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.

 

How can one death make any difference?

Behold the lamb of god by Elandain
“Behold the lamb of god” by Elandain

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

When we consider the blood spilled every day in the wars that rage across the surface of the earth, it is difficult to comprehend how one more death can make a difference. But what about a death that uses death against itself?

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:

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.

War is Peace … at least for this artist

Grant DiCianni

Would you believe the title for this image is “Blessed are the Peacemakers”?

The artist, Grant DiCianni, was most miffed when it was removed from an Air Force dining hall because it violated military standards.

Shock, horror! Really!!!?

According to this source, DiCianni said the painting is promoting the idea of integrity in the service of peace.

O yeah, crusaders are all about peace. What is war again?

It would seem the soldiers that complained had more integrity than the artist.

Visually Exploring the Warriors of the Old Testament

David told of the death of absolom

You may have observed that I have started building a new Christian art gallery here at Curious Christian, focussing on the Warriors of the Bible, especially from the Judges and Kings period.

You will find it in my sidebar to the right. Just look for Christian Art | Warriors or click here.

Now you may wonder why I, as an Anabaptist, am drawing attention to art from around the world inspired by this part of scripture, focussed as it is on holy war. Isn’t holy war problematic for pacifist Christians? Well, yes. But no less than for just war Christians, if you care to think it through.

What you can expect though, is for me to look at the warriors of the Old Testament through a Jesus lens. And guess what? The pictures the Bible paints of these warriors isn’t always pretty. If you are looking for visual theology that glorifies war and warrior kings, maybe you need to look somewhere else. For even David, the shining star of this period, fell.

War and Peace: Six Different Responses

 

It is unfortunate that, when Christian leaders discuss peacemaking versus warmaking at all, they often limit the discussion to comparing Just War doctrine with an ill defined Pacifism as if it were a simple choise between these two options. This is too simplistic by far.  Consider these six alternatives for instance:

Total War – War in which the contenders mobilize all of their civilian and military resources in order to obtain a complete victory. It is a very pragmatic approach in which the ends (national victory) justifies the means (nukes, collateral damage, torture, whatever) and the ends are never seriously theologically or ethically questioned. Loyality is everything, surrender is unthinkable.

Holy War – War that is declared or fought for a religious or high moral purpose, as to extend or defend a religion. For example, a “crusade” or “jihad”. In this context surrender is considered, not only treasonous, but heretical. Holy wars may be executed in pragmatic or less pragmatic liturgical fashion but either way they are generally initiated by a religious leader, such as a prophet or pope. This is a type of war often featured in the Old Testament, but not always.

Just War – War that is declared and fought within ethically proscribed limits. For example it is commonly said there must be just cause, competent authority, comparative justice, right intention, last resort, proportionality and probability for success for a war to be called just. Taken seriously it implies that, in war, there are things worse than surrender. Just war doctrine originates from Cicero and entered Christian tradition via Augustine and Aquinas. One implication of just war doctrine is selective conscientious objection.

Apocalyptic Pacifism – Warmaking can never lead to the Kingdom of God. Whatever God commanded in Old Testament days, it is clear that God’s command in these last days is to follow Christ in the way of the cross. Disciples should not take revenge but leave room for God’s judgement, since God alone is just. Our focus, in light of the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, should be on active peacemaking and nonviolent witness. This view emphasises the difference between old and new covenants as a movement towards climax.

Universalist Pacifism – War is never justified and has never been justified. God is no warrior and this is a timeless truth. This view stands in significant tension with the wars of YHWH in the Old Testament, often necessitating a rejection of inerrancy by the Christians who hold it. Debates over the meaning of the Old Testament commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, are most common in relation to this tradition. Many of the “spiritual but not religious” gravitate towards this position as well.

Isolationistic Pacifism – A rejection of war that involves “passive withdrawal” rather than “nonviolent activism”. For example, the exemption from military service granted to priests and monks who do not otherwise challenge the Christendom status quo. It’s this approach that most often leads to the confusion of pacifism with passivism.

Contrary to popular belief, my experience is that most Christians would be more accurately identified as Total War Christians and that Just War Christianity, properly understood, is almost as uncommon as pacifism. But even within pacifist circles there are a variety of approaches, showing the folly of speaking of pacifism generically. For the record, I seek to live a life consistent with Apocalyptic Pacifism, as that’s the path I find most consistent with scripture. I’m not sure where you see yourself or how you interpret scripture but I hope this stimulates your thinking.

Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience

reborn-on-the-fourth-of-julyWhen ranking a book I look for three things. Was it thoughtful? Was it readable? Did it leave me different afterwards? Having just devoured “ReBorn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience” by Logan Mehl-Laituri, I’m giving it 5 stars. I just couldn’t put it down and even now I’m finished I’m still working though the personal implications.

Logan described his book as a confession, but I’m wondering who’s it was because I found God searching me as I read it. Some sections left me feeling awfully superficial. But in a good way, because as Logan himself says, “the Spirit convicts as well as renews” and the Spirit was definitely at work in this self exposure.

ReBorn on the Fourth of July is an amazing story, it’s completely beyond my own experience, but at the same time Logan strikes me as a very ordinary, accessible guy. You won’t find pat answers here, what you’ll find are challenges for both patriots and pacifists. On that basis, I’d recommend it for both. Especially for those like Logan, who find themselves walking between both worlds.

Why the peace movement needs to shift focus, and fast

Peace-dove Traditionally the peace movement has focussed on holding states to account for their injustices through tactics that rob them of their moral authority and social support. Think Ghandi. Think Martin Luther King. This tradition is outdated. Here’s why:

The rise of non-state actors

The first reason traditional pacifism is outdated is this, we are no longer dealing exclusively with states. Increasingly the actors in war include terrorist networks, insurgent movements and technologically empowered individuals. This has been variously labelled as the rise of asymmetric war, the globalization of civil war and the fourth generation of war. Many forcasters are in fact seeing this as the future of war in a globalized, technologized society.

I remember the moment I realized that peace efforts aimed at preventing pre-emptive war in Iraq were doomed to failure. It was the moment I realized that we had no positive agenda for dealing with terrorists. We only had a plan for state actors. We had no plan for countering the violence of violent non-state actors. This doctrinal vacuum made it easy for states to demonize pacifists as terrorist sympathizers. In the years since not much has changed. If peace movement wishes to be relevant for a wired world it needs to adapt. It needs to make this demonization more difficult. It needs to develop counter-terrorist de-escalation capability. It needs to challenge violence in all its forms.

The rise of non-enlisted warriors

The second reason traditional pacifism is outdated is this, we are no longer dealing exclusively with professional soldiers. Concurrent with the rise of non-state actors has been the rise of non-enlisted warriors, of military contractors (aka mercenaries), child soldiers and territorial warlords who lack the soldier ethos. These are people who fight for reasons other than national defence and national pride, who may be utterly uninterested in issues of moral authority, who may be immune to shaming via media exposure, who may be fighting for profit or mere survival. This again points to the need for new tactics.

The rise of non-human soldiers

Beyond the rise of non-enlisted warriors, we are also facing the rise of the machines. Military robotics is spreading like wildfire with technology transfers to police forces and even Hezbollah well underway. How can nonviolent activists appeal to the humanity of soldiers when they are no longer human? This is an even more serious challenge, but we need to catch up and fast.

Non-lethal weapons

Finally we also need to come to grips with the emergence of non-lethal weapons. Ironically, their very non-lethality makes soldiers less hesitant to use them. In fact, there have already been instances of police using military grade sonic weapons on civilian protestors as a form of crowd dispersal. Conversely, protestors are already working on neutralization technologies. But I’m nervous about this. Is it wise to enter into a defacto non-lethal arms race? Have we thought where this could be taking us?

So basically we need a new pacifism. Hopefully this has provoked some reflection. Particularly amongst peace churches and pacifist Christians. But hey, I think there are issues here for just war Christians as well. Maybe you have some answers? Maybe you have better questions?

Related Articles on War and Peace

Military Robots and War Ethics
The New Pacifism
First protest against predator drones at CIA