Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gurwitz on the Deadliness of Pacifism

Columnist Jonathan Gurwitz writes eloquently today on a favored SWNID theme: that pacifism is dangerous to innocent people. As usual, we urge gentle readers to follow the link but offer a quotation, this one from the column's ending:

To turn the other cheek — one's own cheek — is a principled demonstration of Christian pacificism [sic]. To avert one's gaze from evil, to divert the gaze of others and distort their perception of it, is neither principled nor does it advance the cause of real peace.


Dustin said...

Although I did not read the entire article, I do have a question. In the quote, it is assumed that the premise of pacifism is ignoring evil. However, could it not also be said that pacifism does not ignore evil, but rather seeks differing means of combating it? This quote assumes that most of Christian pacifism stands on the underlying foundation of ignorance and utopian thinking. Yet, I would propose that Christian pacifism is not about ignoring evil, but seeking alternative means to combat it other than violence.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

I'd say that is hopes to be that in theory but becomes what this quotation assumes in practice. The issue is not what pacifists intend but what happens when they try to act.

Pacifism, like socialism, is compelling in the abstract. But it has a poor record in the concrete. Theologians of the just-war persuasion have long criticized Christian pacifism for its failure to reckon with the real nature of evil in a continually fallen world. Pacifism has an "over-realized eschatology" in that respect.

More particularly, the columnist notes that the Lord's injunction to turn the other cheek is in reference to wrongs done to oneself. When others are threatened, love compels self-sacrificial action to protect them from the evildoer. Few pacifists object to police action, for example. Just-war theorists simply view just military action as police action on a larger scale.

Christians do somehow have to keep in mind that the apostle said about the imperial government of Rome, hardly the exemplar of respect for human rights, "He who bears the sword bears it not in vain." If it is true in that situation, is it not also true when a nation with explicit commitment to human rights and dignity, however imperfectly lived out, uses force to protect the innocent from the violently exploitive?

Dustin said...

How would one go about living out pacifism on an individual level, yet not on a governmental level? As a pacifist myself, and you may disagree with me, my belief prevents me from revenge with violence when violence is done upon me. However, it also has led me to assume that I cannot allow myself to be used by a government in order to do the same thing. I do not believe, in this fallen world, that human, sinful governments cannot use military force as they choose. For me to believe such would take ignorance and a false sense of utopia. Yet, cannot I not still hold to such a view personally, which then translates over into the public realm if I were ever governmentally compelled to act in a military manner?

I understand completely where you are coming from, yet still do not see the incongruence in my own belief system which is often heaped upon others who claim the same belief. Maybe I am just blind.

JB in CA said...

Re: Dustin.

I question whether the proper interpretation of Jesus' command to turn the other cheek is meant to be absolutly binding, even for the individual. If your child, for instance, strikes you on the cheek, do you really think that the proper response, according to Jesus, is to let him strike the other also? Perhaps, instead, a spanking is in order--a rather violent response, I might add.

But let's suppose that we are to be absolutely passive with respect to personal attacks. Does that then allow us to transfer this personal form of pacifism into the military context, as you suggest? I think the answer is clearly NO, since a military assault on one's country cannot be plausibly interpreted as a personal attack upon oneself. Rather, it's a general attack on the nation as a whole. That's not to say, of course, that one is always obligated to fight for one's country. If the war is unjust, for example, one has a duty not to fight. But that has nothing to do with the issue of pacifism. It has everything to do with justice, which, in the previous case, would not be served by a passive response.

In addition to this argument (that you may or may not find convincing), note that Jesus, in addition to proclaiming that we should turn the other cheek, also said that he "did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Mt 10:34). Later, he even instructed the disciples, "if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one" so that they could defend themselves in more difficult times (Lk 22:36).

Now, before you say that we should interpret these verses figuratively, first ask yourself Why? And then, more tellingly, ask yourself why we should not instead interpret "turn the other cheek" figuratively? I think your understanding of the biblical teaching on this subject may well change as a result.

Anonymous said...

It is right to point out the foolishness of those who are silent and inactive in the face of evil.

At the same time, why criticize those who are confronting and battling evil, simply because you have a different political viewpoint?