Thursday, July 06, 2006

Catching up on Old Correspondence II: Joe, on the question of Just War

I don’t have this blog set up to email me when something comes in, so every once in a while I miss a post that came in late.

Here’s one of note that came in on this thread from my friend and “right arm”, Joseph:

Crystal says it so succinctly: Christian just war = oxymoron. Thanks Crystal. If you don't mind I will use that. I've been banging the stump on this one for years. I suppose that deep down I do it with the hope that people will actually listen and be convinced (there's likely an "ego factor" at play here as well, I'll have to admit it...) But mostly it reverts back to Christ and His definition of Love. He defined it, not in terms of mushy hugs and kisses for our friends and family, but in terms of how we deal with our ENEMIES. If we asked ourselves if Christ could ever justify war, the answer is a no brainer (and no, we cannot equate Christ's "violent" temper tantrum in the temple market to war.) As a follower of Christ I would have to say that there was no greater or more noble cause to fight (and die?) for than for Christ Himself that night in the garden. Yet He was very clear in His example and in his instruction. Have Faith! Have Faith especially in those moments of greatest injustice when all seems lost! Have Faith, though logic tells you to act otherwise. Among His last battles was the urge to give in, to let the cup pass Him by when all seemed lost. What MAN would not feel it?! Yet ultimately He peacefully (not passively) opened His arms to embrace Faith in His Father in the form of death on the cross, pehaps not fully knowing what it would lead to a few days later. It was only through His hideous and unfair death (no doubt perceived as a moment of failure in the eyes of many that witnessed His life and death), that the resurrection could occur.

There's no satisfying answer for us in this life to the injustices inherent in the killing of the innocent (either through abortion or through the pornography of war), yet Christ showed us that killing is not the answer. Killing is an act completely void of Love albeit a logical human reaction in certain circumstances. Sometimes we are lured away from Faith by our emotions and our desire to SEE justice done (yes, see it with our own eyes, in this life, before death.) This is the case with the "Just War": we are hoping to see justice done, with our own eyes by own own hand. But for all its noble intention, it too is an act that lacks Faith. Having said that, turning our backs is not the peaceful alternative here. We need to pursue other active options that don't include killing, but may in the end include laying down our lives.

Clearly Love is the answer. Hope is the answer. Faith, which is illogical by definition is the answer. But Faith requires enormous patience. So much so that we might not SEE the payoff in our lifetimes. But then again, neither did Christ! (Though big dividends came in just a few days later.)

In short War has all of the logic that Faith lacks. I'm confident that I know what Christ would choose (its what He chose!). I only pray to find the strength and courage to do the same.


crystal said...

Jeff, I've lost your email address if I ever had it, so couldn't write you and apologise for bringing up a subject that was so sensitivel ... very sorry.

Jeff said...


Thanks for your sensitivity. It wasn't a problem at all, and it's an important topic to discuss. I'm glad that you brought it up.

Any and all topics should be welcome on these blogs but hateful ones. Not to worry, and thank you. :-)


Paula said...

Who´s in the image? Thomas More?:-)

Paula said...

"I see now" said the blind woman :-).Erasmus.A friend of Thomas More.

joeh said...

So we should not have gone to war after Pearl Harbor or tried to stop the Nazi regime? What if someone is breaking into your house to rape your wife and kill your children? Do we have any right to defend ourself against evil? I think the Catholic Church over the years has not agreed with you on this. If everyone had your opinion, you would not have this blog site and free speech or a religion other than Muslim or you would have sacrificed your head long ago.

Jeff said...

Hi Paula,

Yes, that’s old Raz… I use him as my “old correspondence logo”. Hans Holbein painted him several times, as well as his friend, Thomas More, who was willing to sacrifice his head for his principles.

Jeff said...

Hi JoeH,

You don’t think the Catholic Church agrees with me on this? What do you think the Catholic Church does say about it, and do you really care?

I hear you and I know where you’re coming from. Believe me, I’ve said the exact same thing as you a thousand times myself. Have you been reading me for a while, or just the last couple of posts, because what I have said elsewhere here is:

Although I have always admired the principle of non-violence, I have not always held to the position that it was a practical ideal in reality. I've always believed that although war is never a good thing, it sometimes is regrettably necessary to protect the innocent. I've also held that fascism needs to be actively resisted whenever it arises.

I am starting to wonder however, if the time has come to change my views on that. The world cannot continue going the way it is going, both in economic terms and with the consensus on non-proliferation falling apart.

The question for me is, what do we owe to the innocent? We may respond non-violently to what is done to us personally, but what about when there are other innocent lives at stake? Take WWII as an example. The Jews of Europe responded non-violently for the most part to their Nazi persecutors, but it appears that they would have been wiped off of the face of the earth completely if it wasn’t for violent intervention from other parties. Their dignity and moral courage meant nothing to the Nazis. Take Genghis Khan and the Mongol armies as another possible example. Non-violent witness may have carried no power to confront them. History seems to bring up these groups now and then that will gleefully slap the other cheek no matter how many times you offer it.

It’s a tough issue. I fully respect pacifism as long as it doesn’t mean "passivism". Non-violence is not the same thing as doing nothing. The evil still needs to be resisted and confronted. What the non-violent resister needs to be aware of is that he needs even more courage than the soldier does. He needs to be aware that this stance probably will lead to certain death, as the Christs, Kings, Ghandis, and Romeros of history have found out. I don’t know if I have that kind of courage, but I do know that these are the kinds of people who really have the power to change the world.

I’m struggling with this Joeh, and I’ve solicited the opinions of those who espouse non-violence, because I don’t think that humankind is going to make it by following the status quo. I don’t think we have much of a future if we keep doing things the way we have always done them.

The evidence indicates to me that the earliest Christians were non-violent, and did embrace martyrdom rather than resort to violence. Did Christianity become radicalized when it bumped up against an intransigient Islam? It may very well have, but I think we have to ask ourselves, as Joe asks, what does it really mean to live by faith? What does it really mean to be a Christian? Have we twisted it to mean something convenient and comfortable for us? What kind of courage is really being asked for, the courage to fight or the courage to deal with and resist violence without aggression? Does Joe have any valid points at all?

You ask me what I would do if my family was attacked… I admit to you that in the past I have used my fists over far less provocation than that. In embracing non-violence, would I be likely to sacrifice my head, as you point out? I have very little doubt that you are right. The same kind of fate awaited Christ and those who have lived like him. I don’t have all the answers, I’m searching for them and I’m seeking opinions. I guess I know where you stand with your opinion, I thank you for it.

crystal said...

Jeff, have you read Mark Mossa's book, Just War, Lasting Peace? I haven't yet, but I wonder what answer he has come up with on the subject.

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

No, I haven't read Mark's book yet, but I'd like to. I only first heard about it a little while ago on Steve Bogner's blog. My SJ scholastic brother-in-law knows Mark and speaks very highly of him. Are you planning on reading it?

Years ago I read a good book called The Catholic Peace Tradition by Ronald Musto. Another book that I lent out and never got back. :-)

joeh said...

Jeff, no I have not read your blog a long time. I think your response to my post was thoughtful and well written. I wish I had your talent.
We have Christianity today because people over the years were willing to take up arms reluctantly, but firmly when the decision was made. It seems like God over the centuries has understood mankind and Satan well enough to know that there is time for violence. How many did God kill with the flood or with fire to eradicate evil? Jesus came to show us a way that was possible for mankind to live in peace. I doubt that Jesus believed that his arrival would end warfare in man. I believe His message was to each of us to seek God's will for us. The world needs peacemakers and warriors to have any sanity at all until that time comes when Jesus returns to seperate the good from the evil. I am a firm believer in just war until that time to protect the peacemakers and those who cannot defend themselves.

I also believe that we need to use every effort to avoid war. Some say this is the issue with Iraq but I disagree. In today's world with those who will kill women and children randomly out of hatred. The world for years believed that Iraq had weapons of mass distruction. After 9/11, this country could not wait for them to show up with deadly results for millions in our cities. If your neighbor hated you and was intent on killing your family and everyone knew he had the weapons to do the job should society wait until he completes his work? What if his intent was to wipe out an entire school filled with children? What if the law enforcement in place just kept dropping by and giving him warnings? When should society act to protect itself?

As I said, in the little I have read you are a good writer and thoughtful person and I intend to continue to read what you post. I just wish the country would get behind our troops and the President because I think if we were showing 90% approval rating for his efforts, the job would be a lot easier in ending this war. Peace needs to happen with evil unconditionally surrendering and history shows us this is the only realy path to peace.

Jeff said...

Hi Joeh,

You make your argument strongly, logically, and with great pragmatism, and I believe that your faith is important to you. From a pragmatic standpoint, it is hard to find fault with your argument. However, as Christians, I feel that we are called to be more than pragmatic. I thank you for the kind words, but whether or not I can write well or not is immaterial. I would just like my position to be recognized as one that comes from the struggles of a man of faith, a position that does not ignore the hard issues, and does not spring from moral cowardice. On this I’m sure that in good will we can find common ground with one another. Like you, I can’t abide bullies either.

In the Old Testament we do read of God revealing his wrath in flood and fire and battle, but at this point, God has not revealed his ultimate plan of salvation that will be available for all of humanity. His Covenant with the people of Israel is opened up to include Gentile and Jew alike in the New Testament. Sinful man has been reconciled to God through Christ Jesus. The world is not to continue as before. As attested to in the Beatitudes, we are to be blessed as peacemakers. As His followers we are to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. I’ve no doubt that a warrior can also be a good Christian. I do not dishonor those who serve in uniform. I come from a family with a military tradition. I admire a military man’s self discipline and selflessness when it is shown in the military’s best tradition. I have had an Honor the Fallen link on this page from the time I opened it. But I do believe that we are called to be leaven to transform the world. Many times in the churches we are reminded that as Christians we are called to be counter-cultural and to take a strong stand against the prevailing way of the world, but too often this is restricted to the area of sexual ethics. In matters of war, we should be careful not to conform to the ways of the world either, but to challenge it. Let’s be like Christ. What does Christ want us to do? How does he want us to act? Orthopraxis is as important as Orthodoxy. Not creed over deed. Not deed over creed. Creed and deed without apology.

During the Crusades St. Francis of Assisi walked through the battle lines in order to meet with the Sultan Malik-al-Kamil in order to convert him. Christian and Muslim alike warned him that he would pay for this attempt with his life. The Sultan was not converted, but he admired Francis tremendously and gave him safe passage. The sultan was reported to have said "If all Christians were like this, I would not hesitate to become one."

Thanks the challenging posts. I hope you keep reading and posting here.


joeh said...

Jeff, I do plan to keep reading and to post when I feel I have something to say. I plan to read because I am trying to grow in faith, but also must live in a world where evil exists and I have a responsibility to help preserve our way of life and values that allow us to follow Christ with freedom. I think maybe we are arriving at a point where Christ said we must give unto God the things that are God's and to Caesar the things that are Caesars.
Can we live in a country without a military and exist? If we have a military, what is their role? If evil chooses to kill us in any way possible should we all turn the other cheek? You mention St Francis during the Crusades. What if all Christians were indeed like St Francis and the world were filled with Bin Laden's and Zarquawi intent on ending Christianity everywhere?
Maybe those who believe that the USA should chose not to fight should follow the example of St Francis and travel to Iraq and seek out the enemy leadership to preach Jesus message. What gets me kind of angry as a VietNam vet are those who preach peace miles from the battle line while demanding their free speech, religious freedom, and ability to live in this great country and in some way believing it is possible without someone paying the price. What you say about St Francis makes me admire him even more than I have in the past. I will admire those who believe that the radical muslims can be somehow won over or at least stopped by Christian gestures only when they are on the battle lines willing to put their faith on the line with their life and not preach behind someone else. By the way, I feel the same about polititicans who did not fight and did not send their sons.

Jeff said...

Hi Joeh,

On the topic of the politicians who did not serve, and have no sons or daughters who serve, you might want to check out Frank Schaeffer's book AWOL, if you haven't seen it already.

joeh said...

Guess how many of our representatives served in the military? And those that did serve, most were jokes like John Kerry. Yes, he was in VietNam, but his record there was far from great. I do give him credit for serving, but I hate what he did on return.

By the way, my major issue with choosing how to vote now is based on the issue that is outright murder of the innocent children in the womb. If I have two strong pro choice candidates, I move on to their issue on the death penalty which I am against. The next issue is their stance on keeping America strong and defending our freedom. Where does civil justice issues and the poor come into the equation? Well, my issue here is that I really do not see politicians really being able to solve these issues. If they do start to tout taking care of the poor, I cringe because it means more tax money thrown at making the poor dependent on politicians for free cheese. 40 years of the welfare state watching the poor become victims and lowering moral standards convinced me never to vote for a party who says they want to help the poor.

Joe said...

Jeff, I hadn't realized you'd posted this (thnx for that), but moreover thnx for struggling with me on all of this so many years later... and on we go.

JoeH - though its sounds as though I have things clearly defined in my head, I can assure you that I do not. I struggle, wobble and waffle a lot on this topic. Though at the end of the day, if I am able to factor in Faith, I usually come back to the same conclusion about War. I am also aware however that theory is a wonderful practice, if push actually comes to shove someday, we'll see where my Faith and my ability to imitate Christ goes...