Saturday, March 20, 2004

Beautiful Irish Songs and the Longing of Sehnsucht

I swear that two of the most beautiful melodies / songs I have ever heard in my life are on one album: a compilation of current-day Celtic artists, called Celtic Legacy (Narada, 1995).

Here I am typing away, after having gone for an hourlong stroll on this Spring-like day with my precious and sweet 2 1/3 year-old daughter, and playing Irish music (as I am highly prone to doing this time of year).

Merciful heavens!: the wistfulness and longing these songs evoke . . . (one review described it as "the sweetly despairing type so familiar to lovers of Irish music"). Is it because of having Irish and Celtic blood, or being a Romantic, or just being weird? Or all of the above? LOL

Nothing can bring forth in me more quickly than traditional Irish music, that inexpressibly powerful, painful yet simultaneously strangely ecstatic feeling of what C.S. Lewis called "Joy" or what has been called sehnsucht (a term, I believe from the Romantic literature). Lewis made an argument from this longing for heaven itself.

I believe it, because I can feel it so deeply -- soul-deep. It makes no sense that mere music can evoke such feelings and senses, unless there is something deeper to it: God Himself has put inside of us this longing for beauty and fulfillment in ways that nothing on earth (not even the greatest things, like my lovely daughter and wife and three sons whom I adore) can fulfill. When I listen to these songs, it is an experience. I "see" (feel?) Irish sunsets and mists and green fields and Romantic medieval-ish and fairy-tale like vistas.

The only other music that can immediately usher me into the fantasy (or hyper-real) land of sehnsucht is Van Morrison's (himself an Irishman) and Richard Wagner's.

Anyway, the songs are If Ever You Were Mine, by the fiddler from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Natalie MacMaster (it is reminiscent of the lovely folksy string music in Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War), and An Cailin Gaelach, by Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill, from Ireland. As the latter is sung in Gaelic, I don't understand a word of it, but who cares? Music (like love) can carry all sorts of meaning without words (which is part of its great wonder and unique pleasure).

Even if you think I am a hopeless Celtic Romantic Nut (which is fine; I would take that as a high compliment!), if you want some gorgeous, first-rate Irish traditional music, buy this album. And no, I don't work in the advertising department for Narada . . . LOL

You might want to check out Natalie MacMaster's official website.

And a Barnes and Noble Index page for seven of Natalie's albums (all with sound clips).

Check out the website for Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill's album Gan Dha Phingin Spre (No Dowry) (1991), where the above song appears. You can hear sound clips of all the songs.

I defy anyone to listen to this and deny that it is one of the most gorgeous things you ever heard . . .

And here is another page with sound clips for her album, Idir an Da Sholas (Between the Two Lights)

Enjoy and let me know what you think. You're allowed to comment even if you're neither part-Irish nor a fantasy-immersed romantic . . . :-)

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism

Atheists are currently denying that what they believe about the actions of matter in a universe without God is "pure chance" or "randomly colliding atoms," as their earlier forebears might have boldly and proudly described it. Logical positivism is now decidedly out of fashion. But this is ultimately only semantics and avoidance of the relevant philosophical issues. Natural "laws" (themselves metaphysical abstractions in a large sense, even though they have to do with matter) still have to attain their remarkable organizing abilities at some point. One either explains them by natural laws or by humbly bowing to divine teleology at some point as an explanation every bit as plausible as a scenario which boils down to materialism any way you cut the cake (everything is explained by material processes).

Matter becomes god in the atheist/materialist/naturalist view, as far as I am concerned, and this is patently obvious, because in the godless universe, matter has the inherent power to do everything by itself, which Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, being their ultimate Creator and even Ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

Quite obviously, then, since all these marvels which we observe in the universe are attributed to matter, just as we attribute the same capacities and designs to God's creative power, from our perspective, matter is the atheist's god, in which he places extraordinary faith; more faith even than we place in God, because it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. Yet atheists manage to believe this anyway because they refuse to acknowledge a God behind all the Design. Indeed, this is faith of the most un-rational, childlike kind. It is quite humorous, then, to observe the constant charge that we Christians have the blind, childlike, gullible, fideistic faith, rather than "rational, intellectual, sophisticated" atheists who possess it in far greater measure.

Such belief is, in effect and in substance, closely-examined, a kind of poytheistic idolatry of the crudest, most primitive sort, which puts to shame the pagan worship and incredulities of the ancient Babylonians, Philistines, Aztecs, and other primitive groups. They believed that their silver amulets and wooden idols could make the sun shine or defeat an enemy or cause crops to flourish. The polytheistic materialist is far, far more religious than that: he thinks that trillions of his Atom-gods and their distant relatives, the Cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, of their own power, possessed eternally either in full or in inevitably-unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Deo-Atomism ("belief that the Atom is God"). The omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, ubiquitous (if not omnipresent) Atom (especially trillions of them) can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason which we can understand (i.e., why and how the Atom-God came to possess such powers in the first place). The Deo-Atomist worships his trillions of gods unreservedly, with the most perfect, trusting, non-rational faith imaginable. He is what sociologists call a "true believer."

Oh, and we mustn't forget the Time-goddess as well. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level sufficient to shut up any silly Christian, who is foolish enough to believe in one God rather than trillions. The Time-goddess might be said to be the highest in the ranks of the Deo-Atomist's wonderfully-varied hierarchy of gods, since she is one, rather than trillions (sort of the "Zeus" of Deo-Atomism). One might call this belief Deo-Temporalism.

Deo-Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it "must be" what it is. How is this at all different from monotheism, where certain things are taken for granted as basic beliefs? There is no epistemological difference. The atheist's and materialist's or positivist's or naturalist's religion is Deo-Atomism; mine is theistic Christianity. Matter is their god; a Creator Spirit God is mine. The Deo-Atomist simply reverses the error of the Gnostics. They thought spirit was great and that matter was evil. Deo-Atomists think matter is great (and god) and spirit is not only "evil" (metaphorically-speaking), but beyond that: non-existent. In a certain remote sense, on one level, the Christian reacts to such profound religious belief with the thought, "Who am I to endanger by rational argument such a sublime fideism and Absolute Trust in a Teleological Argument vis-a-vis trillions of Atom-gods? I can only stand in awe of such Pure Faith."

Deo-Atomists may and do differ on secondary issues, just as the various ancient polytheistic cultures differed on quibbling details (which god could do what, which material made for a better idol, etc.), but despite all, they inevitably came out on the side of polytheistic idolatry, with crude material gods, and against spiritual monotheism.

Some Deo-Atomist utterances even have the "ring" of Scriptures, such as an appropriate humility urged in man's opinion of his own importance, because the universe is so large, and we are so small, as if material or spatial largeness itself is some sort of inherently God-like quality. One Deo-Atomist told me that "order is in the eye of the beholder." That reminded me of the biblical Proverbs (perhaps he was the Deo-Atomist equivalent of Solomon).

Of course, in Deo-Atomism, each person is gods too, because he is made up of trillions of Atom-gods and also lots of Cell-gods, so there are lots of gods there indeed! When you get trillions of gods all together in one place, it stands to reason that they can corporately perceive the order of which any one of them individually is capable of producing. So within the Deo-Atomist faith-paradigm, this makes perfect sense. But for one outside their circle of religious faith, it may not (just to warn the devout, faithful Deo-Atomist that others of different faiths may not think such things as "obvious" as they do). The Deo-Atomist manages to believe any number of things, in faith, without mere explanation.

In other words, the "why" questions in the context of Deo-Atomism are in and of themselves "senseless." And the reason why that is (i.e., for the Deo-Atomist), is because the question impinges upon the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Deo-Atomist possesses. If the question of "Why does God exist?" is senseless, then it follows straightforwardly that likewise, the question, "Why do the Atom-gods and Cell-gods and the Time-goddess exist and eternally possess the extraordinary powers that they do?" is senseless, meaningless and oughtn't be put forth. One simply doesn't ask such questions. It is bad form, and impolite in mixed company. We know how sensitive overly-religious folk are.

Instead, we are asked to bow to the countless mysteries of Deo-Atomism in humble adoration and awed silence, dumbstruck, like the Magi at the baby Jesus' manger, offering our "scientific" and "philosophical" allegiance like they offered gold and frankincense and myrrh. The very inquiry is senseless and "intrusive." And so rational examination is precluded at and from the outset. It is, indeed, an ingenious, self-contained system: hopelessly irrational and self-defeating; ultimately incoherent, of course, but ingenious and admirable in its bold, brilliant intellectual audacity and innovation, if nothing else.

In other words, it is an immensely enjoyable game to play, like much of modern philosophy-cum-religion. Deo-Atomism might go by many names, but when the rubber meets the road, it is all pretty much the same: Boundless Faith in Matter-gods, Cell-gods, and the Time-Goddess.

An Exposition of Christian Panzoism (Sogn Mill-Scout)

Panzoism: A philosophy of peace for all animals

(Panzoism: From Greek pan="all" and zoion="living being")

Most people in our society would agree that peace is a laudable goal toward which we should exert considerable effort. It is self-evident to most of us that peace is intrinsically desirable, largely because human beings flourish in peaceful conditions.

In the history of humanity we can discern a series of advances in terms of popular understanding of what peaceful coexistence implies. At one time it was normal to regard only the members of one's own tribe or clan as legitimate objects of moral concern. All others were outside the circle of moral obligations.

Gradually people learned to look outside their local groups to regard others who were previously outcasts as worthy of concern. In our nation's recent history, blacks were long considered inferior to the white majority. Similarly, women were second class citizens in a male dominated society. Now, however, there is a more widespread inclusion of formerly outcast groups within our consensual circle of ethical concern.

In the eyes of most people, humanity still defines the outer limit of their moral obligations. I submit that this fixation on our own species is an arbitrary and unjustifiable boundary to our moral sensibility. Just as our civilization has gradually expanded the perimeter within which individuals and groups are recognized as making moral claims upon us, now we have the opportunity to see ourselves as members of a much larger group. We can choose to recognize that we are all part of the vast number of sentient beings that are united in our capacity to suffer and feel pain. It is our unique privilege as a species to be able to choose to refrain from inflicting suffering upon our fellow sentient beings. The challenge we face is to recognize that there is no morally compelling reason not to take this step into moral solidarity with non-human beings. We have the great opportunity to enlarge the circle of our moral concern to its logically utmost extent.

Panzoism is the term my wife and I coined for this philosophy of life that embraces all sentient beings as worthy of our compassion and concern. It is a way of life that strives to bring about genuine peace on earth by renouncing violence and, to the best of our ability, eschewing participation in all activities and commerce which rely upon or promote the suffering or exploitation of not only fellow humans, but all sentient beings.

What I've written here to this point does not depend on any particular religious or philosophical outlook. It presupposes nothing more than the capacity to feel compassion for any being capable of suffering. Much of the preceding material was written before my wife and I became Christians. It was our panzoism which, in part, paved the way for our return to faith in Christ, the Savior who bore the suffering of creation in His own body. Since our conversions we have realized that the Christian faith provides the most reasonable and consistent basis for the panzoist way of life. This makes it all the more tragic that Christendom - i.e. Christianity as a set of denominational institutions - has failed to fulfill its proper role in the vanguard of those who would bear the love of Christ in their hearts and bodies, and bring peace to a blood-soaked world.

Most meat-eating people in our society are able to live in a state of blissful ignorance regarding the violence inflicted on thousands of innocent beings every day in the routine course of providing the masters of the food chain with the meat they crave. Most of us never have to handle or interact with the animals we devour, much less kill and dismember them. But if we dare to inform ourselves about the industry of mass-slaughter, and if are hearts are not hardened and dead to compassion, we will be sorely troubled by the way humans treat weaker beings. And if we already love an animal companion, such as a cat or dog, the haunting question is inevitable: why is it wrong to kill and eat my pet but appropriate to slaughter cows and pigs? (or pay people to do it for me!) For me, vegetarianism requires no more basis than that; the mere fact that I can and do love even one animal dictates that I refrain, if at all possible, from harming any of them. And to be the cause of suffering after having tasted the boundless love of Christ would be an act of sacrilege.

In my experience of discussing panzoism with other Christians I have found all too many of them far more interested in finding biblical excuses to continue their carnivorous habits than in honestly confronting the magnitude of suffering to which they contribute with their blood money. Instead of asking, "Is this an opportunity to show the merciful love of Christ," their question seems to be "what can I get away with in the name of some bible verses?" It fills me with sorrow and bewilderment that fellow Christians who talk so easily of the love of Christ can so harden their hearts as to be stone-deaf to screams of pain and terror just because they don't come from humans.

It seems to be enough for many Christians to simply say, "look, Christ ate fish," and happily resume eating the steak on their plate, serene in their toothsome joy. Such cynical use of scripture is a transparent rationalization, as shown by the preference for looking historically backward through scripture rather than prophetically forward to the peaceable Kingdom envisioned by Isaiah. I often wonder why Christians don't want to do whatever lies within their power to anticipate the promised Kingdom by renouncing violence and harm here and now. The habits of the palate are indeed powerful and hard to escape; it is no wonder that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

As for Jesus' consumption of fish (the only flesh he his documented as eating, the sometimes-assumed Passover lamb being nothing more than conjecture), it is irrelevant for us today, in American society, unless the only meat you ever eat is fish. Consider the recently popular WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) motto and then ask yourself: How do you imagine Jesus would react if you accompanied Him on a tour of a modern slaughterhouse? The rubber meets the road here. Christians who seriously consider the issue of vegetarianism need to confront their beliefs about Jesus and his compassion. I think in order to justify continuing one's economic participation in our carnivorous culture, such a Christian would have to conclude (most implausibly) that Jesus would give his blessing to our industrial abattoirs. If you can believe that, I can't imagine anything that could change your mind, and wouldn't waste my time trying.

Another point to be made to meat-eaters who cite Jesus' fish-eating in their defense, is that Jesus - and the Bible in general - tolerated slavery, yet virtually no Christian today would dream of defending slavery on that basis (though, sadly, this was done not so many generations ago). In general I find that the use of Scripture in defense of one's preferences or habits is extremely selective.

The simple question I pose to anyone who is genuinely willing to face this issue is this: Why should we continue needlessly to do violence to innocent beings? It is a plain fact that we in the technologically advanced nations do not need to harm other creatures in order to pursue our lives happily. Therefore, we all ought to answer this question: Is there any reason which could possibly justify such practices? I believe that most people, when they openly and honestly grapple with this question, will find it difficult if not impossible to continue a violence-based, exploitative lifestyle. And if they are also Christians, they must bear an extra burden of conscience whenever the subject of innocent suffering is raised.

Having asserted that there is no need to harm other beings, I may be challenged to defend this claim. Let us consider the issue together. First, it is certainly true that we do not need to eat the flesh of animals to survive. We are not carnivores. We are omnivorous in the strict sense, in that we are capable of digesting both vegetable and animal foods. However, it is becoming increasingly clear in the light of medical research in recent years that humans are generally healthier on a vegetarian diet than when regularly consuming meat. Our digestive system is not optimally suited for digesting meat, and we see widespread consequences in high cholesterol, clogged arteries and heart disease. (There may be cases of medical conditions - Dave Armstrong cited his own situation - in which an individual is unable to thrive on a vegetarian diet, but this is rare and of no avail to the vast meat- eating majority.)

Secondly, it is not necessary to wear clothing derived from animal products, though avoiding all such clothing does pose a much greater challenge than abstaining from meat. It is gradually becoming more feasible to do this because there are synthetic alternatives to every essential article of animal-derived attire. However, whether it is feasible for any particular person to completely avoid animal-derived clothing depends on how this would affect that individual. For example, a person whose feet are uninjured and of a typical size may easily obtain appropriate synthetic shoes, but if one needs an unusual size shoe, or orthopedic shoes, or must use orthotic devices, the search for synthetic shoes can be almost impossible (just as it might be for leather shoes).

It is also very feasible to reject many common items of everyday use that are derived from animal byproducts and/or tested on animals. Cruelty-free alternatives are widely available for cosmetics, household chemical products like detergents, shampoos and deodorants, and sundry other such items taken for granted in our civilization.

Beyond that point the issue becomes more challenging and controversial. What about medical drugs and medical procedures that have been tested on animals or manufactured with animal byproducts? This is a very divisive issue, and understandably so. People are inclined to pose the issue in stark terms, as, for example, a choice between the life of my child and the life of a rat. Although this is a simplistic and rhetorically charged view of the problem, we can't deny that there is a real ethical issue that is confronted by anyone who wants to forego all violence, yet must turn to medical science when seeking relief for the suffering of themselves or their loved ones. CS Lewis, for example, was an outspoken anti-vivisectionist and Christian, but I doubt that he abstained from medications - and, in any case, he (inexplicably!) ate meat.

There are some proponents of animal liberation that are intransigent on this issue no less than on vegetarianism: animals must not be harmed - period - for any purpose. However, while it is true that the suffering of any creature is never good or innocuous in itself, it seems at least arguable, in Christian terms, that compensatory goods for humans might outweigh the evil of our sacrifice of innocents in the cause of medical research. One might even try to draw an analogy to the horrific death of Christ, which was, paradoxically, our greatest good. This is why I would assign this issue the lowest priority of moral persuasion, and vegetarianism the highest.

Nevertheless, I believe that in an ideal world it would not even occur to any sensitive person to exploit another sentient being for any purpose, just as most people now would never even consider harming another human even if that was the only means of saving someone else's life. In such a world the present situation could not even arise, where we are faced with the option of availing ourselves of medical methods of dubious moral status when we face desperate situations.

Honest disagreement over this particular issue need not and should not be a cause of strife among people who can at least be united in their concern that the unnecessary infliction of suffering is to be avoided
to the utmost degree consistent with conscience. Ethical choices are faced every day in whether to consume medications that are tested on animals or whether to allow an operation that was tested on animals, etc. When no other alternatives exist or when the alternatives have not worked, we are left with difficult decisions. We may differ in some of the particulars of our choices while nevertheless sharing a common ultimate goal. Surely our goal should be a peaceful world where no sentient beings are intentionally harmed, and where the temptation to do so is a thing of the past because we have found means of promoting our welfare that do not depend on such violence. Emotions run high from all who are concerned but the one thing we should be able to agree on is to actively promote the search for alternatives to animal research methods.

I recognize the difficulty involved in making sweeping changes in one's everyday lifestyle and behavior, especially when living in a society that is generally so hostile to the commitment to peaceful existence.
It is nevertheless imperative that we all take some steps toward establishing our civilization on a foundation of peace among all the inhabitants of our planet. The cost to each of us, especially for vegetarianism alone, is some inconvenience and psychological adjustment. The cost of rejecting this noble goal, however, is continued bloodshed and suffering on a terrifying scale.

Dave Armstrong has recently written: "Christians ought to oppose all unnecessary cruel treatment of animals (e.g., painful traps, excessive hardships in research and caged environments ..." Yet he views vegetarianism as optional. Any informed person knows that meat obtained by typical means (bought in stores) is derived from conditions of unspeakable cruelty to the animals on whose flesh we feast. No fair and reasonable person who uses English in a normal way could possibly claim that the savagely cruel methods of today's industrial slaughterhouses are necessary. Therefore, for a Christian living in typical urban or suburban circumstances, vegetarianism is a no-brainer, and anything but optional.

I wonder if so many conservative Christians would be so antagonistic to animal liberation if they really believed, like Dave Armstrong, that it's a biblical idea that people have a moral obligation to treat animals well and minimize their suffering, "to oppose all unnecessary cruel treatment of animals." Clearly most Christians do not believe that. Does any informed person seriously believe that industrial
slaughterhouses treat animals well, much less minimize their suffering? What I often observe is Christians giving lip-service to an ethic of kindness to animals, while continuing their habit of procuring meat from the local supermarket. This is, at best, culpable ignorance, and, at worst, hypocrisy in need of repentance.

I'm sure that most Christians, if asked by a pollster, would say they care about animals and would claim to treat animals well and avoid unnecessary cruelty. People do like to feel good about themselves, after all, so if forced to confront this issue, most Christians would say what one 'should' say. But after the question or discussion has passed, they resume their typical American consumer lifestyle and give nary a thought to how that meat in the supermarket was treated while it was still alive.

Furthermore, even if, as Dave Armstrong and countless Christians contend, we are permitted by God to eat animals, and thereby permitted to kill them for that purpose, it by no means follows that we are permitted to give financial support to the meat industry. After all, as Dave says, we shouldn't support "unnecessary cruelty." And thus the typical American lifestyle is indicted simply by the biblical ethic mandating treating animals with kindness. In other words, even if we believe we can continue to take their lives under SOME circumstances, the question is, WHAT circumstances? Do those particular circumstances conform to the biblical ethic of kindness in which we purport to believe? If not, we are presumably called upon to make certain sacrifices, certain inconvenient adjustments, lest our profession of a vital biblical principle be exposed as empty rhetoric.

I don't mean to single out Christians for criticism; most people, Christian or not, conduct their lives in terms of relatively unreflective convenience. The reason I'm discussing Christians specifically now is because of Dave Armstrong's invitation to me to hold forth on the relation between Christian faith and panzoism (vegetarianism and/or animal liberation).

I have also observed that some Christians who oppose the cause of animal liberation (Charles Colson comes to mind) like to characterize panzoism as an anti-Christian, even naturalistic and Darwinian, philosophy. This would be funny if the slander weren't so widely accepted. The truth is that no ideology could be less conducive to panzoism than Darwinism. And I don't know where one would get the idea that panzoism is essentially naturalistic. Of course it's true that there is not a singular and consistent metaphysical philosophy underlying the animal liberation movement. For example, Peter Singer, a utilitarian and atheist, is one of the principal philosophers behind the movement. However, there is nothing essentially naturalistic about panzoism, any more than it's essentially theistic.

In fact, I believe panzoism's proper and logical foundation is Christian theism and the biblical concept of humans as benevolent stewards of God's creation. It is our glory as creatures bearing the divine image - albeit tarnished - that we can choose not to kill or harm weaker creatures. You can't get less Darwinian and more Christlike than that. And I'm happy to see that Christians are increasingly coming to the awareness that they belong in the vanguard of the animal liberation movement, just as they once were in the anti-slavery movement, and are now in the anti-abortion movement.

I urge you to take steps, if you haven't done so already, such as adopting a vegetarian diet - no meat of any kind -and ideally, if feasible, a vegan diet and lifestyle. (Veganism is abstention from consumption or any kind of use of animals or animal byproducts. This has ramifications for choices of clothing, household products, and so forth, as well as dietary change.) This rejection of socially sanctioned violence has been embraced by an increasing number of people in recent years. My wife and I are trying to do our small part to further this transformation of civilization. These words are not intended to demean anyone nor to emotionally manipulate anyone. I only want to provide people - especially my fellow Christians - with the challenging opportunity to think long and deeply about the malignant effects of maintaining a society based on violence to innocent beings, and consider the glorious possibility of extending the love and grace of our Lord and Savior to the weaker of earth's inhabitants, who have suffered so much and so long at human hands.

May God grant us wisdom!
Isaiah 11:6-9; Romans 8:19-22

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

Soteriology and Creation (Peter J. Leithart) + Reply

Peter J. Leithart is a Reformed pastor. I link to his blog on my sidebar. This is his blog entry, "Soteriology and Creation," reproduced in its entirety, with my responses. Pastor Leithart's words will be italicized.


Any idea of cooperation with grace rests on a nature/grace dualism.

This is untrue, and is the old unfair and inaccurate charge (if I understand it correctly) that all Arminian and Catholic and Orthodox soteriologies are somehow Pelagian (or at least semi-Pelagian) and rest on the assumption that man does things with regard to God and grace that originate from his own power.

To say that I cooperate with grace implies that I have some sort of independent power of action that is not always already the product of grace.

How does it imply that? You have provided the answer to your own objection yourself: to the extent that I legitimately cooperate with the grace, that is indeed the product of grace itself (and this is good Catholic theology).

The Council of Trent stated in its canons on justification:

CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

And in its chapter 5:

On the necessity, in adults, of preparation for Justification, and whence it proceeds.

The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.

That is, it depends on the assumption that there is some independent realm of "nature."

Tridentine Catholic soteriology does not teach this, as just shown. Perhaps some liberal Protestant Arminians do but we do not. I haven't seen that traditional "orthodox" Arminian holds to such a thing, either, but I could be wrong. What I read of their original theology showed me that it was no more Pelagian than Catholic or Calvinist soteriology is.

If, on the other hand, my very existence depends on God's gift, IS God's gift, and if God is always concurrently active in my every action, then I have no independence at all. My acts of "cooperation" will be as completely the product of God's gracious operation as the "grace" that is offered to me.

If you are defining your first sentence by your second sentence, Catholics completely agree (insofar as cooperation with grace goes). But God is not active in "every" action because that would mean that He is concurring with sin. When we sin, that is not God acting but us. When we are righteous, that is God working in us, "to will and to do," and causing our good action.

But this cooperation is really just another kind of operation of grace, and not at all my "independent" cooperation, or a cooperation in which I act on my natural reserves, or do my best with what has been given me.

That's right. We agree.

At every point, we work because "God works in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure." This has been obscured by the fact that both Catholics who affirm cooperation with grace, and Protestants who deny it have tended to operate with an implicit nature-grace scheme.

Catholics define "cooperation" (inasmuch as it occurs at all) precisely as you have above. There is no difference here. You are incorrectly assuming that when we speak of "cooperation" somehow we are presupposing some "independent" power of man apart from God's grace. We do not. That is Pelagianism, which was heartily condemned by the Second Council of Orange in 529 and by the Council of Trent. The former makes this very clear:

Canon 3: If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred in answer to man's petition, but that the petition itself is not due to the action of grace, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah and the Apostle, who both say: "I was found by them that did not seek me, I appeared openly to them that ask not after me" (Rom 10:20; Isa 15:1).' . . .

Canon 6: If anyone says that God has mercy on us when, without his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, work, watch, study, ask, seek, knock, and does not confess that we believe, will, and are enabled to do all this in the way we ought, by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us; or makes the help of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man, rather than ascribing such humility and obedience to the free gift of grace; he goes counter to the Apostle, who says, "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" and "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor 4:7 and 15:10)' . . .

Canon 7: If anyone asserts that we can, by our natural powers, think as we ought, or choose any good pertaining to the salvation of eternal life, that is, consent to salvation or to the message of the Gospel, without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . . he is misled by a heretical spirit, not understanding what the voice of God says in the Gospel, "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), nor the words of the Apostle, "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor 3:5)' . . .

Canon 25: In a word, to love God is a gift of God. He, yet unloved, loves us and gave us the power to love . . . Through the sin of the first man, the free will is so weakened and warped, that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought, or believe in God, or do good for the sake of God, unless moved, previously, by the grace of the divine mercy . . . In every good work that we do, it is not we who have the initiative, aided, subsequently, by the mercy of God, but that he begins by inspiring faith and love towards him, without any prior merit of ours.

If the scheme is rejected at the outset, the issue of "cooperation" simply cannot arise.

That's right. "Cooperation" in this negative sense is Pelagianism, which we totally reject. Louis Bouyer explains the teaching of Trent in this matter:

The Council of Trent's insistence on the fact that man is not saved passively . . . but through his free acceptance, certainly is not to be held as implying any modification of the decrees of Orange. Its whole aim is to show that grace does not dispense us from acting ourselves, but restores to us the power to act well . . .

Catholic doctrine itself, as defined at Trent, does not admit salvation by faith and works, if by that is meant works which are not themselves the product of saving grace received by faith. On the contrary, the profound assertion of the total causality of grace in salvation requires that both the good works following on grace, and the faith which receives it, are its product.

(The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, translated by A.V. Littledale, London: Harvill Press, 1956, 51-52)

Another related issue, that of the nature of freedom and love. I heard from a Roman Catholic theologian recently that man must have the capacity to say No to God, else his love is not free. But does not the Father love the Son in freedom?

Yes. But the Father and the Son are both God and cannot sin by nature. That is not true of men. If we could not sin by nature then there never would have been a Fall. The angels also had a choice to obey or disobey. Some did. One of them is called Satan.

And is there any possibility of the Son every saying No to the Father or the Father to say No to the Son's love?

No, but this is God, so it is not a proper analogy to man's situation. We are free to cooperate with God's grace or reject it. We're not "free" if we are elect to do no otherwise and "not free" to do otherwise than reject God if we are predestined to damnation by His eternal decree. This is where Catholicism and Calvinism truly do differ, of course.

When this point was brought up, it was suggested (by an Orthodox theologian) that the difference between divine love and human love was "time" or "creaturehood."

I would agree.

That is, because we are created, the possibility of a No is of the essence of love, while for God this is not so.

I don't know if I would say that, but I would say that being a creature and not omniscient makes the possibility of "no" inevitable.

The question then becomes whether man can ever reach a state of impeccability, a state of non posse peccare, and remain human.

Again, if it were intrinsically impossible for man or angel to sin and rebel, then that would have never happened. It's as simple as that. But it did; therefore we are able to do so. I don't see the problem. As for a person being able to be actually sinless, that has occurred: in Adam and Eve before the Fall and in Mary, the Mother of God. But note that in Catholicism, we believe that she had to be freed from original sin in the Immaculate Conception in order to be actually sinless.

The answer of the Orthodox theologian: In glory, we are elevated out of time, and participate in the sempiternity of God, and therefore can love without the possibility of betrayal. But this of course causes more problems than it solves, raising serious questions about the goodness of temporality and creaturehood, suggesting that there is some "bias" toward sin in creaturehood.

Of course there is, since the Fall. It is called "concupiscence." It's not a matter of whether time is good or whether creation is good. They both are, because God made them. It's not creaturehood per se which is flawed, but fallen creatures.

This again suggests that notions of creation are in the background of soteriological considerations. If we can affirm that the creation is good all the way to the ground, and affirm that creation is utterly gift and utterly dependent upon God's working and operation, many of our soteriological dilemmas would be clarified if they did not simply evaporate.

posted by Peter J. Leithart on Sunday, March 14, 2004 at 08:50 PM

I don't see how. You seem to be overlooking the place of the Fall in your soteriology (at least in this essay). But it is a short statement, and I would look forward to clarifications and elaborations, should we have the pleasure of discussing this further.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Happy St. Patrick's Day (My Ireland Page, and Other Defunct Pages From my Website, Resurrected)

Courtesy of Internet Archive, I can bring back my Ireland Page, which was on my website for over five years.

While we're at it, here's your chance to see my other former pages (removed in order to free up more space). This is fun! The links will still work, too, but of course, some are outdated by now:

Culture and Christian Heritage

Scotland: History, Culture, & Christian Heritage Links
(some cool photos)

England: History, Culture, & Christian Heritage Links
(check out the death-mask of John Wesley! -- like a photograph)

Medieval and Renaissance Culture
(complete with a photograph from my medieval wedding:
10-6-84 -- me lookin' like a prince and all, marryin' a lovely new princess)

Christian Philosophy

St. Augustine (354-430)

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

(some of these links have ben retained on my Philosophy and Christianity Page)

Thomas Howard & Peter Kreeft: Master Apologists
(not enough Howard links are available, and a better Kreeft page elsewhere, so I decided to ditch it)

Nature Photographs

My Favorite Nature Photos
(re-scanned for higher quality. I'm very proud of these)

Fall Colors

Old-Growth Forests and Animals


Sandy Shores of the Great Lakes

Rocky Lake and Ocean Shores

Rock Formations

Old American Architectural Photographs

Old American Architecture Photo Page
(re-scanned for higher quality. Proud o' these, too. My nature and architectural photography is the closest I come -- besides my musical abilities -- to "art")

Covered Bridges

Old Buildings and Mills and "Americana"

Music and Poetry

Classical Music Mega-Links Page
(includes death-mask of Beethoven)

Poetry (emphasizing Romanticism)
(some stuff retained on my Romantic and Imaginative Theology Page)


Anti-Catholicism Page
(check out the hilarious painting on top)

Martin Luther the "Super-Pope" and de facto Infallibility: Extensive Documentation From Luther's Own Words and a Discussion of Protestant Charges Concerning Alleged Widespread Dishonesty of Catholic Apologists in Dealing With Luther (vs. "BJ Bear")
(this is the original exchange on the CARM board with the notorious "BJ Bear" -- who sought to show I was a dishonest, incompetent, would-be apologist)

Counter-Reply to A Simple-Minded Response to Stephen Ray, by Pastor Chris Bayack (Part III: "The Pertinent"): The Anti-Catholic Outlook Concerning Sola Scriptura, Tradition, and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary + Link to Part II of This Dialogue

Dialogue on Common Anti-Catholic Objections to Catholic Beliefs Concerning Mary and Justification (vs.Brian Schwertley and Stephen Pribble)

Exchanges With Dr. James White

Case Study in Anti-Catholic Intransigence: Dr. James White Rejects Personal Reconciliation, Yet Simultaneously Pushes for an Oral Debate
(check out the famous "goofy photo": harmless fun that got me into further trouble -- if indeed that is possible -- with Dr. White -- now, ironically, he has caricatures of himself on his website, and of people like Patrick Madrid)

Bishops in the New Testament and the Early Church
(Do Baptists Believe in Bishops?)

Exchanges With Dr. Eric Svendsen

(I removed this out of courtesy to Dr. Svendsen because he disapproved of my editing. But since he showed no appreciation for my gesture, and has since stepped-up his personal attacks considerably,
I am posting them again. These have no personal attacks; they simply argue the issues)

Dialogue on "Tradition" in the New Testament

Debate on the Nature of "Church" and Catholicism

Dialogue on the Alleged "Perspicuous Apostolic Message" as a Proof of the Quasi-Protestantism of the Early Church (vs. Eric Svendsen and James White)


Family Photographs and Armstrong Heritage
(yep, that's me with one of my permanents, on top)

Oldest Version of my Home Page I Could Find (December 1998 -- the website was launched in March 1997)
(not too bad, for that old!)


Lenten Meditation #2: The Crucifixion (John Henry Newman)

From Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. 7 (1842), in his Anglican period.


Unless we have a true love of Christ, we are not His true disciples; and we cannot love Him unless we have heartfelt gratitude to Him; and we cannot duly feel gratitude, unless we feel keenly what He suffered for us. I say it seems to us impossible, under the circumstances of the case, that any one can have attained to the love of Christ, who feels no distress, no misery, at the thought of His bitter pains, and no self-reproach at having through his own sins had a share in causing them.

I know quite well, and wish you, my brethren, never to forget, that feeling is not enough; that it is not enough merely to feel and nothing more; that to feel grief for Christ's sufferings, and yet not to go on to obey him, is not true love, but a mockery. True love both feels right, and acts right; but at the same time as warm feelings without religious conduct are a kind of hypocrisy, so, on the other hand, right conduct, when unattended with deep feelings, is at best a very imperfect sort of religion. And at this time of year especially are we called upon to raise our hearts to Christ, and to have keen feelings and piercing thoughts of sorrow and shame, of compunction and of gratitude, of love and tender affection and horror and anguish, at the review of those awful sufferings whereby our salvation has been purchased.

Let us pray God to give us all graces; and while, in the first place, we pray that He would make us holy, really holy, let us also pray Him to give us the beauty of holiness, which consists in tender and eager affection towards our Lord and Saviour.

You will ask, how are we to learn to feel pain and anguish at the thought of Christ's sufferings? I answer, by thinking of them, that is, by dwelling on the thought. This, through God's mercy, is in the power of every one. No one who will but solemnly think over the history of those sufferings, as drawn out for us in the Gospels, but will gradually gain, through God's grace, a sense of them, will in a measure realize them, will in a measure be as if he saw them, will feel towards them as being not merely a tale written in a book, but as a true history, as a series of events which took place.

First, as to these sufferings you will observe that our Lord is called a lamb in the text; that is, He was as defenceless, and as innocent, as a lamb is. Since then Scripture compares Him to this inoffensive and unprotected animal, we may without presumption or irreverence take the image as a means of conveying to our minds those feelings which our Lord's sufferings should excite in us. I mean, consider how very horrible it is to read the accounts which sometimes meet us of cruelties exercised on brute animals. Does it not sometimes make us shudder to hear tell of them, or to read them in some chance publication which we take up? At one time it is the wanton deed of barbarous and angry owners who ill-treat their cattle, or beasts of burden; and at another, it is the cold-blooded and calculating act of men of science, who make experiments on brute animals, perhaps merely from a sort of curiosity. I do not like to go into particulars, for many reasons; but one of those instances which we read of as happening in this day, and which seems more shocking than the rest, is, when the poor dumb victim is fastened against a wall, pierced, gashed, and so left to linger out its life. Now do you not see that I have a reason for saying this, and am not using these distressing words for nothing? For what was this but the very cruelty inflicted upon our Lord? He was gashed with the scourge, pierced through hands and feet, and so fastened to the Cross, and there left, and that as a spectacle. Now what is it moves our very hearts, and sickens us so much at cruelty shown to poor brutes? I suppose this first, that they have done no harm; next, that they have no power whatever of resistance; it is the cowardice and tyranny of which they are the victims which makes their sufferings so especially touching. For instance, if they were dangerous animals, take the case of wild beasts at large, able not only to defend themselves, but even to attack us; much as we might dislike to hear of their wounds and agony, yet our feelings would be of a very different kind; but there is something so very dreadful, so satanic in tormenting those who never have harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power, who have weapons neither of offence nor defence, that none but very hardened persons can endure the thought of it. Now this was just our Saviour's case . . .

Take another example, and you will see the same thing still more strikingly. How overpowered should we be, nay not at the sight only, but at the very hearing of cruelties shown to a little child, and why so? for the same two reasons, because it was so innocent, and because it was so unable to defend itself. I do not like to go into the details of such cruelty, they would be so heart-rending. What if wicked men took and crucified a young child? What if they deliberately seized its poor little frame, and stretched out its arms, nailed them to a cross bar of wood, drove a stake through its two feet, and fastened them to a beam, and so left it to die? It is almost too shocking to say; perhaps, you will actually say it is too shocking, and ought not to be said. O, my brethren, you feel the horror of this, and yet you can bear to read of Christ's sufferings without horror; for what is that little child's agony to His? and which deserved it more? which is the more innocent? which the holier? was He not gentler, sweeter, meeker, more tender, more loving, than any little child? Why are you shocked at the one, why are you not shocked at the other?

And now, instead of taking the case of the young, innocent, and confiding, let us take another instance which will present to us our Lord's passion under another aspect. Let us suppose that some aged and venerable person whom we have known as long as we could recollect any thing, and loved and reverenced, suppose such a one, who had often done us kindnesses, who had taught us, who had given us good advice, who had encouraged us, smiled on us, comforted us in trouble, whom we knew to be very good and religious, very holy, full of wisdom, full of heaven, with grey hairs and awful countenance, waiting for Almighty God's summons to leave this world for a better place; suppose, I say, such a one whom we have ourselves known, and whose memory is dear to us, rudely seized by fierce men, stripped naked in public, insulted, driven about here and there, made a laughing-stock, struck, spit on, dressed up in other clothes in ridicule, then severely scourged on the back, then laden with some heavy load till he could carry it no longer, pulled and dragged about, and at last exposed with all his wounds to the gaze of a rude multitude who came and jeered him, what would be our feelings? Let us in our mind think of this person or that, and consider how we should be overwhelmed and pierced through and through by such a hideous occurrence.

I can understand people who do not keep Good Friday at all; they are indeed very ungrateful, but I know what they mean; I understand them. But I do not understand at all, I do not at all see what men mean who do profess to keep it, yet do not sorrow, or at least try to sorrow. Such a spirit of grief and lamentation is expressly mentioned in Scripture as a characteristic of those who turn to Christ.

It is said in the Book of Revelation, "Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him." [Rev. i. 7.] We, my, brethren, every one of us, shall one day rise from our graves, and see Jesus Christ; we shall see Him who hung on the cross, we shall see His wounds, we shall see the marks in His hands, and in His feet, and in His side. Do we wish to be of those, then, who wail and lament, or of those who rejoice? If we would not lament at the sight of Him then, we must lament at the thought of Him now. Let us prepare to meet our God; let us come into His Presence whenever we can; let us try to fancy as if we saw the Cross and Him upon it; let us draw near to it; let us beg Him to look on us as He did on the penitent thief, and let us say to Him, "Lord remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom." [Luke xxiii. 42.]

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Psychology of, & Reasons for Catholic & Christian Belief

* * *

C. S. Lewis presupposed the existence of natural law and morality in his apologetics and argues that Christian morality merely builds upon what is already known by pagans and heathen (what he calls the "Tao" in his appendix of his book, The Abolition of Man).

St. Thomas Aquinas makes a (rather famous) clear distinction between natural law and revelation or faith. He argues, for example, that men can know that God exists from creation, but that a doctrine like the Holy Trinity can only be known through supernatural faith and revelation.

I think (as anyone would fully expect) that the theistic proofs are compelling and the atheist ones implausible and fallacious, yet I believe that the "psychological" aspects of belief (all sorts of belief, not just religious faith; i.e., epistemology) and the many many complex influences which make one believe what they do, "nullify" --in large part --, the clearness of the objective proofs qua proofs.

In effect, then, it would not be such a clear thing, either way, once these other non-philosophical influences and factors are taken into account. Nor (for largely the same reason) is it so straightforward (as some atheists seem to think), that if a person is presented with a fantastic miracle, that they automatically believe in God or Christianity. That is not the biblical teaching, nor what we have learned from human experience and history. And that is because every person comes to the table with a host of prior belief-paradigms and theoretical frameworks, and experiences, including the emotions and the will, which are not to be underestimated, either, in their effect on beliefs, in all people, of whatever stripe.

I think any belief is extremely psychologically and intellectually complex. I don't question anyone's sincerity or intellectual honesty. That's not the issue. Both sides have to come up with some reason why the "other guys" aren't convinced by the same evidence.

We all see things through an interpretive grid. We emphasize and tend to see and not see certain things according to what our prior position is. This is natural and it is not necessarily a bad thing. It simply is. It is the way brains and minds function: how they make sense of reality, and construct and organize the outer reality (whatever it really is) abstractly for themselves. I often see a parallel in philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn's classic analysis: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. We all have paradigms that guide our perceptions. That is true in theology as well as in science. One has to overthrow the paradigm to see things fundamentally differently. And before that happens it is extremely difficult to even see, let alone comprehend another framework, theory, or worldview.

And this is because worldviews and theories start with different assumptions. Then the house is built upon those foundational assumptions. Therefore, I don't have to assert that Protestants are "dishonest" or "stupid" because they can't see what I take to be evident realities about certain of the Fathers' views on various doctrinal matters, and so forth. They see what they have been conditioned to see, based on their own presuppositional grid.

And the Catholic does the same from his Catholic grid. I have never denied this. I believe it about all fields of knowledge, across the board. I understand the Protestant position on this because I used to hold it myself. I can see both sides, having held both. I think it is a worthwhile exercise, however, to compare two paradigms and try to determine relative plausibility and factuality.

I regard Christian faith as an extraordinarily complex phenomenon, arrived at (apart from the absolutely necessary and definitive grace of God, of course; speaking strictly of the human, intellectual reasons one would give for having adopted Christianity) by many, many factors, some of which are rational in nature, some not; some intellectual, and others "psychological" or "environmental."

Some critics of the Catholic Church seem to think that Catholics believe Catholicism is "clear as day" and that anyone who doesn't see this and convert is a scoundrel, dishonest, pulls the wings off of flies, etc. I have responded that I follow Cardinal Newman's philosophy. For Newman and for myself, conversion (to Christianity in general or to Catholicism in particular) is an extraordinarily complicated process.

In a limited, theoretical (one might say, "human") sense, no knowledge is absolutely positively certain. But that's from the outlook of mere reason and philosophy in and of themselves, not the "eyes of faith," so to speak. Christians possess certainties by faith, which the outsider does not have, and in many cases is not even able to comprehend, let alone accept.

So when I claim that I am "open-minded" and would consider a possibility (however remote -- and it assuredly is) that Catholicism is wrong, I am going as far as I can go in abstractly arguing philosophically, or "historically." I would contend that the very fact that Christianity is -- by nature -- unavoidably and intrinsically historical and reasonable, and that the apostles (following the lead of Jesus) sought to bring forth real reasons and evidences for faith, presupposes that it is also possible to disprove Catholicism and Christianity in general. If we can offer no proofs from reason, history, OT Scripture, etc., then we are engaging in pure fideism (faith without any reasons whatsoever), in which case, Christianity cannot be disproven, either. I don't think that this is the case, and that if it were, Christianity would possess far less credibility than it does now, from the perspective of the unbeliever.

Sometimes it is implied that anyone who takes a certain view and defends it is special pleading; therefore not seeking after truth. That would mean that the only honest intellectual stance is agnosticism or skepticism or relativism. This I vehemently reject. One mustn't be so "open-minded" that their brains fall out. It is illogical to believe that once one feels that they have discovered a certain amount of "truth," that they are no longer seeking truth per se. This may be true of certain individuals, of course, but it can't be shown to be generally true, nor does it have to necessarily be true.

One must be willing in principle to overthrow one's own views if it is warranted by the evidence, even though in matters of faith it is admittedly exceedingly unlikely.

Like Bishop Butler (Analogy of Religion) and Cardinal Newman, my epistemology and religious faith (insofar as it is connected with reason) is based on (in Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm's words) "brute fact . . .The ultimate data of religion must be of the same stuff as the ultimate data of science." This has always been my view, for 21 years now, and it didn't change when I became a Catholic. It didn't have to. I have developed it through the years, of course, but it hasn't fundamentally changed.

My own view on philosophy is essentially syncretistic. My apologetics are based in the notion of accumulated evidences adding up to a great deal of overall plausibility, which is, in turn incorporated into the faith which goes beyond reason.

* * *

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Dr. James Dobson Sanctions Masturbation

First of all, let me make it clear that I love Dr. Dobson and have the greatest respect and admiration for the man. He's done more good in his lifetime than all of us put together will ever do. He has been almost a prophet-like figure in our time. So it greatly pains me to have to point this out. But on this issue he is, sadly, dead-wrong.

My wife Judy and I were watching an otherwise excellent, at times funny and heartwarming, and insightful video series of his tonight on how to raise boys (we have three, along with our little 2 yo daughter). He stated outright that with regard to masturbation, he did not take a position that boys should be told it was wrong. By strong implication then, he does not think it is wrong. I was aware that a friend of ours had read as much in a book of his recently (the name escapes me).

His reasoning was quite curious: he claimed that probably (close paraphrase) "99% of boys do it and the other 1% are lying" (which was a bit of news to me since I grew up never having done this). Then he said that if we tell boys it is wrong and that God disapproves, what happens to those [implied multitudes] who aren't able to stop? They grow up thinking God hates them or that they are some miserable, shameful, dirty creature that belongs under a rock. Therefore, let them do it . . .

On the surface, this appears reasonable. However, when scrutinized, it breaks down almost immediately. It is essentially a secular libertarian, or even utilitarian argument, not a Christian one. Dobson contradicted his own reasoning of no more than five minutes previous to these comments, for he was decrying pornography and contended that one exposure of it in a 13 year-old might wreck their whole life and begin a lifelong addiction.

As pornography is addicting, so is masturbation, and often they coincide (as we know from learning about President Clinton's phone sex with Monica Lewinsky). Yet Dr. Dobson has not, to my knowledge, suggested that pornography ought to be freely available, as a good thing, lest those who can't break the habit feel condemned and worthless and turn against God as a result.

I doubt that he advocates free availability and moral sanction of cocaine and heroin, or that he approves of alcoholism (or that he would oppose remarkably successful programs like AA). I don't think he has taken a position that homosexual acts are permissible and moral simply because the lifestyle is extremely hard to break (as we know it is). So why does he make an exception for masturbation? Who knows? He acknowledged that there were probably many in his audience that night who disagreed with him, and he was clearly somewhat uncomfortable taking the position he did.

The Catholic Church disagrees, of course, It regards masturbation as a mortal sin. And it will continue to do so, no matter what the prevailing zeitgeist may be. If something is wrong, it's wrong. What period of history (or cultural decadence) we happen to be in has no bearing on that wrongness.

Masturbation is a form of non-procreative sex. It perverts sexuality and has an adverse effect on proper, healthy sexual development. It turns sex into something entirely selfish, rather than giving and other-directed. This "if it feels good, do it" mentality is in perfect harmony with the sexual revolution and humanist ethics and hedonism, but in perfect disharmony with traditional Christian sexual morality.

If even a marvelous man like Dr. Dobson can fall into this sort of elementary ethical contradiction and misunderstanding in such a sexual matter, then that is a truly frightening prospect. And (dare I say it?), having a strong Church authority is precisely what prevents these "slippery slope" descents into sexual compromise (even with the best of -- thoroughly mistaken -- intentions, as I'm sure is the case here).

Who in Protestantism can authoritatively tell Dr. Dobson that he is wrong in this matter? If someone has, God bless them (certainly many Protestants remain opposed to masturbation, as I was in my Protestant period), but it has had no effect, since he is still teaching this. If no one has, then I think that is symptomatic of the decline of traditional morality in Protestant ranks (as in Catholic as well -- but it has not changed our official teaching).

A good and influential man is thus sanctioning a practice which was regarded as a mortal (soul-threatening) sin in traditional (and current orthodox) Catholic Christianity and an exceedingly serious and defiling sin in traditional Protestantism. Martin Luther described the sin of Onan, in spilling his seed on the ground (traditionally applied to masturbation), as follows:

Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin . . . That worthless fellow . . . preferred polluting himself with a most disgraceful sin to raising up offspring for his brother.

(Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44; 1544; LW, 7, 20-21)

John Calvin, in his Commentary on Genesis, stated: "It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman."

This is literally calling evil good. Is Dr. Dobson that divorced from Christian history and the history of moral theology, I wonder? In most cases, he is an advocate (and an eloquent one at that) of traditional sexual morality. Why does he switch gears then when it comes to this sin? Your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Conquer Depression & Anxiety Naturally

Millions have problems with depression and anxiety. Why that is (apart from physiological reasons) would be a huge discussion in itself. But I wanted to share with others the success that my wife Judy has had with various natural remedies.

She has had fairly serious depression and post-partum depression, particularly from 1993 (when our second child was born) to 2000. She took Zoloft during that time, and it had several negative side-effects, such as making her what we called "zombie-like".

We have had success controlling or eliminating several maladies by vitamins, herbs, homeopathy (see my article on that: Homeopathy, Pragmatic Medicine, Dogmatic Science, and Supposedly "Unscientific" Religion), or amino acids.

I did some research on the Internet a few years back on Zoloft and natural alternatives and discovered some very interesting information. The following amino acids all have to do with the brain and the areas of it which are related to depression and anxiety:

tyrosine (the best, if you choose one of these): 1500 mg/day
taurine: 1500 mg/day
GABA: 1500 mg/day

(also, glutamine has similar functions and effects, too)

Judy has taken these successfully without side effects for about three years now. It works. It replaced Zoloft. She feels great (and that is with four kids to take care of, at age 45, including a 2 year-old rambunctious little girl). St. John's Wort is also effective for many people. And another supplement called SAM-e is pretty effective as well (but expensive as heck, so we got rid of it). Note: all of these generally take six weeks or so to get into your system and really start working.

Every day, she also takes chamomile (1000 mg daily) and black cohosh (1600 mg daily), which is a "female herb." It is the leading supplement for menopause in Europe (my wife is starting that). For severe anxiety, she takes chasteberry tea. Judy has reported that she did fine over Christmas and the last few months, which usually cause her (like many women especially, it seems) to have some depression. These last three supplements were what we added in addition to the amino acids.

There is also a homeopathic sleeping pill that is good for anxiety. My mother (BIG worrier) and son (autistic) have had success with that. It's called Calms Forte by the brand name Hylands. I bought it last time at our local chain drugstore (Rite Aid). It includes passion flower, avena sativa, chamomile, and other ingredients. Valerian root is also a good sedative and natural sleeping pill but it smells and tastes like dirty socks. :-)

My wife and I both have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). That can cause depression itself (among many other symptoms; notably, headaches). If someone suspects that they have that (millions do without even being aware of it), it is crucial to start reducing or eliminating white sugar and white flour, and taking a time-released B-100 complex with all 11 B vitamins. Also, chromium (200 mcg daily) is essential for blood sugar metabolism. Niacin, one of the B vitamins, is good for depression, as is Calcium-Magnesium (everyone should take a 1000-500 mg combination every day).

Protein is also most beneficial. And exercise. I personally believe that all but the most extremely serious depression and anxiety can be reasonably controlled or eliminated by supplements such as these above, natural food diet, and exercise. My wife proves that (at one point her post-partum depression was so serious she was near-suicidal. I wasn't even aware at the time HOW serious it was, but it was a very stressful period, in any event).

My mother was on ten drugs at once and was falsely diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. She was a basket case a year ago: could hardly walk and was hallucinating (!). She looked and acted like your typical (drugged-up) elderly person in a nursing home (that's another huge scandal -- the "walking dead" -- that can largely be avoided).

I did Internet research from medical and pharmacological sites and consulted a nurse-friend. It turns out that there were all sorts of negative drug interactions taking place: to such an extent that we could have sued for malpractice. The anti-depressant Paxil (the doctor prescribed an almost ridiculously high dosage) was actually causing many of the symptoms (shaking, etc.).

My mother is vastly better now, and seems like she was 15-20 years ago. No shaking; no great trouble walking. We decided to be "nice" to her two doctors (honey rather than vinegar), and convinced them both that she was better off without all the drugs. Her diagnosis was reversed. Now she is fine without even taking any anti-depressant drug. Last I heard, she was taking only the homeopathic sleeping pill (see above) for occasional anxiety.

I hope this is helpful. I felt duty-bound to share what my wife and I have learned (and from my experience with my mother). These remedies are relatively inexpensive, they work, they get right to the cause of the problem, and they have few (if any) side effects. And it is always good not to use a drug if you don't have to. I figured out much of this simply from Internet research and my general knowledge of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and natural foods, from 20 years' experience. This is partly why I look so young (that's what I'm told). :-)

If anyone would like to further explore this, I would be happy to discuss it on this blog and give you more details, tell you how to buy the supplements cheaply (I go to a chain store called Vitamin Outlet), etc.

In severe cases, however (the obligatory disclaimer), these things may not work, and some drug might be necessary. If your doctor advocates natural remedies at all, it would be good to check with him or her. More and more doctors are not averse to natural medicines, because they have been so effective and it is hard to argue with success.

They have also softened a bit on their traditional antipathy to chiropractic. It gets old after a while trying to deny that a person no longer has a sore back or neck or piched nerve when their firsthand experience is otherwise. And patients get sick of hearing that they really aren't better when they are. Doctors serve us. We're not they're servants. If they don't care if their patient feels better because of some remedy outside of themselves, it's time to vote with our feet and find another doctor.

No need to suffer needlessly. Life is too short . . .

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Paul's Gospel vs. Our Gospel (Tim Gallant)

Tim Gallant is a Reformed pastor. His blog is called Rabbi Saul. This post (from his blog: 3-10-04) shows how close Reformed and Catholic thought is in this respect (as in many respects). I've slightly abridged it for presentation here (I'm trying to keep the posts as short as I can). The last two paragraphs are from one of Tim's subsequent comments.
I am becoming more and more convinced that for Paul, the gospel is ecclesiologically shaped. This is not to say that it is not soteriological (i.e. that it does not concern "salvation"), but rather the opposite, that in his view, salvation itself is an ecclesiological issue.

I have often expressed the complaint that 99% of Protestant (and even Reformed) discussions of salvation could dispense altogether with the church. Take, for example, the classic ordo salutis: election, effectual calling, justification, sanctification, glorification (or similar variations). The way this is usually articulated, the Church need not exist. Yet we think we understand the gospel when we can articulate such an ordo (and in particular, the "justification" section, which is narrowly focused upon faith and imputation).

Frankly, I don't think the author of Galatians would recognize us. Even more fundamentally, I don't think that we recognize him.

Paul is writing to a church that is being called upon to become circumcised and follow the Mosaic calendar (see 4.10). The so-called Judaizers are demanding this in order to recognize full covenantal membership of Gentiles. Paul introduces the Peter story as within this same category of thought - a story that is merely about table fellowship.

There is no evidence that Peter ever uttered a word to the Gentiles of Antioch that they needed to earn their salvation by keeping the Mosaic law. In fact, there is no evidence that the Judaizers in Galatia ever said so either.

But Paul treats both Peter's actions and the Judaizers' teaching as an assault upon the gospel. Frankly, I don't think that in parallel circumstances, we would - or do. Segregated communion in the American south has much more to do with Galatians than arguments over whether Norman Shepherd or Tom Wright has quite articulated the doctrine of justification properly. Reformed church A barring members of Reformed church B from the table has much more to do with Galatians than arguments over whether or not obedience is a "necessary condition" for salvation. Barring our children from the table until they can work their way over the hurdle of physiological development has far more to do with Galatians than whether we've quite managed properly to correlate the eschatological judgment according to works with the doctrine of sola fide. (If in no other way, yet here we may say that the Eastern Orthodox are being eminently more faithful with the gospel than are the hyper-orthodox-Westminster-is-inerrant-theologically-straitjacketed-defenders-of-"the-faith"-who-won't-share-a-table-with-anyone-outside-the-.00001%-margin-of-error-difference-from-themselves.)

And I suggest that the reason we usually fail to recognize this is precisely because, for us, the Church really doesn't matter. Salvation happens in your heart, in your heart, in your heart. The only Church that matters is the one you can't see anyway, because it's invisible. (Which really is no church at all. An invisible church without sacraments, without ministers, a church that you join in your heart is absolutely meaningless. The invisible church will do you as much good as an invisible, bodiless, incorporeal Christ. The bonus is that if you are satisfied with an invisible church, you will probably settle for a completely invisible heaven while you are tortured in hell in a merely visible and tangible state of existence, which we all know doesn't matter.)

Paul says that salvation happens at the font (Gal 3.27). It happens at the table. Those excluded from the table are delivered over to Satan (1 Cor 5) . . . "One baptism" is at the very heart of the Pauline gospel.

. . . we will never understand Pauline soteriology until we are mastered by his view of the Church. The Gospels preach "the gospel" without ever entering into technical theological discussions. They preach the gospel by presenting Jesus as proclaiming good news to the poor, as drawing the rejected and the outcasts around Himself and forming them into a new community. They preach the gospel by proclaiming the kingdom of God, a kingdom which is founded upon His death . . .

[W]e won't be able to understand the issue until we recognize that "salvation" is not merely an individual experience between the believer and God. The fall entails a loss of humanity, particularly in terms of community. Salvation entails the creation of a new humanity. Connection to Christ occurs in the form of membership in the body of Christ. Baptism (=being clothed with Christ) is baptism "into one body" (1 Cor 12.12-13).

IMHO, the Bible is relatively unconcerned regarding the direct question, "Can salvation be lost?" This is because the Bible's predominant understanding of salvation is shaped differently from our own. I am more concerned for us to reshape ourselves to the biblical pattern than to answer the questions that primarily arise from the wrong starting point to begin with. It seems to me that there are better, more biblical routes, to dealing with questions of assurance than getting into abstract discussions regarding whether "real" salvation can be lost. I will say, readily, that the number whom God has predestined to eternal life is fixed and unchangeable. I will say that there really are such people as hypocrites. But for the moment, I'll stop.

Dialogue on Christian Pacifism and "Just War": Biblical and Social Factors (vs. Dr. EL Hamilton)

Readers may want to read my original paper that Edward was responding to, to see my original argument in its entirety). When portions of the older paper (actually written in 1987) appear, they will be indented. Edward's words will be in blue. Steven's words (another person who commented) will be in red.

* * * * *

With regard to #1 the fallacy of prooftexting once again rears its ugly head. We select the verses that support our point and pointedly ignore those that might introduce complication.

If someone did that, it would be wrong, I agree (but technically, that is cynical selection of verses, not prooftexting per se). Simply citing a Bible passage to support some view, on the other hand, is not necessarily wrong at all. And if you disagree, I need to know why. It does me no good for someone to simply make blanket statements. I want reasoning, and want to know why I should reject some stated position of mine.

What about, "Love those that hate you, do good to those that abuse you?"

Absolutely; we are to do that. I don't have to hate an enemy in war in order to oppose him. Chances are the average soldier on the ground is just a pawn.

"If thine enemy sues thee for thy coat give him thy cloak also?"

That's right. These are all moral axioms that apply to Christians. But they don't rule out difficult choices to make in the face of evil, and resistance to it. You have to deal with all the biblical evidence and follow your own advice. You have to variously explain what I have produced.

I don't know if I agree or disagree with the substance of the post,

So you don't even have an opinion . . . duly noted.

but I strongly disagree with prooftexting any supposition or agenda item. Prooftexting deprives us of the fullness of the Gospel message and makes for poor argumentation. It is not fit for protestant circles and it certainly should not be used in Catholic circles, bearing in mind the warning that "The Devil can cite scripture for his own purposes." (And, in fact did in Luke 4 (?). After all he is the one who provides the biblical evidence for the temptations he offers.

You throw the baby out with the bathwater. You are reasoning that since some people distort Scripture, therefore we can't even quote it. That is not Catholic (or biblical). Vatican II is full of "prooftexts." So is the Catechism. So is any systematic theology. So are the Fathers when they confront the heretics.

So, once I ignore section one, which just aggravated me, I'll try rereading what you have written and see how convinced I am.


I think these issues are largely a matter of the individual and his/her conscience.

The individual and his conscience is different from the state and the power of the sword given to it, and from social justice issues. The state can't reduce to the atomistic individual.

Although the Gandhi material, which I was already aware of (and the fact that he allowed his own wife to die of pneumonia because giving an injection would be a greater violence to her body than the disease) is certainly a clear indicator of the extremes of pacifism and where they lead.

Okay; good. Thanks for expressing your opinion. I disagree with some of it, but isn't freedom of speech and expression wonderful?

Did you see the "continuum of force" posting at National Review's weblog a while back?

No. I haven't been following politics much. I will as the election kicks into full gear.

This was with regard to the observation of Herman Kahn that the "pacifism/militarism" debate really exists more as a spectrum than a dichotomy. Very few "pacifists" in Western culture really oppose all violence, in the sense that certain Hindu sects would-- at most, they only oppose lethal violence against humans committed voluntarily with full knowledge. (Just as most "militarists" are actually quite circumspect in their willingness to wage war.) Moreover, most persons claiming to be pacifists (including most of the Mennonites that I know) would object to "police actions", even ones backed by the threat of lethal force. (That was Jim Wallis' "alternative" to the Iraq war, incidentally.) Usually, the object of concern is not actions by an established "state" against "criminals" (which are understood as a necessary evil), but the use of symmetric acts of violence (individual against individual, or one sovereign nation vs another sovereign nation) that lack a biblical mandate.

I understand that there are many gradations to the position. I used to lean towards a mild pacifism at one point, in the late 70s. I was opposing the theoretical "purist" pacifism because that allowed me to get out as many arguments as I could, and things usually go to extremes anyway in contemporary debate, so I was going after the absolute position.

But even stuff like the opposition to the death penalty as a moral absolute (which is NOT the Catholic position, or that of Pope John Paul II) goes strictly against biblical revelation and needs to be countered with a good dose of Bible.

On a more fundamental level, I think the real debate is over whether the default position is toward pacifism (with exceptions allowed only when they draw strong scriptural warrant) or toward just war (with constraint of the concept of "justice" based on scriptural evidence).

I think it is both. Christians are to be peacemakers and advocates of peace whenever possible (that's why the pope speaks as he does with regard to the Iraqi War), but the reality of an evil world makes just war a necessity, lest multiple millions die. Imagine a victorious Hitler, for example. It is not Christian to sit by while a madman is systematically attempting to exterminate a race of people and to kill other non-Jews who impose on him or his designs.

Most Mennonites (excepting some liberal ones) would readily allow that the use of war is ethically permissible when authorized by God (as it was for the Israelites, and will be for Christ in the final war against Satan).

Good point. Of course they would probably deny that this could occur today, as most people claiming such direct orders from God are consigned to insane asylums or fringe storefront churches. :-)

The position labeled "Christian pacifism" is the more moderate position that war is forbidden for Christians and the Church during the "church age" (and thus potentially also for "Christian governments", although this is the point at which Quakers and post-Yoder Mennonites part ways with traditional Mennonites and the German Brethren groups).

Interesting. I really think all these positions are based on an unbiblical hyper-idealism. Individuals can choose to be martyrs if they wish, but they can't impose their idealism on all of society because we have to deal with serious social and societal evils "out here."

First off, I don't think you've been entirely fair in your characterization of the historical position of Christian non-violence ("positions", really-- John Howard Yoder recognizes over a dozen different varieties of Christian pacifism).

Yes, of course. How can one ever write about variants of Protestantism without generalizing? Every time you make some argument, a Protestant like you comes around and says (and I generalize here, too LOL), "ah, but that's not us," or, "Protestant groups a,b,c, . . . z believe differently than that." So one either has to write 150 papers, with each individual Protestant variant dealt with in each one (and who has the time or patience for all that? -- even with convenient cutting-and-pasting capabilities), or one has to generalize. I have chosen the latter course, but am happy to clarify and discuss anything which you think is overly-generalized to the point of distortion.

Among other things, I would note that very few self-identified pacifists that I know (including many good friends) would say that soldiers are no different from "mass murderers", as if there were no differentiation between violence for the sake of evil (an error in both means and ends) versus violence in defense of a good (an error, at most, in means alone).

Sure. I have no problem with that. I have dealt with the "purist" position so as to cover all objections. It immediately collapses from Scripture. The intermediate positions have their serious problems, too, as far as I am concerned (if we approach the topic strictly biblically).

Similarly, I don't know of any pacifists who would recommend "standing by and doing nothing" in the face of a threat to one's family. Pacifists would merely suggest that you would be obligated to intervene in some way that wouldn't involve the application of lethal violence.

When dealing with monsters like the Nazis or Communists, such a response is utterly inadequate and would only exacerbate the problem. When a Nazi SS agent comes in your house to take your child away (or a Jewish friend you are hiding), you immediately shoot him in the head. Same thing with an axe-murderer with a ski mask coming in and heading for your two-year-old daughter's bedroom. I don't own a gun myself (maybe I should), but I see nothing wrong with defensive actions such as these. They're not even self-defense if you are defending your wife and children.

I can't precisely claim to be a pacifist myself, but I certainly think it is a far more subtle and thought-out stance than you are presenting here.

Good; then I am delighted you are commenting, so we can work through the issues. Please bear in mind that this was a paper of mine from 1987, and I don't claim to have done an exhaustive study on the subject. Like many of my papers, it was an overview designed to challenge certain widespread, inadequately-examined assumptions. No more, no less. As such, I'm quite sure there is room for vast improvement. If you brought out a paper of yours from 17 years ago, we'll see how well it can stand up to extensive cross-examination from a guy with a doctorate. :-) :-) But I love all challenges, so I am up to it, even regarding ancient papers of mine.

Morever, it is worth noting that a range of perspectives exist along a continuum between pacifism and militarism, and arguments against the most extreme forms of secular pacifism don't necessarily apply to the historical doctrine of nonbelligerence known in the early Church (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Lactantius) nor to the later nonviolent stance of the Anabaptist "sects".

Granted. I have no problem with that. I always knew there were many variants. But I think you are also not giving me credit for the many qualifications in the paper I do make, showing that I do indeed recognize such distinctions and am not trying to paint with too broad a brush:

For those accustomed to viewing Jesus as the meek and mild type . . .

[i.e., not all pacifists -- I was referring to these particular folks, which include non-pacifists also]

The pacifist often argues that . . .

[i.e., other pacifists don't always argue this; implying difference of opinion]

. . . those pacifist strains [implying diversity of opinion] which denounce Christian involvement in government.

Of course, total pacifism has even more dreadful results, . . .
[T]he moral illegitimacy of the total pacifist outlook in the real world . . .

[i.e., there is such a thing as less-than-total pacifism, which would be immune to the charge]

For example, one could outline this spectrum:
1. All Christians morally obligated to participate in wars.
2. Some Christians allowed to accept a spiritual vocation that exempts themselves from war, while others allowed to serve, with both choices equally respected.
3. Christians who participate in wars understood as performing a necessary, and therefore not intrinsically sinful, service, but viewed as spiritually inferior to dedicated pacifist Christians.
4. Christians who participate in wars understood as performing a sadly necessary but inherently sinful duty that may require penitence before restoration.
5. Christians universally forbidden from participating in wars as combatants, but capable of serving in non-combatant capacities.
6. Christians universally forbidden to aid wars in any way, but also obligated to respect the authority of the state to conduct warfare.
7. Christians obligated to work to prevent even non-Christians from engaging in any wars.
I think this is good. Thanks.

Roman Catholics, I think, are obligated to embrace position 2, inasmuch as many monastic orders forbid their members from service in war.

Yes, that would be my position.

Position 3 is probably closest to my own,

Those of my position readily agree that war is a terrible, dreadful thing, to be avoided at all costs, but if it cannot be, participation in it is certainly not a sin, if the proper ethics of war are observed (not killing civilians, proportionality, etc.). No one is saying that war is this wonderful, delightful thing.

and position 4 is popular in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It is self-contradictory and ethically ludicrous.

Aside from the Quakers, it is hard to find many Christian pacifists before the 20th century who would have taken the hard-line position of 7.

Sure. People would have to respond to my points individually and agree or disagree.

Most of your criticisms seem to assume that no middle ground exists between position 1 and position 7, which I perceive as an oversimplification of the debate.

That's not true, as my qualifications listed above, illustrate. It is a generalizing overview about a complex moral issue, and about the hundreds of competing Protestant views. So it will read a certain way as a result, but that doesn't imply that I am "oversimplifying" (unless you equate that with generalizing, which would mean that every sociologist or anthropologist or pollster is a simpleton).

Further, one can identify multiple patterns for the emergence of more "mature" Christian moral theory:

1. Moral laws that were relaxed under the Old Covenant for the sake of "hardness of heart", but placed into full force by Christ. The teaching on divorce would be one example, and of direct relevance to the pacifism debate, since it occurs in proximity to the teaching on loving enemies in the Sermon on the Mount.

But the Sermon on the Mount deals with individual morality. That's a bit different from social issues involving governments and civic duties. St. Paul himself didn't turn the other cheek when he went on trial. He even appealed to Caesar. This proves that the Sermon on the Mount's ethics are not applicable at all times and places (else Paul committed a grave sin and was a moral coward).

2. Moral ideals that were always intended to slowly reach realization through the work of the Church. The abolition of slavery would be a good example.

I agree with that. Good example. This was a social and cultural issue, and those take time to improve.

Very few Christian pacifists would contend that pacifism had always been in full force throughout history, since that would be hard to reconcile with the Old Testament. But there is no conceptual difficulty in my mind with supposing that it might belong to either of the above categories.

Their provlem is in their view of the relationship between the two Testaments and covenants. God didn't change between the two Testaments. So what He commands in the Old Testament is as moral as anything He commands in the New. Understandings develop, however, and situations change. The Law wasn't abolished by Jesus; it was simply applied differently. So, e.g., circumcision was applied to baptism (an initiatory rite for infants, introducing them into the covenant community). The Sabbath became the Lord's Day, etc. That's why my OT examples are applicable, because those who claim to accept biblical inspiration cannot dismiss them simply because they are in the OT. It's not that simple. And many do this, as you well know, I'm sure.

To me, the whole question raised by the debate over pacifism is one of "absolute" versus "relative" degrees of obedience to the command to "be holy as God is holy". That is, I begin from what would be considered a "Pietist" perspective-- how we are to best submit our lives to the example of Christ-- rather than supposing that there is a purely nomic distinction between what is allowed and forbidden. I don't detect any inflexible antagonism of Scripture toward war, I just think that Scripture teaches (by the example of Christ's life) that war is inferior to peace as a path for Christians to follow.

Of course. But that doesn't mean there are situations where justice requires Christians to engage in warfare. It's not a sin to do that, at all. If you literally hate your enemy, that might be a sin, because it is an internal attitude forbidden by Jesus. We must desire the best even for our enemies. C.S. Lewis wrote about (in The Problem of Pain, I believe) killing a German soldier, and then when he himself died and went to heaven, the two of them laughing about it and understanding that it was part of their duty as soldiers. That jarred me when I read it, because I was leaning towards pacifism in those days (late 70s), but it makes perfect sense to me now.

That perspective makes me extremely reluctant to criticize either camp of the debate, while seeing merit to a world that allows for the coexistence of both paths.

I have no problem with conscientious objectors (I would probably have taken a similar path myself if I had been drafted during the Vietnam era, and my brother did all he could to avoid being drafted); only with people trying to make out that Christianity by its very nature requires some form of pacifism and eliminates the notion of a "just war." That's my main beef, if you want a concise statement of it.

Pacifism is at most to be regarded as an ascetic virtue, and not all Christians (and certainly not all non-Christians) are obligated to submit to every form of asceticism.

There you go; there is our common ground. Its like what we call the "evangelical counsels." Monks, nuns, and priests can choose the path of heroic celibacy and voluntary poverty and obedience, but this is above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak.

Virginity is a great good, but it hardly detracts from the lesser goodness of marriage. Giving up all your possessions to charity and living in evangelical poverty is a great good, but there are many saints still among the wealthy.

Exactly. I'm answering as I read, so we were thinking exactly the same thought there.

Against the three great idols that threaten to displace God in our lives-- pleasure, wealth, and power-- I see nonviolence as the third component of a triad of ascetic virtues. The Lord perfectly practiced all of them during his life. I don't think everyone is called to submit to that rule, but I do think that those who embrace one or more of those disciplines have done something commendable.

I like this analysis. I think it is a very thoughtful and biblical way to view the whole thing.

I also think that it's critical to recognize the interconnectedness of spiritual disciplines. Christ would never have asked the rich young man to sell all his possessions if that had meant abandoning a responsibility to care for a wife and children.

Yes, very good. Or if he had not idolized his riches, which is why he was asked to give them up because you can't serve both God and mammon.

So then, why do people feel obligated to commit acts of violence? To protect their personal property, or to defend family members.

God does this when He judges at the end of the age (and even before, when He judges nations), so as His creatures made in His image, sometimes we are called to judge evil and to rescue the oppressed through the use of force, because there is no other way.

For a monastic community made up of those who have already surrendered property and family in pursuit of the kingdom of God, pacifism will make good ethical sense-- becoming a martyr in the company of others who have voluntarily embraced martyrdom is a commendable death. Trying to practice extreme pacifism while refusing to turn over other areas of life will, conversely, produce ethical nonsense. The detection of that nonsense isn't an indictment of pacifism itself, but rather a sign that complementary virtues are being practiced unevenly.

There is a moderate pacifism such as you mention (and I agree with) and there is an extreme, leftist-type pie-in-the-sky version. I had the latter mostly in mind in my paper.

Christians must not merely decline to fight, they must consciously live their lives in ways that make warfare less necessary.


With respect to some of the specific objections below:

A. Our Lord Jesus acknowledged the right of civil defense: " . . . let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one" -- Luke 22:36.
First, I'm not sure I see any mandate for a "civil defense" in this passage. It doesn't really refer to the arming of the state, but only of the disciples specifically. (Just as the advice to "buy a money bag" isn't intended to authorize the state to collect taxes.) So I think the inference to public policy is a somewhat dubious one. But that doesn't affect the application of this passage to personal ethics, admittedly.

If one can defend himself personally with force, then it stands to reason that it is likewise permissible for states to do so (which will be more likely a scenario anyway). I have never had to defend myself in such a manner (I had all of two fights as a kid and won both with a headlock LOL). In my lifetime, however, the US has been involved in three major wars and several minor ones, plus the cold war for the first 31 years of my life. Besides, Romans 13 gives the power of the sword to the state. So Paul grants it to governments, Jesus to individuals. This ain't pacifism -- whatever one wishes to call it.

The real question is whether or not this passage is understood to be literal, and if so, whether it is a universal command or one narrowly tailored to a specific context. With respect to the first, there is a tendency for many commentators to assumed that Christ is speaking in a more figurative sense about the need to be alert to danger, rather than personally commanding all His disciples to purchase and carry swords. (If the text is taken entirely literally, it not only allows the ownership of weapons, it actually requires it!)

No, because it is a proverbial-type statement. But even proverbs (which admit of exceptions) cannot incorporate within them an evil or a sin, if they come from our Lord, or elsewhere in inspired Scripture.

When the disciples indicate that they already have two swords, and Jesus responds that this is "enough", this indicates either 1) that he doesn't really think they all need swords (so that the "whoever has" was nonliteral), or 2) he was speaking entirely metaphorically, and is annoyed by the literal-minded disciples. If one accepts the latter, one has to explain why he doesn't correct them immediately-- but perhaps the intent was to allow Peter to commit an act of violence and correct him in a more dramatic context. (This would be similar to the willingness of Christ to allow Lazarus to die, at the expense of causing some temporary grief and confusion, or to His willingness to use parables that the disciples didn't immediately understand.) It's also worth noting that a very literal reading of the entire passage would say that the two swords of the disciples were permanently "enough"-- i.e., that this was the fulfillment of the entire command, and that any purchase of additional weapons by the disciples (or later generations of Christians) is unauthorized.

Jesus also said "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." The saying under consideration is likely ironic -- at least in part, as a metaphor for the opposition to them which would inevitably come.

Even if we allow that Christ means the command literally, we still have to note that Jesus doesn't actually command them to use the swords. This seems like a technicality at first, but Luke's gospel immediately follows this text with the observation by Christ that this command is in connection with the fulfillment of a prophecy, "And he was numbered with the transgressors." This could just mean that Christ is warning His disciples that they are about to be regarded as criminals, and need to defend themselves. But that hardly seems consonant with the rest of Luke and Acts, where we never once see the use of any swords. An alternate reading, not without merit, is that Christ means that arming the disciples is itself a component of fulfilling the prophecy. In order for Him to be "numbered among transgressors", He needed to give the authorities some reason to think of His followers as "transgressors". So he gives a sword to Peter, knowing full well that Peter will be tempted to use it, and thus motivate the accusation that His followers were brigands engaged in sedition against the Roman Empire.

All of these are possibilities. That's fine. But I would contend that if use of swords were inherently wrong, then Jesus couldn't even use this terminology. It would be like saying, "let him who has no pornography sell his robe and buy some" or "let him who has not committed adultery sell his soul and do so." As such, it is a disproof of a hardline pacifist position. As for exact interpretation, I agree, there might be a number of plausible possibilities. That's what makes exegesis so much fun and challenging. John Calvin commented on the passage:

In metaphorical language he threatens that they will soon meet with great troubles and fierce attacks; just as when a general, intending to lead the soldiers into the field of battle, calls them to arms, and orders them to lay aside every other care, and think of nothing else than fighting, not even to take any thought about procuring food. For he shows them—as is usually done in cases of extreme danger—that every thing must be sold, even to the scrip and the purse, in order to supply them with arms. And yet he does not call them to an outward conflict, but only, under the comparison of fighting, he warns them of the severe struggles of temptations which they must undergo, and of the fierce attacks which they must sustain in spiritual contests. That they might more willingly throw themselves on the providence of God, he first reminded them, as I have said, that God took care to supply them with what was necessary, even when they carried with them no supplies of food and raiment. Having experienced so large and seasonable supplies from God, they ought not, for the future, to entertain any doubt that he would provide for every one of their necessities.
I think this is quite reasonable and acceptable.
B. Jesus accepted the notion of obedience to civil government in general when He said: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (in this particular instance, taxes, which, no doubt were used in part for maintenance of the Roman armies -- Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Luke 20:25).
There is, one would have to admit, a difference between obedience to a government and active participation in it.

The Anabaptist and Mennonite (and Jehovah's Witness) traditions eschew such involvement altogether (or close to that), so there are Christians (and non-Christian cultists, in the latter case) who do this. I'm sure there are Christian anarchists, etc. Someone will believe in every conceivable error.

So, for example, the disciples were expected to pay taxes, but Matthew was called away from his vocation as a tax collector.

The latter is an individual call, and has no bearing on tax-collecting in general.

In any case, we are only obligated to obey the government when it does not conflict with our fundamental moral duties as Christians. If the government established a forced abortion policy, for example, Christian civil disobedience would be justified.


So we are back to the original question of when applications of lethal force are consistent with Christian ethics. The issue of whether and how Christians can support secular armies is hardly one that finds any universal answer among Christian pacifists. I'd guess that only a minority of modern Mennonites are actually tax protestors. Christ's answer here doesn't seem to imply that paying taxes implicates the taxpayer in the decisions of the government-- to the contrary, the implication is that since the coins belong to "Caesar", getting rid of them could be regarded as an act whereby Christians disentangle themselves from the state.

I agree, but there are folks who want to pretend that avoiding all involvement in the "secular world" is possible. It is not. Jesus -- knowing all things -- knows this.

Critical commentators have noted that Roman coinage often featured a portrait of the emperor, along with an inscription blasphemously identifying him as a god. In that regard, there is a certain irony behind Christ's words-- the things of Caesar are not the things of the true God, and the disciples were being alerted to the importance of that reality. Being "obedient" to civil government was not at all the same thing as expressing approval for it.

Yes, but it was not total detachment, either. There is a happy medium in these things.

Rather, Christ was exhorting his followers to struggle against Caesar using the spiritual weapons of God, rather than Caesar's own impure weapons. (With good merit-- if Christians had merely plotted sedition and practiced tax evasion, they would probably have been much less successful in bringing about the overthrow of the pagan divinity cult of Caesar than they eventually were historically.)

The discussion of the Christians' exact relation to the state is very involved. We have to stick to pacifism itself, lest we get pulled in a hundred different directions.

C. In Jesus' short parable about counting the cost of discipleship, the example of a king going to battle was used (exceedingly strange, if warfare was an absolute evil -- Luke 14:31-33).
I don't think that any Christian pacifist would argue that warfare is an "absolute evil" like rape or infanticide.

Some do. After all, many argue in precisely that fashion regarding capital punishment, don't they? Thay act as if this is an absolute evil that disqualifies Bush and justifies voting for a good solid moral, puppy-loving Catholic like Kerry. But abortion is fine and dandy, of course. That is a "difficult" issue and poses no problem for a Christian . . .

That would be impossible to reconcile with the many Old Testament stories and psalms of Israel's victories, quite apart from this brief parable. But we must admit that many of Christ's parables speak candidly of "relative" evils, and sometimes even appear to praise them. There are many parables about the conduct of slaves, and yet we don't consider that a praise of slavery itself.

Slavery in the sense of servanthood is not an absolute evil, so I think the analogy fails.

One parable speaks of a shrewd steward who uses his absent master's money fraudulently, to obtain friends with the "Mammon of unrighteousness". Jesus makes clear that this is a commendation only of his shrewdness, and not of fraud in general. (If the children of this age are wise in the ways of evil, how much more should we be wise in the doing of righteousness?)

In any event, He is not making a point using an evil thing as an analogy, as He would be doing if absolute pacifism were true.

In another parable, God is compared to an unjust judge who is successfully worn down by petitions. The intent is not to establish that God is unjust, but rather to establish that petitions made of a Just Judge should be expected to be all the more effective. In short, it's tough to extract general moral or theological principles from the incedental details in parables, since parables are crafted metaphorical narratives with a highly specific target.

But my point still stands: Jesus never uses examples of outright sins (whoredom, gluttony, theft, etc.) as parables of spiritual truth. Thus, war itself cannot be an absolute evil.

D. Jesus didn't rebuke a Roman centurion for being a soldier, but rather, strongly commended his faith and healed his servant -- Matt. 8:5-13 / Luke 7:1-10.
The status of a "centurion" is not quite the same as a modern military officer. In an occupied territory, a centurion functioned more often as a chief of police than a soldier, and his soldiers often performed services of a non-military nature-- investigating crimes, or responding to emergencies like fires and floods. So it's not entirely clear that this particular centurion had ever seen true military service.

Is that your comeback? Wow . . . methinks you are getting a bit desperate, but you must be given credit for chutzpah and enthusiasm.

The fact that he was well respected by the Jewish elders who intercede for him (Luke 7:3) suggests that he was on good terms with the Jews, at least, which would have been unlikely if he had overseen the harsh suppression of Jewish revolutionaries (pretty much the only military action in Judea). But we'll suppose for the moment that he well might have-- and that if he hadn't, he had at least presided at the executions of criminals, etc.

There is good reason to suppose that the expectations that God (and Jesus) had for Israel were higher than those of pagan nations, and similarly, that the expectations for the Church were higher than those for Israel (cf. Luke 12:48). One notes that not only does Christ not ask the centurion to stop being a soldier, he makes virtually no demands on the centurion at all. For example, he does not baptize the centurion, although we know that baptism was a universal obligation that would eventually be placed on all Christians.

He didn't baptize anyone, that we know of, so this is a non sequitur.

During the early stages of his ministry, Christ devoted his attention to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 10:6, 15:24), and the function of the encounter with the centurion was to shame Israel by showing how the faith of a non-Jew exceeded that of Israel. For that reason, I think the "argument from silence" is a tenuous one.

I don't. The Samaritans were considered outsiders, yet when Jesus confronted the woman at the well, He spoke of sin with her (John 4:7-18). If this man had been in some serious sin, we have every reason to believe that Jesus would have rebuked him, just as he told the young ruler to give up his money, and excoriated the Pharisees. Therefore, if serving in an army were inherently sinful, it stands to reason that Jesus would have told him that.

Even later into the apostolic age, presumably, most persons converted by the church had been committing many sins before their conversions, and the act of repentance would always involve altering their lives in dramatic ways that weren't necessarily recorded by the authors of Scripture. It would be tacitly assumed that, say, the household of the Philippian jailer would be taught to avoid cruelly torturing prisoners (or fornication, or other sorts of sin), even if it wasn't actually mentioned in the text. So the appeal to silence would be begging the question.

I think you are special pleading, trying to avoid the obvious implications.

We can safely presume that new Christians were taught plenty of things not recorded in Scripture, and whether or not abstaining from violence (or certain classes of violence) was one of them is not answerable from the text.

I believe my point remains unrefuted.

E. Lastly, Jesus, being the Messiah, who had largely a military function throughout the Old Testament, will come again in great power as an all-conquering warrior. He Himself taught this on several occasions: Matt. 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64, etc. For those accustomed to viewing Jesus as the meek and mild type who wouldn't hurt a flea -- which wasn't true His first time here, either-- the account of His return will come as quite a shock: ". . . in righteousness He judges and wages war and the armies which are in heaven . . . were following Him . . . And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations . . . and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-21).
You will get no argument from me on this point, and I agree that many pacifists are guilty of overlooking this-- but I don't think that recognizing the glorious and terrible reality of God's inescapable vengeance is an argument against Christian pacifism, but rather in favor of it. This is, in a nutshell, Paul's position expressed in Romans 12:19. That is, if we already have a perfect Vindicator and Judge in Christ, there is little left for us to do-- and to the extent that we try to appropriate the duty of punishing evil for ourselves, we impinge dangerously on Christ's jurisdiction.

Then why does he give the power of the sword to governments exactly six verses later (Rom 13:4)? This is the whole point. You have entirely overlooked the context (and the original NT had no chapter and verse divisions). Paul says leave it to the wrath of God in 12:19, but then in 13:4 (RSV) he says that rulers are "the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer." It's the distinction between lawlessness, anarchy, and revolution, and lawful, necessary (God-ordained) use of force: private force is usually a bad thing; proper governmental force is often a good thing, for society, and for the purpose of God's wrath and judgment.

And that is precisely the argument at hand: just war and just use of police force and legal coercion are entirely permitted by Paul, according to the will of God. The only pacifism that can withstand this biblical counter-argument is the purely individual one thaat makes no claim on anyone else or on society by appealing to bogus "absolutes" which cannot be defended from Scripture.

I have little patience for mainline liberals who try to oppose war on the grounds that Christ is somehow an inherently peaceful figure. When the divine mission requires a Messiah of war, Christ will be warlike; when he comes not to judge but to save, however, Christ is peaceful and does not raise a hand against his enemies. For Christians who walk in imitation of Christ, it ought to be much the same.

I agree. We're not that far apart in most respects.

During this period of redemptive history, we have been entrusted with a ministry of healing and restoration, and not of vengeance and violence. And when the time finally comes to cleanse the earth by God's wrath, I doubt Christ and the heavenly legions will require much assistance.

Nope. Omnipotence is quite up to the task.

John's emphasis in his preaching was on repentance from evil-doing. Here is a man who unhesitatingly addressed a whole crowd of Jews who came to him as "You brood of vipers"! (Luke 3:7). Yet when Roman soldiers came to him and sought his counsel John said: "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:14). The significance of this cannot be minimized. Why in the world -- if pacifism is the true biblical outlook -- would John not tell these men to get out of the army immediately, to renounce all use of force, etc.? For the pacifist, this would be the moral and logical equivalent of not telling the prostitute to stop selling herself, or not telling the thief to stop stealing. Thus, the concepts of military service and war cannot be unmitigated evils.
The primary duty of Roman soldiers in Judea during a period of (relative) civil rest would be the collection of taxes. To say that soldiers should be forbidden to use force in the collection of taxes would place them in a position where they would need to defy their superiors. That was a pretty demanding requirement, more demanding than-- and thus inclusive of-- telling them not to kill anyone in the process of collecting taxes. Again, I don't think that any Christian pacifist is suggesting that Christians can't continue working as security guards, or controlling civil emergencies, or other peacekeeping duties. They should only be required to avoid, in the process of carrying out their duties, either beating people up or killing them.

We find the same compromise in the early Church; the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus writes: "A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath; if he is, unwilling to comply, he must be rejected." Being a "soldier of the civil authority" was permitted, but only inasmuch as one was willing to endure the risks of being punished for refusing to carry out orders to engage in violence. John the Baptist is here giving such an order. (One could try to gloss the passage by saying "Do not take money from anyone illegally by force", as some other translations imply, but that seems more like a selectively biased act of eisegesis to me.)

I find this more extraordinary special pleading: the Roman centurions did not ever kill people and these saintly ones who talked to Jesus and John the Baptist would never hurt a flea. And I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you too.

And again, just because John told them those three specific things, it doesn't follow that he laid no other burdens on them.

That's right. But if we wish to examine the biblical data, this is the sort of thing we repeatedly find. All you can do with it is claim that these individual soldiers were particularly righteous and exceptions to the rule of what a soldier normally does, by definition.

I'm sure that if a soldier spent his off-duty hours with prostitutes-- probably a much more common activity than any actual fighting!-- that John probably told him to knock it off.

Me, too. But that would only prove my point. What better place to say that being a soldier is intrinsically evil, than here? But you basically agree with me on the underlying broad issue, so why pursue this line?

The Apostle Paul: the greatest missionary of all time, and author of most of the New Testament, appealed to his Roman citizenship in protest of his beating and imprisonment (Acts 16:37-38), and to avoid being scourged (Acts 22:25-29). In fact, most of the last seven chapters of the Book of Acts, the history of the first Christians, is devoted to Paul's defense of himself before the Jews and various Roman authorities (the Jews had sought to kill him). During the whole legal process, Paul accepted the help of Roman military escorts and guards, in order to protect his life (Acts 23:12-33; 28:16), and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11).

. . . We also hear so much about the early Christians dying for their faith instead of resisting. However, in most cases they had no power to resist, as Paul did by virtue of his Roman citizenship, and the issue was usually a situation where the Christian had to renounce Christ and worship Caesar. Obviously, the Christian had no choice but martyrdom if he or she was to remain a Christian under these circumstances. This does not require that a Christian must die in a situation where there exists a moral escape from such injustice. Thus, Paul's actions are altogether moral and ethical, according to New Testament teaching. His example also shows the wrongness of those pacifist strains which denounce Christian involvement in government.

The function of Paul's appeal to Rome was not to avoid martyrdom, but 1) to present the gospel to civil authorities, as instructed by Christ in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:9), and 2) to seek his martyrdom in the heart of the Roman Empire (according to the prophecy of Agabus), where he could be a better witness to more people.

Sure, but he still was not averse to such appeals, and a strict application of the Sermon on the Mount would not allow this. By appealing to his Roman citizenship, he received much better treatment all through the proceedings and was beheaded rather than crucified upside down, as Peter was. So St. Peter was arguably far more heroic.

It seems odd to say that Paul was accepting the "help" of the Roman guards, when in fact it would be Roman guards who would eventually be responsible for putting him to death.

Why can't both be true?

He was merely selecting one venue for martyrdom instead of another.

Those things are secondary to my main point. Interesting, sure, but secondary. You tend to cover every jot and tittle, but sometimes that can mean perhaps not grasping the central issue at hand.

Moreover, there is at least incidental evidence to suggest that the influence of Paul on the centurion of his escorts was to restrain the violent tendencies of the soldiers (see Acts 27:42-43), and Paul is quite explicit about his intention to preach the gospel to his guards in Philippians 1:13. So clearly Paul is not simply trying to "avoid death", but has higher objectives in seeking to travel to Rome under guard.

He may very well have been doing both, and if he were doinjg so, no one can fault him, because Paul takes a back seat to no one in what he had been willing to endure for years, for the sake of the gospel. Don't miss my main point.

Being a prisoner who avails himself of certain legal rights is not quite the same thing as being "involved in the government" by choice, and it is awkward to go searching for a warrant for the latter by looking to the former. (I do agree that there is a defensible basis for Christian involvement in government, by the way, but I'm just not convinced this a particularly representative example of it. And if it were, than Christian who engage in civil disobedience to deliberately seek arrest would actually be following Paul's example at the most detailed level! Of course, many Christian pacifists do such things, and then try to avail themselves of as many legal rights as possible, and so are "involved in the government" in the same way that Paul was.)


And yes, no Christian is "obligated" to accept martyrdom where there exists a "moral escape", although there is definitely a virtue in vonluntarily accepting a spiritually edifying martyrdom as an example to others. The question at hand is one of determining which "escapes" are moral.

Paul didn't apply a strict "pacifist" interpretation of "turn the other cheek." Jesus said very little at His trial; Paul said tons. Different situations; different purposes (which is precisely why pacifism can never be an absolute).

Hebrews 11:32-34: " . . . Gideon, Barak, Samson, . . . David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight." These men and their military acts are extolled as examples of faith, a fundamental New Testament concept.
Again, I don't see any problem with the idea of God commanding warfare under certain circumstances and peace under others. The charter of Israel was to subdue the land, and defend the people of God in battle against the many foes that surrounded it. The Church, at least looking at the explicit text of the NT, doesn't seem to have been granted a similar mandate. One can find similar examples of conduct that was praiseworthy by OT standards specific to the mission and identity of Israel, but would be forbidden under the law of Christ. In Ezra 10:19, for example, the foreign wives taken by various Israelites are divorced at the command of Ezra and Ezra is commended as a righteous man for doing this-- but this hardly amounts to saying that modern Christians can divorce their wives on the basis of their ethnicity.

This is an excellent example (delighted you brought it up!) because it is exactly what an annulment is: the recognition that a supposed "marriage" is in fact no such thing because it violates some requirement of a valid marriage. In this case, it was the prohibition of marrying foreign women (because of probable religious corruption). So the underlying principle is still in force today (by you know who). The particulars change, but the presuppositional principle (that there is such a thing as an unlawful "marriage" which is not a valid marriaage) is still applicable today. Likewise, OT warfare and suchlike do not become immoral because they are old and God had a change of heart and methodology sometime between 300 BC and the time of Jesus. :-)

A more general critique of the idea of bringing the OT model for righteous warfare into the New Covenant would be the highly specific constraints placed on the conduct of Israel's wars. Deuteronomy 20:5-8, for example, instructs Israel to dismiss from its ranks as many soldiers as possible before battle (essentially, anyone who would have a good reason not to die), a completely irrational action from a military standpoint which could only be intended as an act of dramatic faith.

Of course, this is because God explicitly promised them that He would fight for their side (Deut 20:4). We don't have that guarantee today. We can still learn from and utilize principles that don't apply exclusively to Israel.

Other military heroes in the OT are often required to engage in similarly surprising anti-utilitarian strategies (at Jericho, or with Gideon's army), designed to show that the victory was worked by the power of God, not man.

Those are particular circumstances, with God promising victory. But still, this can't be used to prove that all warfare is evil, as you know.

When David begins to put his faith in armies by issuing a census (typically a precursor to a military draft), God punishes Israel severely. (See also Isaiah 31:1: "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, And trust in chariots because they are many."

This is not a trust in military might per se that was wrong, but a trust in man's might over against God's promises of victory. Thus, it is analogous to the rich young ruler's reliance upon his riches over against God, or Israel's yearning for a human king, rather than God being their only King. As these things do not make all riches or kings sinful, neither do the military examples make all military action sinful. With all due respect, your analogies fail, I think.

Disdaining all foreign alliances was another "special burden" of Israel that was essential to the "justness" of Israel's wars.) The burdens that Israel shoulders to demonstrate that they have divine approval are steep, and cannot be easily disentangled from the reason why God proclaims their champions to be men of faith. In any case, the occurrence of miraculous events like the fall of the walls of Jericho would have provided clear evidence of the will of God, and eliminated the central problem of "just war" theory (i.e., figuring out whether or not the war is really just.)

Our situation today is not like Israel's. God is not directly guiding us (as nations). We're not the Chosen People in the sense that they were. And we have the benefit of much spiritual hindsight. They were subject to many restructions so that they wouldn't be corrupted by the other nations, and so fail in their crucial role at the outset of redemptive history.

These are quite common and are used in reference to spiritual warfare. Some of the more notable examples are: II Cor. 10:3-4 ("weapons of our warfare"), Eph. 6:10-17 ("Put on the full armor of God "), I Tim. 1:18 ("Fight the good fight"), and II Tim. 2:3-4 (". . . a good soldier of Jesus Christ"). Again, it makes no sense to use such terminology if such things are absolute evils. This would be the same as saying "Be a good mass-murderer of Jesus Christ" (since pacifists consider all wars, as far as I can tell, as just that). The very existence of such metaphors is inexplicable if the New Testament teaches total pacifism. I believe it is clear, for all who honestly look into the matter, that there is no radical break in morality and teaching between the two testaments of the Bible. The underlying reason for this is simple: God does not change. He merely reveals Himself more fully and progressively in history.
Paul is quite clear that the appeal to spiritual metaphors is designed to draw a contrast: "We struggle not against flesh and blood..." (Eph 6:12) Appealing to our mandate for spiritual warfare as if it could be translated over into a mandate for temporal warfare would abuse Paul's intention here.

I agree. Again, you miss my underlying argument: this terminology would not be used at all if warfare were intrinsically evil.

I don't think that pacifists (at least not the ones I know) are "wimps" who find the very notion of struggle and conflict to be distasteful.

Some are. You generalize just as I do. It can't be avoided.

Spiritual enemies ("powers and principalities") should be vigorously engaged instead of human enemies, so that human enemies (whom we are charged to love) can be won over by the gospel of Christ and escape destruction at the hands of their demonic masters. I guess I simply can't accept your premise. There is a fundamental break in the mission of Israel (which really was commanded to struggle against "flesh and blood" foes, in ways that are unquestionably beyond what any "just war" theorist would allow today-- wiping out entire tribes and nations of people to the smallest child) and the mission of the Church (which, as Paul notes, fights its wars against supernatural enemies).

I agree with that. The argument was strictly from plausible use or disuse of military or "warlike" terminology in teaching spiritual truths.

And as noted above, there is nothing "absolute" about the evil of war-- it can still be understood as a tolerable or inevitable evil depending on the circumstances, rather like slavery. The argument is about whether or not the Church today functions within the same parameters as Israel, such that it is still a "necessary evil" for us.

Then I await a positive presentation of your view.

Being aware of the reality of resurrection-- that we should not fear those who can destroy only the body (Matt 10:28) in light of the power of God to preserve the soul-- fundamentally alters the ethical equation of war and martyrdom. It is rather like the difference between the OT ethic commending marriage and procreation, to a race of people who knew no other route to personal immortality, and the more theologically mature NT embrace of celibacy. God hasn't changed, but our understanding of God's purposes has improved to the point where old values are realigned in light of the new revelation.

I don't know what that means with relation to how and when we must engage in war against unjust and evil enemies.

For the pacifist to be consistent with his or her own position (the total renunciation of lethal force as immoral), all use of force within states must be condemned along with force between states. Police forces, judges, and politicians are all involved, directly or indirectly, in the maintenance of public safety. All states preserve order and stability by means of coercion and, if necessary, lethal force (the shooting of madmen holding hostages, riot control, prison sentences, etc.). Many pacifists do not wish to deny these societal institutions. Of course, total pacifism has even more dreadful results...
This is why there are, within Christian history, few examples of "total pacifism". Virtually all self-proclaimed pacifist parents, if they found a dangerous criminal stalking their children, would be willing to call the police-- in full knowledge that the police have guns and know how to use them. In that sense, what is usually termed "pacifism" is not a "pure" position, but merely a relative one. I don't think that there's anything contemptible about this. It shows a willingness to submit to the intent of Paul's words in Romans 13. Surely someone must bear the sword to punish evil. The only question is whether that class of "someones" should include individual Christians.

Fair enough.

(One should note, by the way, that even "just war" theory does not authorize us to conduct vigilante actions against criminals. Augustine was quite clear on this point, and virtually everyone until well the after the time of Luther agreed with him, that only agents of the state could use lethal force against criminals.)

Agreed. But self-defense in one's own house is a bit different from that. One is not roaming the streets looking for criminals to gun down or lynch.

What we need to consider is what would happen to civil order in a world where the state opposed evil using lethal force, while at the same time Christians used alternative methods of confronting evil. (There is also the possibility of using non-lethal force, which many pacifists would allow.) In where 80 percent of persons were non-Christian (or Christians who were non-pacifists), there would be little impairment of police functions. On the other hand, in a world where 80 percent of persons were Christians pacifists, we could sensibly assume that violence would be much less common (such that a vastly reduced police force would still be sufficient)-- and when it did arise, techniques of creative non-violent resistance or non-lethal force would be pursued (and applied) far more often and successfully. So it is hard for me to think of a possible world where Christian pacifism crosses over to become "evil" by depriving the state of a sword.

The world is not 80% pacifists. This is precisely why we need police and wars. The world has lots of malevolent and evil people: primarily tyrants and dictators who acquire military power for evil ends.

Of course, Gandhi's tactic of nonresistance in striving for independence from England, was a success because it was directed towards a people who had a measure of conscience and magnanimity. Likewise for Martin Luther King in the American South. Nonresistance, needless to say, would be absurd in Nazi Germany or Lenin's and Stalin's Russia, where marchers would immediately have been gunned down without the batting of an eyelid. Pacifism, like consistent atheism, once thought out in all its implications, will collapse from within, because it simply cannot be lived out.
First, I'll note that the property of conscience is a fairly universal one, and there is no reason to assume that Hitler or Stalin were successful because they presided over some unique generation of conscience-less citizens who would obey their every whim like robots-- in statistical terms, the proportion of "innately" good to evil persons in Nazi Germany probably wasn't any different from any other country.

My position is that the US is far more evil and morally corrupt than Nazi Germany. We have butchered 50 million children legally and claimed that this is no violation of legitimate law or morality or even Christian morality. And it is because of Christians voting for people who support the holocaust that it began and continues. We have murdered the most innocent and defenseless among us and deprived them of any earthly life whatsoever -- almost always because of our worship of the gods of venus and Moloch and our refusal to endure the self-sacrifice of being a parent or a parent or more children than our precious little desires and "wants" can stand.

And we have done so after being saturated with more Christianity and gospel than any nation in world history and being blessed with more material prosperity than anyone in history. Why we have not long since been consigned to annihilation and ashes under God's judgment (Sodom and Gomorrah could easily be our judges and look down their noses at us) is an utter mystery to me, but God's ways often are, so this is no surprise.

Rather, they governed through fear and deceit. If enough people under their rule had stopped fearing them, or succeeded in exposing their deceptions, they would have lost their power.

We should start fearing our lust and material prosperity if it leads us to child sacrifice to the tune of 4000 a day in our abortuaries.

Certainly there would have been some critical mass of nonviolent resistance that would have stopped Hitler. I don't think generating that critical mass would have been possible (nor will be possible in the future). But that is precisely because pacifists are so rare, and as such, they are not likely to undermine the ability of governments to fight wars-- which means that the whole debate is mostly a formal excercise concerning whether or not a small number of individuals who refuse to fight in wars are personally behaving morally or immorally.

Or it is a pipe dream exercise of hoping and wishing that enough people will be extraordinarily brave and heroic and self-sacrificing so that pacifism could ever work on a wide scale.

(The invocation of Stalinist Russia is an interesting one, since I think many pacifists would argue that it was actually a successful example of how the "shoot 'em all" tactic ultimately backfires on a repressive government, by undermining its moral legitimacy. But the point that you are making is that evil governments can work great evil (millions of lost lives) during a short period of time, and waiting around for a dictatorship to collapse is not usually a luxury of the victims.

Yes. I'm sure if you had lived in those situations, you would be much more "in tune" with my arguments.

Of course, in the case of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, I'm not sure that armed resistance would have been all that much more successful if practiced on an individual level. Shooting at Panzers with your shotgun is, to within the first approximation, not any better than lying in front of them.)

But at least you go out fighting the evil . . .

This is again a case where the consideration of actual circumstances makes the hypothetical problem appear less pressing. If pacifists make up only a small percentage of the population of those nations who oppose Hitler, then the war can still be conducted by the majority of non-pacifists. If we imagine a world where large numbers of pacifists exist within Christendom, then Hitler never comes to power in the first place. Once we allow the hypothetical that there are millions and millions of pacifists, we have to allow the conjugate hypothetical of hundreds of thousands of pacifist activists like Gandhi, and then the idea of Hitler emerging in the middle of that world looks pretty implausible. But really, all this entertaining of counterfactuals is beside the point.

Glad you said it . . .

For the indefinite future, there will be large numbers of non-pacifists who will be available to fight wars, and any wars that are fought will require enough nonmilitary support that the pacifists who decline to fight will still contribute usefully to the welfare of their country. (Through prayer, if nothing else.) Saying that Christians who submit to the discipline of pacifism are immoral because they will cause the triumph of evil is a bit like saying that Christians who practice celibacy should stand accused of trying to wipe out future generations of the human race.

They are immoral to the extent that they claim all Christians must do this, and that those who are fighting to end tyranny and murder are sinning. if a parent sits and lets their child die by a murderer under the principle of "turn the other cheek" when they could have prevented it, then they are guilty of the death of that child as an accomplice, just as the Jehovah's Witness is an accomplice in the death of a child who dies because of the asinine, stupid belief that a transfusion is "eating blood" or a hyper-faith pentecostal (or their child) dying because they're too proud and biblically-ignorant to admit they are sick and in need of a doctor.

All that aside, however, I concede the overall point that fighting Hitler was a necessary choice, given the world in which he arose. I think that you are correct, overall, to say that protesting against governments that wanted to fight Hitler would have been wrong, and amounted to allowing evil to prosper. My real concern is in observing that just because certain nations fought against Hitler, and were used by God to bring about his defeat, that didn't make them "good".

They were "good" insofar as they were used by God to "execute his wrath" and to judge the evildoer. Even Babylonia was used in that way to judge evil, so there is no particular reflection on the country God uses.

(Obviously, in this case-- one of them was Stalinist Russia!)


God can bring good out of evil things,

But it was not evil to fight Hitler. It was a righteous cause. Some of our conduct, however, was evil and immoral. Carpet bombing of cities was immoral. Dropping the atom bomb on cities was immoral. Our inaction regarding rescuing Jews was immoral, etc.

and that truth is importantly and paradoxically at the heart of Christian redemption. Was it good for Christ to be crucified, or was it sinful? Well.... both.

Those who did it sinned, but the voluntary sacrifice was not. But you can't say that fighting a war is evil and just at the same time. You can say the cause was just and that the conduct may or may not be just.

The "best possible world" (the "Pareto optimum", in game theory terms) is the world in which everyone is a pacifist, such that wars are impossible. Working to attain that world (or more realistically, creating communities that practice that model for demonstration purposes) is not an evil in itself. What would be an evil is for such communities to impose their ethics on a world that wasn't mature enough to accept them.

I've dealt with this above.

Now questions for you:

1. How do you explain the virtually unanimous patristic consensus in favor of at least some sort of moderate pacifism during the second and third centuries, in contrast to the total absence of any presentation of the later "just war" position?

The early Christian communities were not empowered politically, and so they had no choice. Christianity had not yet been institutionalized in any earthly government. And many of those governments were persecuting them. So in that context, we would expect Christians to be urged to suffer and die for Christ's sake against the evil governments. They took the Revelation 13 route (government represents antichrist) rather than the Romans 13 route (governments can execute God's wrath by God's design).

With the arrival of a Christian Roman Empire (313 and Constantine) that changed. Now that Christians had a hand in government they had to work through the difficulties inherent in being in the world but not of it, and the relationship of civil and Christian duties. In other words, it was a matter of development by means of experience and circumstance (as with virtually all Christian doctrines and moral teachings). So Ambrose and Augustine worked out the just war theory.

Likewise, with the threat of the Donatists, Augustine decided that use of force was not wrong, when they were using force and threatening to overturn society (just as in the later threats of the Albigensians and the Peasants in Germany in 1525, and -- so Lutherans thought, the Anabaptists: all long discussions in themselves). Or, one might compare it to the prohibitions of usury and then the later fuller understanding of a moral use of interest within capitalistic economic theory.

2. Why do you, as a Catholic, feel justified in taking the prohibition against divorce in the Sermon on the Mount quite strictly, but not the commandment to "not resist an evil person"?

Because marriage is an individual thing, and there are ontological realities involved ("the two become one flesh"). Use of force can be both an individual and a corporate, "state" thing. As an individual, I can choose to turn the other cheek and be a hero and a martyr if I want (and bear witness to Christ in that way) or I can act like Paul did and find some way to avoid the unjust persecution for the moment, also (hopefully) for God's glory.

Furthermore, there is no counter-evidence about the prohibition of divorce elsewhere in Scripture (I found some very interesting stuff from Protestants about the so-called "Matthean exceptions" in the course of researching my latest book). But there is plenty of corroborating evidence for non-pacifism elsewhere. We compare Scripture with Scripture.

3. Do you think that we can draw any moral insight at all from Christ's decision to come to Israel-- quite unexpectedly-- as an entirely peaceful Messiah in the face of an overwhelmingly violent and cruel empire?

That was His mission (Isaiah 53: the suffering servant). He will come in might the next time. It has no bearing on social ethics in general, because nations and governments are not the Messiah: His was an absolutely unique mission that can't be generalized to all mankind. But certainly a peaceful stance on an individual level should be sought after, if at all possible, and diplomacy and peaceful solutions to avoid war are part and parcel of just war theory.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 11 March 2004.