Doug ridicules Christian pacifism

Doug Chaplin’s blog Metacatholic is one of my favourites, for me the best new blog of 2007.

But Doug does sometimes make some absurd claims. His most recent ones relate to Christian pacifism in the Anabaptist tradition. Here is some of what he has written here, including in his own comments:

I fail to see how the Anabaptist tradition offers any answer other than an opt-out, a misplaced application of eschatology to the created order.

I’m not sure you can, as a Christian, pray for the welfare of a democracy without engaging in its political processes.

But engaging in the political process means coming to a clearly reasoned view about the state’s use of force … and that means questions of judicial punishment and war

I genuinely do think the Anabaptist position is not clearly reasoned for political participation: the most I think it can offer clearly is an alternative protest movement that prevents full participation in a democratic state.

In response to this I commented:

Well, Doug, if the majority in a democratic state rejects “just war” theory, or pragmatism, and votes for pacifism, and a democratic government is formed on that basis, is that still “an alternative protest movement” and not a democratic government? …

Doug replied:

Peter, I regard that as so unlikely as not to be worth considering. It’s a bit like Richard Dawkins using the non-existence of the tooth-fairy as an argument against God.

Meanwhile in comments here Doug wrote:

My biggest problem with identifying the church solely with anti-war arguments is that I think it creates appeasement in place of peace, and hamstrings any possible participation by Christians willing to be guided by their faith in high-level politics.

it is an observation that no-one will ever elect a government that is automatically and absolutely against any and all war, and no-one who held such a position as a matter of inviolate principle would be able to obtain high office.

I see two arguments here, and both are extremely dubious:

  1. He makes an extremely strong prediction, apparently that never in any country will a pacifist government be democratically elected. His point is not that this is undesirable (that is a quite separate argument), but simply that it will never happen. My response to this was

    I can only assume that you hold to a very high doctrine of the total depravity of humanity and the impossibility of more than a small proportion of any population doing anything other than evil.

  2. He seems to make an absurd argument for why Christians must support some kind of just war theory. He starts from the correct point that Christians must be concerned about the welfare of the society that they live in. In a democracy this implies a willingness to participate in the democratic process, which he seems to identify as aspiring to be part of the government. But, he claims, pacifism will never be government policy, and so any pacifist is always opposed to government policy and so can never be part of a government. So Christians should not be pacifists so that they will have a realistic chance of joining the government.Now this may be good pragmatic advice for someone who aspires to a high political office. For I accept that it is unlikely that a pacifist government will be elected here in the UK in my lifetime. But it is possible, and indeed probably desirable for most, to do one’s Christian duty without aspiring to be a member of the government. One can be involved in local government, or even be a back bench parliamentarian, while remaining true to pacifist principles, at least in some political parties. In fact I would suggest that it would be immoral rather than right for a Christian to abandon their principles in order to forward a political career. There are enough unprincipled politicians out there already that we don’t need Christians to join them.

Now I am not a pacifist by clear and definite conviction. But I am very attracted by this, especially through what I have been learning about the Anabaptists over the last year or so. I have more or less abandoned the just war position which Doug seems to hold, although he admits that there are many difficulties with this position. Well, I will admit that there are also difficulties with Christian pacifism. But I accept that the just war position is a reasonable one for people to hold despite its difficulties. I just wish that Doug would accept that pacifism is also a reasonable position for Christians to take. But I’m afraid that rants of the kind he has been writing will not convince me, rather they will encourage me all the more towards pacifism.

35 thoughts on “Doug ridicules Christian pacifism

  1. I haven’t read the article on Doug’s blog, Peter, but if you have quoted a representative sample, I see the fatal flaw already – the complete absence of any engagement with the actual teaching of Jesus and the apostles on the subject.

  2. Indeed, Tim. Doug engages with the 39 Articles and the teaching of Augustine, but not with that of Jesus except to state that “Augustine begins this letter with a reminder of the commandment to love ones neighbour as oneself.”

  3. Since there is no teaching by Jesus or the apostles on the topics of the political process (far less the political processes of a democracy) or how nations should deal with one another, it is remarkably difficult to engage with it.

  4. I’m with Doug on this one. It’s absurd to try to smuggle pacifism into Jesus’ teaching on nonretaliation.

  5. Well, John put his finger on Jesus’ teaching about pacifism, and dismissed it with the absurd argument that it is absurd to consider this. Now I would agree that there is a complex hermeneutical process required to get from Jesus’ teaching to promoting a policy of pacifism in a democracy. But that is precisely the kind of process which we need to follow if as Christians we are to be involved in the political process, as Doug and I agree that we should. Surely Christian political involvement should be more than Christians promoting their own political preferences without letting them be informed by Christian principles?

  6. Doug, with your logic I might just as easily say, ‘since there is no teaching by Jesus or the apostles on the subject of two gay people wanting to commit their lives to each other in a faithful monogamous union – since the few biblical references to homosexuality are all in the context of promiscuity or idolatry – it is remarkably difficult to engage with it’. But I suspect that you wouldn’t buy that. It doesn’t fit your interpretive grid.

    However, the idea that the teaching of Jesus and the apostles excludes war certainly fit the interpretive grid of the Church Fathers, who were after all a lot closer in time to the NT documents than we. As you well know, the vast majority of the Fathers in the first couple of centuries believed that war was incompatible with Christian discipleship. For instance:

    The ‘Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus’, dating from about 215 AD, has the following to say about those who wish to become catechumens: ‘A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. If someone is a military governor, or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God’ (Hippolytus 16:9-11).

    Tertullian wrote, ‘the divine banner and the human banner do not go together, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword.’ (On the Chaplet 11-12).

    Origen wrote, ‘You can not demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers.’ (Against Celsus VIII.7.3 about 240 AD)

    Justin wrote, ‘We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One.’ (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4 about 160 AD).

    So apparently the early Fathers had a different interpretive grid than you, Doug. It isn’t until the gradual emergence of Christendom, when the church gets in bed with the state, that the church finds itself having to develop a biblical justification for war. Before that, all Christians understood that their citizenship was in a different place.

    You have all been discussing the question of whether or not a democracy should have a pacifist policy. I find this interesting, but to me it isn’t the heart of the matter. Why do we Christians feel we need to develop a system of ethics that is workable for non-Christians? The NT writers all understood that they were writing for people who had emerged from darkness to light and were answerable to a higher standard. They had a special calling as the bearers of the light of Christ to the world. To me, the heart of the matter is not ‘What should the state do?’ but What should the people of Jesus do?’ And Jesus has told them what to do in the manifesto he gave when he formed them as the new Israel: Love your enemies.

    As you know, most of the wars fought by so called Christian’ nations during the 1500 years or so of Christendom were fought against other ‘Christian’ nations. So you had followers of Jesus putting on the uniform of their country and killing other followers of Jesus because they happened to be wearing the uniform of a different country.

    Now tell me this – if Paul was so upset because Christians of Jewish origin were refusing to eat with those of Gentle origin, what would be his view about Christians who killed each other because of their different nationalities?

    So I’m waiting, Doug, for a theological justification – and one which takes the teaching of Jesus and the apostles seriously – for Christians killing other Christians at the behest of their governments. Over to you.

  7. Tim, I’m not sure which blog we’re continuing this conversation on, mine or Peter’s! As you note in a comment on mine, the root of our fundamental disagreement is about the underlying question of church and society, or to take it a stage further back, how do we deal with the balance between living in the created world, and living in the re-created world. It is why, I suspect, I see the pacifist tradition (post-Nicea) as fundamentally problematic, in giving little place to either natural law or common grace.

    On Paul, I think he would be horrified if we settled intra-church theological issues by going to war. AFAIK, not even the Archbishop of Nigeria has (yet) suggested that. I’m not remotely sure that translates into a politics of international relations.

    PS I have no idea what view you are attributing to me in your first paragraph!

  8. Tim, thanks for your helpful comment. But there is one point on which I would like some clarification. You wrote:

    Why do we Christians feel we need to develop a system of ethics that is workable for non-Christians?

    A good question, and one at the heart of our disagreement. I can’t speak for Doug on this one, but I do not believe that Christians should be prescribing a system of ethics for non-Christians to live by. However, if as Christians we are to be involved in politics, we need to have policies on ethical issues. Tim, do you agree with Doug and me that it is good for Christians to be active in politics? If so, should a Christian politician press for a pacifist policy? Or should he or she take the arguably hypocritical approach of being personally pacifist but accepting the non-pacifist policy of a government or party?

  9. Doug, you say, ‘On Paul, I think he would be horrified if we settled intra-church theological issues by going to war’. But you aren’t answering my question: would it be right for a Christian to go to war and kill another Christian because they happen to be citizens of different countries, not because of intra-church theological disputes?

    In my first paragraph I was making an assumption about your view of homosexuality which might have been unfounded. If so, I apologise. My observation is that we all tend to be selective literalists, depending on our interpretive grid. Many conservative Christians on this side of the Atlantic (I live in Canada) are literalists when it comes to homosexuality but not when it comes to war. Liberal Christians tend to be the opposite.

    Peter, I confess i have not come to a resolution of the question you raise. As you know (you and I have discussed this before) Yoder took the traditional Mennonite view that Christians ought not to be involved in politics or warfare; his memorable phrase was ‘Our first responsibility toward the world is not to manage and organise it’. But I feel that people like Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect have left a valuable example for us as well. Still, being a Christian in politics will undoubtedly lead to some conflicts. My observation is that the ‘Party Line’ tends to win out in most cases. C.S. Lewis makes the observation in ‘Mere Christianity’ that the ethical teaching of Christianity contains elements of what we would today call both ‘left’ and ‘right’. Many Christians in politics seem to iron out these conflicts so that they can go along with party policy.

    I guess what I meant was that the fundamental question for me is not ‘Should the state go to war?’ but ‘Should Christians, with our loyalty to a higher Lord, participate in it in contradiction to the teaching of our Master?’ I think we have to get the answer to that question right before we can start trying to manage the State. As far as our responsibility to be salt and light – my gut tells me that this will involve political service for some, but how they will handle the conflicts involved, I confess I don’t know. Of course, there are more ways of being political than running for elected office: as Yoder points out, the refusal to run is also a political position!

    So, Peter, ‘Go not to the elves for advice, for they will tell you both yes and no’.

  10. Thanks, Tim. I also don’t have a fully worked out position. But I feel happy in being in a political party which tends to take the more Christian position on matters of public policy, in terms of providing for the poor as well as avoiding unjust war. The position of most party members on issues of personal morality is not such a Christian one, but I don’t consider personal morality to be an issue of party politics, so this is not a problem for me.

  11. Thanks to Tim, Doug and you, Peter, for this fascinating debate, on so many levels!

    I have, this past year, been co-opted as a Member of Essex County Council and now regularly find myself contributing to the formulation and scrutiny of policy for local government delivery of social services to children and young people. It is a constant challenge to maintain the integrity of my position as a ‘public Christian’ in this work.

    I am with Tim – or should I say the interpretive grid of the Early Fathers (!?!) – on the broad take. I take very seriously my mandate to speak truth to power but do not, ultimately, think that Christian ethics and general ethics are the same thing, so agree that there is no automatic ‘role’ for the Christian ethicist in the wider political process, let alone an ‘entitlement’. All of that is the cankerous fruit of the Christendom project (or, as some Anabaptists have it, the ‘Constantinianism project’).

    So, I find I can say, ‘this is what I think the consequences of following Jesus are’ in response to a given question, and in doing so I draw on my best understanding of the historic, orthodox faith and its praxis. But, ultimately, I do not believe that God tasks me to legislate for the wider society – merely to act as part of His prophetic and convicting work of truth.

    As a Christian pastor, though, I am quite clear that I bear a responsibility, under God, to instruct and nurture fellow disciples in the way they should go, and to live it out myself. (St Paul’s pastoral letters make it clear, further, that the pastor is to be judged according to his faithful shepherding of those entrusted to her/him.)

    I find I am wholeheartedly and wholeheadedly in agreement with William Willimon in his 2005 imprint ‘Sinning like a Christian’ – a wonderful title! – when he argues that ‘sin’ has a peculiar and particular definition in Christian theology that begins in the knowledge of God gained by looking at what is revealed about Him in Jesus Christ. A generalised ethical system that starts with observation elsewhere is a different kind of project altogether. There will always be a mismatch and the Christian obligation is to be faithful and a witness first, second, third and on each other occasion.

    Maybe I’ll cite some of Willimon (or Stanley Hauerwas?!) on my blog sometime soon. For now, it is very late and I should get to bed!

    (BTW, FWIW, I am an absolutely committed pacifist. I seriously do not see how a Christian can cut it any other way!…Discuss!…)

  12. I would like to take a more situational approach than theoretical. I am reading Rough Crossings by SIMON Schama on the early anti-slavery movement and the American Revolution. Many of the abolitionists were also pacifists. Granville Sharp gave up his government job because he would not help arm the British against the Americans who were afterall brothers. Later both Sharp and Samuel Hoare, a Quaker, agreed that the freed slaves returning to Sierra Leone should be armed in order to defend themselves from slavers.

    Surely everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum. It is not whether to bear arms but when to bear arms.

  13. Peter writes, “John put his finger on Jesus’ teaching about pacifism, and dismissed it with the absurd argument that it is absurd to consider this.” Actually, my point is that Jesus did *not* teach about any sort of *ideological* pacifism at all, but rather about personal nonretaliation. There’s a huge difference. Pointing it out is not “absurd”.

    Here’s part of what I wrote on AKMA’s blog a few years ago ( “What are the grounds for claiming that Jesus was a pacifist? Simply turning Jesus’ statements about personal nonretaliation into a philosophy opposing military interventionism is a gigantic exegetical leap. And if sayings about going the extra mile, etc., have the Roman occupation in mind, one needs first to speciate the type of pacifism behind these statements, especially in the light of the nonideological, preservationist pacifism counseled by Josephus and the rabbis of Shapur II’s Babylonia. (Note especially that Jesus’ prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem are connected with his warning about the poorly calculated actions of the zealots.) As far as I can see, neither text nor context suggests that Jesus was an ideological pacifist.”

    I can’t understand why pacifists cannot differentiate between standing and taking abuse from others, for the sake of Christ, and standing and allowing innocents to be killed, for the sake of a perverse misunderstanding of the Sermon on the Mount. Where in the gospels is there the slightest suggestion that would subscribe to the latter?

  14. Paul, thank you. I am very close to you on these issues. But I still do not see a resolution of the tension between “I … regularly find myself contributing to the formulation and scrutiny of policy for local government delivery of social services to children and young people” and “I do not believe that God tasks me to legislate for the wider society”. Does that imply that your work for Essex County Council is not a calling from God and is not based on Christian principles?

    Suzanne, that is an interesting point. The example of the freed slaves may show the limits of pacifism.

    John, I agree that Jesus did not teach any ideology, but simply how to respond in certain situations. And that was always not to retaliate. I take your point that there is a difference between not defending oneself and not defending children etc one has responsibility for, but I see no sign of Jesus suggesting that his followers use any kind of violence to protect innocents.

  15. Peter

    You are right that there is a tension, but the key idea to grasp is that of St Paul, that living as a Christian in the world is to act as an ambassador for the Kingdom. My ‘citizenship’ is of the Kingdom, and it is the Rule of God that directs my ethical formulations, as I seek to follow Jesus Christ. If I am speaking to or working with other Christians, then I will have a legitimate expectation/hope that we recognise a mutual ‘belonging’ to the Kingdom, and that we all wish to live in it. With others, the role becomes simply – though still significantly – ambassadorial. I do not expect to have executive power in that domain, nor wish to pretend that others should feel that I should.
    I highly commend – and periodically reread – the mid-1980s pastoral handbook, ‘Resident Aliens’, written by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. They just about get it right, for my money!

  16. If capitalist, money-hungry secularists are polluting God’s holy temple by robbing the poor and preventing the Gentiles from worshiping in the court of the Gentiles, is it morally wrong to use violence to expel them so that Gentiles can worship, the poor can sacrifice without being exploited, and God will not be dishonored in his own temple?

    It’s impossible to fit pacifism into the biblical texts. Jesus’ view of the OT is so strong that I can’t see him taking God’s commands to wipe out whole nations through violence or to put criminals to death as wrong in principle. Whatever kind of pacifism can be fit to scripture, it can’t be an absolute, in-principle kind. The most recent two Catholic popes have been pacifists, and this is something they recognized. I’ve rarely seen anyone in the Anabaptist tradition acknowledge this.

  17. in great haste – it’s my first day back at work…

    Jeremy, you are quite wrong to suggest that Anabaptists don’t acknowledge this conflict. What Anabaptists did say was that there would always be a conflict, no matter which choice you took. If you go with the OT texts, you marginalise Jesus and his clear teaching about loving your enemies. If you go with Jesus, you marginalise the OT.
    But marginalising the OT is nothing new for Christians. We have set aside its clear teaching that if you are not circumcised you are cut off from God’s people, about food laws, about capital punishment for stoning your father, about civil sabbath legislation, about the sacrificial system etc etc. We have done all this because we believe that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God to us, ad so we read the whole of scripture in the light of his revelation, and whatever does not agree with his revelation is no longer applicable. The Anabaptists called Jesus ‘the golden key’ to unlocking the meaning of the scriptures.

    By the way, Jeremy, if you follow the OT texts as authoritative then you have divine authorisation not only for war, but for genocide and ethnic cleansing. Are you prepared to say that these are valid forms of activity for Christians?

    I’ll leave someone else (Paul) to dispute your interpretation of the meaning of the cleansing of the Temple (it changes things when you realise that ‘den of robbers’ should probably be translated ‘den of brigands’…)

    Gotta run now…!

  18. Paul, thanks for the clarification.

    Jeremy, the cleansing of the temple does indeed show us some of the limits of pacifism. But there is no indication that Jesus used his whip on people rather than animals. The OT also shows that God can command his people to wage war, but we are now in very different circumstances under the New Covenant.

    Tim, thanks for your helpful response to Jeremy’s other points.

  19. I am quite appalled at the idea that Christians would use the OT to justify war.

    However, the cleansing of the temple provides a better model. If we turn to history we will have to ask which one of us does not benefit from freedoms provided by an armed rebellion. And are any of us willing to give up those freedoms?

    I think we have to take history into account. It is the source of so many of our freedoms, – not the scripture text – the multidenominational church, our citizenship rights, the terms of our life were gained through history. We have to ask how the principle of pacifism worked out in history. Then ask if our conclusions are really absolute or simply developed within our present context.

  20. Suzanne, I’m not sure that any of the freedoms I enjoy, as a British citizen, were provided by armed rebellion. Arguably some of them can be dated back to the English Civil War (although here it was the King rather than Parliament who took up arms to fight against freedom), but most of those freedoms were lost at the Restoration in 1660 and regained bloodlessly in 1689. This, and the contrast with the US and French experiences, shows that freedoms can be won through gradual political processes and not only by force.

  21. although here it was the King rather than Parliament who took up arms to fight against freedom

    Are you saying that Parliamentarians did not bear arms?

  22. No, Suzanne, I am suggesting that the Parliamentarians bore arms only to defend themselves against the king’s illegal forces. This was not pacifism, but it was not armed rebellion either.

    Scott, thanks for your comment on John’s blog. The whole discussion there is interesting, but I have nothing to add at the moment.

  23. Surely there is no real question that Jesus enacted violence or force on PEOPLE in his cleansing of the Temple?
    His actions were actively DISRUPTIVE OF SYSTEMS (whether cultic or social or economic) which were unfaithful and unjust.
    The cleansing of the Temple was just that, a CLEANSING. It was nothing to do with violence towards persons or the achievement of political ends by force or the promulgation of war.
    It was an authentic act of symbolic, civil disobedience – an action of a pacifist.

  24. I don’t think that war is the appropriate response in every situation, but I also dispute that the Sermon on the Mount applies to the State in a rigid sense. Jesus and Paul tell individual Christians to resist not evil. By contrast, Paul says in Romans 13 that the State is to be a terror to evildoers, which is not exactly turning the other cheek.

  25. Suzanne, who said anything about using the OT to justify war? I can’t think of any OT command that says anything specific about any particular war, at least any one we could identify now (perhaps prophecies might refer to a war, but it would be hard to identify them with any certainty at the moment). Justification of war happens by figuring out the correct principles of just war and seeing how they evaluate the war in question.

    My point is that the prohibition on war to the degree that allows no just war requires a worrisome hermeneutic. If God can command war, then it can’t be morally wrong. It may be that there are better things than war, particularly in certain contexts. There certainly is a NT presumption of nonviolence when it comes to personal interactions with other people when no one else is involved. Perhaps it’s even an absolute command against self-defense. Augustine thought so, and I’m attracted to that view. But when it comes to others being threatened (and not oneself or one’s perceived rights), I see no biblical warrant for any absolute prohibition of violence.

    Once you have that, and you ought to defend others in certain contexts, then a government also ought to defend its people. This is in fact what Paul says in Romans 13 when he endorses the use of the sword for pursuing justice. This is very clearly in the light of the new covenant and the teaching of Jesus, and it’s in fact very close to his own discussion of not returning evil for evil on a personal level, so he clearly thought the two were consistent.

    Tim, the Anabaptist view you present is still absolutism in the current time. It involves no tension between moral principles, just the removal of an allowance for something that God inexplicably allowed even though it was morally evil without ever saying that what he was commanding people to do was evil. I have little patience with such a view.

    As for genocide, you are right. A view of the Bible as authoritative requires one to accept that genocide can be morally ok at least in some contexts, particularly in the only one that it clearly says it’s ok in. That context is when God has declared his judgment to be complete on a people and appointed an agent to carry out that judgment with an explicit command to do so. There are plenty of attempted or actual genocides in the Bible that God condemns, because the people carrying out the genocide or attempted genocide were doing so for sinful reasons, e.g. the Assyrians in Isaiah 10, who nevertheless were tools in God’s hand to judge his people. But there’s never any indication that Israel was immoral for carrying out God’s command to subject the Canaanite peoples to genocide. I don’t know how any view of scripture as authoritative can accept an absolute prohibition on genocide.

    Absolutist pacifism is the view that violence is morally wrong in itself and always. It doesn’t get to the issue of motivation. Saying that Jesus’ motivation for violence wasn’t self-interested and wasn’t political doesn’t change the fact that he used violence and didn’t sin. He was not engaging in pacifism. There are more moderate versions of pacifism that restrict the prohibition. Augustine’s personal pacifism allowed for government use of defense of the people. There are people who allow self-defense but not military defense and thus reverse Augustine’s view. Perhaps it’s accurate to put Jesus in the first category, as Augustine thought (and as I do). But it doesn’t seem right to call the actual use of violence as an act of pacifism even if Jesus could accurately be called a pacifist in the more restricted sense. That view is pacifism in certain contexts, and any context in which violence is ok would not be one of them, and he wouldn’t count as a pacifist in those contexts.

  26. Jeremy, it’s obvious that we aren’t going to convince each other, so with this comment I’ll leave it be. But I just want to be absolutely clear: you see nothing contradictory about the idea that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who is as Jesus revealed him to be, would command the killing of babies and children in judgement on the evil actions of their parents?

  27. Jeremy, thanks for your interesting comment. I pulled up when I read

    If God can command war, then it can’t be morally wrong.

    I see your point, but this implies a very restrictive definition of “morally” which may not be appropriate. God commanded “Thou shalt not kill”, but also commanded capital punishment in certain cases. So what is morally wrong on your definition is not killing but killing outside the restrictive conditions which God has given. Similarly with genocide, as you argue. And I would say, similarly with war: it is morally wrong except when specifically commanded by God. I’m not sure whether Anabaptists would allow for the possibility that God might today command a war and call them to take part in it, but that clearly does not apply to any current wars.

    Jesus … used violence and didn’t sin.

    Huh? Are you thinking of the cleansing of the temple? That was not violence.

    But when it comes to others being threatened (and not oneself or one’s perceived rights), I see no biblical warrant for any absolute prohibition of violence.

    How about 1 Peter 4:15 (last word) and Romans 12:19, mind your own business and let God deal with other people’s problems.

    Tim, what would you make of Old Testament passages where God is said to “command the killing of babies and children in judgement on the evil actions of their parents”? Are you being “crypto-Marcionite”, as Doug accused me of being?

  28. You see nothing contradictory about the idea that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who is as Jesus revealed him to be, would command the killing of babies and children in judgement on the evil actions of their parents?

    No, it’s for their own sin. The deserving of judgment is personal. There are effects of sin that carry on to further generations, and God has decreed that that is ok, at least in part because those further generations have their own sin. There is a sense in which certain bad things in this life are not caused by the sin of those who have them happen to them, e.g. Job or the blind man in John 9, but not being caused by one’s sin is compatible with actually deserving far worse because of one’s sin. All deserve hell. Being killed as a young child is far less than that. This is so even if (as I think is unsupportable biblically) young children are automatically saved. Romans 3 says all deserve eternal death. Even if some will be saved because they’re children, receiving something less bad than they deserve in this life and then being saved is still less than they deserve. No one deserves salvation, and no one deserves not dying a horrible death in this life. Whatever happens to nations experiencing genocide, it’s less than they deserve. So no, I have no problem with God executing justice. Do you? If so, then I suggest you don’t understand Jesus as well as you think you do. What was the point of his coming if he didn’t agree that we all deserve much less than we get?

    Peter, I know of no contemporary commentator who takes “thou shalt not murder” to be an absolute prohibition on killing. What it forbids is unjustified killing. The context of the law shows that it can’t mean what pacifists have taken it to mean, as you point out. Most translations reflect this now, indicating its actual meaning rather than the KJV translation that virtually everyone thinks was a misinterpretation.

    So I don’t think “it is morally wrong except when specifically commanded by God” is the right way to think about this. We don’t have to wait for commands from God to kill in self-defense, on the view that self-defense is ok. We don’t have to wait for God’s command in cases of protecting others on my view. It’s simply a moral principle that we should protect others, and God has given us moral reflection to try to figure out which cases of protecting others are important enough to warrant the allowing of killing. My view is that the best way to think of these morally is that certain actions are prima facie duties or obligations but that other prima facie duties or obligations can outweigh the moral value of these prima facie duties or obligations. It isn’t God’s command that changes anything. It’s a greater moral principle, or at least one that’s greater in the particular case.

    So there’s no need to wait for a command of God. If there’s only one person from a particular ethnic group left on earth, and that person threatens my son, and the only way to protect my son is to kill the person, I think I have an obligation to commit genocide. Extend this to a greater number of people, and I don’t see any difference. Protecting hundreds of people by wiping out the last 30 people of an ethnic group may be morally justified, depending on the context. I wouldn’t think sending a nuke to wipe them out all at once would be justified. But if I have to kill them all to continue protecting people, it turns out to be genocide, and I don’t see the need for a specific command of God to justify it.

    I’m going to have to continue disagreeing with you about the cleansing of the temple. It’s impossible for me to see that as non-violence. Disrupting people’s business by overturning their tables and chasing them out is indeed violence, even if no one got physically hurt (although I suspect some probably did get hurt). It was the use of physical force, and its effect was to disrupt. It probably involved some wrestling and pushing even if I doubt it included kicking or punching. I agree that there are more violent things people can do, but it seems to me to be within the semantic range of the term ‘violence’ the way I understand that term.

    Romans 12:19 is about revenge, which is a personal element. I’m a personal pacifist, so I have no problem accepting that. I’d have to look at commentaries on I Peter 4:15. I’m not sure what that word signifies. I don’t see any necessary problem, though, since this isn’t an issue of meddling in other people’s business. The cases I have in mind are defending those one has a legitimate authority to defend, e.g. one’s kids, one’s citizens. I’d probably want to think about including cases where you see someone bullying someone else, and you can do something about it as well, but I don’t need such cases to make my point. If meddling includes those, it still allows for violence in the cases that I think are clearer.

  29. The term that’s usually translated “meddler” in I Peter 4:15 probably refers to being an enforcer of morality in places where you have no authority to do so. In other words, it’s shorthand for people who think they have a right to make others act a certain way when they don’t. This is a very rare term, but Epictetus’ use of it suggests something like this. He defends parental leadership (and other similar kinds) as not meddling (with the same word) because parents (and other leaders he mentions; I don’t remember now what they specifically were) do have authority over those they are training and disciplining. He contrasts it with those who go around telling people what to do all the time. In other words, it’s about busybodies.

    If that’s right, then the moral issue still is left open. What you shouldn’t do is get in others’ faces about moral issues when it’s inappropriate to do so. But it doesn’t say in that verse which cases are appropriate and which are inappropriate, so there’s still room (as far as I Peter 4:15 shows, anyway) for discussion about whether it’s meddling in the bad sense if you see someone getting mugged and come to their aid by using force to protect them from the muggers. I don’t see how the verse necessarily excludes that kind of thing.

  30. “Thou shalt not kill” indeed forbids unjustified killing, which means killing apart from that commanded by God. So, since war and genocide involve killing, they are wrong unless commanded by God.

    It’s simply a moral principle that we should protect others

    This is where I fundamentally differ from you, especially if in doing so we kill or wound a third party. I’m not saying it is always wrong to do so either, but there is no sense in which this is a moral imperative for all, where the others have not been specifically entrusted to our care. To go beyond this is to be a “meddler”, as so well defined by you as “an enforcer of morality in places where you have no authority to do so”. So, yes, protect your own children, and play the hero when you see a mugging if you like (but don’t deliberately shoot the mugger dead), but it is not your responsibility to protect the children of Iraq.

    I accept that if all members of an ethnic group are threatening your children it is not genocide to kill them all, because you are selecting the people to kill not because of their ethnicity but because of the threat they are making. But that is a very strange argument to justify genocide!

  31. “Thou shalt not kill” indeed forbids unjustified killing, which means killing apart from that commanded by God.

    It’s your definition of “unjustified killing” as “killing apart from that commanded by God” that I’m questioning. I see such a definition nowhere in scripture.

    I have very strong resistance to the claim that I have no responsibility to treat the people of Iraq as my neighbors. Just because they don’t live next to you doesn’t mean they don’t count as neighbors in the sense that Jesus had in mind in the Good Samaritan parable. He deliberately chose a case of a foreigner helping an Israelite, indeed a foreigner most Israelites wouldn’t have seen any responsibility toward.

    As for genocide, I guess it depends on what you mean. I was taking it to be genocide if you eliminate or seek to eliminate an entire ethnic group. My argument does justify genocide if that’s what it means. You’re taking genocide, I think, to be seeking to eliminate an ethnic group because they are that ethnic group. If that’s what genocide is, then my argument doesn’t justify it. But I’m also not sure God ever commanded genocide in the OT on that definition. Wiping out a whole people because they are sinners isn’t wiping them out because they belong to a certain nation, and thus on your account it’s not genocide.

  32. Thanks, Jeremy. I don’t think it was me who first suggested in this thread that there was genocide in the OT. I resist the claim that killing becomes genocide just because the victims happen to be the last members of the ethnic group, when the killer doesn’t even know that. If that implies that there is no genocide in the OT, then so be it.

    As for your reference to the Good Samaritan, I think that deserves a new post.

  33. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Pacifism and the Good Samaritan

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