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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.

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