Friday with Leunig: (a triple) on the ‘forces of evil’

Vasco Pyjama

The Age, 27 September 2014

Stone Age

The Age, 1 October 2014

Cult pie

3 October 2014

Some notes on Henry Reynolds’ Archibald Baxter Memorial Peace Lecture

‘No war can be called just; they all use the same machinery’. So argued Professor Henry Reynolds (University of Tasmania) at tonight’s Inaugural Archibald Baxter Memorial Peace Lecture, sponsored by the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. Reynolds opened his public lecture by making the case that pacifism need not necessarily be anti-patriotic. On the contrary, the best thing one can do for a nation, he argued – in the spirit of him whose name and witness were being honoured, the great Archibald Baxter – is to keep it from going to war. He also argued that wars beget war, and that a victory to any side only further perpetuates the violence in one form or another.

Unsurprisingly, Reynolds spent most of his time in what for him is familiar territory – Australia. He rehearsed his oft-played themes about Australia’s hidden wars (see his Black Pioneers: How Aboriginal and Islander People Helped Build Australia, Why Weren’t We Told?, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia, and Forgotten War – all which are well worth reading), noting how between 1788 and 1928 (or, according to some other historians, 1934) Australia was home to large-scale wars between European settlers and indigenous Australians, and that the frontier conflicts (most of the wars took place in isolated regions) in Queensland saw the deaths of tens of thousands (Reynolds argues for a figure of over fifty thousand people – significantly more Australians than were killed in WWII, and on par with those who died in the war to end them all). And yet, as Reynolds and many others have noted, and John Pilger has recently made most public in his film Utopia, these hidden wars remain uncommemorated at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, that ‘great emporium of white nationalism’ (Pilger) and pantheon of Australia’s most enduring and important cult – war. (On this, see What’s Wrong with ANZAC?: The Militarisation of Australian History edited by Reynolds and Marilyn Lake.) It is difficult to see how Australians will even begin to think honestly about its wars until this scandal is rectified.

Reynolds suggested that the calendar for military commemorations in Australia is fuller than the religious calendars ever were during the Middle Ages. He might be right, although there’s little at stake if he’s not. But drawing attention to the Edwardian conviction (surely it’s much older than that?) that nations are made in war, and that there can be no true nationhood without war, Reynolds is certainly right to call out the propaganda machines which publish ad infinitum the narrative that Australian involvement in overseas conflicts are the nation’s most important defining events, a fact which begs the question about what nationhood might have meant prior to 1914, and which does wonders for tourist operators arranging parties at ANZAC Cove.

Reynolds concluded with some discussion about the Boer War, noting that there were only four members of the Australian Parliament who voted against involvement, and that there was scarcely any discussion at all – either in Parliament or elsewhere – on either the legality or morality of the war. The new egalitarian democracies of Australia and New Zealand were keener to join Britain’s war than were the Brits, and the colonisers were desperate to secure the allegiance of her loyal subjects (including India), frightfully concerned that they might go the way of Canada or, God forbid, of the United States. The second half of the Boer War in particular saw numerous and widespread atrocities and human rights violations, violations which Australia felt no responsibility for – just as contemporary white Australia, ‘Team Australia’, feels no responsibility for its most costly wars, the one’s which took place upon her own soil – because this was, after all, Mother Britain’s war and not ours.

I left feeling grateful for the work of places like the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, emboldened in my own commitment to the ways of non-violence in the ‘broken middle’ (Gillian Rose), and thinking about the ongoing relevance of Desmond Tutu’s words (published in God Is Not a Christian): ‘There can be no future without forgiveness. There will be no future unless there is peace. There can be no peace unless there is reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation before there is forgiveness. And there can be no forgiveness unless people repent’.

A wee footnote to Herbert Read’s ‘Bombing Casualties: Spain’

Doll’s faces are rosier but these were children
their eyes not glass but gleaming gristle
dark lenses in whose quicksilvery glances
the sunlight quivered. These blanched lips
were warm once and bright with blood
but blood
held in a moist blob of flesh
not split and spatter’d in tousled hair.

In these shadowy tresses
red petals did not always
thus clot and blacken to a scar.

These are dead faces:
wasps’ nests are not more wanly waxen
wood embers not so greyly ashen.

They are laid out in ranks
like paper lanterns that have fallen
after a night of riot
extinct in the dry morning air.

– Herbert Read, ‘Bombing Casualties: Spain’, in Poems of Protest Old and New: A Selection of Poetry, ed. Arnold Kenseth (London: The Macmillan Company, 1968), 64.

Herbert ReadThese words were written in the 1930s, in response to a photograph accompanying a newspaper article on the Spanish Civil War. Like much of Read’s writing, they could have been written this week or, indeed, in any week since the third century BCE, when the first paper lanterns were created. This is part of their enduring power. But what most strikes me about Read’s poem is the contrast between the violence and loss described in the first three stanzas and the order and reclamation – the being ‘laid out in ranks’ – spoken of in the final one: the mocking plastering-over of violence blasphemously championed under the pretext of bringing order to chaos.

Such efforts to bring about order like this are not necessarily wasted or misguided; indeed, they are a requisite part of the responsibility laid upon us as creatures made in the image of one who is himself set against those parasites in the cosmos which threaten life. However, and to state the obvious, not all that promotes itself as doing that work is, in fact, doing that work. And so the hard and patient and ceaseless work of discernment, the drawing of a line (one not necessarily straight or entirely clear) which steers us away from those Forsyth calls ‘the facile hierophant and the sweet exalté’ and towards a world made new, transformed not by the invasion of a foreign power or by the ascension of a paladin self-made but from within the very bastille of the human condition, charged with Spirit.

Leunig on Aussies, fighting, President Obama, and being kicked up the foxhole

Fight

Daniel Bell on ‘Just War and Christian Discipleship’

By way of a wee follow up to a recent post on ‘just war’ theory, I wish to draw attention to a talk, which I have only just gotten around to listen to, by Daniel Bell on ‘Just War and Christian Discipleship’, the subject of a book and of this pamphlet also by Bell. It’s a paper presented at Wheaton’s Theology Conference earlier this year on Christian Political Witness, and is available for download in both MP3 and MP4 formats.

Leunig, Hunsinger and Hauerwas on ‘just war’ theory

As the US continues to beat its war drums in the Middle East, it’s a good time to think again about the so-called ‘just war’ theory. So, I draw attention to three pieces – from Michael Leunig, from George Hunsinger and from Stanley Hauerwas.

So, Leunig:

Just war

And in a recent piece published in Commonweal Magazine, Hunsinger argues that ‘a defensible case for the attack on Syria would have to satisfy traditional “just war” standards. In its modern form the just-war tradition (jus ad bellum) involves at least four primary elements: just cause, legitimate authority, last resort, and reasonable chance of success. If these criteria remain unmet, the recourse to war is unjustified’. In Hunsinger’s view, the proposed attack on Syria meets none of these standards.

And here, Hauerwas argues that the real realists are not the just-war advocates anyway, but the pacifists. Moreover, he contends that ‘the lack of realism about realism by American just war advocates has everything to do with their being American’. ‘In particular’, he suggests, ‘American advocates of just war seem to presume that democratic societies place an inherent limit on war that more authoritarian societies are unable to do. While such a view is quite understandable, I would argue that democratic society – at least, the American version – is unable to set limits on war because it is democratic. Put even more strongly, for Americans war is a necessity to sustain our belief that we are worthy to be recipients of the sacrifices made on our behalf in past wars. Americans are a people born of and in war, and only war can sustain our belief that we are a people set apart’. Such democracies, Hauerwas believes, ‘by their very nature seem to require that wars be fought in the name of ideals that make war self-justifying’. And, characteristically, Hauerwas concludes his piece with a reflection on the relationship between war, christology and ecclesiology:

Pacifists are realists. Indeed, we have no reason to deny that the “realism” associated with Augustine, Luther and Niebuhr has much to teach us about how the world works. But that is why we do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war.

Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. When Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world, we will find other forms of sacrificial behaviours that are as compelling as they are idolatrous. In the process, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

If a people does not exist that continually makes Christ present in the world, war will always threaten to become a sacrificial system. War is a counter church. War is the most determinative moral experience many people have.

That is why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war. Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war. When Christians lose that reality – that is, the reality of the church as an alternative to the world’s reality – we abandon the world to the unreality of war.

For what it’s worth, whenever I happen across Christians defending just-war theory to justify their participation in the state’s various machineries of cross-border violence (which, for the record, is not what I think Hunsinger is doing), I’m reminded of another George – George Bernard Shaw – and his challenge to (hypocritical) church leaders:

They have turned their churches into recruiting stations and their vestries into munitions workshops. But it has never occurred to them to take off their black coats and say quite simply, ‘I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologise for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all the years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God.’ Not a bit of it. They have stuck to their livings and served Mars in the name of Christ, to the scandal of all religious mankind.

John Pilger and ‘The War You Don’t See’

John Pilger‘s film The War You Don’t See is, above all else, a call to responsible journalism, especially by those ‘journalists’ who have en masse lost their nerve, or who have temporarily (one hopes) mislaid the purpose of their craft. (Of course, Pilger himself has attracted no shortage of detractors over the years who would accuse him of irresponsible journalism. The onus on proof is clearly on the side of the detractors. And then there are those who find themselves in broad agreement with Pilger’s interpretation of things but struggle with a style that is perceived to be arrogant or hyped. I have some sympathy with these critics, although I’ve tried to never let his style get in the way of the content. This interview with the queen of ego herself, Kim Hill, is a case in point.)

There’s challenge here too, it seems to me, for those of us charged with the responsibility of rightly dividing the word of truth, especially for those who have lost our nerve to boldly address the powers or to do the demanding work it takes to simply tell the truth rather than spout the party line.

Anyway, for those who are yet to see the film, I thought I’d commend and post it for viewing here:

Pilger’s latest film (currently in production) is called Utopia and is due out at the end of the year. I look forward to seeing it.

some monday morning link love

On blood and guts, violence and death

I’ve been enjoying this delightful collection of short essays by the Melbourne-born poet, artist and cultural commentator Michael Leunig. Here’s a snippet from his essay ‘Blood and Guts, Violence and Death':

“No nation can go to war without a sufficient reserve of hatred, cruelty and bloodlust politely concealed in its general population, and if our so-called Western democracies wanted their ‘war against terror’, then let them now at least see the graphic details of war’s sickening and hideous consequences.

The curse is, however, that it’s the children who are most defiled and blighted by such frightening imagery – and they had no part in it.

My years in the abattoir taught me that society denies its bloodlust and cruelty and imagines that such impulses appropriately belong to prehistoric barbarians, or ‘rough and uncouth men’. But I believe we now have the unique modern cruelty of the refined and educated Western man, the respected gentleman in the fine suit who has never much dirtied his hands or killed a living creature, never meditated upon a rotting corpse and never had his consciousness infected with the messy organic substances of violent death – yet who can sign with an elegant golden pen the document that unleashes the cowardly invasion and who can then go out to dine on claret and lamb cutlets.

The likes of these men abound in the halls of academia, the boardrooms and corridors of power, and the chicken-coop workstations of the media, where they have clamoured for war, for all sorts of ungodly and unfathomable reasons, without really knowing in their bones how it works – the business of violence and blood and guts.

They are primally inexperienced, unconnected and unwise. Their flesh has not been seared. Their  repressed death fascination and sly cruelty has not yet been transformed into reverence and understanding by initiation into things carnal and spiritual, by the actual sights and sounds of splattering blood and crunching bone, and the pitiful flailing and wailing of violent death – the very thing they would unleash upon others. Just one sordid street-fight or one helpless minute of aerial bombardment might redeem them. They lack the humbling erudition of the slaughterman, the paramedic and, no doubt, the soldier who has really been a soldier.

I dare say there’s something foul, creepy and disgraceful emerging in the character of corporate and political leadership in ‘Western civilisation’, and I sense it’s substantially the result of an insipid masculinity problem.

The insatiable need for heartless power and ruthless control is the telltale sign of an uninitiated man – the most irresponsible, incompetent and destructive force on earth.”

– Michael Leunig, The Lot: In Words (Camberwell: Penguin, 2008), 50–2.

Hauerwas on the Church and the abolition of war

In Hauerwas’ latest piece, ‘Ten Years and Counting: The Church and the Abolition of War’, we hear, near the eve of 9/11, themes long-echoed by Yoder’s most prolific publisher:

‘I want to convince Christians that war has been abolished. The grammar of that sentence is very important. The past tense is very deliberate. I do not want to convince Christians to work for the abolition of war, but rather I want us to live recognizing that in the cross of Christ war has been abolished.

So I am not asking Christians to work to create a world free of war. The world has already been saved from war. The question is how Christians can and should live in a world of war as a people who believe that war has been abolished’.

You can read the rest here.

I’ve also posted some resources on pacifism and war here.

‘How To Kill’, by Keith Douglas

Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

And look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches.

– Keith Douglas, ‘How To Kill’ in Keith Douglas: The Complete Poems (ed. Desmond Graham; London: Faber & Faber, 2000), 119.

Writing off Yoder

The latest edition of One the Road, the journal of the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand, includes a helpful piece by Michael Buttrey titled ‘12 ways to prematurely write off Yoder: Some common misconceptions about Yoder’s ‘Neo-Anabaptist’ vision’. Buttrey, who blogs at Beyond the Secular Canopy, identifies the twelve ‘misconceptions’ as:

1. Yoder believes Constantine corrupted the church.

Yoder’s references to the “so-called Constantinian transformation” and to “Constantinianism” are only a shorthand for the fusion (and confusion) of church and world made possible, but not inevitable, through changes around the time of Constantine. As he explains his terms: “I here use the name of Constantine merely as a label for this transformation, which began before A.D. 200 and took over 200 years; the use of his name does not mean an evaluation of his person or work.” (“The Otherness of the Church,” 57)

2. Yoder thinks that there was no salt or light in the medieval church.

No, Yoder affirms the efforts in the Middle Ages to keep the church different and distinct from the world. He specifically highlights “the higher level of morality asked of the clergy, the international character of the hierarchy, the visibility of the hierarchy in opposition to the princes, the gradual moral education of barbarians into monogamy and legality, [and] foreign missions, apocalypticism and mysticism” as examples of how, despite distortions, the medieval church preserved an awareness of the strangeness of God’s people and the visible otherness of the church. (Ibid., 58.)

3. Yoder hates Luther, Calvin and the other magisterial Reformers.

Yoder sees the Reformers as unintentionally complicit in many tragic developments including secularization and the creation of modern secularism. He affirms their view of secular vocations as divinely ordained, their attempts to instruct and humble the state, their intent to renew the visible, faithful body of believers, and especially their faith in the all-powerful Word of God. His primary complaint is simply that “the forces to which they appealed for support, namely the drive towards autonomy that exists in the state and the other realms of culture, were too strong to be controlled once they had been let loose.” (Ibid., 60.)

4. Yoder has a low view of God’s sovereignty over history. Or:

5. He idolizes the early church.

Actually, Yoder has a much higher view of God’s sovereignty than those who believe it is our responsibility to make sure history turns out right. Indeed, he sees one of the fundamental movements of Constantinianism as the switch from faith in God’s rule to faith in the invisibility of the church. Consider his words in “The Constantinian Sources of Western Social Ethics”:

Before Constantine, one knew as a fact of everyday experience that there was a believing Christian community but one had to ‘take it on faith’ that God was governing history. After Constantine, one had to believe without seeing that there was a community of believers within the larger nominally Christian mass, but one knew for a fact that God was in control of history. (137)

In another important essay, he makes it clear that his criticism of the past is not a rebuke to God’s guidance of the church, but to the Enlightenment dogma of univocal progress: “reference … to the early centuries is not made with a view to undoing the passage of time but with a view to properly reorienting our present movement forward in light of what we now know was wrong with the way we had been going before.” (“The Kingdom as Social Ethic,” 87)

6. Yoder inappropriately sees Jesus’ earthly life as normative.

In The Politics of Jesus Yoder politely refuses the mendicant tradition of continuing Jesus’ footlooseness, poverty, or celibacy. He argues there is ‘no general concept of living like Jesus’ in the New Testament, and observes how Paul never claims Jesus as his example for, say, remaining single or working with his hands (130). Rather, there is only one realm where we must imitate Jesus, the way repeated throughout the New Testament and anticipated by the prophets: his relation to enmity and power, as typified by the cross. ‘Servanthood replaces dominion, forgiveness replaces hostility,’ not only for individuals, but also for the powers and structures of society (131). The rest of the 1972 book demonstrates and unpacks this broader vision of Jesus in ways well-supported by later scholars.

7. Yoder fails to deal with the Old Testament, especially the wars of Joshua.

On the contrary, in The Original Revolution Yoder disavows superficial approaches to reconciling the two Testaments. He rejects most such standard tropes, including claims that Jesus abolished the law and began a new dispensation, that God made concessions to Israel’s disobedience or immaturity, or that the Old Testament is normative for civil order and the New is concerned only with individual relationships. (92–99) Instead, he insists the wars must be understood in their ancient Near East historical context and narrative direction. His final word on holy war is in The War of the Lamb: ‘Yahweh himself gives the victory.’ From Exodus to Judges, ‘victory is a miracle,’ either because ‘the Israelites do not fight at all’ or because ‘their contribution is not decisive.’ (69) So, only ‘if wars today were commanded by prophets and won by miracles would the wars of Yahweh be a pertinent example.’ (70) Indeed, from Judges through Jeremiah, the Davidic kingship and standing military is revealed as a failure to trust Yahweh, and by the second century Judaism has rejected the violence of the Maccabees and Zealots’ as mistakes also. (72–3)

Therefore, the pacifism of today need not do ‘violence’ to OT interpretation but can proudly stand in continuity with the development of prophetic and rabbinic thought. Ironically, then, it is not Yoder but those who claim the OT for a pro-war position who need to answer charges of supercessionism, for they typically ignore the reception of their chosen texts by the rest of the Hebrew Bible and subsequent Jewish tradition.

8. Yoder’s pacifism inhibits any effective witness to the state, especially regarding war.

Actually, Yoder’s aptly titled The Christian Witness to the State shows him to be as tough-minded and practical as any follower of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Consider: Yoder is convinced ‘the present aeon is characterized by sin,’ and agrees that ‘we cannot expect the social order at large to function without the use of force.’ (9, 6) Therefore, our witness ‘will not be guided by an imagined pattern of ideal society,’ but will speak of specific criticisms and ‘specific suggestions for improvements to remedy the identified abuse,’ which, if implemented, will be followed by ‘new and more demanding’ critiques and proposals. (32; compare 67–8, where Yoder lauds Niebuhr for formulating this always relevant yet never-satisfied approach.) So, the church must refuse to bless the idolatrous modern crusade mentality, where one nation or bloc pretends to be utterly benevolent. Instead, we should advocate ‘a controlled balance of power.’ (45) The church can also demand that the state conduct war according to the traditional just war criteria, which do not make war ‘just’ for the Christian but do usefully describe the uses of violence that are the least illegitimate. (49)

9. Even for Christians, Yoder’s pacifism is impossible, or at least irresponsible.

Yoder fully recognizes that ‘Christian ethics calls for behaviour which is impossible except by the miracles of the Holy Spirit’ – but unlike many so-called Christian ‘realists’, Yoder believes in the real power of regeneration and participation in Christ. (The Original Revolution, 121)

Consider how he criticizes Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: ‘The body of Christ differs from other social bodies in that it is not less moral than its individual members. If being a perfectly loyal American … makes a man less loving that he would be as individual, the contrary is true of being a member of Christ.’ (The Royal Priesthood, 19. My emphasis.) In other words, the real connection between the church and its head enables Christians to do what they otherwise cannot, because they can have ‘the resources of love, repentance, the willingness to sacrifice, and enabling the power of the Holy Spirit.’ (The Christian Witness to the State, 29) As for accusations of irresponsibility, Yoder is deeply concerned by how such arguments actually function. Behind the rhetoric, ‘responsibility signifies a commitment to consider the survival, interests, or the power of one’s own nation, state, or class as taking priority over the survival, interests, or power of other persons or groups, of all humanity, of the ‘enemy,’ or of the church.’ (Ibid., 36n1) Thus, to Yoder calls for ‘Christian responsibility’ are really a form of disguised egoism, not altruism.

10. Yoder advocates separation from the world that ‘God so loved.’ And:

11. Isn’t Yoder a ‘fideistic sectarian tribalist’ like Stanley Hauerwas?

These common accusations seriously misunderstand Yoder.

First, Yoder’s context was one where he was urging traditionally quietist Anabaptists to realize they had a social ethic and witness to society, while simultaneously calling activist Christians to realize they need not abandon the gospel and take up the methods of the world in their impatience to get things done. Ironically, Yoder has often been taken more seriously by theologians and political philosophers outside his tradition – such as Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles – than those on the ‘inside.’

Second, Yoder has no desire to divide the church further. Indeed, in “The Kingdom As Social Ethic” he deeply objects to the labelling of radically obedient groups as sectarian, for they had no intentions of separating themselves:

[Such groups] have called upon all Christians to return to the ethic to which they themselves were called. They did not agree that their position was only for heroes, or only possible for those who would withdraw from wider society. They did not agree to separate themselves as more righteous from the church at large. (85)

Third, Yoder is fundamentally not interested in withdrawal or separation from society. In “The Paradigmatic Public Role of God’s People,” Yoder agrees with Karl Barth that ‘what believers are called to is no different from what all humanity is called to. … To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord makes it inconceivable that there should be any realm where his writ would not run.’ (25) Of course, those who seriously see Christ’s commands as normative for all tend to be called fideists or theocrats. Yoder is neither.

Yoder is not a fideist because, unlike most realists, he sees the gospel as having a truly universal appeal. Christian realists typically assume that the gospel is inaccessible and incomprehensible to all other groups, and so it is necessary to use a neutral, ‘public’ language to oblige non-Christians ‘to assent to our views on other grounds than that they are our views.’ (16–7) Indeed, it is not Yoder but his critics who tend to think that their faith is fundamentally irrational and its public demands must be set aside for that reason. This reverse fideism is not surprising, however, given how modern liberal democracies understand religious groups and language.

Further, Yoder is not a theocrat, because he does not call for the violent imposition of the gospel, which would be an oxymoron. Rather, the challenge for the church is to purify its witness so ‘the world can perceive it to be good news without having to learn a foreign language.’ (24) Christ’s universal lordship obliges the church to make great demands of the world, but by definition, the gospel witness is a process of public dialogue, not coercion.

In short, the best word for Yoder’s understanding of the church’s witness to society is that of model. Consider some of these potential imperatives for civil society Yoder derives theologically in that same essay:

  • egalitarianism, not because it is self-evident (history suggests that it is clearly not!) but because baptism into one body breaks down ethnic and cultural barriers;
  • forgiveness as commanded by Christ (he agrees with Hannah Arendt that a religious origin and articulation for forgiveness is no reason to discount it in secular contexts);
  • radical sharing and hospitality, even voluntary socialism, as implied in the Eucharist; and
  • open public meetings and dialogue, as Paul instructed the Corinthians.

This sketch is almost a political “platform,” and hardly separatist. But for Christians with typical approaches to politics, Yoder’s call for the church to be where God’s vision for society is first implemented and practiced is an enormous stumbling block. It is yet another irony that realists are so often closet quietists: they see the only choice as being between transforming society and letting it go its own way. Yoder, however, asks us to obey Christ even if no one else is interested – although he trusts that the Kingdom will advance if the word of God is faithfully witnessed and embodied amid the powers and principalities of the world.

12. Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas are the same.

Let me put it this way. If you are concerned that Hauerwas has an anti-liberal, ‘church as polis’ narrative ecclesiology, you must read Yoder’s The Royal Priesthood, The Priestly Kingdom, For the Nations and the often overlooked Body Politics. If you are frustrated by Hauerwas’ less-frequent engagement of the biblical text, you must read Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus and The War of the Lamb. But if, like me, you deeply appreciate Hauerwas’ work, then you, too, should read Yoder and discover his project, similar yet hardly identical.

 

Hauerwas on War, Sacrifice and the Alternative to the Sacrifices of War

The ABC’s outstanding Religion and Ethics site has recently posted a stirring three-part reflection on war by Stanley Hauerwas:

Here are some tasters:

  • ‘I think the language of sacrifice is particularly important for societies like the United States in which war remains our most determinative common experience, because states like the United States depend on the story of our wars for our ability to narrate our history as a unified story’.
  • ‘I think it is a mistake to focus – as we most often do – only on the sacrifice of life that war requires. War also requires that we sacrifice our normal unwillingness to kill. It may seem odd to call the sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill “a sacrifice,” but I will argue that this sacrifice often renders the lives of those who make it unintelligible. The sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill is but the dark side of the willingness in war to be killed. Of course I am not suggesting that every person who has killed in war suffers from having killed. But I do believe that those who have killed without the killing troubling their lives should not have been in the business of killing in the first place … Killing creates a world of silence isolating those who have killed’.
  • ‘Awarding of medals becomes particularly important. Medals gesture to the soldier that what he did was right and the community for which he fought is grateful. Medals mark that his community of sane and normal people, people who do not normally kill, welcome him back into “normality.” [Lt Col Dave] Grossman calls attention to Richard Gabriel’s observation that “primitive societies” often require soldiers to perform purification rights before letting them rejoin the community. Such rites often involve washing or other forms of cleaning. Gabriel suggest the long voyage home on troop ships in World War II served to give soldiers time to tell to one another their stories and to receive support from one another. This process was reinforced by their being welcomed home by parades and other forms of celebration. Yet soldiers returning from Vietnam were flown home often within days and sometimes hours of their last combat. There were no fellow soldiers to greet them. There was no one to convince them of their own sanity. Unable to purge their guilt or to be assured they had acted rightly, they turned their emotions inward’.
  • ‘Killing shatters speech, ends communication, isolating us into different worlds whose difference we cannot even acknowledge. No sacrifice is more dramatic than the sacrifice asked of those sent to war, that is, the sacrifice of their unwillingness to kill. Even more cruelly, we expect those who have killed to return to “normality”’.
  • Hauerwas also cites from Carolyn Marvin’s and David Ingle’s book Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag: ‘In the religiously plural society of the United States, sectarian faith is optional for citizens, as everyone knows. Americans have rarely bled, sacrificed or died for Christianity or any other sectarian faith. Americans have often bled, sacrificed and died for their country. This fact is an important clue to its religious power. Though denominations are permitted to exist in the United States, they are not permitted to kill, for their beliefs are not officially true. What is really true in any society is what is worth killing for, and what citizens may be compelled to sacrifice their lives for’. To which Hauerwas comments: ‘This is a sobering judgment, but one that cannot be ignored if Christians are to speak truthfully to ourselves and our neighbours about war. I think, however, Christians must insist that what is true is not what a society thinks is worth killing for, but rather that for which they think it worth dying. Indeed, I sometimes think that Christians became such energetic killers because we were first so willing to die rather than betray our faith. Yet the value of Marvin’s and Ingle’s claim that truth is to be found in that for which you are willing to kill is how it helps us see that the Christian alternative to war is not to have a more adequate “ethic” for conducting war. No, the Christian alternative to war is worship … The sacrifices of war are undeniable. But in the cross of Christ, the Father has forever ended our attempts to sacrifice to God in terms set by the city of man. We (that is, we Christians) have now been incorporated into Christ’s sacrifice for the world so that the world no longer needs to make sacrifices for tribe or state, or even humanity. Constituted by the body and blood of Christ we participate in God’s Kingdom so that the world may know that we, the church of Jesus Christ, are the end of sacrifice. If Christians leave the Eucharistic table ready to kill one another, we not only eat and drink judgment on ourselves, but we rob the world of the witness necessary for the world to know there is an alternative to the sacrifices of war’.

Stanley Hauerwas on patriotism, pacifism and just warriors

hauerwas-1On 2 March 2003, David Rutledge conducted the following interview with Stanley Hauerwas on ABC’s Encounter program:

David Rutledge: One of the most prominent Christian pacifist voices in the US at the moment is Stanley Hauerwas, from Duke University in North Carolina. His prominence – or notoriety, perhaps – was established by Time magazine in its “America’s Best” issue of 2001, which proclaimed Stanley Hauerwas as “America’s Best Theologian” and ran a profile on him, entitled Christian Contrarian. In that article, he called on Christians not to be defined by their political community, and he condemned “any and all forms of patriotism, nationalism and state worship”. Well that issue of Time magazine hit the newsstands on September 10th, just 24 hours before the terrorist attacks that dramatically altered the American psyche – and that suddenly put Stanley Hauerwas out on the radical fringe of American public life. I asked Stanley Hauerwas if there was anything in that article that he would have changed, had he known that history was about to take the turn that it did.

Stanley Hauerwas: No, not a thing. I suppose that the claim that radical pacifism and Christian non-violence means that you’re critical of all forms of patriotism – I don’t know that I’m critical of “all forms of patriotism”, because I don’t know what “all forms of patriotism” would look like. I’m certainly critical of the kind of patriotism that we find in America. That is the worst kind possible, because it’s not just a loyalty to the particularities of history and geography, but because of America’s basis within the fundamental norms of the Enlightenment – freedom, equality, abstractions like that – then that means American patriotism cannot help but be a form of imperialism. And that’s always the way it has been. And I think it’s one of the most dangerous forms – indeed it’s virulent on the world stage. 

Americans can’t understand – I mean, we just – Americans assume that if you just had enough education and enough money, you would want to be just like us – because we’re what free people look like. And therefore American patriotism, I think, is one of the worst forms that could possibly be present in the world.

I think that in America now, we’re really being ruled by the Right. And I think that they have a view of the world that is just not going to be open to any evidence. And so they’re determined to do this. I really believe that this war was on the drawing tables of many of the people that came into the Bush administration. And I think that September 11th was their licence to do it. September 11th determinatively changed American politics, there is absolutely no question about that. The mid-term elections that we just had, in which the Republicans gained seats both in the Senate and the Congress, is really – I mean, that has never happened in America. That’s new. And I think it has everything to do with Americans’ desire for security. September 11th brought the world home to America – and they don’t like it, they just don’t like it. And they’re willing to go with anyone that’s going to promise safety. And that’s what Bush is offering them. 

But I really believe, since I’m a Christian, that you always live in a world at risk. Indeed, what Christianity is about, is always learning how to die early for the right reasons. And Americans just – that’s a thought that is unthinkable right now. I think the American response to September 11th is exactly the other side of the Americans’ unbelievable support for crisis care medicine. They think that if we just get good enough at curing cancer, or good enough at doing something about people suffering heart attacks, or good enough with genetics today, then they’re going to get out of this life alive. It’s just not going to happen.

David Rutledge: Can we go back to just war for a minute? You made an interesting comment, that the just war tradition raises the right kinds of questions; but then the just war tradition is seemingly being invoked at the moment as a justification for war. The assumption seems to be that we can and do wage war, so how can we do it and still remain faithful to our Christian ideals. Now as a pacifist, do you think that that is legitimate? How do you evaluate the just war tradition?

Stanley Hauerwas: I’m certainly willing always to join serious just war thinkers in trying to think through what the implications of being a just warrior should be. But if you take the war on Iraq: why is America able to even imagine going to war in Iraq? It’s because we can. We’ve got all this unbelievable military power, so we can envision it, because we have the capacity for it. Now, the question is: did you get the capacity to wage that kind of war on just war considerations? Is the United States’ foreign policy a just war foreign policy? Is the United States’ military preparedness based on just war considerations? No way! They’re based on presuppositions, that you’d better have as much military might as you can, in a world of anarchy, because the one with the most weapons at the end, wins.

Now, if just war people were more serious about raising questions about the implications of what just war would commit them to – for example, the war on terrorism could not possibly be a just war. I don’t even think it’s a war, I mean that’s a metaphorical use of the word “war” that comes from Americans’ views of – you know, the “war on drugs”, the “war on crime” – I mean, it’s just crap. Because what they need to think about is: just war is always about a political end, that you need to declare, so your enemy will know how they can resign and surrender. And so if you’re about annihilating your enemy, as we were in World War II – that is, we fought it for unconditional surrender – you can’t fight a just war for unconditional surrender, because you’re not trying to destroy your enemy, you’re only trying to stop your enemy from doing the wrong that you declared the war for. I mean, there can’t be a just war against terrorism, because you don’t even know who the enemy is, and you get to keep changing it, and the presumption that a just war should be in response to aggression: well, in what way is Iraq really threatening America? That hasn’t been shown at all. What Iraq threatens is American imperial hegemony in the world. How is that a criterion for just war? 

So I regard most of the people that are trying to give an account of why it is that the war against Iraq could meet just war criteria, as just an ideological cover for American realism. And notice: no one’s talking about the war on terrorism that much in America right now, because we lost it. Or at least, we haven’t won it. So instead, everyone’s talking about the war against Iraq, and so you’ve made the shift from the war on terrorism to the war against Iraq, which you’re going to win, and so Bush is not being held accountable for the mistaken strategy of ever declaring war against terrorism.

David Rutledge: Theologian and pacifist Stanley Hauerwas, talking earlier this year on the eve of the American attack on Iraq. 

hauerwas-4Stanley Hauerwas: What I find absolutely crucial is reflecting on Christ’s death and resurrection. What that means is that God would rather die, God would rather have God’s own Son die, than to redeem the world through violence. And that central story is what Christians are about. 

I go to an Episcopal church, and after we finish the Mass, one of the prayers that I find a deep comfort is – I just have the Book of Common Prayer here – Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son, our saviour Jesus Christ. You have fed us with spiritual food, in the sacrament of His body and blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you, with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen. Now, how could someone that prays that prayer every week at the Eucharistic sacrifice – and remember, the Eucharistic sacrifice is where we become part of Christ’s sacrifice for the world, so the world will know it’s got an alternative to violence – how can anyone that prays that prayer, week after week, run for the Presidency of the United States? It beats the hell out of me. 

You know, I’m not trying to call Christians out of being politically involved; I just want them to be there as Christians. And instead, what they get is they think they have a personal relationship with Jesus, which makes it OK for them to do anything that they damn well please, in the name of what’s important for national defence. Well, Jesus is a political saviour, and that prayer is a political prayer. And that’s the kind of seizing of the imagination I’m trying to help Christians regain in America. Because in America, Christians just cannot distinguish themselves – what it means to be Christian, they assume it goes hand in hand with what it means to be an American. And that’s just a deep mistake. But how to help Christians recover that difference is very difficult indeed.

David Rutledge: How much help are you getting in that from the American Christian leadership? 

Stanley Hauerwas: Well, for example: the Methodist bishops have given a kind of statement against going to war pre-emptively. And you know, they want you to work through the UN, and that kind of thing. They don’t just come out and say “you do it, George, and your soul is going to Hell. Or your soul is already in Hell”. Which I wish they would do. But George Bush, on the whole, is just ignoring any of that kind of statement, because he knows it doesn’t represent the American Methodists. Most American Methodists assume “well, something needs to be done”, and they therefore wouldn’t follow the lead of their bishops. 

There’s been quite a number of statements by most of the mainstream religious bodies – you know, saying “go through the UN” and that kind of thing, but it’s had no effect. Because I think that Bush is right: most of the laity doesn’t know how to think about war at all. And the reason most Christian laity don’t know how to think about war at all, is because our religious leadership has never helped educate the American people. As a pacifist, when I go and lecture to churches about the ethics of war, and try to introduce them to just war considerations – because I think that just war is certainly a very serious alternative that people, if they do it seriously, it raises the right kinds of questions that ought to be raised – I usually get a hand stuck up, and someone says “no one’s every told me that Christians have a problem with war”. Isn’t that remarkable? I say “I know you’ve been betrayed. Fire your bishops”. The teaching office of the church has just been absent, over the years, about these kinds of matters.

David Rutledge: There was commentator in the journal First Things, who said that when Christian go off to fight a just war, they’re following Christ, but at a distance. And I wonder if, in your pacifism, you’re talking about something much more immediate, you’re talking about pacifism as the road to Calvary, if it has to be that way, as following Christ in such a way as to be led unresisting to a horrible death, if that’s what your Christianity calls you to do? Is that the kind of end that you have in mind?

Stanley Hauerwas: It certainly could be. I mean, what is the deep problem? The deep problem of Christian non-violence is: you must be willing to watch innocent people suffer for your convictions. Of course, that’s true. In the hard cases, it means it’s not just your death, it’s watching other people die, whom you might have been able to defend. Now of course, you want to try to do everything you can that would prevent that alternative. But you may have to envision that. 

But look: the just warriors are in exactly the same position. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on just war grounds, were murder. There’s no other description for that. Just warriors need to argue that it would have been better for more people to die on the beaches of Japan, both Americans and Japanese, than to commit one murder. That’s what the position should be committed to holding. So of course, any account of serious attempt to morally control war, would mean that if you’re a just warrior, you’re going to have to watch the innocent suffer for your convictions – just like the pacifist does. But on the whole, most people who argue on just war grounds don’t want to acknowledge that. But they should.

David Rutledge: Do you think that one of the key problems for a message like yours, in America or in the world right now, is that when you talk about watching innocent people suffer in the course of a war, the most outstanding recent example of that is the deaths of thousands of Americans at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And the most difficult thing in the world at the moment is for Americans to say “well, in the name of justice, we can’t allow those deaths to be the pretext for more deaths” – even though that’s right at the heart of Christian teaching?

Stanley Hauerwas: Well, I think that Americans simply cannot contemplate Americans getting to die as victims. And they want to turn their deaths into some good. And when they do that, you exactly betray – at least, as Christians – what we should have learned through the Cross: that the attempt to make life meaningful, even life that has died, through further violence, is absolutely futile. But we seem determined to want to do that, and I think we in the world will pay a great price for that. I mean, the price that Americans are going to have to pay for the kind of arrogance that we are operating out of right now, is going to be terrible indeed. And I think that when America isn’t able to rule the world, that people will exact some very strong judgements against America – and I think we will well deserve it.

Around the traps … [updated]

Pacifism and War: Some Resources [Updated]

pacifismI’m trying to put together a list of responsible books/essays that explore theologically questions of Christian pacifism and Christian attitudes to war, and would be keen to hear of such that others have found helpful (and, if possible, why). Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Wilma A. Bailey, “You shall not kill” or “You shall not murder”?: The Assault on a Biblical Text (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005).

Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Towards War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-evaluation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960).

Oliver R. Barclay, ed., Pacifism and War (When Christians Disagree) (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984).

Clive Barrett, ed., Peace Together: A Vision of Christian Pacifism (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1987).

Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).

Robert W. Brimlow, What About Hitler?: Wrestling with Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006).

Martin Ceadel, Pacifism in Britain, 1914-45: Defining of a Faith (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1980).

*David L. Clough and Brian Stiltner, Faith and Force: A Christian Debate About War (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2007).

Robert G. Clouse, ed., War: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1981).

James Denney, War and the Fear of God (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1916).

Kim Fabricius, Ten Propositions on Peace and War (with a postscript)

Kim Fabricius, Ten Stations on My Way to Christian Pacifism

Gabriella Fiori, Simone Weil: An Intellectual Biography (trans. J.R. Berrigan; Athens/London: University of Georgia Press, 1989).

Peter T. Forsyth, The Christian Ethic of War (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1916).

Peter T. Forsyth, The Justification of God: Lectures for War-Time on a Christian Theodicy (London: Independent Press, 1957).

*Stanley Hauerwas, Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992).

Stanley Hauerwas, Dispatches from the Front: Theological Engagements with the Secular (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994).

Stanley Hauerwas, September 11: A Pacifist Response. From remarks given at the University of Virginia, October 1, 2001.

Stanley Hauerwas, ‘No, This War Would Not Be Moral’, in Time (3 March, 2003).

Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Griffiths, ‘War, Peace & Jean Bethke Elshtain’, in First Things (October, 2003).

Stanley Hauerwas, Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004).

Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008).

Eberhard Jüngel, Christ, Justice and Peace: Toward a Theology of the State in Dialogue with the Barmen Declaration (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992).

Geoffrey A. Studdert Kennedy, Rough Rhymes of a Padre (Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton, 1918).

Geoffrey A. Studdert Kennedy, After War, Is Faith Possible?: The Life and Message of Geoffrey “Woodbine Willie” Studdert Kennedy (ed. Kerry Walters; Eugene: Cascade, 2008). [Reviewed here]

Jean Lasserre, War and the Gospel (London: James Clarke, 1962).

Philip Matthews and David Neville, ‘C.S. Lewis and Christian Pacifism’ in Faith and Freedom: Christian Ethics in a Pluralist Culture (Hindmarsh: ATF Press, 2004), 205-16.

Paul O’Donnell and Stanley Hauerwas, A Pacifist’s Look at Memorial Day: Duke University Divinity professor Stanley Hauerwas on nonviolence, Iraq and killing Hitler.

Oliver O’Donovan, In Pursuit of a Christian View of War (Bramcotte Notts: Grove Books, 1977).

*Oliver O’Donovan, The Just War Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

George Orwell, ‘Pacifism and the War’, Partisan Review August-September (1942).

Paul Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience (Durham: Duke University Press, 1968).

Paul Ramsey, The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility (Lanham/Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).

Alan Ruston, ‘Protestant Nonconformist Attitudes towards the First World War’, in Protestant Nonconformity in the Twentieth Century (ed. Alan P. F. Sell and Anthony R. Cross; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2003), 240-263. [The book is reviewed here]

*W. J. Sheils, ed., The Church and War: Papers read at the Twenty-first Summer Meeting and the Twenty-second Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983).

Ronald J. Sider, Christ and Violence (Kitchener: Herald Press, 1979).

*Glen H. Stassen, ed., Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2008).

John Stott, ed., The Year 2000AD (London: Marshalls, 1983), 27-71.

John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today: New Perspectives on Social and Moral Dilemmas (London: William Collins Sons & Co., 1990), 82-112.

Helmut Thielicke, Theological Ethics Volume 2: Politics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979).

Miroslav Volf, ‘Christianity and Violence’ (A paper presented at the Boardman Lectureship in Christian Ethics, Boardman Lecture XXXVIII, University of Pennsylvania, 1 March, 2002).

Alan Wilkinson, Dissent or Conform? War, Peace and the English Churches, 1900-1945 (London: SCM Press, 1986).

*John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Scottdale/Kitchener: Herald Press, 1971).

John Howard Yoder, When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984).

John Howard Yoder et al., What Would You Do?: A Serious Answer to a Standard Question (Scottsdale/Kitchener: Herald Press, 1983).

John Howard Yoder, Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution (ed. Theodore J. Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker; Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009).

Supplementary Readings

Terry Eagleton, ‘Isaiah Berlin and Richard Hoggart’ in Figures of Dissent: Critical Essays on Fish, Spivak, Žižek and Others (London/New York: Verso, 2003), 104-8.

Robert Jenson: Burns Lecture 2 – The Tanakh as Christian Scripture

robert-jenson-3-1

© 2009. Photo taken by John Roxborogh, when Robert Jenson visited the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin. Used with permission.

The Burns Lectures are definitely warming up. In this lecture Robert Jenson dealt with the Tanakh, or Old Testament (as is his preferred terminology with appropriate qualification: ‘old’ equals ‘prior’ rather than ‘antiquated’) as Christian scripture. He began by clarifying the appropriate questions – the status of the OT as Christian scripture was never questioned and for Jenson this can’t be the Church’s question since it is both absolutely prior (presumably in the sense that it constitutes the world in which the Christian faith is born) and necessary for the Church’s self-understanding. Jenson says that the really interesting question for the first Christians was a kind of obverse to that which questions the status of Israel’s scriptures, namely whether Israel’s scriptures could accept the proclamation of the resurrection. The Church, he insisted, did not accept Israel’s scriptures. Rather, Israel’s scriptures received the Church. Jenson noted that for the century, it was Israel’s scriptures which served the Gospel rather than the obverse. This question is alive even though it cannot be clearly asked since God has already answered it in raising Jesus.

Jenson proceeded to highlight how this question is constantly in the background of NT writing and how the NT demonstrates in the way it tells its story a ‘narrative harmony’ with Israel’s scriptures – relationship between passion narrative and Isaiah 53 being a case in point. The OT prophets were the one’s who provided the answer to ‘why’ did Jesus needed to die. Jenson argued that we cannot ask why the OT Scripture after Christ. Rather, we can only ask how scripture is the way for the Christian community. He also observed that the Church reads the OT as narrative because her gospel is itself a narrative, and because her gospel recognizes itself as the climax of the story told in the OT. Jenson cautioned about ‘unguarded talk of the unique fullness of God’s revelation in Christ’ [is that the mythological Christomonism?]. Such talk requires, says Jenson, the important qualification that the God present to the OT sages is the same Word, Jesus Christ. Jesus taught the scriptures with ‘authority’ says Jenson, ‘that is, as if he were the author … because, in a sense, he is’. Jenson continued this line with comments like ‘Christ prayed the psalms as the leader of Israel’s worship gathered as the body of Christ’. When ancient Israel gathered in the temple with their hymns and lamentations they were gathered as ‘the body of Christ’. At this point he introduced some of the difficult issues that were to arise later in his lecture also. In response to those who wonder whether Christians can pray the Psalms that call for the destruction of their enemies and the bashing of babies against rocks, he suggested, with some rhetorical flourish, that they could pray them at the foot of the cross against the devil and his angels. [We shall return to this claim]

The key question which the latter part of Jenson’s lecture focuses on is not whether the OT is Christian scripture but precisely how it so functions. Jenson’s answer is that it functions as ‘narrative of God’s history with his people’, including the Church. This arises because the Church’s gospel is narrative and it identifies itself as the climax of the narrative of Israel’s history. Why this should be so stems from the character of the ‘regula fidei’ as a ‘plotted sequence of God’s acts’ (economy) on the one hand and the nature of the book the Church wrote as a second testament. He interestingly contrasts the two movements to emerge from old Israel with the destruction of the temple – rabbinic Judaism ended up using the Tanakh differently from the Church because their second testament (Mishnah) had a legal character which meant that they read their Torah with law as a guiding concept. On the other hand the Church with its narrative gospel ended up contextualising law within the narrative of God with his people. This also had a lot to do with Paul’s very complex problematisation of the law.

The ‘how’ question in relation to the role of the OT was forged in contrast to various challenges to the initial role of the OT – Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Platonism. Although there was a certain ‘Church History 101′ feel to the lecture here, Jenson’s characterization of the movements and issues was always interesting. In response to all these developments, but particularly to that ‘monomaniacal Paulinist’ Marcion, Jenson says that Christians have no way of avoiding the fact that the God of Israel is a ‘man of war’ who goes into battle, sometimes for, sometimes against, his people, but a God who takes sides in history. This, says Jenson, is the only alternative to a god who abandons history. God is either involved in fallen history as the God of Israel is, or God is not. If God is to engage a violent history God cannot do so without being a ‘God of war’, that is, without getting God’s hands dirty. And it seems, for Jenson, to be involved is to be implicated as an agent of violence. Like Hans Boersma has also recently argued, Jenson seems to hold that God uses violence as a means justified by God’s ends – that God participates in the world’s violence but he does so by entering into that violence and dying in it, through which violence is undone.

When questioned as to whether there was a third alternative, namely to suffer violence as the crucified one, Jenson responded effectively that in relation to this issue it was not really a third alternative since the crucifixion was an event in which God was both the crucifier and the crucified – and therefore, presumably, not non-violent. He also presumed that the question was motivated by the issue of theodicy.

Three critical questions arise at this point:

  1. The first picks up on the difference the revelation of God in Christ makes. Why did Jenson limit the praying of that psalm to prayers against “the devil and his angels”? If he is to be consistently true to the ‘man of war’ motif, why do not Christians pray against their human enemies and their enemy’s babies? And if they do so, how is this consistent with love for one’s enemies?
  2. Is it necessary that if the Father sent the Son to the cross and the Son went to the cross in obedience to the Father that the God of Israel must be seen as both the crucified and the crucifier? Surely the willingness to be crucified and the willingness to let the Son be crucified (not my will but yours) do not entail the agency of crucifixion. Surely the fact that this evil event is ultimately good (Friday) lies in the good consequent upon it (for the joy that was set before him). There is no paradoxical necessity to make God (in whom there is no darkness) the agent of death. Surely the triune God is here its defeater.
  3. Finally, does the fact that the Old Testament is the Church’s scripture rule out the possibility that it, like the New Testament, is a ‘text in travail’ bearing witness to Israel education by God. Is it not possible to discern in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ a journey within Israel to unlearn pagan violence – we think here of a trajectory which includes the Cain/Abel story, the Akideh, the repentance of God post flood, the Joseph story, story of Job, the servant songs and so much more. So rather than accepting a strand which is taken for granted in the scriptures – God as man of war – why not discern how that strand is being deconstructed in the course of Israel’s journey with God? If such a reading is persuasive then the motivation to question the ‘man of war’ motif need not be motivated by theodicy, or not in any simplistic way.

 

Past Lectures:

1. Creed, Scripture, and Their Modern Alienation

Following Lectures:

3. The New Testament and the Regula Fidei

4. The Apostles’ Creed

5. The Creed as Critical Theory of Scripture

6. Genesis 1:1 and Luke 1:26-38

 

Notes by Bruce Hamill and Jason Goroncy

‘After War, Is Faith Possible?': A Commendation


studdert-kennedyGeoffrey A. Studdert Kennedy, After War, Is Faith Possible?: The Life and Message of Geoffrey “Woodbine Willie” Studdert Kennedy (ed. Kerry Walters; Eugene: Cascade, 2008).
xii + 225 pages. ISBN: 978-1-55635-379-6. Review copy courtesy of Wipf and Stock.

One the real delights of my research into the thought of PT Forsyth has been revisiting, and in some cases discovering for the first time, others who were writing around the same time, and often of the same events. To re-read James Denney, or James Baldwin Brown, or FD Maurice, is one of the best ways one could spend a month … or two. Another giant personality to add to that list would have to be Geoffrey A. Studdert Kennedy, better known as ‘Woodbine Willie’. (I posted on ) My copies of Studdert Kennedy’s work, which are all over 90 years old, form a truly valuable part of my library and one to which I return not infrequently. Collected Poetry (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1927), The Hardest Part (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1918), I Believe: Sermons on the Apostles Creed (New York: George H. Doran, 1921), Rough Rhymes of a Padre (Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton, 1918) and The Wicket Gate, or Plain Bread (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1923) all constitute exceptional reading.

And so I was absolutely delighted to discover that Wipf & Stock decided to republish some Woodbine Willie excerpts, all well chosen and just enough to plant an appetite in those who will no doubt want to hear more from ‘the bloody parson!’ (p. 12). The collection was edited by Kerry Walters, who also contributed a very fine introduction on Studdert Kennedy’s life and message, and a helpful bibliography of the primary and secondary literature.

Woodbine Willie, (June 27, 1883 - March 8, 1929)

Woodbine Willie, (June 27, 1883 - March 8, 1929)

This WWI padre was, of course, one of the best-known and most-loved Christian pacifists of the early twentieth century. Unlike those theological yuppies who defend pacifism on purely ideological grounds and over a café latte in Lygon Street – informed by the Gospel or otherwise – Woodbine Willie’s commitment to pacifism was birthed in the trenches alongside frightened men and their dead mates. In all that he wrote, a number of questions incessantly occupied his thought: ‘Given the insanity and brutality of war (‘the universal disaster'; p. 14), what must the God who allows it be like? (p. 13); How is evil to be gotten rid of? (p. 3); What sort of universe ought an honest person believe in? (p. 15). His answer to these questions eventually led to the conviction that God is not sadistic, or indifferent to the world’s evil. Neither is God ‘Almighty’ enough to prevent such evils: ‘I see no evidence anywhere in nature of the Almighty Potentate Who guides and governs all things with His rod, and knows no failure and thwarting of His Will’ (p. 81). What God does do, Woodbine Willie insists (in Moltmannesque manner), is to suffer with and alongside humanity. This is love’s character – not raw despotic power but entering into the sorrows of the beloved. War then, which is evil in its most acute form, is ‘the test case for determining if Christianity can cope with evil’ (p. 21).

Against those who would ‘blather’ about the ‘glory of war’, or who would hold out hope for war being a converting ordinance, Woodbine Willie says that ‘war is pure undiluted, filthy sin. I don’t believe that it has ever redeemed a single soul – or ever will’ (p. 62):

War is only glorious when you buy it in the Daily Mail and enjoy it at the breakfast table. It goes splendidly with bacon and eggs. Real war is the final limit of damnable brutality, and that all there is in it. It’s about the silliest, filthiest, most inhumanly fatuous thing that ever happened. It makes the whole universe seem like a mad muddle. One feels that all talk of order and meaning in life is insane sentimentality. (p. 41)

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy speaking at Tredegar during an Industrial Christian Fellowship Crusade in 1928.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy speaking at Tredegar during an Industrial Christian Fellowship Crusade in 1928.

There are no words foul and filthy enough to describe war. Yet I would remind you that this indescribably filthy thing is the commonest thing in History, and that if we believe in a God of Love at all we must believe in the face of war and all it means. The supreme strength of the Christian faith is that it faces the foulest and filthiest of life’s facts in the crude brutality of the Cross, and through them sees the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (p. 49)

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,

Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,

Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,

Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,

Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,

Waste of Youth’s most precious years,

Waste of ways the Saints have trod,

Waste of Glory, waste of God -

              War! (p. 50)

I cannot say that war, disease, pestilence, famine, and all the other characteristics of the process are good. If this word “Almighty” means that the Father could have made this world, and obtained the results He desires, in a thousand other ways, but that He deliberately chose this, that makes my gorge rise. Why in thunder choose this one? It is disreputable if He could have done it otherwise, without this cruelty and wrong. It is not commonly respectable. He must be an evil-minded blackguard, with a nasty disposition like a boy that likes pulling the wings off flies. I cannot get up any reverence for such a being. Why, bless my life, He tortures children, voluntarily tortures them to death, and has done so for thousands of years. I can’t stand that at all – it’s dirty; and when I am told that I must believe it, and that every detail of the process was planned out precisely as He wished, I begin to turn sick. Snakes, sharks, and blood-sucking vermin – what sort of a God is this? He chose this way because He gloried in it! That beats the band. It turns me clean up against the process. I cannot see its beauty for its brutality. I cannot hear the lark sing for the squealing of a rabbit tortured by a stoat, I cannot see the flowers for the face of a consumptive child with rotten teeth, the song of the saints is drowned by the groans of murdered men. (p. 75)

A soldier in time of war is not a person but a puppet, who moves when you pull strings. (p. 78)

… our armaments are symbols, not of our power, but of our weakness … Our military power is an exact index of our spiritual and moral impotence. (p. 79)

Life is one, from the single cell to the Savior in the flesh. I cannot separate swine from Shakespeare or Jellyfish from Jesus of Nazareth; they all are products of the process. So behind the process there must be a Spirit which is like the Spirit of man. (p. 81)

woodbine-willie-1I am not a pacifist (I’ve been too persuaded by Forsyth and Jüngel here), but reading Woodbine Willie continuously challenges me to ask myself whether I should be, whether our Lord’s command to ‘Love your enemies’ (Matt 5:44) really does, in Barth’s words, abolish ‘the whole exercise of force’. Either way, Barth is most certainly correct when he challenges: ‘In conformity with the New Testament, one can be pacifist not in principle but only in practice (praktisch Pazifist). But let everyone consider very carefully whether, being called to discipleship, it is possible to avoid – or permissible to neglect – becoming a practical pacifist!’ (Church Dogmatics IV/2, 549-50).

Faith does not mean that we cease from asking questions; it means that we ask and keep on asking until the answer comes; that we seek and keep on seeking until the truth is found; that we knock and keep on knocking until the door is opened and we enter into the palace of God’s truth. (p. 63)

Woodbine Willie dares us to keep on prayerfully asking the questions …

If the Church is to be a Church indeed, and not a mere farce – and a peculiarly pernicious farce, a game of sentimental make-believe – she must be filled to overflowing with the fire of the ancient prophets for social righteousness, with the wrath and love of the Christ. (p. 196)

The Church is not, and never can be, an end in itself; it is a means to an end; a means to the salvation of the world and the building of the Kingdom of God. It is not the Ark of Salvation for themselves, it is the Agent of Salvation for mankind. It is not a refuge of peace, but an army preparing for war. They seek in it, not security, but sacrifice. This is the infallible mark of the Church, the hallmark of the Cross. And if the sin of our modern slums, and the degradation that they cause; if the sin of our over-crowded, rotten houses, and the ugliness and vice they bring; if the sin of unemployment, with the damnation of body and soul that it means to men and women, boys and girls; if the sin of the heartless, thoughtless luxury at one end, standing out against the squalid and degrading poverty at the other; if the sin of commercial trickery and dishonesty, and wholesale defrauding of the poor; if the sin of prostitution, and the murder of women and children by venereal disease; if the sin of war, the very sin of sins, which is but the bursting into a festering sore of all the filth that the others have bred in years of miscalled peace; if all that is not laid upon the Church as a burden, and Christ’s members do not feel it as their own, then the Church is not a Church at all; and no amount of organization, propaganda, and evangelization can make it live. It has missed its vocation. (p. 167)