Reality: ‘I am for peace, but they are for war.’

I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war!

(Psalms 120:7)

As I’ve been convalescing from my spinal fusion surgery, I have a lot of down time, and am just beginning to feel well enough to feel the need to do things to occupy my time.  I listened in my first week home to THE HOBBIT on my Kindle text to voice reader.   It is not a human reading the text, but a mechanical reader, which takes some getting used to.  Nevertheless, I was thankful for having a device that could read to me while I lay flat listening.    I read THE HOBBIT 35 years or more ago, and although I remember liking the book, I found that I really didn’t remember the story at all.

As in the entire LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, I do remember having an emotional reaction to the role war plays in the writings of Tolkien.  He was not an idealist, like I am.  He did not envision a world without war or without evil or without a struggle between good and evil.  That struggle takes place not only on the macro level of all people on earth, but in the heart of each individual as well.

I remember being troubled when I first read his trilogy by Tolkien’s realism regarding war and the almost necessary role it has in history.  On this earth there is and will be struggle, and there are forces that are trying to prevail over the rest of inhabitants of earth.   Tolkien does accept the grand epic notion of  a cosmic struggle between good and evil, and yet in my reading of him, he is not blaming Satan for the existence of war, struggle or evil on earth.  Evil lurks in the hearts of earth’s inhabitants.  Satan is not much needed to cause war when the inhabitants of the earth are so ready to use violence to attain even unimportant goals.

There is always someone or some group which desires to have power over others and is willing to do anything to gain and maintain their position of power.  There always are some who are willing to enslave others to attain their goals.  Evil and wickedness are in this sense forces that can work upon our hearts and minds, and it happens at every level of human existence from the individual up to entire cultures and empires.

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  (Genesis 6:5-6)

I appreciate that recognition of what lurks in the hearts of earth’s inhabitants in the writings of JRR Tolkien.  The struggle with evil that we each and always face is not just the fault of Satan, but it is a true spiritual warfare in each of us.  Sometimes it becomes a collective when an entire nation embraces evil design and decides it is OK to oppression or destroy their fellow inhabitants on earth.

I wish it weren’t so, and by nature am a pacifist, but I realize Tolkien is right about the nature of evil in the world’s population as he is correct about war as a means for people to achieve their goals or to oppose those who want to oppress.

Even after the Great Flood:   the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…'”  (Genesis 8:21)

My pacifistic beliefs are not the result of personal holiness, but the result of wishful idealism.  Would that we on this planet could find it in our hearts not to hate others, not to be ready to kill those different from us, not to be willing to enslave those we think as lesser than ourselves, not to rely on violence to attain our wishes and goals.  But, alas, as in the world Tolkien created, violence and war seem to be part of the fabric which makes up our hearts.

Jesus said: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.   All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”   (Mark 7:21-23)

So the quote of the little Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, stood out in my mind as I listened to the tale:

“You are a fool, Bilbo Baggins, and you made a great mess of that business with the stone; and there was a battle, in spite of all your efforts to buy peace and quiet, but I suppose you can hardly be blamed for that.”   (Kindle 4368-69)

Like Bilbo, I wish people could get along on planet earth, and I’m so often dismayed by as he was by the stubbornness and lack of good will even among some who are supposed to be allies.   How quickly we so often resort to violence and how willingly we go to war.  maybe it is Tolkien’s realism, or maybe it is the biblical notion of violence and evil which lurks in the hearts of every human being.

I know I have used these quotes several times in other blogs, to make the same point, but I came back to the same ideas while reading Tolkien.

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”    (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

Constantine, the Church and War (2)

This is the 10th blog in this series which began with Two Versions of Constantine the Great.   The previous blog is  Constantine, the Church and War (1).  This blog series is considering Constantine the Great as presented in two books:  Paul Stephenson’s  CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR  and Peter Leithart’s DEFENDING CONSTANTINE.

The early church, especially in the years of persecution, lived Christ’s teachings – martyrdom.  We may lay down our lives for our friends, but there was no command to take up arms to kill any opponents.   Modern historians note that the objection to military service in the early church rarely is expressed as opposition to violence, but rather more objects to the Roman military’s mandatory ritual pagan observances as unacceptable to Christians.  The rhetorician Lactantius (d. ca 325AD) is thought by some to be by far the greatest defender of pacifism in Christianity at the time of Constantine. Leithart says of Lactantius, “If there is a patristic poster boy of pacificism, Lactantius is it.”    Lactantius wrote:

“’…when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men.’ He made a broader demand as well: ‘it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, not to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.’”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, p 271-272)

Lactantius generally writes favorably of Constantine, yet on the issue of war and even killing, Lactanius is clear that warfare is not a Christian enterprise.   However, even Constantine seemed to understand that truth.  Constantine saw his having to go to war as emperor as part of the spiritual cross he had to bear, AND he postpones his baptism until his deathbed because he so respects the seriousness of the baptismal cleansing of sin, that he does not want to sin after his  baptism.  He takes his chance that God will give him time to repent, but then removes himself from leading any into war.

“Constantine knew that he too enjoyed spiritual authority, a divine gift, and that his acts of war were his askesis, from which his pragmatic authority derived.”  (Stephenson, CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR, p  257)

Rome's Pantheon with Christian Symbols Added

In the decades following Constantine, Christian leaders continued to struggle with issues of civil power, warfare and the Christian way.

Ambrose (d. 397 AD) renounced self-defense and claimed that even the ‘thought of warlike matters seems to be foreign to the duty of our office,’ the office of priests.  It is not the priest’s business to ‘look at arms, but rather to the forces of peace.’”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, p   276)

So St. Ambrose renounces even self-defense for priests, but by the time he dies the empire’s army is mostly Christian.  The attitude toward war has clearly changed and now it is only priests who are exempted from warfare but the laity is not only not exempt from military service but is expected to fulfill its duty to the empire.

Another Western writer who wrote about the issue of violence and military serve, St. Augustine (d. 430AD),  comments:

“Turning the other cheek ‘does not forbid punishment which serves a corrective.  In fact, that kind of punishment is a form of mercy. . . . The only person suitable for inflicting punishment is the man whose love has driven out that normal hatred which rages in us when we have a desire for revenge.  … we can love and punish a son at the same time.’”

Augustine appealed to the same analogy to draw a conclusion about war.  When ‘the earthly city observes Christian principles,’ then it wages war ‘with the benevolent purpose that better provision might be made for the defeated to live harmoniously together in justice and godliness.  Freedom is not the ultimate good, and restraining freedom can be a good when the freedom is being used to do evil.  If possible, ‘wars would be waged as an act of mercy by good men so that by controlling unbridled passions they could stamp out those vices that ought to be removed or suppressed by an responsible government.’

Augustine … knew that warfare was most often perverted with pride, greed, lust for domination. … war had to be waged, when it was waged, for the sake of peace.  Peace, not war, was still the Christian vision of the world subdued by the gospel.”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, pp  277-278)

St. Augustine writes at a time when the empire’s army was almost totally Christian, and he lived through Barbarian invasions of Rome.  So he had plenty to contemplate regarding Christianity, peace and war.  He certainly does not extol the glories of warfare, but acquiesces to their necessity, and at times to their justification.  If there was such a thing as an empire converted to Christianity, then there was going to be such a thing as Christians going to war – this could not be escaped in the fallen world, no matter what Christian idealism preferred.   Wars might be necessary to attain a good.

Leithart sees the church struggling with notions of war, however, he does not think that pacifism is the only Christian thread running through early church history.  Leithart offers examples of Christians who accepted the fact that military people too were in need of salvation and could embrace Christianity.   Simultaneously, an empire needs an army at a minimum for self defense.   Thus the Christian acceptance of the military after the conversion of Constantine was not in his eyes an abrupt about face on the issue of war, but rather was an organic and pragmatic development as Christianity’s role in the empire changed from persecuted minority to being the people with responsible for exerting power to run the empire.

Stephenson views Constantine as becoming a Christian while holding on to the powers natural to him as Roman emperor, and thus re-interpreting wars and armies in a peculiarly Christian way:

“As we have seen, there were many Christian attitudes to war and violence, and pacifism was certainly strongly represented among them.  This remained the case after Constantine.  But as a consequence of his conversion and the consistent message disseminated from his court that the ‘greatest god’ was his patron, Constantine established Christianity as the religion of victory within the army.” (Stephenson, CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR, p  278)

For Stephenson, pacifism did become integrated into the official thinking of the empire due to Christianity – not only priests, but monks too were exempted from military service.  But Constantine reworks the Christian understanding of God by transferring the existing Roman idea of the “greatest god’ – the God who brought victory to himself and to the Christian people – to the God of the Gospel.  To some extent this transition was helped by emphasizing certain teachings of God gleaned from the Old Testament.   Leithart rejects the notion that Christians were all pacifists before Constantine and sees Christianity as ever embracing more concerns not just for Christians but for society and the empire itself as it moves from a persecuted sect to the catholic religion of the empire.

Martyrs Boris and Gleb

Thus a Constantinian effect on the Church was to get the Church not to be so completely other worldly, but to show the Church that it should be concerned with all the issues of people on earth and specifically within the empire in which they resided and of which they now enjoyed its protection and favor.   The Constantinian legacy took the cross – the Christian symbol of God’s victory over sin and death and added to it, first, the notion of victory over paganism, but then victory over the enemies of the Roman Empire.  Constantine saw himself as continuing what Jesus had begun on the Cross – becoming victorious over all adversaries of the one God.

Next:  The Myth of Constantinianism?

Constantine, the Church and War (1)

This is the 9th blog in this series which began with Two Versions of Constantine the Great.   The previous blog is Constantine, Heretics and Schismatics (2).   This blog series is considering Constantine the Great as presented in two books:  Paul Stephenson’s  CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR  and Peter Leithart’s DEFENDING CONSTANTINE.

Both Leithart and Stephenson agree that while there is a tendency in early Christianity to see military service and warfare as being inconsistent with Christ’s Gospel commandments.  However, when the reasoning behind this “pacifism” is stated it often is not so much opposition to violence and warfare as it is a rejection of the pagan ritualism that was mandatory throughout the Roman military establishment.

 “In several versions of the Apostolic Tradition (written ca 215AD), those who held public office, administered justice or were officers in the army were – like gladiators and prostitutes – expressly forbidden from receiving baptism, since their professions involved them in activities that were impermissible for Christians.” (Stephenson, CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR, p  280)

Of course because our modern perspective accepts many centuries  of Christians being involved in governments and warfare, it is a little bit difficult for us to completely understand the early church’s attitude toward government let alone toward warfare.  We can look at some of the attitudes towards war and the military that we find expressed in the Post-Apostolic period.

“Indeed, Tertullian’s (d. ca 220AD) disapproval of Christian participation in military matters is not principally provoked by the potential for violence occasioned by army life.  Rather, his particular distaste is for the requirement for all soldiers in the Roman army to participate fully and regularly without fail or resistance, in state religio … Tertullian condemns Christian soldiers who do not display the courage of their convictions, but instead wear the symbols of idolaters…”   (Stephenson, CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR, p 56 )

Leithart agrees with Stephenson’s assessment of Tertullian:  Tertullian expresses little about the violence involved in being in the army but is very concerned that Christians not participate in pagan sacrifice and ritual.

“His main argument against Christians in military service—not, to be sure, his only one—was that they would be required to participate in pagan rites.  He argued that the military oath, the sacramentum, was incompatible with the Christian’s commitment to Jesus …  His later treatise De corona militis… its focus was overwhelmingly on the idolatry involved in wearing the military crown, rather than on the issue of bloodshed.”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, p  270)

Of course it is possible that the thought of Christians being involved in bloodshed seemed so appalling and remote that Tertullian didn’t even entertain that thought.   He focused on what was much more obvious to him – Roman military personnel engaged in mandatory pagan rituals.  Their service was not only to the empire but also involved loyalty to the gods their officers and emperors served.  So Tertullian may never even get as far as commenting on Christians actually participating in military killings, as for him just putting on the military uniform is a form of denying Christ.

Origen had a slightly more sophisticated appeal regarding Christian military service:  just as pagan priests were exempted from military service so that they could seek the favor of their gods on behalf of the empire, so too Christians, who all shared in the priesthood of all believers,  should be exempt from military service since all of them wrestle in prayer with the righteousness of the empire; apart from that righteousness, the empire would not be worth serving militarily.

40 Martyrs of Sebaste

Origen’s (d. ca. 254AD) arguments, however, were often linked with conceptions of pollution.  He appealed to the pagan practice of exempting priests from military service, arguing that Christians are priests and thus fight in prayer and worship rather than with the sword.  ‘Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, he asks Celsus, ‘keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army?’  Given this, ‘how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure.’  Christians wrestle ‘in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously is destroyed!’   But more important, ‘we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace.’  Thus, Christians ‘are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. . . .  None fight better for the king than we do.  We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, pp 268-269)

Thus Origen argues that Christians as priests are always engaged in a spiritual warfare on behalf of the empire – struggling to defeat those demons and gods who wish evil on the empire.

[As an interesting aside, Origen’s emphasis on Christians praying for those fighting for a righteous cause and for the righteous king very much echoes what a them found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  According to Richard Hays in ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, Paul uses the Old Testament not as a repository of wisdom but as a witness to the one truth, namely God’s righteousness which now includes Gentiles as the people of God.  Origen was very attuned to this same theme of God’s righteousness which the Christians have received and must use to support righteousness in the empire.  The Christians aren’t to kill others to enact this righteousness, but are to witness to it even to the point of their own deaths.]

Next:  Constantine, the Church and War (2)

War, What is it Good For? It Keeps Journalists Employed

Sites keeps himself in focus

I finished reading Kevin Sites’ IN THE HOT ZONE: ONE MAN, ONE YEAR, TWENTY WARS.  Kevin is credited with pioneering “solo journalism.”  As a reporter he has spent years in the world’s hot zones – covering war and conflict.   He spent 2005-2006 jetting around the globe from one conflict to another.  The book is an easy read, and at times interesting, but I would not rate it as a favorite book.  Kevin complains about Americans having little understanding about the world’s conflicts, but his book is a whole lot about him, traveling around.  He makes himself the news by being at the world’s hotspots and then reports on himself, culminating in this book about his being in all of these places.  Solo journalism enables Sites to keep his camera focused on the main person in his every story: himself.  That being said,  I gleaned a few quotes that I will share:

“The way wars are being covered by some media outlets bothers me.  Time limitations for television news programming usually mean that only the news of the day is getting reported.               In Iraq and Afghanistan, news of the day means body counts from the latest bombing.  These stories are essential – but fall short in helping educate an audience about the changing dimensions and nuances of the conflicts, which are necessary for people to truly understand them.”  (p 50)

Rarely in a war is an army, or its government, much interested in the didactic element of explicating the nuances of the situation.   Governments and militaries are interested in defeating the enemy more than in defining their positions on issues.   But the press might take upon itself this task if they have a concern about truth.  Too often though American media outlets, including news outlets – are more interested in advertising dollars, since that is who pays the bills.  So they will be ever tempted to report the news that will attract the viewer.  This plays into featuring sensationalism and bizarre stories over informative ones, or oversimplifying complex issues to spoon feed a lazy, indifferent or passive audience.

“As a society do we want to just say thank you to those soldiers – or do we need to try to understand that asking them to kill for us may also kill something inside of them?” (p 112)

We do ask soldiers to kill for us, and we pay them to do it.  Some probably would criticize Sites saying he is trying to pamper America’s young people by protecting them from the harsh realities of the world.  Danger and evil are real and so someone needs to be trained and prepared to fight for our country.   But I am reminded of some words by James Madison, founding American Father and one of our early Presidents:   “There can be no harm in declaring, that standing armies in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought to be avoided, as far as it may be consistent with the protection of the community.”   (from my blog Madison: Insights and Ideals)   Madison did squirm a bit about a standing army as he feared government would always be tempted to use it rather than to seek some other method to solve a problem.  We have those soldiers trained over there, so let’s use them:  Go to war.

Marine Corps War Memorial

Yet it is also not that hard to see in this fallen world that at times the only way to get to peace is through the use of military force.  Indeed soldiers have often thought of themselves as peace keepers and peace makers.   War is not their goal  but rather they see war as that temporary but necessary stage of mortal combat which must be won in order to get to the desired state of peace.  The main question of the pacifist in challenging the reliance on the military to accomplish national goals is:  have we done everything possible – have we done enough – so that war can be avoided and yet a secure and lasting peace is attained?   War as a necessary means to an end has been taught from the Q’URAN as well as from THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.  Christianity however envisioned a different way from its beginnings as a persecuted religion without any army whatsoever, it still managed to convert an empire and change the world.   Of course once Christianity began to see itself as an imperial force, it too embraced warfare as a just means to an end.   However, personally I see little in the NEW TESTAMENT which makes me think that Christ or the apostles ever envisioned any military as the needed means to convert the world to follow the Crucified God.

“In conflict, everyone, whether they are invading force, government troops, rebels or insurgents, even journalists who help perpetuate the myth of war, has chosen violence over diplomacy, guns over statecraft, and when that happens we all lose a little bit of our humanity with every casualty.”  (p 291)

Arlington Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

To me that is Site’s most profound insight.  It is not simply soldiers who lose their humanity in war, everyone in society does (just think about the German citizens near the death camps saying, “we didn’t know” – they had closed their hearts and minds and gave up part of their humanity to live at peace with what their country was doing).   Even the victorious see in their returning soldiers increases in mental health problems, suicides, drug and alcohol abuse.  Every time we decide to go to war for whatever reason (no matter how noble),  all who support the war (for whatever reason) have decided that violence and force are the expedient way to accomplish a goal.  The cost of such decisions is the loss of a bit of our humanity.   Yes, it will be argued that the war will save more lives than are lost and might pre-empt further suffering.   But we are also saying some human lives are not valuable, and that we can kill an idea by killing some people.    One might think that Pro-Life people would be most reluctant to go to war, but that is not always the case.  Pro-lifers will defend the life of the unborn, but are often willing to send the post-born to their deaths.   I find the whole issue of war to be one of the most troubling aspects of being human and being a Christian- perhaps because I cannot say that war is never the solution to evil.   I am not in the least comforted or convinced by those who argue that God Himself in the Bible orders people to war.  That I find one of the most theologically difficult features of the God who is Love.  It also is a reason I find Islam unacceptable:  there is no allowance in the Q’uran for pacifism.  War is a duty required by God at times because in the Q’uran “God knows what we don’t know.”    In one Sura (2:216) God says there will be times when the believers won’t want to go to war, but God will require it of them anyway because He knows what we do not.   I prefer to struggle with the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of God the Trinity, who said to love even our enemies.  I do not know how to accomplish this counter intuitive love, but I find the thought far more Divine than a call to war which humans even without any God have been readily able to think up for themselves.

For Orthodox Christians the Cross of Christ remains that mysterious weapon of peace, even if Constantine’s followers saw it as a sign of victory in war.  As we sing on the Feast of the Cross (September 14):

Rejoice, O life-bearing Cross!

The invincible weapon of godliness;

The gate of paradise, the protection of the faithful!

The Cross is the might of the church.

Through it corruption is abolished.

Through it the power of death is crushed

And we are raised from earth to heaven!

The invincible weapon of peace!

The Cross is the enemy of demons,

The glory of the martyrs,

The haven of salvation

Which grants the world great mercy!

Was Constantine’s Vision Dreamt Up?

I’ve been slowly reading through Mark Allman’s new book WHO WOULD JESUS KILL?: WAR, PEACE AND THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION.    Two comments by St. Augustine which in my opinion are thought provoking:

 “For every man is in quest of peace, even in waging war, whereas no one is in quest of war when making peace.” 

War is thus never a goal, but serves only as a means to an end, whereas peace is a goal, a desired end.  It makes me think of the Patristic idea that evil has no substance, it is only a negation of the good, whereas good exists, founded in God.  Good is substantive, but also is of God’s will and energy as well.  Evil is none of these, literally!

Commenting on Matt 26:51-52, Augustine wrote:  “The Lord, indeed, had told His disciples to carry a sword; but He did not tell them to use it.”

It is a very interesting observation.   Jesus does not command the use of the sword.  St. Paul believes the sword in the hands of rulers/authority to be approved by God for its use, though he nowhere comments about a Christian being the authority to use it.    In the Koran there is command to use the sword but there is no approval for pacifism as Allah says when it comes to war humans may not want to fight, but that God knows better as He knows what humans do not know and so humans must obey Him when the call to arms comes. 

Allman’s book has brought a question to my mind:

emperorPrior to Constantine both the Roman Empire and the Christian Church forbade Christians to serve in the military.   The story of Constantine seeing a vision (“by this sign you shall conquer”) before going to battle, seems to have become a justification for Christians embracing the military – it shows God using the Roman Emperor and His military to achieve God’s will, so the use of military would be God ordained.  But if I remember my history correctly, the story of Constantine’s vision is only first reported many years after Constantine had come to power but not at the time it supposedly happened.  I thought I even remember it being attributed to Eusebius, the very pro-Constantine Church historian for whom Constantine is a hero.   I wonder if anyone has researched whether Eusebius promoted or even concocted the story to justify Christians being in the military?   After all Constantine could hardly embrace a religion that forbade military service especially since he used the military to defeat the other co-reigning emperors to become the sole emperor of the Roman empire.  And once in power, he wouldn’t be able to defend his position or the empire itself if Christianity maintained its pacifist stance.   So is it possible that Constantine’s “vision” was “dreamt” up (as it were) to justify the melding of militarism and Christianity? 

It apparently is St. Ambrose in the post-Constantine era who first writes about the Roman Empire as the instrument of God’s peace.    According to Allman Ambrose simply  “imported the Greek philosopher’s concern for social justice into the Christian understanding of war.”  Ambrose, himself a former Roman governor, assumed that political leaders receive their legitimate authority from God and thus if the emperor orders Christians to war, the Christians are to assume this is God’s will.

Augustine, following his teacher, Ambrose, accepted from the Greek philosophers a notion that order in the world is good and that government has the job of imposing order on the sinful world which otherwise tends toward evil.  Thus, according to Allman, Augustine opined that  “governmental authority and power are instruments God uses to frustrate the power of sin.” 

Christians believing in the omnipotent God accepted the notion that Constantine’s conversion was ordained by God (it did after all signal the end of Christian persecution by the Empire) and thus anything Constantine ordered must be God-ordained as well.    I wonder if there is any research already done on this.

Soldiers of Conscience

I wanted to do something different tonight, and so plopped myself down in front of the TV and began flipping channels.  I have been feeling tired of many things and in need of time off – something I know the importance of – the Sabbath rest which God had built into His week, but which I ignore.  I rarely watch TV as it usually causes me to fall asleep.  But tonight I wanted to do something mindless, to kill time.

I flipped through the channels and came to the PBS station which was airing the POV show Soldiers of Conscience.  I was immediately drawn into the show.  I was watching soldiers talk about their own conscience – some who remained faithful to their sworn oath of duty to the military and defending our country and some who became conscientious objectors to war while serving in the Iraq war.

I have since high school found the military to be terrifying.  I have not thought myself able to kill.  During the Vietnam War I was sickened by the thought of going to war and found strength in the anti-war movement.  My draft number was 13 at a time when deferrals had become a thing of the past.  But then stunningly Nixon stopped the draft and I didn’t have to report to the Cleveland induction center.  I never had to face what I was going to do if put into the military.

Watching SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE brought back all those memories, and why I find war so horrifying.  I realized from watching the show that I would not be good soldier material.  I don’t know that I could ever have become the reflex shooter that the military now trains people to be.  The one West Point professor explains how studies in WWII showed how few soldiers were willing to pull the trigger in combat and kill the enemy.  The modern army has virtually perfected their training to make sure that the soldiers don’t think, that they just act on reflex and training.  The military today wants to make sure that the soldier’s conscience is only awakened after the battle, but then the military instructor admitted they never train the soldiers for what to do when the conscience awakens – after you have killed the enemy, or a civilian.   Shoot first, reflect on it later. 

The West Point instructor has specialized in studying the morality of war.  He asked the most difficult question about the Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan.    What if you are walking by the victim, not after he has been beaten to a pulp, but while he is being beaten?   Is it “Christian” to wait until the robbery and beating is over and then come to his aid?   Do you have a moral obligation as a Christian to try to intervene and risk your life and stop the beating?  What if lethal force is the only way to stop the beating and robbery?  What is your moral duty?

His take was that the military is not the Good Samaritan who arrives on the scene after the felonious assault takes place, but the military is simply those who walk the path while the assault occurs or while it it being threatened.  The military takes the moral viewpoint that it is better to stop the beating than to be a Good Samaritan.

Then there was the soldier who in his court martial was found guilty and sent to prison for refusing to serve another tour of duty in Iraq because he could no longer bring himself to kill anyone.  He commented that humanity had figured out that human sacrifice was unacceptable and had outlawed the practice.  And humans had figured out that slavery was inhumane and banned the practice.  Maybe the time has come for humans to figure out that war is no more moral than human sacrifice and slavery.

I do not know that this documentary can change anyone’s mind about the morality of war, or of the goodness of the war in Iraq, but I did find it most engaging and challenging.  Not at all the mindless TV that I had begun flipping the channels to find.  Think TV would not give me the peace I wanted for the evening.

Killing time turned into facing up to killing people.  And my pacifist nature was challenged by the realities of the world.  “There is no peace for the wicked,” says the Lord (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21).

If you want to think hard about the morality of war, and the effects of war on some men who served in Iraq, I would recommend watching POV’s  SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE.  For each, whether continuing to obey orders and fight, or choosing to lay down their arms and not kill again, was using the conscience God has given us as human beings.

Passivity is not Pacifism

Perhaps peace is not, after all, something you work for, or “fight for.”  It is indeed “fighting for peace” that starts all the wars. What, after all, are the pretexts of all these Cold War crises, but “fighting for peace”?  Peace is something you have or you do not have. If you yourself are at peace, then there is at least *some* peace in the world. Then you share your peace with everyone, and everyone will be at peace. Of course I realize that arguments like this can be used as a pretext for passivity, for indifferent acceptance of every iniquity. Quietism leads to war as surely as anything does. But I am not speaking of quietism, because quietism is not peace, nor is it the way to peace.

– Thomas Merton,   Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander  

Indeed somehow each time a war is begun some believe it is the path to peace or the war to end all wars.  St. Paul wrote: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

And yet with Merton, I am troubled by the fact that evil is a real force in the world that must be reckoned with.  It cannot be ignored.  Those intent on war will not be stopped by the threat of war, nor by the activities of pacifists.  Pacifism is not passivity.  One has to choose to wage peace, peace will not happen by doing nothing, unless one thinks death and burial gives peace to the pacifist.  The violent, the terrorist, the tyrant are not moved by pacifism.  Jesus’ descent into Hades was not the act of a pacifist, but of a conqueror.  Liberation and salvation are active concepts demanding energy be expended.   Death, the final enemy, is overthrown, trampled down, and destroyed  by Christ not ignored, lulled to sleep or pacified .  We are neither to compromise with evil and death nor form an alliance with it.  We are not instructed by Christ to live at peace with evil or death but to overcome them.    This is why pacifism cannot mean passivity.

Fighting for War

I generally consider myself a pacifist, but I often find pacificism to be an unrealistic idealism when faced with violent evil.   So I find recent comments that World War II might have been unnecessary to be intriguing, and yet these revisionist writings to be totally unconvincing.  And just because a war is necessary doesn’t mean it is good to have to wage it.

Christopher Hutchins’   “A War Worth Fighting”  in Newsweek (23 June 2008) takes on Pat Buchanan’s revisionist history of World War II, CHURCHILL, HITLER AND THE UNNCESSARY WAR.  Buchanan  argues that WWII was an unnecessary war especially if the Europeans would have gotten all the issues from WWI worked out properly.  Hutchins critically debunks many of Buchanan’s assumptions and defends the war to defeat “the homicidal, paranoid maniac” Hitler and his Fascist party which took tens of millions of people to their deaths.

Hutchins admits there were plenty of mistakes made by various ally leaders that contributed to the rise of the Nazis and which helped make the war necessary.  But the reality of the world is that war was necessary to stop the racist Nazi agenda for world domination.   At best Buchanan can only point out how the various decisions contributed to the outcome but his re-reading history 60-70 years later does nothing to change what actually happened.  In fact the decisions Buchanan criticizes were the ones that were actually made, and the world always has to deal with what is not what could have, would have, and should have been.  Buchanan’s efforts would seem more prescient if he could tell us what policies the US has recently engage in are actually the foundation for our next war, and how we can avoid that war by changing ourselves right now. 

If Eve and Adam hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit – if humans never sinned –  the world would have been different too, but we have to deal with what is, not what might have been.  Humans sin, make mistakes, have blind spots and suffer lapses in logic and sound judgment which become part of the matrix that makes up where we are today; and yes if everyone made perfect decisions, and perfectly sound decisions, and perfectly godly decisions, we wouldn’t face the host of forces that threaten world peace.

Hutchins makes Buchanan’s book to sound like:  “if things had been different, WWII wouldn’t have happened.”   WWII was not inevitable or pre-ordained.  It happened because of all the decisions which preceded it.  And though we can spend endless time speculating which different actions taken before the war might have prevented the war – though history can be rewritten by revisionists – it does not change the actual course of events.   And we are brought no closer to world peace by speculating on what unnecessarily happened that made war a necessity.   All the wars we fight are not about logic and better judgment.  There are non-rational forces at work in the world, which push for human destruction.  Evil is real and human rationality alone has not proven itself capable of overcoming the destructiveness of evil – even that which is born of malevolent human will, let alone the evil which opposes God.