A Response to The Problem of War: Part 2

This is the second part of my response to an article called The Problem of War by Darrell Cole (Drew University). Read part 1

Cole's discussion of Liberal Humanism is accurate, as far as I am concerned, but it is not as much a criticism of Christian Pacifism as it is a criticism of American culture in general. According to Cole, Liberal Humanists see war and violence as inherently evil but necessary at the same time, a view which which leads to the perspective that, when faced with the necessity of war, says "we are already doing something evil (though necessary) by using force [which automatically means violence and warfare], so let us go ahead and use any force possible in order to win and to end the evil activity as quickly as possible" no matter how unjust the force may be. This thinking is arguably what eventually led to the Atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The difference between an Christian Pacifist and a Liberal Humanist is that to the Christian, war is indeed evil but never necessary (however "practical" and "logical" it may seem). It is also again notable that force and resistance are not excluded from the work of non-violence. In his example of a police officer killing an "evildoer" in the line of duty, Cole rightly argues that it would be "inhuman and evil for the police to stand by while evildoers took advantage of innocent citizens." But in this Cole creates a false dichotomy between standing by and killing. This dichotomy works it's way throughout Cole's essay. It is in fact inhuman to stand by and do nothing. The Christian must speak up, stand up, and not settle for unjust action but this does not necessitate killing. The non-violent Christian takes the narrow path which says that no injustice will be accepted including the use of killing to enforce justice. We must as Dr. Martin Luther King once said, "overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression." It would be unfair to say that Christian non-violent resisters such as King, Oscar Romero, John Dear, and Desmond Tutu stood by in the face of oppression and violence.

Cole even goes as far as writing,
"the simple fact of the matter is, according to Lewis, that those who refuse to support their nation in a just war have the easy way out, which should put us on our guard when we find ourselves moving toward the pacifist position. Fallen human beings are naturally prone to justify their unwillingness to suffer hardships."
This is a good time to mention that King and Romero were both killed for their non-violent resistance and that John Dear has been arrested and persecuted more than 75 times for resisting the use of violence. Non-violence activists are often imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs and their non-violent work for justice. Cole's argument, an thus Lewis', is only understandable if he is not privy to the work of these activists. His argument is not merely unconvincing but is also quite unfair.

Cole argues that, "all wars are a misfortune because they always cause human suffering. But not all wars are inhuman." but then Cole does little to answer the question of how something that, in fact, causes human suffering can be considered anything other than "inhuman." With any holistic biblical perspective in which Genesis 1 and 2 do indeed still precede Genesis 3, we must look to the creation narratives in order to understand what that word "human" really means. In Eden mankind was crated in God's image, living peaceably and lovingly with one another in harmony. It was not until the curse of Genesis 3 that people began to kill and violate one another. It is to that original creation, prior to the curse, that God is leading and guiding human history through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The eschaton is indeed greater than the garden but only in the sense that mankind will have fulfilled their original purpose of bearing God's image in the world, thus resulting in a city, a New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21-22) brought forth by the gardener of new creation. Anything short of this un-cursed image-bearing identity, an identity which is restored to mankind only through the person of Jesus Christ, is indeed inhuman. Any life other than the one made available to us through Christ's saving work is a life of inhumanity. This is what we mean when we say Solus Christus.

Therefore, anything that causes human suffering is indeed a sign of the curse and not of the cross and is therefore inhuman. The cross is the truest revelation of humanity--to suffer for the sake of love and justice rather than to kill for it. That is why it is, in fact, the just-war theorist and not the pacifist who takes the "easy way out." It is far more human and yet far more difficult (in a fallen world) to stand and therefore to suffer with those who are oppressed and abused by wars and violence.

Cole discusses the idea of war as a "tournament" in which both parties have a mutual respect for one another and certain boundaries are in place. He quotes Lewis as saying;
"I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the First World War, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it."
My criticism of Lewis' perspective is anticipated by Cole when he says "sentiments such as these are something that many modern minds seem unable to comprehend." And I would argue that such sentiments are not easy to comprehend because they are learned sentiments--learned in the context of violence and a general downplaying of human life. To laugh at death is one thing but to laugh at taking another life displays a desensitization, which every soldier must go through, to the horror of violence and a general un-appreciation for the passion which God has for every life. It is naive to think of war without thinking of the true horror of the families affected by it and the mutilating of another person created for life in the image of God. Lewis and Cole talk of war with "a kind of gaiety" which scoffs at the families who will grieve the loss of loved ones and which mocks the pain and fear of families driven from homes as refugees of war. War is not a tournament, it is chaos, to see it any other way is a learned discipline which borders on brain-washing. Cole discusses Lewis' history as a soldier as though it benefits him in his rationality but indeed it only gives us the context in which Lewis learned to see war for something other than it really is.

Cole writes, "The natural virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and self-control guide Christians to decide when they can make their nation's war their war." This statement contradicts Cole's earlier argument that Christians should simply "support" the authorities, based on Romans 13, against the Christian pacifist for this decision making process is precisely what he or she is doing. the only difference is that the pacifist has concluded through "wisdom, justice, courage, and self-control" that no war will be their war. Cole covers his argument by suggesting that Christians rarely have enough information, in comparison to their government, to disagree with the authorities (which makes one wonder why he discussed it in the first place) and that when in doubt, you should just do what your government says and fight. I am glad that there are people who don't follow Cole's advice, otherwise we would never have discovered the injustices of the American invasion of Iraq.

Cole continues:
"Christians do not have the same duty or right as have their leaders to decide when a war is unjust. Instead of trying to decide if every criterion of the jus ad bellum is met (unless, of course, there is some gross and obvious violation), Christians would better serve themselves and the State (in the capacity of a witness to the nations) by making sure that they act justly in war."
In a modern context war does not happen in a vacuum, it happens where people live and the innocent always suffer from it if they are not killed by it. Cole and Lewis refuse to see this reality and trade it for an easier, more easy to swallow reality. Since the reality is that in modern war civilians are bombed and families are terrorized, don't Christians have the "gross and obvious violation" Cole talked about? Or should we ignore families and children who are killed by American bombs in the Middle East?

Cole speaks of the great witness that a soldier can be to the world.
"Imagine the witness to be had if churches taught their flocks the virtue of fighting justly and demanded strict penance from those who did not. Imagine the witness the churches would give if their members refused to participate in certain bombing missions in, say, Iraq, if innocent people were directly targeted."
He's right, that would be a witness. But how much greater would our witness be if we refused to fight at all and instead went and prayed with war oppressed families, Christian families, in Iraq (as Shane Claiborne, author of Irresistible Revolution did)? What if we refused to fight and actually comforted those mourning the loss of loved ones to American bombs and bullets? And what if we, then, called upon the American government to stop tormenting the innocent? What if we stood against war altogether and backed up our protest with real civil action? How great would our witness be then? We, as representatives of God's Kingdom, would be a true witness to the world which God is creating among us in which there is no war and in which there is no violence and in which there is a temple large enough for all the nations of the world to reflect God's image together--the image of love and compassion. To be a witness is to be a foretaste of God's kingdom. Therefore, to be a witness, we must ask what God's kingdom looks like. Does it have bombs and armies and borders? Do the ends justify the means in God's kingdom? Does God's kingdom promote peace by way of war as Pax Romana did for the Roman Empire? Or is God's kingdom a Kingdom of peace and of harmony? Or is it a Kingdom without the pain of refugee families and the mourning of the loss of loved ones? As it says in Revelation 21:
"I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
May our witness be of that world and not of no other.