Thursday, October 05, 2006

Christianity, Passivity, Defense, and Forgiveness

Once again, I will link to a post by Dr. Helen, Is Passivity and Forgiveness an Aphrodisiac for Murderers. If you don't regularly read Dr. Helen, you should.

Her central theme for the post is how our reactions, especially in a highly PC, anti-gun, anti-death-penalty society removes the fear of punishment and emboldens criminal behavior. I have no problem with her conclusions.

"But perhaps reducing violent acts and protecting our citizens is not the point, but rather, it is feeling morally superior and denying the acts of the sick and twisted, or terrorists or other perps, for political gain--rather that be gun control, or a call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Passive solutions in response to violent actions can often bring more violence, not less."

The politicizing of any tragedy like the Amish school shooting is reprehensible. However, my concern here is to explore the other side of the shooting, the act of forgiveness by the Amish, their choice to forgo violence and retribution, and the difference between a truly Christian view of forgiveness and non-violence and the modern pacifism movement.

Neo-Neocon has an excellent post on the specific reactions of the Amish to this crime against them, as well as thoughts on modern pacifism that you may find helpful.

Pacifism as we think of it today is really quite foreign to the ideal of pacifism of early Christianity. For the early Christians, living under the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome), pacifism was a personal decision to leave judgment and vengeance to God with the view that all men are sinners, and that others should have equal opportunity for the forgiveness of God. Examples of this in the New Testament include passages from the Sermon on the Mount and the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

Matthew 5:43 - 48 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Matthew 18:21 - 35 (excerpted) "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven....'
..."Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers until he should pay back all that he owed.
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."


The call of Christ to forgiveness is a call of individual responsibility. Christian sects like the Amish choose to take a path of forgiveness as a matter of personal responsibility. True, the Amish would more than likely ban or otherwise disinherit someone who chose a path of violence or retribution, but that would be because such a choice would be to repudiate Amish belief. You could not be Amish and be violent, they are mutual exclusive traits.

Early Christians saw this in much the same way. In Romans 13:1-5 it says:

"Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but only for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience."

Early Christians did not live in a world devoid of authority, violence, and judgment. Quite the contrary, they understood fully that they had a role in a society that held them accountable before the laws of men. (As an aside, I am not suggesting in anyway that Christians today should have blind obedience to the government. We live in a pluralistic republic, where the authority of that government is derived from the will of the people, by design and therefore submission includes participation by the people, and the people calling the government itself to account according to the law. It is an idea opposite to the islamic view of submission.) That accountability included the expressed threat of violence. During the first century AD, Christians were not forbidden from being part of the Roman Legions; they were only forbidden from killing others.

Modern secular pacifism had instead become the hope that peace can be legislated. It is not viewed as matter of individual responsibility, but of universal application of law. It is predicated on the ideal that all people are inherently good. This is observably false. I am not even sure that all people are capable of doing good (and I fall under that command listed above to forgive-as-I've-been-forgiven). The idea that peace is a legislatable commodity is simply silly, but modern top-down pacifism of the type that wishes to outlaw guns, or seeks to set the UN as the ultimate arbitrator on international relations seeks to do exactly that.

As Neo-Neocon says "But until the day the lion lies down with the lamb, an event I don't see on the horizon--or any horizon that involves human beings--how do we best protect ourselves? And what is the price of such protection, in the psychological and spiritual sense?" that is the very question that is avoided in any discussion of modern, secular state-controlled pacifism that I have ever heard.

The early Christians answered by embracing whatever material fate happened to their bodies, in the hope of transcendent future after death. It is because secular pacifism cannot make such a promise that it holds no hope for peace.

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