Saturday, May 19, 2012

Force is the Exception 4

continued from yesterday
... By contrast, the earthly Jesus modeled for us what it looks like when we are out of power or it is not God's will to use what power we have to bring change to the structures of society. Of course some have argued that Jesus gave us an example for all times and all situations. They argue that Christians should never engage in violence such as war and that a person should never strike another, even in self-defense. [1] God is the one who fights for us. We are not to fight for ourselves. Even then, God's fighting is full of love for all individuals involved.

These voices are important because they are surely more correct than incorrect. The usual responses to them are also well known. "What about Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the temple?" Some have argued that Jesus only used his whip to drive the animals out of the temple court, not the people (John 2:15). [2] As honorable as this interpretation is, it seems based more on wishful thinking than the text itself (Mark 11:15).

It seems that Jesus could get "righteously angry" and act accordingly. And although this was only one occasion in an entire ministry without violence, it showed that force was an option on some level. Non-violence was apparently not an absolute for him, even though it was the default, the standard for the vast majority of cases.

Another response looks to the Old Testament, where God seems to command Joshua to obliterate whole cities entirely, including animals (e.g., Josh. 6:21). We have to be careful when applying texts such as this one, for the Old Testament is not complete in its understanding of God without the New Testament. Even within the Old Testament itself, there are often multiple perspectives to be considered. Nahum with its delight over the destruction of Nineveh must be balanced by Jonah with its concern for Nineveh. Ezra with its commands to divorce foreign wives must be balanced by Malachi's hatred of divorce.

The Christian approach to war that seems to take the whole Bible best into account is sometimes called "just war theory."  It believes that war can be justified from a Christian perspective if four conditions are met. [3] First, the impending damage from an aggressor needs to be "lasting, grave, and certain." Second, every other means of putting the aggression to an end needs to have been ineffective or impractical. Next, the war should be likely to be successful. Finally, the use of force should not result in a greater evil than it solves.

These principles seem to capture the Christian spirit, where the use of force is a course of last resort.  Force is never used to advance one's own territory or ambition. One always tries non-violent means to resolve situations first. The goal of war is not to devastate the enemy but to protect one's own or others.

Can one wage war and not violate love of neighbor and love of enemy?  Certainly one can wage war to protect one's own people.  One can wage war to protect the people of the country you are fighting.  The problem is that the true intentions of a leader arguing for war will not always be clear. We often do not realize our own true intentions. Any reasonable doubt at all argues against the use of force.

Then there is the question of justice. Would a nation attack another in the name of justice, if it were following Christ's example?  If the answer is simply to get back at the other nation, the answer is no.  But such matters are also very complex. You may have heard the old Latin saying, "If you want peace, prepare for war." The idea is that strength is in itself a deterrent from the aggression of others.

Again, we are prone to hide our true intentions and hatefulness behind such honorable sounding sentiments. And few of us will ever be in a position to make such decisions, although we vote for those who do. For example, following just war theory, a Christian would not have supported the American invasion of Iraq.  Not only was imminent danger from Iraq uncertain, it turned out to be non-existent. Even after the war, it remains to be seen whether, in the end, the resultant situation in the Middle East and the world is better than before the war.

Yet many Christians at the time almost considered it unchristian even to have questions about the Iraq War. This is an indication of the extent to which popular Christianity is removed not only from the actual example of Jesus but from Christian understandings that have been accepted since the time Christians had a voice in such matters. It calls us as believers to be much more cautious in our support of American military action in the future.

The case of World War 2 was much clearer. Hitler had shown his aggression in the most obvious of terms. It even astounds the mind for us to realize now what he was doing to Jews and others behind the scenes, things that were not obvious at the time. For nations like Britain, the question was as much one of survival as of winning. Many today even fault England for engaging in dialog too long. The most balanced position would seem to be that there are very rare occasions where Christians might support a war in the spirit of Jesus.

Of much more immediate importance to us as individuals is how we should apply Jesus' ethic to our daily lives...

[1] Some key names in this reading of Jesus include John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, and Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens.

[2] Yoder, Politics.

[3] This approach is often associated with Augustine in the 400s. The current list is largely taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2309.


Ken Schenck said...

Three comments have come and gone. I suspect I will get it from both sides. One side will think I have watered down Jesus. The other will think any nod to non-violence is naive. Since I think the truth tends toward the middle, I seem to be right where I belong ;-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You mean, being moderate in all things?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Isn't moderation Aristole's view of virtue and Buddha's view of the noble life? Many religions seek to control their passions by moderating them.

Philosophers have called for an examined life, as a life worth living...Many of the religious aren't prone to examine, because they are taught to "believe and to trust", apart from examination, discrimination, or making distinction.

It seems today's political climate is toward undermining our nation state's power, to re-distribute that power/wealth to other countries. The U.N. has been attempting to do this for awhile. I think, also, of the recent talk given by the President about Africa.

Yet, how can he defend his oath to our country and value all nations alike? Treason was the term used for behavior that would undermine a country's interests. But, today's interests is global because we are a "global economy"...

Your proposal to honor a spiritual realm above the material falls in line with the "global vision" or a "global village", which doesn't call for making distinctions. That sounds idealistic, as in the real world all cultures are not the same, and the question is how to do "business" in and with cultures that do not hold to the value of "contracts" and where corruption is the rule, rather than the exception.

Then, there is the problem of the differentation of monetary value, and the percieved value of the good itself. Are we to let the market determine the value, or is there to be a "controlling governance" over what people choose, so that people can't "discriminate" against a good they don't "culturally" value. What has happened to the EU? And has it furthered the "greater good" or compounded the pain?

What about the "good" of "god" and the value of the nation state? Are we to think and presuppose that "god" is to be a value that cannot be discriminated against? Is there to be a loyalty to such "ideas", as "god", just as disloyalty to the nation-state? Otherwise, one is is "heresy" and suffers the consequences by his religous community, just as a citizen is guilty of treason and suffers the consequences by his nation?

And what of the nation state? Can we dissolve these boundaries and distinctions, when there are threats to the world by Iran? or when China devalues our dollar because of their "cultural values"? What IS to be the "controlling factor" for "world peace"?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

All men seek to survive and prosper. This can only be done by material means, unless we want to "give man groundless hope". And material means is about means to the end of prosperity, trade, contracts, business negotiations. Should the President be seeking the prosperity of Africa, when Americans are having a hard time? Are we all to be equal in our material resources, otherwise, it is "not fair"? Or do we understand that each of us works for our own benefit and those we are responsible for (our immediate families). Is there to be liberty of choice, as to values, or are these to be determined to protect "peace"? And who will determing these values for us all?

Many today, in our own country, do not provide for their own families, therefore, the taxpayer (other people) have to bail these people out.

Others seek to derive benefit for themselves on other people's money by investing and taking risks, but don't want to take the consequences if those risks do not pay off.

It seems that our whole system is based on "others being a safety net", when we should be self-sustaining and self-supporting and self-responsible. Responsibility extends, as one's power extends. No one should be above the law, meaning above the agreed to terms of the cultural values. But, at the same time, no one should be forbidden the opportunity to challenge those pre-concieved notions about the terms!! That is liberty and is our primary "cultural value"!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I read this after responding to your post..."..."...Unwittingly, America has returned to its pre-American Revolution feudal roots whereby all land is held by a sovereign and the common people had no rights to hold allodial title to property. Once again, We the People are the tenants and sharecroppers renting our own property from a Sovereign in the guise of the Federal Reserve Bank. We the People have exchanged one master for another.”

Mr. Mcgranor said...

My comments were showing as annonymous and then disapeared, for some reason. Liberty is of Protestantism. Orthodox and especially Catholics can only mock it. God doesn't force the will, some say. Men that realise the futility of free-will, may be Calvinist. Still a will of licentiousness leads to tyranny.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

True, Mr. Mcgranor that a will of licentiousness leads to tyranny, as apart from law, there is chaos and the "strong, empowered, political class" wins. This was why our Founders did not believe anyone above the law. The law was to be the protection of individual and societal justice and order. The question is just where do we want to draw the lines and where do we begin our justification; society or the individual?

Mr. Mcgranor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Mcgranor said...

Christ let them ask you lord, as if it was not clear in scripture: society or the individual?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our society is the only society that believes that the individual is Supreme. Our government was formed with the understanding that individuals had inalienable rights. These rights were not granted by government, but by "god". Therefore, America was founded on revolutionary principles, not static social structures. Though this is true (revolution as the foundation and the right to resist, or petition government), one should not use revolution, unless the system has become staticized such that liberty is threatened. And liberty is threatened every time that government grows, regulates, and makes demands upon us.

True, that our society functions best when leaders look toward the 'general welfare", but when leaders use "the general welfare" to obtain power that isn't theirs to have, then, tyranny has "not just knocked on our door", but entered!

Russell Purvis said...

Though I am more of a pacifist, I do appreciate your valuing of at least limiting force and violence. Great insights.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Madam Van De Merwe our culture is distinctly from Protestant and free-thinking origins as well; from the traditions of the Magna Carta, and Anglicanism--and the British Expansion. To more logically concluded liberty -- Americanism.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I want to add that our Constitution had roots that were to defend and protect what the West valued, the individual. Equality before the law was a non-negotiable in our Founders eyes, especially for leaders actions that would affect those they led. Therefore, leaders were not to be "gods", as the Caesars had been, but were to represent those that elected them! and the country they served.

Resistance or rebellion should be a right to protest, when our leaders don't respect those duties that bind them, as representatives. Any segment of our society should be represented, therefore, laws define and limit, whereas, liberty grants rights. Our society is flexible enough to amend the Constitution, but we shouldn't "do away" with it, as to its principles.