Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The absurdity of a Just War Doctrine

History of Just War

The first Christian to speak of the absurdity of a just war doctrine was Origen. He even appealed to Paul's teaching to support his own argument against a just war philosophy espoused by the Roman Empire. This philosophy was not one created within the Church but by a Roman thinker named Cicero before the time of Christ.

The three tenets of Cicero's philosophy were:
  1. There must be a just cause (eg. to stop an invasion).
  2. There must be a formal declaration of war by the king or emperor (to give the other side a chance to put things right).
  3. War must be conducted justly (eg. unarmed civilians should not be attacked).
After the conversion of Constantine's Rome to Christianity (311 C.E.), the historically pacifist Christian Church was corrupted, now being the public majority. After that time, Ambrose adopted Cicero's structure and inserted it into the Christian state's doctrine. A student of Ambrose was the well-known Augustine who expounded on the doctrine, making exceptions for conscientious objectors (basically those devoted to the Faith in service - Bishops, Fathers, Monks, etc.). It is from Augustine that the Church has drawn on for the doctrine of Just War.

The Modern Just War

The doctrine of "just war" begins with the understanding that war is wrong, and peace is desirable. The problem is in defining just war. Its purpose is to preserve peace through war. But this means it's preserving peace under the current nation's ruler(s), not under a new outside ruler. It's a fallacy that our version of peace would be better than an invading force's version of peace. And as the Bible, Apostles and martyrs attest, we should live lives in submission to tyrannical rule to the same level we would under democracy. When Paul tells the slaves of Colossians to obey their masters, these are literal slaves in bondage. When Paul writes to the Romans to submit to the authorities, the is the Emperor who has Apostles crucified.

The modern definition of just war usually includes the following list of requirements:
  1. War must be undertaken by a lawful authority
  2. There must be a just cause
  3. War must be a last resort after all peaceful means of settlement have failed
  4. More good than evil is likely to result from war
  5. The war must have a reasonable chance of success for justice
  6. There must be right intention (eg. to establish justice, not take revenge)
  7. Targets must be military in nature
  8. The war must must be carried out in a moral manner, respecting international agreements
Supporters of just war point to Romans 13 to vindicate the theory citing Paul's comments that the ruler "does not bear the sword for nothing." We must realize that Paul is not advocating for Christian involvement in these activities. The misconception may arise from the fact that Romans 13 is not a standalone letter but is a continuation of Romans 12 (the chapters and verses were entered long after the original writing) where Paul plainly tells the believer to "not repay anyone evil for evil" and to "not take revenge" as we "leave room for God's wrath." He goes on to say we should "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" by feeding our hungry enemy, giving drink to our thirsty adversary. This is in direct conflict with his later comments about how the authorities act. Paul tells the believer to leave room for God's wrath and then explains the ruler is "an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."
Lest anyone should mistake my words, and find a pretense of wrongdoing, as if his wickedness were profitable to the world, or at least might be so, we have to say, that although God, who preserves the free-will of each individual, may make use of the evil of the wicked for the administration of the world, so disposing them as to conduce to the benefit of the whole; yet, notwithstanding, such an individual is deserving of censure, and as such has been appointed for a use, which is a subject of loathing to each separate individual, although of advantage to the entire city, while he himself was engaged in an abominable task, in which no one possessed of moderate understanding would wish to be engaged. Paul also, the apostle of Jesus, teaches us that even the very wicked will contribute to the good of the whole, while in themselves they will be amongst the vile, but that the most virtuous men, too, will be of the greatest advantage to the world, and will therefore on that account occupy the noblest position.... No one may take occasion from what has been said on this subject to commit sin, on the pretext that he will thus be useful to the world. ~Origen (4.70)
The Use of Just War

I think the strongest secular critique of the Just War doctrine is the fact that not one war has ever met its strict demands. They say "hindsight is 20/20" so when you look back at the history of warfare, it's easy to see that a just war is impossible to wage. It is from this vantage point of history that makes Augustine's apology of just war seem sarcastic. It seems judgmental in nature.

From a post-protestant evangelical Christian perspective, however, the strongest argument I have towards just war is sola scriptura. Martin Luther coined the phrase meaning "scripture alone." The scriptures do not at all lay out a doctrine of just warfare. In fact, the whole of just war theory is a secular construct and does not find its footing in scripture, but only in the tradition of Roman philosophy. If you noticed I did not make much effort to debate this topic with scripture, and it is because this whole doctrine does not come from scripture so there is very limited argument against it from scripture. What we do find is a call to radical discipleship by Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord. This discipleship calls us to forsake all others (Matthew 10:37-39; 16:24-26; Luke 16:26-33) and give everything over to Him who is worthy of all worship. This means we obey his commands to love our enemies and to do good to those that hurt us (Matthew 5; Luke 6). This means we do not put national interests, family interests, individual interests over the interests of the Kingdom of God.

Lastly (and I do not want to sound hypocritical based on the last point just made), in this country we have what is called a "burden of proof." This means those who would espouse a just war must prove it is a right doctrine and that it is a practical theory. So far no one has given a sufficient argument for just war in the face of the evidence that warfare is inherently unjust by its very definition in the just war doctrine. Some might counter argue ( as the State of New Hampshire does in Article 10 of their State Constitution) that the doctrine of nonresistance is also impractical. They may be right, but in proving another theory wrong it does in no way validate an alternative theory (for surely there are many different theories, not just the two). The defense of nonresistance is a new argument, and its conclusions have no bearing on rightness of just war, or on its absurdity.

In Conclusion

The roots of Just War are in ancient Roman philosophy, not in Christian theology. It has seen no historical practice in war. Its failure to flow from Scripture and its impracticality in usage make it absurd.

1 comment:

Destroy:Ideas said...

For a beginning on the argument against nonresistance from the just war side, visit: