Christian Pacifist Questionnaire: Craig Fickle

Name: Craig Fickle

Blog/Website: crucifiedpeace.wordpress.com

 

Bible and Theology

Q. What are your biggest obstacles to pacifism (Biblically or otherwise) and how have you addressed them?

One of my biggest problems at the time of first seriously considering nonviolence was the gruesome violence of the OT. After a bit of research I discovered that there were many ways of reconciling the OT with a pacifistic mindset. There didn’t seem to be one big foolproof method, but there was enough for me to push it aside for the moment and focus on the teachings and actions of Jesus and his first listeners and followers. After I became convinced of Jesus’ command for a nonviolent approach to healing and ushering in His kingdom, I looked to the OT once more.

Now I would say my biggest obstacle is with my kids and wife. It requires a lot of faith in our Lord not to violently attack someone attacking your kids. Even sacrificing myself is difficult to imagine as I’d be leaving my two children fatherless.

Q. Does/has God used violence? If so, why is okay for him to use it and not us? If not, then why how do you reconcile that the Bible?

I’m still wrestling with this one. On the one hand, if Jesus really is the perfect image of God, it’s hard to see God commanding deaths of people, much less herem. On the other, it seems pretty clear in the OT and even possibly times in the NT that God does indeed commit acts of violence.

It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to me that God is able to act violently while we should not. Part of this comes from my understanding of why violence is bad. I don’t think violence in and of itself is bad. That is not what I’m against. I am against any action which pushes you and another image bearer, no matter how faint their reflection, further away, first from God, the image of whom we should be reflecting, and second from others who also bear His image. Choosing nonviolent methods of conflict resolution is not just about avoiding harmful actions, but about way of healing and redeeming both the victim and the attacker. Put more simply, turning the other cheek is not only about refusing to return evil with evil, but with redeeming evil with good.

As humans we are not capable, or at least hardly capable, of attacking someone with the intent to hurt them without erecting walls of distance between us and our victim. It’s not so hard for me to imagine that God can kill without being affected by it. Of course this implies (though perhaps doesn’t demand) the possibility of some sort of postmortem reconciliation with God. It need not be universalism, but this view requires God’s violent actions to be an attempt of healing towards the victim.

If God is nonviolent himself, then of course we will need to reconcile that with the OT. Here are a few approaches I’ve seen and brief comments about each.

Reject the OT: I find this problematic and having been finding it more and more so as of late. The basic reason is this: The entire reason I’m in this religion business is because of Jesus. He constantly referenced the OT. At times he seems to at least adjust the meanings of some of the scriptures, but usually he is still using it as a source. To follow Jesus because I’ve found him to speak the truth while at the same time saying that he was completely mistaken about the Hebrew scriptures doesn’t sit well with me. And if he truly did teach nonviolence and did rely on the OT, it seems he didn’t find his nonviolent teachings to be contradictory to the OT.

Big Picture: The approach which is most helpful to me is the general direction of the story being told in the OT. As we see in the garden of Eden, God’s ideal is for no violence. The first act of violence is from humans. This triggered a very quick decent into chaos and pain. The conquest of the promised land was, ideally, not supposed to involve any violence at all on the part of the Israelites (Ex. 23:28). It was only when they disobeyed or didn’t trust God that violence occurred. The Psalms, even the violent ones, are filled with calls against trusting in the army. The prophets are constantly harping on the Israelites for being violent and expressing God’s hatred of it. And then we reach the NT where Jesus takes that logical direction, the one brings it to its conclusion. Where Israel continually disobeyed God and created scenarios of violence, Jesus listened perfectly and refused to carry violence on his hands.

This transition is shown clearly in Paul who as a zealous Jew was happy to use violence to push his agenda, but as a messianic Jew refused to use violence for his own means even if it meant imprisonment, torture or death.

Allegorical: This is scary for moderns I know, but it’s a very traditional method. If we can step back from the modern western idea that everything by default needs to be read in a literal, historical-critical method (and that it’s less important if it’s not written literally), then we can recognize that the authors of the books in the Bible were as concerned with detailed facts of history as we were. I find this method helpful primarily in the details. The big picture method works fine for theology, but it doesn’t do much to help when reading through the OT. For that, seeing Joshua’s conquest as a battle against vices can be incredibly helpful.

Hyperbole: This is an appeal to the ANE’s use of extreme hyperbole. Many of the “destroy everything that lives” is thought to be hyperbole and perhaps even a bit idiomatic. They exaggerated their victories and attributed these exaggerated victories to God as a way of worshipping him. It says they completely wiped out the Canaanites, but then later in the Bible we find that it’s just not true. This certainly doesn’t go all the way, but it can help alleviate some of the issues.

Q. What do you think of God’s command in the OT to sacrifice animals? Is it troubling to you?

I don’t love it. I don’t fully understand it. It’s not a major roadblock for me right now. I do think it’s something I will need to tackle later on though.

 

 

Application

Q. Is there an acceptable way to physically punish children?

As I mentioned earlier, I am not against physical violence per se. One of the biggest issues I have with physical punishments is the lesson it teaches the kid. Am I teaching them that if someone is acting inappropriately that we need to beat them until they listen to us? Surely they can tell the difference for the most part, but perhaps there is a seed planted that can sprout once they encounter more socially accepted forms of violence.

Some forms I’m not morally opposed to: Using a bit of physical pain similar to what may have naturally occurred had they continued their actions. This is not punitive so much as a teaching moment to show them just a taste of what may happen (naturally) if they continue behaving that way.

Q. Do you see nonviolent civil disobedience or resistance as a useful tool currently?

I do, although I’ll admit that how I see it being practiced for the most part is absolutely not in line with my beliefs nor do I think it’s particularly helpful.

It seems to me that nonviolent methods of dealing with major problems has become a nonphysically violent way of getting what you want. It maintains the soul damaging us vs them mentality. If civil disobedience or nonviolent resistance is not characterized and driven by love for enemy, then I am against it.

Q. What do you think of the practice of martial arts (if they’re not used in real situations)?

Living in Asia, I see lots of people who use martial arts without even thinking of the self defense aspect. It can be enjoyable and incredibly beneficial for the mind and body.

 

Q. What do you think of “horseplay” between young children (playful fighting)?

I strongly reject the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. There’s a difference between bullying and horseplay. As long as all the children are being relatively safe and want to be playing like that, I don’t have a problem with it.

 

Biography

Q. How did you stop using violence/work on reducing your violence? What were your first steps? How did others respond?

My first steps towards living a nonviolent lifestyle were not big steps. Of course I’ve never been in a fight and hadn’t ever planned on being in one. I wasn’t in the army. My life wasn’t full of explicit violence to begin with. My practical journey towards nonviolence has been in two general areas:

Inward: As per the Sermon on the Mount, I’ve been trying to monitor my thoughts and keep even those from becoming violent. Should a scenario in which violence is involved occur, one must be well prepared to rely on the Spirit. Ignoring the Spirit until I feel a temptation is not going to end well.

Lifestyle: This includes spending less money on myself, keeping myself away from unnecessarily stressful habits, caring for the environment, ethical purchasing etc.

A third area I’d like to work on is preventing violent leaning scenarios from even occurring. This will include the lifestyle changes in #2, but will also require spending time with, befriending and learning from the poor, working on breaking down harmful societal norms, helping others maintain the dignity of a being a child of God etc.

Q. Do you have any stories of people (first-hand or otherwise) staying true to the path of nonviolence despite the costs?

I’ve read of many, but don’t know many first hand. I’ll share two stories.

First was from a youth pastor at my church. His Christian mentor growing up was this short, old, spunky and possibly homeless guy. He was constantly sharing the gospel. Once while sharing the gospel, the man became angry and pushed him to the ground. The old man sprang back up and said, “Jesus loves you and so do I.” This made the man even more angry so he punched him and knocked him down again. Without hesitation, the old man once again sprang back up and said, “Jesus loves you and so do I.” This infuriated the man so he beat him once more only to be returned with the same declaration of love. Finally he broke down. He could not understand how this tiny little man could keep popping back up with nothing but love for him.

The other story is from C.F. Andrews. Andrews has been a big influence on me. One story in particular gives me the chills and upsets my sense of how things work.

There was a Sikh who fought for India in WWI. Later he was falsely accused of some crime and was sentenced to lashings (I believe) and public humiliation. He went through hell for his country and was then just thrown to the wayside through martial law. He was enraged and, stewing in his anger, became closer and closer to snapping. His friends were concerned that he would become violent so they called C.F. Andrews to try to help. As Andrews approached the man, he spoke the kindest and most powerful words he could muster, but nothing would calm the man down. Finally, Andrews knelt down and touched the man’s feet (a great sign of humility and of respect towards others). He begged for forgiveness for the way his people (the English) had treated him. The man was taken aback. It was not Andrews who had done any of those things. He was so touched that he burst into tears and told him to stand up. That incredible action of taking the blame for what his culture had done despite his personal innocence was what was needed to break through to the man and allow healing to begin.

Q. Is there any pacifist response that makes you groan whenever you hear it (because it’s just so wrong!)

I wouldn’t go so far as to groaning, but I don’t think nonviolent methods are always going to solve the problem. They certainly won’t always solve them immediately. Often the ‘nonviolent’ solutions will indeed become very violent, but violent towards the nonviolent. It will be painful and the effects won’t always be quickly seen. I do believe that violence will ultimately make it worse, but nonviolence isn’t as romantic and peaceful as many seem to think it is.

 

Q. What resources and books have you found especially helpful?

Well I am compiling a list here which you can check out here.

Some works that have been especially helpful for me:

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd — Even if you don’t agree with everything in the book (and you won’t, it’s massive) there is so much good stuff in there.

https://thinkingpacifism.net/ — Excellent, very well thought out essays

The Net of Faith — Freely available and does a good job, in my opinion, of tackling specific issues in the Bible regarding violence

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Christian Pacifist Questionnaire: Michael Rans

Name: Michael Rans

Blog/Website: Cruciformity

Bible and Theology

Q. How do you define violence?

The intentional use of physical force against a person, group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.

Q. How do you define pacifism?

Refraining from the intentional use of physical force against a person, group or community.

Q. What are your biggest obstacles to pacifism (Biblically or otherwise) and how have you addressed them?

How to stop a violent aggressor from hurting others using no physical force.

Q. Does/has God used violence?

No, humans committed the violence and attributed it to God, myth, exaggeration.

Q. What do you think of God’s command in the OT to sacrifice animals? Is it troubling to you?

Hard one and related to the later veganism question. I am still mulling this over.

Application

Q. Is there an acceptable way to physically punish children?

Even if there is, is it productive?

Q. Does self defense — physically or at law — go against the teaching of Christ?

It seems to – depends to what extent you believe Jesus used hyperbole to make points like offering the other cheek.

Q. What role should/can one take in regards to the government?

Keep interactions with government consistent with faith (easier said than done).

Q. Politics are by nature coercive — even democracy where the majority tells the majority what to do. How should a pacifist deal with systems such as these?

Ensure that the rights of minorities are protected by governments and campaign for them if not.

Q. Does abstaining from violence imply vegetarianism/veganism?

Possibly – I am still thinking about it

Q. If Christ really did reject violence and expects his followers to do the same, what does that mean (practically speaking) for us?

It would follow that we are called to do the same.

Q. Do you think games involving violence are a positive, neutral or negative influence?

Negative.

Q. What do you think of the practice of martial arts (if they’re not used in real situations)?

Defensive ones are good.

Q. Is using violence in the defense of others more or less acceptable than using it in self-defense?

More acceptable.

Q. What do you think of “horseplay” between young children (playful fighting)?

I’m surprised at how violent my toddler and the other boys at kindergarten seems to be. They play fight a lot. I have a feeling it is the influence of super hero characters like Hulk. It is rather difficult to keep kids away from these superheroes as society is saturated with toys and movies about them.

Biography

Q. How did you stop using violence/work on reducing your violence? What were your first steps? How did others respond?

By virtue of being not very strong or sporty, I am generally not violent. What I have had to change are my thoughts by focusing on Christ and the love He pours into me.

Q. What resources and books have you found especially helpful? Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood has a great chapter on how the brain works with regards to violence and how you can effectively train you brain not to go for the fight or flight response in any stressful situation (as well as more generally being about how to interpret Scripture nonviolently)

 

Christian Pacifist Questionnaire: Sean

Name: Sean

Blog/Website: http://www.blacksocialists.us

 

Bible and Theology

Q. How do you define violence?

Violence has a moral definition as well as a physical one. Physically, violence simply refers to the use of force to inflict bodily harm or cause death. Morally, violence refers to a state of being, individually or socially, in which the dependence upon such force is a principle of survival or of achieving ends.

Q. How do you define Pacifism?

Pacifism also has a moral definition, but no other. There is an assumption, by pacifists and opponents of pacifism alike, that pacifism subsists in a sentimental opposition to violence or an abhorance of violence. But to abstain from violence because one does not have the stomach for it is merely cowardice. To refrain from violence only when it strikes your empathy is hypocrisy. To refrain from violence because it is not feasible is submissiveness. Pacifism is nothing less than the emotional and physical capability of using violence to achieve one’s ends, coupled with the moral conviction that nonviolence is superior. Pacifism is fundamentally a philosophy that is not rooted in hostility to violence qua violence, but rather presents nonviolence as a moral alternative. It is the recognition that violence is fundamentally an act of injustice, and it is no favor to merely refrain from doing evil, but to actively do good.

A pacifist must, therefore, not look down upon revolution, but be a revolutionary himself. A pacifist must not avoid struggle, but conduct it nonviolently. A pacifist must not hate power, but seek its greater diffusion. A pacifist is a moral agent, but not in a concrete, rather than abstract sense.

Q. What are your biggest obstacles to pacifism (Biblically or otherwise) and how have you addressed them?

It must be recognized by any pacifist that war and genocide are realities in the world, and the temptation is great to simply embrace a “gentle militarism” which suggests that military force is a useful tool to defeat a greater evil. It is easy to think of pacifism, on this basis, as being dependent on the willingness of others to wage war on behalf of the good.

I cannot say that I have resolved this conflict in my own mind, but I think of the Second World War, which is often used as a cudgel against advocates of pacifism. “What would you have done about Hitler?” The question is perhaps the easiest of potential scenarios, whether realized or not, for the simple reason that the person who did the most to save the victims of the Nazi regime and bolster the German resistance did not take part in the war at all. I speak of Pius XII, who, despite his refusal to directly confront Hitler, nonetheless harried the regime at every turn. And, as stated, his actions saved more Jews than did Eisenhower’s or Pershing’s. He followed the example of Benedict XV, who did more for peace in the explosion of national rivalries that was WWI than any other world leader.

War may be inevitable in the world that we live in today, but nevertheless, it is neither accidental nor incidental. As pacifists we have a special duty to prevent war by making it impossible and unnecessary. It is facile to suggest that Hitler could only have been defeated by a military intervention simply because a military intervention is what ultimately defeated him. It is also hypocritical not to recognize that Hitler’s rise was occasioned by the fact of the previous war, as well as a global economic system based upon exploitation. Hitler’s rise could have been prevented by peace, and it could have been defeated by nonviolence. It was the forebearance of those powers which ultimately confronted Hitler that allowed him to accomplish what he did, because they were willing to tolerate him until they were threatened. This is the ultimate failure of gentle militarism: it simultaneously makes war unavoidable and insists that warfare is the only way to stop warfare.

It is easier to think through the Second World War in this way because it s behind us. But I admit to some difficulty in thinking through current events in the same way. It requires some creativity, I suppose.

Q. Does/has God used violence? If so, why is okay for him to use it and not us? If not, then why how do you reconcile that the Bible?

The recognition that God has utilized violent force or commanded its use in the Old Testament is unavoidable. The Deluge, the plagues, the wars against the Canaanites and the Philistines, and the destruction of the Tower of Babel are just a few examples. And indeed Christ, who is God Incarnate, uses such force in one episode of the New Testament, wherein he cleanses the Temple of the moneychangers.

I’ve noted the tendency of pacifists and radical Christians in general to either ignore the Old Testament, embrace Marcionism and conclude Christ is a distinct figure from Yahweh, or simply explain away these occasions with the historical-critical method. But one need not embrace heresy in order to be a pacifist.

I think of an exchange between Arnold Lunn, a world-famous alpine skier, and Ronald Knox, a Catholic priest, biblical translator, and Christian apologist. Lunn, a prospective convert, challenged Knox to a series of controversies about the Christian idea. One of these was a demand for an explanation as to why an omnibenevolent God permits suffering. Knox’s response elucidates three instructive principles:

1. A concept now known as the Butler Escape, named for Anglican Bishop Joseph Butler, particularly his sermon “The Analogy of Religion”. The Butler Escape is the conviction on the part of those who struggle with religious concepts that the world would be different if they had created it. This conviction, a manifestation of human pride, is a way of avoiding the struggle to understand. But even if a religious concept cannot be understood, this does not immunize one from acknowledging its reality. Such hubris is unsustainable if one accepts the Christian idea: one must either accept that Christianity demands a belief in certain things, or abandon Christianity altogether.

2. Mystery is preferable to vagueness. It is better, for example, to know that God caused the Deluge and not understand why than to not know whether or not it was God who caused the Deluge. Having accepted the Christian idea, I must accept all of it, and I am not therefore at liberty to ultimately decide that those which I find unsatisfying are to be discarded. I must submit to the wisdom of God, even it it is impenetrable to me.

3. One who accepts the Christian idea and submits to the wisdom of God must come to terms with the implications of infinity. I understand that God is omnibenevolent and that he also permits suffering, but I also understand that these things are logically irreconcilable. I cannot conclude that God is not omnibenevolent without abandoning the Christian idea and I cannot conclude that there is no suffering in the world without abandoning common sense. I must accept that these two things are irreconcilable on the plane of human conception, but are nevertheless true. This is also true of the Resurrection: I know that human beings cannot return from the dead, and yet I know that at least one (well, two) have. The infinity of God, of his capacity for good in this case, is such that I, a Christian, must recognize that suffering is tolerated by God and for that reason serves a good which is inaccessible to me.

So it is with the belief that a God who on occasion used violent force and simultaneously demands pacifism. But in this case, the moral definitions of both violence and pacifism are significant. Genesis, in which the creation of the world is occasioned by a nonviolent act of pure love, and the Crucifixion, in which the salvation of humanity was effected by the same, demonstrates that, fundamentally, God does not need to act through violent force, and that his greatest goods are in fact achieved without it. His acts of force should not, therefore, be taken as an exampled to be followed, but rather a demonstration that such acts are reserved to a plane of action that is inaccessible to human beings.

Christian pacifism is thus the final acknowledgment that I am not God.

Q. What do you think of God’s command in the OT to sacrifice animals? Is it troubling to you?

Nothing in particular bothers me about this. The sacrifice was not gratuitous, as the animal was later used to feed the community (I’ve no compunctions about the consumption of meat), and was intended to condition humanity towards the concept of sacrifice that Christ would make manifest upon the cross.

Q. Is there an acceptable way to physically punish children?

It makes sense to physically restrain them from doing something that would harm themselves or others, or damage something. But that is different than inflicting harm upon the children, which should not be done.

 

Application

Q. Does self defense — physically or at law — go against the teaching of Christ?

No, it does not. Christ commands against violence in retaliation for personal insults and as a tool to assert power. He does not, however, demand that our devotion to him is a suicide pact. Life and the preservation of life is the greatest good, and it happens that force is necessary to defend it on occasion. Force is not inherently violent, as the concept of satyagraha illustrates. But that force must be strictly limited to what is necessary to protect yourself, not to be utilized in avenging yourself upon the attacker.

Q. Politics are by nature coercive — even democracy where the majority tells the majority what to do. How should a pacifist deal with systems such as these?

I’ve never understood the hostility certain pacifists have to the notion of “coercion” in the abstract. Pacifism requires coercion, in a moral sense if not a physical one.

That characterization of democracy is also a mistaken one. A genuine democracy is one in which power is diffused to the extent possible, the majority is inherently subject to the inalienable rights of the minority, and rule is perpetuated by moral limitations upon power.

Q. What would be an appropriate response (as a citizen) to new calls for a more war-like foreign policy? i.e. ‘We should intervene (read:invade) X or Y”

Active resistance to militarization, counter-recruitment, and political action to oppose invasion.

Q. Do you see nonviolent civil disobedience or resistance as a useful tool currently?

Yes it is, if it is waged courageously and intelligently. Power and force have been concentrated so thoroughly that armed resistance is not only impossible, but, even if successful, would only change who holds the power, and not substantially disturb those systems which make such violence necessary. But what passes for nonviolent resistance these days consists primarily in aimless protest or passivity. Organized nonviolent struggle, coupled with the diffusion of power and building of alternative institutions is necessary.

Q. Does abstaining from violence imply vegetarianism/veganism?

No, it does not. All living things require other living things in order to survive, and human beings are no different. Vegetarianism is simply choosing a different order of living beings to consume. Christ himself consumed meat and God permits the consumption of meat in Genesis. Some holy orders practice vegetarianism as an act of sacrifice, and I myself abstain from meat certain days of the week as penance, but this is not, as far as I am concerned, an act of nonviolence.

The excessive cruelty and mass production of meat in our current system of food production is an exercise of violence, and should be discontinued.

Q. Do you think (video) games involving violence are a positive, neutral or negative influence?

I think an inordinate preoccupation with video games is more of a negative influence than the content of the video games themselves. Utilizing the games as a substitute for reality leads to the antisocial behaviors that make violence more likely.

Q. What do you think of the practice of martial arts (if they’re not used in real situations)?

There’s nothing wrong with martial arts; some, such as Aikido, are even built around the idea of nonviolence. If anything, martial arts are beneficial to the pacifist, as I noted before that pacifism must come from a place of strength, not weakness.

Q. Is using violence in the defense of others more or less acceptable than using it in self-defense?

No more, no less. The same argument applies.

Q. What do you think of “horseplay” between young children (playful fighting)?

Its harmless provided they never attempt to seriously harm one another, but they should be encouraged to grow out of it.

 

Miscellaneous

Q. Is there any pacifist response that makes you groan whenever you hear it (because it’s just so wrong!)

Responses by pacifists or to pacifists? I’ve heard groan-worthy responses from both.

Pacifists: – “Violence is never the answer”: Never the answer to what? Beyond being a vague platitude, it’s just not true. Violence is certainly AN answer. It’s simply not the best answer. It would be like saying “no one ever got rich by being a loan shark.” That’s obviously not true, it’s easy to get rich that way. It’s just not right.

– “If you use violence, you’ll be just like them”: This is a lazy way to approach the question, and the sure sign that is using pacifism to mask cowardice. Martin Luther King Jr. and A.J. Muste both strongly condemn the casting of the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor in the same light. Both are to be worked against, but the former can only be remedied by the removal of the latter. There is no perch from which to condemn the violence of the oppressed, it must simply be made unnecessary or impossible.

Anti-pacifists: – “Pacifism presumes people are inherently good”: It does not. If anything, it presumes the opposite. The point of pacifism is refusal to participate in the evil that people do and actively resist it.

– “Pacifists are just afraid of violence”: Some people who call themselves pacifists are, but some people who call themselves millionaires are flat broke. A similar charge could be leveled at those who advocate force of arms: they’d drop their rifles and flee at the first sign of danger.

– “Pacifism makes you helpless against violence”: There’s an inherent risk to pacifism, that much is true, which is why cowards cannot be pacifists. But exposure to violence is not the same as helplessness against it; after all, those who participate in armed struggle expose themselves to violence as well. The difference being that the force utilized is intangible, and cannot be generated by a single action alone. Dr. King would not have been successful if he had simply marched around and done nothing else, for example, and he wouldn’t have been any safer had he carried a shotgun. Anything worth doing carries a similar risk.

Q. What resources and books have you found especially helpful?

Ammon Hennacy’s Book of Ammon

Gene Sharp’s Waging Nonviolent Struggle

A.J. Muste’s Pacifism and Class War

Aldous Huxley’s Encyclopedia of Pacifism

Peter Maurin’s Catholic Radicalism

Ben Salmon’s Treatise on Conscientious Objection to War, Capital Punishment, and Homicide

Book Review: Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

Thurman begins the book with a question given to him by a Hindu. It’s worth quoting here.

“More than three hundred years ago your forefathers were taken from the western coast of Africa as slaves. The people who dealt in the slave traffic were Christians. The name of one of the famous British slave ships was ‘Jesus’. The men who brought the slaves were Christians. Christian ministers, quoting the Christian apostle Paul, gave the sanction of religion to the system of slavery. Some seventy years or more ago you were freed by a man who was not a professing Christian, but was rather the spearhead of certain political, social and economic forces, the significance of which he himself did not understand. During all the period since then you have lived in a Christian nation in which you are segregated, lynched, and burned. Even in the church, I understand, there is segregation… I am a Hindu. I do not understand. Here you are in my country, standing deep within the Christian faith and tradition. I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think you are a traitor to all the darker peoples of the earth. I am wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defense of your position.”

Thurman’s answer is, in a word, Jesus. In a sentence, it is that Jesus, as someone who lived as and fully understood what it meant to be an oppressed person, speaks to other oppressed people in a way in which no one else can despite the way the Christian religion has lived out and preached his message.

The first chapter places Jesus against his background. Born poor and to a country under occupation, Jesus lived right between rebellion and subjection of his people and the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. “To think Jesus was untouched by the surging currents of the common life that made up the climate in Palestine is utterly fantastic” (p.18). To Thurman, Jesus understood what it was like to be on the underbelly of society, even more so than the apostle Paul who still at least had the option of pulling his ‘Roman citizen card’ if ever wanted, even if he rarely did so. Because of this, impoverished and oppressed people all over the world have a voice in Jesus.

The rest of the chapters, Fear, Deception, Hate and Love, all have similar structures to each other. First, they discuss different ways in which disinherited people relate to each emotion or action. For fear, he emphasized how it was used by the stronger to control the weaker. For deception, he discussed how the weaker often use deception as a coping mechanism to deal with fear. Next he explains different ways these emotions or actions are often addressed. For example, for fear he explains how those being controlled by fear either keep their heads down (by repressing their emotions or trying to assimilate to the controlling group) or fighting back. Last, he goes on to explain Jesus’ alternative. Jesus didn’t keep his head down nor start a riot, he placed his whole trust in God and thus, seeing himself as a blessed child of God, rid himself of the fear of man altogether.

I read this short book in one day! It was a simple read, but has my brain buzzing. One of the biggest impacts I think it will have on me is my recognition that I am simply out of touch with the poor and mistreated. In his chapter on Hate he explains that “it is a grievous blunder to assume that understanding is always sympathetic.” Understanding and sympathy are not the same because understanding simply requires reading up on a certain matter. Sympathy only comes as a natural growth from experiencing what they have experienced. To summarize what he says on page 77, when someone on the ‘outside’ says that they understand a certain downcast person or group, what he means is that he has knowledge of that person or group within his own constructs. The person he claims to understand, in fact, only has existence in his own mind.

For me, I live and have always lived a privileged life. I need to actually experience what the unprivileged do every day of their lives to the best of my ability. Only then will I be able to begin to actually sympathize and understand them.

 

If you would like to read the book, it is available for free right here.

Christian Pacifist Questionnaire: Derek Kreider

 

Name: Derek Kreider
Website:
https://www.dckreider.com/

 

Bible and Theology

Q. What are your biggest obstacles to pacifism (Biblically or otherwise) and how have you addressed them?

The Old Testament texts where you can’t escape God’s commands for violence are difficult. I think just about everything else can be explained very consistently, but there are a handful of verses in the OT that seem irresolvable. I know Boyd has a book which tries to resolve this, but that response is difficult for me to maintain with my high view of the Bible.

I have found Tim Mackie (look up his 7 part – including Q&A on the “Day of the Lord”) and Preston Sprinkle to be pretty helpful in working through some of these issues in the OT.

Q. Does/has God used violence? If so, why is it okay for him to use it and not us?

I don’t think so. Mackie does a great job showing how 4/5 of all OT texts (approximation) where it seems like God is doing the violence is actually either another being doing the violence, or God removing his hand of protection. The flood is a great example. The flood mirrors the creation account and is rather a decreation account where God removes his hand, and the waters of the deep begin to take back over. Sure, God is responsible for deaths in one sense, but it’s more of an allowing evil individuals to have their way, not a retributive violence.

If God does use violence, I’d explain it just as I explain his deceit. There are very clear passages in the OT where God deceives. While deceit is normally wrong, it is only wrong in certain hierarchical relationships. For example, as a parent, I have a right to limit what information my children receive. If we come across a really bad car accident on the road and there are dead bodies lying there, my kids may ask if the people will be ok. I could tell them they’re dead and decapitated, or I could avoid that answer and say that the medical personnel are going to take care of them as best they can. I don’t lie to my kids, but I dodge the question to protect them. I believe God never lies, but he certainly has a right to distribute the information he likes. For a great example, see I Sam. 16 where God tells Samuel to deceive Saul with limited information – something which would have been wrong for a subject of the King had God not rubber stamped it. I think the same could be true with life. God has the right to life, and what would be wrong for us may not be wrong for the King.

Q. What do you think of God’s command in the OT to sacrifice animals? Is it troubling to you?

I haven’t thought much about it, but animals and people seem like very different issues. I don’t have a problem with this at all, though someone may be able to convince me otherwise.

 

Application

Q. Is there an acceptable way to physically punish children?

We spank, but I am very open to this discussion. I think violence and coercion have various definitions. Spanking doesn’t have to be punitive and coercive. Rather, it can be formative discipline if used in a particular way. Violence which harms the body seems a bit different than something with simply inflicts brief, temporary pain.

Q. Does self defense — physically or at law — go against the teaching of Christ?

It’s hard for me to see how a Christian could engage in self-defense which involved significant bodily harm or death. I don’t know if I think that restraint is a problem, but I don’t know.

Q. What role should/can one take in regards to the government?

This is the hardest question for me to answer. No matter what vote you cast, you make huge compromises in today’s politics. I think you can hold higher offices without problem, but if you run on a campaign which acknowledges you are always unwilling to go to war or remove harmful weapons from the police force, I don’t know that one would ever win.

Q. Does abstaining from violence imply vegetarianism/veganism?

I don’t think so. Peter’s dream seems to undermine such an assumption pretty clearly, as well as Paul’s discussion of meat sacrificed to idols.

Q. Do you think games involving violence are a positive, neutral or negative influence?

I grew up on and still love FPS video games. I struggle with this and know I’m hugely biased.

Q. What do you think of the practice of martial arts (if they’re not used in real situations)?

If it’s for exercise, I guess no problem. However, I think the way we train ourselves prepares us for real life events. If I have a bat under my bed, I’ll probably use it if there’s an intruder. If I agree with non-violence, I should probably get the bat out of the house or away from my bed. Practicing martial arts may make it harder to be non-violent in your instincts.

Q. Is using violence in the defense of others more or less acceptable than using it in self-defense?

I think it’s just as unacceptable. However, I SO struggle with this when thinking about my kids. I can’t image letting someone come in and do terrible things to my kids while I just looked on. That just seems unloving as a caretaker of them…

Q. What do you think of “horseplay” between young children (playful fighting)?

I think it’s fine.

 

Biography

Q. How did you stop using violence/work on reducing your violence? What were your first steps? How did others respond?

Playing hypothetical situations in my mind, listening to others explain how they handled nonviolent situations, trying to empathize with my enemies, etc.

Q. Is there any pacifist response that makes you groan whenever you hear it (because it’s just so wrong!)

I don’t know enough pacifists to have heard any ridiculous arguments, though I’m sure they exist.

Q. What resources and books have you found especially helpful?

A very long list with explanations: https://www.dckreider.com/blog-theological-musings/arguments-for-christian-pacifism-12-follow-up-resources

Watchfulness

So equip yourself in time
And shun all sin
Living in righteousness
That is true watchfulness
Whereby one can attain
to eternal blessedness.
~16th Century Anabaptist Hymn1~

We’ve reached the end of our little series about doing everything through love. The first post was a simple reminder that all things find their worth through love. The second post explained just what exactly love means from a Christian perspective. Outwardly it will form as seeking the best interests of those around you. It is utter selflessness with a result of serving others. Inwardly, it’s a complete devotion to God. Love is the natural outflowing when the correct conditions are met, that is, when we abide in Christ in the same way that he is abiding in the Father.

This last post will be more practical in nature. How do we cultivate that love? How do we abide in Christ? Before we begin, I want to be very clear that this will not be a step by step guide to becoming holy (or loving or godly or whatever else you’re looking to be). If you are looking to be one of those things, then you will never reach it. How can one become selfless with a motivation to be great? Let us start with the psalm in Philippians 2 to remind us of the person in whom we are to find our being, our love. If we have any holiness, it is only because we have forsaken our dreams of becoming so and have instead fully dedicated ourselves to following Him in the way He laid out for us.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.


Watchfulness

What we will be talking about in this article is called different things by different traditions and different people. To my knowledge, Eastern Orthodoxy has the most established tradition of this and it is most often called watchfulness in that tradition, so that is what I will call it here.

Watchfulness is the guarding of the heart from evil thoughts. If you recall from the last post, usually what we call sinful actions are the result of little seeds which have grown to fruition. The seeds of sin are most often planted as small thoughts. They float through the air and land in the soil of our hearts. Here, if we are not careful, they will take root. Watchfulness is simply staying alert and keeping the seeds from ever landing. We, like Habukkuk, we must stand at the gates of our hearts and keep watch, never allowing the enemy to enter yet always prepared to receive our Lord (Hab 2:1).

Throughout the day we are tempted with seemingly innocent thoughts. Pleasurable to our minds and emotions, these persistent thoughts are what most often cause us to fall. St. Francis de Sales reminds us that “although the greater temptations exceed in power, there are so infinitely more in number of little temptations, that a victory over them is fully as important as over the greater but rarer ones.”2 In fact, St. Mark the Ascetic said, “When you sin, blame your thought and not your action. For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed.”3 These small, enjoyable thoughts fill us with pride or grow into great monuments of lust. Surely a person has never lost their temper who didn’t harbor thoughts of anger, pride or contempt.  These small and natural thoughts stay and rot our hearts until an opportune time to strike. Of course we may always repent and ask forgiveness, but we should be always striving to rid ourselves of such damaging actions. To do so, we need to keep as far away as possible from the seeds of sin. “Let us flee from it in our thoughts so that we may have nothing in common with the enemy of God.”4 

We cannot control when a thought enters our mind, but we can decide how to deal with it. Often there is not a moment of our waking hours that a thought is not floating through our minds. While that in and of itself is not bad, we must not allow these thoughts to take root.

The first step we must take is to be aware. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.” Jesus and the New Testament authors all gave several warnings to be prepared, alert, ready, watchful and awake lest we be taken by surprise.5 Several psalms and proverbs remind us to keep careful watch over our hearts as well.6

When a thought floats into our minds, we must be aware that it has done so, but we must also not give it attention. When we try to attack it head on we in fact give it strength. We cannot fight these thoughts off ourselves, so we must turn to Christ. He is our savior, our victorious King.  In his death and resurrection he has defeated evil.7 In him they are powerless, so to him we must turn. As St. Hesychius said, “Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart”8. This ‘invocation of Jesus Christ’ can take many forms. St Hesychius was most likely referencing the Jesus Prayer9, a traditional Orthodox prayer taken from Jesus himself, but it need not be. I personally like to recite scripture which directly contrasts the thoughts which are tempting me. When I feel irritation slipping in for example, I do not focus on the irritation, but instead focus on the words of Paul when he said, “Love is patient and kind… It is not irritable or resentful.” When I pray these verses with my heart in Christ, the weeds of irritability never take root, never even germinate. Instead, the seeds of patience begin to grow. 

This is not always immediate and sometimes the thoughts keep raging. It is important to recognize that if we “try to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance, [we] will become more entangled in them instead of driving them away.”10 Recognizing that these evil thoughts and temptations cannot actually harm us unless we give them the power to do so, St. Francis de Sales tells us to “despise all these trivial onslaughts, and do not even deign to think about them; but let them buzz about your ears as much as they please.. do no more than simply remove them, not fighting with them, or arguing, but simply doing that which is precisely contrary to their suggestions, and specially making acts of the Love of God.. Simply turn with your whole heart towards Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet.”11


Morning and Evening Prayers

Watchfulness is sitting at the feet of our Master and listening to His voice and His alone. We ignore the distractions in the background that bring our attention away from Him and focus all the more intently on his voice. This is not only done as the distractors come, but should be done in deliberate times when we are free from distractions. I find that set prayer times are the most effective way for me to ensure I have regular time alone with my Master. Through this practice, I am much more prepared when the little seeds of distraction do come. We must always be on guard lest we are unknowingly carried away from abiding in Christ and the effectiveness of preparing both before the day begins and after it ends can hardly be overstated. Especially for those areas in which we are particularly weak, we need to work on fully turning them over to Jesus during times when we are not being bombarded by temptations. “In a word, let your time of peace,—that is to say, the time when you are not beset by temptations to sin,—be used in cultivating the graces most opposed to your natural difficulties, and if opportunities for their exercise do not arise, go out of your way to seek them, and by so doing you will strengthen your heart against future temptations.”12 

To begin a day devoted to God, it is best to begin with time set apart for prayer. Do your best to start this sacred time with God before any thoughts can enter your mind. Avoid texts, social media, television, other people even, until your devotions are finished. This can be difficult, and I understand even impossible for some people at times, but it is most helpful so I encourage you to do the best that you can.

Praying first thing in the morning, before even looking at your phone or eating breakfast, sets the tone for the entire day. By putting aside your hunger and praying, you are making a conscious effort to follow God even over your own desires. “Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord, because the whole day will belong to whoever gets the first start.”13  It releases the floodgates to allow Father’s love to pour into and through us thus squashing many thoughts and keeping our focus on him. At some point I would like to discuss more about morning prayers, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

There is no perfect way to pray, but surely there are more effective methods than others. I have found St. Francis de Sales’ method for morning prayers to be indispensable.14 He suggests we start with thanksgiving, as all prayers should. A rejoicing to the Lord of All that we have made it through the night and into the next day that He has made. Then we should go through the day we have ahead of us in our minds. Of course we cannot completely predict what will happen, but we know many of the trials in which we’ll face. Pray now for those specific things, to remain strong in Him and that His love, faithfulness, peace and kindness will flow out of you rather than the frustration and anger which normally does. End your prayer recognizing that without His Spirit, you could never live as you should. You have an uncountable list of failures as evidence.

This structure is only a suggestion though I do highly recommend something similar. As you change and the situations surrounding your life change, what is most effective will change as well. We must always be willing to adapt our lives to follow the Spirit. Similarly, if you have a morning prayer routine different than what I have described and it works well for you, don’t abandon it for this one! 

Just as we begin the day with prayer, so should we end with it. Mornings tend to invoke ideas of life and beginnings whereas night is often most conducive for dwelling on death and sin. Each night as the sun sets we need to remember that our lives will set someday as well. It is most helpful to go through our day reviewing those situations in which we recognize the Spirit of Christ working through us as well as those when we let wickedness rule. We must offer thankfulness for our successes and ask for forgiveness for our failures15.

In addition to evening prayers, it is best to have our last thoughts as we doze off be those of prayer. I personally, taking note from Clement of Alexandria, like to recite Psalms until I fall asleep.16In doing this, we can ensure that both our first and last thoughts of the day will be of and devoted to God.

Of course, we should not be legalistic about such prayers. We are not dependent on morning and evening prayers, but on Christ himself. And we should never feel satisfied at simply completing our two daily prayers, but should always take advantage of a time when it arises. “At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.”17 


When You Fall

Note that I said when you fall not if you fall. On the one hand I don’t want us going into this with a losing attitude. On the other, it is important to recognize that we are weak and will eventually stumble. I find the words of Brother Lawrence most helpful in this regard. In his short book Practice of the Presence of God, Lawrence describes his simple life of devotion. He said we should live in “one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to God” (Fourth conversation). Brother Lawrence had, since becoming a monk, always desired to live for nothing and no one other than God. Yet for ten years he lived in guilt and misery over how much he continually failed in that endeavor. Eventually he stopped living in shame and instead turned even his failures over to God. When he stumbled, he simply confessed his fault and said, “God, I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself; it is you who must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss.” After this, he felt no further uneasiness about it but simply continued in his constant walk with God.

To give in to guilt and shame is to give into the very powers in which we are struggling against. We have our worth through Jesus. When we sin, we must not turn to shame or guilt, but turn immediately to him. When we do this we learn humility which is to take the failure and convert it into victory. “I will merely say that for all the passion mentioned above, the remedy is humility. Those who have obtained that virtue have won the whole fight.”18 


I’ll end with the words of St. Hesychios, “We are not mightier than Samson, wiser than Solomon, more knowledgeable about God than David, and we do not love God better than did Peter, prince of the apostles. So let us not have confidence in ourselves; for he who has confidence in himself will fall headlong.

Let us learn humility from Christ, humiliation from David, and from Peter to shed tears over what has happened; but let us also learn to avoid the despair of Samson, Judas, and that wisest of men, Solomon.

The devil, with all his powers, ‘walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; (1 Pet 5:8). So must you never relax your attentiveness of heart, your watchfulness, your power of rebuttal or your prayer to Jesus Christ our God. You will not find a greater help than Jesus in all your life, for He alone, as God, knows the deceitful ways of the demons, their subtlety and their guile.

Let your soul, then, trust in Christ, let it call on Him and never fear; for it fights, not alone, but with the aid of a mighty King, Jesus Christ, Creator of all that is, both bodiless and embodied, visible and invisible.

The more rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, Christ’s holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.”

Just as the Word is spread to but does not take root in all soil (Matt. 13:1-23), so let us strive to be inhospitable soils for the seeds of sins. If sin is refused germination, it will never bloom. The soil which is ripe for the Word, is death for sin. A soul which is rich for the Word, is arid for sin. Humility, faith, gentleness, patience, self-control, love and kindness will choke out the weeds of sin before they can even begin to take root. But the Word flourishes in such conditions and surely we may reap 100 fold in crop.

“Let this be your rule and practice, to ask yourself: Am I really doing this in accordance with God’s will?”19 


Further Reading

There are many resources for watchfulness in the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions. Here are a several works about watchfulness or with parts pertaining to it.

The Philokalia The Philokalia is a five volume collection of writings from monastic Christians between the 4th and 15th centuries, although only four are available in English (only 99¢ for a digital copy of all four volumes!) The topics of the writings vary but are primarily related to quiet prayer within the heart. It is very highly regarded in Eastern Orthodoxy. Some of the writings which have helped me the most in regards to watchfulness are St. Isaiah the Solitary’s On Guarding the Intellect, St. Mark the Ascetic’s On the Spiritual Law, St. Hesychios the Priest and Nikiphoros the Monk.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent Another book valued in Orthodoxy is this one by John Climacus. This book describes the virtues a Christian should strive to encompass and is very practical in nature. Chapters 26 and 27 are the most relevant for our topic.

Prima the First Things… Written by Puritan mystic Isaac Ambrose, this book is wonderfully practical and enlightening. The most relevant chapter starts on page 28.

Practice of the Presence of God This incredibly simple book by Brother Lawrence gives you a peek into the life of a man who is living exactly as I have suggested we should strive to live. He devoted all thoughts and actions to God and saw no difference between times of prayer and times of work.

Introduction to the Devout Life Written by St. Francis de Sales, this book is odd for the time in that is was written specifically for lay people, not other monks. As such, it makes it very accessible to all of us lay people! The chapters are short, simple and powerful.

The Spiritual Watch This short book written by a moderate puritan Thomas Gataker can be difficult to read because of the spelling and language, but offers a deep insight into keeping a spiritual watch.

 


  1. If Now We Must Part: A Parting Hymn
  2. although greater temptations exceed in power… St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 8
  3. When you sin, blame your thought and not your action… St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law #119Philokalia Vol. 1
  4. May we have nothing in common with the enemy of God… Nikiphoros the Monk, On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart. The Philokalia, vol. 4
  5. New Testament warnings to stay watch… Luke 12:35-39, 12:15, 21:34; Matthew 25:1-13; Mark 13:34-37, 14:38; 2 Peter 1:19; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; Hebrews 2:1
  6. Psalms and Proverbs related to watchfulness… Proverbs 4:23, 8:33-34; Psalms 39:1, 141:3, 123:1-2; 
  7. In his death and resurrection he has defeated death… Col 2:5, Heb 2:14-15, 1 Jn 3:8, Jn 12:31, Acts 2:32-36
  8. Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart… St. Hesychius the Priest, On Watchfulness and Holiness #143. Philokalia Vol. 1
  9. Jesus prayer
  10. try to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance… St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law #189. Philokalia Vol. 1
  11. Simply turn with your whole heart towards Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet… Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV Chapter 9
  12. let your time of peace be used in cultivating the graces most opposed to your natural difficulties ibid.
  13. Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord… St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 99
  14. St. Francis de Sales’ method for morning prayers… Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II Chapter 10
  15. This is a type of Prayer Examen. For more information about this, here is one set of steps and here is another.
  16.  “Finally, before partaking of sleep, it is a sacred duty to give thanks to God, having enjoyed His grace and love, and so go straight to sleep. And confess to Him in songs of the lips because in His command all His good pleasure is done, and there is no deficiency in His salvation.  Instructor Book II, Chapter 4
  17. At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers… St. Mark the Ascetic, #25. Philokalia Vol. 1
  18. The remedy is humility Ladder, p. 94
  19. Ladder, p. 98

Christian Pacifists: Lactantius


Lactantius was a famous teacher of Latin rhetoric who was known to be incredibly elegant. He converted to Christianity late in life and wrote so elegantly that he has been dubbed a “Christian Cicero”. He became the first advisor to Constantine, the first Christian emperor. His most important work is The Divine Institutes which is the only of his works that will be referenced here. The Divine Institutes is an example of early Christian systematic thinking which was written in order to combat the ideas of paganism by showing the superiority of Christian thought. Although his theology and knowledge of scripture is criticized, the work still offers a very beautiful presentation of Christian ideas.


Pacifism

Lactantius posed an interesting dilemma for this series. In Lactantius we get the most fierce and thorough condemnations of all killing, not least war. However, after the rise of Constantine, Lactantius wrote in support of his violent victory, contradicting much of what he had written before. He did not write an explanation as to what made his views change nor did he try to explain how this apparent change was actually consistent. Thus, I have decided to make sure the reader is fully aware of the change in views of Lactantius, yet feel no need in this essay to consider why such a change took place. His arguments against violence, despite an apparent change of heart later on in his life, remain.

Lactantius was absolutely fierce in his condemnation of killing of any kind. This was because of the God whom he worshipped. To him it was a given that were one to worship the true God, one could not end the life of another. They would “maintain concord with all.. even to enemies, love all men as brethren.. restrain anger and soothe every passion.” They would not “be at enmity with any human being nor desire anything at all which is the property of another.”

The Divine Institutes 5.8

But if God only were worshipped, there would not be dissensions and wars, since men would know that they are the sons of one God; and, therefore, among those who were connected by the sacred and inviolable bond of divine relationship, there would be no plottings, inasmuch as they would know what kind of punishments God prepared for the destroyers of souls, who sees through secret crimes, and even the very thoughts themselves.

Lactantius blamed pagans’ unjust ways (which included all kinds of violence) on the types of gods they followed. “Thus it comes to pass that the god fashions the life of his worshippers according to the character of his own will, since the most religious worship is to imitate” (5.10). To him, the Christian God is one who abhors violence and is thus against it. If we are to follow God then, we too should refrain from all violence.

The Divine Institutes 5.10

What then, or where, or of what character is piety? Truly it is among those who are ignorant of wars, who maintain concord with all, who are friendly even to their enemies, who love all men as brethren, who know how to restrain their anger, and to soothe every passion of the mind with calm government.

In the 17th chapter of the fifth book of his Divine Institutes, Lactantius quotes the Greek philosopher Carneades who said that, although it is normally not a just action to shed blood, we are often forced to do so, in which case it becomes just. He uses several examples including that of a shipwrecked person holding onto a plank of wood. It would be unjust to push someone off the plank if both could grab hold and live, but if only one person can fit, then it is not unjust for the stronger to push the weaker off. If we are in war, it is not unjust to kill an enemy lest you yourself are killed by them. Lactantius rejects this splitting up of justice and insists that justice is not folly (refusing to steal a horse from a wounded enemy and thus dying yourself), but that the philosophers, wise are they were, simply did not understand the justice of God. In responding to the argument set forth by Carneades he says,

The Divine Institutes 5.17

First of all, I deny that it can in any way happen that a man who is truly just should be in circumstances of this kind; for the just man is neither at enmity with any human being, nor desires anything at all which is the property of another. For why should he take a voyage, or what should he seek from another land, when his own is sufficient for him? Or why should he carry on war, and mix himself with the passions of others, when his mind is engaged in perpetual peace with men? Doubtless he will be delighted with foreign merchandise or with human blood, who does not know how to seek gain, who is satisfied with his mode of living, and considers it unlawful not only himself to commit slaughter, but to be present with those who do it, and to behold it!

So, according to Lactantius, one who is just won’t have to worry about such things because, being content with what they have and engaging in perpetual peace with all, they will have no desire to fight wars or gain possessions. He admits though that at times “it is possible that a man may be compelled even against his will to undergo these things” and thus gives a more direct answer. Is one ever just in pushing someone else off a plank? Even in order to survive? He answers with shockingly blunt *no*.

The Divine Institutes 5.18

I am not unwilling to confess he will rather die than put another to death. Nor will justice, which is the chief good of man, on this account receive the name of folly. For what ought to be better and dearer to man than innocence? And this must be the more perfect, the more you bring it to extremity, and choose to die rather than to detract from the character of innocence.

Taking the argument in the complete opposite direction Carneades was directing it, Lactantius says that in these situations, *all the more* would a just person preserve the life of another. He is able to maintain such a stance while others cannot because, unlike him, they do not believe in eternal life. He admits that it would be folly to let another live at the cost of your own life, but his understanding that through God we have eternal life changes everything. He explains why Christians endure even torture than to retaliate or defend.

The Divine Institutes 5.19

For to choose to be tortured and slain, rather than to take incense in three fingers, and throw it upon the hearth [in honor of other gods] , appears as foolish as, in a case where life is endangered, to be more careful of the life of another than of one’s own. For they do not know how great an act of impiety it is to adore any other object than God, who made heaven and earth, who fashioned the human race, breathed into them the breath of life, and gave them light… How much more so does he who forsakes God [than one whom forsakes an earthly master], in whom the two names entitled to equal reverence, of Lord and Father, alike meet? For what benefit does he who buys a slave bestow upon him, beyond the nourishment with which he supplies him for his own advantage? And he who begets a son has it not in his power to effect that he shall be conceived, or born, or live; from which it is evident that he is not the father, but only the instrument of generation. Of what punishments, therefore, is he deserving, who forsakes Him who is both the true Master and Father, but those which God Himself has appointed? Who has prepared everlasting fire for the wicked spirits; and this He Himself threatens by His prophets to the impious and the rebellious.

Many of Lactantius’ defenses against “virtuous violence” relate to the idea that true virtue “especially consists in the acquisition of those things which neither any man, nor death itself, can take away from us.” (6.6) It is our desires for what others have which leads to such seemingly difficult situations.

In Divine Institutes 6.6 he gives a scathing attack on the Roman ideas of a just war.

He begins by criticizing the notion that virtue is being loyal to the state, for virtue is not dependent on something which can change.

The Divine Institutes 6.6

It is not virtue, therefore, either to be the enemy of the bad or the defender of the good, because virtue cannot be subject to uncertain chances…

When the agreement of men is taken away, virtue has no existence at all; for what are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation?— that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues — all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence…

He continues to criticize this argument as ignorant. Even the wise philosophers fell to such faulty logic, contradicting their own definitions and justice and virtue due to their lack of understanding of God.

The Divine Institutes 6.6 (Last sentence is 6.9)

Whoever, then, has gained for his country these goods — as they themselves call them — that is, who by the overthrow of cities and the destruction of nations has filled the treasury with money, has taken lands and enriched his country-men — he is extolled with praises to the heaven: in him there is said to be the greatest and perfect virtue. And this is the error not only of the people and the ignorant, but also of philosophers, who even give precepts for injustice… Therefore, when they are speaking of the duties relating to warfare, all that discourse is accommodated neither to justice nor to true virtue, but to this life and to civil institutions…  If therefore wisdom is taken away from the philosophers by their own confession, and justice is taken away from those who are regarded as just, it follows that all those descriptions of virtue must be false, because no one can know what true virtue is but he who is just and wise. But no one is just and wise but he whom God has instructed with heavenly precepts… Civil law is one thing, which varies everywhere according to customs; but justice is another thing, which God has set forth to all as uniform and simple: and he who is ignorant of God must also be ignorant of justice.

In 6.20 Lactantius criticizes all forms of killing. He begins with decrying gladiatorial games and continues on to include all forms of ending life, including capital punishment and war.

The Divine Institutes 6.20

For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.

Therefore let no one imagine that even this is allowed, to strangle newly-born children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death… Wherefore, if any one on account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from marriage than with wicked hands to mar the work of God…

If, then, it is in no way permitted to commit homicide, it is not allowed us to be present at all, lest any bloodshed should overspread the conscience, since that blood is offered for the gratification of the people…

Therefore all spectacles ought to be avoided, not only that no vice may settle in our breasts, which ought to be tranquil and peaceful; but that the habitual indulgence of any pleasure may not soothe and captivate us, and turn us aside from God and from good works.

I also include an argument of his against suicide. I almost did not include it since the only controversial view towards suicide would be one which condoned it, but in it one can see his arguments against killing of all kinds.

The Divine Institutes 3.18

For if a homicide is guilty because he is a destroyer of man, he who puts himself to death is under the same guilt, because he puts to death a man. Yea, that crime may be considered to be greater, the punishment of which belongs to God alone. For as we did not come into this life of our own accord; so, on the other hand, we can only withdraw from this habitation of the body which has been appointed for us to keep, by the command of Him who placed us in this body that we may inhabit it, until He orders us to depart from it; and if any violence is offered to us, we must endure it with equanimity, since the death of an innocent person cannot be unavenged, and since we have a great Judge who alone always has the power of taking vengeance in His hands.



Further Reading

Everything is found in his The Divine Institutes The first number is the book and the second the chapter.

1.18, 3.18, 5.8, 5.10, 5.17-19, 5.23, 6.5 6.6, 6.9, 6.18, 6.20

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