Friday, May 28, 2010

My Last Word on Pacifism (for now)

Last time I signed off by promising to wrestle with the concept of Pacifism vs. Jihad. What I had intended to explore was how we reconcile the warrior God of the Old Testament with the kinder, gentler God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. While I do intend to talk about that at some future date I don’t feel that I have had enough time to fully study and research this concept. Be patient, I’ll come back around to this theme eventually.

For now I want to wrap up my thoughts on Christian Pacifism and move on. I’ve spent a lot of time here lately because I feel it’s a key concept to my life’s mission and where I want to go but I don’t want to belabour the point anymore. I have more to say on a lot more topics and this blog was never intended to become a long winded sermon. Thanks for hanging in the there with me none the less.

When I started this series of posts back on April 16 (“It’s All There in Black and White”) I fully expected a lot of you to disagree with me. What surprised me was that the most vigorous disagreement did not come from my fellow Christians.

Let’s be clear here, I am calling Western Christians who have been raised on Just War theory and Church sponsored violence to abandon almost 1700 years of doctrine and embrace a radical application of the words Jesus actually spoke. I thought this was radical stuff, so the relative silence I heard tells me that maybe, just maybe, 9 years after 9/11 Western Christians are finally getting tired of Just War rhetoric and are ready to consider that there might be a third way. If that is indeed that the case, bravo!

I did get a lot of feedback though and as I said the most vigorous disagreement I received came not from Christians but from people of other faiths and some with no particular religious affiliation at all. At first I was surprised by this until I considered the words of the late John Howard Yoder, former professor of Theology at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Notre Dame;

I do not know what I would do if some insane or criminal person were to attack my wife or child, sister or mother. But I know that what I should do would be illuminated by what God my Father did when his “only begotten Son” was being threatened. Or by what Abraham, my father in the faith was ready to sacrifice out of obedience; he was ready to give up his son because he believed in the resurrection.

You see the bottom line is that Pacifism doesn’t make sense without the resurrection of Jesus. If you don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection or that we have eternal souls then a pacifist response is irrational and in the case of defending a weaker party, even immoral, as one fellow blogger put it.

Belief in resurrection does not end with “good” people going to heaven. The hard fact is that belief in resurrection also means that “bad” people go to hell. When Jesus laid down his life for us he was modeling pacifism in the extreme. He could have easily called down an army of angels to defend Himself whipping every Roman soldier or Pharisee from the face of the earth. Why didn’t He?

I believe Jesus refrained from violence because preserving human life, regardless of our sinful nature is more important than anything. Jesus had mercy on his oppressors because he loved them enough to give them every possible opportunity to repent and go to heaven. The bible tells us that at least one Roman soldier who observed Jesus death did just that. [Matthew 27:54]

There are no degrees of Sin. We live in a sinful world and we all fall short at one time or another. It is through the resurrection that we are all saved from eternity in hell. We all need Jesus to be merciful because if he wasn’t we’d all be dead already. It’s our job as Christ followers to emulate Him in every way possible and that includes laying down our own lives rather than taking a life.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. [Romans 3:22-25a]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jesus was a pacifist too.

A lot of people will disagree with me on that point, especially Western Christians who’ve been raised on Church sanctioned violence and modern Just War theory. But if you take a close look at Jesus own words and early church history, prior to gaining a significant amount power under Constantine, and read the New Testament in light of that first century context you’ll start to see things in a whole new light.

Bottom line; Constantine got it wrong and we’ve been living with the consequences of his error (sin) for nearly 1700 years.

You see Jesus never intended to set up a new religion at all, let alone one that would hold as much power over civilization as Christianity would one day command. On the contrary, Jesus wanted to tear down the old religious system and replace it with a new kind of covenant that would provide people direct access to the father without the need for a religious or political system at all. Remember the Jews only had a king in the first place as a result of a compromise God made with them through the profit Samuel. The entire political structure of the Old Testament was never part of God’s original plan. The fact that the Christian Church would eventually join with the state and form one of the most powerful political forces on the planet, a force that would leave oppression, coercion, torture and outright murder in its’ wake is a tragedy of epic proportions.

It is true that Christianity has lost a lot of its political power. The Catholic Church has been in decline since Gutenburg invented the printing press and Luther encouraged people to start to read the Bible. More recently authors like Charles Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have advanced the view that religion in general is nothing more than a relic of the dark ages and one of the last hold outs against enlightenment.

While I disagree with Hitchens and Dawkins on the broader points I do not dispute or lament the fact that Christian political power is on the decline. In fact I welcome it. The subtitle of Christopher Hitches 2007 book couldn’t be more correct, “god is not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything.” [Emphasis mine]

The truth is that Jesus never meant for us to hold real power over people anyway and it all starts with the way he viewed his kingdom.

"My kingdom," said Jesus, "doesn't consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn't be handed over to the Jews. But I'm not that kind of king, not the world's kind of king." Jesus (John 18:36 The Message)

It is important to remember that the New Testament was written in a time when freedom of religion for Christians simply did not exist. There is plenty of teaching, from both the apostles and Jesus himself on how to react to oppression, stand up for human rights and submit to authority but no teaching that gives any adequate instruction on how to steward political power or which would give credence to a Just War theory.

Why? Because the authors didn’t have any religious freedom! Most of the New Testament was written from prison cells.

When Christians kill they usurp God’s authority. The bible is rife with stories of God’s mercy against even the most corrupt and sinful regimes. God is merciful and when he decides to end someone’s life he doesn’t need our help, the cities of Saddam and Gamorah were destroyed by a natural disaster and Ananias simply dropped dead.

I’m over my self-imposed 500 word limit and I can already hear your objections. What about the God sanctioned wars and killing in the Old Testament? What about Hitler? I’ll get to that but I had to layout the frame work first.

Up next Pacifism vs. Jihad. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pacifist Not Passive-ist

It’s inevitable; whenever I mention that I’m a pacifist, there is always someone, somewhere who has to try and come up with a ridiculous scenario in which I would be forced to take someone’s life or at least respond violently. This is a gross misunderstanding of the word. Most people don’t realize that pacifism has nothing to do with being passive.

Pacifists pacify, it’s that simple. We pacifists often engage in some very active responses to violence and injustices of all kinds.

For me it stems from how I understand God’s creation of humanity;

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

God created man (not just men but man in the non-gendered sense, the implications of which are far too deep to go into at this point) in his own image. Just a few verses later, in looking back over all that He had created He pronounced it ``good``.

God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31

So – if you truly believe that man is created in God`s image, and that all of His creation is good – then you cannot treat anyone as worth less than yourself. I once heard it said that the greatest lie ever told is that some people are just worth more. Logically if that were the case then some people would have to be worth less and it is that sentiment of worthlessness which leads to poverty, disenfranchisement, oppression and ultimately war.

One of the most effective ways to diffuse violence or just to short circuit oppression is to help people see each other`s humanity. That`s what Jesus was talking about when he told his followers to turn the other cheek.

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39

It`s important to note a seemingly small detail about Jesus` words here. In a time when left handedness was shunned the fact that Jesus made the distinction that it is the right cheek is significant. Think about it, if you are facing someone who is right handed, in order for them to strike you on the right cheek, they have to hit you back hand. An act of aggression like that implies a disdainful attitude toward the victim, as if they are an inferior. By standing there and taking it and then turning back the victim is forcing the aggressor to look upon them as an equal. The other examples Jesus uses in that same passage, like offering the cloths off your back or going the extra mile are also acts that would reinforce a person`s humanity in the eyes of their oppressor.

Honouring humanity is what active pacifism is all about. It`s refusing to take up arms for your country not because you don`t want to take sides but because your loyalties do not lie solely with your government. (Another spicey meatball that I don't have time to get into right now.)

Pacifism is about getting in the way of conflict and forcing the combatants to look at each other as humans, created in the image of one loving God. And that my friends sure as hell isn't passive...