23 October 2006

I was doing a little metacognition (there's another fun word) and I came to the slightly pretentious realization on how I develop thoughts and ideas...I prototype. The last post and subsequent comment thread is a good example. Prototyping is a very common method of development (if not exactly the best one) used in software design, for example. What I tend to do is start with broadly, weakly supported assertions that may or may not be quite correct and sort of hone them in subsequent passes. Instead of trying to do it in a modular sense (honing each piece into completion and then synthesizing all items together as a full and complete package) I start with a rough exposition of my thoughts, warts and all, and work from there. And yes...this is all just a long-winded way of excusing any intellectual inaccuracies or fallacies contained in my last post and subsequent comments.

So who's up for a jumbled collection of thoughts on pacifism? You are? I thought as much! And a few caveats...for those of other faiths or of agnostic/atheistic persuasions, bear in mind that these arguments are not intended to be relevant to you necessarily, but they are concerned primarily with Christianity and pacifism.

St. Peter's Sword
Jesus's rebuke to Peter in John 18:11 is often used as an argument for pacifism. Bearing in mind the context, what is more likely Christ's motivation in this rebuke? That Peter was to meter out violence in defence of others, or that Peter was trying to intervene in the fate that God had chosen for His Son? Examine the two things he said. He asks Peter if he should refuse the cup the Father chose for him; he knew that resisting was futile and counterproductive. He instructs Peter, "put up thy sword into the sheath". He never tells him to cast it aside. He tells him to return it to its proper place: in its sheath, hanging at his side, ready to be used if truly needed. In Matthew 26:52 Jesus says "put up again thy sword into his place", which indicates that it was properly carried at his side, and the sword belonged on Peter's belt. Peter was a civilian, not a soldier or centurion. It is notable that Jesus had walked with Peter for three years, and had never admonished him to cast aside his weapon.

Swords as a Defensive Weapon?
There is often the implication that swords differ from handguns in that they can be "defensive" where handguns are purely "offensive". This is perpetuated by the concept of parrying and blocking which is possible with swords and similar weapons. However, it is fundamentally flawed. Handguns are defensive in that they can deter hostile action, or force it to cease when it occurs. Additionally, swords are naturally offensive...they would not require edges or points if they were purely designed for parrying the blows of an opponent.

The Sword as Symbolism
Throughout the Bible the sword is used in symbolism, typically to refer to the Word of God. If warfare and violence, for which the sword was designed, is inherently and consummately evil, then why would God choose a tool of evil to represent something so holy? Why would the sword be holy in a symbolic or spiritual sense, but be evil in its physical manifestation? This is a similar argument to those who see wine as inherently evil; God doesn't choose things he hates to symbolize things of purity and holiness. The sword was chosen because during that age it was the predominant sidearm. If Christ had come and the Bible had been written in modern times, would God have symbolized His Word with a Smith and Wesson revolver? I know it is abjectly unpoetic and distasteful to think about, but at the time swords were the cutting edge (seriously, no pun intended, believe me!) of weapons technology. Would Christ have told Peter to "put up again your Springfield 1911 into its holster"?

Weapons of Our Warfare - II Corinthians 10:3
As Paul states, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual. This is to say, that we as Christians do not win the war of the kingdom with Crusades, jihad, forced conversions, or genocide, but through spiritual warfare: through prayer and ministry of the Word. But to say that this makes the presence of "carnal weapons" wrong lacks something...just as Jesus and Paul spoke of spiritual bread, meat, wine, and milk, we still require physical food. The physical food we eat is a part of our simple daily life, and has no real importance to our eternal souls, but it is not sinful. Our use of physical food keeps our bodies (for which we are stewards) alive, just as the carrying of physical weapons likewise is intended to keep our bodies (and those of others) alive. Do we win souls and advance the Kingdom with them, or tear down strongholds of the Enemy with them? No...and Paul's point here is very important, because there was a lot of misunderstanding about this in the Middle Ages, in particular, by people who thought they were doing God's work by waging war with the Mohammedans in Palestine. Islam continues with this concept (embodied in "jihad") to this day.

Sell Your Shirt and Buy a Sword!
In a passage (Luke 22:36-38) that I've often read over without a second thought, Jesus speaks to his disciples before his crucifixion, and admonishes those who do not have swords to do what they need to do (including selling the shirt off their back!) to buy a sword. The Greek word used here for sword (maxairan) references a contemporary Jewish short sword or dagger used for defence against robbers and wild animals. Because this passage surprised me so much when I read it, I went to a number of commentaries to see what people had said of it in the past. To my surprise, the few that did not skip conveniently over this text all seemed to dismiss it as symbolic and non-literal, without giving any clear reason why or what he actually did mean, seemingly because the commentators could not believe or accept what Jesus said at face value. It reminds me of the classic Monty Python line about the misheard "blessed are the cheesemakers" at the Sermon on the Mount: "obviously it isn't meant to be taken literally, it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products." A plain reading of the text, on the other hand, shows Jesus clearly telling his disciples to arm themselves. If Jesus did not want his disciples to do so, why would he have used such confusing and apparently literal language?

Spiritual Warfare
All will readily agree that God engages in spiritual warfare; he is not a "pacifist" in the spiritual realm. In that the physical reality is a reflection of the spiritual reality, would God see engaging in battle as inherently sinful in this world but inherently righteous in the spiritual realm? It is worth bearing in mind that the spiritual realm is not, as we sometimes imagine it, "less real" and more symbolic, as if the term spiritual warfare was just a conceptual model for the struggle between God and Satan; the spiritual realm is eternal, and thus "more real" than the temporal physical realm.

Faith and Pacifism
A frequent argument for pacifism is that arming oneself for protection is to be lacking in faith in God's protection. We are to have faith for much more than just protection from evil men; "our daily bread" is just one other example. How many of us have refrigerators and pantries full of food, instead of waiting every day for God to mystically provide for us and making no provision for our nourishment? Is this a lack of faith? Most of us apply for jobs to earn money to take care of ourselves, and we plan for the future, setting money aside for our children's education, and other types of preparation. Would the God who gave the Book of Proverbs to Solomon find this planning wise or foolish? Is faith wise or foolish? God grants us stewardship of our lives, our bodies, the things we possess, and he trusts us to do his will with what he has given us. A sidearm is simply a tool used to preserve our bodies, just as physical food is, and we realize that we require no less faith for our protection when we go armed than when we are unarmed, because either way, our lives are still in his hands. An excellent article on this subject is posted on the Ethics/Religion section of http://www.corneredcat.com .

The Centurion
Jesus, upon meeting the Centurion in Matthew 8, never exhorted him to lay aside his weapons, but rather praised his faith. The man's very identity was embodied in his skill to do violence and lead his men in war; if such things were inherently sinful, would Jesus not have addressed it? Similarly this brings up the very practical and contemporary issue of police officers. Does a man who straps a Glock 22 every morning, trained and ready to use it to defend his life and the lives of others, violate God's law? Can a Christian be a policeman in good conscience? Or are these people "necessary evils" that we honor greatly because they do a work of evil that keeps us safe so we don't have to? If we stop and examine it, instead of conveniently ignoring it, is the work of a policeman, who is trained and willing to use lethal force if need be, sinful? Most would say no...and the delineation between policemen and civilians becomes markedly blurred when we think of off-duty cops, retired cops, ex-volunteer cops, EMTs and other first responders, and highly trained and certified civilians. Where do we draw the line? Is the use of lethal force sinful across the board, or in some contexts, or does it depend on who executes it? This all becomes very arbitrary and pointless to debate, but it illustrates that it is unfortunately not quite as simple as "Christians should never kill anyone".

David and Goliath
A very interesting case, in that it is used frequently as a testament of David's great faith in God, that God fought for him. But David did not take the pacifist role of inaction, waiting for God to smite Goliath before his eyes without lifting a finger. God had sent the bears and lions to him with his flock probably in order that God could teach his "hands to war" and "fingers to fight". Thus when David picked up his sling and carefully selected 5 stones (which could be considered equivalent to picking up a S&W J-frame and 5 rounds of carefully selected JHP), it was a tremendously deadly weapon due to his God-given skill in wielding it.

Many pacifists will point to non-violent martyrs as examples of the righteousness of pacifism, and it is certainly a good point. You could take as an example Jim Elliott and his party that were martyred by Aucas. But the problem is that you can't take the moral decision from that instance and apply it as easily to another situation. If a hostage rescue sniper is sitting on a rooftop with the reticle of his scope trained on a hostage taker's cranio-ocular cavity, he may be forced into a decision; if the hostage taker, who for the sake of an example is holding a revolver up against the head of a pregnant woman, pulls the hammer back on his revolver to shoot, the marksman is faced with a choice. He has sufficient training and experience to take out the criminal and save the woman's life. If he fails to do so, he will watch an innocent expectant mother be brutally murdered for no reason. What is the Christian decision here? This is a genuine question, and I can't claim to know the answer. In Ecclesiastes 3:3, the Preacher says there is "a time to kill". It seems that pacifism says, "no there jolly well isn't!".

Selflessness and Selfishness
There is a distinct difference one can note between selfish violence and selfless violence. The men who comprised the front rank of a Greek phalanx (a square formation of spearmen) knew they had almost no chance of survival going into battle, even if their side won decisively. A policeman walking into a "shots fired" situation or a SWAT team member taking point on entry into a hostage rescue assault are not acting in their personal interests, but they are exhibiting a good degree of selflessness. Selfishness and selflessness can be defined pretty broadly, so this is not a moral rule of any sort, but it is important not to conglomerate all acts of violence, both the selfish and evil, and the selfless and noble, as the same thing.

Paternal Instinct
A father's instinctive reaction to physical harm threatened against his young son or daughter, that is either sin nature or God's nature. The Bible speaks repeatedly of God's dedication to destroying those that harm his children, which leads me to believe the latter. A protective instinct is natural, but are all natural natures sinful? There is a natural nature of selfishness and greed which is sinful, but just as love for children is both present in physical nature and in God's nature, the protective instinct can be present in both natures as well.

Assorted References
Psalms 144:1 "Blessed be the LORD my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:"

Judges 3:16 "But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh."

Luke 11:21 "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace:"

Song of Solomon 3:7-8 "Behold, it is Solomon's carriage! Sixty mighty men are around it, of the mighty men of Israel. They all handle the sword, and are expert in war. Every man has his sword on his thigh, because of fear in the night."

Genesis 3:24 (First Mention) "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."

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