Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dangerous Assumptions

Just war theory has become a very malleable and subjective theory. Those desiring to provide a justification for a certain war often find any reason that provides "legitimate" justification for the use of lethal force. The problem is that the just war criteria is exactly that, a set of established criteria. Seven points need to be satisfied to establish the right to go to war. Often when Christians attempt to cite just war theory, these seven points are not met, or even acknowledged.

Even more, certain assumptions are usually made by proponents of this personal "just war" theory. Walter Wink, using the work of John Howard Yoder, identifies these assumptions. Wink identifies "that one's own family, friends, and compatriots are more to be loved, or are more beloved of God, than one's enemies. It assumes that the life of the attacker is worth less than that of the attacked. It assumes that responsibility for preventing evil is an expression of divine love even if it involves the death of the aggressor. And it assumes that letting evil happen is as blameworthy as committing it. It also assumes that tyranny is worse than war; that national sovereignty is essential for national identity and integrity; that the intention of liberating one's people from despotic rule authorizes the use of unloving methods; and that God is so interested in our nation and its political and economic system that everything must be risked to preseve it."

A starting point for us may be to actually use this criteria for just war. I am certainly willing to concede that Christian ethicists and theologians abiding by this criteria will avoid some unnecessary wars. Yet, Walter Wink pushes us further. Wink proposes that "we terminate all talk of just wars...'just war' sounds too much like 'war is justifiable'...Christians can no more speak of just war than of just rape, or just child abuse, or just massacres."

These suggestions are difficult, but we have seen in our history how very slippery the slope becomes when wars begin to be justified.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"It also assumes that tyranny is worse than war; that national sovereignty is essential for national identity and integrity; that the intention of liberating one's people from despotic rule authorizes the use of unloving methods; and that God is so interested in our nation and its political and economic system that everything must be risked to preseve it."

I fail to see anything wrong with those assumptions. And while I don't presume to know about God's interests in our nation, I think that it's perfectly natural (and, yes, rational) for humans to use deadly force to prevent themselves from being cooked en masse in death camps, or being enslaved, or having planes fly into their buildings.

Organizations or nations who perform such acts on us or our allies should have every expectation that they will receive a good old fashioned ass-kicking.

If you'd defend your own family against intruders bent on doing them harm, where's the moral stretch between that and dealing with larger-scale threats on behalf of your country (or society)?

Utopian navel-gazers will only become slaves of the next jihad.

Aggie G said...

I agree with you. Remember that Jesus came in peace. The Jews thought he had come to be a great king but instead said "my kingdom is not of this world." And did he encourage Peter in the garden--no--he healed the soldier's ear and went peacefully--giving a great example of non-violence. Thank you for being a calm, rational, rebuttal to our country's current nationalistic policies.

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