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Christianity and resistance to evil Login/Join 
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Well, here's the start of a thread in which I'm hoping we can discuss how Christians ought to respond to the problem of evil--especially when it uses violence to perpetrate its ends.

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There are many stances taken among the Churches on this issue. As a spiritual director, I have been privileged lately to listen to Mennonite pastors struggling to find a way to express their tradition's stance on non-violence in the present historical circumstances. I have also met with several Catholic leaders, who ascribe to the Just War Theory (although this is by no means an "official" denominational position). And so we see from the start that there is no real consensus among Christians about this issue; it is just impossible to say "Christianity teaches thus or so" without negating the good-faith positions taken by various Christian groups who have struggled with this issue.

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The example of Christ might seem the starting point here, but need not be. Those who would like to see in the life of Christ a paradigm of how to deal with evil ought to consider the following:
1. He did avoid confrontation with evil "until his time came."
2. He did stand up for the poor and oppressed on many occasions.
3. He did passionately (angrily?) disrupt the Temple practice by turning tables and chasing people out.
4. He did confront the Scribes and Pharisees most forcefully with his words.

We might also note that his life was not given in a context of resisting the evil of Rome or the Jewish leaders, but of submitting to political inevitabilities that were a consequence of his own ministry. His choices, really, were to head for the hills for good, to call on heavenly powers to protect him, or take a stand, surrendering himself to God's care.

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Catholics have for centuries held to what is known as the Right War or Just War theory. You can find out more about this at The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908 edition, but still pretty accurate).

A summary follows:
1. War must be aimed at repelling or deterring aggression and safeguarding human rights.
2. It must be authorized by a legitimate authority.
3. The stated objectives for going to war must be the real ones.
4. War must be a last resort; all peaceful alternatives must be exhausted.
5. The probability of success must be sufficiently clear to justify the human and other costs.
6. The damage inflicted by war must be proportionate to its objectives.
7. Noncombatants must not be targeted.

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There are many theologians in Catholicism and other traditions which question whether the Just War principles can be valid in an age of super-weapons. . i.e., can the destruction caused ever be proportionate? can non-combatants really be spared?

Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority would agree that it is more loving to oppose an evil aggressor than to stand idly by and do nothing. Thus did many theologians concur with the actions taken by NATO in Bosnia, for example, where it seems clear that genocide was underway, and that negotiation with the aggressor was impossible.

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To be continued, of course . . . especially in reference to the present situation regarding the Al Queda/Taliban aggression against the U.S.

Your thoughts and feelings?

Phil
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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4. War must be a last resort; all peaceful alternatives must be exhausted.

That "Just War Theory" seems pretty solid to me. My only quibble would be with #4. One should be sure to balance "all peaceful alternatives being exhausted" with the sincerity of the negotiating parties. Hitler negotiated as a stalling tactic - and it worked.
 
Posts: 5413 | Location: Washington State | Registered: 21 September 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Brad Nelson:
[qb]4. "all peaceful alternatives being exhausted" with the sincerity of the negotiating parties. Hitler negotiated as a stalling tactic - and it worked.[/qb]


Well, yes, and sometimes what are called "peaceful alternatives" these days includes such things as economic embargoes and what not--some of which can be as violent as anything. The embargo on Iraq, for example, was intended to hurt the leadership and frustrate their ability to create "weapons of mass destruction." It seems the people have been hurt most, however, without damaging the leadership, nor the weapons production capability.

Another great test to the Just War Theory has been the issue of what to do when an aggressor is bullying another nation but hasn't waged war on yours. This was the predicament facing American moralists and politicians during the rise of Naziism and the outbreak of WWII. When we finally got involved, we were far behind, and millions of lives were lost because we didn't nip that one in the bud.

Same goes for the recent genocide in Bosnia. Miloshevic had no formal declaration of war on the U.S., but how could civilized nations stand by, quoting the Just War Theory, and do nothing?

But. . . how does one respond to these kinds of things without getting pushed into a "policeman for the world" role? One would hope that the U.N. could take more leadership in some of these areas.

All of which says to me that it's a messy world we live in and it's not always easy to determine what's the best response to evil situations. Even in the best of cases, where great care is taken to discern what needs to be done and to avoid hurting the innocent, mistakes will be made.

Phil
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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But. . . how does one respond to these kinds of things without getting pushed into a "policeman for the world" role? One would hope that the U.N. could take more leadership in some of these areas.

The U.N.? No. Impossible. Who votes for the U.N.? Who are they accountable to? Whatever they touch is a Viet Nam (and I have great respect for our soldier who took part in it) waiting to happen.

Yes, the most difficult thing is being the policeman for the world because any policeman will tell you that domestic disputes are among the most dangerous calls. I think we need a new approach to Bosnian- or Somalian-type conflicts. My policy for intervention into a third-party dispute would be to weigh the humanitarian and strategic concerns. If they rise to a high enough level then you sweep in, with all deliberate force, with the goal of installing a new, stable, democratic government. The U.N.'s only roll would be in cases that don't rise to this level - and even then we must take a serious look at how the U.N. goes about its business.
 
Posts: 5413 | Location: Washington State | Registered: 21 September 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Good topic and extremely difficult for a pacifist like me but hard as it is to accept I do think there are times when we have to act. I must agree with the position of the Catholic church on this and also with Phil when he reminds us that there are different ways of waging "war". War can be waged economically and psychologically as well as physically and I personally think the guidelines of the church should pertain in these instances as well.... or maybe it already does. Phil? Confused
The only point I have a little trouble with is the one legitimate authority mentioned in point 1. I am more comfortable if more than one legitimate authority authorizes action for the simple reason that it makes it less likely that war will be waged for the benefit of one nation and not for the benefit of the world as a whole. War is justified if it is to the betterment of the human condition as a whole - if by fighting, the world becomes a better place for all to live. It is hard to think of war as elevating/improving, but perhaps sometimes it does.
Take the war on terrorism we are currently engaged in. Terrorism is like a cancer - cancers cannot be allowed to grow but must be removed for the good of the organism ... the trick is to take only the cancer and leave the healthy tissue intact. The elimination of terrorism would certainly make this world a better place.
 
Posts: 278 | Location: Pennslyvania | Registered: 12 September 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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The time to confront evil is BEFORE war becomes necessary. From my point of view war represents a failure to genuinely pursue other methods of combatting the evil in the first place. Where was the world when Hitler first began to take over? Where was the world when things first began to go wrong in Afghanistan? And why do American statesmen seem to have such a dismal understanding of the Islamic psyche?
 
Posts: 12 | Location: Vermont | Registered: 12 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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The time to confront evil is BEFORE war becomes necessary. From my point of view war represents a failure to genuinely pursue other methods of combatting the evil in the first place.

Sometimes it might also represent a failure of those other methods to effectively combat the evil.

But you bring up an excellent point, which is that the most significant contribution Christianity ought to make is eliminating the factors that often seem to lead to war: poverty, injustice, lack of forgiveness, hopelessness, and so forth.

The problem is, as we all know, that even while this grassroots work goes on and finds expression in the realms of culture, economics, and politics, there are times when other groups/nations do seem intent on using violence to impose their boundaries, ideologies, or what not. And when they do not respond to reasonable efforts to negotiate alternative solutions, what is to be done? There's no uniform Christian response to this question, as noted above.

And why do American statesmen seem to have such a dismal understanding of the Islamic psyche?

Not sure what you mean by this one, Bonnie, but I do think we have a lot to learn about this. I've learned a lot during the past month, and it's not all consoling, that's for sure--especially concerning some of the more fundamentalistic parts of Islam. I find it especially frightening that rural Mullahs throughout the Moslem world are inciting their people to believe that the U.S. is not really at war with Bin Laden, but with Islam. To hear 18 year old Moslem boys say they're ready to join the jihad against the infidel U.S. and become a marytyr for Allah is pretty sickening. One would hope that stronger, more peaceful voices from within Islam itself could be educating those young ones about what's really going on.

Wanda, there are all sorts of writings about economic justice, just war theory, and international relations from the Vatican and councils of bishops during this past century. Most are articulating principles rather than addressing specific situations. They would certainly say that economic responses can sometimes do as much violence as military means, and ought to be evaluated in the same way: how they affect the innocent, and how it actually influences real change unto a better order of things.

Good discussion! Let's keep going with it.

Phil
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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"...the most significant contribution Christianity ought to make is eliminating the
factors that often seem to lead to war: poverty, injustice, lack of forgiveness, hopelessness, and so forth."

This is an excellent point and it is what we should be/have been doing but lately we seem to have been preoccupied fighting within ourselves... over some very good questions true but the debate has gotten rather nasty at times... at least in the Protestant denominations... my own included. Frowner

Maybe it is time for all Christians to put their differences aside and work together? Practice what we preach so to speak? Me included. Smiler

"And why do American statesmen seem to have such a dismal understanding of the Islamic psyche?"

This is just a thought, but maybe it is because statesmen talk to statesmen... and the people who seem to be causing the problems right now are not statesmen. Can a middle class American really understand the streetperson - where he's coming from - unless he actually gets to know him - talks to him and listens to what he has to say?
I don't understand the 18 year old Muslim who is looking for martyrdom but then I don't think I understand the gang member from the inner city either - or the kid that takes a gun to school and kills his classmates, or the middle class kid hooked on heroin. Sometimes, living in such a small world can be incredibly difficult... and painful.

Thanks Phil for the enlightenment on the position of the Catholic Church with regards to war. See - I learned something! Big Grin
 
Posts: 278 | Location: Pennslyvania | Registered: 12 September 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Evil is a reality that many Christians don't quite take seriously. They assume that people doing evil are doing so because they haven't had their basic needs met, or they're angry, misunderstood, oppressed, and what not. Those are problems that often do spawn violent movements, but let's not forget that the greatest evils in the 20th century were done in the name of secular ideologies. I'm talking about communism (20 - 30 million killed for resisting "conversion") and Naziism (6-8 million killed for being the wrong race or religion).

What Christians ought to do in the face of violent aggressors promoting a society largely incompatible with Christian values has always perplexed Christian moralists. Although I'm generally disposed to non-violent resistance in most situations, I think there are times when the most loving thing to do is to oppose a bully with physical force, and I believe in this present situation, the Taliban/Al Qaeda network is such a bully driven by an ideology which makes it darned near impossible to reason with them. To not resist them violently is to enable them to do evil again. What good is that?

Chris
 
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"What Christians ought to do in the face of violent aggressors promoting a society largely incompatible with Christian
values has always perplexed Christian moralists."

As Christians we do address these issues from a slightly different perspective than others simply because of who we are, but by addressing the terrorists from a good vs evil position we elevate their actions. As much as they would like to view this as such, this is not a holy war - a war of Muslims against Christians.
This has been called a war but it is not a war we are fighting, we are simply trying to apprehend a small group of thugs - of murderers and bring them to justice. To call them anything else gives them an importance and credibility and yes, a power they do not deserve.
What I do not understand is why people who could accept the necessity of using force to apprehend a person with an uzi standing in the middle of Times Square gunning people down have a problem with the idea of using force against men who hijack planes and fly them into buildings. Neither are "good" but both are necessary for the common good.

"To not resist them violently is to enable them to do evil again. What good is that?"

You are absolutely right here Chris! If a cancer is not removed, the body will die.
 
Posts: 278 | Location: Pennslyvania | Registered: 12 September 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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"To not resist them violently is to enable them to do evil again. What good is that?"

You are absolutely right here Chris! If a cancer is not removed, the body will die.


Good posts, Chris and Wanda!

A couple of days ago, I was given a "Prayer During Times of Terrorism" put out by Pax Christi, a Christian organization devoted to promoting nonviolent resoltion of conflicts. I might add that I myself am thoroughly predisposed to nonviolent resolutions, but recognize that violent responses are sometimes necessary.

What I'll share are parts of the prayer I took exception to, and the objections to these that I sent to our team, who sent them on to Pax Christi. The contents of my letter to the Heartland Team follow:

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The prayer starts off well and moves along with sentiments and petitions that any Christian ought to be able to assent to. And then we come to the statement:

"I believe that You are not present in any act of violence."

At this point, the prayer has ceased to be a prayer and has become a form of pedagogy, positing theological affirmations and launching into what seems to be a kind of credo of pacifism. From that sentence on, I was not praying, but feeling manipulated into giving assent to positions I wasn't necessarily in agreement with. I wasn't being asked to pray with the author, but to agree with the author's theological assumptions which, quite frankly, I don't agree with completely.

Let's take the statement about God not being present in any act of violence. Do we know that for sure? Here we have a universe that comes into being with a "Big Bang; solar systems are formed out of the debris of supernovas; volcanos, lightning, and storms helped bring forth the earliest life forms in the oceans; life form eats life form from the beginning of biological history. And all of this seems to be part of the way God works through nature to bring forth the creation.

Perhaps the author means that God is not present in any act of human violence? But how can a Christian say this and ignore the stories of David and Goliath, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, the many Hebrew wars fought supposedly in obedience to the divine, the Red Sea swallowing up the Egyptians, Jesus castigating the Jewish leaders, Jesus clearing the Temple, the inspiration given little Joan of Arc to lead an army in battle, etc.?

Whatever might be said about the priority of non-violence in Christianity, it cannot be said that it is THE absolute principle, nor that God cannot or does not work through violent means. Neither Scripture nor Tradition would agree with the author's position.

"I believe that all nations and religions are embraced by You."

Well, for sure, but if that's meant to imply that we're demonizing a nation or religion, I don't think it holds up.

"I believe that violence ignites greater violence and that in the long line of history our only lasting legacy is love."

It seems the author is once again saying that love cannot and does not ever work through violent means. I just can't go there, not even as a parent who has had to spank my kids on a few (very, very few) occasions. But even the statement about violence igniting greater violence is not completely true. Maybe for awhile it might be, but in the case of WWII and Korea, for example, the violence did come to an end, countries were rebuilt, Japan and Germany eventually became close friends of the U.S., South Korea became a peaceful and prosperous nation, and so forth. And in those examples, I say better that we were the victor than vice versa!

"I recommit myself to nonviolence as a witness of Your love."

Amen. But only to a point--at least for me--for I don't see non-violence as an absolute condition or precondition for the expression of love. In most cases it is, of course, but we cannot absolutize this.

Here's an ethical dilemna I was given years ago in a discussion group on moral issues:
A sniper is about to open fire on kids in a playground. He has bullet-proof clothing and is wearing an earmuff to shield himself from the sound of his shooting. You have only a few seconds to act; shouting will not help, nor is there time to run up and wrestle with him. Your have a gun and if you shoot him in the head and kill him, the violence to the children will not happen. What do you do?

See? The loving thing to do isn't always the non-violent one. Sometimes it seems to be a choice between the lessor of two evils. It doesn't matter if you're a sinner or not in such a situation; you don't have to be perfect. Saving the children is the greater good and you're the one who can do it.

Life is messy, but in the end, God's reign shall prevail. I'm sure we can all say Amen to that!

(End of my letter)

Comments? Discussion?

Phil
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Phil, I thought your post-mortem of the prayer was quite brilliant. Would you say something once in a while that I can disagree with? Wink

The tone of the prayer sounds much like the ramblings of the various peace protesters and WTO (in Seattle) demonstrators and anarchists. I'm a bit curious as to the common ideology in all this. You can hear much the same crap from many Buddhists. The sniper scenerio is not just a mind game. Things like this face us all the time and the mantra of "just love and live in peace," while it may sound unassailable, is quite useless and even harmful when dealing with real world situations.

A new tenet of "PC" seems to be evolving and I think it's an outcrop of the way white males can be mercilessly made fun of, but no others. (There was a mention on a TV show just now about someone exposing white supremists. Now imagine them doing the same thing but exposing black bigots.) Now western cultures (and in particular America) can do no right and even if attacked the undertone is that it's somehow our fault.

Basically when I hear people spouting "violence begets violence" to the total exclusion of any other course of action then I'm suspicious of the thinking behind it.

I think a more appropriate prayer would be:

"Lord, protect us from those who would do us evil and give our leaders the wisdom and strength to bring about a lasting peace and to protect the innocent."
 
Posts: 5413 | Location: Washington State | Registered: 21 September 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Nice job on that Pax Christi "prayer," Phil! I was actually once a member of the group in my younger day, but found the same problem you're highlighting--the presumption that nonviolence is some kind of moral absolute. It's not. In Christianity, the only moral absolute is love, and the loving thing to do is sometimes violent.

I fully support a just-war position, but recognize that governments often "jump the gun" (to use a crude analogy) with it to justify their actions and seek the blessings of the Church. Violence as a "last resort" truly means that all other avenues have been tried, found wanting, and the greater good requires you to proceed now with violence. It's hard to say in the present circumstance if all of the just war criteria have been met. OTOH, it's hard to imagine anything but violence rooting out Binny and his boys. People who fly commercial airlines jets into office buildings don't seem like the type you can reason with--nor can you let them run loose.

Chris
 
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What can I say, but I agree with you all. Sometimes violence must be done to insure the greater good. If Bin Laden were not stopped - if we did nothing does anyone really think he would simply go away and not continue his attacks? Would Hitler have stopped on his own? If the Red Sea had not swallowed up the Egyptians would God's people have been saved? Sometimes the price of peace is dear but in the end well worth the cost.
One other thought - if we say that God is not present in any act of human violence can we say that God was present at the cross? Violence forgiven but violence never the less - violence allowed and violence accepted for the greater good.
 
Posts: 278 | Location: Pennslyvania | Registered: 12 September 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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"Lord, protect us from those who would do us evil and give our leaders the wisdom and strength to bring about a lasting peace and to protect the innocent."

Amen!
 
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