Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On the Purpose For My Pacifism

I wrote this as a response to a question posed on a freind's blog, but I thought I would share it with all 3 of you as well.  It might come off as a little bit overly-analytical (especially compared to my usual writing style), and I'm going to get all philosophical on you, but stay with it, and I think you'll get where I'm coming from.
The fundamental problem in the choice to join up with a military campaign in order to "prevent evil" or "promote good" (be it WWII, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan) is that it presents us with a false dichotomy, one that, in my opinion, relies on an overly-inflated view of self and an under-inflated view of God.  It says I must do A, or I will see B result.  Or, it says I must do A or B will NOT result.  I think such an estimation is severely flawed.  Let me explain, but first, a few definitions. 
The first thing we have to recognize is that joining the military is an act of violence.  We can (and will, I'm sure) argue about whether or not this particular violent action is justified (such as, in direct defense of self or others), but we cannot deny the violent nature of the action itself.  As such, it changes the nature of our decision to take this particular action, because it cannot, by any definition, be considered benign in any way.
Next, we have to agree on the issue of justification.  This is first and foremost a moral issue, and thus, for the Christian, a Christological issue, as Christ is the only earthly example we have of what Godly morality would look like.  In an academic context, regardless of your particular theory of morality, certain questions must be asked.  We cannot simply ask if the ends justify the means, but we must also decide if the means themselves are morally acceptable, and there must be a Christological component of the last question, meaning as a Christian, we must look to Christ's example for ascertaining the moral value of a particular action.  If we can answer yes to both the question of ends/means justification and morality of means, we can then make a strong argument toward the action being justified.
With those definitions in mind, and when we set appeals to emotion aside, the argument against joining becomes clearer.  The first of the two questions we must ask regarding moral justification is less consequential, in this case, than the second, so I won’t spend as much time talking about it.  Suffice it to say, I think I would have a hard time saying that my violent action, which may or may not alleviate any of the suffering of individuals either in close proximity to me or distant from me, would be morally justified.  The problem is one of intervening factors, namely, those completely outside of my control.  Contrary to contemporary American reinterpretations of history, Good doesn’t always win, and the results of wars are hardly as triumphal as our historians would have us believe.  It is indeed, just as likely, that my violent action will achieve nothing (see our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and this is coming from a guy who fought in both of them) or even negative results (see: Collateral Damage).   As such, it is difficult to see how such an action could be considered morally justified.
The second question is, in my opinion, the most critical, and the Christological component is the most important component for the Christian, so that is where I will focus.  If I truly believe that God’s nature is the source of morality, and that Christ is the embodiment of that nature and thus our earthly example of what morality looks like, then we have to take into account what He might do in such a situation, and the only way to do that is to look at what He DID do, or in this case, what He did NOT do.  He could’ve sparked a violent revolution.  He could’ve been the conquering king.  He could’ve joined any number of groups partaking in violent action against the Roman Empire, actions that by most accounts would have been justified.  But he did none of those things.  He served, He loved and he gave His life in the ultimate act on non-violent defiance.   I have a hard time seeing how I could justify my violent action today if I honor His example.
Now, someone might object that this seems counterintuitive, that Jesus loved people, and as such, would want to see lives saved so that they could come into relationship with Him.  However, this objection has two fatal flaws.  First, I am assuming that my violent action will result (or even possibly can result) in lives being saved for relationship with Him, but such an assumption places me in the role of God, speculating the outcome of impossibly complex events and coming to my own conclusions.  Put simply, we have absolutely no way of knowing that such an assumption is true, and in assuming its truth, we are assuming to know the Mind of God. 
While this leaves me feeling somewhat dissatisfied on a visceral level in and of itself (after all, I want to believe that my sacrifice would matter in an absolute sense), when we take into account Christ’s example, it makes more sense, and it leads us to the second fatal flaw.  His actions were counterintuitive.  To a first-century Jew, Jesus engaging in violent action against the Roman Empire could have been seen as justified or even obligated under traditional conceptions of morality.  He could have done all of these things that included violent action, and such actions might have, to a contemporary observer, seemed to save and improve the lives of countless Jews living in Palestine, but what He did instead literally changed the entire course of history.  To me, this illustrates the short-sightedness of our thinking, and our desire to take God’s place in situations we deem “important enough.”


  1. Very well-articulated, and I couldn't be in more agreement. I will make sure to pass it along to Daniel. :)

  2. @Calie & Daniel Thank you. It took me a long time to be able to write it.

  3. Again, Luke, I find you are great at articulating what I've been wanting to say, even though I am sorry it was such a hard road for you walk in order to be able to put words to it.

  4. @quinnThanks man. I don't know that I'd change a thing though, man. I'm such a stubborn jackass, had it not been so hard, I probably would've never learned the lesson.

  5. Jesus would have been completely justified, when considering the Law of the Old Covenant, to strike down his accusers for defiling the Living God. Yet, he contradicts the Law over and over again. So why does he do this, and how does he get away with it? Jesus becomes the Word, made flesh, thus embodying the Law. The Law serves to correct, and can only correct. Jesus does what the Law cannot,and was never meant to do. Jesus not only corrects, but he is able to redeem.

    When we make a decision to be the hand of God in dishing out justice, we act as the Law did in some way and fashion. True redemption is only offered by the one who is the Law in full completeness. And as you said above, we are called to live in His example.

    Great thoughts Luke! (I should have never asked you to read that book)

  6. @Daniel "The Law serves to correct, and can only correct. Jesus does what the Law cannot,and was never meant to do. Jesus not only corrects, but he is able to redeem."

    THIS!! times infinity!

    I'm so glad you did recommend it. At that point in my life I was struggling both to verbalize what I knew to be true, and to reconcile my past with my future. That book really helped me to do both.

  7. To give credit where it is due, my mentor Joe Nadolski said many of the above things I mentioned. We have been having an ongoing conversation, and he verbalized for me many things, that I have really wrestled with. When he said, the quote mentioned above, that thought really rocked me and it was like revealed knowledge was made known. I have been really dwelling on it, and after reading your thoughts, that was like blaring at me. Thought I would pass that word onto you. Seems you found it equally as valuable! The Lord is good!


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