Monday, April 24, 2006

Peace and Jesus Redux

This is the long awaited (sic!)followup post to the Jesus and Peace post. What I'm trying to do is set out a few ideas about how the ideas in that post look like when the theological rubber hits the ground.

But, first, a caveat. When I admit to Christian pacifism (sometimes, it feels like that, what I am emphatically not saying is that evil should be endured, not resisted. That is all too commonly believed because people want to relate pacifism with passivism. That won't work on many levels. The words themselves bear no relationship between the roots of either word, short of the fact that they are both derived from Latin (pacifism from pax=peace; passivism from patior=I endure, I suffer). Nor is Christian pacifism about being led to the slaughter for the sake of suffering.

The point of Christian pacifism is that we emulate what Jesus did. He confronted the powers and principalities in his day, but refused to use violence against them. Instead, he used his cosmic judo move and let the contradictions of their own evil destroy them.

So, how does this look in real life? On the individual front, I think it means two things. First, it means being willing to confront evil wherever we see it, partly by naming sin as sin, evil as evil in our every day life. That means, being willing to stand up and be counted when we see something happening in our daily life that is wrong, even if that move is risky as far as career or whatever. That is scary and difficult. And God knows that I'm personally not perfect at this, since going along with systemic injustice is the easier root to take. That is setting aside the problem of discernment because most situations do not see a simplistic evil vs good kind of a situation. That may mean that we will have to criticize both parties in a dispute and risk the ire of both sides.

Second, it also means the rejection of violence as a means of human interaction. That means getting into a fight should not be an option, even if provoked into it. This is, of course, difficult and I'm not sure I would succeed at it either. Yet, at the very least, I would say it also means seeing violence, not as a tool of interpersonal interactions, but as a personal failure. Evading violence while maintaining one's integrity constitutes, to me, a greater victory than fighting my way through a situation.

Okay, now that might work, in a relatively peaceful country on an individual basis, but how does it work in the international scene (the last of anglifan's questions). I suspect that, in the world as we have today, quite badly. What is likely to happen to a country adopting a non-violent foreign policy is that, sooner or later, it will be overwhelmed by a more aggressive neighbour. Mind you, in this scenario, the rules are rather skewed to this answer and it shouldn't surprise anyone that sinful humanity would, in these conditions, be unable to sustain such a foreign policy. In a world where sin seems natural, none of this should surprise anyone.

Yet, I think we have to recognize two things. First, non-violent resistance has proven itself to be effective in wearing down even brutal regimes. The non-violent resistance campaigns for independence in India, against apartheid in South Africa and against the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe succeeded where violent revolution could not. Yes, these campaigns are long and often costly, but, sooner or later, evil falls apart when it realizes that its primary weapon (violence) is no longer feared.

Second, a consistent non-violent foreign policy (and here I mean economic and social violence as well as military violence)would aim to resolve grievances between nations before they burst into conflict. That may still not be enough to prevent true evil from attacking a country, but that kind of evil is not common and really need a soil of perceived oppression and hatred to grow in (thus, Hitler's rise to power happened because of the perceived evil of the Verseilles Treaty, acerbated by the Great Depression).

Okay, I think that is the broad outline of what I'm trying to argue. I hope it makes sense.

Peace,
Phil

4 comments:

Jim said...

I think you identify a couple of problems. First, when you comment on economic violence, I wonder what a business person would have called the embargo against the old South African government? Second, your examples of successful resistence to evil at the macro level have some problems -- Ghandi himself observed that his non-violent campain would have failed had he not had England to fight.

I am not arguing for violence as a good thing. Rather I am wondering if pacifism, Christian or not, can work as a universal process. I think it should be the first choice, but even in the case of Jesus we have the moment when he decided something had to be done and the money changers felt his anger.

HDTSTY?

FWIW
jimB

Phil S. said...

Jim;

A couple comments. First, definately there are problems with pacifism in the world as it is. It would be exceedingly surprising if there weren't, given the sin in the world and the sinful structures in this world. I'm not in the least surprised that pacifism looks deeply unrealistic and unworkable. Given the world as it is, I can't see how it could be anything else.

Yet, (and this is my second point), the point to the Christian life is not that it is realistic in the current state of the universe, but rather that we remain faithful to God, even when what we are doing is out of step of the world as it is now. Rather the point of God's redeeming purpose is that God will redeem the world, will re-make the world, according to His will, not human will. If we are participants in this work (as we are told we are in the Bible) that may mean that we have to act in a way that looks foolish in this world. Pacifism is just one manifestation of this foolishness. I could add such unnatural practices as forgiveness, humility and such like.

Peace,
Phil

Jim said...

Phil,

I will stipulate that we should avoid violence, and that Christians must accept the possibility of looking stupid in the world. But, as one who thinks Bonhoeffer had a point, I am still confronted with the question that Ghandi faced when he admitted that he wojuld not have been non-violent had Germany held India.

I would not kill, I would not want another to kill to save my life. But, I would have participated in the plot to assasinate Hitler, I would shoot Mr. Zakawi or Mr. bin Laden and sleep soundly. There is evil in the world, and there are people who will do its bidding on innocents.

I guess that is the best I can do to follow Jesus. It may not be enough, but it is where I am at the moment.

FWIW
jimB

Phil S. said...

I do understand what you're saying and, to some degree, I agree. The standard I've been explaining is almost an impossible one. I would add the sickeningly pious, but true comment that all things are possible with God's help. I would add that I'm not sure of my own ability to stick to this standard either, if we got to the kind of extreme situations that you describe.

Yet, most situations that we encounter are nowhere near that dire. What I worry about is that it is all too easy to talk ourselves into believing that we are in such a dire situation. So, Saddam Husein was certainly a brutal dictator, but what made him different from the many other brutal dictators out there, including many supported by the West, is imperfectly clear. Many dictators we've supported have been as bad or worse, yet we go after Saddam Husein.

What happened there is that the hysteria post-9/11 made it possible to see the Iraq problem as the kind of dire problem which overrides any reflection and causes us to view ourselves as the agents of God's justice. That is deeply worrying to me because the moment that we start believing that is the moment we had better stop and pray to see if we're right.

What I'm saying is that the kind of dire situations which are trotted out to invalidate pacifism are much more rare that pacifism's opponents would argue. I recognize that you aren't saying that, of course, but it is one reason why I think we have to be very careful with the 'just' use of violence. I'm not entirely sure we can be trusted with that decision. I certainly know we can't make that decision without God's help.