Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Revelation of Peace—Not Violence

The Book of Revelation is often pointed to in support of an interpretation of Jesus Christ which justifies violence and war. Revelation is thought to support this interpretation because the book is widely thought to contain Jesus destroying his enemies in a bloody war. Greg Boyd refutes the violent interpretation of Jesus which attempts to use Revelation as support (hereafter "the violent view") by offering these points:

1) The Violent View Disregards the Genre of Revelation

Revelation is apocalyptic, and therefore should be interpreted with this genre's characteristics in mind. Apocalyptic literature often employs symbolism to communicate truth. These symbols are not meant to be understood as one-to-one representations of visible reality, but are meant to be understood as representing an unseen reality. To disregard the apocalyptic genre of Revelation does injustice to the Text and leads to misunderstanding, error.

2) The Violent View Misunderstands the Meaning of Jesus' Sword

Rather than being a worldly weapon of war wielded in one's hand (II Cor. 10.4), Jesus' sword in Revelation proceeds from his mouth. It is in fact Truth and the Word of God. (Heb. 4.12) Boyd writes,

[Jesus' sword] rather comes out of his mouth (Rev. 1.16 [cf. Heb. 4:12]; 2.16; 19:15, 21), signifying that Jesus defeats enemies simply by speaking the truth. The saints also overcome not with physical weapons but by “the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony” [Rev. 12.11].

3) The Violent View Mistakes the Blood of Jesus for the Blood of His Enemies

Rather than being soaked in the blood of his enemies, Jesus appears in chapter 19 (v.13) already bloody. The blood that Jesus' robes are soaked in is his own—not his enemies'. Jesus is the Conquering Lamb. He is victorious because he was slain (Col. 2.15; Rev. 5.12)

…if we interpret Revelation according to its genre and in its original historical context, and if we pay close attention to the ingenious way John uses traditional symbolism, it becomes clear that John is taking traditional Old Testament and Apocalyptic violent imagery and turning it on its head. Yes there is an aggressive war, and yes there is bloodshed. But its a war in which the Lamb and his followers are victorious because they fight the devil and Babylon (representing all governmental systems) by faithfully laying down their lives for the sake of truth (”the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”)…

Four Flaws in Chris' View: A Case-study in Evangelical Hermeneutical Error

Chris has been nice enough to comment on our blog. He has been reading for months now and expresses concerns about the theology being presented here. Chris' view is representative of many evangelicals—especially evangelicals in the US. That is why I thought it worthy of a more thorough response. Here are four hermeneutical flaws in Chris' view:

Flaw #1) The Assumption of Congruence Between the First and New Covenants

The covenant that God made with the Hebrew people is not binding on disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul and the writer of Hebrews are clear on this matter (Gal. 3—particularly vv.23-25; Heb. 10.1-3). Disciples of Jesus Christ are recipients of a new and better covenant that supersedes the First Covenant. (Heb. 7.18-22, 8—particularly vv.5-13)

Chris' view assumes congruence between the First Covenant and the New Covenants that Scripture clearly shows is absent. Where Chris seeks to find sameness, Scripture teaches distinction and newness. Jesus demonstrates this clearly:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… (Matthew 5.17)

You have heard …but I tell you… (vv.21-22)
You have heard …but I tell you… (vv.27-28)
It has been said …but I tell you… (vv.31-32)
…you have heard that it was said …But I tell you… (vv.33-34)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (vv.38-39)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (vv.43-48)

Do you notice a pattern? Is it congruence with the First Covenant, or incongruence?

Whether God used war to punish or judge humanity in the First Covenant is irrelevant to the fact that God has, in these last days, revealed Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, as the Lamb who conquers through self-sacrificial love. (Heb. 1.1-3; Rev. 5.12, 7.10, 12.11)

Flaw #2) The Assumption that the Revelation of God in the Hebrew Bible is Equal to Revelation of God in Jesus Christ

The Hebrew Bible, the Law and the First Covenant, point to Jesus—Jesus is revelation perfected. (Col. 2.17) The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is superior to the revelation of God in the Hebrew Bible—the Law and the Prophets—because Jesus is the "exact representation" of God's being—the final Word of God. (Heb. 1.1-3) In Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (Col. 1.19, 2.9)

Flaw #3) The Assumption that God's Judgment of Humans Permits or Prescribes Christian Judgment of Humans

Ananias and Sapphira were struck down by God directly (or indirectly)—with no mention of Jesus Christ I might add. Nowhere in this account is there any prescriptive or permissive application for disciples of Jesus Christ. God is humanity's Judge and is justified in requiring of a person his or her life. It does not follow, however, that this in any way exists as a command for Christ's followers to kill or even to do violence to human beings.

Disciples of Jesus Christ—that's us—are to "follow Jesus Christ." This is what it means to be his "disciples." Jesus suffered injustice, loved unconditionally, sacrificed his life for his enemies—this is our example to follow. (I Pet. 2.19-24) Jesus does not strike people dead, nor does he permit his disciples to even injure them. (Mt. 26.50-54)

God is humanity's Judge; disciples of Jesus Christ are forbidden judgment. (Mt. 7.1-2)

Flaw #4) The Assumption that God's Unchanging Nature Requires that God's Engagement of Humanity Must Not Change

God's essential nature is perfect and unchanging. (James 1.17) God can and does change how he engages humanity (e.g. "New" Covenant).

A change in God's engagement of humanity is not a change in God's essential nature. God's nature is free. Therefore, God can and has chosen to engage humanity in a "New" way in these last days. Namely, God has chosen to send Jesus Christ to be the Mediator of a "New" Covenant. (I Tim. 2.5; Heb. 9.15)

To recap:

1) The "New" Covenant is New—not a continuation of the First Covenant

2) Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God's nature—not the First Covenant

3) God is the Judge of humanity—disciples of Jesus Christ are expressly prohibited from judgment

4) God's essential nature is unchanging—God's engagement of humanity has changed radically in the New Covenant

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Do You Serve A Jesus Who Whips People?

I've often been perplexed by the interpretation of "The Temple Cleansing" that attributes to Jesus violence against the money-changers. This view is typically put forth as an objection to Christian pacifism, and a moral justification for violence. The proponents of this view are very sure Jesus whipped human beings in the account. For them, it is plainly evident in the text itself. In point of fact, this is precisely not the case at all. There is absolutely no reason to understand Jesus whipping people in this account, outside of a bias in favor of conceptualizing Jesus as violent. And this is precisely what drives this interpretation. There is a strand of Christianity, that is popular in America, which refuses to picture Jesus as "weak" or "defenseless," and prefers to re-conceptualize Jesus as a macho, divine, ultimate-fighter.

Mark Driscoll embodies this sentiment perfectly:

“There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.”

Here's the problem with the Macho Jesus theology: It's a false Jesus. The biblical Jesus does lay down his life, and does not whip people. If a person is unable to worship a Jesus who chooses self-sacrificial love over judgment or wrath, then that person cannot follow the true Jesus.

For those who are interested in biblical interpretation, and not simply the cultural repackaging of Jesus to suit one's insecurity, John Howard Yoder wrote and illuminating essay on the Temple Cleansing available at JesusRadicals.com.

C. S. Lewis and Pacifism

In Faith and Freedom: Christian Ethics in a Pluralist Culture, David Neville critiques C. S. Lewis' essay "Why I Am Not A Pacifist." Among his many astute observations, I found this one particularly pointed and profoundly true.

"2.2 Intuition. Lewis is brief on this point:

'There is no question of discussion once we have found it; there is only the danger of mistaking for an intuition something which is really a conclusion and therefore needs argument. We want something which no good man has ever disputed; we are in search of a platitude. The relevant intuition seems to be that love is good and hatred bad, or that helping is good and harming bad (41).'

This seems unobjectionable, but Christian pacifists are not so concerned to act in accordance with indisputable and generally accepted moral principles as to heed one who revealed what God is like (Jn 1:18) and whose life patterned a way to be followed (Mk 10:42-45). Christian faith implies distinctive moral commitments that are never simply or obviously compatible with what 'no good man has ever disputed'. By seeking to base his argument on a universal ethical principle such as beneficence or nonmaleficence, which is in any case problematic, Lewis inevitably restricts the teaching and example of Jesus to a subordinate role in moral deliberation." (p. 209-210)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Day 2011 Quotes

"In the terrible midnight of war men have knocked on the door of the church to ask for the bread of peace, but the church has often disappointed them. What more pathetically reveals the irrelevancy of the church in present-day world affairs than its witness regarding war? In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic explorations, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars, national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war." - The Strength to Love (1963)

"Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never bring permanent peace. … A voice, echoing through the corridors of time, says to every intemperate Peter, "Put up thy sword." History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that failed to follow Christ's command" - The Strength to Love (1963)

"During recent months I have come to see more and more the need for the method of nonviolence in international relations. …more and more I have come to the conclusion that the potential destructiveness of modern weapons of war totally rules out the possibility of war ever serving again as a negative good. If we assume that mankind has a right to survive then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. …The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. …I am convinced that the church cannot remain silent while mankind faces the threat of being plunged into the abyss of nuclear annihilation. If the church is true to its mission it must call for an end to the arms race." - Pilgrimage to Nonviolence (1960)

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"We ain't goin' study war no more." - Dr. King

"When I first took a stand against the war in Vietnam, the critics took me on and they had their say in the most negative and sometimes most vicious way. One day a newsman came to me and said, 'Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to stop, now, opposing the war and move more in line with the administration’s policy? As I understand it, it has hurt the budget of your organization, and people who once respected you have lost respect for you. Don’t you feel that you’ve really got to change your position?' I looked at him and I had to say, '...I’m not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference...' Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus... There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain’t goin’ study war no more."
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - From "Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution " (Sermon) March 31, 1968

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why C. S. Lewis Was Wrong About Pacifism, Parts IV & V

IV. On Authority

When Lewis finally turns to consider the authority component of the pacifist conscience, he divides it further into two parts: general and special, human and divine.

A. On Human Authority

In his exploration of special human authority, Lewis demonstrates one of the most fundamental errors in his thinking. From the very beginning of the essay, to the very end, Lewis considers himself first a citizen of England and second a disciple of Jesus Christ. Several times throughout this essay, including this very section, Lewis refers to England as the society “to which [he] belongs.” This identification is nothing short of treason. The Christian has only one allegiance because the Christian has only one Lord. Jesus Christ does not share his subjects with England, the United States, or any other worldly power. He demands that if he is our Master, he alone rules in our hearts and commands our lives. Lewis mistakenly claims that England’s declaration of war “decided the issue against Pacifism.” But Scripture proclaims clearly, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)

When Lewis broadens his gaze to general human authority, his argument gains no further weight. He writes, “To be a Pacifist, I must part company with Homer and Virgil, with Plato and Aristotle, with Zarathustra and the Bhagavad-Gita, with Cicero and Montaigne, with Iceland and Egypt.” (p. 46) Overlooking this as the shameless name-dropping it is, Lewis here nobly attempts to show that the overwhelming majority of respected sources of culture from a broad span of history and across the globe have all agreed that war is necessary, even heroic. Perhaps an interesting aside: Iceland has had no standing army since 2006 and considers its role in hosting the Reagan-Gorbachev summit which contributed to the ending of the Cold War one of its proudest political accomplishments. I’m fairly certain a pacifist could now remain in Iceland’s good graces. Additionally, it is not insignificant that Gandhi based his his nonviolent political movement (Satyagraha) on the doctrine of Ahimsa (meaning “to do no harm”) found in the Gita. So, apparently this authority source isn’t necessarily as supportive of Lewis’ stance as he assumes. Regardless, I find this sort of argument actual quite counter-productive for Lewis’ case. If Scripture is correct and the whole world is under the control of the evil one (Luke 4:6; I John 5:19; II Corinthians 4:4), then we should expect to see widespread evil and nearly unanimous agreement on violence and killing. Jesus describes Satan as “the thief who comes only to kill, steal, and destroy.” (John 10:10) To be sure, human authority is corrupted to at least some discernible degree.

B. On Divine Authority

Here is where Lewis should shine. As a noted and profound Christian thinker, divine authority should be the subject on which Lewis argues best. This is unfortunately not the case. I grant that Lewis is not a professional exegete and yet I am still highly disappointed with how carelessly he treats biblical interpretation—especially on a matter as weighty as violence and peace. He writes, “When we turn to Christianity, we find Pacifism based almost exclusively on certain of the sayings of Our Lord Himself.” (p. 47)

Several things should be noted here. First, this is plainly inaccurate. Jesus addresses many subjects in the Gospels. If a person is examining any one subject for Christ’s teaching on it, he or she will necessarily find only “certain” of his teachings relevant. That Christ did not teach exclusively on the subject of violence, but also addressed subjects of money, marriage, et cetera does not a case against pacifism make. Therefore, all Christian teaching that seeks to know what Christ taught directly on a given topic will be based on “certain” of his sayings.

1. Apostolic Authority

Second, Lewis rejects the existence of apostolic teaching that confirms the “certain” teachings of Christ which he acknowledges potentially support pacifism. He writes, “Nor, I think, do we find a word about Pacifism in the apostolic writings...” This is blatant error. In Romans 12:14, Paul writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This is nearly a verbatim quote of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount found in both Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28. Paul goes on to say, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil...” (v. 17a) which directly corresponds to Matthew 5:38-42. Regarding Paul’s entire thought in verses 17-21, John Stott writes, “Non-retaliation was a very early feature of the Christian ethical tradition, going back to the teaching of Jesus, and beyond this to the Old Testament Wisdom literature.”(3) Making this particular instance of nonviolent, apostolic teaching especially relevant is its proximity in the flow of Paul’s argument to the opening verses of chapter 13. When read together it is clear that the wrath Paul commands Jesus’ disciples to make room for, is the very same wrath God enacts through the state.

Also not to be overlooked are the apostolic teachings of Peter. In precisely the same fashion as Paul, Peter couples the teaching of submission to governing authority with the peacemaking and non-retaliation ethics of Jesus. I Peter 2:11-25 begins with the exhortation to view ourselves as sojourners in this world, present to the world but not belonging to it. Nevertheless, our calling as Jesus’ disciples requires us to live as witnesses to the Gospel through good works. Peter, like Paul, commands believers to submit to worldly leaders in so far as they carry out their God-given duty to punish evil and reward righteousness. Also like Paul, Peter commands believers not to retaliate against enemies, but rather points to Jesus’ unjust suffering as an example for us. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (v. 23) Taken together, these passages of apostolic teaching are impossible to legitimately dismiss as Lewis attempts here. They represent an undeniably nonviolent ethical motif.

2. Three Christian Traditions

Third, Lewis briefly surveys a spattering of broad Christian traditions which have immense internal diversity, lends to each either a comment of violence endorsement or an out-of-context quote, then concludes that on the whole Christianity has nearly unanimously supported war. In the span of only a few short sentences, he has already enlisted Anglicans, Presbyterians, and “Papists” to his coalition of Christian war-supporters. Perhaps another interesting aside: Not all Christians in these traditions have agreed on the subjects of violence and war. Notable exceptions to Lewis’ generalization are the Peace Pledge Union(4) (1934) out of which was later formed the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship(5) (1937). For the Presbyterians, persons of note include the Revs. Alun Richards, Lex Miller, and Basil Dowling.(6) Each of these Presbyterian men protested conscription and opposed war on Christian grounds. For their beliefs they faced legal battles, fines, and imprisonment. All this took place before 1940, when Lewis would make the remark “...I can refer them to the history of the Presbyterians, which is by no means Pacifist.” (p. 47) For Roman Catholics, Lewis ignores the powerful Catholic Workers Movement founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.(7) Since its birth during the Great Depression, the Catholic Workers Movement has been a highly influential Christian witness that continues to this day. Thomas Merton wrote for the group’s newspaper and in the past 77 years it has formed over 130 communities throughout the world. Lewis’ drastic overgeneralization can perhaps be seen best in his most sweeping statement of this section: “All bodies that claim to be Churches—that is, who claim apostolic succession and accept the Creeds—have constantly blessed what they regard as righteous arms.” (p. 48)

3. Patristic Authority

Fourth, Lewis’ consultation of “patristic authority” is perfunctory at best. He cites only Augustine, a ringer for the Just War position since he invented it! There’s not one mention of a church father who lived prior to the fourth century. The significance of this convenient omission is not easily lost on those with even a cursory familiarity with church history. It is what Yoder calls the “Constantinian Shift.” The fundamental transition in the identity of global Christianity from “a persecuted minority cult into an established majority religion.”(8) Since space prohibits me from a thorough listing of the myriad church fathers who adamantly opposed violence and war due to their commitment to discipleship, a summary from early church research back by references to further reading must suffice. Origen and Tertullian, two adamant voices of opposition to violence, echo loudly throughout church history. Only amplifying their testimony is the deafening silence of church history records of Christian soldiers. It is the overwhelming consensus of researchers and historians, that no single piece of credible evidence remains for the existence of Christians soldiers from c. 50ad (which may have been only Cornelius and one or two soldiers) until c. 170ad, the time of Marcus Aurelius.(9) Cadoux underlines this point citing the silence of Pliny on the matter in his letter to the emperor Trajan, saying it is “perfectly compatible with the supposition that the Christians would not serve,” because “there was nothing in the circumstances of the time to bring about a collision between the imperial government and the Christians on the subject of military service.”(10) Similarly underscoring the significance of this profound historical omission, Roland Bainton pokes fun at authors who down-play this fact:

...Celsus knew of no Christians who would accept military service. The comment of Moffatt must be regarded as distinctly inadequate when he says of Celsus: “It is fairly obvious that he had met Christians who were holding back from military service.” Umphrey Lee’s version is a masterpiece of under-statement: “Whether there were in the second century those who held that a Christian could not serve in the legions we do not know; but Celsus... seems to imply that there were.” Celsus said quite distinctly that there were no Christians who would serve...(11)

The extreme lack of evidence for any Christian military personnel from the earliest New Testament epistles to nearly the third century, coupled with the dramatic testimony of early church fathers Origen and Tertullian, makes for an impressive Early church witness in favor of a consistent nonviolent Kingdom ethic extended directly from the essential teachings of Christ by way of the apostles.

4. An Alternative Interpretation of “Turn the Other Cheek”

Finally, after believing he has proven pacifism to fail the test of authority on the grounds of apostolic teaching, a quorum of Christian traditions, and patristic testimony, Lewis now addresses what he considers the final bit of authority to which pacifists might appeal: Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek.” He argues that there are three possible interpretations of this command (Matthew 5:39; Luke 6:29a). The first he labels “the Pacifist interpretation” and describes as unqualified, universal, for “all men in all circumstances.” The second he labels “the minimising interpretation,” and describes as a hyperbolic way of saying we should “put up with a lot.” Both of these he rejects. In their place he proposes his own interpretation that he believes to be a somewhat mediating position. He asserts that the Lord’s original hearers would have understood several obvious qualifications to the command. For Lewis it is obvious that Jesus only prohibits personal retaliation. He summarizes his view thusly, “Insofar as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back.” (p. 50) There can be no broader corporate implications for Jesus’ teaching in Lewis’ view since it is obvious to him that Jesus would expect his followers to whatever violence is necessary to protect others. Furthermore, Lewis sidesteps any rational explanation for this assumption, and instead proceeds directly to an emotionally-charged hypothetical. “Does anyone suppose that Our Lord’s hearers understood Him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get to his victim?”

This appears to be as good a place as any to put to rest the mistaken notion that hypothetical scenarios, such as the one put forth by Lewis here, are effective arguments against Christian nonviolence. Such attempts by non-pacifists to illicit a concession on emotional grounds is very common. Nevertheless, it should be stated that such hypothetical scenarios prove only that human beings are easily corrupted by their passions—against which Lewis wisely warns readers in the beginning of this essay. The fact is: Jesus had many hard sayings that require his disciples to wrestle with their implications. Discipleship necessarily demands cost-counting (Luke 14:25-33), undivided allegiance (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13), resolute commitment (Luke 9:61-62), and personal sacrifice (Mark 10:28-30). To be Jesus’ disciples, we must walk as Jesus walked (I Peter 2:21). We are to be his imitators (Ephesians 5:1-2; Philippians 2:1-11; I Thessalonians 1:6), and to imitate Jesus Christ we must love the way Jesus Christ loved (1 John 3:15-17, 4:16-18), by laying down our lives, even for our enemies (Romans 5;10; Colossians 1:20-22). The implications of this calling are not provided for every possible situation, nor need they be. Disciples of Jesus have been given the Holy Spirit of God as their Guide (John 14:15-21, 25-27; Mark 13:11; I Corinthians 2:11-16; Galatians 5:15-17). To all the innumerable, possible scenarios one would have to address, there would be no end. Rather, we have but one answer: faithful discipleship that witnesses to the love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ as guided by the Holy Spirit.

It appears a misunderstanding of the historical context is Lewis’ primary interpretive error. For he concludes that Jesus has in mind here the “frictions of daily life among villagers” rather than violence between members of unequal social roles. As examples of instances where retaliation would be expected, he uses parents struck by children, a teacher struck by a student, a “sane man” struck by a “lunatic,” and a solider struck by a “public enemy.” I will take each in turn. First, let’s assume Lewis is correct. Parents whose children are in a rage and strike their parents should be struck in return. Surely Jesus would not have prohibited this, right? One must wonder, though, is this sort of striking of a child discipline? Is it measured, and carried out in love for a purpose? Even parents in favor of spanking could legitimately disapprove of returning a blow sustained by a child in retaliation. Perhaps the child has lashed out in such as way because he or she knows no other way to communicate their anger than through physical violence. A parent who loves that child would be entirely justified in using force to discipline him or her, however they may find this an opportunity to model a more constructive mode of communicating frustration. It’s possible that a parent might find it more wise to demonstrate restraint in this case to deescalate the child’s rage. All in all, I’m not entirely certain this example supports Lewis’ case as well as he may think. Next, Lewis thinks a teacher is justified in retaliating against his or her student if struck. Oddly enough, many nations have laws against such action since they consider it abuse for an adult teacher to strike a child student. As in the example of the parent, this may serve as a “teachable moment” for the pair. The teacher has the opportunity to model forgiveness and civility. The example of the sane man striking a “lunatic” is perhaps the most disturbing. I’m fairly certain this is abuse. A mentally-ill person should not be punished for their illness, as if it were voluntary. Suppose a sane person’s disease caused them to convulse uncontrollable and they inadvertently struck their physician. Should the doctor return the blow? The blows of a mentally-ill person a no more deliberate. Of course, if the example of the soldier returning the blow of his enemy were the open-and-close case that Lewis here assumes it is, would he even need to be addressing a pacifist audience? It would seem from Lewis’ assumption that there should be no Christian pacifists.

It just so happens, however, that Jesus’ teaching is precisely in the context of unequal social roles. The Jewish audience Jesus addresses with this teaching are a politically oppressed people group whose primary opponents are not other Jewish villagers, but their powerful, pagan overlords. In the very same context he has taught them saying, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (v. 41) I’m not sure to what frictions of daily village life this could refer. But we do know that Roman soldiers often required Jewish peasants to carry heavy equipment for them for one mile—a practice called angaria.(12) Considering the immense oversight of Jesus’ socio-political milieu, I’m certain we cannot fully support Lewis’ interpretation of this verse.

Lewis concludes his interpretation of Jesus’ command for his disciples to “turn the other cheek” not with discussion of the lexical, syntactical, historical or cultural context, but rather with four proof texts which even taken together amount to less than a modicum of biblical support for Christian warring. Let’s take them one by one. 1) “St. John Baptist’s words to the soldiers.” (p. 50) This is all Lewis says of his first biblical support. One might expect to find in John’s words to the soldiers, “Good job!” or “Keep up the good work!” This is far from the case. To the soldiers who approached him, John the Baptist said, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:14b KJV) Or perhaps one might say that using the King James which translates the Greek to English as “violence” is staking the deck. To that one I would ask, “How does a soldier justified in injuring or killing his enemy if he is expressly forbidden from even intimidating them or extorting money from them?” It is true that the Baptist did not command the soldiers to leave the military. He did however command them to stop using military means. They are left themselves to extrapolate the implications. At best this “proof” is an argument from silence, and at worst it serves to further support the pacifist position. 2) “Our Lord praised ...a Roman centurion.” (p. 50) Yes, it is true Jesus praised the faith of the centurion. However, this is another argument from silence. Jesus does not endorse soldiering, much less war, by failing to condemn the centurion for his position. In fact, if we were to apply this same logic to others Jesus praised, we would need to believe Jesus endorsed tax collecting (Luke 18:9-14), and prostitution (Matthew 21:31-32). Members of both these professions are also held up as examples of faith, without reference to the sinfulness of their lives. Proof texts 3 and 4 are Romans 13:4 and I Peter 2:14. In both cases, it has already been shown above that each endorsement of the “magistrate’s use of the sword” is coupled with the apostle’s prohibition of the Christian wielding that same sword. (See the section on “Apostolic Authority”). Therefore, Lewis’ string of proof texts fail to obtain and he is left now to assert that a pacifist interpretation of Jesus’ command is novel—appearing only in modern times. Having demonstrated that on each point of his appeal to “divine authority” it can be shown that Christian nonviolence is either present in church history or Scripture, Lewis’ attempt to refute pacifism fails.


A. Are Pacifists Simply Cowards?

Lewis uses the occasion of his concluding remarks to return to a very pertinent point he made at the outset of his essay. Since, unlike the reason, the conscience deliberates over matters which will require either action or active abstinence, and since we typically consider those matters which we either want to do or do not want to do, we are “bribed from the beginning.” Lewis fears that pacifists overlook the clear influence of our passions. He suspects of his audience that somewhere deep within the process of constructing their moral opposition to war and violence, they secretly or unconsciously seek to preserve their own lives, status, and wealth. He spends a large portion of his closing remarks detailing all the many sacrifices a soldier must make aiming to demonstrate that no selfish passion would lead a man to falsely justify such a career.

Again, I find that Lewis’ logic may work against him. For just as accuses pacifists of being unconscious of their own hidden motives, the one that seeks to support violence and war might be just as guilty. Patriotism and nationalism are powerful forces that are often as unnoticeable to citizens as water to a fish. Furthermore, human beings are prone to violence as it possesses the appearance of effectiveness and productivity. No better solution can be found than violence if one seek instant gratification for a wound or an offense. Revenge and the semblance of justice are often conflated to be one and the same.

I think it is entirely clear from Scripture that it takes greater bravery to entrust oneself to the unseen God for protection and victory, than it does to trust in the might of weapons and armies. Trusting in the strength of guns and tanks takes no faith at all; their power is fully evident. Trusting in the power of armies requires no faith either; their impact is demonstrable. The courage to which the Christian is called is greater than that of the soldier’s. For the Christian is required to believe in the resurrection. That though he is slain, God has not been defeated, because Jesus Christ is risen and has victory over both hell and death! (Romans 6:8-10; II Corinthians 4:10-18; Hebrews 11:6, 17-19; Revelation 12:11)

B. Kingdom Citizenship

The primary reason why C. S. Lewis was wrong about pacifism, is that he was wrong about citizenship in the kingdom of God. Throughout his essay, Lewis presupposes a type of dual allegiance to both the kingdom of God and the particular instance of the world’s kingdom in which he finds himself—the United Kingdom. This is Lewis’ most fundamental error. Christians, as citizens of God’s kingdom have only one allegiance—to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When his birth was heralded the revolutionary overtones of its announcement were not lost on its original hearers. A Son is given, the Son of God, to bring peace to the earth and all men. He is the Lord. He is the King of his people, and to his reign there will be no end, for his is an eternal kingdom. Called directly into conflict was the allegiances of every hearer. Would they, by rejecting the lordship of Caesar, risk their lives for this King? Would they, by accepting Jesus’ Lordship, lay down their own lives in his service? Many made the choice to follow Jesus and it meant their deaths. Jesus in fact demanded that his followers count the cost of discipleship and decide if they are willing to risk it for the reward of eternal life with him, their King. He promised that though they would be persecuted for their faith, he would be with them by his Spirit and would raise them from the dead. No one misconstrued his words for a “God and Country” message. No one heard his Gospel and thought it meant dual citizenship. No, his disciples proclaimed a Gospel of One Lord—Jesus Christ.

In modern times, governments have often had a facade of Christian civil religion that has masked this dichotomy. Many have been deceived into believing they can serve both God and country faithfully. Scripture clearly commands us to “honor the emperor” (I Peter 2:17), but Scripture also clearly commands us to live as “sojourners (foreigners) and exiles” (v. 11) because this world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), and called to manifest the soon-coming, holy city of God (Revelation 21:2) where mourning and pain will be over and the nations will be healed (v. 4; 22:2).

About the coming kingdom Christians are called to reflect now, the prophet Micah wrote,

“[The Lord] will teach us his ways,
   so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
   the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
   and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
   and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
   nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
   and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
   for the LORD Almighty has spoken.”

(Micah 4:2b-4)

As kingdom citizens, all Christians must reject violence and war, and in their place manifest the self-sacrificial love of God in Christ. For he is our Lord and we are his disciples.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1:3-5)

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(Hebrews 13:20-21)

(3) John Stott, The Message of Romans (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994), 334.
(4) Peace Pledge Union (http://www.ppu.org.uk/)
(5) Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (http://www.anglicanpeacemaker.org.uk/)
(6) Prebyterian Research (http://preshist.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/whose-conscience/)
(7) Catholic Worker (http://www.catholicworker.org/)
(8) Charles Matson Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire (New York: Routledge, 2004), 1.
(9) See End Note 1.
(10) Cadoux, 99.
(11) Bainton, 195-196.
(12) "Angaria" Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press. (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13600/13600-h/13600-h.htm); Th. Mommsen. (Latin) - http://webu2.upmf-grenoble.fr/Haiti/Cours/Ak/Constitutiones/CTh08.html#5)

End Notes:
1. The summary of the early church’s stance toward violence and war from Part IV, section (B) “On Divine Authority,” is based on the following sources: John C. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War: A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics (London: Headley Bros. Publishers, 1919), 97; Roland H. Bainton, “The Early Church and War” in Christian Life: Ethics, Morality, and Discipline in the Early Church (NY: Garland Publishing, 1993), 195; John Friesen, “War and Peace in the Patristic Age,” in Essays on War and Peace: Bible and Early Church. Edited by Willard M. Swarthy (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1986), 135-136; Adolf Harnack, Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 71; Stanley Windass, Christianity Versus Violence: A Social and Historical Study of War and Christianity (London: Sheed and Ward, 1964), 10.

Why C. S. Lewis Was Wrong About Pacifism, Parts II & III

II. On Facts

Lewis begins his direct criticism of pacifism by attempting to dismantle its supporting facts. He starts by quickly conceding that “all parties” admit that war is “very disagreeable.” This intentionally softened statement, designed to create a semblance of common ground, stands in stark contrast to his next statement which strikes me as quite a leap. He writes, “The main contention urged by pacifists would be that wars always do more harm than good.” Unless this contention is somewhere written or stated in the official objections of the specific pacifist group Lewis is here addressing, it is being entirely assumed—creating a Man-of-Straw. To be sure, not all pacifists would agree with this premise, let alone start from it. One certainly needn’t affirm this “fact” to arrive at a pacifist position. Therefore, the ensuing section on the inherent failure of speculating about alternatively possible historical outcomes is utterly pointless. A pacifist can easily acknowledge that wars have accomplished some good without considering themselves morally obliged to serve in them. He also defends against the mysterious charge that a war such as World War II was “useless” because it did not “cure slums and unemployment.” Again, this amounts to little more than a Man-of-Straw considering a pacifist needn’t expect wars to cure anything to judge service in war wicked or him or herself morally obligated to conscientiously object to service. Lewis concludes this part saying, “On the test of facts, then, I find the Pacifist position weak.” Considering that no legitimate facts on which pacifists must base their pacifism were debunked, Lewis has proven nothing so far—least of all how it could be “morally obligatory” for Christians to serve in wars.

III. On Intuition

A. Thinking Pragmatically About Love and Help

Lewis believes intuition, properly surmised, is irrefutable. It is what “no good man has ever disputed.” He only argues that pacifists are mistaken about their intuition. What he will acknowledge is that intuition clearly teaches is that “love is good and hatred bad, or that helping is good and harming is bad.” This is a crucial concession that will soon lead to a misstep in Lewis’ logic. For from this grounding he proceeds to make an argument of expediency and pragmatism, that inevitably disregards this intuition for a type of realism. He writes,

You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man. And if you do this good, you can’t at the same time do that; and if you do it to these men, you can’t also do it to those. Hence from the outset the law of beneficence involves not doing some good to some men at some times. (p. 41)

On the face of it, who could disagree with such sound logic? A person must prioritize the love or help he or she supplies in a given, specific instance, right? It would certainly seem so. He elaborates:

Hence those rules which so far as I know have never been doubted, as that we should help one we have promised to help rather than another, or a benefactor rather than one who has no special claims on us, or a compatriot more than a stranger, or a kinsman rather than a mere compatriot. And this fact most often means helping A at the expense of B, who drowns while you pull A on board. And sooner or later, it involves helping A by actually doing some degree of violence to B. (p. 42)

That quickly, pragmatism has already led Lewis—quite logically—to violate even his own, irrefutable intuition. Mere sentences beforehand, Lewis explains that pacifism has a misunderstood intuition. A more trustworthy intuition is that love and help are good while hatred and harm bad. Nevertheless, the “law of beneficence” to which Lewis appeals requires that constraint be applied to whom we are able to supply love and help. Then, logically, it follows that if we are permitted to withhold love and help to some due to a distinction, such as one’s citizenship or kinship, we are also permitted to apply violence to the other for the sake of the person closer to us in a social hierarchy of relationship. The moment Lewis’ constructs a hypothetical scenario that requires we choose between a loved one and another, the intuition from which he began this logical progression is rendered entirely irrelevant. For Lewis, is it no longer “bad” to “harm” someone, so long as the person you are harming is further from you relationally than the person on whose behalf you are harming them.

B. The Hierarchy of Relationship

Another fascinating aspect of Lewis’ logic on this point is the strata of relationship he outlines. First, those to whom we have promised help are to be prioritized over those to whom we have promised nothing. Second, those who have helped us are to be prioritized over those who haven’t. Third, “compatriots” are to be favored over “strangers.” Finally, family are to be favored better still over compatriots. Surely, when Lewis refers to this hierarchy as the “rules” which have “never been doubted,” he forgets the Bible. For the Bible directly calls into question such “rules.”

What’s to prevent such a hierarchy from producing injustice? In what way does such a hierarchy reflect the nature of God? If I have resources with which I am able to help, by these “rules” I would never help or love anyone but my own family, country, and those who’ve helped me first. Then again, if these “rules” are as universal as Lewis takes them to be, neither would anyone else. Each family, community, nation, and so on would only care for themselves. As Lewis explained, love and help have to be applied discerningly, and a discerning person certainly doesn’t apply love and help to the “other.” Jesus, however, teaches a much different ethic:

You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. (Matthew 5:43-48, The Message)

Enemy-love is scandalous precisely because it runs counter of our intuition informed by the type of logic Lewis here applies. Jesus’ original audience would have thought just like Lewis. Yet Jesus called them to a different and greater ethic, and by extension he calls us to that very ethic as well. It is the ethic of God’s Kingdom. More on this later.

C. Is Violence Justifiable?

Lewis does not entertain any other possible ethic in this portion of his essay and his ethic continues to deteriorate the further he proceeds down the rabbit hole of pragmatism. After assuming the pacifist society to which he writes his address agrees with him thus far (p. 42), he continues to assault what he considers the only two remaining pacifist positions possible. The first is that violence against an individual who seeks to harm someone higher up on the hierarchy of love and help is permissible short of killing the person. The second is that killing such an individual is lawful, only war or “mass killing” is not. In his efforts to debunk these two possibilities he makes at least one logical error and one historical-cultural error.

Lewis’ logical error happens during his discussion of the first pacifist position he wishes to debunk: the position that violence is permissible against person B, provided they seek to harm person A, who is closer in relationship to you. In this argument Lewis writes,

I admit the general proposition that the lesser violence done to B is always preferable to the greater, provided that it is equally efficient in restraining him and equally good for everyone concerned, including B, whose claim is inferior to all the other claims involved but not nonexistent. (p. 42)

This entire section is predicated on the previous discussion of how love and help are not general but specific, and that when the choice must be made between a person of closer relationship over the “other,” violence is justified. This assumes an inequality of good to the two parties. In the proposed scenario, A receives love and help while B cannot. Lewis even uses the example of two people drowning. Person A, your fellow countrymen or someone who has lent you money, is to be saved over the “stranger.” Now Lewis is saying that, if possible, less violence is preferable to greater violence when qualified by two criterion: 1) the less-violent tactic must be equally efficient at restraining person B; and 2) it must also be equally “good” for “everyone concerned, including [person] B.” This is of course logically impossible. Any violence, either lesser or greater, enacted upon person B for the sake of person A, will necessarily be less good for person B than person A. In fact, the very reason violence is being enacted on anyone at all is because Lewis has forced us to choose which one we will love or help over the other.

D. Is War the Greatest Evil?

The second possible pacifist position Lewis now seeks to debunk is the stance that killing an individual person in certain circumstances is lawful, but it is war or “mass killing” that is wrong, evil. To build his case, Lewis attempts to prove that war is not the greatest evil. And two examples he uses of greater evils strike me as particularly alarming. He writes,

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. I think the suppression of a higher religion by a lower, or even a higher secular culture by a lower, a much greater evil. Nor am I greatly moved by the fact that many of the individuals we strike down in war are innocent. That seems, in a way, to make war not worse but better. (p. 43)

Several things should be said here. First, it is entirely unnecessary for a person to accept the doctrine Lewis describes to affirm a pacifist stance. War needn’t “always” be the “greatest evil” for it to be prohibited by Christian faith. Adultery is not the greatest evil yet it is clearly precluded from permissible Christian activity. Christian pacifism is not predicated on the evil nature of war, but on righteous discipleship of Jesus Christ.

Second, Lewis accuses this thinking of ascribing to a materialist ethic that values life and health above all else. This accusation strikes me as surprising. Could not the same be said of the Just War proponent? Is not the Christian who claims it is necessary to protect life through war also valuing life above all else? The only difference is that the Just War proponent values the lives of their fellow countrymen over their enemies’ lives. If the Just War proponent did not value life and health, would they not gladly accept that injury or death are preferable to disobedience and/or dishonor of Christ?

Third, Lewis provides two examples of evils he considers greater than war. The first example he uses is the suppression of what he calls a “higher religion” by a “lower” one. Obviously he does not give us any examples of these “lower” religions he speaks of, but let’s not forget the historical-cultural context in which this address is being delivered. Lewis is a former soldier and proud English patriot living in 1940—perhaps merely months after the invasion of Poland. Nevertheless, even though Nazism was certainly an evil, racist, fascist, totalitarian, nationalistic and ideological movement, one is hard-pressed to argue that it was primarily a religious movement. In fact, Nazi-controlled Germany maintained at least the facade of a Christian civil religion. In what sense, then, could Lewis consider the relevant war on the minds of his hearers primarily a religious war? Or, if we broaden the scope of this statement, what are we to make of the many, many wars fought by “Christians” on both sides? Both England and France were “Christian” nations when they engaged in war. And both sides of the Civil War claimed the divine support of the Christian God. What greater evil is there than Christians killing each other in obedience to the civil authorities of their respective nations?

Finally, Lewis also suggests the suppression of “higher cultures” by “lower” ones is a greater evil than war. Again, since Lewis does not elaborate and provide us with examples of these “higher” and “lower” cultures he speaks of, we are not capable of fully ascertaining his meaning. However, I must say that this point made me very uncomfortable. The judgment of one culture as “higher” than another shows concept for the Creator’s reflection in every human culture. Are industrialized, “civilized” cultures superior to agrarian, tribal cultures? What standard is being applied to determine the value of culture? To be frank, this statement smacks of an European ethno-centrism that deeply concerns me and dishonors Lewis’ legacy.

E. Is Pacifism Dangerous?

Moving beyond the two types of pacifism previously considered, Lewis now considers a pacifist strategy for preventing war and the question of whether there is any “cure” to human suffering. The strategy Lewis considers is another strange idea that seems to come from nowhere. Unless Lewis is addressing some written or spoken pacifist campaign it seems to be yet another Man-of-Straw. He counters the plan to eliminate war by the spread of pacifism as a philosophical idea by the use of propaganda. The plan is apparently to inundate nations with so many pacifists that an army could not be formed. Lewis sharply rebukes this plan saying that only “liberal societies tolerate Pacifists” and that a nation with so many pacifists that it would not fight would be overtaken by a nation that does not tolerate pacifism and therefore pacifism would become extinct.

In the second century, (c.178ad) a pagan philosopher named Celsus accused Christians of being irresponsible and unsupportive of justice because they refused to hold public office, fight in the army, nor swear oaths of allegiance to the state. Origen (c.185-251ad), an early church father and theologian, responded to Celsus’ criticisms in a six-volume work called Against Celsus. One of Celsus’ pointed concerns was that if Christianity gained popularity, with its nonviolent ethic, the Roman Empire would be rendered vulnerable and defenseless to attack by “barbarians.” Origen’s response is instructive and relevant to Lewis’ argument.

We say that if two of us agree upon earth concerning anything that they shall ask, they shall receive it from the heavenly Father of the righteous... For they will pray to the Word, who said of old to the Hebrews when they were pursued by the Egyptians: ‘The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall be silent’; and, praying with all concord, they will be able to overthrow far more enemies who pursue them than those whom the prayers of Moses—when he cried to God—and of those with him overthrew...But if, according to Celsus’ supposition, all the Romans were to be persuaded, they will by praying overcome their enemies; or (rather) they will not make war at all, being guarded by the Divine Power, which promised to save five whole cities for the sake of fifty righteous. For the men of God are the salt that preserves the early order of the world; the earthly things hold together (only) as long as the salt is not corrupted. (Against Celsus, 8.70)

Against Lewis’ argument I would defer to Origen and Scripture. The Christian response to the threats of enemies is increased trust in God. Prayer and righteousness seem to be the only ways to ensure the safety of God’s people, not weapons or war.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why C. S. Lewis Was Wrong About Pacifism, Part I

Author: C. S. Lewis
Essay Title: Why I Am Not a Pacifist
Essay Length: 20 pages
Book Title: The Weight of Glory
Publisher: Macmillan (1980)
Language: English
ISBN: 0-02-095980-X


C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis lived from nearly the turn of the 20th century to the early 1960's. He was a British Christian scholar and author. More specifically, he was an expert on medieval European literature, history, and mythology. In practice, Lewis was an Anglican layman. He was not a clergyman nor an academic theologian. Nevertheless, due in no small part to his brilliant creativity and the accessibility of his thought to the popular listener and reader, his work has been broadly accepted as representative of mainstream Christian thought.

My own Christian faith is deeply indebted to C. S. Lewis. The radio broadcasts, collected and published under the title Mere Christianity, was instrumental in supplying my adolescent mind with the rational arguments needed to thwart skepticism and cynicism. For even though my heart was renewed by faith in Jesus Christ, my mind was constantly assailed by doubt. Lewis approved of the careful reasoning through of one's faith and provided sound arguments for why faith is reasonable. In fact, Lewis' thought not only freed me to think critically about my faith, but also to think creatively. He is perhaps even more well known for his fiction than for his apologetics. As I mentioned in a recent post, I am currently reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my children before bed in the hope that the stories will have the same positive effect on them that they've had on me.

It is because I cherish Lewis' thought so much that it pains me that I must disagree with him on his opposition to pacifism in his essay, "Why I Am Not A Pacifist." On a great many subjects, even controversial ones such as his Inclusivism, we are in agreement. In fact, it is rare that I have found fault with his thinking at all. However, I certainly find the reasoning and conclusions presented in this essay(1) desperately deficient. That is why I have undertaken to write this critique and entitle it, "Why C. S. Lewis Was Wrong About Pacifism."

I. On the Components of Conscience

Before his first criticism of pacifism, Lewis spends a significant portion of the essay setting the stage for his arguments by deconstructing what he presents as the more fundamental question that is raised by the pacifist question(2): "how do we decide what is good or evil?" Lewis proposes conscience as the appropriate answer, but seeks to parse out two distinct ways of understanding conscience. Conscience is not only our sense of moral obligation, or what he describes as "the pressure a man feels upon his will to do what he thinks is right." Conscience is also that aspect of our being that discerns good from evil, or what he describes as "[a person's] judgment as to what the content of right and wrong are." This distinction is critical for Lewis' overall argument because only the latter sense of conscience is susceptible to change through argumentation. To argue with one's own conscience (taken in the first sense) would be to "incur guilt." Lewis intends to appeal directly to our consciences (taken in the second sense), through argumentation, to demonstrate the failure of pacifism.

A. The Reason Analogy

To make clear the conscience’s susceptibility to argumentation, Lewis compares the conscience (taken in the second sense) to reason. He explains that the structure of reasoning is composed of several specific components. The components of reasoning are: 1) Facts—which are a mixture of personal experiences and reports from sources we deem reliable and/or trustworthy (called “authority”); 2) Intuition—self-evident truths perceived inductively; and 3) Argument—the artful or skillful arrangement of intuitively-perceived truths towards a “proof of the truth or falsehood of the proposition [being] considered.” Lewis goes on to explain that what he is calling “intuition” is essential to all rational human beings, “incorrigible” if faulty, and “not amenable to correction by argumentation.” He writes, “...the intuitional element, cannot be corrected if it is wrong, nor supplied if it is lacking.” Components 1 and 3, however, possess the capacity for error and therefore often need correction. This is made even more certain by Lewis’ final comment on reason as an analogy for conscience. He argues that the failure of human beings to acknowledge self-evident truths is often due not to an inability to intuitively perceive them, but is instead due to alternative passions or a “sloth[ful]” lack of effort. Essentially, we tend to “see” only what want or expect to “see.”

B. The Conscience By Comparison

Returning to conscience, Lewis correlates all the components he has described of reason back to our moral discernment center. The fact component is our collective experiences of war, killing, injustice, et cetera. The intuition component is our inductive perceptions of “simple good and evil as such.” The argument component is the arrangement of the truths intuitively perceived in such a way as to “convince a man a particular act is wrong or right.” But Lewis reassigns the authority component slightly, making it not only a replacement for facts as it was used in the reason analogy, but now also a replacement for skillful or artful argumentation. This could be seen as second difference between reason and conscience in addition to the difference Lewis goes on to highlight.

The immediacy of conscience—the fact that we are considering acts that are to be performed or not performed by virtue of their morality or immorality—is the difference between reason and conscience that Lewis emphasizes as primary. Since we would not be considering the morality of an act unless we either wanted to do it or did not want to do it, Lewis argues, we are “bribed from the very beginning.” This is why Lewis gives greater prominence to authority when returning to conscience from reason. Authority is of even greater value for checking our own processes in the case of conscience because of our proclivity toward justifying desirable yet immoral acts.

Lewis’ most relevant points from this section are the positions each of the components occupy in our decision-making process, and how easily corrupted and confused we can become at critical points on our way to a moral conclusion. Lewis argues that what many pacifists claim as intuitive and therefore unarguable is especially debatable since it is based on faulty premises. He uses a teetotaler, someone who questions the Shakespearean authorship of Henry VIII, and those who abstain from vaccinations as examples. The teetotaler concludes that “what can always be abused had better never be used at all.” According to Lewis, he bases this conclusion on opinion, or passions, mistaken for unanswerable intuition. For Lewis, all the components of conscience build a cumulative case for the moral conclusion. Intuition cannot be the sole cause for a stance. The facts must be “clear and little disputed,” the inductively perceived truths must be “unmistakably an intuition,” the connecting arguments must be “strong,” authority must be “in agreement,” and last-but-not-least little motive must be found for the secret bribery of passion. These points will serve to support his overall opposition to pacifism throughout the remainder of the essay while Lewis now turns to consider first the facts component of the pacifist conscience.

(1) According to Walter Hooper, who compiled the book, the essay being critiqued was originally a paper written for a pacifist society at Oxford sometime in 1940.
(2) Here “the pacifist question” refers to the question Lewis assumes is the primary concern of the pacifist group he is addressing. He expresses the question thusly, “The question is whether to serve in the wars at the command of the civil society to which I belong is a wicked action, or an action morally indifferent, or an action morally obligatory.”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Christian Manifesto for Nonviolence

I received this a few days ago from a colleague who works for InnerCHANGE, a Christian order among the poor, in Venezuela. He has been working on this Christian nonviolence creed with several other people for a while now and gave me permission to share it here for your thoughts and comments.


We confess that Jesus is Lord, the full revelation of the God of the Old Testament and that before Him every knee will bow. We confess that Jesus is Christ, Israel’s Messiah, and Savior of the world who conquered the power of evil on the cross. We agree with Jesus’ call to undivided allegiance to God: "No one can serve two masters…” (Matt 6:24), and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and your neighbor as yourself.” We also reaffirm that: “God so loved the world…” and has sent us with that love to society’s outcasts and our country’s enemies. Like Jesus, we must say ‘yes’ to the kingdom of God, and ‘no’ to all allegiances that compromise the furthering of that kingdom.

As followers of Jesus Christ who are citizens of the United States, we are troubled when God’s name is identified with our country’s wars and laws by Christians who remain silent or actively promote them as ordained by God. We believe that uniting God’s name with our government and its leaders is both idolatrous and a hindrance to the witness of the Church. Killing our enemies and enforcing dehumanizing laws in the name of God deny Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to join him as a “friend of sinners.” This is the time for genuine, widespread repentance and change.


As a follower of Jesus Christ, and in keeping with my baptismal vows:

I renounce allegiances to the world and nation that would lead me to justify the use of violence, war or any type of force that are incompatible with Jesus’ teachings and his witness on the cross. I affirm God’s mission for the Church to serve as ambassadors of the kingdom of God, announcing forgiveness, promoting healing, peace and reconciliation – by loving and blessing those considered our enemies.

I renounce the flesh as it manifests in a spirit of national pride, superiority and self-interest that pursues our nation’s dominance for our own economic and material benefit and security. I affirm that my primary earthly place of belonging, identity and loyalty is in Jesus Christ and his body -- the borderless, worldwide family of God, and embrace his way of humility, service and love of God and neighbor.

I renounce Satan, the accuser and deceiver, and turn from his lie that America is God’s elect ambassador of freedom and Christian values whose mission justifies and requires the sacrifice of human lives. I affirm God’s kingdom as manifested through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and through his Church empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Critique and a Conversion

The previous post, a critique of an essay written by Darrell Cole about C. S. Lewis' opposition to pacifism, has attracted some attention. A commenter called jackelliot79 posted several comments. Since we've received very little feedback on this blog thus far, I thought I would capitalize on this new activity with a few more posts in the hopes of generating even greater interest. I've agreed to procure and read Lewis' essay Why I am not a pacifist and critique it directly. But in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to post a link to an excellent essay by a blogger named David W. Congdon entitled "My Conversion to an Evangelical Pacifism" that was originally featured on Halden Doerge's excellent blog Inhabitatio Dei.

Of particular relevance to the previous post, I found, was Congdon's description of Lewis' arguments in Why I am not a pacifist as "criminally weak."


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Critique of an Essay on C. S. Lewis' Just War View

I love C. S. Lewis. In many ways, he has been a mentor to me throughout my Christian life. From the time I first read Mere Christianity to now as I am reading the Chronicles of Narnia series to my children, his teachings have helped to shape my faith. That is why it is particularly troubling to me when I read his thoughts on war and peace. I recently found an essay on Lewis' view of Just War, and opposition to pacifism, on the website of Touchtone Magazine—which is apparently a Christian journal. I'd like to spend a little time and space here dissecting parts of this essay in the hopes of exposing critical errors in its conclusion.

The argument the author makes is amazingly naive. For example, he writes, "Human beings cannot be expected to survive in a political system meant for angels, nor is there any biblical warrant for them to attempt such a system." By this he is referring to pacifism, but it is entirely unclear where he is pulling the idea that peace is an angelic ideal, not a human one.

At one point he examines what he calls the "failure of pacifism" from several points of view: facts, intuition, reasoning, and authority. Take a look at some of his points.

"Intuition provides a stronger case for pacifism. We seem to feel very strongly that love and helping are good, while hate and harming are bad. What this intuition fails to tell us, however, is how we are to love and help the innocent who are being treated unjustly by the wicked without using force on the wicked. So intuition in this case leads us astray because it does not see (not immediately at least) what reason sees: that you can love and use force at the same time."

First, the author is supposed to be demonstrating the failure of pacifism under the criterion of "intuition." How does he do so? He states upfront that intuition seems to support pacifism. Then, he goes on to abandon intuition altogether and judge intuition's conclusion by reason. How does this demonstrate pacifism's failure using intuition as a criterion? It doesn't. If anything, this demonstrates pacifism victory on the grounds of intuition, and reason's failure to support our intuition. If our reason goes against our intuition, this author directs readers to jettison their intuition entirely. However, it could just as easily be argued that the author's "reason" or "logic" is just as much an "intuition," since the instinct that killing is not love certainly has a "logical" and "reasonable" grounding.

"Authority, too, is against the pacifist. Every human society has said that some wars are good and that every citizen benefits from some wars (most obviously, wars of self-defense). The Christian tradition since the fourth century has declared that some wars are good.

Yes, opinion was divided in the first two centuries, but not nearly as much as popular opinion would have us believe. The first Christians were held in suspicion by the Roman authorities, and, to make matters worse, participation in the Roman army meant engaging in pagan rites such as emperor-worship. But we find little evidence of the earliest Christians rejecting military service on account of a moral aversion to bloodshed. Most of the early church fathers who speak on the subject of just war speak with approval.

In fact, the 'pros' clearly have it over the 'cons.' Clement of Alexandria, Origen (who was unique in limiting Christian support to prayer for the troops to succeed), Eusebius, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Augustine all admit to the goodness and usefulness of just wars. Only Tertullian can be listed on the pacifist side. The great early Reformers, such as Tyndale, Luther, and Calvin, were all proponents of the just war. Only the radical reformers rejected the notion of a just war."

Second, the author scrutinizes pacifism under the criterion of "authority." Of course, what the author means by authority is unclear. Apparently, he appeals to history as authority rather than Scripture. Not a single verse is cited. And even the author's use of Church Fathers is amateurish at best. The fact that he begins his case for the Church's support of war with a statement that starts this support in the "fourth century" and only claims "some" wars are good, does not make a strong case. The obvious questions this statement begs are: What about the preceding centuries, closer to the time of Christ? And, if all wars have not been good, which wars were not good? The author does not answer the second question, and misrepresents the facts to address the first. He claims that there is a lack of evidence in support of Christian nonviolence before the fourth century, and that more early church fathers supported a concept of just war than were opposed. In fact, he counts Origen as a supporter of war because he taught that we should pray for soldiers. However, he erroneously adds that Origen taught we should pray for soldiers' victory in battle. In contrast, Origen argues that if, as Celsus hypothetically pondered, all Romans were Christians, then war would be unnecessary because through prayer God would destroy Rome's enemies.

"We say that if two of us agree upon earth concerning anything that they shall ask, they shall receive it from the heavenly Father of the righteous... For they will pray to the Word, who said of old to the Hebrews when they were pursued by the Egyptians: ‘The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall be silent’; and, praying with all concord, they will be able to overthrow far more enemies who pursue them than those whom the prayers of Moses—when he cried to God—and of those with him overthrew...But if, according to Celsus’ supposition, all the Romans were to be persuaded, they will by praying overcome their enemies; or (rather) they will not make war at all, being guarded by the Divine Power, which promised to save five whole cities for the sake of fifty righteous. For the men of God are the salt that preserves the early order of the world; the earthly things hold together (only) as long as the salt is not corrupted."
- Against Celsus, 8.70

Furthermore, the author claims that opinions differ on the early church's stance toward war before Constantine. However, the only detractor from the overwhelming consensus is himself. Cadoux writes,

"The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistence in their literal sense. The closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved; they appropriated to themselves the Old Testament prophesy which foretold the transformation of the weapons of war into the implements of agriculture; they declared that it was their policy to return good for evil and to conquer evil with good."
- John C. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War: A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics, 245.

Finally, the authors' implementation of reason as a demonstration of pacifism's failure is perhaps the most disturbing. His reasoning proceeds thusly:

1) Pacifists take Jesus' nonviolence teachings at "face value."
2) This is clearly a mistake because we don't take other teachings of Jesus literally (e.g. selling all our possessions to give to the poor, and not burying family members.)
3) Thankfully, Paul and Peter show us that what Jesus meant was not to exact vengeance.

He writes,

"Reason is clearly against the pacifist on all fronts, except, perhaps, one: the teaching of Jesus that one should “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). Lewis readily admits that it is hard to deal with people who base their entire theology on a few verses—this in itself seems to go against reason—but he does have a response. If we are going to take all of Jesus’ commands at face value, then pacifists should also sell all their goods and give them to the poor. They should also quit burying their loved ones (“leave the dead to bury the dead,” Matt. 8:22).

Fortunately, we have the Apostle Paul to help us here. When Jesus tells us to turn our cheeks when struck, he means that we should not retaliate out of vengeance. We leave vengeance to God, who works his vengeance on the evildoer through the State’s use of the sword. Christians are called upon to support the State, which has been ordained by God just for the purpose of using the sword to establish and maintain justice (Rom. 12–13). This better accords with the rest of the New Testament—not to mention the Old Testament, where God commands killing on quite a number of occasions! Pacifist logic leads us to say that Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews (who, in the eleventh chapter, commends to Christians as people worthy of imitation those Old Testament warriors who waged war for justice) all misunderstood the teachings of Jesus."

The author's hermeneutics are pathetic. Placing the saying "let the dead bury their own dead" in the same category as "love your enemies" is intellectually dishonest. Jesus clearly mourns the death of Lazerus, to the point of shedding tears for him—knowing full well that he would be raised to life. Furthermore, it is clear from the context that Jesus' hyperbole was meant to emphasize the urgency and unrelenting resolve discipleship and Kingdom citizenship demand. It is comparable to Christ's hyperbolic teaching to cut off offending body parts. Christ's command to love our enemies is not at all hyperbolic. God loves his enemies. Godliness requires that we act in accordance with the divine nature.

It is also important to note that Romans 12 contains stark examples of Paul's full acceptance of Christ's nonviolent ethic. This includes the command to "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (v.14) as well as "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (v.18) If we are commanded to bless our enemies and live at peace with them as far as it depends on us, then we have no justification for violence. This sets the stage for Paul's comments about living under worldly governments. We must never think that ours is a role in society of exacting judgment. Rather, ours is a role of peace, reflecting the Kingdom of God where swords will be beaten into plows.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Hard Lesson from the Abolitionist Movement

I just finished reading Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau several days ago and the following quote struck me:

"I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already."

As I have found myself more and more involved with the Christian peace movement I have found that when I read stuff like this I find myself inserting the word "peacemaker" where the author identifies himself. In this passage I found myself reading it like this: "those who call themselves Peacemakers should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts". It sounded inspiring, it sounded radical, initially it sounded right.

Later, as I read more about the Abolitionist movement here in my own home state of Massachusetts (which included several Christian ministers), I realized something upsetting. Check out the following excerpt from The Liberator, a Boston publication authored by William Lloyd Garrison, a minister and outspoken abolitionist who was also a pacifist:

"At the tenth anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, in New York City, May 7th, “it was decided by a vote of nearly three to one of members present….that the existing national compact should be instantly dissolved; that secession from the government is a religious and political duty, that the motto inscribed on the banner of Freedom should be NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS; that it is impractical for tyrants and the enemies of tyranny to coalesce and legislate together for the preservations of human rights, or the promotion of the interests of Liberty; and that revolutionary ground should be occupied by all those who abhor the thought of doing evil that good may come, and who do not mean to compromise the principles of Justice and Humanity…..”

"No Union With Slaveholders": This was the position that the Abolitionist movement had taken in regards to their opponents and it was at this point that many men in the movement gradually began to shift towards the use of violence. Their anger at the perceived enemy had grown and grown until finally they could only see their opponent as a monster, a "tyrant", an "evildoer" that "good men" had to separate and distinguish themselves from in order to defeat. Finally, when they could no longer recognize the humanity of their enemy and could no longer see the image of God in him, the abolitionists were won over to the cause of the War. Of course, at that point they had little option since they had no relational ground with their enemy by which to cause change, end slavery, and bring about peace.

Right away I questioned my earlier insertion of "peacemakers" into Thoreau's work. This idea of having no relationship with the enemy suddenly seemed totally contrary to Christ's example and did much greater damage in its divisiveness than it did good. What does "No Union" infer? Is this idea of "No Union With Slaveholders" christlike? Is the voice in my head that wants to separate itself from those who espouse just war theory coming from a good place?

The more I thought about it the more I recognized, as we look back through history, that this kind of self-righteous refusal to associate with sinners was just what Jesus condemned about the pharisees. Jesus spent much of his time with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners: those who the Law had condemned. How do I apply this to my peace witness? What can I infer from Jesus example?

Clearly we are to call out evil where we see it and we should continue to speak out against evils like slavery, nuclear weapons, war, and collateral damage; But if we refuse the enemy the same grace God gives us and we close the door between us and them and say "No Union", we make it impossible for the "enemy" to join us in our cause and we act without humility. It is more important than anything that, as this peace movement moves forward, we do not fear relationships with those who oppose us. They are, I feel, key to the success of bringing about an end to war.

BTW: Check out these three sites. Lots of great material here:
Thoreau's Civil Disobedience
The Liberator: A collection of excerpts from the Abolitionist publication.
A Pacifist Response to Military Chaplain's Day