I recently got into an impromptu debate with another pacifist. Pacifism is chic in some "progressive Christian" and/or hipster evangelical circles. I don't know how widespread that is. Seems to be a theological fad that's been popularized by folks like Gregory Boyd, Preston Sprinkle, and Stanley Hauerwas. Of course, these are typically folks whose pacifism has never been put to the test. It's an issue that crops up in debates over immigration, "refugees," and counterterrorism.
A person who chooses to love his enemies can have no enemies. He is left only with neighbors.
But his neighbors can have enemies. So that only pushes the question back a step: how should you love your neighbor when he's under attack?
Like Jesus loved his, absorbing, rather than inflicting violence on their behalf. I know where you are attempting to take this. I'm simply not persuaded by the Just War theorist readings (O'Donovan, Leithart, Biggar et al). Both our neighbor and our neighbor's enemy are each our neighbor if we love them as Christ commanded us to, which de facto excludes killing them. Arguments to the effect that war 'may be a form of love' are, to me, just bizarre concessions to the NT's teaching about enemy love. We defend, of course, but we do so peacefully -- employing the example of sacrificial love provided for us in Christ.
I didn't frame the issue in terms of just war theory, so don't put me in that box.
You use the metaphor of "absorbing" violence. That's a pretty metaphor, but it has no concrete meaning. This is a problem with pacifist platitudes.
The NT contains a number of social duties. But not every obligation equally obligatory. And sometimes there are conflicting duties. Take Jesus and the Sabbath controversies.
If you see a mugger attacking an elderly woman, you can't be equally nice to the mugger and the old lady. Which takes priority: protecting her from being hospitalized by the mugger, or indulging in ineffectual gestures?
How do you balance competing obligations? You've absolutized enemy love by relativizing neighbor love.
I would think death by crucifixion constitutes 'a concrete meaning'.
That's not to the point. The question at issue isn't the meaning of death by crucifixion "absorbing" violence, but your parallel with loving enemies, neighbors, parents, spouses, childen, strangers, &c.
The NT material presents a comprehensive case for Christian nonviolence from the way that Jesus lived, and it his life that is the premiere and authoritative pattern for Christian discipleship today.
That's utterly dubious because if fails to take into account the degree to which his life was unprecedented, unrepeatable, and disanalogous.
In every concrete situation, we are obligated to live and to die the way that Jesus did.
The question in the first instance isn't how "we" die, but whether we protect others from unjust death. Pacifists routinely collapses that rudimentary distinction.
And, frankly, the statement is borderline heretical. Jesus came to die. He came for the express purpose of redemptive death.
That's not the ordinary calling of humans. Our usual divine vocation is to have a normal family life. Create the next generation. Raise the next generation. Care for elderly parents.
We may be called upon to be martyred for the faith, but we weren't born for the purpose of dying, much less a redemptive death.
We have no conflicting duty there.
That's evasive. If you are merciful to the mugger, you are merciless to the victim.
In fact, the Great Commission involves obeying and recapitulating commands to replicate the life of Jesus.
Again, it's borderline heretical for you to say we have a duty to recapitulate the life of Jesus.
There's simply no basis for compartmentalizing these commands.
i) Your harmonistic method is take the command to love our enemies as the standard of comparison, then redefine other commands to make them equivalent to that command. That's reductionistic.
ii) It's not a question of "compartmentalizing" commands but recognizing that different commands exist to address different situations. Otherwise, there wouldn't be different commands in the first place.
Attempts to wrest Natural Law ethics from the natural, nonviolent meaning of the enemy-love antithesis in the Sermon on the Mount are just shallow.
i) This is the second time you've recast what I said by putting it in a framework contrary to what I actually said.
ii) Moreover, you don't appear to grasp my point. The issue isn't redefining "enemy love," but prioritizing different commands in different situations, especially when they may come into conflict.
I'll take that hit.
No, you're making the elderly woman take the hit.
Enemy love is always and everywhere neighbor love.
And is spousal love always and everywhere neighbor love?
The love with which I love both the mugger and the elderly victim is cruciform.
i) You're speaking in evasive abstractions that don't begin to demonstrate how it's loving to let a mugger bludgeon the woman when you are in a position to forcibly intercede.
That isn't showing love to the woman. Rather, that's allowing evil to triumph. Using buzzwords like "cruciform" (a la Greg Boyd) does nothing to express real love towards the elderly woman by taking appropriate action on her behalf.
ii) You fail to draw an elementary distinction between a culpable aggressor and an innocent victim. It is evil to treat good and evil equally.
You have a habit of mischaracterizing the opposing position. As I've explained to you, this isn't a case of "creating exceptions to Jesus' commands."
You need to exercise critical sympathy. That means to understand the opposing position on its own terms.
iii) If anything, it's the pacifist who makes ad hoc exceptions to Jesus' commands by equating enemies as neighbors.
iv) In addition, you repeat another pacifist fallacy by equating someone else's enemy with my enemy. But if I protect an elderly woman from a mugger, the mugger was her enemy, not my enemy.
v) Finally, by your logic, since Jesus didn't protect the victims of the tower of Siloam, Christians shouldn't have building codes (e.g. fire codes, seismic codes). Since Jesus didn't protect people from animal maulings, we shouldn't kill predators that threaten human life. Since Jesus didn't prevent people from death by famine, we shouldn't use pesticides.
"That's not to the point."Of course it is. Jesus' death on the cross is the definitive interpretation of his teaching on enemy-love. It is anything but 'abstract'.
i) Do you try to misunderstand my replies? What was the context of my statement about an "evasive abstraction"? What was I referring to? Jesus' death on the cross? No. That's a rhetorical tactic on your part to divert attention away from the actual criticism.
ii) The cross is not "the definitive" revelation of God's character, as if the miracles of Christ, or his future role as the judge of mankind, is a defective representation of God. God's character is truly revealed in all his actions. God's character is truly revealed in the eschatological judgment he will visit on his enemies.
iii) The NT emphasizes the cross because we are sinners, so we need to have our sins atoned for. That's as much about our nature as it is about God's nature. Even so, the NT also lays great emphasis on the resurrection of Christ, the session of Christ, and the return of Christ (in part to judge the wicked). It is therefore, inaccurate and one-sided to use the cross as the defining prism to interpret God's character, and subordinate all other Biblical representations to that particular prism.
"That's utterly dubious because if fails to take into account the degree to which his life was unprecedented, unrepeatable, and disanalogous."I don't think I am failing to take this into account. Rather, I am following the NT's material closely in this regard (Romans 12, 1 Peter 2, Philippians 2 et al). Our suffering faithfully recapitulates the unique death of Jesus. Even if the cross in Matthew 16:24 is a metonymy, it does not carry with it symbolic freight any less demanding than the example Jesus provides for us on the cross.
i) The question at issue is not whether Jesus is a role-model for Christians in some respects, but using his death as an argument for pacifism.
ii) Phil 2 says:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).
That's perfectly consistent with nonpacifism. Indeed, that's more consistent with nonpacifism than pacifism. By physically intervening to protect the innocent from an assailant, you are putting the interests of the innocent ahead of your own. You put yourself in harm's way by defending the innocent. That's the opposite of self-interest. That's contrary to self-preservation.
iii) Unless you oppose abolitionism, I don't know what you appeal to 1 Pet 2 amounts to. Do you think that's a fatalistic defense of the status quo? We must never try to rectify injustice? "It's always been this way, so don't try to change it."
The passage is dealing with a situation where suffering is unavoidable. In that case, the question isn't whether you will suffer, but how you will suffer. If you can't change your circumstances, you can still change how you react to your circumstances.
It's irrelevant to pacifism, because it doesn't address the question of intervention to protect others.
iv) Rom 12 contains a caveat, indeed a double caveat: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (v18). As one scholar (Walter Wilson) observes, the Roman Christians "must make a realistic assessment of the problems to be addressed and be aware of how much each of them can do and what sorts of things they can change."
So the scope of Paul's statement is emphatically qualified.
"The question in the first instance isn't how "we" die, but whether we protect others from unjust death."I simply don't see the NT moving in this direction. In the three passion predications (Matt. 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19), Jesus is one who is persecuted for righteousness' sake. Those who follow him will likely suffer the same fate (5:10, 16:24-26). This is, in fact, Jesus' own demonstration of "Do not resist an evil person" (Matt. 5:39). We do protect others from unjust death, yet without violence.
i) That simply repeats your chronic fallacy. For me to suffer an unjust attack is hardly equivalent to my intervening to spare someone else from suffering an unjust attack.
ii) And you reiterate the hollow claim that pacifists "protect others from unjust death, yet without violence." That's blatantly false. Letting them die at the hands of an assailant because you refuse to forcibly intervene is the polar opposite of protecting them from death. Your assertion is an exercise in self-deception. Where letting someone die a preventable death is redefined as protecting them from death. Classic Orwellian double-talk. Your statement doesn't correspond to the reality it purports to describe.
"Pacifists routinely collapses that rudimentary distinction. And, frankly, the statement is borderline heretical. Jesus came to die. He came for the express purpose of redemptive death."Jesus also lived and rose and ascended. The entire event of his first advent is a complex-defined phenomena. To isolate his death as the unique purpose for which we was sent, in contradistinction to his life and resurrection, is to compartmentalize it. And this is rather convenient for non-pacifists. Yet, the NT seems to have no issue directing us to imitate the example of Jesus in every regard without having to raise counterexamples to create context-specific exceptions to his commands.
i) To begin with, it's pacifists who compartmentalize the cross by making that the prism through which they filter (or filter out) all other considerations.
ii) Moreover, your comparison backfires. Yes, Jesus rose from the dead. When you die, won't rise from the dead anytime soon. Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. You won't. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. You don't. Jesus was virginally conceived. You weren't. Jesus was sinless. You're not. Jesus raised the dead, you haven't. Jesus healed the blind. You haven't. Jesus never married. Most Christians (including pacifists) do. Jesus never had kids. Most Christians (including pacifists) do.
So his life is hardly the exemplar "in every regard" for your life here and now.
"If you are merciful to the mugger, you are merciless to the victim."Remember this critique would be equally applicable to God himself (Rom 5:8). I'll leave you to decide that.
You're deflecting rather than refuting the fact. Explain how you show mercy to the elderly woman by allowing the mugger to bludgeon her?
"Your harmonistic method is take the command to love our enemies as the standard of comparison, then redefine other commands to make them equivalent to that command. That's reductionistic."Not, actually it is a consistent hermeneutic of christocentric obedience to the face value of every one of the NT's commands, including the directive to love our enemies. Our enemies don't cease to be objects of our love when we are threatened by them. If we consistently employ the example of Jesus as the paradigm for Christian faithfulness, rather than argue from counterexamples down to the text, we won't need to retreat into the Bible's silence in order to develop a non-pacifist ethic.
i) To the contrary, by prioritizing the command to love our enemies, you disobey all other social obligations when one duty conflicts with another. NT commands include loving our enemies, neighbors, parents, spouses, children, strangers, &c.
How do you love your wife by allowing her to be gang-raped because you refuse to protect her from harm?
ii) Notice how pacifists always default to loving "our enemies". Notice their illogical refusal to distinguish between my enemy and someone else's enemy, as if the command treats both as interchangeable. For me to be threatened by an enemy is hardly equivalent to an enemy threatening my mother.
iii) I didn't "retreat into the Bible's silence." To the contrary, I'm invoking explicit Biblical social obligations. Let's take another example: In Mt 15/Mk 7 & 1 Tim 5:8, Paul says a Christian has a duty to support his dependents or indigent parents. If, however, you refuse to do what's necessary to protect your livelihood and financial assets, then you can't fulfill your duty in that regard. So what gives?
"It's not a question of "compartmentalizing" commands but recognizing that different commands exist to address different situations. Otherwise, there wouldn't be different commands in the first place."Of course they do. However, these commands are not abstract ethical entities, but concrete ways of life patterned after the example provided for us in Jesus' own life, death, and resurrection. You are arguing that there are circumstances in which competing goods demand that we not love our enemies.
i) Actually, general commands are abstract ethical principles. That's what makes them applicable to many specific situations.
ii) In case of conflict, a higher duty overrides a lower duty. When push comes to shove, loving a Jewish child takes precedence over loving an S. S. officer. It's like the Jesus and the Sabbath controversies, which you blew past.
I am arguing that this is not how the NT material presents the pattern of Christian discipleship. We are followers of Jesus, imitating the example he provided, at all times and in all places. This will include suffering and perhaps martyrdom.
That piggybacks on a false premise (see above).
"No, you're making the elderly woman take the hit."My nonviolence actually compels me to suffer in her stead. It is your position that would rather kill in self-protection than suffer in self-sacrifice on her behalf.
i) You habitually substitute protecting oneself for protecting another, as if that's equivalent, when it's demonstrably different. Putting yourself at risk to protect another is the antithesis of "self-protection." Pacifists can't think straight.
ii) You aren't suffering in her stead. She suffers because you refuse to intervene.
"Self-sacrifice" on her behalf? What does that even mean? You haven't taken her place. The mugger is attacking her, not you. The mugger would only turn on your if you intervene.
"You're speaking in evasive abstractions that don't begin to demonstrate how it's loving to let a mugger bludgeon the woman when you are in a position to forcibly intercede."Again, the cross is not 'an evasive abstraction'.
Are you trying not to understand my statement? In context, what makes it an evasive abstraction is your comparison. "The cross" is an evasive abstraction when you misuse that to justify sitting on your hands while the woman is bludgeoned by a mugger.
"That isn't showing love to the woman. Rather, that's allowing evil to triumph."A perfect man suffered injustice and died at the hands of evil men, and yet it was the means through which God brought redemption and reconciliation to the cosmos (Acts 2:23; 1 Cor. 15:5; Col 1:20). We may just have to die in the same way as we follow the same person.
You aren't the victim of the mugging. Your entire position hinges on that blatant systematic equivocation.
"You fail to draw an elementary distinction between a culpable aggressor and an innocent victim. It is evil to treat good and evil equally."Steve, I don't fail to draw this distinction. I love and self-sacrifice indiscriminately. I pursue reconciliation without exception. Like Jesus, I suffer, rather than wield violence. The aggressor is culpable, certainly. But the aggressor is to be disarmed as Jesus would have it, not as my intuition would lead me.
You didn't practice "self-sacrifice" by allowing the woman to be mugged. You didn't sacrifice a thing. She takes all the physical abuse while you wring your hands.
Notice that pacifists don't listen. Everything you say bounces right off them. They don't argue in good faith. They erect a wall. They rattle off their talking points.
You are in fact creating context-specific exceptions to the command to love your enemy (that is, the enemy is only to be loved when they do not threaten the innocent).
i) In the nature of the case, commands are context-specific. Different commands and prohibitions address different situations.
ii) If you insist on recasting the issue in terms of "exceptions," then you yourself are guilty of making exceptions. You only believing in loving your parents, wife, kids, neighbor except when that conflicts with loving your enemy.
iii) Your position suffers from a profound moral inversion, where the wicked should be treated better than the innocent.
Yet, the innocent is protected and defended, and the enemy is loved and reconciled in the same self-giving event: the cross. My position is that we do fight, we do protect, we do defend, even aggressively - but we do so nonviolently (violence of course is the least imaginative of our options).
i) You refuse to take effective measures to protect and defend the innocent. "Nonviolent protection" is a vacuous phrase if the victim cannot be protected by nonviolent means. There's a glaring mismatch between your words and the reality.
ii) Yes, violence is unimaginative. But circumstances constrain our range of options.
If you can demonstrate how violence is a form of love *toward your enemy*, I will admit I have mischaracterized you.
i) That's not a precondition of my argument. Rather, there's a hierarchy of obligations. In case of conflict, a higher duty supersedes a lower duty.
ii) You yourself are forced to prioritize obligations. Your harmonization is to protect the wicked from the innocent instead of protecting the innocent from the wicked.
Violence toward the aggressor may be an attempt to love our neighbor, but it is an unscriptural attempt. It must be abandoned for the example of Jesus, who initiated nonviolent enemy-love by volunteering to offer himself up. And unless Jesus sinned by failing to keep the second table of the law, this event was also neighbor-love toward those Jews who suffered under Roman occupation. This is my position.
i) That's such a mindless statement. Jesus didn't protect himself from harm because that would be counterproductive to his redemptive mission. He died a sacrificial death to atone for sin. To prevent his enemies from arresting him and putting him to death would be a cross-purposes with the very reason he came in the first place: penal substitution.
That's categorically disanalogous to the lives of Christians. We weren't put on earth for the express and exclusive purpose of dying, much dying as a vicarious atonement for the sins of others (or even ourselves).
ii) In addition, Jesus isn't even talking about "enemies" in general. For instance, turning the cheek in response to a backhanded slap is about an honor code rather than self-defense.