The appeal and problem with pacifism

Pacifism appeals to all who seek to follow Christ. Jesus said turn the other cheek and to treat your enemies the same as you do your friends. Because Jesus followers grow to love others as they love God, they do not want to hurt others, even the ones who want to hurt them.

Applying Jesus’ personal ethic to global affairs becomes another matter. Many, if not most, Christian commentators through the centuries have affirmed that, at times, wars are just.

C.S. Lewis has an interesting essay on this subject — “Why I am Not a Pacifist,” in The Weight of Glory. And remember, Lewis experienced war personally in the trenches of World War I, which claimed the life of his best friend.

I summarize some of Lewis’ points because some of you may not desire to read the entire essay.

Lewis said you cannot factually say that war accomplishes nothing good because one can never know how history would have turned if the war had not been fought. “That wars do no good is then so far from being a fact that it hardly ranks as a historical opinion” (Kindle location 691).

On the test of fact, then, I find the Pacifist position weak. It seems to me that history is full of useful wars as well as of useless wars (699).
The doctrine that war is always a greater evil seems to imply a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils. But I do not think they are (725).
And of course war is a very great evil. But that is not the question. The question is whether war is the greatest evil in the world, so that any state of affairs which might result from submission is certainly preferable. And I do not see any really cogent arguments for that view (731).
And then Lewis makes a particularly cogent point. “Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists” (736). And by “liberal” he means liberal states where people are allowed to disagree with the established authority, such as Great Britain and the United States. 
If a large enough percentage of the population in a liberal democracy become pacifists,
“then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbour who does not. Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists (737).
In other words, pacifism leads to totalitarianism.
While we Christians and any thoughtful person should see war as terrible thing it is, pacifism is not the appropriate response because the result would be loss of freedom to be the human beings God has created each of us to be.
Hate war, but fight it must be fought to restrain evil. Still, then, hate it.

One thought on “The appeal and problem with pacifism

  1. Let’s also remember that it was long after he served in WWI where he was wounded at the front, that C. S. Lewis became a Christian. And, for sure, ” war is a very great evil” as was WWI that prepared the seedbed for a Hitler to arise.

    The problem with pacifism is that, like ice cream, it comes in more than 31 flavors. If we wish to speak about the dominant flavor of pacifism preceding WWII, as Lewis and Orwell, did that is one horse. If we wish to discuss the Christ-centered ‘pacifism’ of the earliest Christians up until today, that is a horse of a different color.

    (Excuse the change of metaphors in the middle of the stream.)

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