Thursday, July 24, 2008

Regarding Anti-War Extremism

Over the last few days I've been on a big hip hop kick. That doesn't happen for me all too often, which means that I don't personally own much hip hop to speak of. So I've scratched that hip hop itch primarily through the Flobots (of "Handlebars" fame), both in a friend's car and now through their myspace.

Trouble is, while I appreciate a lot of their musical originality and think the rapping is pretty solid (but then, what do I know about that, really?), I quickly tire of just how extremely anti-war they are. It's great that some Christians are out there caring about social justice (seriously, I mean it), but is the last section of "Handlebars" really comparing the Iraq War with the Holocaust?

Seriously- the Holocaust? You know, that time when 6 million Jews died and World War II started? The evil to which we now compare all other evils- that Holocaust. Is the Iraq War really on par with the Holocaust? I hope I'm misunderstanding the Flobots lyrics.

Trouble is, even if I am misunderstanding the Flobots, this is the kind of language I hear from anti-war folks all the time, most certainly including Christians. I addressed this issue originally in my first post as one of the bloggers at Christians in Context, so I don't want to simply regurgitate that material. But I do want to note a few thoughts I've recently had on the Iraq War and war in general (some of which you have come across before) that, for me at least, need to be addressed before I'm willing to become an Iraq War hater specifically or a full bore pacifist more generally.

Just because I am not a pacifist (or that I may support the Iraq War specifically) does not mean that I love killing people. I lament it, in fact. But I may think it is a necessary evil to achieve a greater good.

Further, why should we not look at this in a somewhat more utilitarian way? This is a question I have raised a number of times and have never had satisfactorily answered. That is, if the idea is to kill the least amount of human beings possible (not just Americans, but all human beings, as we are members of the Kingdom first and the state second, and we of the Kingdom recognize all humans, Iraqi, American, Kurd or otherwise, to be made in the image of God), isn't it reasonable to think that the war was a good idea if in fact it removed a dictator who was torturing and murdering so many of his own people that those deaths did and would have outnumbered the number of war casualties? It may feel cold to just compare numbers, but I honestly cannot think of a better way to evaluate it if the controlling criterion is dying people.

That comparison, I think, is exactly why most of us not only approve of, but even applaud America's entrance into World War II. Hitler's atrocities were so glaring that going to war, with all of the deaths that it brought, appears to have been a good idea. So I ask the obvious question to those who are opposed to war in principle: was it or was it not a good idea or even morally virtuous for America to enter into World War II? And for argument's sake, what if Pearl Harbor had not happened? Would it then have been a good idea for us to enter WW II?

I suppose what I am getting at is the same thing that bothers me a lot of the time in popular Christian thinking, namely a lack of real thoughtfulness. All of the extreme language of a group like Flobots is provocative, but ultimately does not lead at least me to action, because it just feels too extreme and not well thought out. I (and I think many others) are actually turned off by language that seems reactionary and I try not to change my beliefs until they are confronted by ones that are more carefully thought through and presented. If you are, in this case, a thoughtful pacifist, I respect that. But if you're out there calling the Iraq War a new Holocaust, I cannot take you seriously.


Anonymous said...

It's funny (strange) you mention all of this in the context of "Anti-War Christians" because so many of the Christians I know are still very much "Iraq War Supporters".

That being said, I (who did not support the war) can't even compare it to Vietnam, let alone the Holocaust. But I suspect that many of us who weren't around back then may simply be expressing concern over what may be the start of a slippery slope (like Vietnam)

I don't see this happening, but maybe they do.

P.S. - I just listened to the song "Handlebars" and I think the point of that song was the escalation of technology leading to death and destruction. In the context of the album as a whole, I can see how you may come to your conclusion. But in the end, I think they're just trying to be cool.

David W. Congdon said...

"Just because I am not a pacifist (or that I may support the Iraq War specifically) does not mean that I love killing people. I lament it, in fact. But I may think it is a necessary evil to achieve a greater good."

First, I can sympathize with you to a limited extent regarding unnecessarily hyperbolic rhetoric regarding war. However, according to OT law, one violation of a minor law is morally equivalent to the violation of the entire law. In other words, there is no hierarchy of sins. Any sin is a sin against God and therefore of ultimate significance. Thus, for those who take a pacifist stance (like myself), the violation of the command to not take life is, in a certain sense, morally equivalent in the cases of the Iraq War and the Holocaust. That's not to say the two situations are equivalent, but if there are no gradations of sin, then the sin of one war is equivalent to the sin of another.

That issue aside, as a pacifist who is resolutely against the Iraq War, I am appalled at your moral reasoning: violence may be "a necessary evil to achieve a greater good." Where in the NT do we ever receive that kind of moral reasoning? This is the kind of political realism which subordinates Scripture to what is politically expedient and seemingly necessary to accomplish what we think are necessary goods. In other words, it makes us the arbiters for what is right, instead of making the much more difficult decision to abide by God's consistent command in Scripture to live in peace and love.

Benjamin Camp said...

two things.

1. i agree with david almost entirely. i think that the way of the cross is the normative response to violence of any kind for the christian. our ethical imperative is to absorb and subvert violence, not to respond to the sword with the sword. the christian response to the sword is the plowshare. the disarming of peter in the garden stands as a type for the disarming of all christians.

2. archshrk- i dont think the flobots are striving for cool, but actually for the prophetic.

Andrew Faris said...

Thanks for the comments, folks.

Archshrk: I tried to be tentative about my understanding of the Flobots lyrics, so you may well be right. The song is just what got me thinking, and the language is not terribly uncommon in my experience.

David and Ben: your responses are thoughtful and helpful. Let me briefly respond myself.

First David, while I do think that all sin separates us from God and is seen as sinful in God's eyes, I do think that there are gradations of sin. If not, why are there different levels of punishment in the OT Law? On top of that, isn't it just intuitive? Is lying really as bad as killing 6 million Jews (while we're on the subject)?

More importantly, your appeal to NT language is a better challenge. Let me take it one point at a time.

First, you could not have been a pacifist if you lived as a faithful OT Israelite. So to say that Scripture consistently calls us to "peace" at least is difficult for me. That is to say, there were quite a few times when God told the Israelites to kill everything in sight, and it was just. So as I have argued on this blog before, so that such a blanket pacifistic stance appears to me biblically untenable. In theory some wars must have been just, or else God would have not commanded those wars.

Now obviously, God has not commanded us to go to war now, so other conditions for me to be willing to go to war have to come into play. Ben: I think the Peter analogy is a poor one because the issue seems to be so much that Peter still had no idea that the Messiah needed to die. The better analogy with this case is to say that there is never an instance in which a Christian should fight back against religious persecution. That is abundantly clear. And the reason for that is the one you've given: we go to the cross for our beliefs.

But the issue of war, I think, is a different one. For one thing, can we not apply the clear biblical commands to look out for those most in need to just war theory? Again, I appeal to WW2 here: by going to war we probably lessened the amount of total death, and just as importantly, total death to those who were in the most need. I couldn't help but notice that neither of you answered my question: should we have gone to war against the Nazis? Was that a just war?

And that's where I just don't think it is that hard to be an arbiter of what's right. That case is crystal clear. Hitler was wrong, and the world opposed to him was right- maybe not to go to war (if pacifism is true), but in terms of motivation, at some levels they were right.

One last question: how do you suggest that a nation (note: a nation ) should respond to being attacked by another nation? What if Iran nuked us? What should we as a nation do?

Thanks for your thoughtfulness guys.


Anonymous said...

this hitler example is always used to prop up the benefit of war, but hitler's rise to power was made possible by....drum roll.....the devastation of war. if germany was not totally demoralized by the effects of WW1, he would have not been able to rise to power in the manner that he did, by manipulating a nation of people who felt weak and hopeless.

and not too mention we used to be allies with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. so when it's in our interest, we don't kill. but when it doesn't suit us, we can justify it by comparing these men to hitler. it's fascinating.