Category: War & Peace

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.

Chaos should not surprise us

Our world seems to be drifting toward chaos. There is violence in our American streets and in our broader world. The killers of innocent people are moving us toward terror.

In confusing times it can help to look back in time. One hundred and one years ago, a young man graduated from Yale Divinity School and moved to Detroit to become a pastor. His 13 years at Bethel Evangelical Church began years of change for the young minister, and his ideas would impact his nation.

His name: Reinhold Niebuhr.

In Detroit, Niebuhr began to recognize problems in the liberal theology he had imbibed at Yale. Niebuhr, however, could not be fit easily into today’s political and theological categories of right or left. The world is complex and nuanced, and Niebuhr reflected it.

Former Baylor University Professor Bob E. Patterson wrote on Niebuhr in his 1977 book in the Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series, and Patterson is the source for these brief references to Niebuhr.

Niebuhr moved to the Detroit pastorate in 1915. In his later book, Does Civilization Need Religion?, Niebuhr wrote, “In my parish duties I found that the simple idealism into which the classical faith had evaporated was as irrelevant to the crises of personal life as it was to the complex social issues of an industrial city.”

With a congregation including both workers and managers in the auto industry, Niebuhr “discovered the real cost of industrialization: dehumanization of the worker, nervous tensions, unemployment without compensation, broken bodies, appalling working conditions in factories, and naïve gentlemen with a genius for mechanics deciding the lives and fortunes of hundreds of thousands. . . .

“During these years his theology underwent a significant change. He entered his parish with the moralistic assumptions of optimistic liberalism, the goodness of man and the inevitability of human progress, but he soon saw that corrupting self-interest is inextricably involved in the human situation.”

Patterson says the pastor had “isolated liberalism’s confidence in moral progress,” and the “illusion of moral progress became the central theme in his attack.”

At the time, liberal Christianity had become convinced of moral progress — that the world was inexorably moving forward to a better place ruled by reason and punctuated by a commitment of Christians to bring forth God’s kingdom in society.

Niebuhr may have seen in 1915 the challenges to moral progress, but countless Americans still talk about how people are basically good.

“Modern liberalism,” Niebuhr said, “is steeped in a religious optimism which is true to the facts of neither the world of nature nor the world of history.”

Today, in our postmodern world, political conservatism is often steeped in a similar optimism. Idealism and optimism rooted in faith in humankind deny the biblical testimony and historical experience. The Bible and history show that people are inherently sinful; they are self-centered and selfish when left to their own devices. They have been created in the image of God with ultimate value and almost unlimited potential, but they are trapped in the self-centered pull of their sin.

We forget this sinful nature at our own peril because we then fail to see what is real, what is true. When we think people are basically good, we can begin to think they do not need a Savior and we can begin to open the door to all kinds of evil that will arise and go unfettered even among so-called Christian people.

People can’t be trusted to do right when left to their own devices. The Bible reveals it, and the United States Constitution recognizes it with its balance of powers.

The world is not moving inexorably forward to some idealistic state. We are only moving forward as we humble ourselves to the will of God, and that requires a recognition that all of us are self-centered sinners. We need God in Christ to help us personally battle our demons, and we need God in Christ to help us stand with our neighbor in our societal and global battles with the demons unleashed by sin.

This is not a benign universe in which we live. There are forces at work to destroy it, and we fool ourselves greatly if we think we can fight these forces alone. Despite what liberal secularists or conservative capitalists believe and say, we are not at play in our own world of wishes and desires. We are at war within ourselves and the world to allow God to reign.

As we confront the killings in our streets and around the world, we Christians act with a hope not rooted in humanity but rooted in the love, power, and graciousness of God, as revealed in His one only Son, Jesus Christ.

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.)

Demographic changes may impact war possibilities

2012-11-20 Demographics and war 134112031 FFThere has been much talk recently about the impact of Hispanic and Asian immigration on the outcome of the Nov. 6 election. No matter your politics, there is another interesting aspect to these demographic changes.

Scott McConnell, writing for The American Conservative, notes that the new ethnic makeup of the U.S. will act, as it did in the pre- and post- World War I eras, ”more as a brake on an interventionist or militarized foreign policy than a leaven for one.” In other words, the U.S. may be less likely to engage in wars and such overseas.

Christianity has historically taken a dim view of war, so much so that a theory developed for determining the difference between just and unjust wars. But followers of Christ have seen even just wars as the lesser of evils, something that, while justified, is terribly tragic.

“War is always cause for remorse, never for exhilaration,” wrote William Sloane Coffin.

As a result of our faith heritage in regard to war, any news that the U.S. might be less likely to engage in armed conflict is indeed encouraging.

So how does McConnell get to this conclusion? First, he looks back to the first half of the 20th century.

McConnell says there was “ferocious political conflicts over American intervention in World Wars I and II, in which an Anglo-American establishment eventually prevailed over fierce opposition to intervene on Britain’s side.” The writer references “the German, Irish, and Scandinavian immigrant communities’ intense efforts to keep America out of the Great War.”

Then, in the 1930s, “Walter Lippmann interpreted American isolationism as an ethnic phenomenon: intervention in Europe risked exacerbating America’s own tensions,” McConnell says.

Then, in a post-World War II analysis, “political scientist Samuel Lubell opined that American isolationism was more an ethnic than a geographic phenomenon, rooted in anti-British prejudices stoked by the Republican Party.”

McConnell is a journalist, not a historian, and he is a journalist pushing a particular agenda, so I cannot vouch for the full integrity of his analysis. I simply offer it as food for thought in helping us try to understand our times.

His perspective, however, on the current situation is as good as any other you will hear in the popular media. He maintains today’s “new immigrants” appear to have “little obvious  interest in foreign policy, or at least nothing to compare with the fierce anti-Castroism of the early Cuban refugees. An exception might be made for Muslims who at this point make up less than 1 percent of the American population.”

Also, McConnell cites the Reuters/Ipsos exit poll, which did not find sharp differences between whites and non-whites. He writes:

“Asked, for instance, whether the United States should use military force to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, 41 percent of minorities either strongly or somewhat agreed, versus 51 percent percent of the whites.

“Asked whether they agreed that the United States should spend less money on the military, 28 percent of minorities somewhat or strongly disagreed, as opposed to 39 percent of whites.

“Such gaps persist on most of the foreign-policy issues. Relatively few of the polled questions translate into a straightforward hawk-versus-dove dichotomy, but those that do tend to show the minority coalition about 10 percent more dovish than the whites.”

War ever lingers as a possibility in this world. People are dying every day in various conflicts, including Americans in Afghanistan. War is a terribly ugly business that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ, even though it does seem to be necessary at times in order to restrain greater evil.

A prayer: Dear God, help us to hate war. Help us to desire peace when others may desire conflict. Help our nation, the most powerful one in the world, to be very careful in how we use that power. And thank You for bringing the world to our shores so that we may have a broader view of the world. God, please bless America, please bless this world.

Nobel reminds us of the value of peace

The Nobel Committee has reminded the world again of the importance and fragility of peace. In awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, the committee shocked the world and gave it a history lesson.

Minds suddenly went racing back to the first half of the 20th century when two devastating wars ripped apart the continent. Millions, literally millions, of people died. Many others suffered. And the toll was felt around the world.

In being honored for decades of peace since World War II, Europe’s current struggles were placed into a new context. The European Union is about more than the Euro and financial problems. It is about knitting together nations that once had a well-established history of conflict, brutal conflict.

Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland praised the EU for its role in reconciling France and Germany in the decades after World War II, and incorporating Spain, Portugal and Greece after the collapse of their authoritarian regimes in the 1970s, the Council on Foreign Relations reported. “Jagland challenged the twenty-seven-nation group (FT) to shift its focus to the Balkan countries, where Croatia is on the verge of membership. The award comes as the bloc struggles to resolve one of its deepest crises in history, as debt woes, unemployment, and social unrest threaten the very structure of the union itself (AP).”

History makes it clear that it is possible for the world to explode in conflict. Most people alive today have no personal memory of what it means for the whole world to be at war.

My 85-year-old dad has maintained since President George W. Bush declared a war on terrorism that we have not really been at war because it has had little effect on the daily lives of most people. Most of us still drive our cars where we want to go, eat the food we want to eat, and entertain ourselves to excess. That was not the case during World War II. This is a different kind of war now, but we fool ourselves if we think this is really what war is like.

John Lennon famously wrote, “Give peace a chance.” We don’t need to just give peace a chance; we need to work to make peace a reality, not just on the European and North American continents, but around the world.

War is terrible and devastating. The Nobel Committee has reminded us that peace is a paramount goal. This is a message we followers of the Prince of Peace should easily grasp, for Christ emphasized that we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

A prayer: Dear God, help those of us who follow Christ to have the strength to fight for peace in a world that too often has suffered war.

Of war and beauty and nationalism

Rabindranath Tagore

People from other cultures sometimes help us see the world more clearly, or at least differently. Robert D. Kaplan, in his book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, shares some of the ideas of Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.

“Herein is the essential Tagore,” Kaplan writes. “War may be necessary but it is so pitiful that no monuments should be built to it. War, military glory, and the like are worse than wrong; they are, like nationalism, ‘unaesthetic.’ Beauty, that is to say, is moral and universal. And anything that is not moral and universal cannot be beautiful.”

Now that’s not normally how we talk about war in America–speaking of it in contrast to beauty. Here we tend to say war is a terrible thing that should be avoided at all costs but at times it is the right thing to do. And when one is fought for American interests then we honor the soldiers who are willing, if not always required, to offer up their lives in the cause. And we surely erect momuments to remember wars and the sacrifices made.

I’m not sure I agree with or disagree with Tagore. The beauty connection is just strange to my western way of thinking. I will say that I think we Americans too often take the position of “America right or wrong.” I’m not prepared to shelve my judgment at the altar of politicians in Washington. I definitely believe the war in Iraq was an unjust war in traditional Christian terms; as a result, I believe America was wrong to fight it. While saying that, I do commend and honor the soldiers who carried out their responsibility and served our nation. They did a noble and honorable thing in doing their duty.

Here are more of Kaplan’s words about the poet:

“Tagore was truly a visionary in the sense that his lifetime (1861-1941) corresponded with the age of nationalism, even as he went beyond it and saw a larger solidarity group above the state, that of humanity. He was not opposed to nationalism or patriotism, only to nationalism or patriotism as the highest good.”

Well said, if I may be so bold as to pass judgment on a Nobel laureate. Of course, it moves us to the important question: What is the highest good? Jesus said it is to love God and love others, and I’m confident he meant for us to love the people beyond our national borders, even those we adamently disagree with or who threaten us.

More from Kaplan:

“Tagore was the ultimate syncretist, a constant blender of cultures and peoples in his work and thoughts. There is no beautiful Bengali landscape in his view, only the glorious ‘Earth.’ As such, he was an inveterate traveler and pilgrim. …

“… There were no borders in Tagore’s worldview, only transition zones. …

“Nevertheless, Tagore was not a globalist, if that means giving up one’s national or ethnic identity. He grasped intuitively that to appreciate other cultures one had to be strongly rooted in one’s own. He understood that the ‘universal’ could be implanted only in many rich and vibrant localisms.”

I love that. It’s an elegant way of saying what I sometimes think when I see a “God Bless America” bumper sticker. I do share that prayer; I pray for God to bless America. But I also pray for God to bless all the peoples of the world. I’ve met too many of them not to love them and want God’s blessings for them, as well.

So here’s a tip of the hat to someone long dead of whom I had never heard before reading Kaplan’s book. Thank you, Rabindranath Tagore.

(Note all quotes above are from pp. 188-189 in Kaplan’s book.)

World Baptists come out for peace

The Baptist World Alliance is encouraging its member conventions and unions, churches and Baptist individuals to learn the “ten practices of ‘just peacemaking'” and “to incorporate them … in our congregations and institutions.”

It seems strange that Christians today often ignore the importance of pursuing peace. I’m thankful the largest and most important world Baptist body is seeking to change that situation. You can see details on the 10 practices of just peacemaking on the initiative’s website.

Here’s some of the news release from BWA:

“In a resolution passed during its Annual Gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 4-9, the BWA also urged governments to pursue the ten practices ‘in their leadership, policies and actions.’

“The ‘just peacemaking’ formula was developed by scholars led by Glen Stassen, a Baptist and professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. The peace plan includes support for nonviolent action; cooperative conflict resolution; the promotion of human rights, religious liberty and democracy; economic development that is just and sustainable; a reduction in offensive weapons and weapons trade; the support of grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations; and the strengthening of the United Nations and other international organizations.

“The BWA recalled Jesus’ cry over Jerusalem in Luke 19:42, when he bewailed ignorance of ‘those things that make for peace.’ We, the BWA said, “envision Jesus weeping over many cities and nations of our world because we do not know those things that make for peace.”

Give peace a chance — pray

While it’s best to pray every day, here’s another good special prayer emphasis–World Sunday for Peace, May 22.

The peace prayer day is in conjunction with the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica. On Sunday, May 22, churches “in every corner of the world are invited to celebrate God’s gift of peace,” the web site says.

The suggested biblical text for the Sunday is Ephesians 2, where Christ “who is our peace” makes peace among us and creates “one new humanity.” Reconciled in Christ we are “no longer strangers and aliens” but members of the household of God.

The site includes a meditation on Ephesians 2:14-22 by Elsa Tamez, which I haven’t read.

“Churches and Christians are indeed called to be peacemakers in their communities and in the wider spheres of government, business and the environment,” the site says. “It is a call to unity – across borders – for the sake of peace.”

Not a time to rejoice

David P. Gushee has written a great statement about the death of Osama bin Laden on behalf of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. It’s titled, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,” quoting from Proverbs 24:17.

Not in line with Proverbs 24:17

I might quibble with some of the specifics in the latter portion of the statement, but the basic point is laudible.

Here is some of it:

“We feel compelled to respond today to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States and to the jubilant response across the nation.

“A nation has a right to defend itself. From the perspective of the fundamental national security of the United States, this action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self-defense.

“But as Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.

“In that sense, President Obama’s sober announcement was far preferable to the happy celebrations outside the White House, in New York, and around the country, however predictable and even cathartic they may be.

“For those of us who embrace a version of the just war theory, honed carefully over the centuries of Christian tradition, our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news. …

“President Obama’s respectful treatment of Islam in his remarks, and his declaration that Osama bin Laden’s body was treated with respect according to Islamic custom, offers all of us an opportunity to follow that example and turn away from the rising disrespect toward Muslims in our nation.”

Going to war on TV

Cameron and I watched the final episode of the HBO World War II series “Pacific” last night. I still have a lot of images from the series flitting around in my head, and I know they are there, as well, for my 12-year-old son.

Some could question the wisdom of exposing a pre-teen to the voluminous use of the f— word. I questioned it myself at times. But I wanted my son to know what war is really like. It’s hell on earth. At least I guess it is. I missed Vietnam and am thankful for it.

Every pre-teen, teen and young adult male in America seems obsessed by the multiple video war games. I have qualms about it, but over the past few months I have let Cameron play the T-rated versions just so he will not be totally out of his cultural loop.

So war is everywhere in popular male culture. I hope shows like “Pacific” and movies like Saving Private Ryan will help give a better picture of reality. And one of the things I really liked about “Pacific” was that it showed the impact of such experiences on young men — it’s devastating, but it can be overcome.

Gosh, I hate war. I hate it so much that I hope the closest my sons ever come to it is a video game and TV screen.