Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Lock in My Pacifism

Update: I am talking about my confusion with the pacifism I see commonly represented in the more left-leaning Christian blogosphere, and in no way mean to diminish the importance of ending violence or the work of personal heroes such as Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I'm sorry for any confusion and I will try to do better next time. 

    You can call me a wannabe pacifist.
    The Bible is clear...
    Just kidding. I won't do that to you, I promise.
    But I do find Jesus' instructions to "do good to those who hate you, bless those who persecute you" pretty compelling.
    So compelling, in fact, that I can't escape the beautiful thought that good in the face of evil could transform, could even save, the world. What would happen if we were brave enough to do good, not just "understandable?"
    Ah. Oh. Right.
    That's the lock in my pacifism, I think.
    Because if someone was actively hurting my family or friends, I would certainly be furious. And honestly, I very well might respond violently in defense of those I love.
    Sorry. But it's true. And, in short, that's why I am a "wannabe" pacifist.

    I also fear much modern-day Christianized pacifism frequently comes from a place of privilege. For instance, it's easy to say submit to authorities when you've never been abused. It's easy to say "no war!" when thousands of your friends aren't being slaughtered for having a different religion or a different color of skin.
    I'm not saying you don't care about the abused or the murdered - but it is always different when people have names, faces, that are known to you. There's more feelings involved, whether that makes it right or wrong.
    And what of the extreme cases, like World War II, what then? Maybe pacifism, civil disobedience, would have stopped the Nazis in their infant stages (I'm not a historian so don't quote me on that). But, by, say, 1941, was there really another option besides fighting?
    I mean, besides everyone rising up and saying "we have decided not to be afraid." Which would be cool, but how realistic is it when someone is pointing a gun at your family?

    Let me be clear.
    What is good?
    Not war. Not violence.
    Ending violence is good. By non-violent means. Because in our many thousands of years of human civilization, violence has not brought peace.
    Pacifism is good.

    Still, I guess what I want from current pacifists is more grace and understanding. Jesus was about grace, was he not?
    So those who join the army? Maybe they're joining because they want to help something larger than themselves. Maybe the people who support war do so because they genuinely think it's the best way to help others.
    Now, history is proof that violence doesn't solve anything. Keep spreading that message, sure.
    But please don't draw dichotomies that say you can't be a Christian and be in the army, or support wars. Please.
    Instead, please, keep your idealism and keep suggesting and implementing ideas for justice. Keep challenging us towards pacifism.
    The more cynical of us, we need you.


  1. Okay, sister dear, you know I love you and admire you greatly, but:
    When you say that paciifism comes from a place of privilege, I am actually quite offended. What about Gandhi? MLKJ? I am also a pacifist, and yes, I do have friends who have suffered physical violence, violation, and even death because of their religion, race, etc. To say pacifism comes from privilege is a slap in the face to people like Gandhi, who responded in love, and a slap to me, and a slap to all the people I know and love, whose names and faces I know, who have faced violence and not returned violence.
    Now, if someone were trying to murder a loved one in front of me. I'd certainly try to stop them. Perhaps even phsyically But I would not try to do to them what they were trying to do to someone else--i.e. kill them.
    Jesus was about grace, yes. Grace for the enemy, even, grace for the oppressors as well as the oppressed. You seem to view pacifists as holier-than-thou, and while that can be true, it's also true for, like, any group of people who believe something in the world. I think you're making a lot of harmful assumptions about pacifists and what we believe. If you want to know more about pacifism and what we actually believe, ask me. You have my number ;)
    I'll end with a quote from a wonderful pacifist, Martin Luther King, Jr., who said: "You cannot defeat darkness with darkness. Only light can do that."

  2. If you want a deeper explanation of why I think (modern-day Christian) pacifism is privileged, check out this series:

  3. In six days we commemorate St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki. St. Demetrios was a soldier. He was also a preacher of the Gospel and a martyr. The day after that we commemorate St. Nestor, Demetrios's young protégé. Nestor received Demetrios's blessing to fight Emperor Galerius's beloved gladiator Lyaios, and Nestor killed him and was then made a martyr by the enraged Galerius. These are merely timely examples, since it is late October. Anyone who says that Christians should not be soldiers or should never engage in violence is speaking without respect to Christian history and tradition (including, of course, Holy Scripture).

    In the Orthodox Church we pray in every Divine Liturgy for soldiers, not because we want them to kill people and break things, but because we love them. Being told to bless those that curse you is not a commandment given to states or similar groups, and it is not a commandment fulfilled by turning someone else's cheek when another is being threatened or harmed. It is a commandment that is predicated (in fact, explicitly in the text) on love for one's enemies. Some of Christ's words are addressed to His audience in the plural, but the examples of non-resistance are personal and singular: turn your (thy) cheek, give him your (thy) cloak. It is one thing for a man to choose to endure his own hardship or to refuse to serve in an armed force: it is another thing entirely to require it of others. In fact, saying that such a comprehensive pacifism is "the way of Jesus" (as indeed many do) is blasphemy, because Christ never taught it.

    We can easily find examples of privilege or hypocrisy even in men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., by the way. Gandhi, who liked to sleep with naked young women to test his sexual restraint, thought ill enough of Western medicine to deny it his wife, leading to her death, but, when he was in the dock, he used Western medicine to save his own life. Dr. King was surrounded by people, including bodyguards: surely the non-resistance or pacifism of such a beloved leader is a very different burden from how it is for someone far more isolated, less bolstered by friends, loved ones, or supporters. The lesson in general should probably be that, before demanding anything of others, ask yourself whether you understand that their conditions are not yours and that you may well neither understand their plight nor sympathize with their needs—or, in the more flagrant cases, that you may very well require of others things that, when the time comes, you won't require of yourself. Commandments of men are a tricky business, usually revealing the shortcomings of the men who made them up.

    None of my remarks, mind you, are pejorative of anyone who chooses to eschew military service or be non-resistant or peaceful for himself or herself. The peacemakers are, after all, blessed. When zealots demand it, however, or say that it is comprehensively the only way, then we have drifted into that dark corner of the Christian religion that is in fact more cult than true Christian faith.

  4. This is excellent, Virgil. Thank you for sharing.

  5. And by modern day, I should say that I mean many I see spouting off on the Christian internet, not Gandhi or MLK. I will clarify that above, thank you.
    And I am a wannabe pacifist. Pacifism is good and Christlike, frankly.
    I don't think* I am making harmful assumptions here, but if you'd like to specify, please do. I am sorry it came off that way to you.

  6. P.S.: my buddy David Dickens (who likes to keep things on Google+) left a very insightful addition to my remarks on the link I left to this post over there:

    Worth a look. He's a smart guy, that David Dickens.