Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The end of the year = the end of the age


Every year I read the Bible straight through, three chapters a day and five on Sunday. It's a habit that's stuck with me since my Bible school days. I think it's fitting that at the end of every year, I get a reminder of the end of the age when reading Revelation. It's normal on December 31st to think about the upcoming year, but reading the last chapter of Revelation gives me a yearly reminder of the ultimate end--the end of suffering, pain, disease, and tears. And then the next day I read the first three chapters of Genesis and the journey from the beginning starts all over again.

If you do the three-chapters-a-day-and-five-on-Sunday plan, on the first day of the year, you'll read about Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden and the angel denying them further access to the Tree of Life. The last day of the year, you'll read:

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.


How fitting is it that the last chapter of the Bible is a recapitulation of the Genesis story? It seems to me that somebody is trying to tell us something.

12 comments:

Ed said...

If I understood the video interview about your book, you are not an absolute pacifist. You do believe there is a legitimate use of force, in some situations. You think we are generally too ready to use force in our alleged self-defense, or for imperialistic reasons. But you do not think force can or should be ruled out completely. We need to prove, by some form of testing, that the application of force is justified and necessary.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Ed. To clarify, I don't think that Christians should participate in war on behalf of the state at any time. At the same time, I don't think that Christians should actively oppose all wars either. The ambiguity comes when Christians try to impose kingdom values on earthly governments (aka...the kingdoms of this world).

It's one thing to say, "I won't participate." It's another thing to tell Caesar he shouldn't participate either. The best we can do as Christians is to hold earthly governments to their own standards. It's unrealistic to think that any version of the kingdoms of this world (including a democratic version) is going to reflect the character of Christ.

That's a summary version. I go into much detail on the biblical and theological arguments that led me to this conclusion in the book.

Ed said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer. I'm interested in discovering a righteous pacifism, but don't think I've found one yet.

Do you believe that a Christian can rightfully be a policeman, i.e., someone authorized by the state to use deadly force in certain kinds of situations to stop criminals?

If you believe a Christian should never be a policeman, and if you say that you don't want or need force protection from criminals, then what about innocents other than yourself, say children being raped or killed or kidnapped? What if there is no time to try to persuade the killer to be nice? Wouldn't a Christian in such situations be right -- or certainly not wrong -- to use force in the child's defense?

If you agree, then I don't see how you can argue that a Christian should never go to war on behalf of the state, since there are some international war situations analogous to the example of the policeman coming to the aid of an innocent child being raped, killed, kidnapped. For example I do think Christians did well to fight against Hitler. I'm glad they didn't pretend they were being perfect Christians in the way they went about fighting Hitler. But they were being Christians in a very imperfect, human way, taking the gamble that the moral upside of fighting Hitler was greater than the moral downside. They judged that not fighting would have a worse moral outcome than fighting, as terrible as fighting is. Some things are worse than going to war, are they not?

Have you ever read Vladimir Soloviev's War, Progress, and the End of History. Including a Short-story of the Anti-Christ?
It's a fictional dialogue between several people, and the first part of the dialogue is about war and whether a Christian can go to war. One of the characters stands for absolute pacifism, and reflects Soloviev's encounter with Tolstoy's pacifism. Another character represents Soloviev's own position. The dialogue presents many fascinating Christian-oriented arguments against the Tolstoyan character's position. A magnificent book, not only for the discussion of war, but of the other large topics mentioned in the title. I wonder how your position relates to that of Soloviev...

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Ed.

I don't have the time or the space to address everything you've written, but I appreciate your convictions and clarity of thought. I address many of your concerns in my book.

For now I'll say that most pacifists that I know make a distinction between policing and war. The two are very different and operate under very different rules.

As far as the hypothetical scenario of what to do when innocents are being attacked, I would never condemn someone for using force in a situation of self-defense or protecting the innocent.

The problem with hypotheticals is they can go either way. In many situations, the use of violence can actually exacerbate the situation and make it worse. I know of many stories where people have diffused violent situations with creative non-violent responses. I'm saying that Christians should aim for the most Christ-like responses as possible, and then allow grace for themselves and others if they fail to meet those standards.

Ed said...

Thank you Aaron.

You said, "As far as the hypothetical scenario of what to do when innocents are being attacked, I would never condemn someone for using force in a situation of self-defense or protecting the innocent."

Anyone presenting a pacifist position should perhaps at the very beginning present something like your above statement. Doing so would immediately eliminate one of the largest objections made against the pacifist, and at the same time make him very interesting.

You said, "The problem with hypotheticals is they can go either way. In many situations, the use of violence can actually exacerbate the situation and make it worse. I know of many stories where people have diffused violent situations with creative non-violent responses."

That certainly comports with my experience. And not just diffused, but sometimes transformed.

You said, "I'm saying that Christians should aim for the most Christ-like responses possible, and then allow grace for themselves and others if they fail to meet those standards."

Okay, it sounds like you might be balancing realism and idealism: strive for creative non-violent responses, while accepting that sometimes force is necessary. But I understand: your book explains your position.

Seems to me that creatively non-violent Christians should sometimes keep more in mind that even the arguably most creatively non-violent of human beings -- Jesus Christ -- could not stop by his creative methods the violence against Himself. Despite the immensity of his love, even He could not persuade and convert everyone. Divine love respects human freedom, including the freedom to reject love. And some chose to crucify Him. If Christ's love could not immediately convert every human free being to the Way, how much less can our more humble love convert every free human being to the Way, to kindness and love for one another and for God?

Creative non-violence should always be tried, so long as it doesn't rely on a pollyanish appeasement of evil in situations where forceful action has been far too long delayed at the expense of innocents. I don't see it very Christ-like to delay forceful action, as further innocents are victimized, while one waits for a kindness and repentance that show no sign of coming. And too often one sees pacifists seeking to maintain an inward moral purity at the expense of taking no forceful action in defense of such central human goods as consensual government. As some pacifists have put it, "Better Red than dead."

But your book goes into all that and more, I imagine. I'll keep my eyes open for it. Thanks again for the helpful dialogue.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Ed. The dialogue has been good. Your example of Jesus being crucified despite His pacifism I think really cuts to the heart of the matter. I have no illusions that pacifism is always the most effective response to evil (sometimes it may even get you killed), but it is the most faithful to the example of Jesus. I believe that Christians are called primarily to be faithful, not necessarily effective. Because what may seem like failure in the world's eyes often spells victory in God's eyes. As Christians, we believe that the resurrection will vindicate us in the end.

Ed said...

Aaron,
Sorry, but your last comment was provocative (in a good sense). So I'll just add one more thing.

It's okay to be ineffective when it is only one's own life that is at stake. But I'm not sure one has understood faith in Jesus if one thinks that one can ethically set aside an effective defense of others or of a social system objectively worth defending. I can turn my cheek on my own behalf, but if someone is getting beat up beside me, I must do what I can to stop the aggressor, and to set up and defend social arrangements (such as consensual government) that limit aggression. That is simply being responsible to one's fellow man. Any "faith" that means irresponsibility to others is probably a misunderstanding of real faith. Some seekers, in a misunderstanding of what true purity is, look for a kind of inward purity that morally preens itself, while letting the world be taken over by monsters and tyrants. To fight those monsters and tyrants would sully the fighter somewhat, so he surrenders the social order and the human flock to the monsters and reserves for himself a false inner purity. I doubt that is what faith in Jesus means.

The Christian must never go to war to spread Christianity or to keep people from abandoning the Christian faith. But he should seriously consider going to war for purposes that are not specifically Christian, such as when a thorough "just war" analysis shows that war is necessary to defend a social system objectively worth saving.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ed. There's a lot, lot, lot I can say about your last comment. You may find the chapters "Is Democracy the New Crusade?" and "The Absent Revolutionary" in my book interesting.

As for the comment,

"Some seekers, in a misunderstanding of what true purity is, look for a kind of inward purity that morally preens itself, while letting the world be taken over by monsters and tyrants."
you may find it surprising that I, and a lot of other pacifists agree with you. When you get a chance, check out Walter Wink's book "Jesus and Non-Violence: A Third Way"--after you read my book of course. LOL

May God bless you as you study His Word.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Sorry, I accidentally posted the last comment as anonymous. It was me.

Ed said...

Thank you Aaron.

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