Archive for November 14th, 2010

A still from "Friendly Persuasion", a movie looking at the collision of morality with reality.


In the November 11th post below, MJ had the temerity to ask a difficult question. (Just kidding, MJ)


I was thinking about the morality of pacifism, and would like to get your input.

‘No matter how much you may believe war is unjust, and that violence is never an answer’

I understand that people hold these thoughts, but can’t square the circle. Do pacifists believe that it is wise to allow family members to be killed rather than to defend them with force?

Is this a belief system that never needs to be employed so therefore doesn’t need to be thought about? Does it provide cover for cowardice or supposed moral superiority?



As much as I hate answering a question with a question, I suppose it would be helpful to understand whose morality you are referring to.  I can understand how a Christian might come to such a view.  Even before I saw “Friendly Persuasion”, I was aware of the Quakers, and other sects that would say without question that it is the morally superior position.  Clearly, other religions might have a harder time coming to that conclusion.  It would certainly be difficult for a follower of Islam to support the idea.  I’ve certainly never been able to square the idea of jihad with calling it “The Religion of Peace”, but as the name itself is rooted in the word “submission”, and the concept in practice has always been in tandem with fire and the sword, I think it is misleading on its best day.  The only other “non-western” religion I am at all familiar with would be the Hindus, and I seem to recall that the Bhagavad Gita opened with Krishna talking to Arjuna on the eve of a battle against people who included family members.

Approaching this question from a Christian perspective, I don’t believe that pacifism is moral superior in every case, or morally defensible in every case.  Before I go farther, I want to stress that this perspective is my own.  I do not claim to speak for the whole of Christendom, largely because this seems to me to be one of those issues to which “12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” [Philippians 2:12] seems to apply.

Is violence never an answer?  Some Christians might say “Yes, you are to do as the Master instructed, and turn the other cheek.”  While I tend to think it admirable, the fact remains that I only have two, and I can certainly envision a circumstance whereby individuals might have to defend themselves in order to prevent harm to themselves, and be justified in doing so.  Where do I find this justification?  In the same Bible that they themselves refer to.

 35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?”
So they said, “Nothing.”
36 Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.

Luke 22:35-36

Now Jesus knew the time for his death, and eventual departure was fast approaching, and I couldn’t help but take this as him saying they needed to start making provision for prudently meeting their own needs and taking responsibility for their own safety.  It is one thing to have faith, but to rely on God for everything would be to infantilize the very men that he was sending forth to bring his word into the world.  Not returning the details of life back to them would have ill-prepared them for the task ahead, and the eventual martyrdom that most of them met.  If being responsible for your own safety was intended to be good enough for the disciples, I am not one to hold myself to a different standard.  Yes, that means that in my estimation, I am justified in defending myself and others from threats.

Having addressed the question as it applies to the individual, the next question that it implies is “Is it moral to abstain from your nation’s call to conflict?”

When examining the question, I started with a curious source…Thomas Paine.

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.


Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz. Freedom and security. And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and reason will say, ’tis right.

-Common Sense

If pacifism were a moral end unto itself, then moral men would have no security, and any freedom would be a transient state of affairs, because both would always be subject to the caprice and avarice of those not so possessed, and the governments that grew out of society would not last.

And at the same time, I find this consistent with the Bible as well:

 1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Romans 13:1-7

13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

1 Peter 2:13-17

Basically, government is to be obeyed, because its role is to punish evil.  In punishing evil, government preserves society, and the blessings that it will bring forth when it is able to flourish and not live in the shadow of imminent evil.  Some of these questions are easy.  Is fighting communism (ala Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War in general) fighting evil?  I think from a Christian perspective, it is, but because so much in Christianity is dependent upon the individual. ( The way being narrow, and the Jesus’ commands to individuals, and not to institutions or bodies.) In contrast, communism is not about the individual, and in fact refuses to recognize the individual as anything other than a cog in a much larger machine; and the virtue of the collective, rather than the individual is extolled.  Does that mean that we took a measured and balanced approach to fighting communism?  No.  But if you believe that communism is evil, then it is enough to answer when the government calls you to battle it, because government is meeting its appointed purpose in doing so.  (And nothing prevents you from working to change the approach if you believe that it is necessary.)

If we were to apply this to a “War on Terror”, I think the answer gets easier instead of harder.  There is simply no way for a polite society to defend a philosophy that specifically targets civilians, and in fairly gruesome ways, as a means to bring about political change.  The fact that some wrap themselves in the mantle of political correctness and moral relativism in order to make excuses for it is simply a testimony to the madness of the age we live in.  The fact that we are doing it with volunteer forces is a good thing, as a draft would lead to security concerns that would not have been issues in prior conflicts, as the Fort Hood shootings demonstrate.

I fear that this answer doesn’t really answer anything for you, MJ, but like many difficult questions, I suspect that the answer would change for some people when facts and circumstances breathe life into otherwise esoteric or academic questions.

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