Monday 1 March 2010

The trouble with ANZAC day

Today I had my first class of the year – a first-year introduction to systematic theology. We kicked off with the Apostles’ Creed, an African version of the creed, and the Barmen Declaration. When we were looking at the class schedule, one of the students observed that the Week 7 lecture on the Holy Spirit would have to be cancelled, since it falls on the ANZAC Day holiday. (ANZAC Day is one of Australia’s most popular public holidays, commemorating the nation’s military history – it’s undoubtedly Australia’s most authentically “religious” holiday: people gather at dawn for quasi-religious military services of remembrance.)

I replied that it’s entirely fitting that the Holy Spirit should be displaced by ANZAC Day.


Anonymous said...

The class would actually fall the day after ANZAC Day (which is the Sunday not the Monday) and so would likely displace many fewer 'quasi-religious military services' than you may imagine, perhaps none at all. Could this be a case of the very disengaged (and easy) irony you protest so strongly about in your previous post?

Mike E

phil_style said...

"commemorating the nation’s military history "

Don't you mean "commemorating two nations' cooperative military history" ?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Pstyle, I can see why you'd think Australians might also remember New Zealand on ANZAC Day. I hate to be the one to disappoint you, but the commemorations are pretty narcissistic on this side of the Tasman...

Mike W said...

i always remember ANZAC day as a sombre remembrance of the shittyness of war, despising the british and to remember those who saw the worst of it. I dont remember any veteran talking up war. I wonder if the more militaristic and nationalistic fervour comes from there being less and less broken veteran lives around

Matthew Humphries Cardiff. UK said...

In grateful remembrance of all ANZACS who came to our aid in 2 world wars, especially those who did not return home.

Emerson said...

Hey Ben,

ANZAC could find a fitting place in a good introduction to pneumatology:

"When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin..." (John 16:8a)

Jim said...

ive never heard of anzac day. but i feel confident that it includes copious drinking. am i right?

Paul Tyson said...

Being a bit older than you Ben, it has (horrifyingly) fascinated me how ANZAC day has made a serious resurgence in the last 15 years as a religious occasion. When I was going to primary school in the early 1970s the trappings of a colonial and militaristic civic cultus were somewhat embarrassingly imposed upon us. A softened mutation of the 60s peace movement had more or less gone mainstream by this stage, and education departments around the country were the key promoters of a kind of anti-colonial progressive humanism. This ‘soft left’ ideological bent was as opposed to religion as war, was embarrassed about the horrors of our appropriation of terra nullius from our indigenous populations, was into (liberal and scientific) sex education in a big way, had just shaken off the death penalty and was finally coming free of the White Australia policy. It saw ‘Australian irreverence’, and an openness to the ‘other’ (postwar migrants and refugees) as good, and Anglo militaristic nationalism as bad. So swearing allegiance to queen and country, the rituals around the flag and the Anzacs were done, but with no conviction by most of our (younger Boomer) teachers. It looked like the Anzacs were going to fade into the past, and the only reason we had a holiday was because we were happy with any excuse for a holiday. But then, around the mid 1990s, the Anzac cultus was back in a big way. Dawn marches were no longer attended only by a handful of ex-servicemen, but the young were there in big numbers. Yes Ben, a militaristic and ‘national identity’ civic cultus that glorifies military sacrifice is up and running again in Australia – harnessed most effectively by Howard, but continued by Rudd – and its flavour is distinctly religious. It looks like the flower power movement has run out of steam as the Boomers have lost their 60s radicalism and become very, very mainstream materialists. The home improving world is so ideologically flat that some sort of meaning and collective identity almost has to emerge. Alas, its back to the flag and the army we go. Grieve, dove of God, grieve.

(PS Ben, when are you going to get back to me about the Coakley conference?)

Anonymous said...

Jim, go to any pub at 4pm on ANZAC day, particularly ones that have a 2-up ring, and your suspicion will be confirmed. For me, it is a symbol of the false-piety that has come to surround the day and tramples on the memory of those fallen.

Ben Myers said...

Paul, thanks for that great comment!

Doug Harink said...

Writing about Australia, Paul has also described the situation in Canada perfectly.

CJW said...

Perhaps naive, but ANZAC Day is as good a day as any to teach pneumatology. In fact I don't see how a wholesale dismissal is any different to Driscoll's latest pontification about how demonic the movie Avatar is, or other fundamentalist rejections of culture. Isn't all religion inherently sub-Christian, but nonetheless redeemable and potentially redemptive precisely because of the work of the Spirit? Doesn’t our missionary calling require us to work within and through fallen cultures?

Again, perhaps naive but I find it much easier to find analogies of redemption in the ceremonies of ANZAC Day than the beliefs of Avatar. ANZAC Day need not displace the Holy Spirit - the Spirit can change ANZAC Day: hold your class anyway and send out your students to serve soldiers (!) and enquire about their experiences of God, priming them to pay particular attention to work of the Spirit in the 'secular'.

Anonymous said...

I just thought of a story which relates. For the past few ANZAC days I have played Last Post at Northies pub in Cronulla at 6pm (2 things, a younger version of myself was a professional trumpet player. Secondly, if you know anything about recent Australian history you will understand the sort of 'feel' one might encounter at Northies on a day like this. If not, google "cronulla riots" for the background). The publican is a mate of mine, so we basically try to quieten the crowd (literally, hundreds), read the Ode to the fallen, have a minutes silence, then I play the last post. This past ANZAC day wsa a classic. Obviously, trying to get hundreds of heavily inebriated youngsters, full of 'nationalistic fervour' is a challenge. The next few minutes provided a problem. Who was the most disrespectful? The person who giggled and whispered through the minute silence? The person who yelled out 'show some f*cking respect' during the minutes silence? Or the person who king hit someone at the completion of the minutes silence for not showing enough respect?

Fat said...

Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends.

gbroughto said...

which is why it is the ANZAC spirit that has displaced the Holy Spirit...

Shane said...

Shame on you Ben, for such ingratitude. Even if you would've preferred nobody ever fight or die on your behalf, it's still the case that it happened and the cavalier dismissal of that fact is mean-spirited. If you *really* don't want to be implicated in the modern nation-state then get thee to a nunnery. Right now it's like you are suckling the nation's teat and complaining that you don't like the milk.

On ANZAC day I'm gonna go down to the bar and drink a pint to the memory of the fallen for you.

Paul Tyson said...

Dear Shane

I am not trying to be smart here, but I don’t think your comments – however strongly and sincerely felt – are either coherent or valid.

If the modern nation state requires war to provide us with security, then, I suppose, you are maintaining that the glory of sacrificial militarism is a good all modern people who live in states benefit from. But, if sacrifice for one’s national interests is an unqualified good, then why don’t we equally praise our enemies? My German father in law – shot in the leg trying to sacrifice his life for his nation – was just as sacrificially courageous as any Digger. Ah, you say, … but he was a Nazi. Yet you – with your commitment to the rightness of national militant self sacrifice – would have been a Nazi too had you been born in Germany in 1927. Militant nationalism, of any colour, is of the same species. It uses the idealism of youth as a means to promote slaughter and destruction in the power games of those who are typically safest in war. Further, Hauerwas is right; nationalism is a huge idolatry in our times, and it easily replaces God with the nation, or worse still, subjugates God to the nation. The State – as good as many of its benefits are – should not be worshipped, and will not save us. The state, in fact, need to be under God, and must not be the highest good, if it is to be kept good. The idea that the State must be based on force and that violence is ‘legitimate’ when under state control (police, army) is a Hobbsean liberal notion that is antithetical to an Augustinian – and simply Christian – notion of the original harmony of creation, and no Christian can simply accept this Hobbsean outlook without taking on a Social Darwinist agonism totally foreign to our faith. Christ and the sword are enemies. All this ‘ungratefulness’ rhetoric is the same tired old waffle that the Anabaptists have had to put up with for the past 500 years, and it is an emotive polemic that is not rationally coherent and is – I believe – theologically in error.

Anonymous said...

It has happened previously that ANZAC Day has fallen the week after Easter when we get that wonderful reading from John.

I have often wondered how it looks when we superimpose the image of Jesus having a resurrection feast of bread and fish on the beach with the image of those ANZACs and Turks from both sides engaged in mortal combat.

When we can bring these two images into focus I think we begin to understand both who we are as human beings and who God is in Jesus compassion.

As Christian when we say 'lest we forget' what is that we are being called not to forget? Yes maybe those who give their lives in war but more importantly I suspect the anamnesis in the Eucharistic prayer points us in a different direction... A God whose promise and will is a future for us and all the tribes of earth, feasting in peace together.

phil_style said...


I recommend you read "Im Westen nichts Neues", or it's English translation. The soldier characters in that book have some great discussions on the value of the militaristic nation state, in particular their dicusssion on who benefits when two "nations" go to war is illuminating.

Shane said...

Hi Paul,

I'm confused that you invoke Augustine. If you wonder why politics doesn't reflect the harmony of the original creation, I would presume that Augustine would answer, because creation is fallen. Augustine had a lively sense of the importance of this fact; which is why he was also one of the original just war theorists.

My view of the matter is that courage and the capacity for self-sacrifice are virtues, in just the sense of "virtue" that Aristotle isolated. It is an important part of that account of the virtues, that their exercise also requires the wisdom to know what is the right time to fight, for the right reason, towards the right objective, and so on. Hence, a daring bank-robber is not courageous (wrong motive, wrong aim). Nor, would I imagine a daring Nazi to be so.

You might object that it's really hard to know: the lines between good and evil get blurry when people are shooting at you. Yes, I'd guess they do. But I think that simply underlines my point, rather than providing an objection to it: we want folks in the military to be making their life-and-death decisions on the basis of a well-formed Christian character. We want the infantry captain to refuse to machinegun the unarmed villagers because he knows that it is murder and unjust and hence that it is better to disobey his superiors than to disobey God.

As to the other point Pstyle raises about who benefits. . .

Do you consider it a benefit to live in a democratic country where you have the ability to express your desires about how it is to be governed?

Do you consider it a benefit to have the freedoms of speech, religions, and the press?

Do you consider it a benefit to have trial by a jury of your peers rather than the arbitrary decision of an unaccountable magistrate?

If so, then you've benefited for a legacy of war, bloodshed and violence. And those who benefit owe a duty of gratitude to their benefactors.

Shane said...

Also, I add, in response to Paul. That I don't charge the Amish with being ungrateful. People who willingly exempt themselves from society and it's benefits (such as voting), I think have every right to their position. If you renounce the benefits of the state, then you owe no debt of gratitude to the state. There's a fortitude there which I respect deeply because it involves sacrifice and courage.

What I don't respect at all are people who say that they share the Amish values on peace, but refuse to renounce the benefits of the state. People who want all the rights and privileges and to live the normal bourgeois life that the state makes possible but who also want to occupy some pacifist moral high ground. THAT is the incoherent position. And I have nothing but disdain for it.

Josh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh said...


I agree with your reading of Augustine (who was certainly influenced by the Constantinian shift), but I think you miss Paul Tyson's point. His point seems to be that soldiers on both sides of modern battlefields have been motivated by nationalism (a modern form of tribalism). So, for example, both Nazi soldiers and Allied soldiers understood themselves to be acting patriotically when they killed for their countries. You seem to assume that they did not share this motive.

As for your appeal to Aristotle, I think it is important to note that the New Testament lists of virtues do not include courage (which Aristotle thought was best exemplified in battle). This omission is conspicuous. Glen Stassen and David Gushee have argued that it was intentionally excluded precisely because of its association with war in the Hellenistic world. The New Testament offers a corrective to Aristotle. You write of the need for soldiers to have "a well-formed Christian character," yet you appeal to the ethics of Aristotle--a non-Christian! It is not clear why someone whose character is formed by the New Testament would machinegun anyone.

You list a number of temporal benefits that you simply assert are the result of war. Isn't one of the benefits of living in a democratic society the freedom to protest war? Can you prove that we would not enjoy the benefits you have named were it not for war? Do you have in mind all wars or just some wars? Which wars were necessary for the benefits you have named? How do you know with certainty what history would look like had these particular wars not been waged? How do you know with certainty what God would have done and would not have done had humans acted differently? Does the state determine the course of history, or is God sovereign? (Where is God in your argument? Jesus?) If only some wars were necessary for the benefits we enjoy, then shouldn't our various national holidays celebrate only participation in these wars? Why do they instead celebrate war-making more broadly?

Finally, your lack of "disdain" for the Amish is inconsistent. According to your logic, they too benefit from the almighty state, as it is the state's militarism that has allowed them the time and space they need to live in peace. Of course, the Amish believe otherwise; but to be consistent, you should have "nothing but disdain" for them as well.

Shane said...

Hi Josh,

You raise a number of incorrect and disconnected points.

First, I don't doubt that patriotism motivated some people to join the Nazi army, but its not part of my view that a person's having good intentions suffice to make his or her actions good or virtuous. That would be a stupid thing to believe and I don't believe it. However, there is an important distinction between culpable and non-culpable forms of ignorance and I'd guess the average German infantryman probably fell more on the side of the latter than the former. So, even though I assert that it would have been vicious to fight on behalf of the Nazi regime because it was evil, it seems more appropriate to pity the poor bastards than blame them.

Second, there are all kinds of good reasons to shoot somebody. I simply cannot imagine what you could mean otherwise. Case in point: Iraqi insurgent building a roadside bomb to kill school kids in order to keep the civilians too scared to cooperate with the Americans. That sounds like a good reason to shoot that motherfucker in the head to me.

Third, your carping about believing in divine providence is beside the point. Suppose you see a runaway baby carriage rolling into traffic. Sure, you could run over and push the carriage out of the way, but that's kind of dangerous and you don't want to get run over yourself. So, instead of doing something, you decide to hold an anti-gravity, pro-baby anabaptist teach-in. You have no idea how a teach-in is supposed to help, of course, but hey, God is sovereign, right?


Paul Tyson said...

Dear Shane

Just war theorists that I respect – such as Dan Bell and Bill Cavanaugh – hold the stance (totally in line with the Vatican this decade) that modern warfare is so close to inherently unjust as to make it incumbent upon all Christians not to fight. This has to do with proportionality and the destructiveness (collateral and otherwise) of modern war, and the availability of other avenues of grievance resolution – such as pursued by the very hard headed peacemaker, Johan Galtung. Reading Cavanaugh, for example, it is evident that Augustine can be strongly aligned with a highly sensitive reading of the Anabaptist tradition. Even so, I am with Yoder/Ellul/Hauerwas rather than Cavanaugh/Bell (and the differences are important yet remarkably subtle) and I prefer Martin of Tours over Augustine in relation to Christians and war, and the use of violence (‘legitimate’ in a fallen state or otherwise) for ecclesial ends. In fact, I think Martin’s stance on war and state violence is more in keeping with Augustine’s critique of the agonism of the city of this world than is Augustine’s just war theory and his stance in the Donatist crisis.

Your argument seems to be that if I benefit from living in a modern state, and if that state is what it is because of militaristic nationalism and the state control of violence, then I should be grateful to those who have died – and killed – in war (and law enforcement) to give me ‘peace’, and all the material and ideological goods of the modern state. Otherwise, if I don’t like militant nationalism (qualify; ‘good’ – ie Allied – militant nationalism as opposed to ‘bad’ – ie Nazi – militant nationalism) then I should opt out of the state or at least renounce its benefits. I am a hypocrite if I want to renounce violence as a Christian and yet live comfortably within a modern state. I have no difficulty with your hypocrisy argument here as such, rather it is the inference of superiority of those Christians who embrace state violence that I object to. A hypocrite who at least understands what a Christian stance on violence entails earns more respect (and more grace) in my opinion, than a Christian who compromises the example of Christ in the face of violence with the glamorisation of violence and the marriage of the violent state with Christ.

Shane said...

@ Paul,

Wait, so you're admitting that you are a hypocrite?

Ok. Admitting that you have a problem is a good first step.

I'd suggest that the next step would be getting clear on precisely what you mean by "violence" and what is supposed to be wrong with it. It's a nebulous fog meant to camouflage a multitude of intellectual iniquities. It is this decade's pejorative of last resort, much like "fascist" was in the 60s and 70s.

As far as marrying church and state, I think you've got my position wrong. I'm saying that the state should have an army, not that the church should.

Paul Tyson said...

To use a military analogy Shane, your last post is a cheap shot that hits only cardboard caricatures of my stance, and does not address my critique of your stance at all.

If you want to know about violence, read Ellul’s book by that title.

Paul Tyson said...

To continue…

If you have never tried to live as a Christian by renouncing the agonism and violence inherent in the modern liberal state, then you have never failed in that endeavour (thus you are not a hypocrite), and thus you have no idea how deep seated the matter is, and no idea how non-conformist the church needs to be for an alternative way to be in any sense possible, thus you have no idea what our corporate stakes in repentance on this front are. In fact, you see no need for repentance at all. You are comfortable living as a Christian and a good citizen of a violent modern state; prayer and the sword are at peace in your heart; in your own outlook on the way the world is you have married Christ to violence, as a matter of fallen necessity, and you bless that union until the eschaton. To claim the superiority of integrity over whining woosey hypocrites because you have never failed (and never tried) to live life in the city of this world under the way of the city of God (ruled by love and self giving rather than violence and glorious sacrifice) means that you assume a comfortable synergy between the city of this world and the city of God. This is your terrible fault. For this reason you pray for your troops – that they may kill the m*f*ing evil terrorist, and not be killed themselves in promoting by violence the US’s global geopolitical interests. Thus you assume you can be loyal to the flag and God at the same time, and indeed that loyalty to the flag and loyalty to God are inherently joined in the good Christian civil body called the USA. Thus the manner in which Christ is incorporated into the cultus civitas of US nationalism seems simply natural and right to you.

Josh said...


I agree with your first point (for the most part, at least). I never said "that a person's having good intentions suffice to make his or her actions good or virtuous." I agree with you that it doesn't.

In your second two points, you knock down a straw man. I said nothing either way about "good reasons to shoot somebody." I wrote: "It is not clear why someone whose character is formed by the New Testament would machinegun anyone." The New Testament does not teach Christians to kill, nor does it depict any Christians killing.

Your third point again attacks a straw man. Why would any Christian--whether crusader or pacifist--object to pushing a baby carriage out of the way of oncoming traffic? The willingness to die is undoubtedly Christian (example: Jesus); it is the willingness to kill that is questionable. I don't think your example is analogous to war-making. In any case, I did not ask, "Shouldn't we just trust sovereign God and do nothing?" Had I asked this question, I would better understand your response. I asked: "Does the state determine the course of history, or is God sovereign? (Where is God in your argument? Jesus?)" I invited you to make a theological argument--you have barely mentioned God or Jesus. Why post comments on a blog titled "Faith and Theology" if you're not going to do theology?

Perhaps it's telling that you only answered one of my several questions.

bruce said...

As a late-comer to this thread I would just like to comment on how similar the New Zealand experience has been to the Australian one so well described by Paul - and therefore to the Canadian one also. Fascinating.

Anonymous said...

April is a very strange month in Australia.

We celebrate what was an unmitigated military disaster, and our involvement in an utterly stupid war in which the cream of our young men were slaughtered. And we somehow call this our "coming to age" as a nation.

The First World War was also the beginning of the destruction of Western Civilization altogether--such as it was. The process of destruction thus begun, was finished off in World War Two.

Plus we celebrate the brutal murder of one of the most remarkable beings that ever Graced this planet with his Radiant Presence---and we call that "good news"!

Shane said...

Oh no, Paul has tried, he's tried *so hard* not to be a part of the violent state, but he's failed. He wrings his hands so earnestly. His conscience is so tortured. Poor Paul.

The heart of your complaint against me is that: "you [meaning me] assume you can be loyal to the flag and God at the same time."

I'm trying to render to Caesar what's Caesar, and to God what's God's. If the two conflict, I go with the latter, but you've given no reason whatsoever to think they conflict necessarily. Nor have you given anything that amounts to a *reason* to think that a Christian couldn't be a policeman or a soldier.


Christians through most of the church's history have usually considered the divine law to be accessible to reason. What would you say to a person who said, on the basis of some theological argument, that the sky was green? Would you try to talk to them about the proper interpretation of kenotic theology, or point out that the divine perichoresis doesn't require that the sky be green? Or would you instead open a window and point out the sky with your finger and instruct your interlocutor to look?

In my dealings on this blog, I take the latter path. I don't tend to offer theological arguments on this blog for two reasons. First, because I'm not a theologian by training, so I prefer to only speak about those things I am competent to talk about. Second, because the theological positions I hold turn upon presuppositions that I strongly suspect none of you would entertain.

So let's get back to something I do know a lot about, namely spotting fallacious arguments. Here's one:

"The New Testament does not teach Christians to kill, nor does it depict any Christians killing."

Ring ring ring. We've got an argument from silence folks. The new testament doesn't teach anybody to be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker either. And we're never shown examples in the NT of people actively involved in the pursuits of butchery, bakery or candlestickmakery either. So, are we to infer from that that no person can be a good christian and a butcher or a baker or a candlestick maker? Of course not, because arguments from silence are generally fallacious.

Furthermore, if you insist on your argument from silence above then, I have my own argument from silence prepared: If Jesus is so opposed to violence, why didn't he tell the roman centurion (a representative of one of history's greatest expansionist, militarist empires which was currently unjustly occupying his homeland) to give up his military career and become a pacifist? I think this retort is also technically an argument from silence, but it seems a lot stronger to me than the one you offered above.

Shane said...

Here's my other worry Josh.

If you think there are good reasons for somebody to shoot somebody else. Good reasons for an American GI to shoot a terrorist, say. Then why couldn't those also be good reasons for a Christian to shoot a terrorist?

If Christians are supposed to refrain from all violence, presumably they should refrain from it because it is all bad. However, you seem to think that it isn't all bad, because you think there are some justifiable uses of violence, and yet you still think that Christians shouldn't do it.

This just makes no sense to me. If you're going to be a pacifist, you should say that nobody anywhere never has any reason to do anything violence. (Aside: in general, a claim's plausibility is inversely proportional to the number of universal quantifiers it contains.) On the other hand, if somebody, somewhere, has had at least one good reason to do some kind of violence to somebody, then pacifism is false. And if pacifism is false in general, why should Christians behave as if it were true?

Paul Tyson said...

Well Shane, why do you think Christians in the first centuries were prepared to die rather than just sprinkle a bit of incense on Caesar’s statue? Why do you think they refrained from shedding blood? Why didn’t they keep a strong line of practical division between their private religious freedoms and the public cultus, as was available to them under Roman law? Why did the religiously tolerant Romans have any reason to put Christians in the arena? Why did Catholics and Protestants kill 30,000 Anabaptist between 1525 and 1535?

I wish you would actually read a bit of serious Christian pacifistic theology before just shitting on it – you oh so reasonable, sharply non-fallacious, self righteous champion of practical integrity (none of this helps you much, even if it is true, if you are simply ignorant). Read Ellul’s ‘On Violence’, read Yoder’s ‘The Politics of Jesus’, read Winks ‘engaging the powers’, read Hauerwas’ ‘disenters from the homeland’ and then tell me why they are all wrong if you want to give me any serious REASONS why pacifistic Christianity is invalid, and why flag waving gun loving American Christianity is just fine. You construct straw effigies of any anti-millitaristic Christian argument and burn them to your delight in the name of your rational coherence, but your ‘reasoning’ is entirely emotive and thus remarkably selective. You FEEL flag waving, soldier glamorisizing nationalism must be right (you rightly know it is at the core of the modern nation state) and because I don’t have a beer for the fallen soldiers, and that sort of militaristic sentiment means something to you, you simply randomly respond to me and Josh on the basis of scoring points that back your ‘side’ of the argument. Your style of gun loving, flag waving, Bible believing America nationalism is, after all, a matter of feeling rather than reasoning. The rational calculations of US military power and geo-political self interest are, after all, pretty devoid of anything other than sheer self interest. (If you want to talk hypocrisy, how about the US’s stance on telling everyone else how many nukes they are allowed to have.) You have to believe your armed forces are doing ‘the free world’ a favour and acting rightly. And George Bush wondered why they hated you. Go on, shoot the side out of anyone you don’t understand and go to church on Sunday, have a beer for the soldiers and be at peace with yourself Shane. Good luck.

Shane said...

Who's caricaturing whom here, I wonder?

Paul Tyson said...

OK then, if you are not a flag waving gun loving American Christian, do you have a problem with the US having more nukes than everyone else and then blowing up Sadam for having nukes that he didn’t have? (Lets not even worry about the wanton shedding of blood, lets just look for logical fallacies shall we?) Do you think ‘the war on terror’ is not as simple as us (US) good guys verses those “m*f*ing” (your word) evil terrorist? Does the USA’s global military presence trouble you in any way? Do you think it is possible that American nationalism might be deeply prone to idolatry? Might, even, Christ have reservations about the US’s role in, say supplying Sadam with chemical weapons to use against the Kurds, training and funding extremist Islam in Russian occupied Afghanistan (including one Osama Bin Laden), de-stabilizing ‘unfriendly’ democratic and socialist governments in South America and other places around the world so that it can do cooshy power deals with brutal dictators and drug barons? And do you think Bush sending all those boys in the 2-16 to kill and die in Bagdad to save face for the disastrous mess he generated there was a noble enterprise?

But I will stop there.

Yes, Shane, even though I have been belted up by the police, locked up, and lost more than one job over matters of conscience, I don’t do much to either change or withdraw from the violent state of normality in which I live. For this reason your underlying feeling (and no good argument is ever without feeling, though strongly felt bad arguments certainly abound) that there is something ‘have your cake and eat it too’ about protesting militarism in our national psyches, does have some truth to it. What I have been trying – rather unsuccessfully so it seems – to convey is that there are two logical possibilities that this situation sets before us. Either we simply accept the givenness of the violence in which we live, and look for some redeeming qualities even in that violence and work out how to try and preserve the separate validity of the claims of (violent) Caesar and (non-violent?) God as, I presume you have done. And this sort of ‘realism’ has its powerful advocates within Christian theology. Or, sit with the sense of trouble and unease about violence itself and the deep embedding of our modern liberal way of life in violence, and struggle towards some viably Christian alternative way of living. If this later path is taken, then it becomes apparent that the atomism of modern liberal society makes it more or less impossible for the church as we know it to provide an alternative practise of living. Ray Gingerich – an American Anabaptist I know – says that the church is in the belly of the beast, it is digested into atoms, and has no integrity as an alternative body that might even need to be forcefully spewed out (and he is talking about Anabaptists, not ‘mainstream’ churches here). How to be a community of peace in a world where violence is simply normal in oh so many ways, and where there is no church as a distinct community of the costly practise of the peace of God, is a very troubling matter. I do not expect you to find the attempt to live as Christian pacifists easy to understand Shane, but I would prefer it if you didn’t presume to have a beer for Ben on the basis that one can’t seriously have a problem with militaristic public religion, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t simply shit on Christian pacifism per say, when it does not seem like you have taken the trouble to understand its key advocates in any depth.

I’m finished now. All the best Shane. Paul

Josh said...


This post will be my last on this thread, as I have ministry to do; you may have the last word, if you'd like.

I have agreed with some of your thoughts (for the most part, at least) and disagreed with others. I'm glad you recognize that your arguments are not especially theological. And I think we do bring different presuppositions to this conversation, which is surely one of the reasons we reach different conclusions.

Also, I share your disdain for logical fallacies. So I chuckled when you wrote that I had made an argument from silence (only to make, by your own admission, your own argument from silence later). I chuckled because you have repeatedly constructed and attacked straw man arguments (another logical fallacy) in this thread. (You have also appealed to ridicule.) Rather than respond constructively to my questions (most of which you have not answered), you have imagined arguments and then knocked them down. It seems to me that you have in effect argued with yourself.

In any case, I did write, "The New Testament does not teach Christians to kill, nor does it depict any Christians killing." This statement is true. I offered it merely as an observation, not as an argument. I have not made an argument for pacifism in this thread, which started with a post that expressed displeasure with nationalism (a displeasure that just warriors and pacifists alike can share). Were I to make an argument for Christian nonviolence, I would focus not on silence, but on what Jesus said and did--he taught and practiced peacemaking, nonviolent resistance, enemy-love, prayer for enemies, forgiveness of enemies, renouncing the sword, and the willingness to die (but not to kill).

The story of Jesus helping a Roman centurion is an example of enemy-love. It is no coincidence that it follows the Sermon on the Mount (in which Jesus teaches enemy-love) in the Gospel of Matthew. As you say, the Roman soldier was a member of a Roman force that occupied the Jewish homeland. Yet Jesus, a Jew, commended this soldier's faith (not his military service) and healed the man's servant. This Roman had humbled himself, coming to a Jewish peasant for help; Jesus responded not by refusing his enemy's request, but by loving him. The Roman soldier was not a disciple of Jesus; had he become one, Jesus would have taught him the same thing he was teaching his other students--love your enemies, pray for them, stop living by the sword.

This interpretation points to one of our main differences of opinion. I believe that a Christian ethic is for Christians; I doubt that non-Christians, people who do not confess Jesus as Lord, will find this ethic compelling (though there may be exceptions--Gandhi comes to mind). You seem to think that there is a universal ethic that everyone can agree on and live out; this universalizing strikes me as a very modern view.

Of course, the universal practice of pacifism would be the end of killing--as Origen famously argued. Nevertheless, you write: "If you're going to be a pacifist, you should say that nobody anywhere never has any reason to do anything violence.... [I]f somebody, somewhere, has had at least one good reason to do some kind of violence to somebody, then pacifism is false." I'm not sure this argument makes sense, but you're free to believe it. Christians who practice nonviolence do so not because they believe something called "pacifism" is true rather than false in an abstract, universal sense; Christians who practice nonviolence do so because they are striving to follow Jesus, whom they believe is the truth.

The peace of Christ be with you.

Shane said...

I've got no desire to say The Last Word on any issue, but I do find it necessary to distinguish my position from my interlocutor's characterizations of it.

Pace Paul, my view isn't that "one can’t seriously have a problem with militaristic public religion". I've already identified a Christian tradition for which I have claimed to have immense respect which is founded on precisely that conviction, namely the Amish. My view is that there's a wide, wide gulf between "militaristic public religion" and having a beer to commemorate the sacrifices of those who have made the freedoms we enjoy possible. Think of going to a grave. You leave some flowers to commemorate the person you love. Leaving some flowers doesn't mean you are celebrating death in the sense of recommending death to others, or worshiping death or that you support spreading as much death around as possible. I think quite the opposite is true, these days of remembrance put one in mind of the *horrors* of war and one can rightly commemorate those who have endured the horror without praising the horror itself.

Pace Josh, I'm not offering an argument from silence: I'm point out that if wants to admit them, I've got ones I could use too. Nor do I think I've been attacking a straw-man; I know full well that you agree with me that there are permissible uses of violence. My argument is that if you say this, it seems completely incongruous to say that even though violence is morally permissible under certain circumstances, still Christians shouldn't do it because God says not to. That's what I'm trying to point out to you: if there's nothing wrong with violence, per se, then why would God forbid us to practice it under any circumstances? It just makes no sense.

Think about the other things God says we shouldn't do: he says we shouldn't commit adultery. But hey look, that's just what the moral law tells us too;* it's always and everywhere wrong to commit adultery. So God's just commanding us to do the right thing and not do the wrong thing. That's ok. But if there are appropriate uses of violence, i.e. times when using violence is the right thing to do, but God absolutely forbids Christians to use violence of any form, then there are times where God is commanding us to refrain from doing something good. And now we've reached reductio ad absurdum and so it's time to go back and examine our premises. That's been the whole gist of my argument against you; apologies if it's not been all pellucidly clear, but bitter experience has taught me that it's usually not worth writing out one's arguments in full on this blog because its denizens have more of a taste for rhetorical flourish and unsubstantiated assertion than cogent argumentation and patient explication.

Ben Myers said...

"not worth writing out one's arguments in full on this blog because its denizens ..." — Go on Shane, admit it for once: you yourself are one of this blog's most longstanding and most incurable denizens!

Paul Tyson said...

Unfortunately, Shane, the blog is a quick interface medium of dialogue, which doesn’t easily work well for the serious engagement of opposing positions. So there has been quite a bit of cheap point scoring and playing the player rather than the ball in this exchange (on all sides), and this degenerates into rhetorical polemic (if it doesn’t start there) quite rapidly. I doubt it has anything to do with this blog as such, but a lot to do with blogging itself. For what it is worth, I wish I had taken more time in writing so that I carefully didn’t take cheap shots or play the player (a la you, sorry Shane), but, alas, I have already given far too much time to this conversation already so time constraints are an issue undermining the hard thinking required. Also for what it is worth, I have found this polemic exchange useful. Talking only with people who basically agree with you (in my case, that tends to be talking only to myself) never does much to help you see what your own stance really entails. On that front, I’m disappointed that a whole pile of anzac day piety from Australian Christians didn’t surface and come to your aid Shane, and then this may have turned into a first rate bun fight. But, we Aussies are renown for our apathy, and this is a big issue in the theological landscape in Australia. People just don’t give a shit… So thanks for giving a shit Shane (as a wipe some of it out of my eyes), and who knows, we may be able to get together for a beer sometime and spend some hours talking through this matter properly.

Shane said...

Hi Ben,

I was wondering when you were going to chime in here. I only come to your blog when I'm drunk.


Ben Myers said...

Hmm, I would NEVER have guessed it...

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