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Christians and war: WHY I AM NOT A PACIFIST: the pacifist reply – P. Dransfield

October 11, 2018

APFPhilip gave my this booklet in the early 1980s. It is a collection of articles he’d written for Challenge, the magazine of the Anglican Fellowship.

  1. “PACIFISM IS STARRY-EYED IDEALISM. IT IS NOT PRACTICABLE”

Reply: Any militarist who takes the view that the world can be improved by resorting to war and using today’s weapons of vast destruction must be ‘starry-eyed’ to the point of self-deception. As a method of solving the world’s international and social problems war must be regarded as the least practicable that man can devise.

Pacifists are idealists as all Christians should be. They are not starry-eyed. They are concerned that the teachings of Christ should be applied as he intended in the belief that this teaching is the only effective remedy for the evil that is in the world. Pacifists believe that Christ’s teaching is certainly practicable, and is intended to be applied in this world here and now.

Christ warned that those who did not apply his teaching would perish in houses built upon sand. This is clearly the doom awaiting those who consider that the only practicable policy is that of waging war.

Pacifism is idealism. It is practicable. It is Christ’s way of dealing with evil and violence and therefore will be effective when applied with faith and courage and determination.

It is worth recalling that during the last century it was considered `starry-eyed idealism’ to abolish slavery. Wilberforce with a few Christian friends accepted the challenge. He was convinced that what was morally wrong was never expedient and had to be got rid of, whatever the cost. We know that the campaign succeeded.

In the same way, having at long last realised the wickedness of war, we have to take the necessary steps to renounce it. The alternative to pacifism could be world destruction.

  1. “ARMED FORCES ARE NECESSARY TO DEFEND OUR INTERESTS. FORCE IS THE ONLY EFFECTIVE WEAPON IN POLITICS”

Reply: A complete denial has to be made to these assertions. Armed forces arc not necessary, nor are they desirable, to defend our interests. Force is a very ineffective weapon in politics as it never succeeds in changing a man’s opinions.

‘To defend our interests’ can cover a multitude of sins, especially when allied to a philosophy of ‘my country right or wrong’. We should look to the reasons for being so concerned ‘to defend our interests’. If our interests as a country conflict with the interests of others it should not be a matter of who has the largest forces, but the decision of an international court of law.

In fact armed forces are now equipped with such destructive weapons that no country’s interests can be defended by resort to force. There is the paradox that in a full scale war with.atomic weapons the destruction would be so complete that the ‘interests’ thought so worth defending would no longer exist! In other words, the complete futility of armed force has been demonstrated in our time.

The saying that ‘might is right’ has always been a heresy to Christians. Before we start rushing ‘to defend our interests’ we have a duty to look at the claims that other people are making and have a concern that they are given justice.

By a strange irony we find that the pressing duty on our armed forces today is to subdue warring factions in Northern Ireland, members of our own community. We can also say that after ten years of occupa­tion they have not solved the problems there and in some places they have aggravated them. We can see there a practical demonstration that force is not an effective weapon in politics, and we can also draw the reasonable conclusion that force is a complete failure in achieving social justice and bringing harmony and peace.

  1. “IN TILE OLD TESTAMENT GOD TOLD THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL TO FIGHT THEIR ENEMIES”

Reply: Jesus told his disciples that there would.be people who, in killing them, would think that they were doing God service (John 16.2). More­over, Jesus himself was put to death by order of the Jewish religious leaders of his time who also thought that they were doing God service (Matthew 26.3-4, John 11.49-50).

So it is more than a probability that the people of those times who were persecuting and killing the prophets were greatly mistaking God’s intentions in regard to their enemies. It is also more than a probability that there was some false prophecy. Some Christians certainly find it hard to believe that God would tell people to ‘smite the Amalekites’ and ‘slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’ (1 Samuel 15). It is made even more incredible when Saul is pronounced by Samuel to be under God’s judgement for sparing the best of the sheep and the lambs and oxen! A vindictive streak in Samuel’s nature might equally well deserve God’s judgement.

Some Christian saints have found it difficult to be certain of God’s guidance in particular situations, and they had the promise of the help of the Holy Spirit. There is no reason to suppose that the Old Testa­ment prophets were gifted with infallibility all the time, however sincere their intentions.

Jesus came with a New Covenant to rectify and replace the Old Covenant. He told us to love our enemies and to bless them that cursed us. He would not have told any people to ‘smite the Amalekites’. Some people appeal to the Old Testament as the word of God but there cannot be two standards. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and he is the one we must follow. Now that Jesus as the Light of the World has brought us illumination it would be tragic indeed to justify waging a destructive war with modern weapons on the basis of the doubtful morality, and immorality, of a section of the Jewish people in pre- Christian times.

  1. “I ADMIT THAT PARTS OF THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS WERE PACIFIST BUT THEY WERE MEANT TO APPLY BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS ONLY”

Reply: Some of us believe that not only the whole teaching of Jesus but his life and ministry were pacifist in precept and in practice. Even non-pacifist Christians have admitted that this was so.

In a sense all the teachings of Jesus were addressed to individuals but this does not mean that a community can dismiss the teachings of Jesus as being of no consequence. Once a Christian gives his allegiance to Jesus it is his duty to put his teachings into practice whatever community he may be living in.

The idea must be erroneous that a Christian is no longer bound by the rules of Christian conduct because his community or government takes a non-Christian attitude. No government can claim to be above Divine law. It is when a Christian is challenged by a non-Christian community that his witness is especially vital.

In the case of war, governments have assumed that they can order their citizens to break the commandments and disobey Christ’s teaching. The relevant commandment then is ‘Thou shalt not kill’ but this is not the only commandment broken in warfare. It is virtually impossible to fight a war without condoning deceit and dishonesty. One does all one can to ‘bear false witness’ in order to mislead the enemy. The Church has been guilty of compromise in these matters.

Sadly, the Church has not so far given to Christian conscientious objectors the support that they should have been given. Nevertheless these men refused to take part in war because of their loyalty to Christ, and in doing so made a genuine contribution to peace.

What is wrong for individuals must also be wrong for governments. There cannot be two standards of human behaviour as based on Christ’s teaching. If he taught pacifism it is our plain duty to practice it.

  1. “YOU MUST HAVE ARMED FORCES TO DETER AGGRESSION. YOU CAN ONLY NEGOTIATE FROM A POSITION OF STRENGTH”

Reply: Those who use this argument presumably concede to others the rights they claim for themselves. So all other countries can act on the same conviction that they must have armed forces to deter aggressors, and they must amass sufficient armaments to be able ‘to negotiate from strength”.

Taking this argument further, each country must be stronger than any of the others before it feels able to negotiate at all! What an absur­dity, and what a succession of errors and fallacies underlie this mode of thinking!

It is a matter for comment that men, apparently intelligent in other things, cannot see the folly and stupidity of insisting that we all nego­tiate from strength. It is a situation for Alice in Wonderland. After all, if a country feels stronger than its neighbours it would see no point in negotiation!

The point must be made that armed forces do not always deter `aggressors’. A country can become so embittered and desperate through injustice and oppression that it may choose to wage a war against heavy odds. The deterrent effect of armed force then counts for very little, and the outcome of the war may be determined by the state of morale of the fighting armies.

What the Christian can see at present is that huge amounts of money and manpower and valuable resources are being wasted by the nations in the armaments race. It can be confidently asserted that no nation in this century has taken any steps towards disarmament that were not imposed on it by others. Furthermore, in recent years we have had the galling spectacle since the last war of the defeated nations being encouraged to rearm and being financed for this purpose. Is that the way to peace?

The only way to peace is for Christian citizens to unite and insist that their country begins to disarm, by international agreement if possible, unilaterally if not. The state of mind in which men insist on negotiating from ‘a position of strength’ can best be described as `megalomania’. It is a mental illness requiring treatment.

  1. “PACIFISM WOULD NEVER HAVE GOT RID OF HITLER AND THE NAZI REGIME AS WAR DID”

Reply: On hearing the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 an English politician, more far-seeing than others, said “This means war in twenty-five years”. In fact the war came in twenty years. To that poli­tician the war was determined by the terms of the treaty rather than by any particular German regime or leader.

If a country is defeated, humiliated and embittered it thinks collectively in terms of revenge and war. This is what happened to Germany. Christian pacifists in 1919 wanted a much less harsh treaty but were ignored. If their advice had been heeded the second war might have been avoided. As it was, Hitler expressed the wish of the German people to get back to the old frontiers, and so the war started, with an attack on Poland.

In fact, the guarantee given to Poland by Britain could never be honoured, because other factors dominated during the war, and Poland became a subservient state to the Russian Soviets. So let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that the war succeeded in its objectives. Nor should we deceive ourselves into thinking that the war was started to remove the concentration camps, as they were not there when the war started.

There is a limit to the usefulness of going over old history, as nothing can alter it. We can only hope to learn lessons from it. One lesson which seems obvious is that the world is a worse place because of the war. Weapons were invented under the pressure of war which stagger the imagination in their powers of destruction.

It must be stated that the United States of America and Britain combined scientific forces to discover the atomic bomb. Two of these bombs were dropped on Japanese cities in 1945, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians far removed from battle areas.

If we accuse Hitler and the Nazi regime of callous indifference to human life are we not also accusing ourselves?

  1. “I BELIEVE THE OLD ADAGE “IF YOU WANT PEACE PRE­PARE FOR WAR”. IT IS NO GOOD SHUTTING YOUR EYES TO THE EVIL IN THE WORLD”

Reply: Centuries ago good Christian people believed that the sun went round the earth. As it happened precisely the opposite proved to be true. The life of Galileo was threatened because he proclaimed that truth.

The ‘old adage’ quoted above happens to be a lie. A glance at history will show that it was the heavily armed nations which fought most wars and enjoyed less peace than others. The truth is “If you want peace, prepare for peace”! Preparation for peace means disarmament, which is the opposite of preparing for war.

We must not be too surprised, in declaring the truth, to share some of Galileo’s unpopularity. People today, as then, do not readily accept the overturning and reversal of their sincerely held misconceptions. But truth must prevail and it is by the truth that we are made free.

It is not true that Christian pacifists are either unaware of the evil in the world or unwilling to take note of it. My own experience indicates exactly the opposite. Christian pacifists are often more aware and better informed about the evils in the world than many others. One reason for this is that they do not allow their consciences to be dulled by national­istic propaganda or influenced by military pride or prowess. Their observation of the evil in the world leads them to see the vital impor­tance of applying Christ’s teaching as a practicable remedy ‘while there is yet time’. This means renouncing all war and all preparation for war and so putting an end to threatening each other with evil and destruc­tive weapons.

  1. “I VALUE MY FREEDOM AND AM PREPARED TO FIGHT FOR IT. THERE ARE WORSE THINGS THAN WAR”

Reply: All men should value their freedom and do all they can to ensure freedom for others. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is worth quoting:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

So we are all agreed that we should place a high value on freedom. Where we disagree is over the claim to have the right to kill other people as the price of our freedom. This claim is not compatible with acting ‘towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’. Neither is it compatible with the commandment of most world religions — ‘Thou shalt not kill’.

Within the state a man may be deprived of his freedom by legal imprisonment, prejudice, persecution or even kidnapping, but this does not justify him in killing his guards or warders, or inflicting injury on his persecutors. Certainly Christians throughout history have shown willingness to be imprisoned for long periods as the price of their wit­ness to the Faith. They have done so without retaliation.

John Bunyan is an example of a man who was imprisoned for long periods rather than give up his preaching. As it happened, he turned his loss to good account by writing his book ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. Many other Christians have died in jail, many in our own day.

In the international field a man’s claim to freedom should no more give him the right to kill than it does within the state and nation. A temporary loss of freedom may have to be accepted as one of life’s hardships in the way that it has been so accepted by many national leaders who were so imprisoned.

The longer that men are prepared to wage war and kill others to settle national claims so much longer will it take to establish the judicial procedures whereby claims can be settled by the United Nations Organisation in a peaceable manner.

If there are worse things than modern war I do not know what they are! With its mass murder by obliteration bombing, napalm burning of civilian men, women and children, atomic devastation, spying and gross deception, poisonous propaganda, epidemic V.D. and deliberate destruction of food, forest and wealth, modern warfare is a blatant denial of all Christian values. That is only a short catalogue of its evils. Spiritual corruption cannot be assessed but most assuredly occurs.

  1. “YOU CAN’T GET AWAY FROM THE WORDS OF JESUS, `RENDER TO CAESAR THE THINGS THAT ARE CAESAR’S AND TO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S’. THE STATE HAS GOD’S AUTHORITY BEHIND IT”

Reply: Probably the greatest scourge on mankind during the past 100 years has been the worship of the state. It is a form of idolatry and as people have indulged in it so the state has increasingly usurped the authority of God. Nationalism today can be seen to be a most evil force.

These words of Jesus are among the most misused and ill-applied in the whole New Testament. Jesus was saying nothing to diminish the auth­ority of God or to build up the authority of Caesar, who was a foreign overlord. The question about tribute money was intended to trap Jesus into giving a wrong answer but it did not succeed in this. The answer Jesus gave allowed Caesar to claim the small coins on which were his ins­criptions, but also made clear that God was to be given the things which were His.

To Jesus the claims of God were paramount. The claims of Caesar must be trivial in comparison with those of God. God claims the whole life of men, their devotion, obedience, activities and love. If Caesar tries to claim all these things he is going beyond his rights and has to be resisted.

It is significant that when seeking to crucify Jesus the chief priests shouted “We have no king but Caesar”. (John 19.15) When men kill other men ‘for their country’ they are implying the same words: “We have no king but Caesar”. The slaughter in the various wars during this and other centuries must be attributed to the fact that men were giving the claims of Caesar priority over the claims of God.

Thousands of people died or were put to death in concentration camps during the 1939-45 war because men in authority obeyed the orders of the state and not the commandments of God. Tragically many Christians on both sides in the conflict were mis-applying these words of Jesus. Are we prepared to continue the error?

It is a mistake blandly to assume that the state has God’s authority behind it. Governments consist of men who are sinful and who can be greatly mistaken. Their actions and decisions must be subject to Chris­tian scrutiny and correction.

There are many regimes in the world today exercising brutal auth­ority and imposing torture and death on people at a mere whim. It would be a foolish man indeed who would try to say that these oppressive states had God’s authority to support them. Clearly they have not.

On this matter let St. Peter have the last word when he was defying the authorities.

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God you must judge for yourselves”. “We ought to obey God rather than men”.

  1. “YOU ARE ASKING ME TO DISOBEY THE CIVIL POWER. IT SAYS IN ROMANS 13 THAT `THE POWERS THAT BE ARE ORDAINED OF GOD. WHOEVER RESISTS THE POWER RESISTS THE ORDINANCE OF GOD’. SO YOU HAVE YOUR ANSWER THERE”

Reply: It may sound impolite to remark that the devil sought to prove his case by quoting scripture but it is true nevertheless. It can also be recalled that one of the temptations the devil put to Jesus was to dominate the kingdoms of the world by violence and warfare.

One thing we can be sure about is that St. Paul did not write any part of this letter to the Christians in Rome to justify warfare either then or now. In any case it is very unreasonable to pick out two verses from this epistle and ignore so much else.

In Romans 12 St. Paul wrote the following: “Bless them which persecute you. Bless and curse not”. (v. 14) “Recompense no man evil for evil” (v. 17) “Avenge not yourselves … if thine enemy hunger feed him, if he thirst give him drink . .. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”. (vv. 19-21).

In Chapter 13 he writes: “Owe no man anything but to love one another, for he that loveth hath fulfilled the law” (v. 8) “Thou shalt not kill” (v. 9) “Let us put off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light”. (v. 12)

If all these injunctions taken together do not condemn all types of warfare it is difficult to know what does!

St. Paul was quite willing to disobey the civil powers if they tried to prevent him from preaching and living out the gospel of Christ. He and Silas were imprisoned for disobeying the orders of the civil authorities. Peter had confronted the magis­trates with his answer “We ought to obey God rather man men”. This still applies to Christians today. We cannot blandly assume that all powers and authorities are ordained of God. Clearly in harsh and cruel regimes they are not.

In fact it was in the Roman empire in tne fourth century that Christians were involved in widespread civil disobedience. They refused to regard the Emperor as divine and so refused to offer any tokens of such belief such as burning incense before his image. Many Christians lost their lives for their witness. But “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church” and before the end of the fourth century the Emperor Constantine declared the Christian faith to be the recognised religion of the Roman Empire.

We can make no claim to have “cast off the works of darkness” until we have renounced all cruelty, torture, “balance of terror” and warfare. It is quite impossible to defend or to advance the Kingdom of Christ by such means, and nowhere does St. Paul suggest otherwise.

  1. “WE HAVE NO DESIRE TO KILL ANYONE BUT WE MUST HAVE THE MEANS OF DETERRING OTHERS FROM INVADING US OR WEAKER NATIONS”

Anyone desiring to kill other people must be regarded as being in a very abnormal state of mind. But it must be pointed out that this abnormal state of mind is deliberately encouraged during war when soldiers are indoctrinated with hatred against the enemy and are told lies to help overcome their natural inhibitions. A high state of military `morale’ is reached when soldiers are willing to kill men on the other side without compunction.

The statement appears to imply that although we don’t like killing people we reserve the right to do so if they try to invade us or weaker nations. The next ‘logical’ step is to make large numbers of weapons with which we can kill other people, which we really don’t like doing. The other nations are adopting the same misguided philosophy and are doing the same thing. So an arms race is established and the skids are set for the next war.

The truth of the matter is that men who feel that they have a cause to fight for are not deterred by threats to kill them. The martyrs of the Christian Church were not deterred by threats to kill them and nor are soldiers who are dedicated to their cause. To quote one recent example, the Vietnamese went on fighting when their country had been turned into a vast area of bomb craters, and a million people killed.

The difference is that Christian martyrs are motivated by love and die without retaliation. Soldiers are motivated by enmity and often revenge and they retaliate by every possible means.

The prayer of the weaker nations today should be: “Lord, deliver us from our friends as well as from our enemies”. Weaker nations are less vulnerable than those stronger nations which have stock-piled atomic weapons to the point of ‘overkill’.

Christian pacifists are concerned to ‘deter others’ by preaching and applying the Christian gospel and not by threatening other nations and peoples with instant destruction and annihilation.

  1. “OUR EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC SITUATION IS SO GREATLY

DEPENDENT UPON ARMS PRODUCTION. IS IT POSSIBLE TO TURN OVER TO PEACEFUL PRODUCTION?”

One evil aspect of our materialistic society is that it is tending to attach more

importance to possessions and standards of living than to human life and welfare.

Last century it was argued that the abolition of the slave trade would bring economic ruin to Britain but this proved to be quite untrue. I believe that abolition of arms production would open up the way to true prosperity by using energy to manufacture a wider range of civilian goods and requirements.

It can hardly be denied that the widespread sale and distribution of arms increases the likelihood of war somewhere in the world. So we are open to the accusation that we are rating our own economic welfare as of greater value than the lives of other people.

If we are more concerned to keep up our arms production than we are about people being killed in Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and other countries, then we have our priorities terribly wrong.

I would myself rather live in poverty than take any part in the manufacture of destructive weapons or other armaments. It is regrettably true that some Christians are helping to make destructive weapons which they would not dream of using themselves. The argument that if they did not make them someone else would, is morally not valid, and if applied to extremes could be used to justify torture and genocide. Indeed modern atomic weapons do inflict torture and genocide.

There must be a return to a sense of personal responsibility. We must not `sell’ our consciences to any government however benign it may appear to be. There are many evil ways of making a fat living but no Christian would wish to obtain wealth in those sorts of ways. The same principle should apply to the community as a whole if we are going to make any claim to observe Christian standards.

There is a great deal of evidence to indicate that a change-over to peaceful production could be made without too much difficulty. Much research has been done on the subject and some schemes have been worked out in detail. One interesting scheme under discussion at present is that drawn up by workers of Lucas Industries. The ‘Lucas Aerospace Corporate Plan’ is designed to enable Lucas Industries to change over from the production of military products to the manu­facture of useful civilian products of various sorts.

Unless we are prepared to take this kind of step we shall find that we have a `vested interest’ in war and destruction. Only by the sale of more weapons would we be able to keep up our ‘standard of living’. We should have in mind that selling weapons means suffering and dying for other people.

We have a duty to reduce and eventually stop arms production as soon as possible so that we can turn over to peaceful production. This will happen only when we decide that it must happen. I believe that this would be the road to true prosperity for all nations.

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