Inklings of Truth


On Love and War

By Audrey Stallsmith

When I attended a small Christian college in the early 1980’s, pacifists were a vocal minority on campus. Although most of us other students had a "gut" reaction against that philosophy, we generally kept our feelings to ourselves. We had discovered the so-called peacemakers could respond quite, er, violently in print when roused!

Once, however, I did try a couple rash and probably ill-advised letters to the campus newspaper. I felt there was more wrong with the pacifist philosophy than simply its obvious drawback--that it didn’t allow its proponents to protect either themselves or others.

If only I had discovered G. K. Chesterton back then! As he so astutely puts it in one of his columns, "The real point against the cause of pacifism is that it is not a cause at all, but only a weakening of all causes. It does not announce any aim; it only announces that it will never use certain means in pursuing any aim. It does not define its goal; it only defines a stopping-place, beyond which nobody must go in the search for any goal. Now you do not get the good out of any cause by saying, from any motive, that you will never fight for it.'

Pacifism would have forbidden theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s participation in a plot to kill Hitler. But, when you refuse to resist or punish those who are drastically in the wrong, you are showing a lack of concern for their souls as well as for their victims. If you refrain from anger against evildoers, you are, in effect, not taking them seriously. To me, it smacks of stoicism, and stoicism was another of the philosophies I most disliked in college!

But, because Christian girls are taught to be "nice," I have, I’m afraid, been guilty of a similar tactic called passive-aggression. Because I don’t like confrontation, I learned to employ less direct methods of getting my own way.

Passive-aggression is unfair to the opposing party, however, because it is, at heart, a refusal to engage. There are times, I am sure, when nonresistance is the most Christian attitude to take. But there are also times, as Helmut Thielicke points out in Life Can Begin Again, "when only severity and uncompromising resistance can serve the other person."

"When we cease to consider what the criminal deserves," C. S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, "and consider only what will cure him or deter others. . .instead of a person, we now have a mere object, a case." "If one had committed a murder," he concludes in Mere Christianity, "the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up and be hanged. It is therefore perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy."

Or, as Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman expresses it in her book, Smoke on the Mountain, "What he (God) forbade was not violence, but self-seeking violence; not anger, but being angry without cause. Killing a man," she adds, "is not the worst thing you can do to him. . . Squeamishness about physical force is not virtue."

Still, although I do believe some wars are justifiable, I admit I’m not sure about the present one. Even before it began, we knew that most of the 9-11 attackers were Arabs, not Iraqis. And we also knew Saddam Hussein was one of those egomaniacs who like to make themselves look important by pretending to more power than they actually possess. I do realize, however, that--with the possibility his arsenal included weapons of mass destruction--we really couldn’t take a chance on what such a man had or didn’t have, would or wouldn’t do.

Tinpot dictator or not, Saddam did carry on his own holocaust. If we had gone in, at his victims’ request, to rescue them, I think we could have considered the war justifiable. Although the result might be said to be the same, it worries me that most of the Iraqis apparently did not want freedom enough to fight for it themselves.

We can hardly blame them, considering that those who did have the courage to resist Saddam seem to have been systematically exterminated. People who have been long oppressed often find freedom frightening. "The first work of every healer and liberator," Paul Tillich wrote, in The Eternal Now "is to break through the love of disease and enslavement in those whom He wants to save."

But we rural folks know it’s not a good idea to help a baby chick out of its shell or a seedling out of its "coat" before they are ready. The chick and the seedling apparently strengthen themselves in the birth struggle. If they are not allowed that "fight for freedom," they frequently emerge too weak to survive.

I am stretching a metaphor here, however. And I am also aware that one of my worst faults is a tendency toward fatalism, which is usually an attempt to shield myself from pain. If I refuse from the start to believe in something, I will be hurt less when it fails.

Whether or not our war was justifiable, it would certainly be immoral to abandon Iraq now. So I choose to have faith in our soldiers and in the resilience of the Iraqi people. Back in 1776, I doubt that most of the world thought the United States had much chance of surviving either--let alone prospering!

Our enemies know all about modern Americans’ impatience and intolerance of pain, and believe they can outlast us. But we need to recover some of that indomitable spirit that can take the adjective "hopeless" as a challenge. The tattered Revolutionary War soldiers who persevered through the dark nights of Valley Forge had it, as did the British RAF pilots who defied the German Blitz.

Chesterton sums it all up in "The Ballad of the White Horse":
But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.
Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause
Yea, faith without a hope?