A Response to The Problem of War: Part 1

I am reading an article called The Problem of War by Darrell Cole (Drew University) which argues, from C.S. Lewis, a "common-sense" position of just war. Unfortunately, the article sadly undercuts and even ignores all well thought-out and thoroughly exegetical positions of non-violence.

Much of the article argues the pros, the good, of violence but neglects to point out that such claims are speculative since no one can prove, for example, that World War II could not have been resolved non-violently. As most just-war theorists do, Cole makes the leap in logic that force must equal killing thus making the pacifist/non-violent resister out to be anti-force and thus illogically under the impression that change can happen without force. The cross itself was an act of forceful resistance but this seems very impractical and even incomprehensible to the just-war theorist.

At one point the author, apparently in agreement with C.S. Lewis, accuses pacifists of being "people who base their entire theology on a few verses." Admittedly, this seems to be true of some, perhaps many, pacifist thinkers. If you've ever read John Dear, for example, (you need to read him-- he's compelling and nothing short of brilliant) you've perhaps noticed that he rarely refers to any text outside the gospels. Unfortunately, Dear and many like him don't often engage with huge passages of Scripture in which violence is apparently a divine command. But it should not be said that these passages need to be ignored by pacifist thinkers. In fact, arguments for non-violence can and should be thoroughly exegetical. Authors such as John Howard Yoder, Walter Wink, Walter Brueggemann, and Barbara Rossing, are never cited or mentioned in this article even though they, among others (including Anabaptist, Mennonite, and other thinkers), have offered exegetical arguments for non-violence (see this list). It is simply unfair and inaccurate to communicate that all Christian Pacifists are simply picking and choosing a few verses upon which to base their entire theology.

Cole argues, "If we are going to take all of Jesus' commands at face value, then pacifists should also sell all their goods and give them to the poor." To this I respond, "why not sell all our goods?" It is true that face value reading is rarely, if ever at all, reliable but after thorough study the only way we can ignore or discount the face value of a passage or anything Jesus said in any responsible way is through contextual analysis. The Sermon on the Mount (in which Jesus says, "love your enemies") provides us with no such context through which we should dismiss or soften Jesus' teachings. Indeed context supports that Jesus is indeed teaching non-violence because Jesus goes on to demonstrate enemy love by dying on the cross as an act of non-violent resistance. If Jesus didn't really mean that we should love our enemies but in fact meant something else altogether or perhaps that only some people should really do love their enemies while others (perhaps including soldiers) should ignore it, then some context should support this argument. Or if loving your enemies means killing them, some exegetical support must be offered. We should not simply take everything Jesus said at face value but we must take what he said seriously enough to explore it and to continue to follow it even if it turns out to be uncomfortable.

Cole believes that Paul lets us off the hook, that "the Apostle Paul helps us" better understand what it means to "turn the other cheek" (thank God, because otherwise we'd have to do what Jesus did). He writes, "When Jesus tells us to turn our cheeks when struck, he means that we should not retaliate with vengeance. We leave vengeance to God..." and here's where it gets strange... "who works his vengeance on the evildoer through the State's use of the sword." Do you not see the confusion there? If we are to "leave vengeance to God" then when do we become the State and take up the sword of retaliation? If I am a soldier in battle, do I all of a sudden become the State and lose my identity as a Christian?

What is difficult about this is that it seems to ignore the problematic nature of "supporting the state" (as Cole believes Paul calls Christians to do). Paul writes in a context where Christians refused State religion and military participation (see Tertullian). Romans 13 (to which Cole appeals) is contextually complex and must be explored exegetically (which Cole did not do and I will not, or else this post will be substantially too long) before it can be used to simply and broad-strokingly say, "support the state!" Christians are, in fact, called to resist the State and to seek the Kingdom of God rather, by implication, than the kingdom of Caesar or any other power or principality of the world. If God "works his vengeance on the evildoer through the State's use of the sword" then at what point does the Christian become the State? If the Christian does not at some point become the State then the Christian should not take up the sword. The truth is, the Christian is not to be the state, she cannot serve two masters. She is supposed to be "in the world but not of it," this should not be unfamiliar language to the mainstream Christian. If violent retaliation is not for the Christian, then it is never for the Christian even if said Christian finds him/herself on a battlefield. Christians are called the body of Christ which seems to me to stand in direct opposition to the body of the State. Christ did not use the sword but rather said, "put down your sword." By Cole's logic, though, God calls people to leave the vengeance to him and to "turn the other cheek" and then contradicts himself by calling and using people (in the form and mode of the State) for his Vengeance. This, I do not understand.

This is the last statement I will explore in this particular post. Cole assumes there is a "common-sense" reading of the Bible. He writes, "Mennonites and Quakers may be mistaken in their beliefs, but their mistake is a Christian one, born of a theology that over-emphasizes a few passages from the Gospels at the expense of a common-sense reading of the rest of the Christian Bible." The problem is that there is not common-sense reading, so to speak. There is no common-sense but all sense is learned-sense and sense is learned, quite too often, from the "world" and/or the State. Thus Cole's common-sense which says, "of course violence should be used to bring change and justice" is not necessarily common to the Bible or, for that matter, to Jesus Christ. We Christians are called to the difficult task of learning our sense, that is our logic, from Jesus and not from the State.


SarahJoy said…
Mm. That is good.

"(thank God, because otherwise we'd have to do what Jesus did)."

Unknown said…
This is a great post on this important issue, I really appreciate your approach as well. (And thanks for the link).