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Monday, 28 April 2008

Second-class African-Americans?

Due to the title of this blog, it attracts a fair amount of visitors who are searching for racially-themed websites. While this is inadvertent, it can nonetheless lead to some interesting insights. Today, however, the White Man will take on a racial topic, with what will be, for many readers, an unexpected twist.

The White Man is an African-American.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, let it be known that the White Man traces his ancestry back to hundreds of first-generation Americans, all of whom arrived directly or indirectly from Europe between 1620 and 1870. So he is not an African-American in the classical sense.

Neither, it appears, are millions of first generation American immigrants from Africa.

In this article, the author, himself a Minnesotan of African origin, quotes a Minnesota government official referring to AIDS-infected residents of Minnesota who originate from specific African countries as "Africans." Not "African-Americans." In another article, she differentiates between "African-American men," "African-born residents," and "young gay men" (presumably white) who are at risk for AIDS.

So, it appears that African-born African-Americans are of a different class than the others. Which is the superior class is not clear--except that when it comes to AIDS, being born in Africa is definitely considered to be a risk factor by the Minnesota Department of Health.

But how does this affect the White Man? He wasn't born in Africa.

But one does not have to be born in Africa to be considered an African. Just ask the Minnesota Department of Health.

OK, so maybe I'm not really an African-American. Just an African who was born in America.

That, and being born ex-gay, should keep me from being at risk for the AIDS virus.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota Department of Health, neither of those categories are options on their forms.

Neither do they appear to have any clue, as The White Man does, as to the real reason why AIDS is so prevalent among peoples of African origin (hint: it has nothing to do with race).

Thursday, 24 April 2008

The White Man's sons and the sons of Athaliah

The White man has sons who are also brothers in the Lord and fellow seekers in the way of truth. When he offered to them the three options mentioned in his previous post, they pointed out a fourth possibility, which he offers here for his readers' consideration.

By the way, I find it interesting that an official of the Zondervan Corporation saw fit to read the aforementioned post bright and early on the very day after it hit cypberspace. For a website that typically only gets a few dozen hits a week, this is significant.

This, again, is how the NIV & TNIV have consistently rendered 2 Chronicles 24:7--

"Now the sons of that wicked woman Athaliah had broken into the temple of God and had used even its sacred objects for the Baals."

Here again is a literal gloss of the Hebrew Masoretic Text:

"For Athaliahu The-Wicked, her-sons have-breached the-house of-the-Elohim, and-also all-the-sacred-things of-the-house-of YHWH they-have-made for-Baals."


"For Athaliah taught wickedly, and had broken up the house of the LORD; and also given all the dedicated things that were in the house of the LORD for the worship of the idols."

Thus reads Lamsa's translation of the Syriac Peshitta. Another version which renders the hapax mirsha'ath more as a verb rather than an appositive is the Septuagint, which reads literally:

"For Gotholia was the lawless, and the sons of her dismantled the house of the God; moreover, the sacred-things of house of Lord they offered to the Baalim."

My sons suggested that another meaning of 'son,' as found, for instance, in the phrase 'son of a house' in Gen. 15:3 and Eccl. 2:7, is simply 'servant.' Thus "the sons of Athaliah" could just as well be translated "Athaliah's henchmen." Looking at some of the more paraphrasitic versions, however, we see:

The Message
"You can see how bad things are—wicked Queen Athaliah and her sons let The Temple of God go to ruin and took all its sacred artifacts for use in Baal worship."

The New Living Translation:
"Over the years the followers of wicked Athaliah had broken into the Temple of God, and they had used all the dedicated things from the Temple of the Lord to worship the images of Baal."

Actually, I think I like this one the best. 'Followers' means 'disciples' and how better to translate the 'sons of the prophets' in the books of the Kings than 'disciples of the prophets?'

I also like the textual emendation implied in Darby's version:
"For the wicked Athaliah [and] her sons had devastated the house of God; and also all the hallowed things of the house of Jehovah had they employed for the Baals. "

One final irony:
I earlier missed the fact that an earlier publication of the Zondervan Corporation, the NIrV, had actually translated the verse the very way I suggested for the TNIV, or very close to it:

"The children of that evil woman Athaliah had broken into God's temple. They had used even its sacred objects for the gods that were named after Baal. "

Even more ironically, neither this, nor the Darby version, were any improvement on a translation done the century prior to the OKJV:

"For wicked Athaliah,& her children brake vp the house of God : and all the things that were dedicate for the house of the Lord, did thei bestowe vpon BaalĂ­m." -The Geneva Bible, 1560

In this we see the influence of the Latin version, as shown in the Douay-Rheims Bible:

"For that wicked woman Athalia, and her children have destroyed the house of God, and adorned the temple of Baal with all the things that had been dedicated in the temple of the Lord."

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The TNIV and the sons of Athaliah

I had not intended to revisit the subject of the TNIV yet another time, but alas, in a study of a rather well-known story in Second Chronicles, I found myself wondering as to the true interpretation of an obscure verse and turned in desperation to the TNIV sages to see what they would advise.

I give the passage in three translations: OKJV, ONASB, and ONIV.

2 Chronicles 24:7

"For the sonnes of Athaliah that wicked woman, had broken vp the house of God, and also all the dedicate things of the house of the LORD, did they bestow vpon Baalim."

"For the sons of the wicked Athaliah had broken into the house of God and even used the holy things of the house of the LORD for the Baals."

"Now the sons of that wicked woman Athaliah had broken into the temple of God and had used even its sacred objects for the Baals."

For comparison, here is a literal gloss:

"For Athaliahu The-Wicked female, her-sons have-breached the-house of-the-Elohim, and-also all-the-sacrosant-things of-the-house-of YHWH they-have-had for-Baals."

Now in the latest revisions of these three, the NKJV, RNASB, and TNIV:

"For the sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman, had broken into the house of God, and had also presented all the dedicated things of the house of the LORD to the Baals."

"For the sons of the wicked Athaliah had broken into the house of God and even used the holy things of the house of the LORD for the Baals."

"Now the sons of that wicked woman Athaliah had broken into the temple of God and had used even its sacred objects for the Baals."

We see, first of all, that the NASB and NIV made no changes at all when they revised. This despite the fact that the NASB, famous for its literalness, had added a word to the Hebrew original--a word also inserted by the NIV, famous for its verbal looseness. Other than the NIV's insertion (along with the KJV) of 'woman' to show the feminine form of the word translated 'wicked,' the two read pretty much the same, in contrast to the KJV.

But the most perplexing thing is this: no version is any help to us in identifying these "sons of Athaliah." Earlier in 21:17 we read that all the sons and wives of King Jehoram were taken captive by a Palestinian/Arab confederacy in fulfillment of Elijah's written prophecy. In fact, 22:1 indicates that they were all killed. Only Ahaziah (TNIV) was excepted, although it is obvious from the near context that Athaliah also remained behind: one exception to each class.

Now here TNIV faces a problem. They love to translate 'brothers' as 'brothers and sisters' in the New Testament, but only once there do they ever translate 'sons' as 'sons and daughters'--in Hebrews 2:10, which they render "in bringing many sons and daughters to glory." Fact is, the phrase 'sons and daughters' already occurs dozens of places in the Bible, this being the only place as found in the TNIV where it is not an OT verse or an OT quotation in the NT. And throughout the OT, the TNIV seems very restrained in keeping the mentions of 'daughters' down to where they are actually found in the Hebrew. Even more to our point, in three other places in 2 Chronicles, 'sons and daughters' are specifically mentioned as being taken captive. So it was clear, even to the gender-equality-minded editors of the TNIV, that only sons were being originally referenced in 21:17.

But how about in 24:7? Is there any indication that it was only Athaliah's sons, and not her daughters, who looted the temple? Might not she have had some daughters as equally wicked as she, equally as zealous for Baal? And might she have spared these girls, that they might carry on her dynasty, when she killed all her surviving male descendants?

The Bible, in whatever version we might choose, is not clear. It says that Athaliah killed all the royal heirs--but later specifies that she killed the sons of the king--Joash, of course, being inadvertently excepted. So given the exceptions we've seen so far in this story, it's quite possible that she saved out one or even all of her unmarried daughters, they (and their future descendants) not being legal heirs of the king, and her married daughters being no longer under her control.

On far flimsier grounds than we have here, the TNIV has changed 'Men, brethren' to 'Brothers and Sisters' in Acts 1:16. So why does it not read 'the sons and daughters of that wicked woman Athaliah' in 2 Chronicles 24:7?

As for what actually happened, there are only three possibilities (if we accept the Word as written):

1) Ahaziah and at least one of his sons looted the temple;
2) Ahaziah and at least one of his sisters looted the temple, subsequent to the deportation and murder of all their brothers;
3) Prior to the Palestinian/Arab confederacy looting the temple, it was looted by the sons (and, we suppose, possibly the daughters) of Jehoram and his head wife Athaliah. This is the only possibility where 'sons and daughters' could be a historically accurate translation.

Option (3), however, turns out to be the least likely solution historically. Why would the Chronicler even mention the degradation of the temple unless it were a recent event, carried out since the reign of Jehoram?

Option (2), while in keeping with TNIV translation policy, still seemed so unlikely that the TNIV editors rejected it.

So we are left with Option (1). How likely is this possibility? Well, let's look at some numbers.

Jehoram was 32 when he began to reign, and he killed off all his brothers to make his dynasty sure (a rather unnecessary step, given the Davidic covenant). Ahaziah, his youngest and only surviving son, was 22 eight years later (according to the versional manuscripts followed by the TNIV), which was the year his son Joash was born. So Joash was born about the time his father was 22 and his grandfather 40. Thus if any desecration of the temple by Ahaziah and any of his sons was to have occurred, those sons must have been mere toddlers; six years old at the absolute maximum. I think we can also dismiss this option on historical grounds.

Yikes--three unlikely options. I have to say at this point that the only one I can't dismiss on historical grounds is the very option the TNIV should have been most eager to pick. Let's go back and look at it again, from the same historical perspective.

When Jehoahaz was 38, following the deportation of all wives and sons save one each, he became sick in the bowels. During this time of incapacity, it's likely that his feminist wife exerted her authority more and more, in anticipation that she may somehow be able to seize the reins of power after his death. Trashing out the temple with the kids she still had living at home fits this scenario very well; perhaps this was a part of grooming a daughter to follow her on the throne, and Azariah, totally oblivious to the plans his mother may have already had to murder his sons, joined in the fun.

For this scenario to be possible, the Confederation must have left behind at least one daughter of Athaliah--although, given the nature of secular warfare, they would have surely raped them first. In the grim aftermath of this raid, with his father writhing in agony and his brothers all dead, Ahaziah joined his mother and surviving full sisters in completing the looting the Confederacy had begun, so as to leave the temple desolate by the time he died only a year after his father. There it sat, gutted, until his only surviving son Joash began the restoration process some thirty years later.

This is the only likely scenario, and it involves both genders of Athaliah's offspring.

To conclude: In 2 chronicles 24:7, I am forced by historical reality to recommend that the TNIV follow its usual gender despecification plan and render 'sons' as, at the very least, 'offspring.'

"Now the offspring of that wicked woman Athaliah had broken into the temple of God and had used even its sacred objects for the Baals."

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Remember the 2000 Election?


For your reading entertainment, here are some hit songs from the 2000 election:


You put your stylus in,
You pull your stylus out,
You put your stylus in,
And you punch Buchanan out.
You do the Palm Beach Pokey
And you turn the count around,
That's what it's all about!

You put the Gore votes in,
You pull the Bush votes out,
You put the Gore votes in,
And you do another count.
You do the Palm Beach Pokey
And you turn the count around,
That's what it's all about!

You bring your lawyers in,
You drag the whole thing out,
You bring your lawyers in,
And you put it all in doubt.
You do the Palm Beach Pokey
And you turn the count around,
That's what it's all about!

You let your doctors spin,
You let the pundits spout,
You let your doctors spin,
And your people whine and pout.
You do the Palm Beach Pokey
And you turn the count around,
That's what it's all about!

You do the Palm Beach Pokey,
You do the Palm Beach Pokey,
You do the Palm Beach Pokey,
That's what it's all about!

Charlie Henrickson, copyright 2000


Can we count them with our nose?
Can we count them with our toes?
Should we count them where we stand?
Should we count them all by hand?
If I do not like the count,
I will simply throw it out!
I will not let this vote count stand
I don't like it, AL GORE I am!

Can we change these numbers here?
Can we change them, calm my fear?
What do you mean that Bush has won?
This is not fair, this is not fun!
Let's count them upside down this time
Let's count until the state is mine!
I will not let this vote count stand!
I don't like it, AL GORE I am!

I'm really ticked, I'm in a snit!
You have not heard the last of it!
I'll count the ballots one by one
And hold each one up to the sun!
I'll count, recount, and count some more!
You'll grow to hate this little chore
But I won't, can't let this vote count stand!
I don't like it, AL GORE I am!

I won't leave town, I'm staying here!
I've glued my desk chair to my rear!
Tipper, Hillary, Bubba too,
All telling me that I should sue!
We find th'Electoral College vile!
Recount the votes until I smile!
We do not want this vote to stand!
I don't like it, AL GORE I am!

How shall we count this ballot box?
Let's count it standing in our socks!
Shall we count this one in a tree?
And who shall count it, you or me?
We cannot, cannot count enough!
We must not stop, we must be tough!
I do not want this vote to stand!
I don't like it, AL GORE I am!

What's that? What are you trying to say?
You think the current count should stay?
You do not like my counting schemes?
They make you tense, give you bad dreams?
Foolish folk, you're wrong--you'll see!
Your only care should be for me!
I will not let this vote count stand!
I don't like it, AL GORE I am!

--Anonymous, revised 2008


Chorus: Tell me Dan Rather, I've wanted to know
Ever since my vote was sent.
I voted for Bush, 3 minutes ago, and I still don't know who's President.

Tell me Dan Rather, I want to know,
If you don't, then I'll go ask my Dad.
I know about birds, and I know about bees,
But WHAT is a "pregnant chad?"

Chorus: Tell me Dan Rather, I've wanted to know
Ever since my vote was sent.
I voted for Bush, 3 whole hours ago, and I still don't know who's President.

The Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Marines,
All voted a new Chief to Hail.
But none of their votes could be counted at all
If they sent them by Armed Forces Mail.

Chorus: Tell me Dan Rather, I've wanted to know
Ever since my vote was sent.
I voted for Bush, 3 long days ago, and I still don't know who's President.

With the way that things just keep on getting dragged out,
I'm Bushed, and increasingly bored.
But in this election, there's been so much bull,
I'm afraid that we all will get Gored!

Chorus: Tell me Dan Rather, I've wanted to know
Ever since my vote was sent.
I voted for Bush, a whole 3 weeks ago, and I still don't know who's President!

--W. Landow, copyright 2000

Friday, 18 April 2008

They're sending tanks after our children!

In a nation that increasingly finds guns and their use to be generically disturbing--the same nation where a future Supreme Court Chief Justice brought a loaded rifle to school every day in case he saw something to shoot along the way--I find it generically alarming that bigger and bigger weapons are being brought to bear in child custody disputes. Check out this photo of an armoured personnel carrier sent to enforce the removal of all the children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near San Angelo, Texas.

The children and their mothers have been in custody for eleven days. Their crime? Residing at the same address where child abuse had been alleged to occur. This is a repeat of what happened in Island Pond, Vermont, back in 1982 when 112 children were taken in a pre-dawn raid from the community known as the Northeast Kingdom Community Church. Only back then, there were no tanks. No machine guns. No hovering helicopters. And the children were back in their parents' arms within the day, the judge finding no cause for their removal. An official was overheard to say that if he'd known Judge Mahady was going to hear their case, he'd never have scheduled the raid when he did.

They certainly had all their ducks in a row this time.

How times have changed.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Book Review of "The Christian at War," Part Three



Peter Hammond ends page 8 of his book with the following maxim:

“If all the people with a conscience refuse to fight then it will leave the battle fields in the hands of men without a conscience.”

As he does throughout the book, Peter is pitting one extreme against another, without ever conceding the existence of a vast field in between. In so doing he violates logic by setting up a false dichotomy. When he writes, “Pacifism is an unBiblical [sic] position,” he also excludes from being biblical, without ever refuting it, what most Christians who refuse to fight actually believe. Beyond the paragraph already quoted in which he calls them CONSISTENT PACIFISTS, he never again addresses their beliefs, aiming all his ammunition instead at the inconsistent pacifists. Imagine a refutation of Creationism that only addressed the teachings of Old Earth Creationists! One does not refute a basic set of beliefs by pointing out that its compromisers are inconsistent in their adherence to it.

On page after page he shows how “pacifism” is unbiblical. There’s not a whole lot for a Christian to disagree with on these pages, except that the straw man he keeps knocking down doesn’t really exist among people who believe the Bible. The true pacifist, the only kind against which Dr. Hammond has much of a case, has already rejected the authority of the Bible. Why else would he try to eliminate the very thing Jesus himself said would increase in the latter days?

Peter displays his ignorance of the topic upon which he writes when he asks on page 9, “Are they aware that God is not a pacifist? Do they realise that God has specified certain circumstances in which men have been commanded to kill?” There are actually not one, but two entirely different groups of people who refuse to fight. On the one hand are those who reject God’s right to command anyone to kill; they could better be called anarchists, rather than pacifists. Since Peter so thoroughly refutes their position in his book, I need say no more about them. What I’d like to focus on instead is that group of people who do realise that God has specified certain circumstances in which men have been commanded to kill. Many of these characterise their position not as one of Pacifism, but of Non-resistance.

Non-resistors get their name from–guess where–the Bible, in Matthew 5:39, where Jesus says, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.” (NKJV)

Just to give an example of the wide variety of non-resistors that exist, let me give you a bit of my own story. The last time I looked up the barrel of a machine gun, I was actually in a military uniform. The man sitting directly to my left had just dropped to the floor in a pool of crimson, and the terrorist a few feet from my face was yelling at me to put my head down. But I just sat there and smiled. It was only when my military superior, several seats down, poked his head out from between his knees and gave me a direct order to put my head down that I finally complied.

Now why would I do such a thing? Did I know, as my prostrate mate knew, and as my cowering superior knew, that this was just a drill to prepare us to face a real terrorist attack? No, the attack had been planned as a complete surprise to almost everyone present. My mate kept his part in the plot a secret, and I had no reason to believe that the red puddle in which he now lay had come from a wax-covered projectile and not his still-beating heart. I suspected that this was a drill, because it was timed perfectly to occur at the beginning of a military training session in the base theatre. But actually, my response to the man pointing a machine gun at my chest would have been the same regardless. As a Christian, I knew my life was in God’s hands and that no harm could come to me unless He willed it. It was only as a military man under authority that I obeyed the order to put my head between my knees–and I still peeked.

I found out that day at the theatre that most people are terrified of dying and will do anything in hopes of sparing their lives. Yes, they would even be willing to kill rather than being killed. But this philosophy has no place in the mind of a Christian. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” say the scriptures, and Paul’s epistles are replete with his daily expectation that God could take him Home at any time, and would likely make use of a man in uniform to accomplish it. So why should a Christian fear death? Above all, why should a Christian send a man to Hell in order to delay his own trip to Heaven? It was with this mindset that I entered the military; ready to die, but reluctant to kill. I would like to say that I was refusing to kill, but since I was never actually faced with that opportunity, I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have. But it certainly never even entered my mind that day in the theatre--nor even later, in the theatre of war.

So what was a non-resistant Christian like me even doing in the military, you may ask? Well, serving my country–or trying to. Since I was in a non-combat specialty, I didn’t foresee any conflict between the demands of military service and those of being a Christian. But I soon found that the military was really no place for a Christian. Daily my ears were assaulted with profane and obscene language, all of which was technically illegal according to military regulations. But it was coming from my superiors, so what could I do? When I complained, I was typically either ridiculed or ignored. A couple of times I was even kicked out of class. And that was just getting through basic training!

As time went on, my Christian faith led me to do things, or not do things, that eventually resulted in the military losing confidence in me and offering me an administrative discharge. But I wasn’t really interested in leaving the military. I had a secure, good-paying job, and the difficulties and dangers inherent in it could be found in many other occupations. So I asked to be allowed to stay in--even though it would mean a serious demotion. But that was all before I found out that, like it or not, I was soon to experience the paradox of being A Christian at War.

The worst prospect I faced in going to war was the prolonged separation from my family that I knew it would entail. By this time I had a wife and two children, but I still felt a duty to fulfill my military obligation, so off I went. I entered the war zone fully expecting to die, but the thought really never entered my mind that I might have to kill someone. I was still in a non-combat specialty, though not classed as a non-combatant. While in the war zone, I faced the constant prospect of missile attack, and had to carry a kit containing a gas mask with me at all times. I kept a paperback book in mine. During one missile attack that killed 50 soldiers, I alone stood watching outside, calmly waiting for the order to don my mask. It never came; the missile landed 50 miles away. I was A Christian at War.

The war ended early, and I returned home without having been involved in any altercation with the enemy. But in my specialty, the only way I could avoid eventually being required to carry a loaded gun was to put off being advanced in rank, which I managed to do for the remaining years of my enlistment. A few weeks before being discharged, I was finally promoted and told to get my name on the list for weapons training. I conveniently put it off, and no one seemed to notice. So I left the military after four years and two months, honorably discharged and with a top performance rating. Despite my chest full of ribbons and two months in a combat zone, I had never needed to compromise my non-resistant convictions, which had continued to grow over the previous four years to the point that I was now unwilling to remain in uniform. I had successfully been A Christian at War.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

There are suckers born every minute, but a lot more than usual this time of year

A week ago yesterday, The Daily Reckoning website opened with a couple of unusual articles, only the second of which found great currency on the blogosphere. It was quoted in blogs and forums from Serbia to Australia. Unlike the opening article, it wasn't directly related to the financial world, but then that's nothing unusual for The Daily Reckoning, where the editors tend to muse over things like their successful safari trip to Africa and which boarding school would be best for their children. I'll give the opening lines of the article and see what my readers think of it:

"In addition to the financial news, the political news was also worthy of comment. The little town of Ashford, Tennessee, held a special election yesterday, after its mayor died in a freak poker accident. He was playing poker with friends in an abandoned warehouse when the roof collapsed, killing him, the chief of police, the coroner, and the town's leading brothel owner, Ray Borvis."

There was enough to raise suspicion just from that much of the story. I tried to check to see if anyone named Ray Borvis lives in Ashford, Tennessee, and discovered that there is no such town, much less any person of that name. No news site covered the election, and all six hits for "Ray Borvis" were quotes of the original article.

Just to show how gullible people can be, this is the first website to point out the significance of the date upon which the article was posted, a whole eight days ago. And to make note of the sentences by which the first of the day's articles was set off. It opened with:

"What a remarkable day! We never thought we’d see the likes of it."

and closed with:

"What a day!"

The day in question? April First.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Review of The Christian At War, Part Two


In the introduction to his book, Peter Hammond makes a very interesting claim: “As a theological student, I tackled the controversial subject of war and the Christian–from both sides. I have been both a convinced pacifist and an active soldier.”
I look forward to someday getting the story straight from him, but he has never gone into any more detail on his pacifist past, or what brought it to an end. One good his former pacifism has done for him is that it has made him more sympathetic with those who haven’t, like him, come out of it. But I’m afraid he still doesn’t actually understand why they haven’t. In fact, in arguing against pacifism he is largely arguing against a straw man. I know hundreds of Christians who refuse to take up the sword, and none of them have professed the sort of pacifism which he dismisses at length as unchristian. So I will take up all his statements against pacifism one by one and contrast them to what the Christians I know actually believe.

1. “Pacifists claim that. . . refusal to defend oneself will prevent war and that non-violence will result in peace.”
No Bible believer would make such a claim. Jesus predicted that wars would increase, and he warned his disciples that people would kill them, thinking to do God a service. Jesus never took up the sword, and look what good it did him. The disciple is not above his master, and those who follow Jesus can expect no less than the violence he experienced being perpetrated against them.
2. “Some pacifists are CONSISTENT, claiming that they would never involve themselves in either national defence or self defence. They would generally claim a spiritual motivation for refusing to protect even family members. Most pacifists are actually SELECTIVE PACIFISTS, refusing to involve themselves in the national defence. . . but being willing to fight in certain other circumstances. Many of these politically motivated, selective pacifists actually support violent revolutionary movements. Most are motivated by selfish desires to avoid discomfort . . . or being separated from their girlfriend, mother, or home comforts.”

In actuality, the situation is not nearly this simplistic. But by the way he contrasts these two positions, it is obvious that Peter has a lot lower regard for the second one. We still don’t know which class he once belonged to, but I would suspect it was the former. If he was once a Selective Pacifist, his disdain would not be so unequally distributed. And here is one point I share with Peter: the way he describes being a Selective Pacifist, I don’t know of anyone who would support it. Yet he claims that most pacifists–apparently, from the theme of his book, most Christian pacifists–belong in this category. And here I have to disagree with him.

Christians who interpret the Sixth Commandment literally range across a wide spectrum, with no one view holding the overwhelming majority. There are those, like Desmond Doss, who feel free to participate in the government–even in the military–as long as they are never required to bear arms or ammunition. On the other extreme are those, like certain Amish sects, who refuse to work under the auspices of any government organization, not even the local volunteer fire department. What motivates a Christian who refuses to fight is nothing more than a desire to live according to the Bible. A non-christian pacifist is, of course, motivated by any number of ungodly aspirations. To attack Christian pacifism as if it falls under the latter category is to erect yet another straw man.

This straw man fallacy seems to be ubiquitous among those who argue for a just war theory. See, for example, this debate between the foremost proponents of JWT on both the Catholic and Protestant side, and two nobodies who happen to believe that the Bible really means what it seems to say about Christians not taking up the sword.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

A Review of The Christian at War by Peter Hammond (Newlands, SA: Frontline Fellowship, 1994 [2nd ed.]) Part One

Peter Hammond is a unique breed of missionary. Frontline Fellowship, the organisation he founded and heads, specialises in Christian ministry near, on, and behind the front lines of battlefields in the South and East of Africa. A former military commando, he now serves as a missionary commando, armed not with weapons of physical warfare but with the Word of God. It has been my privilege over the years to support this ministry spiritually, financially, and physically.

Although I have not yet gotten to know Peter personally, we have, over the past 20 years, communicated with each other on numerous occasions by phone, through email, or in person. I respect him as a valiant warrior for his cause and a brother in Christ, but in our discussions we have come to differing conclusions on the subject of biblical non-violence, and for this reason I have set out to review his book on the topic, comparing his conception of reality to what I believe the situation actually to be.

I should add that Peter writes this book from his own Calvinist theological position, and I will admit that the conclusions he comes to are fully in conformance to his theological worldview. That they don't fit the facts of history or current reality is no more a condemnation of the man himself than his theological outlook in general.

Peter begins his book by setting the scene of modern warfare. He says, for example, that “For centuries a code of honour precluded the endangering of innocent lives. Soldiers fought openly–in uniform– against armed and uniformed foes. Non-combatants were respected. Women and children were protected. . . . In modern times, however, warfare has deteriorated dramatically. More and more civilians have been caught in the crossfire as mobile total warfare has devastated whole towns and villages.”

This scenario is simplistic if not outrageously false. At the best of times, in the best of situations, a soldier may strive for this sort of ideal, but face it–war has never been nice. Dr. Hammond grants that modern warfare is replete with atrocities, but he somehow finds important to his point that warfare used to be more civilized. Unable to find a single modern example of warring factions treating each other's civilians with honor and respect, he turns back the clock to a kinder, gentler time that, I am sad to say, exists largely in his own imagination.

Total warfare, devastating whole towns and villages? We have to go no farther than the First Book of Samuel to see so nice a guy as David, the beloved author of Psalm 23, doing just that. Leaving no survivors? This was Joshua’s stated policy when he conquered Canaan. Planting land mines in civilian areas? How about stopping up wells, cutting down orchards, and sowing fields with salt? The concept of terrorizing the civilian population of an enemy nation is unprecedented neither in historical antiquity, nor in biblical practice, a point Dr. Hammond is loathe to concede.

“Lust, liquor, and loot are a soldier’s pay” is a maxim as old as warfare, and the sources of this pay have always been predominately civilian. So Peter starts off his book by perpetuating a myth: a new, modern kind of warfare, unprecedented in history, that draws in the civilian population. On the contrary: In the Western World where most of Peter's readers live, being part of a nation at war has less of an effect on the everyday life of the civilian that ever before. Here in the United States, we are involved in a war that is costing us over 340 million dollars a day; a war that has dragged on longer than our involvement in World War Two; a war in which never a week goes by without our troops killing and being killed. But we have no draft, no ration cards, no black market, no closed borders, no war bonds, no nationalized industry. We are so far removed from the horrors or even the rigours of war that we are reluctant to end the commitment of our forces even to a vague mission on the other side of the world. And as much as we may oppose the war, we still support our troops. With all the opposition to the immorality of the war itself, no one is proposing that our soldiers are therefore murderers and should be executed. Civilized warfare may still be an elusive goal, but the myth of the civil solider lives on.

And perpetuating that myth is central to Peter Hammond's contention that "A Christian at War" is not a paradoxical expression.

-To be continued in next blogpost-