Screwing for Virginity

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Wrestling with Pacifism

I don't think there's a pacifist in the world who, in discussing the convictions s/he has no doubt painfully wrestled with, has not been asked, usually by a smug conservative who mistakes hyperbole for rational argumentation, "Well, what if someone broke into your house and was going to kill your spouse and children? Are you saying you wouldn't kill him to protect your family?"

I've been considering this question a lot lately, especially now that I have a wife and we're in an unfamiliar place; I suddenly feel much more protective. I still hate the question, first of all because, as I have said before, I don't believe in developing a normative ethic based on my actions while under extreme stress. But now I have two other reasons.

The second reason is that this scenario has nothing to do with modern warfare. So, yes, I would be willing to defend my family against an intruder, but if you want to make that correspond to war, the question needs to be phrased thusly: "If someone broke into your home to kill your spouse and children, would you kill him? And to follow up, would you find out where he lived and blow it up? Would you find out where his kids went to school and blow it up? Would you then find where all the people who look like him gather and use all of the resources at your disposal, including your children's college funds and your savings to destroy them, bankrupting yourself in the process with the dim gleam of hope that after ruining all the people who had a hand in breaking into your house, they will pay off your debt?" My answer to that question is, "No." Which is why I still call myself a pacifist. (To phrase the question in order to make it correspond precisely with this current "War on Terror" would be so absurd as to be laughable, and since I want to keep this conversation serious, I made generalizations.)

Third, the original question ignores any thought of a solution. Most people who ask it consider war to be the solution to international aggression. Does that mean that they think killing burglars is the solution to crime? Sadly, I think many of them do. But it isn't. Poverty, homelessness, racism, and greed seem to be root issues which lead to burglary, and these issues need to be addressed in order to find a solution. Likewise, similar issues need to be addressed to prevent international aggression (here's a novel idea, maybe the U.S. should stop being the aggressor!). So while I would kill a burglar to protect my family, I recognize that it is not a solution, so I still oppose the death penalty.

Convictions are difficult to live with, and mine are ever being reevaluated. I may be too violent for some pacifists, and I know that I am too peaceable for just war theorists (and those who throw considerations of justice out the window tied to a grenade). So let's recognize that we are all on the same journey of trying to figure out how to live justly and love mercy and not be so cock-sure as to think we can destroy another person's convictions with a catch-phrase.

In that light, please understand that I don't imagine that I have disproved just-war theory. It also is a conviction, and I know many people who have wrestled with it and remain just-war theorists. I am merely defending my conviction against a poorly wrought attack.

Please use the following comments section for further wrestling.


  • At 9:47 AM, February 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Buddy,

    This is Rick Oatman. "Let's do the dance all the college kids are doing!" But seriously, I've heard/read people ask you that question before, probably on the discussion board or something, and I've always wondered why the assumption is that the only way to stop the burglar is to kill him. Is he incapable of being knocked unconcious or even being wounded badly or perhaps (and this might be a stretch) scared off? Why is killing him the only solution? Or do they simply mean that if it came down to it, would you kill him if it were the only possible way to defend/protect your family? And if they do mean that, why don't they ask it like that? I realize these are mostly rhetorical questions, but questions like that have always bothered me. Anyway, hope you're enjoying England Buddy.

  • At 3:37 AM, February 24, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    I've wondered that as well. I think the reason is mostly that it is a rhetorical attack rather than a rational argument, and since saying what they mean doesn't carry the rhetorical weight, they use the classic question.

    For a detailed account of how I am enjoying (and not enjoying) England, check out my other blog at

  • At 8:54 PM, February 25, 2005, Blogger Judy said…

    After reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find" I certainly wouldn't try reasoning. And, wouldn't chasing an intruder away just send him off to attack someone else?

    I have no answers. Only more questions.

  • At 8:53 PM, March 02, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Well, since I agree with your post in full, Buddy... I shall use this opportunity to express myself on a side note.
    I've been seeing all of those "Support Our Troops" ribbon stickers on the back of cars all the time, as I'm sure most people have. They've always bothered me, and i haven't been able to pinpoint why until now. I just don't know what it means, support them how? by saying support our troops, if you don't support the war that they're risking their lives for, you're in turn insulting them and making their sacrifice seem pointless and stupid. Which is obviously not my intention, since it's not the troops' decision to go into any war, it is of those who send them. they become no more brave or heroic if they're fighting for something they (and I) also happen to agree with. So why would they be insulted if I don't like the decision of sending them to war? In my opinion, I'm supporting them more by valuing their life to a point of wanting to protect it against unjustice.
    But what I'm getting is a sense of "Well, they're already over there... so your non-support doesn't keep them safe from the war" type of thing, so just shut up about it and support our troops. by saying that we support the troops, it totally takes the perspective off of whether we should think about the war being the right thing to do. It turns it into our poor boys and girls over there fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others, why wouldn't you support that?
    Frankly, I feel sorry for troops in general. Not that I don't have admiration for their bravery, or for their ability to swallow pride more so then I could. It's not a personal attack, it's an attack on our people's treatment of soldiers in situations like these. We either stand behind the war and treat them like heroes, or we bash the war and they come home wanting a heroes welcome and get snubbed by all. Why can't we just not link the 2 for once? The soldiers don't make those decisions, they should be commended for bravery under extreme stress whether we think they should've gone through that stress in the first place.
    In my mind, we would treat soldiers that went through something for an unjust cause BETTER because we realize that nothing would eat us alive more than knowing our lives were put in jeopardy for some bogus reason. Anyway, I want to be able to speak my mind about a war without the troops being lumped into the discussion like i'm hurting their feelings purposefully or something. Does that make sense to anybody else?

  • At 7:53 AM, March 04, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    I completely agree. The troops don't decide to go to war; they respond when sent. So if I oppose the war, I am refusing to support the people who sent them, not the ones who went. I support the troops by desperately wanting them to come home.

  • At 10:44 AM, March 07, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    This doesn't make sense to me.
    If I join the Boy Scouts and we practice how to tie knots, pitch tents, build a fire, and cook over said fire, and then we go camping...was it my decision to go camping? By all means yes. I joined an organization that is widely known for going camping. I have practiced many activities that would prepare me for camping. Why would I do this unless I want to go camping?
    Follow me, I think I am trying to make a point here.
    These soldiers are in the military. They know the military goes to war. They have practiced killing people, they have practiced for war. By deciding to be in the military they have decided to go to war.

  • At 1:25 PM, March 07, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    I think I understand your analogy, but I can't really use it in my reply, as I think war is bad and camping is good.

    I believe (perhaps naively) that most people join the armed forces because they believe it is a good and noble pursuit. I respect their committment to their convictions, their courage, and their self-sacrifice, even though I believe that war is wrong.

    In a case such as this war which satisfies none of the criteria for a just war, my complaint is with those who declared it, but I still respect those whose job it is to fight it.

    Does that make a bit more sense?

  • At 1:42 PM, March 07, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Hey there Mr. Dish, I was thinking that this might help. If you go into the boy scouts, you are definitely planning to and are even expecting to go camping. But it is still the Troop Master's decision as to when you go camping, and where to. He has a responsibility to make sure that he doesn't tell you to set up camp on the edge of a cliff with a fierce wind blowing.
    If I'm your parent (or even if I'm not), and I think your troop master has been irresponsible in his decisions to send you camping at a particular time or to a certain area... I could voice that concern without me undermining your desire to be a boy scout or even your ability as a camper. Did you trust your troop master to send you camping at the best time or to the best location possible? absolutely. Is that trust the issue here? absolutely not. It is the decision and the criteria for making decisions that is of concern, so the issue doesn't even touch on the soldier/camper. It only bothers me when I'm incapable of talking about a war being unjust without offending the people who were sent to fight/die in it. I can understand why it might be frustrating to hear that your efforts were for an unworthy cause, but that doesn't all of a sudden turn the cause itself into a noble one. Does that make any sense?

  • At 9:30 PM, March 07, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    Some people think camping is bad, just as some people think war is good. But i guess all analogies break down. My point was simply that they joined the military with knowledge as to what is done in the military.
    Nevertheless, the Boy Scouts knew that they would be going camping. I believe that war is inherently evil. If camping were inherently evil, then I would put some of the blame on the Boy Scout for joining with the knowledge that they would be going camping. I agree that many of those in power are at fault for our involvement in this war. However, I believe that the soldiers are partially at fault for joining the military in the first place.
    I am not saying that we should greet soldiers as was done after Vietnam, but we shouldn't portray them as free from blame.

  • At 12:35 AM, March 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hey guys and gals,

    been awhile, but ryan reminded me of the site's existence and i decided to check it out again. always an engaging read here.

    so do you (plural) think Jesus was/is a pacifist? i'm not sure what i think. he advocates peace, and he only defended himself with words, but that doesn't point to pacifism in my mind. his purpose in life on earth was to die after all, so defending himself wouldn't have made much sense.

    i'm so burnt out on war/anti-war talk. i just can't bring myself to buy into either side's arguments. does anyone think that what we've done in the middle east, whether right or wrong, has had a positive effect in some way? i mean the whole overthrowing an oppressive government thing? do you think oppresive governments can be reasoned with? i probably sound like a typical conservative, using a term like 'oppressive governments'. it pains me to even ask these questions because it feels like i'm debating politics under the surface, and i've developed a great aversion from political arguments (because they lead nowhere).

    also, about soldiers, couldn't they possibly be joining the military because they feel convicted to help defend their country? being a pacifist doesn't mean no one will attack you. or, maybe they want to help promote their idea of justice in the world. not all soldiers are killers at heart. at least the ones i know aren't. in fact, i bet the number of people who joined the military because they wanted to go to war is very small.

  • At 9:46 AM, March 08, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    I do not believe that a soldier's life is inherently evil, which is ultimately what they're committing to by signing up. They don't committ to going to war, just to shining shoes and making beds and firing guns, possibly at "evil doers." Some of them are rolling the dice to help pay for their education, praying that they don't have to actually go to war. Not out of cowardice, I don't think. I also (sorry) don't think that all war is inherently evil. I don't see how anybody can, since God condoned wars all through the Old Testament. That doesn't mean that God condones our wars or anything like that... but if there was something inherent within the act of war in and of itself that was evil, than God could not condone it at any point in history. Buddy, I know you disagree, I just can't quite grasp the concept.
    sean, good to see you on here again. I actually wasn't trying to talk about a particular war or right or wrong, I was just trying to disconnect something (soldiers)that, for the future discussion, should have no place. Not that they have no responsibility to ask themselves whether or not war is something they should put themselves into, or that they aren't partially responsible for wars (no army, no war). But, as far as a certain decision to go to war, the soldier's responsibility doesn't stretch that far, so my point was, let's leave them out of that part. I'm interested in your questions, Sean, but i have to go to work now. later, i will write more.

  • At 10:13 AM, March 08, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    Ryan, I'm not sure that I do disagree, although I may have at some point. I maintain that for those who follow Christ and his teachings, war does not seem to be an option. But Old Testament morality differs from NT morality in some key ways, war being one of them. However, although God does command wars in the OT, he also commands or condones other actions that we would call normatively unethical. As you can see, my mind isn't completely made up on the topic.

    I don't think I would say that Jesus was a pacifist. That would be anachronistic. I do, however, think that pacifism is an appropriate response to his teachings.

  • At 2:57 PM, March 08, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    Since camping is not looked on as bad, I think my point is strengthened. War, whether evil or not, is not a good thing. So joining the military and crossing your fingers in hopes that you don't have to go to war is a risk that doesn't have to and shouldn't be taken.
    In order to respond to the fact that the Lord condoned war in the Old Testament we would have to get into a discussion on God's omniscience, which I don't think is the point of this post.

    If soldiers are signing up for the military to shine shoes and make beds the are naive. You can do that outside of the military.

  • At 7:28 PM, March 08, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    my point wasn't that they get into the military because they want to shine shoes. i just know a lot of them who do it b/c it was the only way they could get the education they needed (the army pays for their education). There are some who do it with the desire to defend the country, and some who do it b/c they're killing machines and would like to be treated as a hero for doing acts that give them this rush. I was focusing mainly on this first group, who would join the military because of a simple desire to have an education that is not afforded to them on their own. Let's not forget people who are pressured heavily if not sent by their fathers thinking it's "for their own good." This is totally not my point, but i feel it is worth mentioning. You saying it's a risk that doesn't have to be taken might be overlooking some of these situations.
    If I believed that war is inherently evil, that would change my perspective on this, which is why i think it's a significant point to talk about. you're right, this wasn't supposed to be about God's omniscience, so if we can steer clear of that for the time being... :)
    Buddy, I totally agree that as Christians we should always be seeking peaceful solutions to our problems. That is what Christ did condone, and he never condoned war. He also never said that from this point forward war is inherently evil. to have something be inherent, it means that it is and always has been, within itself, evil. which is what i disagree with. You can tell me that you believe God changes His mind, so He could condone something one day and then it's wrong the next. But what you can't tell me (and i'm not saying you are) is that God used to condone things that are inherently evil, but then He decided against that. So, my point is, if God was for it at one point, it cannot be in and of itself, an evil thing. Whatever has changed since then or around war is not something that's inherent, it's something that's been applied.
    All of this is still, yet again... not my point. And yes, if you believed that war is evil, then soldiers who are lining up to possibly be in one are just as much to blame as the people sending them. so if you believe that, then my original point wouldn't mean anything.
    Buddy, while we're on this... this struck me tonight and I thought I'd run it by you. You told me one major problem you had with the "greater good" theory of God having a plan for everything... is that you couldn't go up to a Holocaust victim and comfort them with the knowledge that God has a plan for all of this. But, would you have qualms about going up to a Holocaust victim and saying "I'm sorry that I couldn't lift a finger to come over and help you, Jesus said that peace was better than fighting"? Or would you say that fighting off Hitler was a good thing? If so, war evil? All of this also to point out that part of your reasoning for why you hold a theological stance (God's plan) has to do with what would comfort someone more under extreme stress, which you've pointed out is no basis for forming this kind of stance. Just wondering where you would stand on all of it, not saying that it's a hole, I'm just curious.

  • At 9:19 PM, March 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Andrew Boykin here,

    I did a lot of thinking on the military, war, and where I stand on the issue. To compare those in the military going to war, and those in the boyscouts going camping is completely wrong. Except for maybe a few of our soldiers, none of them wants to go to war. They join for various reasons, but usually, "I want to kill people," isn't one of them, and if they tell their recruiter that, he isn't likely to make it to MEPS. (Military Enlistment Processing Station)

    As for the question of the guy who breaks into your home to kill your family, I don't think Buddy's example is correct w/ the whole find out where his kids go to school and blow that up. I think a better question would be: If a family threatened the well being of you and your family, would you be willing to stop that other family, even if it came down to you having to kill all the members of that family to protect yours?

    As it stands, I've wrestled with this question, as well as what part I'm to play as far as military is concerned. I think everyone (before they get married) needs to address this issue: Am I in favor of war, and if I am, should I enlist?

    This is no easy question to answer, but I have mine. Which is why I have enlisted with the USMC. Note, I don't like war, but I will fight to protect the people and country I love.

  • At 3:01 AM, March 09, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…


    The issue of the Holocaust is incredibly complex, and some of what I say may be beside your point. But it is important to my stance, so please bear with me.

    You seem to imply that the US fought WWII to save the victims of the Holocaust. That is not how I see it. The US entered the war in retaliation for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Before that, knowing exactly what Hitler and the Nazis were doing, the US refused to get involved. Helping the weak and suffering may have motivated brave and noble men to enlist, but it is not what motivated Congress to send them.

    Peaceful means, in time, could have done more to help the victims than the war ultimately did. Had the US not drafted the incredibly unjust Treaty of Versailles, Germany's economy would not have collapsed, creating a political climate where Hitler could rise to power. Also, the stories of how the US limited the number of immigrants it allowed is apalling. The story of how the people of Denmark saved their Jews further supports non-violent means of helping the persecuted.

    Perhaps the war did need to be fought, but it was fought for unjust reasons, and only after (if not because of) extreme examples of injustice on our part. Any claim that the US was the hero of WWII and helped free the victims of Hitler's Holocaust needs to be tempered by our owning responsibility for perpetuating atrocities of our own.

  • At 4:27 AM, March 09, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    Your critique of my analogy is unconvincing. Schools get blown up and men, women, and children die in war who had nothing to do with the initial act of aggression and pose no threat to our safety.

  • At 8:55 AM, March 09, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    If you don't like war, don't join the military because the military and war go together like Boy Scouts and camping. Joining the military for money for school and, subsequently, crossing your fingers in hopes that you won't go to war is naive. That is my point.
    I don't understand why people believe they are protecting their country when they travel across the Ocean to fight. That seems more offensive than defensive.

  • At 7:10 PM, March 09, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Buddy, I couldn't agree more with you on your thoughts towards USA's involvement with WWII, I wasn't trying to imply we were heroic. I was merely raising it as an example, as I'm sure you know. My reason for raising it was pointing out that there are times when it is questionable as to what is the more Godly course of action, to stand by or to help out. Please, nobody look into America's past for examples of "helping out" in a just and honest way, this is not what I'm speaking of. All I'm saying is, if we can come up with a scenario where it would be Godly to either defend our own, or strike down an oppressor... and that it would be called a war, then we can't say that ALL war, in and of itself, is inherently evil. that's all I'm trying to establish.
    Mr. Dish, I went into this conversation to try and avoid insulting soldiers. I don't think they should be called naive for taking opportunities that in their mind are helping their country and their future families. Maybe they've been misinformed, but let's not insult their sacrifices by calling them names personally. Obviously there is a long tradition of people who believe that fighting to defend causes such as "freedom" and "equality" are things of great value and honor. We might see a different way about it, but my way is not to just deter people from enlisting. If nobody enlisted, we would be forced to go by our government, and that is the bottom line. Check our heritage for examples. It is not soldiers enlisting under false pretenses that is our major problem. It is the abuse of those soldiers' obedience that is at the core.

  • At 8:44 PM, March 11, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    Calling a soldier naive isn't an ad hominem, it is a description. You yourself said that they may be misinformed, is that a direct insult? No more so than calling them naive.
    Nevertheless, there is a difference between defending "freedom" and "equality" and attacking someone so they can supposedly have "freedom" and "equality".

  • At 11:27 AM, March 12, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Saying that they've been lied to is putting the emphasis on the people lying, saying they're naive puts the emphasis on their lack of intuition.
    I'm much more curious how you can hold to a statement like "all war is inherently evil" than anything else. I've given you my arguments about why it can't be, and if you agree with what I said, it changes things. If you don't, then please explain your reasoning, b/c I don't understand it.
    I agree that there is definitely a difference between defending freedom and attacking in order to preserve it. So by saying that, are you saying that if a war WAS about defending freedom and equality instead of the other way around, it would be different... even alright? Not that we've ever seen a war fought for those reasons, don't misunderstand me. But to me, it's like saying: "I grew up in a brothel, and I never saw sex as anything but bad. Therefore, sex is evil." If we can see beyond our circumstances for a minute, we will probably understand each other better.

    on a side note, buddy, when are the birthdays of you and your wife? mandy wants to know. you can email them to me. thanks

  • At 5:12 PM, March 12, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    War goes against Christ's call to "love your enemies". Therefore, it is evil. Sure God used war in the Older Testament, but God learned alot about humanity when He became a human. He changed, not ontologically, but relationally. Therefore, God can be said to be unchanging ontologically.
    Can we defend freedom? Sure.
    Should we defend it by perpetrating violence? I don't think so.

  • At 2:55 PM, March 13, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    But... what if it weren't perpetrating violence? What if it was merely defending the country, or another country? You say that we can do that, but give no means by which we can, if you say that all wars that involve any violence are evil. So, going back to Buddy's first question... if an armed force came into our country and started shooting innocent civilians and raping our people... what is the Godly response? I'm obviously talking about a hypothetical situation here, but I think I know more where people might come from when they ask that rhetorical question. Just b/c it doesn't apply to what we do in our wars, doesn't mean that it doesn't hold any water whatsoever. I would never use that to trick somebody into saying they think war is fine. But personally, I think it's exactly what I said before: Since we've never seen a just-war, we refuse to believe that one could ever exist.
    Talking about God "learning about humanity" is a leery concept at best, but we shouldn't go there for the time being. There is most definitely a hole in your theory that Christ saying "love your neighbor" means that any act of violence is "evil." In Buddy's first example, if he killed or wounded his neighbor breaking into his house to rape his wife... was it evil to commit that act of violence when Christ told us to love them? I think not. So if you'd say that war is different b/c it's this, this and that about us going over and doing so and so... that's just viewing principles through our circumstances, which is just faulty thinking. war doesn't HAVE to be any of those things, it's just what we see. So while you can say that all the wars ever fought since Christ have been unjust, you can't hold to war being inherently evil. I don't think you can, at least. The only connection to war being inherently evil is that humans since adam are inherently sinful, so their hands on something rubs off. Which would turn anything and everything except God Himself into inherently evil.
    Please don't get me wrong, I fully agree with you about the wars fought and how terribly wrong they are. But I do believe that your sweeping statements about war and God are incorrect.

  • At 5:40 PM, March 13, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    What does Christ say that we are suppose to do? "LOVE your enemies, BLESS THEM that curse you , DO GOOD TO them that hate you , and PRAY for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
    He says to love, bless, do good to, and pray for them. Nowhere does He say to use violence. Perhaps because He teaches us to live peaceably.
    But Christ died. Perhaps we too will die.
    We could try prevention. We could stop grabbing our crotches at other countries and pissing everyone off. We could attempt some active peaceable alternatives to war. We could even attempt to restrain someone attempting to rape our wives. But killing is not an option, especially by way of modern warfare. In modern warfare, no one is the winner. We cannot limit modern warfare to the "enemy" or the "enemy's country". Modern warfare destroys the earth and in turn will destroy ourselves. Modern warfare cannot preserve freedom, because any war of national defense will cost in lives, money, material goods, health, and inevitably freedom.
    So if war doesn't have to be "this, this and that about us going over and doing so and so", what can it be and still be just? It certainly can't be based on the taking of human life. It certainly can't be destructive to the earth.
    Would this even be considered war or would it be a peaceable alternative?
    I don't know.

  • At 11:45 AM, March 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey everyone. This is Gabe. I forgot my stupid blogger password. It's been a while.

    I hate to interrupt the very interesting conversation you all are having about this topic. Being a bit more of an empiricist than most of you (very intelligent) rationalists, I may have a little different train of thought on this, so bear with me and I will try to be as brief as I can.

    Several of you have offered plausible explanations for why God seems to sanction or command war in the OT. I would like to offer what I consider the most plausible explanation. Namely, that God NEVER sanctioned or commanded war in the OT. Rather, the Israelites did what human beings throughout the history of our species have always done - excused their practices by invoking God's approval. Jesus, for instance, indicates that divorce was "not so from the beginning," but was written in the law (Deut. 24) because of "the hardness of your hearts." I understand that as Jesus indicating that God NEVER dictated divorce but that Moses (notice Jesus puts the blame squarely on Moses, not an interpretation of Moses) used "thus saith the LORD" to justify an existing evil practice.

    My point here is not to mess with some conceptions of the infallibility of Scripture (although I realize I am), but to point out that human beings (Jew, Gentile, Christian, pagan, whatever) throughout our history have ALWAYS found justifications for war and used the approval of a god (or, in a more secular culture, appeals to a "just cause") to do so.

    I would, therefore, conclude that every instance of war is, in fact, evil. I have no idea if it is "inherently" evil, or not. But, since I would conclude that every instance of war in the history of our species has been evil, I have no reason to believe there will ever be an instance in which it is not evil in the future (told you I was more of an empiricist). The point, then, is not whether one can think of a theoretical situation in which something we might call "war" would be something we might label "just." The point is whether we can ever trust human beings to use violence in a way that is not self-serving and "evil."

    My conclusion, then, is that human beings can never be so trusted and, therefore, violence (especially war) must be completely eliminated as a possible course of action IN ALL INSTANCES. I base this lack of trust on two empirically-validated principles of human psychology: The Self-Serving Bias and the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error states that human beings attribute the bad ("evil") behavior of others to dispostional characteristics, while attributing their own bad behavior to situational characteristics. In other words, "we" make mistakes (i.e., Abu Graib, Vietnam, Gitmo, The School of the Americas, etc.) while "they" commit atrocities. The Self-Serving Bias states that all human beings tend to view themselves as more "ehtical" and "righteous" than the "average person." In other words, "we" "defend freedom" or "seek justice" while "they" are "aggressive" or "jealous" or "vindictive."

    Underneath all of this is the basic principle that human beings (especially human governments) will always find a "righteous" justification for violent courses of action. I contend that the only right course of action is to stop justifying ALL violence, as these justifications will inevitably be tainted by the above biases. What we have danced around, by the way, is the simple fact that OBEDIENCE is the single common factor in all wars. Hitler was a goofy-looking, socially awkward weenie with a bad haircut. He couldn't have probably beaten up a Jewish woman by himself. But, because others obeyed his commands for violence, the Holocaust is part of history.

    Perhaps, rather than teaching them about "just war" scenarios or how to "do what they're told," we should start teaching our children that NO god or government is justified in commanding any of us to commit violence toward another human being. If we all started exercising a little healthy disobedience regarding this issue, then maybe the pinheads in power would actually have to find viable non-violent means of resolving issues. Perhaps if we simply started beating our swords into plowshares (regardles of its "impracticality" and refusing to fear the "evil other"), then world leaders would have to resort to having pillow-fights over oil and other resources. Because I do believe that ultimately, as Einstein once said in a press conference during the Geneva Convention, "...war cannot be humanized. It can only be abolished."

  • At 12:41 PM, March 14, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    Thanks, Gabe. You've given me much to think about. I like your reasoning and want to accept your hermeneutic, but I must ponder before I respond.

    I will say that I still can't see killing in defense of family as selfish. I struggle with this because, as anyone who has kept up with the blog from the beginning knows, I don't advocate violence against other human beings in any form, so I don't know what to make of this scenario.

    Defending family seems much more basic than selfishness. Even animals kill to protect their families, and we don't call their actions evil or selfish. I realize that we are not animals and that it is likely that animals would not have to kill to defend their families before the fall, and Christ has redeemed us from the fall. I don't know if that's a defense or just thoughts.

    Anyway, I'll comment again once I've had time to digest.

    Am I really a rationalist?

  • At 12:56 PM, March 14, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Well guys, I really do appreciate these points of views. It helps me (and hopefully others) come to well thought out conclusions. I honestly do agree with a whole lot of what you guys say. I'm reading and I'm finding myself nodding my head to myself, very well grounded opinions. Forgive me for pointing out what I feel to be flaws, for I know that there are flaws in my reasoning as well.
    Gabe, I do have some scripture references to back up why abolition is not the answer, but not at my fingertips. I totally agree on the depravity of man, and how we're not to be trusted with anything. But, if abolition is the right and just response to that, then we have to abolish anything that might lead to sin. If, there are circumstances where violence is NOT sinful, then it can't be abolished, just as sex should not be abolished. I fully agree that our modern warfare destroys and undermines Christ's teachings. But I do not agree that all violent acts are inherently evil. I think big changes in the hearts of our government would be necessary for us to ever see a just war, and Gabe, you might be right in assuming we'd never see one. But also, Gabe, i would claim that You are twisting scripture to meet your ends if you determine that b/c God didn't dictate divorce, He also must not have dictated any wars. It never says anything of the kind, except that Christ Himself didn't personally advocate any wars. I know it's difficult to deal with the tension of the Father saying something and Christ seemingly changing it, but I'm not satisfied with your explanation.
    Look, in the end, I don't like war and know it's not what God originally had in mind for humans and our dominion on earth. So i'm really not "pro-war" or anything, and I would surely not join the military. But that doesn't mean that i advocate abolition of all violence, just b/c humans can't handle the temptation to turn it into sin. That's where you get people saying that dancing is evil, b/c it can lead to lust. and sex is evil, b/c it can lead to lust and rape and adultry. it just doesn't work that way. despite what we do with it, we can't go assigning sin on things that don't belong.
    Chris, I fully agree with so many of your points, i don't want you to feel that i don't. I just feel that without a real heart change, no amount of restraint will get us to where we want to be. in the meantime, we need to pray that God changes the people responsible for making Godly decisions of power. us abstaining from killing doesn't take away hatred, jealousy or greed that helps to drive those things. not that that is any justification for war, it's just pointing out that war is not the issue, sin is. I'll be gone for the next week or so, have fun discussing, everybody!

  • At 2:22 PM, March 14, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    I definitely don't see myself priveleging reason as the highest mode. So, I am not, by definition, a rationalist. But I see your point nevertheless. I like what you wrote, Gabe, but, like Buddy, I must digest.
    Ryan, I enjoy this discussion. It has helped tremendously in my own personal wrestling with the issue. Nevertheless, I do not see violence as a structurally good creation. I believe that human relationship, even human conflict as structurally good (because I believe hermeneutics are structurally good and different hermeneutics lead to conflict). Violence (like "hatred, jealousy or greed") are misdirections of human conflict. Therefore, I believe, war is a misdirection as well as any other violent action. Therefore, I believe war is a sin.
    I hope that helps to clear up my point of view a little bit. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation and hope that you can read this and respond before you leave or else I will be anxious while you are away.

  • At 5:52 PM, March 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey everyone. Gabe, again.

    Ok, sheesh. I didn't intend to insult anyone by calling them a rationalist. What I meant by that term was distinguishing those who tend to look for universal principles and apply them to specifics in contrast to my tendency to look for specific evidence and deduce final conclusions (hence my reasoning that if there has never been a "non-evil" war, I have no reason to expect one will ever occur in the future and, therefore, no such thing exists in the real world - regardless of how theoretically possible it may be). So, call it the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. I didn't mean to insinuate that anyone places human reason as the ultimate truth. In fact, I think both forms of reasoning are important for investigating truth, so I didn't mean to offend.

    Now, a couple of things. First off, I would really appreciate anyone's well-considered thoughts regarding my admittedly preliminary hermeneutic. Ryan, I certainly hold out the possibility that I may be "twisting Scripture," but I am simply going by what seems to me the most plausible explanation at this time. I could, in fact, see Jesus' refutation of divorce as an instance in which "the Father says something and Christ seemingly" changes it and hold them in tension. Or, I could see it as an example of God "changing His mind," or of God "learning something" from the incarnation. I admit that these are all plausible explanations. I am simply saying that what seems to me the MOST plausible is that it is not God who has changed, but human understanding of Him. I can see God's regulations concerning slavery in the OT(and even in the NT, for that matter) as God "tolerating" evil, endorsing the practice, or I can see it as human beings ascribing to God that which was never part of His will or plan. At this time, seeing this as an example of humans justifying the status quo, in God's name, seems more plausible to me.

    Secondly, echoing Dish's statements regarding violence, I don't think that "sex" and "dancing" are comparable to violence. Presumably, sex and dancing were present before the Fall and were distorted only after it. I would have a hard time conceptualizing violence as being present pre-Fall. Therefore, it only arises as a result of the Fall, making it "inherently" not a part of God's perfect design.

    Lastly, I realized that I did not directly respond to Buddy's original scenario. In response, I would say two things. One, I would say that I have a difficult time disinguishing gradations of "good." If God is "good," then I am not sure how He is "more good" in some ways and "less good" in others. I can, however, distinguish gradations of "evil." Some things may be "evil," but are "less evil" than other courses of action. I realize I may be splitting hairs, but here's what I mean. Jesus states that lust is equivalent to adultery. What I take Him to mean is that both are "evil," not that each are equally evil. While you may lust after my wife, and this is wrong (evil), if given the choice between you lusting after my wife and actually committing the act, I'll take the lust, thank you very much. Each action, while evil, are not equvalent in their actual consequences, impact, and level of damage inflicted. Therefore, if someone were to break into my house and attempt to hurt my wife and children, I have no idea what I would do. I can tell you, however, that my best guess is that I would probably try to beat the hell out of you to get you to stop. Would my actions be "good?" My answer would be "no," and therefore they would be evil. They may, however, be "less evil" than allowing you to hurt my wife and children. (By the way, Buddy, if you think the reaction to protect your wife from attack is strong, wait till you have kids).

    The critical difference, in my mind, is the degree to which I have justified my course of action before the fact. If I try to present a theoretical situation in which I am "just" in committing violence, then I am justified in spending large amounts of time training in tae kwon do, buying guns and keeping them in strategically placed positions around the house in the chance that just such a situation arises (of course, you know there are all kinds of "evil people" just waiting to break into your house and rape you wife and kill your kids). The point is that justifying a course of action before the fact, based upon a supposed "just" cause, leads to the preparation for such a situation and hightens the probability that one will justify the use of violence based upon the aforesaid Self-Serving Bias and Fundamental Attribution Error. One could hardly blame me (although I could not call it "good") for defending my family with violence if violently attacked. It is a different story if I prematurely cut off all other alternatives because I have a gun under my pillow and I decide to pull it because someone jiggles the door handle, deciding that I am "justified" since this obviously fits the "just shooting" scenario.

  • At 2:03 PM, March 20, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Well guys, I'm back. The vacation was awesome, and your comments are much appreciated. A few things came to mind while reading the comment from Gabe, and I hope it applies to Chris as well, maybe not. Some of the things you say I roundly agree with. Then in others it seems that you're making leaps that I can't quite follow. If you can give me a scenario (which you've said that Buddy's is an example of) where my ONLY options are evil, and there is no way for God's light to shine in that situation no matter what is done... then I'm dumbfounded. If we're dealing with a criminal that CAN'T be scared off or driven away by fear, then the only way to stop them is by physically stopping them. not death, but violence, which you both would say is inherently evil. And to allow your wife to be raped and killed would be evil as well, is what you said. I don't believe that you can truly have a situation in which you have no possible choice towards God's light of goodness. So this is an impossibility for me.
    God has given us general rules about things being sinful, then shown us examples of how, under certain circumstances, they're Godly. See Rahab for details. So if war goes against God's original plan, but God shows us situations where it's Godly... seems to be a similar situation. Oh, and as long as we're on the subject of things being against God's original perfect plan, and so they need to be abolished... well, clothing was definitely not part of the plan, and only came about because of the fall. clothing evil? jesus didn't have to die except for man's sin. jesus death evil? adam and eve were not supposed to eat meat before the fall, eating meat is a result of the fall, not in God's perfect plan. Meat evil? not inherently so. i know that i'm exagerating a bit, but it's just to show you that you can't just draw that rational conclusion and expect it to hold water. There is something else driving that decision other than that reasoning, or "evidence."

  • At 12:00 PM, March 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's Gabe.

    Glad to hear you had a good time, Ryan.

    I guess I'm not entirely sure what you mean by a situation in which "God's light could not shine." God can and does work in all kinds of situations - in fact, I would say that there is never an evil situation that is SO evil that God is not able to "shine" in it (the complete absence of God would be Hell). That, however, seems to me to be different than justifying human actions in terms of ultimate Good. I would argue that there is no such thing as a purely "good" human action. Humans exist in the gray areas of evil. I can commit actions that may be "closer to" God's complete goodness or "further away," but I cannot place any of my actions completely in the "good" category.

    Your example of Rahab, by the way, struck me as funny because I basically argued exactly the opposite of what I am arguing now about 8 years ago when a seminary professor contended that Rahab's lie constitued sin. He stated that God was able to "work with" her sin and "forgive her," but it was still an inherently sinful act. Still not sure I am completely convinced by his argument, but I guess I am essentially saying the same thing. If I had no option other than to commit violence to protect my family, I still could not call that action "good," and I should be working toward redeeming the created order so that I would not have to commit such actions at all.

    Judging by your statements regarding clothing and meat, it sounds like you take a fairly literal approach to Genesis 1-3, which I probably do not share. Even if it is literal, however, it would be quite consistent for me to place these things in the same category (wearing clothes may be "less evil" than not, but that doesn't mean it is "good" that we wear them).

    I have to get back to work, I'll respond to the rest of your post later.

  • At 1:59 PM, March 21, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Interpretations of Genesis is an extremely fascinating subject, but I think it needs to be a separate one. While I agree that nothing we do in and of ourselves can be fully in the "good" category, since nothing is good except for God Himself... I don't think that solves our situation here. Whether we say it's "good" or "less evil," the point is that it's the better of the 2 decisions that is in front of you. This situation is a result of the fall, meaning if we had never sinned we wouldn't have people breaking into our homes to rape our wives and murder our children. But, that doesn't mean that we're not called to handle these situations in a Godly manner. so, my question was, which response is more Godly? If you say "letting your wife and children die is more Godly," then at least you are being consistent. But you can't say that it's better to protect your family, but that it's sinful and shouldn't be done. That's what I meant by saying it's an impossibility. There is always a choice in front of you that is the Godly, righteous choice, even given terrible circumstances. I think that God showed us that through how much He commended Rahab all throughout scripture. She did something that is supposed to be a sin, but trusting in God and knowing that is what He wanted her to do, she did it anyway. And He rewarded her for that step of faith, even though lying was definitely not in His original design for right behavior.
    God definitely uses sinful behavior towards His good, since the scripture says He uses all things for His glory. But that is not what is coming through the story of Rahab. It is not God using a sin and bringing out His glory. It is showing us that the lines of sin are not always so black and white, and it takes faith to know what is what sometimes. That's what I see at least. Rahab is not exactly the point. But that is an instance where God tells us not to do something in general, she does it, and she (not God) is commended for it. I know it's confusing, but I think it's worth thinking about from this point of view.
    by the way, I'm not an extreme literalist or anything, don't get that impression from me. I've had different periods of my life where I've thought differently about Genesis 1-3. Whether or not I take it literally, I take it very seriously. which i'm sure you do as well.

  • At 9:16 PM, April 24, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    Perhaps we must go west before we go north, as Richard Middleton would say.
    In a violent world, perhaps there are things we must protect (ie our families) by the use of violence. But that in no way justifies a preemptive attack on Iraq or killing anyone.
    We must be directed by the Holy Spirit in all things, and I don't know how the Holy Spirit would direct in such instances that we are discussing. I just pray that I will allow myself to be directed and respond faithfully.
    I don't know...I am really confused. But that, I believe, is a good thing.

  • At 9:20 AM, April 26, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    I really couldn't agree more with you on that one. I definitely was not and am not in favor of the war in Iraq, so i hope i'm not being misunderstood. but just b/c I don't think that war is godly, it doesn't mean i can make sweeping statements about violence and the attributes of God by looking at it. I want to learn something from this war, but I don't think we can learn that all violence that could be called a war is sinful. at this point, i'm not sure exactly what i can learn from it.

  • At 3:46 PM, April 26, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    I also don't think we should use extreme examples and the way we would respond to them and attempt to make them normative.
    Just because I would use violence to protect my family doesn't make violence right.

  • At 8:07 PM, April 26, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    I never would say "violence is right." I do think it makes sense to not say "all violence is sinful" if there is a time where it would not be sinful. That's where I feel the scenarios are helpful, b/c they keep us from making things so black and white that we're ignoring something. I was not at all trying to justify war by the defending of the family example, I was trying to defend "all violence is sinful" with that. and if somebody holds to "war is sinful" because they believe that "all violence is sinful," then I think it's important to discuss these situations.
    it would be different if the Bible was overwhelmingly clear that all violence is sinful, then we would just be rationalizing by making it about our family, which is not what I'm trying to do. I feel that the Bible does not at all say that all violence is sinful, which is why I have some difficulties with sweeping statements about war.

  • At 10:50 AM, May 19, 2005, Blogger Eric said…

    I liked your thoughts on this, and it made me question my own position, which I've never really felt the need to do. As mentioned elsewhere in the comments section, I, too, have seen those "support our troops" stickers and ribbons on passing cars, and I always ask myself what that support entails, and whether the people with those ribbons are really doing anything supportive at all.
    But as you said, the question of family defense cannot be extrapolated to a situation of war, since the two are different in many respects. Symptomology escapes many, many people, who feel that crime is a problem in and of itself, and not merely a symptom of deeper problems. If killing the intruder would end crime, then we could also say that if Newsweek stopping printing bad stories, the "war" would be over, since apparently, it's really all Newsweeks fault that our world image has been tainted and that many have died.

  • At 10:51 AM, May 19, 2005, Blogger Taylor said…

    kool, umm...I have no comments..go to my blog at


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