Saturday, April 05, 2003


Steven at Flos Carmelli has done another post that got me thinking. I had not planned to write anymore about either the war itself or the justification for it but Steven's post has made me overcome this reticence.

He asks the question, "Is pacifism justified?" When I began to write this post my answer was "perhaps". Having thought through the issue a bit I think it is possible to say simply “no, it is not".

First it might be helpful to define the word pacifism. Pacifism could be defined as a refusal to bear arms or resort to violence to settle disputes (on moral grounds). It means that the person who declares himself a pacifist believes that it is never legitimate to use violence to deter others who are, say, pursuing a morally unacceptable, even lethal, course of action.

I believe that, although those who claim to be pacifists generally seem to think they are taking the high moral ground, they are in fact indulging in a serious moral failure. To understand this we need only to consider the origins and outcome of World War II, i.e., the responsibility of national governments to protect their citizens from external threat.

When national leaders fail in their responsibility we have a situation such as that faced by the Western Allies prior to World War II. In the decade leading up to the war, the 1930’s, the leaders of Britain and France decided to appease Adolph Hitler in order to obtain a short-term peace. The result was that millions of people were killed in a war that could easily have been averted had the leaders of the Allies been willing to demonstrate to Hitler that his aggressive inclinations would not be tolerated. Hitler, as he himself later admitted, would have been easily stopped and probably destroyed by Allied action in 1933 or '34. The Allied leaders did not oppose Hitler when it would have been easy and instead plunged their nations, and the United States into a World War that saw, among other atrocities 6 million Jews go to their deaths. The fact of the matter is appeasement never works.

I believe that the present conflict in Iraq closely follows the parallel with Hitler and World War II. Many people will say that Saddam Hussein is a mere tinhorn dictator who has no capability to inflict harm on "our side." That is exactly what was said of Hitler in the early 1930's. We would do well to remember that the tinhorn dictator Saddam Hussein has already killed over 2 million people; there is little reason to believe that he would stop there.

It should be clear that I believe the primary reason the war in Iraq is being fought is to defend the citizens of the United States from the external threat of terrorism and from the even greater overall threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism. It would be a truly wonderful thing if, in addition to achieving this goal, we also achieve the goal of bringing peace, democracy, and freedom from oppression by a cruel tyrant, to the people of Iraq, but that is not the main goal we should be seeking.

I believe this is a war to protect our most cherished freedoms. We should all be mindful of the tendency for Islam to equate religion with the state and to believe that the only way to evangelize was at the point of the sword. The ideas of the dignity of the human person, human free will, and a loving, personal, merciful God are foreign to Islam. We have seen, up close and personal, the practical effects of this "worldview" and its implications at the World Trade Center in New York City. Those who are afraid that the war in Iraq will bring a wave of terrorism to the United States have very short memories; it has been here since September 11, 2001.

In the end it seems to me that pacifism is a kind of withdrawal from the responsibility to choose good and avoid evil. It is a kind of nihilism that says nothing is any more important than anything else and we should all just "live and let live." As I have said before, if there is nothing worth dying for, there is nothing much worth living for. There are plenty of people in the world who are more than willing for us to die for their beliefs.

In contrast to this attitude, I am reminded of God's instructions to the Israelites as they were about to enter into the Promised Land. In certain towns they were told to destroy every living thing in the town, every man, woman and child -- nothing should be left alive. The reason for this apparently cruel and arbitrary instruction is too often missed. It was not that the enemies of Israel could not be converted, it was the threat posed to the Israelites of being converted to the paganism of their enemies. That danger was so great and the Israelites were so spiritually weak, that the presence of their enemies could not be tolerated; they had to be destroyed. We in the West are in the same or greater spiritual danger today -- we live in a society that is rapidly becoming more pagan than Christian. We should be willing, if necessary, to oppose those who would destroy us with whatever force is necessary to stop them, it is a matter of life and death, both physical and spiritual. We should not tolerate anything that separates us from God.

I do not say that war is good, only that at times it is necessary. It is not something to be sought and it can have terrible consequences for those involved in it, but there are times when the cost of avoiding it is even greater. The United States has fought wars that were not in defense of our national interests, Viet Nam comes immediately to mind, and these must be avoided. But when it becomes necessary to fight a war we should be prepared militarily, psychologically, morally and spiritually, trusting in God that his will be done. As the preacher says:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to rrefrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

Sunday, March 30, 2003

The Rapture

Carl Olsen, over at Envoy Encore, has just published a book that looks very interesting. The title is Will Catholics be Left Behind? He has also challenged Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind series to a duel, well actually a debate, on the issues raised in LaHaye’s dispensationalist theology. There are many Catholic apologists who are up in arms about the Left Behind series and a great deal of ink has been spilled concerning these books. To be honest, while I do wish to read the book, the arguments over the theology are, I think, much ado about nothing.

First of all, the dispensationalist movement is hardly a major part of Protestant theology even after the success of the Left Behind books. It seems to me this set of ideas, the rapture, and the tribulation, all of that, while becoming more prominent, is not really a major theme in mainstream Protestantism. The fundamentalist and charismatic movements are more prominent these days. When I was still a Presbyterian I had hardly ever heard of these ideas, they were certainly considered a fringe movement. The books have created quite a sensation, but I believe this is much broader than it is deep.

Second, the problem with both the theology behind the books and the drastic, even overblown, response to them, especially from Catholic apologists is that no one, “not even the angels in heaven”, to quote Jesus, really knows what will happen at the end times. Only the Father knows for sure what will happen and when. Furthermore, we are not to be concerned about such things. Jesus says we are to “Watch”. Arguing, debating, writing books, arguing Protestant dispensationalist theology is much like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. How can we ever arrive at a satisfactory conclusion? We can’t.

We should be spending our time in the more profitable activities of growing in personal holiness and spreading God’s Kingdom on earth. There is a great deal of profitable work that can be done here and we take time from them to argue impossible questions. Our concern should be the here and now, on things we can influence, not on something we are specifically told by Jesus not to be concerned with. We know that Jesus will come at a time of the Father's choosing, and we are to be prepared, that's all we can know.

As for the Left Behind books themselves, I think there is a least one thing that can be said for them: they are well written, suspense filled stories. The sheer volume of their sales leads us to conclude these good stories are being read by, not just Christians but many people in society who have never given serious thoughts to what will happen to them at the end of their lives. This is not bad. It may lead many non-believers into a Protestant church, fundamentalist or dispensationalist or whatever, but for all we know that may be the first step for many on their journey into the true Church. To see Catholic apologists attacking the ideas leading these people to belief on the basis of esoteric theological notions can’t be helpful.

I know these Catholic apologists are afraid the books will lead many poorly catechized Catholics out of the Church. The response to this fear is not to attack the books but to improve Catholic catechesis. There is much more productive work to be done here. In fact, for most people in the pews to understand why the Left Behind books are faulty, for them to understand what the Catholic apologists are even talking about, a great deal of catechesis needs to be done. Otherwise the arguments are futile.

I hope to read Carl Olsen’s book, I believe it would be helpful to understand this theology and I’m sure the book will make a contribution towards this goal. But let’s keep things in perspective and concentrate on what needs to be done here and now. Let’s figure out what’s important and concentrate our efforts there, not on subjects we can never present a real answer to.