Friday, 6 October 2006

Ten propositions on peace and war

by Kim Fabricius

1. God is the God of peace. The Father, as the “source of good” (fons bonorum), is the source of peace; the Son, of course, is the Prince of Peace; and the Spirit, as the “bond of love” (vinculum caritatis) between the Father and the Son, is the Spirit of peace. To re-phrase 1 John 1:5: God is non-violent, and in him there is no violence at all.

2. Is this a tendentious use of scripture? Not at all. Christian theology is Trinitarian precisely because it is Christocentric – and it is incontestable that “God is Christ-like, and in him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all” (John V. Taylor). Jesus preached and practiced non-violence – no ifs, ands, or buts. And Jesus is the imago Dei.

3. And the “awkward” New Testament texts? The “sword” in Matthew 10:34 is clearly a metaphor for the conflict that the mission of Jesus provoked; while the “sword” in Luke 22:36 is “grimly ironical” (I. H. Marshall). As for the Cleansing of the Temple, it is hardly a political manifesto but rather an enacted parable (“street theatre,” it’s been called) in the venerable tradition of prophetic symbolism. And Romans 13:1-5? How ironic that just these verses “were taken up by the Christian martyrs of the second century as an integral part of their declarations of loyalty at the moment of execution” (Neil Elliott). Presumably it had not escaped their attention that Romans 13:1-5 happens to be preceded by Romans 12:14-21. There is no support whatsoever in Paul’s letters for Christians engaging in violence. And in the rest of the New Testament, including Revelation, military imagery is deconstructed and deployed in the service of peace: the Lion of Judah goes “Baa!” (Revelation 5:5-6).

4. And the Lord of Hosts of the Old Testament? An ironic counter-question: the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites? More to the point, “the New Testament vision trumps the Old Testament. Just as the New Testament texts render judgments superseding the Old Testament requirements of circumcision and dietary laws, … so also Jesus’ explicit teaching and example of non-violence reshapes our understanding of God and of the covenant community in such a way that killing enemies is no longer a justifiable option” (Richard B. Hays). If angelic armies once bore weapons and cried, “Over the top!”, now they play (mouth) organs and sing, “We shall overcome!”

5. Of course the church has honoured the Sermon on the Mount more in the breach than the observance. They are “counsels” rather than commands (consilia evangelica – the medieval church), or they are inapplicable in the secular realm (Luther), or they are an “interim ethic” (Albert Schweitzer), or they are an impossible ideal (Reinhold Niebuhr, who, by the way, conceded that “the ethic of Jesus is uncompromisingly pacifist”). But although, say, Matthew 5:38-48 is illustrative rather than exhaustive, it is clearly meant to be followed by the entire Christian community – and followed to the letter. But, more, it is spoken to the world – Christian morality is never sectarian – as Matthew 28:20 makes absolutely clear. Observe too the placement of the sixth and final antithesis regarding the love of enemies – it is the radicalisation of the first and the climax of the lot. Declared from a height, it is the Everest of ethics.

6. And so-called Just War theory? It is the Trojan horse in the city of God. If ever there was a knockdown incrimination against natural theology this is it. Its origins lie in Stoicism, the pinnacle of philosophy in the Pax Romana – which, of course, is spin for “imperial terror.” Augustine (who, in fact, was less than satisfied with the implications of his own teaching) acted in haste – and ever since the church has been repenting at leisure. Just War theory is the elephant in the confessional, the bad faith of the church. Its intentions are no doubt good – but then we all know what hell is paved with.

7. And even if there were once a time when a case could be made for the plausibility of Just War theory, that day is long gone. WMD, and the impossibility of meeting the “justice in war” (jus in bello) criteria of proportionality and discrimination, have ensured that only casuistry can save it. And Bush’s so-called “war on terror” has all but discredited casuistry – by the contempt for international treaties and conventions, by the displacement of the more precise principle of pre-emptive strike in response to an immediate threat with the vaguer principle of preventative warfare, and by the repugnant justification of the torture of prisoners. Just War theory is now a busted flush. Even Eberhard Jüngel – and pre-Iraq – says that “the question forces itself inexorably on the church, whether the time has not come in which Christians can only be credible witnesses to Jesus Christ as conscientious objectors.”

8. Time to return to our roots. For its first two hundred-plus years the church was pacifist. “Christ,” wrote Tertullian (c.160-c.225), “in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier” – and Tertullian’s words are echoed by Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius, Maximillian, Marcellus, et al. Some scholars suggest that early Christian pacifism had more to do with the prohibition of taking oaths to the emperor than with the non-violence of Jesus, but given the weight of patristic evidence, not to mention the centrality of Christ’s command to love our enemies, that hardly seems likely. In any case, pacifist – radically pacifist – the church was until (you guessed it!) the “nationalisation” and domestication of the church under Constantine. Ever since, mainline churches – Just War theory notwithstanding – have consistently given their blessing to wars fought by the empire or nation in which they resided.

9. Time to return to our roots – and to heed the faithful witness of the historic peace churches (like the Waldensians, the Anabaptists, and the Quakers). Karl Barth was right when he said that pacifism “has almost infinite arguments in its favour and is almost overpoweringly strong.” And it should be remembered that while Barth allowed for war – non-nuclear war – in exceptional, borderline, limiting cases (the German is Grenzfall), Barth’s critique of war is devastating and unique in the history of Protestant political thought. With Barth, the possibility of engaging in war hangs by a thread – and if you want to see even that thread cut, check out John H. Yoder, Karl Barth and the Problem of War (1970). I am a mere monkey: Yoder is the organ-grinder. Even Stanley Hauerwas – as he would fully agree – is not fit to untie Yoder’s Hushpuppies.

10. “But pacifism is so impractical!” – as if Christian ethics were utilitarian! “Get real! We live in a sinful world!” – as if the “damage limitation” of Just War theory, precisely given our sinful world, were realistic! “For the Christian, a realistic apprehension of the world does not consist in factual survey and surmise, but in an evaluative reading of its signs as clues to ultimate meanings and causes” (John Milbank), a reading framed by the Christian narrative, by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In any case, it is not as if the whole church has tried pacifism and found it wanting; the fact is that the whole church has not tried pacifism at all. But let Hauerwas have the last word (if he were my co-writer, he’d take it anyway!). “Nonviolence,” he states, “is not one among other behavioral implications that can be drawn from the gospel but is integral to the shape of Christian convictions…. Indeed, nonviolence is not just one implication among others that can be drawn from our Christian beliefs; it is at the very heart of our understanding of God.” And, pulling no punches: “If we do not think it possible to love our enemies then we should plainly say Jesus is not the Messiah.” But he is! Therefore because we may love our enemies, we must love our enemies.


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