Sorry about the long gap in posts. Turns out I’ve been busy. Anyways, while I’ve been silent there’s been plenty of good stuff being churned out in the blogosphere, including this post from Paul Griffiths. He offers a list of principles on violence and peace on which he hopes all Christians can agree, which read as follows:
- Christians love peace, first and last: the first garden was peaceful and the last heaven will be. That’s the grammar of Christian thought. ‘Peaceful’ here means (at least) that in paradise and in heaven no one damages anyone else, physically or otherwise, and no one wants to.
- But, we are fallen. Which means that peace no longer obtains, which means in turn that each of us wants to damage others, physically and in other ways, and that each of us does so. Hence, at the physical level, murder, war, rape, torture, and quotidian beatings.
- Christians know that the condition mentioned in (2) is not the way it’s supposed to be; also not the way it once was and, one day, not the way it will be.
- We Christians also know that we should act in response to and furtherance of beauty-truth-goodness, and not by calculation of effect. (Controversial this; but true and right nevertheless.)
- And so, we ought never act in such a way as to intend physical damage. That would be ugly, a repetition of the fall, a deepening of damage.
- But, sometimes, acting in response to and furtherance of what’s beautiful-good-true brings physical damage in its train, as rain can bring flood and sun drought. Sometimes, too, we can know this to be the case: disarming the man with the gun may break his arm; preventing the wife-beater from continuing to beat may hurt him; and so on. [This is a version of the principle of double effect.]
- In such cases, we should nonetheless act as beauty demands, thrumming & dancing thereby in response to the Lord, but at the same time wrapped in dark clouds of repentant mourning for the inevitable post-lapsum imbrication with violence of what we do in the Lord’s service. What we renounce as Christians is not actions that in fact produce physical damage, but actions intending that outcome.
- Pacifism, then? No. Renunciation of violence-as-physical-damage? Also no. What we seek is peace, which is both prevenient and among the last things; what we know is that our seeking of it will unavoidably contribute to damage. Hence, mourning, lament, penitence. The Christian soldier has to be a good mourner for what he is and does.
A lot of good stuff here. First, I really hope that I can write as well as Griffiths does someday. Also the emphasis on Christian activity always being oriented towards furthering beauty-truth-goodness, though without calculation is vital.
However, its too bad that Griffiths doesn’t do much to alleviate the problem he diagnoses, namely that Christians tend to “argue these questions in a deep conceptual fog about what counts as violence.” His basic thrust seems to be that Christians should never intend physical damage by their actions, but this is inevitable in a falling world, so we should be penitent. This seems to me to be obviously true, indeed Mennonite theologian Chris Huebner has argued a point very similar to this, namely that we don’t ever quite know what “peace” is or the fullness of how our lives are gripped by violence.
However, to move from the observation that we are caught in a world where our actions may, tragically bring about harm in ways we don’t intend, to “the Christian soldier” seems a huge leap in logic. I don’t really see how anyone could be a soldier without purposefully acting “in such a way as to intend physical damage.” As Griffiths rightly notes, “that would be ugly, a repetition of the fall, a deepening of damage.”
There seems to be some sort of inertial Niebuhrianism at work here. Somehow the observation of our fallneness leads (reluctantly) to the point of resignation to active violence-as-intending-harm, all cloaked in an aura of penitence. This, I think is precisely what we must not do. The last thing that observing that our lives are enmeshed in violence should do is drive us to accommodate our active behavior to this state of affairs. The proper response to his is not simply “mourning, lament, penitence” but actual repentance in the face of our failures. But actual repentance, the turning around of one’s life by the Spirit of Christ, and going in a new direction seems to be precisely what Griffiths doesn’t think can really be done. Therefore we are left to simply mourn and continue on as things have been from the beginning. Fortunately I don’t think this bleak outlook is one that we need adopt.