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Modern Christian Pacifist Philosophy:

This Working Paper, for which comments are solicited, examines the strengths and weaknesses of some leading Christian pacifist religious philosophers. The Article suggests that some intellectual arguments for pacifism are logically solid (once certain premises are granted), while others have serious flaws. The article discusses five influential philosophical advocates of non-violence Thomas Merton, Stanley Hauerwas, Leo Tolstoy, Tony Campolo, and John Howard Yoder. In addition, the Article examines three real-world cases where the practice of non-violence was put into action: the Danish rescue of the Jews during WW II, the American Civil Rights movement in the South in the 1960s, and the invasion of the Chatham Islands—the home of the pacifist Moriori tribes.

The Working Paper is argues that the Tolstoy, Hauerwas, and Campolo arguments for pacifism are seriously flawed, whereas the arguments of Merton and Yoder are much more solid.

naftali (mail):
Any absolute Pacifism is an abdication of the responsibilty to
Live.

If that floats someone's boat, peace on him. As long a he doesn't ever seek to impose it men who have not so abdicated.

Problem is, that push comes to shove by them personally, most of these peace advocates would never adhere to the very standards by which they judge the actions of other men for whom push has long since came to shove.
11.9.2007 2:32am
Henri Le Compte (mail):
Dave:
Thank you for a very interesting read! I have to say, being more a member of the Church of Agnosticism, that I was not terribly moved by any of these arguments to "emulate Christ." In fact, when you get right down to it, there is not really an "argument" being presented by these theologians. Instead, I get the sense that they arrived at their pacificism more by revelation than by argumentation.

What I mean is that they saw their pacificism as an inescapable part of their duty as Christians. All the arguments came after, and more or less as rationalizations. Take away the resolute Christian faith, and there really isn't that much left to persuade a non-believer. And that's kind of the problem, isn't it? Hitler, Stalin, Ted Bundy... not a Christian bone in their body. For that breed of man, Christian pacificism looks like nothing more or less than marvelous stupidity... and a golden opportunity to act out their most sadistic impulses.

I guess the question I have for people like Richard Niebur is "What is the bigger sin-- allowing evil to flourish, or raising a hand to stop it?" And pointing to Christ's "example" is not really fair, is it? He was here in order to fufill a particular theological destiny, one that was unique to Him. I'm not sure His crucifixion was intended as a universal prescription. Nor was Christianity intended to be a suicide cult.
11.9.2007 7:06am
PersonFromPorlock:
It's in the back of my mind that Niebuhr said something like "In a world where sin is a condition of existence, a pacifist is a parasite who lives on the sins of others." Can anyone come up with a source for that 'quote'?
11.9.2007 7:49am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Porlock. Niebuhr may have said it, but he didn't invent the idea, nor did he phrase it--translation being a possible problem--better than anyone else.

The American Civil Rights movement was only partially non-violent. The violence involved had started in 1861 and ran through 1865.

The particularly compelling footage was designed to outrage the government so as to force the advent of civil rights. Everybody knew that, if you screwed up, there were federal prosecutors with new laws looking suspiciously like ways to get around double jeopardy, FBI agents, federal marshalls (Saturday Evening Post cover with four of them got a Pulitzer or something), federalized National Guard, or regulars (paratroopers in Little Rock).
The final argument of the civil rights movement was not, "If you don't give us civil rights, you'll have to beat us up and you'll feel bad." The final argument was the picture of a paratrooper's bayonet.

Pacifism needs a different example.

Problem is, most of them try to show it "works" which is to say, arrives at congenial results. But that runs from irrelevant to nearly evil. Pacifism is good in itself, even if it means the deaths of millions and endless oppression, or it is not. Whether it "works" or not is only a selling point. And as with some sales pitches, there are occasional exaggerations.

The Danes spirited the Jews out of Denmark not because of a pacifistic ideal, but because they knew that was the best way to get the Jews away from the Germans. The Danish resistance was particularly effective, and didn't forego violence.
11.9.2007 8:20am
Anderson (mail):
Do the most effective pacifists turn out to be those with automatic weapons?

--No, seriously, thanks for the link, and I look forward to reading the draft ... after I've hacked out two more summary-judgment rebuttals .... Particularly interested in the critique of Tolstoy, who has the maddening gift of sounding completely plausible no matter how nutty he gets.
11.9.2007 9:01am
Zathras (mail):
naftali : Any absolute Pacifism is an abdication of the responsibilty to Live.

Following any absolute -ism of any sort or kind is an abdication of one's responsibilty. Absolute pacifism is no worse than any other absolute -ism and is better than most, but that's not enough.
11.9.2007 9:15am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
Historically, the Quakers have actually fought pretty frequently. Many, many Quakers fought in WWI and WWII, and they let ROTC train at their schools. They've been extremely opposed to the Iraq war, but I suspect that has as much to do with the specifics as with their general pacifism.
11.9.2007 9:15am
wm13:
This is pretty interesting. One issue you don't explore much is that many practitioners of pacifism/non-violence aim to rouse others to use violence on their behalf. This model fits the American civil rights movement, which successfully roused the conscience of a national majority, which then used the coercive power of the national government to enforce civil rights.

For a Christian, this tactic is sort of troubling. It doesn't raise moral issues if you think of Christianity as a marginal cult ("many are called, but few are chosen"), but that in turn seems very anti-universalist. How can we preach the gospel to others if the gospel only works as a small-scale cult belief? I have never seen this really addressed by Christians of the pacifist variety.
11.9.2007 9:58am
KenB (mail):
As to the pacifism of the civil rights movement, an earlier commenter pointed out the Civil War. Even if we focus on the events of the 1960s, Martin Luther King's approach was made much more appealing by the likes of Malcolm X. In the absence of people such as X, I doubt King would have been as successful.

I do not mean this to detract from King's achievements. Far more than for most of us, it is clear that American society is better for King having lived. But even then I thought he would not have accomplished as much but for the counterpoint of people such as Malcolm X.
11.9.2007 10:08am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Any absolute Pacifism is an abdication of the responsibilty to Live.

What a silly statement. Serving in the military necessitates being willing to abdicate the "responsibility to live" too. One hallmark of society (and family) is that there are some things worth dying for.
11.9.2007 10:11am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
KenB. An AIDS activist told me that Larry Kramer holds or held the same position as X. "Do what we want or Larry Kramer will show up."
11.9.2007 10:14am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I do not mean this to detract from King's achievements. Far more than for most of us, it is clear that American society is better for King having lived. But even then I thought he would not have accomplished as much but for the counterpoint of people such as Malcolm X.

But why the sneering denigration of pacifism that is apparent in so many of these comments? Yes, violence is sometimes necessary, but there is also no doubt that pacifist movements lower the overall level of violence in turbulent, transitional, societal changes. Imagine the Civil Rights era without King or Indian independence without Ghandi, many more people would have died and the results would have been much less satisfactory.

Violent revolutions rarely result in stable, progressive, democratic governments. In fact you can name on one hand (basically one or two fingers) the number of violent revolutions where the leaders of the revolution all died of natural causes (The American Revolution and ?).

For stable governments to form where the rule of law and individual rights are respected, reasonable people who eschew violence and are willing to cooperate with people they don't necessarily like are needed. Depending on people like Dave Kopel, who only see stability in arming everyone and greater firepower, results in only greater instability and more bloodshed.
11.9.2007 10:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
J.F. The reason for sneering denigration--which is not apparent in this thread so far--is the sneering denigration by pacifists. Or, more correctly, pacifists who want us to be pacific but find excuses for our enemies.

I had a little to do with the movement for non-violent national defense. Garbage. But the interesting thing was, they never wanted to influence the bad guys. One priest in Lansing, with too little to do, had a bunch of people ready to stop US imperialism, burbled one of his nutcase students. Unfortunately, at the time, the only US military action was in the Balkans and the folks couldn't be bothered.

So, if you'll excuse us, the existence of real, no-excuse, no judgement-making, no exceptions pacifists is pretty thin on the ground. It's the bogus guys who choose sides that make up the majority of people calling themselves pacifists that are the general picture of the phenomenon.
11.9.2007 10:38am
MDJD2B (mail):
Your passage toward the end about respect for the rights of other is both unnecessary for your argument and problematic.

Survival is a sine qua non-- without it, there can be no rights or any other goods of society.

Other rights are not as absolute, and tend to conflict. To use your example, the right of minorities in an Orthodox Jewish society not to eat pork contrasts with the right of Orthodox Jews to live in a milieu in which they are not exposed to what they consider disgusting and immoral behavior.

We can argue about this, but you might want to take your liberty (or libertarian) arguments out of the manuscript, as they are unnecessary to your arguemnt and serve only to put off those who do not agree.
11.9.2007 10:42am
Daniel San:
But if pacifism is to be universal ethic, rather than a temporary tactic, then nonviolence must always work better than violence.

I think this needs to be further qualified. Non-violence must always work better than violence in those cases in which accurate predictions can be made, considering the unintended consequences of violences as well as the long-term results. The more coherent advocates of the efficacy of pacifism emphasize unintended (and unanticipated) effects and long-term results. (e.g. WWII, while successful for the Allies, resulted in expanded power for Stalin. After the Civil War, much of our intelligensia decided, while the conclusion was noble, it was not worth the terrible cost). Of course, the argument about unintended consequences cuts both ways, as your example of Richard Niebuhr and WWI illustrates.

I am focusing on war because the argument from unintended consequences is more clear, but similar arguments can be made in terms of individual violence. But I have noticed that even the most coherent arguments for pacifism don't tend to do a very good job at addressing the police power (or the coercive power of the state). The only coherent argument I have seen is the sectarian argument that we are commanded to pacifism but violence is the way of the world. (Many Amish, personally pacifist to the point of not participating in the state by voting, wanted Ronald Reagan to be elected and re-elected largely due to his approach to the Cold War).
11.9.2007 10:46am
Mikeyes (mail):
I think there is a great difference between the pacifism of most religious groups (I use the Mennonites as an example since I know them best) and political pacifism such as MLK and Ghandi. If you read Yoder, he advocates not imposing religious values on government and the history of the Mennonites is full of suffering the consequences of their beliefs.

Like the Catholics (of which I happen to be one) their social and religious views don't neatly fit into a political pigeon hole. While they don't support war efforts, they did serve as medics, several winning the MOH and a number of them dying in combat. In addition, the Mennonites I worked with tended to be in the camp of self sufficiency and conservative in their personal lives. I think Mennonites are fully aware of the limits and the social aspects of their personal/religious beliefs but they also decide to accept them. Of course, this is not to say that individual Mennonites will not bring their beliefs into the political arena, but most don't.

In some respects the personal and religious beliefs of Catholics about abortion have the same issues. The fairly recent intrusion into politics on the part of certain activist Catholics will only backfire in the long run. Catholics had to fight off the notion that the Pope directed everything that a Catholic polititian did from the time my ancestors came here until just recently. Now that Catholics are more mainstream, some of them feel obligated to fullfil the prophecy.

Peace churches like the Mennonites (you have to remember that, to quote a friend of mine: "There are between 3 and 52 branches of the church" so they don't all agree on everything) have a history of being discriminated against, murdered, robbed and driven out of countries such as Russia, and otherwise castigated for their beliefs which in New Testament terms often make a lot of sense. They are not the same as MLK or Ghandi.
11.9.2007 11:10am
john w. (mail):
One problem that I noticed on a quick scanning of the paper is that it seems to be accepting, uncritically, the Ghandhi myth -- i.e. the idea that pacifism was an unqualified success for Ghandhi. But one needs to keep in mind that:

a.) Non-violence worked for Ghandhi *only* because he was struggling against England which was a relatively civilized society. If he had been up again Stalin or Mao, his pacifism would have gotten him a quick one-way ticket to the Gulag &a bullet in the back of the neck.

b.) Even against England, he would not have been successful if England hadn't already been worn out from WW-2. Hitler &Tojo deserve most of the credit for Ghandhi's success.

c.) Did Ghandhi really prevent violence, or did he just postpone it? Wasn't there a semi-genocidal bloodbath in that part of the world immediately after independence?? And, considering the tension that exists right up to the present day between India and Pakistan (both nuclear powers), the worst may be yet to come.
11.9.2007 11:19am
Mark Field (mail):

In fact you can name on one hand (basically one or two fingers) the number of violent revolutions where the leaders of the revolution all died of natural causes (The American Revolution and ?).


The American Civil War. And that was a failed revolution.
11.9.2007 11:21am
Ole W. Pedersen (mail):
Just a quick comment before submitting this otherwise interesting paper for publication. As for the Danish casualties on the morning of April 9, the number is not 4,000 as you write but a mere 15. At the time of the invasion, Denmark's armed forces numbered a total of 14,500.
11.9.2007 11:25am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Whether non-violence or pacifism works all the time, some of the time, or never, is beside the point.
It is either moral or it is not.

Ghandi--in work generally not publicly known--asserted the Jews should be heroic and let themselves be killed. It would be the better thing to do.
It is, somewhat, congruent with Ghandi's other work, but not with the idea that we're supposed to get something useful out of pacifism.
And we're not.
Those who insist it works are actually advocating for the tactic which (whichever one) works,making the case on how it works, leaving themselves without an argument if non-violence and pacifism don't work.

The spread of Stalin's influence is a bad thing. But for non-violence to have been the better option, the spread of Stalin's influence would have to be shown to be worse than spread of Hitler's influence in the absence of his losing the war.
It is nice to find those who make this argument having to insist Stalin was a bad guy, and worse than Hitler. Unfortunately, depending on circumstances, some having to do with Molotov and Ribbentrop, it put them in bed with one or another group of murdering thugs.
11.9.2007 11:26am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
(Many Amish, personally pacifist to the point of not participating in the state by voting, wanted Ronald Reagan to be elected and re-elected largely due to his approach to the Cold War).

And you know this how? I wasn't aware that many Amish participated in telephone polls. Of course "many" is a very slippery term.

Did Ghandhi really prevent violence, or did he just postpone it? Wasn't there a semi-genocidal bloodbath in that part of the world immediately after independence??

Indian independence (which was inevitable) would have been much bloodier, and the resultant society probably much less democratic--perhaps the entire subcontinent instead of just Pakistan would be a dictatorship today--, without Ghandi (and remember Ghandi was against partition). Likewise, without MLK and the SCLC, the Civil Rights movement in this country, and the resitance to it would have been much more violent and who knows how it would have turned out?
11.9.2007 11:42am
John Kindley (mail) (www):
As a libertarian Quaker, I'm finding this paper a very interesting read, and appreciate your on-the-mark reference to the Quaker Peace Testimony in the opening paragraph (don't have time to finish it now, but will tonight). Thanks for posting it. BTW, the well-known Quaker Testimony of Peace is focused on war, and the passions, hatreds and lusts which lead to and accompany war. It's not completely pacifist in that it does not necessarily abjure the use of force. E.g., the use of force by the police in the genuine maintenance of peace, and even in the dispassionate punishment of criminals, is not frowned upon (at least it wasn't for most of Quaker history), and Quakers have served as constables and police officers without incurring censure from their religious communities (in my opinion the propriety of working as a police officer has become problematic in light of the many unjust laws on the books, such as those that authorize jail and prison for merely possessing or using marijuana, but that's another matter). Indeed, Caroline Stephens in her classic book Quaker Strongholds made the point that she had difficulty in finding fault with certain wars which seemed to partake of the same nature as that of police action (though she could still not conceive of any war which did not come from evil and lead to evil). But in any event, as the footnote cited in the opening paragraph of the Working Paper makes clear, the Quaker Peace "Testimony" is just that: a personal testimony, witness and aspiration towards perfection, rather than a theory or dogma purporting to define what is right or allowable for all people at all times.
11.9.2007 11:47am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I have no idea what laws requiring guns to be locked in a safe, or your other examples of self-defense, has to do with theological justifications of pacifism. Why on earth did you include it in your article?
11.9.2007 11:47am
jdh (mail) (www):
Guys, the man's name is spelled G-A-N-D-H-I. There is only one 'h', and it comes after the 'D' to show that the D is aspirated (that is, released with more air).
11.9.2007 12:03pm
Michoel Reach:
I enjoyed reading your post, and I learned a lot. I'm in no way competent to comment on Christian philosophy, but one point you made resonated with me: Is it really possible to honestly claim that Christianity espouses a moral value that is contrary to the Old Testament? Many things may have changed in the New Testament, but is G-d's sense of morality among them?
And the Old Testament is abundantly clear about the morality of violence in the right circumstances, and the immorality of passivity to evil. Even the verse you quoted, "Thou shalt not kill", is, as you may already know, an egregious though common mistranslation. The Hebrew root is "ratzach", entirely different from the usual word for kill, "harag". "Ratzach" always means murder; a very specific type of killing is being forbidden. G-d is not schizophrenic - he did not give a blanket prohibition on doing something that he commands explicitly in literally dozens of other places.

Minor side comment to MDJD2B: We Orthodox Jews do not consider eating pork to be in any way "disgusting and immoral behavior". This is a spiritual law in the Torah, not a moral law, and we have absolutely no problems with non-Jews eating pork or any other non-kosher foods. (That actually kind of ruins using this example in the article itself.)
11.9.2007 12:08pm
Lugo:
Indian independence (which was inevitable) would have been much bloodier, and the resultant society probably much less democratic--perhaps the entire subcontinent instead of just Pakistan would be a dictatorship today--, without Ghandi...

Impossible to prove, and difficult to believe. The newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with the enormous migration of peoples (14.5 million people on the move) that occurred after the partition. Since the new governments in no way controlled this migration, and did not have the power to maintain order even if they wanted to, one cannot say that "pacifist influence" somehow mitigated the number of deaths. The governments simply weren't in the driver's seat and could not exert a pacifistic, calming influence on the process, if that was indeed their inclination.
11.9.2007 12:09pm
notalawyer:
Michoel Reach:

Is it really possible to honestly claim that Christianity espouses a moral value that is contrary to the Old Testament? Many things may have changed in the New Testament, but is G-d's sense of morality among them?

Some Christian theologians do argue for what they call a "radical discontinuity" between God's requirements in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, specifically in dealing with the question of war. I (Christian and New Testament specialist) think you're right, but some seem to believe that everything changed after the Cross, including the right of God's people to defend themselves.
11.9.2007 12:31pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Many things may have changed in the New Testament, but is G-d's sense of morality among them?

There are few people more dangerous than those who are absolutely certain that they know what God is thinking and are acting according to his "sense of morality".

Impossible to prove, and difficult to believe.

Of course it is impossible to prove, but difficult to believe--hardly. Gandhi, through sheer force of will and his undying belief in non-violence, prevented untold bloodshed during the independence movement, both by the British and among the competing factions in India. To claim otherwise is to ignore history.
11.9.2007 12:42pm
Daniel San:
J.F. Thomas challenges my assertion: (Many Amish, personally pacifist to the point of not participating in the state by voting, wanted Ronald Reagan to be elected and re-elected largely due to his approach to the Cold War).

JFT: And you know this how? I wasn't aware that many Amish participated in telephone polls. Of course "many" is a very slippery term.

I am asserting it based on my own recollection. Appealing to the authority of my credibility as an anonymous commenter. And I agree that "many is very slippery. There is tremendous variety among Amish communities in opinion, outlook, rules, and vision. I can speak of very few of those communities. I found the outlook very interesting at the time and still do. A conservative, pacifist view of the writings of Paul (esp. Romans 13) supports the viewpoint that Christians must not fight but that the state legitimately does so.
11.9.2007 12:55pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Daniel San.

What is the basis for benefiting from the fighting of others? It's always seemed to me to be a moral question.
I may, for example, not volunteer to work in a stockyard and still eat meat. But I would be kind of silly to insist the killers providing me my burgers are morally evil and still keep munching.

It would seem odd to think that fighting is immoral--as opposed to distasteful--but that we may benefit from it without qualm.

The state doesn't fight. The state arranges for individuals to fight, usually as a group, but still individuals. They kill, or die. If they survive, they suffer whatever difficulties killing imposes on some people. The state doesn't do any of this.
11.9.2007 1:04pm
notalawyer:
Do pacifists ever call the police? Seriously.

Seems to me a consistent, committed pacifist could live in a society secured by government force, because where else could he/she live? But when the pacifist has a chance to decide whether to benefit from government force or not, e.g., whether to call the police after a break-in, the pacifist should keep the police out of the situation and absorb the loss. Otherwise, what if the cops catch the burglar and hurt him in the arrest process? The pacifist has requested and benefited from the application of force.
11.9.2007 1:56pm
SamChevre:
Michoel Reach,


Is it really possible to honestly claim that Christianity espouses a moral value that is contrary to the Old Testament? Many things may have changed in the New Testament, but is G-d's sense of morality among them?


I'll answer this as best I can from my Anabaptist tradition.

God's sense of morality did NOT change. The role of the God's people changed; It has been said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy; but I say, Love your enemies.... God is still the just judge, but his called-out people, the church, are to emulate Him in love and compassion, and leave the dispensing of justice to Him.
11.9.2007 2:16pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
notalawyer.
To the extent the pacifist is left in peace, it's partly because the cops are doing their thing even without being called by the pacifist, and because the perps don't know for sure their next mark is a pacifist who won't call the cops.
11.9.2007 2:17pm
Timmy (mail):
Funny thing about the American Civil Rights Movement ... when it came to actually enforcing the law, the 101st Airborne had to be sent to Arkansas. For some reason Southerners would just not willingly surrender segregation.
11.9.2007 3:04pm
MDJD2B (mail):

Minor side comment to MDJD2B: We Orthodox Jews do not consider eating pork to be in any way "disgusting and immoral behavior". This is a spiritual law in the Torah, not a moral law, and we have absolutely no problems with non-Jews eating pork or any other non-kosher foods. (That actually kind of ruins using this example in the article itself.)


I know. For the sake of argument I was taking the argument as I thought it was being presented.

If Orthodox Jews found themselves in the majority in a sovereign jurisdiction, their right to keep pork out so that Jews would not be tempted to eat it or (a better example) their right to impose Saturday blue laws to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath would be in conflict with the rights claimed by the minority. Which view should prevail is not, IMO, a "gimme."
11.9.2007 3:06pm
MDJD2B (mail):

There are few people more dangerous than those who are absolutely certain that they know what God is thinking and are acting according to his "sense of morality".


But this is a parody of how religious people thing. At most, they beleive they know what God wants them to do. They not only have no idea what God is thinking but know that, kivne the attributes of God, that theuse of the word "thought" is anthropomorphizing.
11.9.2007 3:20pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I'm always struck by calls to emulate Jesus. It appears the only documentary evidence we have of him is in the New Testament, and much of that shows evidence of not being written by people who actually knew him. And it shows us far too little of the man to form any kind of model for emulation. (We know much, much more about Gandhi and Pee Wee Herman.)
11.9.2007 3:40pm
pdanielson (mail) (www):
I dabbled in pacifism once. Not in 'Nam, of course...
11.9.2007 4:17pm
kdonovan:
Interesting. The Danish-Swiss part is much stronger than the discussion of the 5 philosopher-theologians. The Danish part brings in facts and context not generally well known as does the Swiss part to a lesser extent. The latter part seems almost perfunctory in a several of the cases.

Kevin
11.9.2007 6:06pm
K Parker (mail):
Mikeyes,
If you read Yoder, he advocates not imposing religious values on government
I do read Yoder, do you? If so, how can you get that out of him?

Richard Aubry,
Ghandi--in work generally not publicly known--asserted the Jews should be heroic and let themselves be killed. It would be the better thing to do.
Yes, and Yoder said much the same about the Swiss vs Nazi Germany. Perhaps I missed it in the article, but if it's not there it might well be worth a brief mention in the section on Switzerland.
11.9.2007 9:55pm
Aleks:
Re: Is it really possible to honestly claim that Christianity espouses a moral value that is contrary to the Old Testament? Many things may have changed in the New Testament, but is G-d's sense of morality among them?

Yes, but only because much of the Law was not concerned with morality, but with ritual purity, dealing not with right-and-wrong with with taboos (in the original sense of that Polynesian word). Moreover the Law was given only to the Jews and was never intended to apply to Gentiles.
11.10.2007 10:07am
Bad (mail) (www):
"Any absolute Pacifism is an abdication of the responsibility to Live."

But if someone really believes Christianity, then that shouldn't matter. It's hard to deny that all the early Christians pretty clearly believed that you shouldn't raise a hand against even those enemies that outright slaughter you. In fact, going proudly to a martyr's death was so much considered a thing to be proud of: a chance to be like their savior. Paul, furthermore, was pretty clear about not resisting tyrrany, and despite the attempts of wacky Chrisitian militia WorldNetDaily types to argue otherwise, it's pretty hard to come up with a coherent Biblically-correct theology that sanctions Christian guerrilla warfare.

I'm not sure why people are bringing up Gandhi in an argument about Christian pacifism.

"Yes, but only because much of the Law was not concerned with morality, but with ritual purity, dealing not with right-and-wrong with with taboos (in the original sense of that Polynesian word). Moreover the Law was given only to the Jews and was never intended to apply to Gentiles."

This form of Christian apologia is very hard to reconcile with the Old Testament itself. The words used to describe these supposedly pointless "here jump through this hoop!" laws simply don't bear out that they lack ultimate moral content. Furthermore, many of these "taboos" earned death and other extreme punishments if broken. It's simply morally abhorrent to imagine that people who were "justly" killed for some sin would have been unjustly killed had they only waited until next Sunday, or whenever Jesus' new laws took effect, Claiming that God's morality didn't change when he apparently sanctioned the execution of a child one day and then not the next is patently ridiculous.
11.10.2007 10:37am
notalawyer:
Richard Aubrey: You say
To the extent the pacifist is left in peace, it's partly because the cops are doing their thing even without being called by the pacifist, and because the perps don't know for sure their next mark is a pacifist who won't call the cops.
And of course you're right about that. It's one of the arguments we NRA types use: that people who remain unarmed on principle still profit from the presence of the armed.

It strikes me that a principled pacifist who lives in a civil society cannot avoid benefitting from government force on a large scale: secure borders, an army ready to go to war in his/her defense, etc. My half-serious question whether pacifists ever call the police refers to the occasions when a pacifist gets to choose whether to benefit from all those armed people ready to protect him/her. Seems to me the pacifist must turn down that help when it's optional.
11.10.2007 12:05pm
K Parker (mail):
notalawyer,

Or you could just use the following bumper sticker:

Hired Violence Is Still Violence--
Real Pacifists Don't Call The Police!
11.10.2007 3:45pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Mr. Kopel distils the arguments against war to a utilitarian argument and a deontologic argument.

He demolishes the utilitarian argument, chiefly by providing counterexamples. In addition, he suggests that such arguments present certain empirical facets that must be determined by observation and are not susceptible to logical proof or refutation.

He then acknowledges that the deontologic argument (like all such arguments) is irrefutable-- while not proveable either-- but show that following the pacifist rule can lead to empiric results that most people find intolerable. This is a sort of reductio ad absurdum.

as for pacifists calling the police-- at least some pacifists are not against violence per se, but agianst its employment on a mass scale by one society or state against another. The proposition is analogous to the rule that epople should stay out of each others' houses unless invited. Mr. Kopel does not really grapple much with this point of view, except in his discussion of Just War-- presumably, if someone comes uninvited into your house you may eject him. But the antiwar pacifist--as opposed to the practitioner of total nonviolence-- has no trouble either calling the cops or being a cop.
11.10.2007 5:12pm
notalawyer:
Thanks, MDJD2B. A useful distinction.
11.10.2007 6:47pm
Elliot123 (mail):
The anti-war pacifist simply chooses violence when it's in his interest. I really doubt any of the pcifists who are quick to call the cops to save their own skins would object to calling lots of cops when there are lots of people who want to harm them. Lots of cops are what we call our own army. Lots of people who want to kill us are what we call the other guy's army.
11.10.2007 6:51pm
John Kindley (mail) (www):
"Lots of cops are what we call our own army. Lots of people who want to kill us are what we call the other guy's army."

In a comment above I made the point that what Quakers really object to is not force (justly used for the maintenance of peace) per se, but war, and the passions, hatred and lusts which lead to and accompany war. I also cited the noted Quaker author Caroline Stephen as acknowledging that certain wars theoretically are difficult to distinguish from police-type protection on a mass scale. One place to find the distinction is in Carl von Clausewitz' dictum that "War is the extension of politics by other means." (To my mind, it's just as true that "Politics is the extension of war by other means.") There is something about politics that inherently appears to make it more susceptible to and driven by injustice, greed and lustful overreaching the grander the scale on which it is conducted.
11.10.2007 8:34pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It's generally agreed that war is a bad idea. You don't need to be a pacifist to think that way.
Problem with condemnng war comes when you get into the real world, as usual with pacifism.
In war, one side starts it. The other side is, or is not?, justified in resisting.
Are both sides equally blameworthy?
Do the precepts of pacifism apply equally to each side?
Do pacifists demand the victims of aggression cease resisting? I suppose they'd say they condemn the aggressor equally.
Problem is that there are different results, depending on who's effing stupid enough to listen to the pacifists. If the aggressor decides to go home in shame, we have status quo ante less a bunch of guys who won't live to see their grandkids. If the victim listens, we have tyranny, oppression, mass murder, possibly genocide, etc.
Nutty. Just absolutely nutty to think the victim should down weapons.

The success of Gandhi's campaign to get India free succeeded for all the known reasons. His assertion that the Jews should allow themselves to be killed is down the memory hole. It's sort of like the anthologies of Mark Twain, that funny guy, don't include "The Mysterious Stranger".
The reason is that only the insane want to die pacifistically and most pacifists are trying, some honestly, to sell the proposition that pacifism "works" and Gandhi's clear view that dying non-violently is "working" makes the whole thing look bad.

And, yes, Elliott123, pacifists are free riders on the willingness of others to use violence on behalf of society.

There. I said it.
11.10.2007 10:04pm
Elliot123 (mail):
John Kindly,

I agree many Quakers object to war, its passions, hatreds, and lusts. However, objecting to war is simply a way for people to avoid confronting the difficult issues.

A robust analysis would focus on each side in a war, rather than their eventual clash. Is there an aggressor? Is a nation justified in defending against an aggressor? Is a nation wrong to repel an aggressor? May a group targeted by an army form their own militia to defend against such aggression? Is the passion to safeguard one's family something to be condemned?

The Just War Theory might be the next stop for the pacifist who has difficulty with the above questions, or can't define the point where volence becomes unacceptable.

When the Viking longboat hit the beach, what were the people to do? If they fought back, was this then a war, and would the Quackers object to the passions of the people who wanted to keep themselves and their families alive? Would they object to the Vikngs raids? Or would they take the easy way out, sit back at a distance, and say war is bad?
11.11.2007 12:30pm
Michael B (mail):
If pacifism, Xian or otherwise, cannot be taken to its ultimate end, or dead-end, the pathos of the better pacifists can be acknowledged as a type of end in and of itself, e.g. representing a moral suasion that at least has penultimate merit. As a salute to those better angels, Dylan's Hard Rain is suitable enough. (And for Dylan and Cash, when the former's voice was arguably at its best, Girl From The North Country is fine.)
11.11.2007 6:46pm
Enoch:
Gandhi, through sheer force of will and his undying belief in non-violence, prevented untold bloodshed during the independence movement, both by the British and among the competing factions in India. To claim otherwise is to ignore history.

Gandhi did not prevent "untold bloodshed by the British". They were looking to wash their hands and get out quickly, they were not looking for a reason to stay and break heads.

If you want to argue that he prevented "untold bloodshed" among the competing factions in India, you must come to grips with the fact that there was already untold bloodshed during the partition (500,000 to 1 million dead, depending on who you believe), so the question is really "how much more bloodshed would there have been without Gandhi"?

History is not what we'd like to believe about Saint Gandhi the Blessed. History is what can be documented as a fact. In order for "Gandhi prevented untold bloodshed during the partition" to be history, one must establish - with supporting documents - that (a) the governments of India and Pakistan actually sought to prevent violence during the partition, (b) this policy was directly influenced by Gandhi's principles, and (c) the governments actually had the power to prevent violence, and (d) the governments actually did prevent violence. In my view, (c) and (d) are certainly not true, and any violence that didn't happen during the partition was fortuitous, and any bloodshed that was prevented was not due to the influence of Gandhi but sheer happenstance.
11.11.2007 6:59pm
Joshua:
Not to belabor an obvious point (or at least what should be one), but isn't the entire debate over Christian pacifism entirely subjective? That is, wouldn't your view of the subject necessarily revolve around (1) whether you value your well-being, and society's, in this life over your place in the afterlife, and, if you value the latter more, (2) how you believe using and/or benefiting from violence, or not, in this life will affect your place in the afterlife?

It's easy for people like me, and many other commentators here, to criticize pacifist religious beliefs. But for those whose #1 priority in this life is to live in a way they believe will satisfy God and get them into heaven, and who also believe that violence is antithetical to that goal, asking them to reject pacifism amounts to asking them to sacrifice their immortal souls. One might as well ask a committed Islamic jihadi to embrace pacifism.

My point is that this doesn't strike me as a subject that leaves much room for rational debate between believers and non-believers in religious pacifism.
11.11.2007 9:41pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Joshua. You may be right as regards pacificists' personal salvation prospects.
The problem is when they try to get the rest of us to do it, sometimes by marginally influencing political decisions.
See "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" by Rebecca West.
11.11.2007 11:43pm
Elmer:
To my knowledge, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that each of us may choose to obey God's commands or not. Satan would prefer that we disobey, and one of his tactics is to say that blood must be shed to prevent other bloodshed. This is false, because resurrection can reverse the effect of killing, while disobeying God has more serious consequences.

I don't know enough to be sure, but I suspect that they would do well as an example of a pacifism with the tees crossed. Their behavior in the Nazi camps shows that their actions were in keeping with their beliefs.
11.12.2007 2:13am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Elmer

I admire those who will walk the talk. There are not many.
Problem is, as has been said before, that they survive--which is to say, live to live their faith--only to the extent others are willing to commit violence.
As Mark Steyn has said, the future belongs to those who show up for it.
Pacifists, the real kind, won't show up for it if others do not protect them.
11.12.2007 8:49am
wolfefan (mail):
Hi -

I think the paper would be stronger if it recognized the contributons that many American pacifists made to fighting the Nazis. (To do so would also avoid the silly generalizations many make of the pacifist as a parasite.) During WWII, pacifists served as smokejumper firefighters in the Northwest. Pacifists were volunteers in government studies in which they were infected with malaria, or underwent experiments in starvation. No doubt actions such as these helped the war effort, but they nevertheless fit into a consistent pacifist ethos because they are positive actions that are beneficial to people beyond just those fighting on the front lines.

Pacifists, the real kind, can (and do) show up - you just have to be willing to look for them. There are usually not enough of them to show up in the history books or to elect political leaders, so it takes some effort.

I don't take criticisms, either in the paper or in this thread, of so-called pure pacifism very seriously. The same criticisms can be made of "pure" anything.

I'm also not sure what the section on Merton added to the paper. It's very cursory, and doesn't track the evolution in Merton's thinking at all other than to say that it happened. No examples or analysis are provided. I think Merton could be an interesting study, but IMHO what's in there needs to be fleshed out a whole lot more to be worth including.

Be well -
Jeff
11.13.2007 7:37am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
IMO, there is a difference between CO and pacifist.
The CO objects to serving, although many medics were COs and had, indeed, a separate basic training course when I was in. So it was rumored. Marching, field work, discipline, fitness. No weapons.
They were good medics, and hard old lifer noncoms who hated hippies were impressed with these guys.
That's different from a pacifist who thinks any participation in war is wrong and who may, by virtue of the franchise, seek to weaken his nation in the face of aggression. See, it is tiring to repeat, Orwell.

BTW. If you're not a pure pacifist, you're a circumstance-judger. Same as the rest of us.
11.13.2007 8:00am