War & Peace, Part 2

In my first post on this subject I looked at a broad historical overview of Christian attitudes towards war, and then yesterday Liam did a great job of explaining the pacifist approach. In this post I want to expand on these thoughts, and also focus more specifically on the question of whether Christians can exercise violence in an appropriate, even recreational, manner. I still have more work to do on this myself, but here is where I have got to so far…

#1 – There is such a thing as a courageous pacifist. To be a pacifist can be truly costly and demand great courage. For example, the young man who was sentenced to a prison term for refusing conscription in apartheid South Africa was demonstrating greater courage than the young man who unthinkingly went along with the demands of that corrupt regime and served his time in the military. To caricature pacifists as weak is just silly.

#2 – There is such a thing as an aggressive pacifist. This is a point Mark Driscoll makes in Confessions of a Reformission Rev where he comments on another author who, “From my perspective, [uses] his power as a writer and speaker to do violence to Scripture in the name of pacifism.”

#3 – Weakness does not always equal ‘wrongness’ For example, the apostle Paul speaks about his weakness – and he was indisputably as hard as nails! So the distinction that needs to be made is between a godly weakness that recognises our human limitations, and an ungodly weakness by which we just abdicate our responsibilities.

#4 – There is such a thing as a tender warrior. Of course, Jesus is our ultimate example of this!

#5 – This is a truism, but there is no one (or practically no one) who would claim that violence is always and in every situation inappropriate. For example, if one were to see a child that was about to be bit by a car, it would be appropriate to forcefully move that child out of harm’s way. Slightly further along the scale, few would deny the appropriateness of a police officer forcefully apprehending an offender, if the context required it. As is so often the case in questions of ethics, we find that there are lines to be drawn, but quite where to draw them can be somewhat fuzzy.

#6 – For many men (especially) pleasure is found in physical exertion that involves a degree of pain. Again, there is a scale of experience here, from the runner who endures the self-inflicted discomfort of keeping on running (and the reward of the subsequent endorphin rush), to the rugby player who enjoys the controlled conflict of the game, to the boxer who attempts to render his opponent unconscious. Where to draw the line in terms of what is acceptable on this scale is difficult. What – to me at least – is more interesting is why men enjoy this physical contact, and to what degree it can be engaged righteously.

#7 – For men to fight is not necessarily unrighteous, but an outworking of a physical aspect of what it means to be a man. It is readily observable that little boys spend much of their time wrestling with one another, and playing war games. As these boys grow this desire for combat gets formalised, especially through sport – which can range from non-contact to full-contact activities. I find it difficult to see that this desire for combat is simply the result of sin, anymore than a desire for food or sex is a result of sin. All of these desires are easily brought under the sway of sin, but that does not make them intrinsically sinful.

#8 – There is a distinction to be made between a ‘gladiator’ and a ‘warrior’. (This is a distinction that a highly qualified martial arts instructor, and Christian, helped me to see – thanks Clive!) The gladiator is someone who glories in violence and is defined by it. The warrior is someone who only applies violence in an appropriate way. The gladiator is a slave, whereas the warrior is free. The man who goes out on a Friday night, gets drunk and looks for a fight is a gladiator. The man who defends his wife and children from harm is a warrior. The man who practices MMA? Well, I’m not so sure where the line is on that one!

#9 – My inability to understand why someone else finds a particular activity pleasurable does not necessarily make that activity sinful.

#10 – The fact that I find a particular activity pleasurable does not necessarily make it righteous.

#11 – Trying to shape all these thoughts into a consistent ethic of violence is difficult. In the case of combat sports I think it means that there is a range of acceptable perspectives, while there are lines that have to be drawn somewhere. So, surely, all Christians would agree that a fight to the death is certainly wrong; but some Christians in good conscience will feel that a sporting activity in which death remains a possibility is acceptable.

#12 – In the end the question that has to be answered is whether any activity I engage in ministers grace to others. At times this may mean that violence is appropriate. For example, I would argue that violence can be an expression of grace if it restrains evil. But two guys in a boxing ring? That’s more difficult! I think I can see how grace might be present there, but it’s certainly a harder case to argue.
This post forms the third part of a short series on violence and pacifism.

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