Hauerwas on C.S. Lewis and War

From Religion and Ethics:

Many people are Christians because of the work of C.S. Lewis. With wit and wisdom, Lewis imaginatively exploded the hollow pretensions of the secular. Moreover, he helped many see, for the first time, the world in the light of fact that “it had really happened once.”

It is, therefore, not easy to criticize Lewis when he has such a devoted following. Yet I must write critically of Lewis because here I want to examine his views concerning violence and war. I am a pacifist. Lewis was anything but a pacifist. I want to show that his arguments against pacifism are inadequate, but I also that he provides imaginative resources for Christians to imagine a very different form of Christian nonviolence, a form unknown to Lewis, with which I hope he might have had some sympathy.

Before turning to Lewis’s arguments against pacifism, I think it important to set the context for his more formal reflections on war by calling attention to Lewis’s experience of war.

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  • Percival

    I am continually frustrated by pacifists who refuse to deal seriously with the police question. Hauerwas has written a very good and thoughtful essay here, but he has once again brushed over the police issue by suggesting the question is irrelevant.
    “But war is essentially a different reality than the largely peaceable work of the police.”

    It is interesting to me that the noun “war” is contrasted with the noun phrase “work of the police.” On the other hand, one could also say, “Gunning down lawbreakers and imprisoning undesirables is essentially a different reality than defending a peaceable people against genocide and enslavement.” However, the legitimate work of the police, like the work of the soldier, is to enforce the law/justice by the use or by threat of deadly force. Until pacifists can deal with the police issue they will have little credibility on the military issue.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I have long been a pacifist, in part out of conviction and in part out of loyalty to my wife’s background in the peace church Church of the Brethren. I regularly read and contribute to Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Peace and Justice Support Network.

    At this point I am more opposed to police violence than I was in the past because I have been wrestling with Michelle Alexanders’ “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in An Age of Color-Blindness.” Alexander posits, and provides strong arguments that, The War on Drugs is the latest means of controlling African Americans, particularly African American men.

    The one argument I will address here is that “Discretion leads directly to discrimination.” Namely that because the police cannot arrest everyone violating drug laws, they deploy their resources to where they can do so most easily, most cheaply and with the greatest return on their efforts: Urban minority communities. And most cases are for possession of small amounts of drugs. This accounts for the fact that in 2007, 2.4 million African American adult males were under correctional supervision, more than the number who were slaves in 1850. Such imprisonment explains the increase from 300,000 in prison in 1980 to 2 million in 2010, a nearly 700% increase in people in prison who we are paying for. The ramifications of this are horrendus. Once they are out, prisoners cannot serve on juries, cannot receive federal benefits, cannot live in public housing face other sanctions and are virutally branded for life as “ex-cons” or “felons.” In one section of her book, Alexander takes black leaders, including President Obama to task for asking “where are black fathers?” without offering the honest answer: “Too many of them are in prison.”

    I personally advocate for systems of restorative justice, particularly in non-violent crimes, which most drug crimes are. These sometimes do and sometimes do not involve state involvement and violence.


  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I know many Christian policemen that may use force and the aim a weapon at somebody but choose not to use deadly violence and bring the person into a correctional facility. The majority of situations policemen face is without the use of deadly violence. I suspect most policemen retire from the police force without shooting or killing anyone. It seems crazy to make normative the use of violence on the rare exception of the possible use of deadly force in an extreme situation. When it comes to common sense, that simpply does not make sense to me.

  • Dave

    #3 CGC:

    The problem, as I see it, with your view is that pacifism isn’t just about not killing, it is non-violence, period (at least as I understand it).

    So, any authority exercised by the police to enforce anything is only there because of their ability to use force to accomplish it. The same is true of government in general. The enforcement of any law implies the use of some level of force against some one who does not comply.

    This is one of my major hang-ups with Christian pacifism. I understand the viewpoint that being non-violent isn’t purely about reason, but rather obedience. I just don’t see how this view doesn’t make a Christian a parasite on society, a view that has been a stumbling block of two non-Christians I know who think all Christians are pacifists.

  • CGC

    Hi Dave,
    The problem with your and many people’s hang-up with pacifism is it is a charicature. Read Yoder, Hauerwas, Walter Wink, and many other Christian scholars writing about what Christian pacifism means and looks like today. Almost all of them distinguish between force and deadly force. The whole “passive” absolutist pacifism as an idealogy is a misunderstanding and charicature of Christian pacifism today. Even Yoder and others utilize the just war theory even though it is not scriptural at all.

    And I don’t know anything that is more of a stumbling to non-Christians when Christians talk of exercizing violence on others or excusing the use of deadly force and violence. Nobody lamblasts the Eastern Orthodox church for a very tainted history of violence and war because their church history has been on of peace-making. It’s the western church that skeptics, atheists, and even Christians struggle over the violent past where Christians thought it was perfectly right to kill others who disagreed with them or to fight “holy wars” (as if war somehow can actually be holy).

  • (1) Percival. It seems to me the work of police and the work of a soldier are significantly different. For example, war creates states of affairs in which two very good people may kill each other for stupid, preventable reasons. Not so with police work.

    Pacifist need not be opposed to the use of physical force (which is what your comment seems to assume). Pacifism may have many different expressions. I personally want my police officers caring weapons that can non-permanently incapacitate those who wish to do harm. Getting shot with a bean bag is far different than getting shot with a bullet. Certainly the pacifist can remain a pacifist and be pro-beanbag guns (or the like).

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I grant most of what you say and I believe that most police officers never discharge their weapons and seek to avoid violence. I did not mean to question that. I meant to argue that since most of the arrests that result in imprisonment are for non-violent offenses, restorative justice provides a reasonable way to restore order and justice. I frankly have to wonder about arrests for non-violent “possession” that are not amenable to restorative justice because it appears that there is no offended party.

    I face this dillemma in our neighborhood, where there is a house across the street where young men deal drugs. They are not harming anyone in a violent way, but the officers in our town use “stop and frisk” approaches even against other young black men walking down the road. They stopped and frisked one African American teenager who was walking with a backpack to his aunt’s house right next door to us.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Michael

    Percival – #1 — And I am continually frustrated by those who don’t take seriously Christ’s command to “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”

    Dave — #4 — Stumbling blocks . . . talk to missionaries to Muslim areas of the world. The “Christian” nation of the US is a serious stumbling block to many nominal (not just radical) muslims based on our foreign policy and military invasions.

    Dave – #4 — Christians as parasites on society . . . well I suppose it all depends on what Kingdom Story you want to live in. Either we join in the cycle of destruction and decay or we begin living now in anticipation of the restoration of all things. I’d actually suggest that participation in the world of force and might and power accumlation is being a parasite and absolutely antithetical to the ways of Christ which IMO would lead to the best society ever.

  • Travis Greene

    Did anybody actually read the piece? We can all discuss our own ideas on violence. The point of this link is that Hauerwas shows, to me persuasively, that Lewis seems not to have understood a robust Christian nonviolence. He’s not the only one.

  • Percival

    Jeff #6,
    Yes, significantly different but not essentially different. Certainly the use of deadly force or the threat of deadly force is more indiscriminate in war, but there is no category difference, the difference is one of degree.

    Michael #8,
    Yes, that is also frustrating, I grant you. I speak as a former Christian pacifist who now sees that the application of the Christian law of love for neighbor and enemy is not always so clear cut. Should we love the aggressor more than our neighbor? A Christian soldier or a police officer had better be clear that his or her service should flow out of love for people not out of an abstract patriotic love for flag and country or for law and order. If it was only my personal righteousness that was at stake, it would be easier to choose non-violent resistance or non resistance consistently. However, love sometimes means protecting and rescuing others as well.

    Also as for the view of a Christian missionary to Muslims, I think I can speak to that (after 20 years). You are completely right about the idea of America as a Christian nation is a huge stumbling block. Some years ago when one Muslim friend told me he liked to watch all the Christian TV programs. Which ones? I asked. Oh, all of them – WWF, Baywatch, Dallas, etc. I like them all!

    So really, the stumbling block is not that America has an non-Christian foreign policy. The problem is the linking of Christ’s kingdom with any nation or culture. But we digress.

  • I did read the entire article. Excellent., In Christian Pacifism, I briefly noted Lewis’ support for war in “Mere Christianity” where he imagined he and an enemy simultaneously shooting and embracing in heaven. But what has that to do with the question of whether being on the battlefield to shoot an enemy is living in obedience to Christ?

    That ‘war is a fact of life’ stands along side the ‘sin is a fact of life’ defense.

    We should remember that Lewis’ WWI service was over a decade before his conversion, and that as he wrote of his rejection of pacifism, the evil of Hitler was staring the world in the face. Pacifism grew after WWI with the wide disillusionment of that war which was waged by ‘Christian’ countries and cousins. This was a war where Christians should have known better than to shoot fellow Christians. And the merciless treaty prepared the soil for the growth of Hitler’s movement. So when the ‘What about Hitler’ argument is given, the significant question is “what about the Christians” who prepared the way for him?

    Most Christians seem to picture the liberal Utopian or utilitarian versions when they hear “pacifism” rather than the version to which Hauerwas subscribes.
    Free Look Inside feature here to read my journey from Marine to Christian pacifist.

  • phil_style

    @ Dave,. #4: This is one of my major hang-ups with Christian pacifism. I understand the viewpoint that being non-violent isn’t purely about reason, but rather obedience. I just don’t see how this view doesn’t make a Christian a parasite on society, a view that has been a stumbling block of two non-Christians I know who think all Christians are pacifists

    Let’s not confuse Pacifism with Passivity. Ghandi was a pacifist, yet one would have to be rather ignorant of history to label him a parasite on society. A passive pacifist is as much a parasite on society as a passive non-pacifist. Anyone who thinks they can just glide by without actively contributing positively to society, and simply sits back and gleans of the benefits of it is a parasite – pacifist or not.

    The role of the pacifist is to be active. To be brave. To be principled. To put themselves deliberately in the “worst” place to try and bring ease to people’s suffering in a non violent manner. This is not parasitic.

  • Karl

    If pacifism has to do with eschewing violence, rather than just eschewing deadly violence, then I’m with Percival in feeling like I’ve yet to see a pacifist adequately address the police question. Or more particularly, the question of how to deal with violent criminals who are bent on continuing violent criminal behavior.

    Behind the idea of incarceration lies the implicit or explicit threat of force. If someone resists incarceration violently (as many criminals would do if they knew their captors would take their own violence only so far but no farther), then escalating violence must be used as necessary to capture and subdue and re-incarcerate them. Using violence or the threat of violence to deny a violent criminal his liberty, and using violence or the threat of violence to keep him locked up, does not seem to square with the pacifist ethos any more than does the violent resistance resistance of Europe to Hitler around the time Lewis was writing. Saying “well I’m ok with the police being violent up to a point as long as it is measured violence and no more violent than necessary, and as long as in the end they don’t use deadly force no matter what” doesn’t sound like true pacifism to me.

  • mkmangold

    @2Randy: We have done mission work in the inner-city of Milwaukee and run across former activists who marched with Father James Groppi during the civil unrest of the 60’s. The patients would point to themselves in pictures on clinic walls and when I would ask who “is this and what is he doing now?” inevitably I would get one of two answers: “he died of a drug overdose” or “he’s in prison.” The war tactics we devised in VietNam never died out. They were just turned against us, eg SWAT units.
    @9TravisGreene: are you near Milwaukee, too?