Monday, January 6, 2014

Just War & Early Christianity

"War is evil...Its causes are evil...Its consequences are orphans and widows and horribly maims the cheapens life and morality...wars that are intended to arrest violence and injustice seem only in the long run to breed further injustice and conflict. To call war anything less than evil, would be self-deception."

Those words sound like they came from someone from the 70s who wore colorful clothing, long hair, but somehow kept their brain intact. They actually come from a man named Arthur Holmes, who is actually a huge proponent of Just War Theory. 

Now, the above statement brings quite the shock to people today, particularly Americans. We have been raised with such different standards. Many today are, in fact, in love with militarism. Militarism is by definition the "belief or desire...that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests." This is where a good number of American Christians fall it would seem. I touched on this a few posts back called in a post called "Merica: We Don't Dial 911" if you would like to look back. But essentially, it is Christians who are the single biggest supporters of war and military. 

Now, this simply cannot be. Between the bizarre war ethics of the Israelites in the Old Testament (see the post mentioned above), to the predictions of Isaiah that one day people would "beat their swords into plowshares" (Isaiah 2:4), to the ethics of Jesus where enemies are loved and cheeks are turned, there is simply no room for militarism. The love and support of war as well as the love of military might is simply not supported in scripture, anywhere. I repeat - ANYWHERE. In fact, it is condemned as idolatry by the Prophets. This mindset of the general conservative Christian population is in no way informed by heavenly citizenship, it is informed by earthly citizenship. Red, white, blue, camo, guns, and eagles are products of the nation I am a part of, not God. Now, instead of getting upset here because you wear camo and own guns, please realize that I'm not saying anything against this. In no way did my last statement condemn such things. I live amongst hunters and woodsmen/women. I speak strictly of nationalistic, militaristic thought that seems to be so pervasive in our churches. 

Now, the thing is, I seem to pick on America quite a bit. It's where I live. However, this kind of mindset and issue is not limited to just America nor to even this time period. This started a long time ago, and so perhaps a brief discussion on history will help clear some things up. 

You can look ALL you want, but you will not find a single shred of writing from the first 2-3 centuries that will give Christian support to violence or war. Not one phrase. Jesus's ethics led fully during this time, there was nothing else. Now, something changed around the 4th century. Constantine had that pesky dream in which the letters Chi and Rho are emblazoned before his eyes - the first two letters of the word Christos (Christ/Messiah) in Greek. You've seen this before most likely, it looks like this. 

The next day, Constantine puts these letters on his soldiers and they win the battle. Constantine then legalized Christianity and eventually made it the national religion. From then on, churches started meeting in buildings, and eventually you have guys like Charlemagne who converted the nations by holding a sword to people's throats saying "be baptized or die" and the crusades and after centuries, you end up where we are now. Most people in Christian church today, whether they fall into this kind of militaristic category or not, suffer from the effects of Constantine. In fact, some Christian writers call what we suffer from the "Constatinian Cataract," saying we have a lens (perspective) of Christianity that is completely tinted by what happened in the 4th century, and a complete paradigm shift is needed to view church in a similar fashion to the first century church (Camp, 25-30). 

Something else happened too though. Also around the 4th century, Ambrose and his disciple Augustine of Hippo, a very strong and prominent early church father, started discussing Just War and when Christians could actually participate in and support it. When war is just had been talked about amongst the early Greek philosophers, but it was Augustine who refined and introduced the concept to the early church. 

This is fascinating for two reasons. Firstly, it is the first written support of war at all from a prominent Christian church leader. Secondly, Just War Theory is absolutely independent of scripture. There is not an Old or New Testament passage that gives a definition of when it is justified to go to war, or supports the criteria laid forth by Augustine. So, the foundational theory that is supposedly THE Christian method by which war is either justified or not justified is not based on Scripture. 

A third reason this is fascinating to me is because most Christians do not have a CLUE what Just War Theory says. Just War Theory was created as an EXCEPTION to the New Testament rule of enemy love. Note the fact that I capitalized exception. The New Testament itself gives no support to war in the least, and so Just War Theory was created as the exception to enemy love. It seeks to say essentially - "In general, war is evil, and only under these circumstances can it actually be justified". So, the New Testament Christianity that we all claim to follow, and the church in the first few centuries that we look to so often as the example by which we model after only saw war as being justified under very specific circumstances, and those circumstances were not even developed until the 4th century. 

This has been lost completely in our current time. War support (and really just violence in general) and Christianity today go together like peanut butter and jelly.This is a FAR cry from the early understanding that we claim to seek through scriptural understanding and historical/cultural studies. As I said, most today do not even know what Just War Theory is. 

So, I'd like to look at the theory because although there are some sincere critiques that can be done to the different criteria (as I will show), it nevertheless offers a MUCH better mindset towards war than our current understanding gives. 

Let's look at the criteria (these criteria can be found many places, I adapt them from the book Fight by Preston Sprinkle, who I utilize elsewhere in this post). 

1. Just Cause

Now, this could be a couple things. Firstly would be self-defense, so either attack or imminent threat of attack. The second would be intervening of another nation that is being oppressed. Preemptive strike as just cause is quite debatable. 

2. Right Authority

Only a legitimate government can wage war. So, no revolutionaries, criminals, or private militia. 

3. Right Intention

Much like Just Cause, this says that there cannot be unjust purposes for waging war, like vengeance, economic gain (read "Oil"), expanding territory, etc. 

4. Reasonable Chance of Success

The good results must outweigh the evil results. Since war should be to reestablish peace, the nation waging the war must have the means to achieve its goal.

5. Last Resort

ALL nonviolent methods and avenues must be exhausted completely before a country resorts to war.

6. Proportionate Means

Weaponry and force should be limited to only what is needed to repel attack and secure peace. Going beyond what is necessary for peace is unjust. Most would argue then that the use of nuclear weapons completely violates this criteria. 

7. Noncombatant Immunity

Civilians must not be targeted in war. This includes medical personnel, POWs, and anyone else that is not part of combat. If these kinds of people are killed as an indirect result of an attack (soldiers weren't trying to kill civilians and took the steps not too), this criteria is not violated. This would seem to go against drone attacks and carpet bombing. 

Those are the criteria laid out by Augustine. Now, the interesting thing is, there has been almost no war ever to meet these criteria. History has not seen a just war, even according to most Just War advocates. Augustine did not create these in order to justify war, he in fact primarily sought to show how evil it truly can be. 

Now, even with Just War Theory and those who try to say that it is the method by which warfare can be justified, there are some legitimate concerns with the theory. The main concern is perspective. Legitimate authority for example. What about revolution against unjust legitimate authorities? After all, it was America's Thomas Jefferson who said "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." But, who gets to determine which side is evil? No doubt that it is always the "other guys" that are in the wrong. Both the North and the South prayed to the same God for victory. We may be able to look back and make at least more informed judgment calls, but it is not so easy to do so at the time. Just cause and right intention are other examples where perspective tends to be different. 9/11 is an example, for Bin Laden attacked the U.S. in response to military presence, including bases, in the Middle East, which they perceived as unjust. That, in fact, is a serious violation of their culture and religion. Now, does that make 9/11 a just attack? I wouldn't say that in a million years. And as always, there seems to always be civilian casualties in war that are chocked up as "collateral damage" in the name of a "greater good." (Sprinkle, 269)

In most examples, some wars may be seen as having several criteria met, but then it most likely violates others.  

So do I think there is a Just war? Yes, I actually do. I believe that when God Himself tells His people to go and fight a war, then it is justified. This is the example set forth in the Old Testament. Now, other religions outside of Judaism and Christianity have claimed direct inspiration for war, but never has this been true of any war fought since the Israelites were claiming the promised land and purifying it for God. Men like Constantine and the leaders of the Crusades have claimed inspiration, but very unjust behavior is exhibited and selfish intentions have always been seen as the true reasoning. 

I've said it before, but we got kicked out of Eden for trying to be like God and make judgment calls. God is the only being truly righteous enough to make these, and so the Old Testament, which is infused with war it seems, is riddled with examples how God doesn't want the Israelites to have a king so that He can be their king, and even when they are given a king, the king is stripped of the power to fight war. This is reserved for God and His righteous judgment. So, I do believe in Just War, but I believe that God is the one to make the call. Post Israel, there has never been a nation that is God's nation. The church is the New Israel, and we are told to be in the "enemy love" business, not in the war business. 

Now, I don't naively believe that every person who reads this or my last post on this kind of topic will immediately change their opinion to fit with my view (or should I say, my strongest attempt at having a biblical view). But perhaps I can get you to think a little bit and maybe make a couple of steps towards a different way of thinking. 

Now, while I see there being some serious critiques of Just War Theory, I would much rather see people hold the Just War opinion than the nationalistic, militaristic opinion that seems to be so prevalent in churches today. After all, as the beginning quote notes, holding to Just War Theory means holding to the idea that war is evil, and is never what should be desired. Even if someone does not get on board with Just War Theory, surely it can be agreed that war and violence are terrible things, even if some believe that they are sometimes necessary. 

Now, something you may be thinking...nations are going to war against nations, that's part of life. It indeed is. But, that doesn't mean that Christians by default need to support this and participate. War will happen, but as I've also said before elsewhere, the war in Iraq would not have happened without the support of Christian evangelicals. Our support of such inevitable things is not necessary, so our stance should be questioned. 

So my purpose in all this is to introduce a conversation that is rarely had. Discussion of Just War is rarely had. A war is not a just war simply because it is ordained by the state. We are scared to talk about these types of things, and of all the topics out there, this one seems to get people more mad when their point of view is disagreed with than just about any other thing. I invite you to open up the conversation and question the nationalism and militarism that seem to be more prevalent than the ethics of Jesus which would have us hate revenge and love our enemies. 

I invite you to question your stance, and try to let Scripture and your heavenly citizenship inform your earthly citizenship and stances, not the other way around. It may not be comfortable, it may go against your entire upbringing, it may be so foreign you can hardly imagine it. But, I'm not asking you to go against Christ. I'm not asking you to hate soldiers or throw tomatoes at anyone (that wouldn't be Christian at all). I love soldiers, they are God's children and most do not go to war out of a desire to kill, but to serve. I'm not promoting devil worship or sacrificing barnyard animals. I'm suggesting there may be a more biblical way to look at this issue than most do.

Don't be scared to ask those hard questions or even change your stance if you find a more Jesus like way to think. This is how we grow. Choose to challenge yourself because at the end of the day, something about this picture really just doesn't feel right. This just doesn't seem like the Jesus we read about in Scripture, does it?

Works Cited:

Arthur Holmes, "The Just War," in Robert G. Clouse (ed.), War (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 117-135 (117). 

Camp, Lee C. Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. Brazos Press, 2003. Print. 

Sprinkle, Preston. Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013. Print. 

1 comment:

  1. There is war being waged inside of my brain about war.

    What I appreciate about this article is that it is based in seeking Truth. I think we should always be seeking truth throughout our lives regardless of what is popular or accepted as truth based on tradition. May all of us seek truth even at the potential cost of our long-held traditions.