Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why I'm a Christian Pacifist: We Are Rome

My first post was built largely around the idea that our actions should foreshadow how we want the world to be, setting the example as Jesus did. This was a law of ethical behavior by a guy named Immanuel Kant, and before him, a guy named Jesus (Matthew 7:12). 

For this post, we are going to look at his second major law of ethics: "act as to treat every case as an end withal, never as a means only." A means to an end is something you use in order to get something you want. Your job may be a means to an end. You may not really enjoy your job, but it's the means by which you pay the bills and keep yourself and family well fed. We have become a society that treats people as means to an end. We objectify people daily. 

Have you seen The Hunger Games? I feel as though many have either seen the books, read the movies (jokes) or at least know what they are generally about. Children are basically offered up every year in violent spectacle where they are forced to either kill or be killed, and all of this is televised for the entertainment crazed elite. Most would be right in drawing parallels between The Hunger Games and the Roman Coliseum, as they are essentially the same thing. However, the books and movies also bring criticism to 21st century media, particularly reality television (which doesn't represent a shred of reality). In the coliseums of the ancient world, what was offered was entertainment. Human life (usually slave, criminal, or for a good stint, Christian) is a means to an end of entertainment for the social elite who would sponsor it. Today, we have Jerry Springer, The Bachelor, UFC, Fox News...and basically every shooter video game of all time. I've known plenty of people who know The Bachelor is not a good representation of reality and instead just watch it for how silly or crazy the people are. But aren't we still laughing at their pain? UFC fights have become some of the most expensive televised sporting events out there, and while it is indeed two consenting adults, they definitely get in a head space where the other person is no longer a human but "in the way" of their victory and glory. When have you ever seen two fighters go out afterwards for some molten lava cake at Chili's? They dang near have to hate each other, and we just eat it up. And I'm too often right there enjoying the spectacle with everyone else, lest people see me as on a high horse. 

This is when I realize that We Are Rome. Yet we who are Christians are called to not live as Romans. Go read the entire Sermon on the Mount after finishing this. It still blows my mind how crazy some of Jesus's commands really are. Do you see a theme in them though? 

Through many years of study and ministry, I am convinced that objectification is the base of almost all sin. Human life is seen as an object to be used instead of as a person to be loved. We are supposed to use things, not love them. We are supposed to love people, not use them. Think about it. Objectification always involves treating people as the means to an end. The bully objectifies the bullied in order to relieve themselves of some repressed anger or a bad home life. The lustful objectify the opposite sex and see them more for their physical bodies than their inner qualities. The gossiper treats some unfortunate soul as the means by which they can have a good laugh and get that next bit of fun information. What you say when you stub your toe is of little consequence compared to how we often curse and degrade other people with words that aren't even considered vulgar (stupid, idiot, freak). Many wars have been fought where human life is seen as the means to an end such as land or resource acquisition (kingdom expansion; oil). Still, it must be admitted that even if we don't see these as justified, war and violence still treat life as the means to an end of justice or security. I would go out on a limb and challenge you to look at what is considered sin in the bible and not find some pattern of either reducing another person's intrinsic value or your own value. Surely, we are often told by the world what is to be valued and then devalue ourselves based on such overwhelming narratives. 

In subsequent posts, we will deal with alot of Scripture in great detail, but for now, just think about Jesus's command to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). If there is anyone that is easy, if not necessary, to objectify in times of conflict, it is enemies. I can still remember people who claimed Christ celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden when the news broke. "We Got Him!" was all too common of a phrase. Now, I am not defending Bin Laden's actions in the least, for surely he and his followers have built an ideology around objectifying people as well. However, Jesus says that we were to love and pray for Osama Bin Laden. Now, some might feel that he still needed to be punished, and I can understand such sentiment. However, if we are to even remotely live out this non-objectifying enemy love that Jesus talks about, it should not be a celebration, but a tragedy.

Even if you feel as though such retaliation was perhaps necessary, it should still be a mourned event. Even if you feel that there are times for killing and war, it should be with an incredibly heavy heart and sense of sadness that such decisions are made. Let me illustrate with a quote I've used before by Arthur Holmes.

"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" (117).

Arthur Holmes was not a pacifist, but a Just War advocate. He believed war was necessary and justified at times, but this was his view, and I think that being a Jesus follower hearkens us to at least admit how objectifying our society has become and how evil violence really is - even if some still think it is necessary at times.

Like my first post, I'm not trying to say that this is in and of itself a strong argument for complete pacifism. I think Scripture makes the argument, and I surely want to get there. However, in and of itself, this is not all that is needed.

However, it is a starting point because of how far I see we've fallen. War and violence have become games...literal games. Now, I know there is research that shows violent video games do and don't have a great impact on our brains. However, what does it say about us that we are entertained by war (Call of Duty) and violence (Grand Theft Auto)? What does it say about our society that so-called Christian political leaders like Sarah Palin claim that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists? What does it say that so-called Christians like Phil Robertson think the solution to ISIS is "convert them or kill them"? What does it say that the president of Liberty University, one of the most influential Christian universities in this country, encouraged the student body to get their concealed carry permits so that they could "end those muslims before they walk in and kill us" and "teach them a lesson if they ever show up here." We have slipped back into thinking like Charlemagne who converted the nations by essentially saying "be baptized or we will kill you."

Even if you end up in a place similar to Arthur Holmes and think things like war and violence are sometimes necessary, can we not agree that they are evil and tragic? Can we not agree that Jesus loves even the most loathsome of this world and that beckons us to at least move away from the objectifying views we too often hold against our enemies in this world? 

The way of Jesus calls me to see every single person in this world as a child of God with intrinsic value before I see them as anything else. Addicts, criminals, terrorists, and even those Christians I feel do not represent the name of Jesus well are all loved and cherished individuals, and no matter how much I may disagree with their thinking and action, I am called to love them and not objectify them. 

When in Rome, don't do as the Romans do, but instead try to see every single person in this world through the eyes of Jesus. 

Dear reader, I have been reading through some writing from an ethics and theology professor I had in my graduate program, Vic McCracken. He is also writing on this type of topic and is writing from a different perspective than I am. I strongly suggest you go and enjoy some very well informed contrasting viewpoints. Click here!

Works Cited:

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