Friday, 7 October 2011

Why I am not a Pacifist

"If we could stand back from our prayers . . .
we would see how easily we pray for improved circumstances, 
but how difficult we find it to pray for enlarged character"
 Robert Warren

Like the vast majority of right thinking people, I have never been a fan of war - its horrors need no rehearsing, forming as they do nowadays part of the news bulletins streamed into the cocoon of our homes more often than not. What is more I have long thought that Jesus' teaching, his life and most particularly his death defeating death - powerfully suggest that to refuse to take arms against another human being is indeed the Christian Way.

Yet, I declare Here and Now that I am not a Pacifist. And you may ask, given what I have already said why not? Is it not an act of disobedience not to take this position given what I have said? Well, No - I do not think that it is an act of disobedience.

But let us muse on that phrase a moment or two longer, 'an act of disobedience not to take this position'.

I could argue that I am mentally confused about it - (as indeed I could about many things :-) )
For example, I have long been an admirer of the thought of the predominant Christian ethical voice of the last two decades, Stanley Hauerwas who not only argues most presuasively for Pacifism as the only authenitc Christian position in this regard, but also dismantles the claims of those who say they are pacifists, most noticeably John  Howard Yoder. [See Hauerwas: - Performing the Faith - Bonhoeffer and the practice of non-violence - (SPCK, London. 2004) Ch 7]

There again I listen to another mentor, Dr Victor Shepherd, a most thoughtful Christian teacher and pastor. I listen to his analysis of Pacifism and as he says, he could argue for it, indeed he wants so to so, but for the images that run over and over again in his head of Jewish children being loaded into cattle trucks bound for Auschwitz.

One writer with compelling arguments for, and one teacher with heart searing reasons finally not to take this  position, against.

So, you might argue that I am not a Pacifist because I cannot make up my mind - but that it seems is never finally the real reason why we truly adopt 'A position'. [It is interesting to note in this regard that CS Lewis in Screwtape Letters suggests that 'Strongly Held Views' can be wonderful diversions from the life of faith . . .]

No, I am not a pacifist for two related reasons - firstly I have never, and as I am now in my 50th year of life in all likelihood will never, be required by whatever country of which I am a citizen to bear arms. So to declare myself when others may well be so required to do seems to me to be morally questionable. What is more I have never yet and by the grace of God never shall live somewhere where hearth and home come under such attack that I am faced with the choice to act or not, to kill in the defense of others.

Thus it seems that to declare myself either one way or the other is purely an act of . . .?? that is it - it is no act at all

So secondly I am not because to truly be a Pacifist has nothing to do with my convictions - in the end I can only be a man of peace if my heart is one where peace rules. Put another way, I can only truly be a Pacifist if that fruit of the Spirit, Peace rules in my heart so that my Actions are those of a man who embodies this fruit of the Spirit in his very being.

The title of this blog you may  have noticed was filched from that of a famous pamphlet of the early part of the last century by the philosopher Bertrand Russell - 'Why I am not a Christian', and it seems to me that I might similarly have entitled this blog. For the Christian life is in the end just that - the embodiment of the Life of Christ's Spirit - and that fruit has a long way to go to be full grown in me yet.

And there I might close and sit in my room and pray this fruit into existence, for how else will I become such a person, but that in my passivity He acts to bear fruit - yet I cannot sit content with that as a response. For it seems to me that it buys to easily into a private pietistic attitude that is widely held yet fails to produce those who in their lives reveal the light of Christ in such a way as to cause others to ask questions.
          But, you may ask, if sitting around in my room in the presence of The Presence (to quote one spiritual guide) is not enough  - is there anything I have given me that might help me to become what I am called in Him to be?

And the answer is an emphatic Yes - but it is a gift we largely ignore nowadays trained as we are in finding our own Way. It is the gift we receive in Baptism, incorporation into Christ's body, that group of people called in their common life to embody the fruit of the Spirit - yes indeed to Be Christ in the World. I may say more of this at another time, about how we are called to be disciplined communities that the Life of Christ might be revealed in us, that we bear much fruit. (We must not forget that Jesus addresses this Word Firstly to the Church as he speaks to the Disciples and that it is only secondarily that we might presume to hear it as individual members - to refuse this, to bypass the church in our hearing of the word is to remove ourselves from the One who speaks and is poisonously presumptuous)

I conclude with some words of Hauwerwas that I think are worth thinking upon with benefit in the case of the pacific fruit and adapted for the others
If we are as Christians to survive the violent societies that threaten to engulf us, we will do so just to the extent that we discover  . . . worthwhile activities through which we learn not just to be at peace, but that we love peace. . . Non-violence cannot be explained, it can only be shown by the attractiveness of the friendships that constitute our lives.
ibid. p 183


  1. Pacifism is an ideal, a principle, and as with all ideals, if we follow them and seek to live by them, we inevitably reach a point where the ideal must be chosen above anything else. If you are a pacifist then your ultimate aim is non-violence, no matter what the cost...
    This puts me in mind of Bonhoeffer's "Who Stands firm?" (L&P "After Ten Years"), in which he reflects that trying to 'do the right thing' by following reason/principle/conscience/duty/freedom/piety, will never succeed, for reality is not based on such things. "Reality rests on the living creating God." We live in the Presence of God and it is He who shapes our actions.

  2. Terrific - thank you for that!
    Perfectly expressed
    So it is Life in the Spirit, no?