men in a war for the sake of defending my rights, I would beg them not to do so. I hope that, by the grace of God, I could gladly give up my rights in exchange for the life of another. We should not be concerned with the things man can take away from us, especially our rights, and even life itself. Rather, we should concern ourselves with things that are eternal- our souls and their souls. This is at the heart of the war we ought to wage, not personal freedoms.

I have rambled long enough, but I would like to make one last point. I love C.S. Lewis to death, but I am disappointed with one thing quoted in the original posting:

"If I am a Pacifist, I have Arthur and Aelfred, Elizabeth and Cromwell, Walpole and Burke, against me. I have my university, my school, and my parents against me. I have the literature of my country against me, and cannot even open my Beowulf, my Shakespeare, my Johnson, or my Wordsworth without being reproved (pp.45)...To be a Pacifist, I must part company with Homer and Virgil, with Plato and Aristotle, with Zarathustra and the Bhagavad-Gita, with Cicero and Montaigne, with Iceland and with Egypt. From this point of view, I am almost tempted to reply to the Pacifist as Johnson replied to Goldsmith, 'Nay Sir, if you will not take the universal opinion of mankind, I have no more to say.' (pp.46)"

I do not know the full context of the passage; however I don't find it to be a compelling argument whatsoever. Frankly, I do not wish to be in agreement with Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Shakespeare, or my mother if they are in disagreement with God, who made each of these men. They may all be very wise men, but I do not need their philosophies if they do not confirm what is written in the scriptures. Here I refer you to 1 Corinthians 1:21:

"Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (NIV)

The issue of pacifism is a difficult one and I am far from understanding it fully. I am open to any discussion of it and hope some of this is helpful. Let us look only to the Word of God for the ultimate answers to our questions.

adonaiadorer said...

I am in agreement with jacobschoeder. I just recently became drawn to the issue during a series of theology classes and have come to rest very much on the conclusion that Christians are called to a life of pacifism. In response to Daniel's post that the pacifism of the Mennonites is depressing. I agree and disagree. There is an element in Christian pacifism that is antithetical to the popular idea of a self-determined life. In the eyes of society, not having control over your life is equivalent to not living. Therefore, I see how the culture that we are a part of would view this as a depressing point of view. However, something about this last statement should definitely strike the Christian as unintelligible. Namely, that following Christ necessitates that we give up control over our life to the will of the God who loved us enough to be the ultimate example of sacrificial love. This surrendering of our life to the Lordship of Christ alone is what brings us true freedom from the dark powers that would rule us with sin.

Since I am relatively new to the issue and was not raised in a pacifistic community, I will add just one thing more and then refer you to some much more informed sources.

I would just like to point out that, while many point to hypothetical examples of scenarios in which pacifism seems calloused to the suffering of the world (like a rape or other situation in which the person would not harm the offender) the goal of pacifism in Christianity is a much more progressive and active movement of healing to the world.

For example, I cannot say how many times in the last few months that I have committed to pacifistic Christianity that friends have asked me if I would then not have killed Hitler. Barring the bad hypothetical question that this is, I can honestly say that I can see how killing Hitler had just as much potential for good as for evil. Consider the result of a blatant assassination of one of the most influential leaders of the time period. Consider the possible exponential increase in loyalty from the Nazi party to his horrible cause that could have resulted from a pointed assassination. I digress.

Really, this is not the important part, just an observation and answer to an all too frequent hypothetical question. The important part is that true Christian pacifism points to the oppression and situations in the world and works actively to heal these situations through living out the call of compassion and radical love on the world.

adonaiadorer said...

I am in agreement with jacobschoeder. I just recently became drawn to the issue during a series of theology classes and have come to rest very much on the conclusion that Christians are called to a life of pacifism. In response to Daniel's post that the pacifism of the Mennonites is depressing. I agree and disagree. There is an element in Christian pacifism that is antithetical to the popular idea of a self-determined life. In the eyes of society, not having control over your life is equivalent to not living. Therefore, I see how the culture that we are a part of would view this as a depressing point of view. However, something about this last statement should definitely strike the Christian as unintelligible. Namely, that following Christ necessitates that we give up control over our life to the will of the God who loved us enough to be the ultimate example of sacrificial love. This surrendering of our life to the Lordship of Christ alone is what brings us true freedom from the dark powers that would rule us with sin.

Since I am relatively new to the issue and was not raised in a pacifistic community, I will add just one thing more and then refer you to some much more informed sources.

I would just like to point out that, while many point to hypothetical examples of scenarios in which pacifism seems calloused to the suffering of the world (like a rape or other situation in which the person would not harm the offender) the goal of pacifism in Christianity is a much more progressive and active movement of healing to the world.

adonaiadorer said...

For example, I cannot say how many times in the last few months that I have committed to pacifistic Christianity that friends have asked me if I would then not have killed Hitler. Barring the bad hypothetical question that this is, I can honestly say that I can see how killing Hitler had just as much potential for good as for evil. Consider the result of a blatant assassination of one of the most influential leaders of the time period. Consider the possible exponential increase in loyalty from the Nazi party to his horrible cause that could have resulted from a pointed assassination. I digress.

Really, this is not the important part, just an observation and answer to an all too frequent hypothetical question. The important part is that true Christian pacifism points to the oppression and situations in the world and works actively to heal these situations through living out the call of compassion and radical love on the world.

adonaiadorer said...

An example of what this may look like can be applied to the example of rape. As a woman, I realize that this can be an ultimate personal fear and an extreme example of evil to many people (deservedly). While this is a great evil and should never be minimized, with my stance as a pacifist I can say that, while I'm not sure if I could live it, I think it would be wrong to do harm to an attacker...even if this were the goal of the attack. It would be much harder to claim that I could live out such a pacifism if the victim were say, a friend, sister or daughter. To this end I remain with some questions and am open to critique. I understand that the human desire for justice is such that I may not be able to live out such a radical belief. However, the point of this explanation is that, such an element of temporal existence in the world is divine motivation for getting to the root of such problems as murder, rape and war - in an attempt to prevent these. If we think that we can just kill those that attempt to commit these acts on us or our circles, we do not have the urgency of actively seeking out the suffering in the world and devoting our lives to getting to the root of such issues. To pursue those in dangerous situations by the leading of the Holy Spirit and live in the midst of suffering as God's light in the world should be the goal of the Christian pacifist. Not to be passive in situations, but much more involved because of the urgency that follows from committing to living as a peace-maker.

I hope that I did not just make some error in explaining Christian pacifism... please be gracious if I did and I welcome correction. For more coherent reasoning and explanations I would recommend reading The Politics of Jesus by Yoder, After Christendom? by Hauerwas and (I haven't read this one yet but Nevertheless by Yoder sounds beneficial as well).

Grace and Peace. Thanks to all for the good discussion.

John Bradshaw said...

Do you think we should have a Police Force? Why?
Most people would reply, "To protect the citizens from thugs and criminals".
Well that applies inside a country. The Army simply applies Outside the country. If you agree to a Police force, then you must consistently agree to an Army.

The above is in C.S Lewis's essay quoted before.
Cheers,
John B