Wednesday, July 04, 2007


"Parents are more than happy to raise their children to grow up to make up their own mind whether they will be Christians or not. Parents do not raise their children to think that they have an option about whether they will kill or not kill for the United States of America."
-Stanley Hauerwas, "Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War"


brandon said...

I don't really see this as being true in my experience. Rather the opposite.

Ben Robinson said...

I suppose Holland, MI does afford ample evidence that some parents do not raise their children to make up their own mind about Christianity (cf. prior Hauerwas quote regarding Christians' fetish with the family). Yet I think Holland, MI provides a model of Christians who view both parts of Hauerwas' quote as corollaries. That is, you have no mind to make up about either issue: you will inherit your parents' faith (and nuances therein) and you will be a patriot. These two are considered so interconnected that it is incredibly difficult to begin to pry out the possibility that being a "good" American has absolutely nothing to do with being a "good" Christian. The support for American military action by many evangelicals is absolutely frightening.

Randy said...

Though we're not acquainted, I found you through "Recliner" and have appreciated your good thinking, writing and commitment to scholarship. As I've confessed before, the whole pacifist thing has me a bit baffled. I understand it best if I see it as a reaction to Iraq. Of course I can comprehend the basic theology of it and I was once fairly convinced myself. And I should confess that I've read narry a page of Yoder. I did hear Ravi comment on it recently and found I could own his viewpoint much better (what I would call a traditional war/violence-as-necessary-to-quell-evil approach).
I'm jumping in here to respond to Hauerwas on this: "Parents do not raise their children to think that they have an option about whether they will kill or not kill for the United States of America."

I find the statement unfair in its reducing the terms of military service to the question of kill not kill. I do not know the context but it sounds like a fully self-serving statement. Almost no one thinks of duty to country in those terms. Of course military involvement assumes the possibility of killing -- it woiuld be likewise self-serving to deny that. But Hauerwas' reducing it to that expression really does nothing for putting th debate in even-handed terms. He can do better, I think. What think ye?

Kevin K. Wright said...

Randy, you're absolutely right about it being unfair to reducing the terms of military service to the question of kill or not kill. Rather, military service is about killing your neighbor, murdering civilians, capitulating to the power hungry appetittes of world leaders, ignoring just peacemaking tactics, sin, and denying the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

Randy said...

A bit over the top, my friend. Perhaps I misunderstand, but this illustrates to me a real difficulty in dialogue about this. Your comment would suugest to me that all non-pacifists are painted into a box that embraces all you list above. Such a position is no way to engage those who differ with your views. Give me a break, or help me see that I misunderstand.

Ben and Jen said...


I appreciate you stopping by. I recall our brief interaction when I wrote my last piece concerning war.

First, I'd like to clarify regarding your comment about the acceptance of pacifism being related in a reactionary way to the war in Iraq. At least for me and the friends of mine who are committed to non-violence I have not seen this develop as a result of Iraq. Certainly Iraq provides an opportunity to begin to articulate and interpret our commitment, but it was not the impetus behind such a commitment. After all, when this war began I was the typical evangelical republican who fully supported American military response. My personal views began to change upon encountering Yoder and Hauerwas, which was abstracted from my view on Iraq. It was only after they persuaded me that I realized my commitment to non-violence has implications for immediate events.

I would highly recommend reading Yoder and Hauerwas or others of their ilk. Those of us who are learning from them are not nearly as articulate as they are and thus it would do well to actually read them instead of making conjectures as to their work based upon such limited contact.

Finally, a few substantial comments.

First: I wouldn't call the position of Ravi 'traditional'. While I am unfamiliar with Ravi's own teaching on this point I assume he is attempting to adhere to some form of Just War. But a few points would need to be made here; to point to Just War theory as the 'traditional' Christian view 1) ignores the strong non-violent tradition in Christian history, 2) risks presenting a skewed view of the application of Just War theory in Christian history, 3) says very little about the morality of such a theory and whether there has ever been a war which complied with Just War criteria.

I also would hope that Ravi would still clarify that the violence committed in 'necessary' wars is still evil. Christians have always understood that, and in the course of Christian history when soldiers who had fought in a Just War returned from battle they were required a penance and were not allowed into the Eucharistic celebration for three years. Thus, we must recognize that even for the Just War tradition in Christianity the assumption has always been that violence is evil and requires repentance even when done for 'right' reasons.

I think what Hauerwas does so well is abstract the realities of war in order to show us what we are accepting if we allow for limited acts of violence. I wonder what you would consider a more apt description of military service. At the base of military service is the assumption that American citizens will kill in order to protect some transcendent ideal: liberal democratic freedom, family, neighbor, the well-being of the state, etc. The distinctiveness of the military is its willingness to kill in order to affect its ends. Granted, we may not want to describe duty to country in those terms but I find it difficult to be honest about the military without predicating the willingness to kill for the U.S. So I do not find Hauerwas' statement unfair. If anything, I agree more with Kevin's further explication of the consequences of war.

I would not intimate that by being willing to adopt Just War therefore you see those items listed by Kevin as good. Thus, I would not want to 'paint you into a box'. Nor do I do so especially considering I have never even met you. :) Yet I do think it needs to be admitted that if a Christian is going to allow for Just War the list which Kevin created is virtually inevitable. The Just War Christian ought, therefore, to be working diligently so that Just War criteria are applied responsibly, and I would welcome such an effort to restrain and limit war. The problem is that Just War has in large part shown itself ineffective in restraining war. War has increasingly become unlimited and the corollaries are 'killing your neighbor, murdering civilians, capitulating to the power hungry appetites of world leaders, ignoring just peacemaking tactics, sin, and denying the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.'

I can respect a well theologically articulated position of Just War, even if I think it fails to be true obedience to Christ. Even so, I think those who accept Just War (and there are few Christians who have even a basic grasp of Just War) need to be pressed and critiqued because ultimately I would desire their position to come into greater conformity with the politics of Jesus.

Pax Christi,


Ben Robinson said...

Oops, the above comments is me but I posted under the name of my wife and I.

Randy said...

Thanks for a thoughtful and helpful reply. Of course I need to read Hauerwas and Yoder if I am going to do justice to the debate, so perhaps that is enough said until I get that done. As to reaction, there is no doubt some of that in my response b/c I find the pacifist angle so mysterious almost. Again, I need to study it more, as you have graciously encouraged.
If I can justify the time in the next day or two I would like to respond to a couple of other items, but I want to do it justice so will see if time will allow.

Again, thanks for taking time to help me learn a bit -- the business about warriors doing pennance when they return, etc. is really interesting. And I can see how that reflects an idea that 'necessary' violence is still evil. I'm just along ways from seeing it that way -- my understanding needs more transforming, which is life-long, of course.

Randy Huff said...

Dear Ben,
You've given me a lot to think about, as has Mike and my friend Doug over at thinkinginohio. I want to have integrity on the question and as I've considered it I think one thing I wrestle with is a personal outlook overly weighted to natural law. But I am not sure I can or should try to explicate that here. Enough to say that war seems to be necessary to the fallen world and I have just not come to see that the Gospel upends that in the sense that a truly Christian life avoids going to war at any cost. That probably sketches our differences, but I will go ahead and give my further response below. As always I find it enjoyable and stimulating, but am aware it can too easily miss key points, etc. I am happy for you to point out glaring or less-than-glaring problems.

As to pacifism being a reaction to Iraq, I receive your point. I just think that, due to the circumstances, the debate gets a bit more energy than it might otherwise get – and that is probably just stating the obvious.

I probably confused things by referring to Ravi's approach as “traditional”. So I'll clarify now that I did not mean “Christian tradition”. I meant tradition like 'mothers have babies' and 'water runs down hill' – what Chesterton calls the “dumb certainties of experience”. I am suggesting that this is the way the world is, and it is therefore a “traditional” approach – rooted in reality: war/violence-[IS SOMETIMES]-necessary-to-quell-evil. [Assuming another dumb certainty – that evil should be quelled.] Again, this probably defines our difference. At present I am unable to see how this principle is wrong. How would you modify it or deny it?

As to violence being evil [in the Christian tradition] I guess I have to take your word for it. It mystifies me how we could say that violence is ontologically evil, or always evil in any other sense. If the definitions never change and you are EQUATING all violence with evil in any instance – then I am unable to see it. How does this square with millions of believers reveling in NFL every Sunday? Or – and I hate to use this example, but it seems apt – what of the violence [on some scale] that Jesus used cleansing the temple? Was that violence evil? Or what of the policeman with the basic night stick? And...saying violence is somehow OK when used reluctantly or whatever [e.g., oft-heard explanation for Bonhoeffer's assassination plot] does nothing for me if violence is still ontologically evil.

And how do we avoid the implication that the violence of killing animals – from the pesky mosquito to the beef steer -- is evil? I have been wondering how the pacifist approach can avoid going there, if indeed all violence is evil. And if pacifists indeed say killing a mosquito is evil, things seem to get very interesting and avoiding some strains of gnosticism seems difficult, but that is an aside I need to think on more.

You said: “At the base of military service is the assumption that American citizens will kill in order to protect some transcendent ideal: liberal democratic freedom, family, neighbor, the well-being of the state, etc.” How is family/neighbor a “transcendent ideal”? If we are supposed to die defending passively our family/neighbor, are they still “transcendent ideals”? My wife is ideal and sometimes transcendent, but she is hardly a transcendent ideal. Help me here, but I think you muddied the waters a bit.

Saying Kevin's list is “virtually inevitable” is not the same as saying it does justice to the question – and that is my point. I thought it failed to handle the question broadly enough for dialogue, as per my complaint with the Hauerwas quote. Here is my attempt at an apt description of Military service from the other end of the continuum. You said: “At the base of military service is the assumption that American citizens will kill in order to protect some transcendent ideal: liberal democratic freedom, family, neighbor, the well-being of the state, etc.”
I would say rather, “At the base of military service is the assumption that there is such a thing as civilization, that such a thing should be sought and maintained, that evil exists, that maintaining civilization requires the pushing back of evil at times, and that, evil being what it is, such a thing will sometimes require ultimate force." I would further maintain that the family is a microcosm of life so that what goes for the family must go for the state. If it is a baseline principle that I am required to protect my child from evil-doers, I may not be able to do so without extrapolating that responsibility to serving as a constable or ultimately serving in military service. In all of this there will be tortured decisions and a given head-of-house, and certainly a head-of-state, will not always be right.

Thanks for not wanting to paint me into a box. I hope I have done some justice to your well-considered response. I want to keep thinking and growing on this. As I said, I was once almost a complete pacifist, and I certainly am not eager for violence. I just cannot carry the idea of pacifism out to its [apparent] implications without it seeming untenable to me. Granted, I need to read more – thanks for encouraging me that way.

Randy Huff said...

I should add that I've taken time to do a bit of reading -- what a concept! I am wondering if my thoughts really intersect the kind of case Christological Pacifism tries to make. I am impressed with what I saw of the obvious theological work, etc. He certainly means to place the view on firm footing so if/when I read further it will require some strong theological reflection.