The Frosted Mini-Wheat Look at War
by John O’Keefe
The question that has been driving me as of late is, “can there truly be a “just war?” I am certain that others will disagree, but I cannot think of a single reason for a Christian, a follower of the teachings of Christ, to go to war. No matter how I try, I just can’t think of a single reason for taking the life of another person. Before I go on, let me say this, I am a pacifist – to some, even a radical pacifist; and i will have to say i am a relatively new pacifist. Now, I do not say this to apologize for my stance, but to let you know that I do have a bias towards peace and non-violence, so you know now there is a “spin” to this writing (as there is to all writings – everyone has a spin). That being said, I believe all war is wrong; all war. In fact, I have a hard time dealing with the modern evangelical dualism of being “pro-life” (their argument is that all life is sacred and the unborn are innocent) and the desire to take human life (in a “just war,” where all life is sacred and many innocent people will die, because they believe God allows it). However, more then that, I will admit to being in conflict between my human side and my spiritual side. I feel like frosted mini-wheat, battling between my human side and my spiritual side, and yes, the whole-wheat side represents the spiritual side because it is healthier for you then the frosted side. While I understand why some would see the need for a war (my human/frosted side), the idea of a “just war,” that many evangelicals pass around as “being righteous” in the eyes of God (as if farwell or robertson can see through the “eyes” of God), escapes me at all levels (my whole wheat/spiritual side). I have a friend who is totally for war; “go in, take names and kick some terrorist butt” is his motto – but he is also an atheist. While I do, and as he can attest loudly, disagree with his stance on war, I cannot fault his foundation, which is “secular humanism” (totally based on the frosted side of things). He does not claime to be a follower of Christ and I cannot see how anyone can take the words of Jesus and come up with a “just war” theory (the whole wheat side coming out). But the problem I have with most evangelical theology is that it defines Christian ethic based on the human condition, and that is something we must never do. My question is how can anything that is as unjust as war can never be seen as just?
A whole-wheat view
If we look at war in light of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5, how can we “love our enemy” and harm them at the same time? (The idea of “tough love” is not in scripture. Read 1st Corinthians 13 for a deeper understanding of love). How can we react to an evil person with war when we’re told to go out of our way not to fight them? How can we see “self defense” as a viable excuse for war, when no such teaching of Jesus can be found? How can we agree with war when the “peace makes” are called “the children of God?” If we look at Paul (2 Corinthians 10:2-4 – “We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods. We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock downs the Devil’s stronghold.” – emphasis added) We see a call not to act on human terms, but on God’s terms. So, how can a Christian justify a response based on “our being human?” But people still believe we need a “tough love” stance towards our enemies – again, the only problem with “tough love” is it is not a scriptural concept. Jesus, or any disciple you pick, never called for a “tough love” way of life. In fact, Jesus’ teachings about love show anything but toughness. Paul is the same way – no tough love on his end. I know many are now formulating all the Old Testament scripture to support a war – and let me say this – you can pull all the Old Testament scriptures you desire, but I believe all of them are trumped by the words of Jesus.
Jesus tells us to “love our enemies.” Paul (1 Corinthians 13 – emphasis added) says that “love is patient and kind it is not rude; it does not demand it’s own way; it keeps no records of wrongs; it never gives up, never fails, never loses faith, is always helpful and endures through every circumstance and best of all, love will last forever.” Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.” No matter how many Old Testament scripture you pull out, Jesus words trumps them all.
1st Corinthians 13 is used in weddings all the time to speak of the love between a man and a woman – but that sells the scripture short. Paul did not write the scripture as a “love in marriage” scripture; he wrote the scripture so we could know that this love is between all humans – it has a zero sexual component – it has a 100% spiritual reality (keep thinking “whole-wheat”) for all humanity and to sell it short as “marriage” scriptures is just not right. The scripture has nothing to do with marriage; it has everything to do with the way we, as Christians, are to act towards everyone. The problem is that if we see this scripture for what it is – how we are to act as children of God (and remember that “peace makers” are called “the children of God.”), it puts a major dent in the evangelical/traditional stance of a “just war.” We are not called to have an “eye for an eye” – I remember recently talking with a Baptist Pastor who said, “I’m an Old Testament man when it comes to sticking back – an good old ‘eye for an eye’ is what we need right now.” But that is a direct violation of the teachings of Jesus (“You have heard it said, and eye for an eye; but I say, do not resist an evil person! If they slap you on the right cheek, turn the other, too…. Matthew 5:38-42 – emphasis added) – Jesus teaches that we do not follow that teaching of an “eye for an eye,” and we are to go well above the idea of sticking back.
A Just War in History:
Now, I will agree that the whole “just war” (jus in bello) theory has a long and accepted Christian/state history (we, as humans, like the frosted side better). While I would agree that all ethic is formed in the context of histroy, i must also say that i do not believe it is a captive of that history. Either way, that does not make a just war right; in my opinion it puts a major dent in the way we view the theory (the idea of a “state” involved theology that supports their point of view and instructs Christians in allowing war, is just wrong.). The only thing a lengthy state supported history provides is to entrench the idea as part of a tradition and make it harder for those who follow it to give it up. The problem becomes, as a tradition, if we remove the idea of a “just war” we need to examine our hearts – past, current and future. It would require that we reexamine our faith to the point of actually asking ourselves if we truly have loved as we are called to love? It would require that we look deep into the collective soul of past generations and ask if we got it right, or did we mess it up? And we are afraid of knowing that answer, because we fear it will be in the negative. We fear the reality that we killed when we should have loved, we judged when we should have forgiven, and we condemned when we should have up-lifted.
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in his “Summa Theologicae” (a series or writings dating between 1266 –1268) gives the most systematic exposition of a just war (most of it found in Question 40 and 42 of the Summa). In the Summa, Aquinas presents the general outline of what eventually becomes the “just war theory.” In the Summa, he discusses, not only the justification of war, but also the kinds of activity that are permissible in war, a “what makes a good war” kind of thinking. Aquinas’s thoughts become the model for later development of the just war theory. Interestingly, it was seen as a kind of “natural law” ethic, and, in his book The Peaceable Kingdom (1983, page 61) Hauerwas says, “I do not mean to imply that adherents of a “natural law” ethic are inherently more violent; but rather that violence and coercion become conceptually intelligible from a natural law standpoint.” this is true in the reaction that many who hold to a “just war” theory believe that anyone who does not see the need for a violant reaction is “not right and is unUSAmerican – a natural ethic forces people to “follow the corporate line. Basically, thought behind a “just war” consists of a body of ethical (notice they are not scriptural, but natural) reflection that falls into three areas:
(a) The ruler under who the war is fought must have the authority to do so,
(b) A just cause is required,
(c) Their must be a “right intention,” to achieve some good or avoid some evil.
Again, keep in mind that Aquinas did not base these on “scripture” but on human reasoning, sprinkled with a Neo-Platonic moral code of the time of the Summa and a healthy dose of political acceptance. In fact, Aquinas depended more on the writings of Aristotle (384-322), Augustine (354-430), and .Dionysius the Areopagite (aka, “Pseudo-Dionysius – a fifth century Syrian monk) and other neo-Platonic writes like Proclus (418-485) then he did scripture. When he did quote scripture he did so out of context. But the important thing to remember is that it is these three simple “guidelines” that give birth to the “seven points” of a just war. Let us look at the traditional “seven points” of a “just war.” you will notice that many of these can be seen in a very modern dualistic light.
A just war can only be waged as a last resort. How can anyone determine if all non-violent options have been exhausted before the use of force can be justified? Maybe one last effort will work? In a Christian reality war is not a “last resort,” it is not even a consideration.
A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Define “legitimate authority?” I find it interesting that those in the modern evangelical community who are calling for a war use this one – it kind of gives them an out I guess. But this brings out another evangelical dualism; if we question the authorities in USAmerica our modern evangelical leaders inform us that “God selects all the civil authorities” and we must, as a scriptural mandate, follow them. Then you ask, “but what if that authority is wrong?” The standard evangelical response has been, “that is not our place to determine, that is the hands of God.” Ok, agreed. So – to carry the logic further, we can say that God is behind the “authority” in all countries (unless we actually think that USAmerica has some kind of “special nation” status given to us by God). Then we have no right to war to remove an authority simply because we disagree with policies, that would be violating God’s sovereign nature – no matter how “cruel” or “corrupt” we believe them to be. Now, wait a minute, those “other countries” did not elect their leadership (in an honest election) so they are dictators who simply control the country. Ok, let’s go with the idea that all leaders of a country must be elected. What if USAmerican policy places a dictator in office? What of all the Kings and Queens, do they govern with the blessings of God? Here’s a added kick to think about; since one of the qualifications of a just war is it can only be waged by a “legitimate authority” then the USAmerican Revolution was a violation and not a just war – it was not blessed by God. By definition, a revolutionary faction cannot be defined as a “legitimate authority” because they naturally stand opposed to the civil authorities currently in power.
A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. Over time self-defense against an attack has always been considered to be just. But according to the teachings of Christ, this is not the case. Our responsibility is to “turn the other cheek.” So, the question becomes who determines the redress of the wrongs? And, because an attack would be based on a “redressing of a wrong” is that not revenge? And, if I am not mistaken, that always in the hands of God.
A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. I love this one – if we are sure we can kick their butts, we can attack; if not, we should not – if we win, it’s a good thing, but if we lose? So, this part of the “just war” theory is simply based on a human desire to “kick butt and win.” because this says, “no matter how cruel or corrupt the other government is, if we can’t win we can’t attack.”
The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. Violence never brings peace. Hitler, in WWII, used the Treaty of Versailles and the ways the German people were treated after WWI as a reason to come to power, rearm Germany and invade Poland. How did the “just war” of WWI re-establish peace? All it did was kill hundreds of thousands, and form the kindling of WWII. Never in history as a was brought peace. even WWII did not bring peace. rather it brought a divided Germany, a Soviet State and the deaths of millions in Soviet prison camps.
The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. How can this be determined? And, if it can, is it not simply another way of saying an “eye to an eye?” How can we see this area in the theory in light of the teachings of Jesus that says, “If they take your coat, give them your shirt. If they want you to walk a mile, walk two.”
The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Bullets kill anyone and they do not know the difference between a combatant and a non-combatant. Even the smartest and best bombs we have can only tell us they are hitting a building, and not who is inside that building. Bombs and bullets do not know the difference between a school child and a soldier. So, while this is a part of the just war theory it is impossible to follow – and because of that it is ignored by most who believe in a “just war.”
One thing we need to remember is that all wars, ALL WARS, are just in the minds of those who are starting them. Every war can be squeezed into the idea of a “just war.” Every war that has ever been fought can be seen as a war that was just, because it all depends on which side you are. Hauerwas says (again in The Peaceable Kingdom, page 114), “Moreover when freedom and equality are made ideal abstractions, they become the justification for violence.” War, to stop an evil, is wrong – evil cannot stop evil, evil always feeds upon itself. I believe that even WWII can be seen as a “unjust war.” The understanding that violence is justified for the sake of one definition of freedom or justice, is more a matter of power then of peace. The idea that Hitler and the German army were so evil that we needed to “jump in and save the world” is not a reality; rather it is the “party line” and the ideal view of what happened. If we look at the Soviet Union as an example of an “evil empire” (Regan’s words not mine) we see that it was destroyed, not by war – but by feeding upon itself (as evil always does). The same could have, and most likely would have happened, to a Nazi Germany. I believe that the moment Hitler died the inner circle would have fed upon themselves to the destruction of the Nazi party. Today, not many people view “Communist” (big “c”) leaders as heroes; yet, through war we have created folk-heroes (twisted folk-heroes, but folk-heroes none the less) out of the leadership of the Nazi Party. By not allowing them to feed upon themselves, we have created a “false” end to the evil, and if we look around, we can see this evil growing once again in our world. With the birth of Neo-Nazi’s what peace have we brought?
When we cry for peace, we need to remember the words of Jesus as the primary focus of all we do as followers of Christ. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you wish peace, you must be peace. In Luke we are given the prophecy of Zechariah that “because of God’s tender mercy the light from heaven is about to break upon us…to give light to those in darkness and to guide is to the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79 – emphasis added). This is not a “figurative” peace, or a “future/in heaven” peace – it is a peace that speaks to the heart and to the spirit that violence is wrong, and that war is evil and can never be just.
Many think that this is hard, and that there are times when we think (operative word here is “think”) we need to fight. But the way of peace is easy, the way of love is not hard, the way of forgiveness is not painful; because the teachings of Jesus the Christ tell us that “to follow me, my yoke is light.”
War is wrong, all war is wrong. To think, even for a second, that talking a life is good or needed, for any reason, is “just” then we misunderstand the teachings of Christ. Now, before I get a ton of email telling me how “un-American” I am and how “scripture supports such an action” I am reminded of what Tony Campolo has said concerning this topic – (paraphrased) “Send me New Testament proof that I am wrong and we can talk.” I do not care about how many Old Testament scriptures you can pull together to support your point of view – I am a Christian and as a Christian, I follow the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. Christ tells us that war, violence and killing are wrong – so, send away. Show me any words of Jesus that contradict the teachings of peace, love and forgiveness and I will retract this article. Show me any time Jesus said war was an acceptable alternative to peace and I will say I was wrong – in the teachings of Christ you will find more on love, peace and forgiveness then on anything else – so, send away.
John O’Keefe is the founder of ginkworld.net. John sees a desperate need for the church as a whole to change and reach a new people for Christ. He is straightforward, honest and calls it the way it he sees it. John is a graduate of Drew and has been a Senior Pastor and Church Planter