I had been dreaming this post up for a while but James’s recent post gave me that extra nudge I needed to start penning it.
One of the classic “What If” questions which arise out of discussions of pacifism is “What of the defense of the defenseless?” This seems to be one of those questions which come up both for theological liberals as well as conservatives. We should not forget that it is not only ‘conservatives’ who tend to baptize war efforts in Christian clothing. Traditional American Protestant Liberalism ala Reinhold Niebuhr also saw pragmatic moralism defend war as a means to peaceful ends.
The answer of the pacifist can seem cold. “You mean you don’t believe in defending the defenseless?”
It is my contention that people who believe that to “defend the defenseless” with violence fail to look deep enough into this phrase. I am reminded of C. S. Lewis when he wrote “The Problem of Pain” and how he tried to come at the topic theologically and not emotionally. As a recent comment has shown, these types of situations can be sensitive and I don’t mean to be ignorant of the complexity behind a topic like this; nonetheless I feel compelled to examine the arguments and it will become clear why I come down where I do.
In perhaps truly Zizek’ish style I’m going to use a movie to provide the framework for the discussion.
The 1986 film “The Mission” is truly one of the best films I have ever seen. Without a doubt it is the best ‘religious’ movie I’ve seen. Based loosely on a true story, I think this can make the argument even more powerful. In it, a Spanish Jesuit, Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) takes a great risk by attempting to set up a Mission amongst a tribal group who had previously killed another missionary. He is lucky enough not to have suffered the same fate as his predecessor and his Mission is founded and flourishes.
He eventually receives a young man into the Jesuit order who had killed his brother and been a slave trader. Rodrigo Mendoza is healed of severe guilt and depression by the grace of the Jesuits, especially Father Gabriel, and becomes a vital part of the Mission.
Meanwhile, Spain cedes land to Portugal which includes the Mission. The Portuguese are well known for their slave trade and will not allow the Mission to continue. It is their plan to destroy the Mission and enslave the people there.
Word of this reaches the Mission and there are two options which begin to be pursued. Both Mendoza and Fr. Gabriel deeply love the Guarani people and are distraught. Fr. Gabriel decides that it goes against God’s Love to fight with violence. Mendoza cannot stand to see this injustice go on without resistance. Mendoza decides to rebel against Fr. Gabriel and begins to fashion weapons, set traps and train those men who are willing to fight.
I think it is of utmost importance to note that both Jesuits see the Guarani people as sitting ducks. They are, “defenseless” against the weapons and armies of the Portuguese.
The climactic scene of the movie is the attack on the Mission. As the armies advance, Mendoza and his force do all in their power to secure the safety of the Guarani but they are no match for the Portuguese and Mendoza is shot and his band scattered and killed.
As the army marches past Mendoza they are halted as Fr. Gabriel and those who followed him are singing. Even still they advance. As the Portuguese come upon the main square they are met by the Guarani and Fr. Gabriel, dressed all in white, holding the Cross and also the blessed Host. They begin to walk towards the Portuguese and are slaughtered one by one with a few escaping to the jungle.
Here is the clip: