Valley of the Shadow of Death

Valley of the Shadow of Death is a photograph by Roger Fenton, taken on April 23, 1855, during the Crimean War. It is one of the most well-known images of war.

Fenton observed, “in coming to a ravine called the valley of death, the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them.”

Why did Jesus tell the disciples to buy swords?

Everytime there is a mass shooting in America and a cry goes out for gun law reform, I invariably hear someone citing Jesus’ instruction to buy swords in Luke 22:35-38 as justification for violent self defence and legislative inaction. Interpreting it as such is problematic though.

Consider: what did Jesus say the two swords were “enough” for? Clearly the two swords were nowhere near “enough” to arm all eleven disciples. It’s doubtful the two swords would have been “enough” to defend Jesus against a “crowd” either, particularly one that included professional “officers of the Temple guard”. Two swords were however “enough” to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12 according to Jesus in Luke 22:37.

That Jesus was probably thinking more in terms of prophetic fulfillment than self defence is underscored by the fact that, when Peter did try to defend Jesus with a sword, he was commanded by Jesus to put the sword away.

 

Why war fails as a solution for terrorism

War_is_terrorism_with_a_bigger_budgetHoward Zinn on terrorism: “If a bomb is deliberately dropped on a house or a vehicle on the grounds that a ‘suspected terrorist’ is inside . . . , the resulting deaths of women and children may not be intentional. But neither are they accidental. The proper description is “inevitable.” So if an action will inevitably kill innocent people, it is as immoral as a deliberate attack on civilians. And when you consider that the number of innocent people dying inevitably in ‘accidental’ events has been far, far greater than all the deaths deliberately caused by terrorists, one must reject war as a solution for terrorism.”

Thinking Critically About Military Service

st-martin-soldier-of-christ
Saint Martin

I would like to draw your attention to a series of articles by Logan Mehl-Laituri, aimed at helping the Christian movement thinking more critically about faith and service in the days surrounding Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is an official United States holiday (coinciding with Remembrance Day) that honors people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Logan himself is a US veteran and author whom I met though his peacemaking efforts as founder of Centurion’s Guild. Logan has been at the forefront of campaigns to legalise selective concienscious objection for US Military personel.
Through Centurions Guild, Logan ran a 10 day blog series from All Saints till Veterans Day, each day featuring a soldier saint. Even where Logan’s views do not entirely coincide with my own I find him extremely thought provoking and I’m sure you will too. As a peacemaker who has actively served in wartime, his words come with an authenticity and immediacy that few can match. He’s the soldier saint I have learned to listen to. Here are the links to the articles:

Would you kill anyone for your religion?

“Suppose we apply an empirical test to the question of absolutism. Absolute is itself a vague term, but in the religion-and-violence arguments, it appears to indicate the tendency to take something so seriously that violence results. An empirically testable definition of absolute, then, might be “that for which one is willing to kill.” This test has the advantage of covering behavior and not simply what one claims to believe. Now, let us ask the following two questions: what percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians would be willing to kill for their Christian faith? What percentage would be willing to kill for their country? Whether we attempt to answer these questions by survey or by observing American Christians’ behavior in wartime, it seems clear that, at least among American Christians, the nation-state—Hobbes’s “mortal god”—is subject to far more absolutist fervor than religion. For most American Christians, even public evangelization is considered to be in poor taste, and yet most would take for granted the necessity of being willing to kill for their country, should circumstances dictate.” (William T Cavanaugh – The Myth of Religious Violence)

Wahhabism: A Concern for both Christians and Muslims

I recently commented to some Muslims that it “sounds like the Wahhabis are a thorn in the side of Islam the same way Westboro Batpist and other hate movements are a thorn in the side of Christianity.”

One replied, “Imagine what it would be like if Westboro had several trillion dollars worth of oil, their own publishing houses, and a military. And they started exporting their hate via undermining traditional scholarship, able to buy the press, started funding churches all over the world and started calling themselves ‘authentic’ Christianity. Imagine if they could buy their way into independent churches by subsidising the pastor, building little copies of them all over the world, started their own TV shows, and a free university churning out thousands of missionaries a year to spread their version of Jesus’s (a.s.) teachings. Imagine if they started importing poor youth from Third World countries and disenfranchised youth from richer nations, and paid them to study their syllabus, and then gave them money to go back wealthy and preach.”

“There would be extreme fire and brimstone pastors by the dozen, and more ‘moderates’ who preach about love and compassion, but slowly undermine the established order by slipping in ideas that seem reasonable but actually contradict the Gospels. And imagine of they change the dialogue and created a dichotomy such that any non-Christian is automatically an infidel, and anything to do with them is suspicious. And if anybody called them out, it would be discrimination.”

“Imagine if they could fund proxy wars all over the Christian world to create the chaos they needed to kill the opposing clergy and pastors, and church leaders by funding militants. And then funding ‘peacekeepers’ to stop those militants.”

“Now imagine it has been going on since the early 1900s. That is what Wahhabism is to Islam.”

Limits to war in the Old Testament

“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace … This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.” (Deuteronomy 20:10-16)

The wars of Israel in the Old Testament are difficult to reconcile with the nonviolence of Jesus, there is no doubt about that. But an honest reading requires we observe that, even so, scripture recounts YHWH commanding Israel to place territorial limits on the cherem, the wars of destruction. However brutal it sounds to modern ears, Moses made clear that the cherem was limited to cities (that is, the cherem exluded the peasant class who stood apart from the military class) and limited it to the land of Caanan (that is, the cherem excluded Pagan cities beyond Palastine). So whatever else we may say, as Christians or non-Christians, we must reject the claim that the Old Testament provides a universal mandate for genocide. It is clear then, that if Christians were ever to justify such brutality in different wars in different lands, they go beyond scripture, Old Testament as well as New Testament.

 

The Co-Existence of Violence and Non-Violence in Hinduism

I have a huge amount of respect for Ghandi, and I imagine many of you reading this have too. But as I have come to understand Hinduism in more depth I have come to realise that Ghandi was not, and is not, universally representative of Hindu ethics.

There is an ethical spectrum in Hinduism that is not dissimilar from other religions.

This is something noted up front by Anantanand Rambachan in “The Co-Existence of Violence and Non-Violence in Hinduism,” an essay on religion and politics in India. Moreover, he notes, “The Mahabharata war is referred to, in the Bhagavadgita, as a dharma yuddha. A dharma yuddha is a war fought in defence of justice and righteousness and for the security and well being of the community (lokasamgraha).”

So it is clear that, not only can Hindus claim scriptural justification for violence under certain circumstances, but they have their own equivalent to the just war concept. I wouldn’t be surprised if this raises some questions for some of you.