Which Comes First, the Religio-Ethical Chicken, or the Geo-Political Egg: An Inner Dialogue


What follows is a sort of dialogue with myself.  In italics you will find the words of James the citizen of the United States, and in bold (because it’s more important) you’ll find the words of James the citizen of the Kingdom of God.  This is not an attempt, of course, to speak definitively the words of the Kingdom, or even the proper opinions of a US citizen, rather this is a first attempt to disambiguate for myself where my opinions are coming from, and what foundation they ultimately have. 

One of the things I am trying to work out here is whether  my citizenship in the Kingdom of God actually determines my behavior as a citizen of the US, or whether it is the other way around.    I am working off the premise that my committment to the Christian tradition and Christian ethics SHOULD determine my behavior always and in every way, and that any allegiance to a place, or that places’ history, culture and politics is ONLY important as much as it lines up with my commitment to Christ (A more controversial corollary is that  all the things that make up the citizenship of any earthly kingdom SHOULD be held with a certain amount of detachment, if not suspicion by citizens of God’s Kingdom).    


Italics= James, Citizen of the United States

Bold= James, Citizen of the Kingdom of God

— — — — —

I can think of two reasons why I am interested in politics and engaged in political discourse.  1. Self-interest.  2. I honestly believe that following Jesus demands I speak out and act for and against certain social issues that inevitably have a political element.

If anyone wants to be a member of the Kingdom of God, they must die to self.

President Bush was one of the worst presidents of all time.  Far from breaking with  Bush’s flawed and misguided (if not evil and totally corrupt) administration, the Obama administration seems to be a continuation of it.  The warmongering continues.  The torturing continues.  The wholesale disregard of the common good for the sake of profit and power continues.  In fact, the essence of the American presidency hasn’t fundamentally changed since…well, maybe it never has: democrat, republican, or whig, Catholic, or Protestant, the President of the United States has presided over atrocity after atrocity: the Trail of Tears, the Japanese Internment, the Atomic Bomb, wars or covert actions in the following places: Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Columbia, El Salvador, Mexico again (I’m talking about NAFTA), many other Central and South American countries, Iraq, Iraq again, Afghanistan, now Yemen, maybe Iran…and those are just the ones off the top of my head.  

Christians are not to put their trust in earthly rulers, but in God alone.  Christians do not believe in revenge.  Christians do not believe that overcoming evil with evil is even possible, much less pleasing to God. 

I almost sympathize with the Tea Party crowd.  I say almost, because, if they are successful, they are going to put into place leaders whose moral compass will not be fundamentally different than either Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, or Bush I, or Reagan, or Carter, or…Nixon… or Roosevelt (take your pick)…or Jackson…or Jefferson…or…

I do not believe that any of these men had the best of interest of EVERY member of their country in mind when they made the most important and far-reaching decisions of the terms.  I believe every one of them put power and money before the common good when making many history altering decisions. 

There are ultimately several other reasons why I don’t quite line up with the Tea Party crowd.

In I Samuel 8, God warns the Israelites that if they get a king he will not have the common good of the people in mind.  Even the best Israelite kings commit atrocities. 

I, like the conservative faction of the US, am not a big fan of the healthcare bill as a matter of principle.  However, to call it socialism is ridiculous and confusing (I am suspicious and at some level, somewhere, someone desires this confusion).  The bill that creates billions of dollars in debt so that the government can subsidize millions of private insurance policies, thus enriching the very companies the politicians claim they want to change, is the essence of FREE-MARKET CAPITALISM, par excellence (to borrow Zizek’s favorite way of saying things). 

Our government is not seeking and has never sought to bring capital and the means of production under its control.  On the contrary, Capital has been in the process of bringing our government under control since the Industrial Revolution.

Jesus came and in direct defiance of Caesar Augustus claimed to be the Son of God.  His early followers defied the empire by refusing to worship the emperor, and instead giving Jesus titles that by decree were only to be used by the Roman ruler: Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Lord of Lords.

You cannot serve both God and Money.

I, like the majority of the conservative faction of the US, claim to take a PRO-LIFE ethical stance.  However, pro-life means more to me than anti-abortion.  I feel like you have to be pro-ALL-LIFE in order to use the term without becoming a hypocrite.

The Tea Party loses credibility when they a) complain about the national debt, then b) claim to be pro-life, then c) support war efforts that are costing our country 3 TRILLION dollars.

Jesus says, “Love your enemy.”

I recognize that under secular political philosophy dating back to the Greeks, a government by definition has the right and the power to violently punish crime, and violently protect its own interest. 

Paul recognizes the “power of the sword” in Romans 13.  But, how can a Christian honestly adhere to the injunctions of Romans 12–do not take revenge, overcome evil by doing good, live at peace with all people, etc.–and still participate in earthly governments as described in Romans 13?

 I’m not a Republican, or Democrat, or Independent, or a Libertarian.  I am a Distributivistic, Anarcho-Liber-Agrarian Localist.

My association with Christ and His Church is really the only one that matters.  I desire to follow Jesus in the world, awaiting His return to reconcile all Creation to Himself.  I suck at it.

— — — — —

Discussion questions:

1. Do my religious views, including my hermeneutic(s), determine my political philosophy or is it the other way around?

2. How would one go about determining which comes first political views or religious ones?

3. How are my political views in my self-interest? 

4. How are my religious views in my self-interest?

5. Whatever else anyone wants to ask or comment on.



  1. Yay discussion questions!

    1) I’m not sure your religious and political views interact much. The dialogue above strikes me as being one-way. Your political self declares something, then your religious self declares something on the same topic, and then you move on to another topic.

    2) I would argue that religious views by definition come first. In other words, where your heart is, there your faith will be also, and everything else grows out of that. So what one thinks about civic life will naturally grow out of whatever one’s most deeply held commitments are.

    3) From what you’ve written, it’s not clear that your political views are in your’s or anyone else’s interest, because they’re so unresolved. In other words, they don’t make any concrete demands on anyone. I would really like to know, not what you believe, but what you think should be done.

    4) Explicitly, your religious views aren’t in your self-interest. But I would call attention to how your religious self is expressed. It speaks in declaratives, not imperatives. What I mean is, they’re statements about things, rather than commandments to take right action. In that sense, it could be said that your religious views are in your self-interest insofar as they make no demands on you. That doesn’t mean that you don’t take action on these beliefs (I assume you do,) but that your religious thinking has yet to take account of such action and the way it fits into your life.

    5) I’m glad you posted on this topic. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. My own thought on this has been mostly formed by Bonhoeffer (Ethics), Stringfellow (An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land,) and Auden. Are there any theologians, writers, or politicians who have greatly influenced you?


    1. These are also things I’ve been thinking about. I’ve got a governors race coming up and I am really and truly skeptical about politics in general right now. They pump out, both sides mind you, rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric… I want someone to talk intelligently. Politics has descended into aesthetics and that is just morally reprehensible.

      I agree with Jordan that our identity in Christ is the fundamental starting point for all political thinking. Since the Church is a sign and the early life of renewed humanity, then it is the paradigm for all relations. All relations find their potential fulfillment in Christ.

      Nevertheless, there are other people in the world; other stories and myths who dictate our identities some in more others in less “neutral” ways. I’m proud to be a MInnesotan and to live in the Twin Cities. I think they are broadly socially healthy places to live. Since we take human flourishing to be a good, and since all things that are good come from the one Good, I see no reason not to think critically about how to best organize our common life in order to reach toward that Good. It’s not about submitting our identity to the American identity, but taking the good of others seriously and genuinely.

      In this way I ‘justify’ talking about a social sphere whose narration is outside my own core narration which is the story of Christ.

      As it is, there are many sources I could point you to for thinking politically Christianly, Jordan having already mentioned a couple. If you live near enough to an institution that has the journal “Political Theology” I’d look into their articles. The latest issue has a couple essays that seem to address this very topic.

      Anything by William Cavanaugh is solid gold: Torture and Eucharist, Theopolitical Imagination, and Being Consumed

      There are several others but there is no need to start a catalogue.


  2. Jordan’s critique (especially the third point) is lucid; ACTION defines who we are as individuals and communities, for such an active definition is the very stamp of God.

    — This reminds me of 20th century Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s action-theory: In short, we know and understand who the God of Scripture is because of how he has tended to interact with his people in history. The crucial paradigm of Yahweh hearing and then responding to his people’s groans, as they are strapped down by oppressive quotas handed down by the unchecked politico, is the most profound recurring motif in all of Scripture. This is not a god defined by concept and idea, but action and being-ness via the historical sweep of creation – even to the point of birthing flesh; walking, talking, suffering and dying by human innovation and initiative itself; withstanding it all not in stoic fashion (see Garden at Gathsemane – “TAKE THIS CUP”), but rather in a real and authentic fashion that was able to come through out on the other side of death and sin.

    That said, I lament the fact that I too have been largely unable to integrate both of my citizenships of God’s Kingdom and political powers that be..

    Left and right, there are talkingheads which wish to push and prod us into easy corners of thinking about ideology and practice. This tends to solidify our special thoughts on how to conceptualize things, leaving action in the dust. I think there is largely too much specialization, in my humble opinion, and it effects our ability to think and do on our own, always looking for some authority other than us.

    ie.) criminal justice and penology. Do we really need more prisons? Must there really be a degree in, say, prison architecture? Does the schematic of rehab really work? Aren’t reoffenders a real problem? — And our prisons are overcrowded…

    As possible antidote, I wonder if RESTORATIVE justice is a more practical way of doing justice. If the Kingdom of God is here right now, waiting or anticipating to be unveiled in all its glory, then perhaps throwing humans behind solid, unflexible bars only perpetuates the last remnants of sin and death? While some of these people have done some horrid things, I wonder if we are just cutting off the hydra’s head by punishing individuals alone. I dunno….

    — This is getting really long!! Okay, I am done…


  3. Thanks for you comments Tony, Jordan and dM, sorry I left my post “unguarded” for so long.


    I don’t know that it’s fair to say that my “religious thinking has yet to take account of such action and the way it fits into [my] life” simply because I did not include in this post specific actions that I or others take or should take regarding the subjects discussed. I don’t think that religio-ehtical dialogue MUST take imperative form.

    However unsuccessful I was, what I wanted to express in this post is my agnst over being able to know that my actions are motivated by the right things in the right order. I have doubts about being able to know that I do what I do, and say what I say, not because I am being used by a political power, but because I am being used by Jesus.


    Yes, Cavanaugh is the man.


    I like your example concerning the criminal justice system, you make me think.


  4. Good post.

    It looks like you have created a political profile that comprises about 0.001% of the total population. Good job I describe myself as to the left of anarchy and the right of the anti-federalists.

    While I understand that this may be your core political principles how do you expect to interact with the community around you when you will be in conflict with over 99% of the community?

    Distributivistic- I am with you on this one; however its difficult to translate into something without having a guild directed labor force. IOW not likely. Under our current system distributivism looks much more like socialism which defeats the localization aspect of what your attempting to achieve.

    Anarcho-Liber-Agrarian Localist: Well it sounds like your drawing from Sir Edmound Burke (certainly not a bad idea IMO). The issue with this is that you happen to live in a time and a country which has 85% of its population in urban areas. So again your position isn’t going to help your fellow man and the social and economic issue they face that I can tell.

    I’d challenge some of your other political views but first I’d ask it you believe in the just war theory

    1) war must be defensive
    2) must be the last resort
    3) must be motivated by right intention
    4) must be proportional to the injustice it seeks to remedy
    5) must promote the restoration of justice
    6) must be conducted by responsible authority
    7) and must distinguish between combatants and civilians

    and if the USA ever met those conditions in its history?

    Then perhaps you could comment on what I think is the most abused passage in the NT-
    MT 22:21 -“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”

    I have always found it note worthy that it is the centurions who are uniformly spoken of in terms of praise in the Gospels.

    Mt 8:9 When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, “Most certainly I tell you, I haven’t found so great a faith, not even in Israel.

    Note our Lord doesn’t tell him to quit his profession.

    Finally does the church ever have the obligation to take up the sword in active resistance?


  5. believing in just war theory is like believing in Sasquatch. We all know that Sasquatch is tall and hairy and lives in the woods. We’ve just never seen him and don’t expect to.

    “does the church ever have the obligation to take up the sword in active resistance?”

    Between the exchatological vision of beating swords into plowshares, Paul saying that our sword is the ‘Spirit’, Jesus commanding Peter ‘Put down your sword, commanding the rest of us to love our enemies and the universal witness of the early church, I am astounded that Christians believe we should ever make peace through anything other than non-violent, self-donating enemy love.


  6. Charismanglican,

    Well I’m glad you have a strong opinion on it.

    A) the witness of the early church(I assume you mean the first 300 years) would be true, but clearly not the next 1400 years. And the former position I would agree with you because it wouldn’t meet the conditions of a justified war anyway.

    B)While the INDIVIDUAL is commanded to love our enemies we are also commanded to defend the weak and innocent with our lives.

    Does the legitimate sovereign authority have the moral obligations to defend those for whom the public authorities have assumed responsibility or not?

    C) I don’t believe the text of Christ and Peter’s context can be taken up as a demonstration of legitimate authority of the nation state; perhaps you meant the papacy?

    D) On the plowshares I would refer to the verses that come before it

    In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house
    shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say,
    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
    to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
    For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isa 2:2–3)

    When the nations have submitted to the rule of God can the beating of swords into plowshares proceed. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    I’m not discounting non-violent means at all, but I don’t believe in ruling out war at any cost either.

    I take it that you would hold that no war was or is ever justified?


  7. No. I don’t.

    I think that Isaiah’s eschatological vision has relevance for Jesus’ teaching. But I’ll really just comment on this one

    B)While the INDIVIDUAL is commanded to love our enemies we are also commanded to defend the weak and innocent with our lives.

    Where did you get the idea that Jesus’ teaching was somehow different for individuals and groups? Doesn’t he contrast his teachings with the rulers of his day (“The Gentiles exercise their authority….not so with you”)?

    And where did you get the idea that we are to defend the weak and innocent with our lives? Certainly that’s what Peter was doing when he took up the sword to protect Jesus, only to be sternly rebuked. I can’t think of an example of this in word or deed from Christ, his apostles or the church for a very long time (and then only because of an extreme change in circumstance that doesn’t warrant a change in ethics). And still the church doesn’t have heroes…rather martyrs and saints. So where do you find this teaching?

    At any rate, the rhetoric of ‘defending the weak and innocent with our lives’ is often Orwellian doublespeak. After all, it was Jesus who set the example of defending with his life…and not just the weak and innocent. But I assume you mean what most people mean: that I should be willing to defend the weak and innocent by sacrificing someone else’s life, not my own. Or as Stanley Hauerwas puts it, sacrificing my normal unwillingness to kill.

    I heard it attributed to Patton: “No one ever won a war by giving his life for his country. He did it by making the other poor bastard die for his country first.”

    So I’m against using the language of sacrifice in war on two grounds:

    – We predominantly sacrifice THEIR lives, not our own.
    – Only echoes of Jesus’ own sacrifice are appropriate for his followers. Dying at the hands of your enemies with vulnerable, forgiving love: yes. Killing others: no.

    Jesus lived in a violent world. The weak and innocent (if such a thing could be conceived) surrounded him and suffered greatly. If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, then we know how God responds to a violent world by looking to him. Was Jesus too uncaring, unjust or immoral to do the right thing and take up arms? There were plenty of Jews who would have gladly accepted him into their ranks.

    No. Jesus asks us to follow him. The mental gymnastics it would take to reconcile violence with discipleship (especially the sermon on the mount) are too great for me.


  8. Sorry I’m not trying to upset you.

    As I understand it God allows the State the power of the sword in this world for the restraint of evil.

    On non-violence I would have to say that the overwhelming majority of Christian regardless of faith tradition are unwilling to perform non-violence to bring about a greater good. It is much more of an illusion then that of just war theory IMO. A case in point in this country is the murdering of innocent live of 50 million plus children through abortion and the non-violent engagement of the Christian community is essentially NIL. If every Christian refused to work, blocked off every clinic and submitted to being arrested we would eliminate this scourge. However it won’t happen which is more a case of our current walk with Christ then anything.

    “I can’t think of an example of this in word or deed from Christ, his apostles or the church for a very long time (and then only because of an extreme change in circumstance that doesn’t warrant a change in ethics). And still the church doesn’t have heroes…rather martyrs and saints. So where do you find this teaching?”

    Well I guess it depends on who you think is a Christian and who is a hero. If your Anglican I assume Oliver Cromwell is a hero of your faith; I heard people call him a saint as well. Although being of Irish descent I’d refer to him as something else.

    The Battle of Vienna & the Battle of Lepanto saved western civilization against the Ottoman empire and is celebrated in the Catholic church.

    Orthodoxy has St. Justinian as a Saint and military hero.

    “The mental gymnastics it would take to reconcile violence with discipleship (especially the sermon on the mount) are too great for me.”

    I respect that position, but I think it is because we haven’t faced a situation in this country yet were the conditions warranted a change of heart.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the matter.


  9. not upset. It’s good for iron to sharpen iron, and I thank you for it.

    Non-violence an illusion in comparison to just war? But we have examples of non-violence all over history! Sometimes it ends in martyrs and bonfires. Sometimes it even ‘works’ in a utilitarian way (for example the communities at Le Chambon who non-violently resisted the Nazis).

    So you would say that Anglicans are justified in armed violence because of Cromwell? Or Roman Catholics because of Vienna? Or the Orthodox because of Justinian? Were these a result of faithfulness to the Prince of Peace or were they a result of a Christianity that found itself comfortable with earthly power? For every example of these you will find thousands that accepted stoning, beating, imprisonment and fire in the obedience that comes from humility and the courage that comes from the resurrection. Do I fault Justinian for fighting cruel armies? Well, I’m not in his shoes. Do I think that Christians from the time of Jesus have faithfully lived according to his teaching, from the stoning of Stephen to some person you and I don’t know who is being killed today on the other side of the world.

    “I respect that position, but I think it is because we haven’t faced a situation in this country yet were the conditions warranted a change of heart.”

    You may be right. God have mercy on my soul.

    But I take heart that Bishop Tutu could forgive the leaders of South African Apartheid.

    I take heart that Martin Luther King Jr. refused to be silent about Vietnam.

    I take heart that Dorothy Day turned jail cells into mission fields.

    I take heart that Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to Germany lest Jesus himself disappear from his home country.

    I take heart that Corrie Ten Boom loved her prison guards.

    I take heart that the Amish people forgave the school shooter and reached out to comfort his family.

    I take heart that the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me.

    So I will continue speak truth to the church and the world so that there’s someone to hold me accountable to do what is right. And when that day comes, God will do what God will do.


  10. Well first I guess I would say that Jesus used non-violence because His kingdom was not of this world. And as He indicated if His kingdom was of this world His servants would FIGHT.But in any case Jesus sacrifice was for mankind’s spiritual freedom on which all freedoms rest.

    I believe strongly that the battles of Vienna and Lepanto were justified wars as well as the First crusade. The Vietnam, Iraq I & II are not.

    “Do I fault Justinian for fighting cruel armies? Well, I’m not in his shoes.”

    Exactly and thank the Lord we are not. Did the monks who fought off the Vikings in the 10th & 11th centuries as they raped and murders women and children devoid of the grace of God?

    Non-violence is most effective and most just when there is no hope of defending the innocent. IMO if however you are in a position to defend the innocent and permit evil to destroy the innocent without attempting to prevent it then may the Lord have mercy.


  11. QB, you’re making distinctions that I think come from outside the Christian and Hebrew traditions.

    For example, when Jesus says that his kingdom was not of this world, he isn’t saying that his kingdom isn’t part of the material universe…of course he is king of that. What he’s saying is that his power doesn’t come from the powers of this world, the world’s ways, the broken government authorities. His kingdom, as N.T. Wright likes to say, is not from this world, but it is most definitely for this world — as evidenced in the Our Father. Consider these two paraphrases:

    “My kingdom isn’t about this world of power, money, government and physicality. It’s about the spiritual realm, an inner disposition of faith…something intangible.”


    “My kingdom is not like the kingdom that gives you authority, nor the one that came before you. My kingdom comes from God. If I were like the other kings of earth, then I would be training an army to rise up against you. This is a new kind of kingdom, a kingdom of peace.”

    While the first one has become quite popular in many western protestant circles, it smacks of spiritual/secular dichotomy and a denial of the good universe. There’s a hint of gnosticism in it.

    The second paraphrase makes far more sense, not only in the original language but in taking account of how much of Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom were very ‘worldly’ – having to do with practical, physical matters. This does justice to the incarnation, the physical resurrection, and the political language of the gospel-writers and Paul.

    So Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t for mankind’s spiritual freedom. It was for their freedom. The qualifier ‘spiritual’ just doesn’t belong there. At any rate, when Paul uses the qualifier ‘spiritual’, he’s not really advocating something opposed to physical. Rather, he’s saying that it is in the Spirit. For example, he says that we should offer our BODIES…which is our SPIRITUAL form of worship. There’s not the dualism there.

    And that’s important, because it is that dualism that makes us think we can kill our enemy (or not forgive debts or not share in common with each other or not be a part of a local church) and yet still somehow be spiritual. Not for Paul, and (I would submit), not for Jesus.

    I believe strongly that the battles of Vienna and Lepanto were justified wars as well as the First crusade. The Vietnam, Iraq I & II are not.

    This tells me that you take Just War Theory seriously. I’m glad for that. I would be very happy if more people held to Just War instead of the usual meaning: “This war is just because our cause is just.”

    So, you believe strongly that those battles were justified because your criteria is Just War Theory. That is an honorable discipline and I mean it no disrespect.

    Obviously, in the end, I think that it is an innovation birthed in the idea that Christians were then (and should be) in charge of the world. So Just War might not be the problem…misunderstanding the politics of Jesus is.

    IMO if however you are in a position to defend the innocent and permit evil to destroy the innocent without attempting to prevent it then may the Lord have mercy.

    Why would we say that we are not attempting to prevent injustice or evil? That’s an incredibly passive view of non-violence. What I’m talking about is self-donating enemy-love. It is active. In a way, it’s the only politics…because as long as you keep violence as an option, at some point you don’t have to have the patience or the listening ear that politics requires. Eventually might will make right.

    If the only way to defend the innocent is violence, then that is a terrible indictment of Jesus, the apostles and the early church. It’s also a terrible indictment of Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day.

    We’re so used to this false dichotomy that leaves us with only two options: watch the innocent suffer and do nothing, or take up the sword.

    I would highly recommend this book to you. I think that it would clear up the confusion about the hard discipline of peace being passive, or that violence is redemptive after all.

    What About Hitler? by Robert Brimlow

    I’ve also been hoping to read John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do? But I’m broke. My birthday is May 10th if you feel like sharing 🙂

    Both of these books show how we’ve been manipulated into unimaginative thinking when it comes to violence and non-violence, and that carefully answering these questions rather than just letting them hang on the air may actually give us a chance at hearing Jesus’ call for peace in a new way.



  12. Charisanglican,

    I’ll concede the point on Jesus servants fighting for His kingdom (seemed convenient at the time).

    “If the only way to defend the innocent is violence, then that is a terrible indictment of Jesus, the apostles and the early church. It’s also a terrible indictment of Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day.”

    First you seem to point only to individuals against an entire system. Clearly even the just war theory prevents one from acting violently against them because there isn’t any hope of a positive outcome. None of the examples you site (except for Christ who cold have used force but didn’t) were unable to take the state on.

    The question only arises when one has valid moral authority for the protection of the state and can reasonably see that the outcome proportional to the injustice it seeks to remedy and justice would be restored.

    Its difficult to say whether WWII was a just war(for America[Eastern & Western Europe is a different matter])or the civil war.

    The use of nuclear bombs today I would say is always immoral but I’m on the fence if the use of them was justifiable in WWII.

    Something I would offer up is that war as I see it isn’t something that comes about because governing bodies fail to negotiate on matters. Its individuals who fail to offer up non-violent resistance to prevent the state from acting prior to war. It makes no sense to act after the start of conflict. Once it starts there is a moral obligation to restore justice as soon as possible.

    Well if you want imaginative then go no further then the early and middle age church. Christians used to sell themselves into slavery to free captives.


  13. I really would love your thoughts on those books. And, if you could recommend one for me, that would be cool, too.

    I have this quote on my blog, and I think it makes sense in the context of your question about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s from an early church Father:

    “Wars are scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood. And murder–which is admitted to be a crime in the case of an individual–is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not because they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale!” —Cyprian of Carthage (200-258 C.E.)

    I have no doubt that if I dropped into Hiroshima and knifed an unarmed soldier, let alone a civilian, let alone a child or widow, your wouldn’t justify it. You wouldn’t say: “If we could get enough people to do what Joey just did, it would be awful, but it would be justified to prevent more violence.” You would call it murder. Years before technology and nationalism enabled us to obliterate entire cities without much crisis of conscience, Cyprian has something to say to the church today.

    Nevertheless, the bombing of Japan (or Dresden!) fails your criteria without taking a stance of non-violence.

    4) must be proportional to the injustice it seeks to remedy
    5) must promote the restoration of justice…
    7) and must distinguish between combatants and civilians


    I have a confession to make. I’m a very impatient person. I also have an awful temper. I have no doubt that I am capable of violence for even stupid reasons. And even if I fall short of physical violence, I am skilled at verbally abuse, judgment and cruelty.

    In some ways, the way we respond is the way that we are trained to respond. For me, the liturgy helps me to think sacramentally…to commit in prayer with the church to forgiving people’s debts, to kneel and confess that we haven’t loved our neighbor, to pass the peace, to drink the cup…I need these things if I’m going to be faithful to the scandalous, indefatigable grace at the heart of the gospel. I need to remember and participate in the telling of God’s non-violent, self-donating love for his enemies because that is who I was. And I need, in many small ways, to practice non-violence with my family and the people we meet.

    If and when a terrible injustice is taking place and the people of God need to interpose themselves between the oppressor and the oppressed, I pray that this training in grace will kick in for me like it has for the faithful departed saints, and that I will be considered worthy of participating in the suffering of the one who considered me worth suffering for.

    And when the tables turn on the enemies of justice, and the people rise up to punish and crush their former oppressors, I pray that I will overflow with the limitless grace of the one who gave me kindness, kindness that leads to repentance.


  14. Actually the bomb passes #4 easily. A land invasion was estimated that it would have taken out over 1 million soldiers and who knows how many civilians.


    The issue on #7 is the most difficult not just for this case but today and in the future.

    As a Catholic for years I questioned why a Protestant president dropped the atomic bomb on the only two most heavily Catholic populations in Asia. What I didn’t discover until later was that these were military industrial plants. And Japan stored military supplies in with civilian population.

    Half of both of those cites were evacuated due to Americans dropping leaflets giving prior warning.

    Finally the war was after all already engaged so on point #5 it turns out that the atomic bomb brought about peace and justice much quicker then a conventional land war would have done.

    Still with all that I don’t know if it was justified, but I lean in that direction. Sometimes man don’t have the luxury to wait until the decision is made for them.

    North Africa had several hundred Catholic churches in the 7th century and millions of believers. After 3 invasions by Islam over a 30 year period it all fell by the sword. 150 years later Christianity effectively died out and is still untenable to this day. Christians in Europe failed to take up the sword to defend against Islam and people in Northern Africa for over 1500 years have suffered because of it. Yes there were martyrs over that period, but had Christians acted before the fall when they had the chance perhaps there would not have been the need. Indeed it was those Christians grandchildren now converts to Allah who ended up taking the sword in against Christians in Spain. Who in turn took the sword up against France and Italy.

    Its difficult even in hindsight to know the right course of action.

    James has tolerated me long enough in hijacking his thread. Although I hope it was somewhat related.

    Religious principles have to come before political ones. However political principles have to be based on natural law which itself is based on those Christian principles. Modern society has worked hard at divorcing itself from natural law to its own folly.


  15. Paraphrasing Stokely Carmichael.

    Violence is as Christian as apple pie.

    This became inevitable the moment that the church was co-opted by the Roman state, and thus became an integral player in the Western imperial project and its drive to total power and control.

    This one stark image sums up the process of conquest, which still continues.


    Plus any religion that claims to possess the “one true way/faith/revelation” (as Christianity does), has effectively declared war against ALL other faith traditions and their various cultural manifestations.

    And thereby actively seeks in one way or another, and by using any means that it can in any given historical and cultural context, to convert every one else to the “one true way/faith/revelation”.

    Even claiming that they have a Biblically given “great commission” to do so.


  16. Hi Sue,

    In some ways I would agree…we can’t separate the facts of Christian history from the beliefs of Christians.

    Still, I would say that violence is an embarrassment to Christianity. Would you be willing to recognize that Christianity has within itself the ability to critique violence (as your admission that early Christian history was non-violent might lend towards), or are you convinced that Christianity is inherently violent (as your later comment would seem)?

    In that case, your definition of violence would include the early church before they were ‘co-opted by the Roman state’. That definition may be so broad that it would most certainly include every person on the planet, not just those that believe their religion to be exclusively true.

    And I could even get on board with that in some ways. It just depends on what we mean by violence. In this case, I’ve been talking about physical violence: punishment, physical control and killing.


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