Friday, August 26, 2005

Jihad Jeopardy

UPDATE: For a great introduction into the Just War tradition, particularly in relationship to American foreign policy, check out this lecture by Jean Bethke Elshtain. Dr. Elshtain is a professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago. Also be sure to check out an interesting post on the ThinkTank regarding Justin Martyr's take on the relationship of church and state.

Lately I've been reading a book by J. Daryl Charles (a Union University ethics prof.) called Between Pacifism and Jihad.

It's something of a primer on just War theory, and as such critically interacts with the recent neo-traditionalist and pacifistic trajectories of Yoder and Hauerwas. Though it has its fair share of mischaracterization, and in my estimation doesn't reallly do justice to the heart of Yoder's theological critique, its been rather informative as to the development of America's consensus on the ethics of war and violence. It also highlights how Just War advocates are driven by precisely the issues raised by the weaknesses of the books mentioned in my previous post. But just as Hauerwas and Camp raise some unanswered (or insufficiently answered) questions, Charles raises a few of his own. I thought I'd post some of them for your comment and interaction:

  • Does Augustine’s concept of “two cities” accommodate the apocalyptic aspects of the Gospel? In other words, how does someone with a "dual citizenship" emphasis preach the kingdom of God as a real alternative to the kingdoms of this world?
  • If pacifism marginalizes civic responsibility, does just war theory inadvertently marginalize the Gospel as only dealing with “otherworldly” concerns?
  • How can one be faithful to the exclusivity of the Gospel and at the same time admit a basis for justice and peace not rooted in the Gospel (but are instead “rooted in moral realities” that are not “narrowly Christian” pg. 60)? In other words, does Just War Theory cleave faith from reason in Enlightenment fashion?
  • Is just war theory naïve in assuming that modern acts of war are in fact an execution of justice aimed at restraining evil? In other words, when governments resort to war in their pursuit of agendas outside of God’s moral will, with no redemptive trajectory in sight, can that war be called “just”?
  • Is it naïve to assume (as just war theory does) that one can pursue public policy (including war) for the best good of all apart from religous or ideological motives? If so, the question becomes: which religious or ideological motives should be driving these decisions?
  • When can pursuing national interest and international competition be called sin, and when should it be considered a necessary good (as appropriate boundaries of stewardship given by God)?
  • By what authority is a state recognized as legitimate so that it may fulfill the duties assigned to it in Ro. 13 (including "bearing the sword")?

I don't even have a provisional answer to any of these questions, so be a pal and PLEASE COMMENT!!!

10 comments:

matt said...

Before I make any comments, I think you should make a correction . . . the book is "Between" not "Beyond." People are going to start talking and your reputation will be ruined.

TheBlueRaja said...

Correction made. Consider my universally lauded and well-deserved worldwide fame safe and sound. Now make a real comment, you little grammar viking . . .

metalepsis said...

Wow these are really good questions, and yet I don't feel like I have any good answers. Hmm?

I would only question the standard interpretation of Rom 13, I think in the flow of the argument it is much more subversive, and antagonistic to Caesar’s rule than the surface at first reveals. I guess that is a start…

Tommy said...

Hello Sharad and company...I'll venture a comment on this one. I'm really enjoying your blog, brother. Thanks for doing it. The lack of good answers to the questions you've raised is what maintains my inclination for Yoder's vision of God's people in the world. Also, while I think there may be something more to Rom. 13 as metalepsis suggests, it's worth remembering the authorities Paul speaks of (i.e. those of the Roman justice system), not exactly an ancient bastion of justice as we think of justice today, esp. if you lived in Judea. Maybe that sort of justice is in the same category as that of Nebuchadnezzar's imperialistic war on Judah, complete with rape, pillage, enslavement, and divine stimulation. Is the justice Paul speaks of in Rom. 13 scrutable without prophetic insight for us to then "support" it or "oppose" it if it doesn't measure up? It seems to me manifestly not the justice Christ's body is to directly execute or empower, though one nevertheless that God will reliably use to punish evildoers, even when its agents' motives are sinful. In Romans, it is a justice to be feared by Christians who deduce from Paul's previous exposition of God's revolution of humanity/creation in Christ that they are to overturn worldly powers (à la the contemporary, brewing attitude of "Israel according to the flesh," less than a decade from armed civil strife and all-out war with Rome). A conflict emerges only when the church mistakes its calling to priestly holiness for one to "justice," a confusion brought on by Constantinianism and especially the "national solidarity" of the French Revolution/Enlightenment. Perhaps this should keep us to protesting what the perpetrators of the Iraq War claim to be achieving by it and Christian participation in it rather than the "justice" of the war per se, as condemnable as it seems to me. My guess on the last question is the disconcerting way "the kingdom" is established in Daniel: whoever controls a territory by violent force has received the power to rule it by the sword by God's permission...

TheBlueRaja said...

In what way do you see Paul's admonitions in Ro. 13 as subversive (even antagonistic), Bryan? Do you follow Yoder's line on this passage?

TheBlueRaja said...

Sorry so long getting back to you, Tommy! I'm very sympathetic in regard to your comments, but I have to say that I don't believe that any final conflict exists between a call to priestly holiness and a call to uphold justice. In fact most of the indictments of the prophets (Micah, Isaiah and Amos, to name a few) were about the replacement of justice for putative religious adherence to the "holiness" code. The critique that comes like hammer blows, over and over again throughout the major and minor prophets is that God wants His people to embrace and enact His vision for the world, partly by defending the orphan and the widow. Challenging this injustice ("standing in the gap", Ezk. 22:30) was part of Israel's vocation, wasn't it? Even if the sole purpose of God's kingdom, reflected in the Church, was to model this justice in their own communities, it seems as though condemning those who come to the aid of the oppressed with retributive justice would be a confusing message.

Tommy said...

No problem on the delay! Sounds like I may have been less than clear. The key in my mind is the kind of justice we're talking about. If by "upholding justice" you mean what the Roman authorities are doing in Rom. 13, I don't think we can have a direct hand in it without forsaking something essential of the church's vocation (e.g. Rom. 12.19-21). What (divinely) vengeful justice (Rom. 13:4) must we have a direct hand in in order to "stand in the gap" for the weak? Of course I agree that we are called, as Israel was, to the (kind of) justice of assisting the orphan and widow, especially within the church and also without. To me, this is part and parcel of the holiness to which Israel and the church was/is called, not something that can be excised from it, leaving "holiness" to encompass only compliance with ritual (e.g. Ez. 22:6-8; Am. 2:7). However, the church has a host of ways in which to aid the weak without being the agents of retributive/vengeful justice against their oppressors.
What did I write that suggests that we should condemn those who come to the aid of the oppressed with retributive justice? That we are not to be God's agents of divinely vengeful/retributive justice does not imply in my mind that we are to condemn those who are. I agree that such condemnation would send a confusing message. Believing that we are to be the agents of retributive justice or that we are to condemn those who are results from the same confusion of holiness and "justice" that I alluded to. That the church is called to love its enemies as part of its holy identity in the world seems to mean that it cannot be the agent(s) of retributive justice. It does not mean that it should condemn foreign powers for being such agents anymore than Israel was to condemn foreigners for eating the unclean (e.g. Deut. 14:21). "Justice" and holiness overlap, but they are not coterminous. There is a justice that the church is called not to enact. My question re: Rom. 13 and the final question of your list is, how do we know when retributive justice is less than legitimate so that we have grounds to oppose it? I don't know how to scrutinize vengeful justice; I only know how to fear it.

TheBlueRaja said...

I think I'm the one that's being unclear, Tommy. Here's what I was getting at - if we reject the use of violent force as not part of the coming age, and if we model and embody that coming age by not participating in these forms of coercion, and if we further are modeling and proclaiming this non-violent kingdom in order to have the watching world enter into and participate in it as God's ideal, how can we take any other stance against violent coercion but condemnation? How can we say, "Violent force is wrong for us, but necessary for you" even though our mission is to get them to live like us?

As for helping the oppressed, I understand how compassionate ministries of the church can partially fulfill this role. The tension I feel comes in when I consider the above in the case of violent aggressors threatening harm to a third party. I can turn my own cheek, but do I turn theirs? Do I admonish them to submit to hurt, rape and slaughter? Do I admonish the government to intervene with violent force while at the same time decrying violent force as incompatible with the kingdom of God to which I belong? I'm not asking these questions as defeaters for your view, or suggesting that the issues are insoluble, but they do give me some pause in embracing the Yoder/ Hauerwas' trajectory.

Given the above, then, I don't necessarily see the vocational call to holiness as set apart from the prophetic call to uphold justice (even retributive justice). That's not to say, of course, that the church is a fighting force - it is to say, though, that I can see how (if very stringent criteria are met), in theory at least, a Christian could participate in retributive justice authorized by the state.

The other thing about Ro. 13 that seems pretty clear is that Paul knows that Romans use the sword for all sorts of other purposes than "upholding justice" and "punishing evil" (consider the latter half of Ro. 8, for instance). In light of that, it'd be interesting to hear some interpretations of this passage proposed, whether subversive, quietistic, activist, or otherwise . . .

Tommy said...

Thanks for the reply, Sharad. The questions you raise are certainly among the most difficult of the non-violence position, and I confess that I have my own misgivings about the non-violence answers. Here’s a few thoughts for what they’re worth.

I think Yoder would respond to your first paragraph by saying that the main basis for the non-violence commitment of Jesus’ disciples is not their embodiment of the Kingdom/age to come but the cross. The evident discontinuity between God’s coming Kingdom and its present, inaugurated form can always allow us to fudge in our discipleship since Jesus “will come and fix everything anyway.” But when the cross, both Christ’s and his peoples’, is understood as the divinely ordained, redemptive vehicle from the present age into the coming one, the call to non-violence is not as easily circumvented. The cross is certainly more than non-violence, but I’m not sure it can be less. There is an important difference between modeling God’s coming Kingdom and modeling God’s coming Kingdom amidst a world in rebellion. The difference is especially important when Jesus’ disciples’ non-violent sojourn in temporarily foreign territory is an integral part of the means to its true liberation.

As for the final question of your 1st paragraph, I don’t think we ever need to say “violence is necessary for you” to unbelievers. That God uses violence for his purposes, or that the present world order is built on it, doesn’t seem to me to constitute grounds for its license/necessity for anyone, Christian or otherwise.
Is anything less than “God’s ideal” condemnable? I dunno... I guess I’d say those aren’t the ethical categories we find in the Scriptures. Were Israelites to condemn foreigners for consuming swineflesh? Passages like the one I cited in the last comment (Deut. 14:21) seem to indicate not. Wouldn’t God’s ideal have been for Israelites to proselytize resident foreigners rather than offer them unclean food? Maybe a modern analogy would be if democracy advocates believe democracy is the ideal governmental system, should they condemn all non-democratic monarchies? Or, to take an oft-cited example in Spain, should we condemn those who hand out condoms to unmarried, sexually active young people in Botswana? If not, should Christians hand those condoms out? Israelites were not to loan money to brethren at interest, Christians not to loan money expecting anything in return at all. Was Israel to condemn Edomite usury? Should we condemn the banks of the world for loaning at interest or expecting people to pay them back? The complex ethics of the Scriptures for God’s people does not seem to me to yield to categories of good and bad or just and unjust or God’s ideal and condemnable. Though these categories are not totally unrelated (we are after all admonished to abstain from “evil”), the biblical categories for the ethics of God’s people seem to be more along the lines of holy and unholy, obedience and disobedience to God’s covenant commands, following Jesus’ example and not following Jesus’ example, Christianly/Spiritually and worldly, etc. I feel like it’s enough to say killing people is presently the world’s way of combating evil, loving them non-violently is the Christian way. That’s part of the way Jesus’ disciples are to be salt and light in the world. So I guess I don’t see why an appeal to embrace “God’s ideal” necessarily implies a condemnation of everything less. The difference between combating evil with violence and combating it with non-violence is that between the road to redemption and the road to maintenance. Given the biblical data (e.g. Rom. 12-13), the category of holiness seems the best for non-violence since it is a particularistic ethic, i.e. unholy outside of God’s people is not necessarily condemnable. (Priestly holiness is perhaps especially relevant since the Levites were not numbered among Israel’s fighting men. That certainly doesn’t mean that the Israelite military was condemnable. The church of course is a kingdom of priests. Even Titus (Flavius) thought divine priesthood was incompatible with killing and apparently committed himself to abstain from shedding blood after becoming pontifex maximus.)

As for third parties, I confess I pause as you do, especially feeling the way I do about my wife and children. My tentative convictions though are that humanity isn’t smart enough to make the decisions necessary to act as “justice” advocates suggest, and that the criteria for establishing the moral compulsion of retributive justice are so stringent as to be unintelligible from our perspective (e.g. Babylon’s war on Judah), without clear divine guidance. God’s vengeance is simply God’s business. We’re in no place to determine that slaying an attacker is the best way to combat evil, even if it does save lives in the immediate situation. Nor do we need to settle for standing by while third parties are ravaged. Many means of protection besides killing are at our/their disposal. Most of these, in which the attacker’s life is not assumed to be less valuable than that of the victim, are left untested when people assume they have the moral authority to destroy their enemy. God’s intervention, though not guaranteed, is not given a chance. As for foreign governments/states, I don’t see why we should feel any compulsion to admonish them. “What do we have to do with judging outsiders” (1 Cor. 5:12)? Apparently Paul felt no compulsion to hold the world accountable by applying some shared criteria of justice. (Accountability was offered by other means.) Perhaps there is no common ground of “justice” to which he could appeal in order to condemn unbelievers unequivocally. And at the end of the day, I can’t seem to (exegetically) escape the Lord Jesus’ call to his disciples and the apostles’ subsequent reinforcement thereof. Telling them to respond to Roman soldiers as he did seems historically equivalent to admonishing them to face hurt, rape, and slaughter and then at the future onset of war, flee...unless Jesus simply thought that at that time self-defense would be “unsuccessful” or that a war against Rome would be “unjust,” both of which are fraught with problems. Likewise, his reproof of Peter in Gethsemane censured the noble defense of an innocent third party. Jesus seems to say that such response escalates rather than curbs violence. God himself asked Jesus to submit himself to humiliation and torture. We can scarcely call God unjust; that was/is the means of redemption. I feel like any time we mark out some piece of creation as “within our power” and then make it sacred so as to justify destroying life to protect it in accordance with our sense of “justice” without clear divine guidance, we reinforce weak humanity’s calculated self-destruction. Just to be transparent, my thought as I write this is that I’m still trying to convince myself of this stuff...

Re: Rom. 13, Neil Elliot makes an interesting argument for understanding Rom. 13:1-7 in the context of imperial propaganda (in Horsley’s volume "Paul and Empire"), though I recall finding it somewhat unconvincing personally. Taking what Paul says at face value, given what we know about Rome, does seem somewhat hard to swallow though. If convenient geopolitically, many of our contemporaries would have found the empire in need of “liberation” given the injustices rampant in Roman lands by the hand of Roman lords, with Nero singing the fall of Troy from his private stage while his people in Rome were incinerated in flames...Geez.

I should also mention that, unlike me, Yoder does seem to find retributive justice scrutable, to be bolstered though not “exercised” by Christians (he talks about this in "The Original Revolution" and I think in "The Christian Witness to the State").

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks for your insightful post, Tommy!