Saturday, November 10, 2007

Modern Christian Pacifism

Dave Kopel has an excellent analysis of the various schools of modern Christian pacifism and how they are largely founded upon factual errors, moral inconsistencies, and apathy.

He examines the pacifism of Leo Tolstoy, Tony Compolo, Thomas Merton, Stanley Hauerwas, and John Howard Yoder. Kopel admires Yoder for directly addressing arguments against pacifism, but finds that Yoder compromises authentic pacifism in order to answer them.

Of particular interest is Kopel's evidence that Martin Luther King Jr. viewed non-violence as a tactic, not a universal principle.

I highly recommend this article.

Hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy

32 comments:

Allan R. Bevere said...

John:

Without getting into a full-blown critique of Kopel's argument since I have neither the time nor the interest, I think it is somewhat disingenuous of Kopel to say that Yoder compromises authentic pacifism. Since Kopel is not a pacifist, he is hardly in a position to define what authentic pacifism is. It is also simplistic to think there can be only one kind of pacifism that is authentic.

John said...

Allan, are you saying that only a pacifist can evaluate whether another person is truly a pacifist?

Anonymous said...

Pacifism authentic or otherwise is an irrelevant exercise in mental gymnastics. We live in a fallen world where sheep may graze in the green pastures beside the still waters, but they still have to deal with the wolves that past through. We may lament the horror, etc. of violence and we may do everything we can do try to work for a less violent world, but unless and until the heart of man is made new by the grace of God in Christ, wolves will still prey upon sheep. If the sheep do not want to be the featured item on the wolves' dinner menu, then they must learn to deal with the wolves. This does not mean the sheep have to take on the nature of wolves, but that sheep must use those means that will allow them to stop the wolves from acting according to their nature.

Allan R. Bevere said...

John:

Not at all; what I am saying is that the history of this argument is one in which non-pacifists are always telling pacifists what it means to be one.

A big part of the reason Yoder wrote so much on the subject was to tell his fellow pacifists that they should not let others tell them what pacifism means and what it implications are. Many pacifists had accepted Reinhold Neibuhr's definition of pacifism as being politically irrelevant. Yodar writes to say that just because Niebuhr says pacifists are politically irrelevant doesn't mean that it in fact is.

Yoder is well aware of the different nuances within pacifism. Unfortunately, those who are not pacifists simply write that off saying, "Well if you are a pacifist you have to be this or you have to do that. And if you don't meet those qualifications you are compromising your pacifism." Yoder says, "Don't let the non-pacifists set the terms of the discussion nor the agenda.

That's what Kopel is trying to do. It's Reinhold Niebuhr all over again.

John Meunier said...

This does not mean the sheep have to take on the nature of wolves, but that sheep must use those means that will allow them to stop the wolves from acting according to their nature.

I think the doctrine of Original Sin would tell us that there are not wolves and sheep, as this analogy suggests.

We are all wolves.

The question isn't how to protect ourselves from wolves. It is how do you de-fang and de-claw wolves?

I've read both Niebuhr and Yoder and agree with Allan. This is the same argument being made over and over again.

As for who is correct? I don't know.

Anonymous said...

We are not all wolves. By birth some of us are sheep. Experience demonstrates wolves will not by nature give up their fangs and claws. Sheep are not by nature equipped to remove those fangs and claws. But in the flock there are those sheep who come equipped with horns. Used as intended, these give good service against the owners of fangs and claws.

One other thought. Wolves are by nature predators, for food they attack and kill prey species targeting the young, sick and weak. Sheep are a prey species. For the sheep and wolves to share the pasture, some sort of arrangement must be reached. The short term answer is to secure protection from the wolves. The long term answer is that the nature of the wolves must be changed.

Dan Trabue said...

Did anyone read this whole thing? I just got a third of the way through, but he didn't seem to be offering much.

1. It seems (unless his tack changed) that he wasn't arguing that pacifism wasn't the preferred Christian starting point, but that it would never be a popular view. Am I missing something - did he change his tune later?
2. As to his complaint that Pacifism can't be successful to counter challenges such as Nazism, I would raise the question: How does he define "success"?
3. In WWII, the Allies "won" against the Axis at a loss of some tens of millions of lives. It "required" us to firebomb citizens and visit nuclear holocaust upon two citizen centers.
4. There were no Nations being led by pacifist leadership, so no Pacifist/Just Peacemaking initiatives were implemented. We don't know if Just Peacemaking initiatives could have been more effective, so all we can say for sure that if we are willing to see tens of millions of deaths - a good number being citizen deaths and a good number of those at our hands - then we can eventually stop a Nazi-like assault. But is that success, from a Christian point of view?
5. In accounting for the "success" of the end of WWII, we need to account for the Cold War which at least partially was a result of our "solution," and how many deaths and what sort of immorality resulted from that.

If I have more time, I may eventually try to read his essay, but it did not strike me as particularly adept.

Dan Trabue said...

On the authentic pacifism question, I'd suggest it's a bit of a non-point. Since there is no single authority on Pacifism, no universally accepted criteria, it's mostly opinion, isn't it?

One can hardly appeal to Yoder and say that, since Niehbur doesn't agree with Yoder on every point, that Niehbur is not authentic. The only criteria that I know is the dictionary definition, which is open-ended enough to include many folk.

Now, I for one would certainly give more weight to someone who actually does consider themselves to be a pacifist over against a non-pacifist who wishes to set up criteria.

Not that a non-pacifist can't critique a pacifist, but I don't have much use for non-pacifists saying, "Well, you're no pacifist because you are willing to argue with those you disagree with."

They'd be free to say that, of course, but it wouldn't hold much sway for me. It has been my experience that non-pacifists don't tend to know much about pacifism and all its varieties.

John said...

1. It seems (unless his tack changed) that he wasn't arguing that pacifism wasn't the preferred Christian starting point, but that it would never be a popular view. Am I missing something - did he change his tune later?

Yes, he later goes on to describe how pacifism has failed as a policy when implemented.

2. As to his complaint that Pacifism can't be successful to counter challenges such as Nazism, I would raise the question: How does he define "success"?

At some point, he indicates that pacifism, when implemented, is unsuccessful because it leads to mass enslavement and murder.

3. In WWII, the Allies "won" against the Axis at a loss of some tens of millions of lives. It "required" us to firebomb citizens and visit nuclear holocaust upon two citizen centers.

True. Your point being?

4. There were no Nations being led by pacifist leadership, so no Pacifist/Just Peacemaking initiatives were implemented. We don't know if Just Peacemaking initiatives could have been more effective, so all we can say for sure that if we are willing to see tens of millions of deaths - a good number being citizen deaths and a good number of those at our hands - then we can eventually stop a Nazi-like assault. But is that success, from a Christian point of view?

Kopel lists historical examples of pacifism, including during WWII, and how they failed to persuade the Nazis to cease their brutality.

5. In accounting for the "success" of the end of WWII, we need to account for the Cold War which at least partially was a result of our "solution," and how many deaths and what sort of immorality resulted from that.

As Kopel argues, the use of violence is not perfect, just as examples of successful non-violent change have not been perfect. Violence and non-violence are tactics to be used from situation to situation, but neither is a universal principle.

Not that a non-pacifist can't critique a pacifist, but I don't have much use for non-pacifists saying, "Well, you're no pacifist because you are willing to argue with those you disagree with."

They'd be free to say that, of course, but it wouldn't hold much sway for me. It has been my experience that non-pacifists don't tend to know much about pacifism and all its varieties.


An authentic pacifist refuses to engage in or benefit from violence. An inauthentic pacifist does not.

Is this an unfair definition? If so, please explain why.

John said...

Allan wrote:

Not at all; what I am saying is that the history of this argument is one in which non-pacifists are always telling pacifists what it means to be one.

The long history of this argument is one of people claiming to be brave pacifists but hiding behind police and armies that are not.

Allan R. Bevere said...

John:

Not true. It is not sbout hiding behind armies. That's an assumption made by non-pacifists. Historic pacifists do not expect anyone to defend them with lethal force. Show me one place where a historic pacifist believes that others should defend them even though they refuse to fight?

Second, to say that paifists are not authentic since they enjoy the fruits of those who have fought is like saying a person who is pro-life is being hypocritical because he or she goes to the emergency room of a hospital that performs abortions. We all benefit, even in what we buy at the grocery, because of practices we don't agree with.

Such a claim also assumes that the willingness to resort to violence is what is most significant in preserving a free society. What about elections? Order in society? Law abiding citizens? There are many ways to participate in the political order that other may enjoy its benefits. The common good is a large and complex thing.

One more thing: pacifists believe that there is plenty of things worth dying for; there is a difference between a willigness to die and a willingness to kill. Historic pacifists accept the former, not the latter.

John said...

Not true. It is not sbout hiding behind armies. That's an assumption made by non-pacifists. Historic pacifists do not expect anyone to defend them with lethal force. Show me one place where a historic pacifist believes that others should defend them even though they refuse to fight?

Their actions; that they choose to reside in countries that will protect them.

Second, to say that paifists are not authentic since they enjoy the fruits of those who have fought is like saying a person who is pro-life is being hypocritical because he or she goes to the emergency room of a hospital that performs abortions. We all benefit, even in what we buy at the grocery, because of practices we don't agree with.

A better analogy would be a Christian investing in companies that produce pornography and profiting thereof.

It is hypocritical for pacifists to decry the use of force but make use of police protection or the military security of friendly host nations because...well, it is. How could it possibly not be? If a pacifist says one thing but does another, that's the definition of hypocrisy.

Such a claim also assumes that the willingness to resort to violence is what is most significant in preserving a free society. What about elections? Order in society? Law abiding citizens? There are many ways to participate in the political order that other may enjoy its benefits. The common good is a large and complex thing.

I don't follow your argument here. Please explain.

One more thing: pacifists believe that there is plenty of things worth dying for; there is a difference between a willigness to die and a willingness to kill. Historic pacifists accept the former, not the latter.

I've heard of precious few pacifists that were willing to die for their cause.

Kopel provides the example of the Moriori who were indeed, true pacifists. They were willing to die rather than resist their invaders.

They are now extinct, of course, but they were authentic pacifists.

My point, Allan, is that a pacifist is more than a person who says pacifistic principles; it a person who lives them out.

Allan R. Bevere said...

John:

Once again, my friend, you don't quite get it. "They choose to live in countries that will protect them." Picture this scenario of pacifists talking: "Let's move to the U.S.A. They will die to protect us even thought we won't fight." You can't be serious about this one.

Second, whatever the analogy, my point is valid.

Third, there are plenty of ways to work for the common good in a society. One does not need to be in the military to do so. Just because a pacifist won't fight, does not mean he or she cannot contribute to the greater good. In other words, they are not politically irrelevant.

Third, Yoder makes a distinction about the validity of police action as opposed to military action. He does even say that it is possible for a Christian to participate in the police force and use non-lethal force. I am a police chaplain and have several non-lethal weapons available for me to protect myself and subdue someone if need be, but I do not carry a gun.

Fourth, there are plenty of pacifist groups throughout history who were killed because they refused to fight against their oppressors. Such a thing actually happened not too far from where I live.

Fifth, your assumption in this discussion, it seems to me, is that the state is ultimately more important than the church, and that the state sets the agenda. This cannot be for disciples of Jesus Christ.

Thanks for the good discussion!

Jonathan said...

So, John, does this mean you will not be attending the Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, scheduled for Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2008?

:)

Dan Trabue said...

John said:
Their actions; that they choose to reside in countries that will protect them.

And which nation is it that we should move to that is pacifist in nature? Where would you have us go, since there are no pacifist nations?

John said:
I've heard of precious few pacifists that were willing to die for their cause.

Really? Try reading some anabaptist literature sometime. Try Foxe's Book of Martyrs, for instance.

I've heard of very few if any actual pacifists (as opposed to passivists or just plain cowards hiding behind pacifism) who aren't prepared to die for Jesus (which is our cause, after all, not "pacifism").

John said...

Once again, my friend, you don't quite get it. "They choose to live in countries that will protect them." Picture this scenario of pacifists talking: "Let's move to the U.S.A. They will die to protect us even thought we won't fight." You can't be serious about this one.

What happens more often is that Christians in the US adopt the label of pacifist without paying any cost for their "courage" on a moral stand.

Second, whatever the analogy, my point is valid.

Um, no. If a person says one thing but does another, that is, by definition, a hypocrite.

Third, there are plenty of ways to work for the common good in a society. One does not need to be in the military to do so. Just because a pacifist won't fight, does not mean he or she cannot contribute to the greater good. In other words, they are not politically irrelevant.

A pacifist can work for the good of society. But if a pacifist choses to benefit from the violence of others, that person is not a true pacifist.

Third, Yoder makes a distinction about the validity of police action as opposed to military action. He does even say that it is possible for a Christian to participate in the police force and use non-lethal force. I am a police chaplain and have several non-lethal weapons available for me to protect myself and subdue someone if need be, but I do not carry a gun.

And as Kopel points out, Yoder fails to establish a Biblical basis for supporting non-lethal violence but opposing lethal violence.

Fourth, there are plenty of pacifist groups throughout history who were killed because they refused to fight against their oppressors. Such a thing actually happened not too far from where I live.

True. The Moiroi, which Kopel describes at length, were true pacifists who died for their beliefs. Unlike modern American pacifists who do not.

Fifth, your assumption in this discussion, it seems to me, is that the state is ultimately more important than the church, and that the state sets the agenda. This cannot be for disciples of Jesus Christ.

I'm in good company, joined by Just War supporters and phony pacifists who benefit from the organized force of the state.

John said...

Jonathan -- only for lack of time and money. Peacemaking is a Christian value.

John said...

And which nation is it that we should move to that is pacifist in nature? Where would you have us go, since there are no pacifist nations?

How about a non-pacifistic nation that will not protect you despite your views? Like Saudi Arabia.

True, courageous pacifism isn't criticizing the violence of people who will protect you no matter what you say. It's criticizing the violence of people who will kill you for what you say.

Really? Try reading some anabaptist literature sometime. Try Foxe's Book of Martyrs, for instance.

I've heard of very few if any actual pacifists (as opposed to passivists or just plain cowards hiding behind pacifism) who aren't prepared to die for Jesus (which is our cause, after all, not "pacifism").


Well, modern Christian pacifists, particularly in the West.

There's nothing brave about decrying war in the streets of Washington, D.C. But there is in the streets of Tehran and Gaza.

So here's a challenge: let the legions of American "pacifists" go to the city of Gaza and march through the streets, calling on the Palestinians to end their violent ways in the name of Jesus Christ.

There will be no one to protect the protestors from any violent response from the natives.

That's real pacifism in action. And I have nothing but respect for it. But curiously, I do not see it happening.

Kevin Baker said...

"An authentic pacifist refuses to engage in or benefit from violence. An inauthentic pacifist does not."

This a a rather classic ad hominem tu quoque - and there is no real point in arguing against it for that reason.

It does raise an interesting question though. Does this dog's tail wag both directions? Can it possibily be true that John has lived in the USA his whole life and never benefited from anything our goverment has done (directly or indirectly) that he disagreed with on Christian principles?

"A pacifist can work for the good of society. But if a pacifist choses to benefit from the violence of others, that person is not a true pacifist."

Choice ... interesting use of words - this dog don't hunt, but I am not sure there is any point in naming why. Suffice it to say that the limited choices I have in the world I live in are rather trite compared to those things that lie beyond my realm of control. Being creature and not Creator can have its downside.

John said...

One of the things that I have learned in Internet debates is that most of the time when a person cites a logical fallacy (especially in Latin), that person is using an incorrect definition of the fallacy. Perhaps in the hopes of bewildering their foes with BS instead of putting up a real argument.

It would only be ad hominem tu quoque if I were attacking pacifism as inherently wrong as demonstrated by the examples of pacifists. I am not. I am arguing (1) that pacifism is ineffective at creating better outcomes and (2) pompous, holier-than-thou pacifists know it, as demonstrated by their decision not to live according to their self-proclaimed values.

It does raise an interesting question though. Does this dog's tail wag both directions? Can it possibily be true that John has lived in the USA his whole life and never benefited from anything our goverment has done (directly or indirectly) that he disagreed with on Christian principles?

Nothing comes to mind.

Choice ... interesting use of words - this dog don't hunt, but I am not sure there is any point in naming why.

Please try.

Suffice it to say that the limited choices I have in the world I live in are rather trite compared to those things that lie beyond my realm of control. Being creature and not Creator can have its downside.

Apparently one of those downsides is the inability to respond to rational arguments.

Dan Trabue said...

John said:

How about a non-pacifistic nation that will not protect you despite your views? Like Saudi Arabia.

Okay, marginally fair point.

But, this argument seems to be saying that you would leave a nation that had any laws or behaviors that conflict with your values. That is,

I believe in Just Peacemaking;
My nation does not practice Just Peacemaking;
Therefore, I should leave this nation.

Is that correct?

The problem with this, it seems to me, is that this is true for any nation - there will always be laws that we disagree with. So, again, where would we go?

An additional problem with this thinking, it seems to me, is that it making the assumption, "This country's militaristic behavior is safeguarding me." It would be my contention that this is not the case. I think, for instance, it quite obvious that this particular Iraq invasion is making our nation LESS safe, not more. So, I don't buy into the first part of the argument.

Additionally still, while Just Peacemakers are not a majority and therefore are not policy setters, we HAVE influenced policy. We are a less violent nation towards our protestors and dissidents DUE TO the work of Peacemakers. Why would we surrender the gains we've made in peacemaking initiatives in a nation that does not embrace Just Peacemaking just because it is not endorsed by the gov't?

Kevin Baker said...

OK ... so I will bite ... but agaisnt my better judgement since John and I have travelled this path before.

I am well aware of the misuse of ad hominem on the internet, and maybe it was a cheap shot - but in this case, I believe it is valid. You are objecting to an argument by characterizing the arguer as acting or aruging in accordance to the argument you are against. The benefit of doing so places you in an infallible position, but does little to engage your opponent. You define a pacifist on your terms and then argue that your opponent is not one on the same terms ... and I get the "irrational" label? ;-)

"Nothing comes to mind."

This is either a joke, or a an extremely disturbing naivete - because I refuse to assume that our Christian priciples could be that far apart based on previous posts and conversations.

Here are a few that came to my mind, all which demonstrate the complicity and complexity of living in a nation-state (regardless of which one): torture, abortion, exploitation, unjust use of resources, wealth, and political influence, war (mine, not yours), and numerous standard practices that relate to commerce and trade. If these systemic sins are all justifible in some scheme, then lets break them down to their personal embodiments which would include: lying, cheating, stealing, false witness, etc.

To frame the matter theologically, I would argue that the lack of complicity/complexity in your position fails to adequately account for the falleness of the world we live in (original sin).

Having said all of this - I would add that I have deep respect for John, and will likely bow out now ... as I don't want to chase my tail (or his!) ... I get to dizzy.

Kevin Baker said...

tell the truth John ... you only post these pacifist crtiques so that your annual stat counter avg. is maintained, right? What was the last one ... something around 100? :-)

I love you anyway, despite your zoombie obesession.

Peace, love, and ...peace ...
in the end, it is Vulcan logic that wins me over - "live long and prosper!"

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Pacifism

Allan R. Bevere said...

John writes in reference to the state setting the agenda for the church:" I'm in good company, joined by Just War supporters and phony pacifists who benefit from the organized force of the state."

First, I won't even dignify your "phony" label with a response.

Second, the early Christians had a choice as well-- whether to claim Jesus as Lord or Caesar. They chose the former, making the very clear claim, which the Romans clearly understood better than you, that the state did not set the agenda for the followers of Jesus.

Do you seriously think the Romans persecuted the Christians because they were running around telling everyone to love each other?

I too plan to bow out of the discussion. I am not sure what else can be said. We don't want this to become like too many Administrative Board meetings where people are simply repeating themselves.

In the spirit of Tiny Tim: "May God bless us, everyone!"

John said...

Actually, Kevin, it's the zombie posts that keep my traffic flowing nicely. Hits from Neatorama and Ace of Spades aren't my bread and butter, but last week they have me a 1000% increase on a single day.

John said...

Anyway, Kevin, if a pacifist is someone who verbally rejects all violence and yet willingly benefits from it, I'll be glad to sign on the dotted line.

John said...

Dan, please define this term "Just Peacemaker". Are you refering to a specific movement or theological concept?

Dan Trabue said...

Again, some of us would reject your notion that we benefit from a huge military.

And Just Peacemaking is a specific movement/brand of pacifism that I sometimes refer to because it is perhaps more specific about what it means. Also, so many people don't know what the heck pacifism means (confusing it with milquetoast, passivism and communism...), I think I can clearly say I'm a JP Theorist and people can read what it means and start from a fresh slate.

Just Peacemaking

Even if you're not prepared to adopt pacifism, most Christians (and thinking people) should be able to embrace much about JP Theory.

Don't they teach this stuff in Seminary?

John said...

We're required to take a 2-hour class on Christian Ethics. I took that and the third elective hour. It was the most fun that I have had in seminary. If I could afford it and have the time, I'd get a Ph.D in Christian Ethics.

We did discuss the three major approaches: Pacifism, Just War, and Crusader Theory. We read Hauerwas and Yoder. Some others, I think. We spent about two days on the subject. But no, we didn't look at the Just Peacemaking movement.

Dan Trabue said...

I was mostly joking.

I think JPT is a very logical, very Christian approach that many people could at least partially support, even if they want to retain the War solution as a last resort. In fact, not all JP Theorists are pacifists. The fella (Glen Stassen) who has written perhaps the most on it I believe still does not fully accept pacifism (although I've heard he's leaning more and more that way).

John said...

I agree. Peacemaking is morally obligatory upon all Christians, even if we Just War Theorists think that it is not always possible.

Keith McIlwain said...

Good exchange; sorry to have missed it.