Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Rejoinder to Privileged Pacifism

I had the pleasure of meeting ACU English professor Bill Carroll last month at Lipscomb's Christian Scholars Conference, and after graciously offering me some suggestions for genuinely good Christian poetry, Bill has been reading through the blog. Last night he commented on a post from a week ago on Christian martyrdom and justifiable violence, in which I argued that Christian justification of violence negates any possibility for a coherent account of martyrdom. Since his comment raises excellent issues that I would like to address further this week (and beyond), I asked Bill if he would mind my posting his comment in full, and he kindly agreed. I deeply appreciate any and all dissenting comments such as these, so I look forward to the ongoing and spirited conversation to which this will hopefully lead. Finally, I bolded portions of his writing I thought especially important: such edits are completely my own; everything else belongs to Bill. See you later this week for my response.

Sorry so late to this post, but a thought that bothers me when I read Yoder or Camp's reiteration of Yoder: Neville Chamberlain's purchase of "Peace in our time" at the cost of tens of thousands of Czechoslovakian (at the time) Jews, gays, disabled persons lives seems so irresponsible and such a tragic price. We seem to have no problem letting the blood of others be the price of our peace. It was clearly the move of a politician who was not a pacifist, but it troubles my soul to have the power to stop genocide, even if "peacekeeping" means standing with guns between people holding machetes. Too often Christians with power are content to let distant (whether behind the closed door in the next house or in a far nation) oppressors destroy the oppressed, particularly when involvement requires a personal cost. I am not a fan of violence, and I get frustrated because I get labeled a hawk simply because I hesitate to embrace pacifism without hesitation. I would love to hear more from Camp about his experiences in Rwanda when the violence broke out. His published comments beg more questions than they answer. It seems remarkably easy to be a Christian pacifist in the U.S. at the moment, and remarkably easy to condemn Nigerian Christians for their religious/political quarrels with their fellow Muslim Nigerians or Irish Catholics and Protestants who maintain their centuries old quarrel. Again, I am not saying violence effectively answers violence -- history shows how naive that position is. However, we enjoy a privileged pacifism. Perhaps because I work in the academy, but the current American brand I see most often is theosophical, unattached to the oppressed, condemning, and, bluntly, callous.

As UN "Peacekeepers" find across the world, you can have the big guns, but when people with rocks and blades want to kill each other, someone dies, and often it's you. Many of these peacekeepers legitimately have no desire or intent to use deadly force, and I envision these individuals as martyrs for a cause, though often the individuals are not Christian. It seems somewhat unkind to argue that a person like this could have no "intelligent" or "defensible" account for martyrdom. I do believe that pacifism in the face of Hitler would have ultimately left Europe free of Jews. Is that our aim? In the face of Nazism, Bonhoeffer was driven to conspire to murder, and I side with the scholars who label him anti-Semitic. However, he recognized the humanity of the Jews, even as he held typical European prejudices, and he could not conceive of another way to stop the slaughter. Bonhoeffer may not be perfect, but I respect his understanding of the gospel, and I believe his case illustrates that pacifism is not as uncomplicated as American academics believe it to be.

This in itself is more of a rant than a philosophical position. The context for it is broader than this post, and I hope my tone hasn't been offensive, because I enjoyed reading the thoughts here.

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