Can Lethal Resistance be Loving?

Can Lethal Resistance be Loving? July 6, 2012

I quite enjoyed reading Logan Mehl-Laituri’s Reborn on the 4th of July for the Patheos Book Club this month.  Mehl-Laituri was weakly religious, but, while serving in the US Army, he became more deeply engaged with Christianity and ultimately decided that his newfound faith was incompatible with his job shooting people.

It’s obviously an emotional as well as an intellectual journey for Mehl-Laituri, but since I tend to be an unfeeling reader, wishing for a little less personality and a bit more theology in these kinds of books, I was delighted that Mehl-Laituri has helpfully included several appendices on his religious beliefs, military law, a concordance of biblical citations about soldiers, etc, so the reader is free to wonk out.

It turns out there are two types of contientious objectors under US law.  The first is exactly what you think of: someone whose religious and/or philosophical beliefs mean they cannot serve in the military in good conscience.  But it turns out there’s a second classification: someone who won’t carry a weapon or do any harm to the enemy, but is willing to serve in other capacities.  It turns out that Mehl-Laituri sought the second, extremely uncommon classification.  He wanted to be redeployed with his unit to Iraq, but could not consent to harming Iraqis.

The army did not allow him to return with his unit, and I was left wondering how and whom Mehl-Laituri intended to serve as a non-combatant.  Would he be complicit with killing?  Or at least, any more complicit than he is as a tax-payer?  Did he intend to ship out as his comrades’ keeper, and try and protect them from the wounds they were inflicting on their souls, however unknowingly?  As a Christian, how much hold do national loyalties have on him?  He didn’t go into detail on this point, but my impression was that he wanted to return to Iraq because he felt a powerful communion with the individuals he had served with.

I don’t particularly want to talk about the justice of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or whether a bad war creates an obligation to see it through to a good peace.    The question I found most interesting is: What kind of resistance should Christians offer to injustice? Violence only seems useful if we’re using it against other people the way we would against a rabid dog.  There’s an immediate danger, and, regretfully, we don’t have a way to heal or reason with the aggressor.  And then we get to the question of martyrdom.

Ultimately, Mehl-Laituri has a duty to everyone on the field of battle, but no clear way to serve.  His conflict feels a lot higher stakes than the way we deal with quotidian enemies, but there are a lot of kinds of non-lethal resistance and opposition that run the risk of being unloving.  I’ve got a lot of questions and a couple interesting source texts to riff on here, so stay tuned over the next few days and browse through the posts tagged “radical forgiveness” and “sin eaters/dirty hands” for some background.

Bonus points if you can guess which Shakespearean soliloquy has been running through my head since I read Mehl-Laituri’s book and will be the topic of tomorrow’s post.


Update: There are two follow-ups on this theme, both inspired by plays: “That his heels may kick at heaven” and “A Martyr for All Seasons.”

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  • Ted Seeber

    If you want good theology on this subject, I’d suggest starting at the beginning, with _City of God_ by Augustine of Hippo. The entire book is an apologetic response to the charge that soldiers becoming Christian deserted the army and the lack of manpower allowed Rome to fall to the Barbarian Hordes. This book is the start of all Christian thought on the concept of Just Warfare- and I personally find it very interesting that it is the extreme pacifist case for just warfare.

    • Is that really what the *whole book* is about? From my reading I remember him talking about these issues very little.

      • Ted Seeber

        There were tons of side issues- mainly trying to prove that *Christian Rome* was more orderly and useful to mankind than *Pagan Rome*. But yes, the original charge that _City of God_ was written to counteract was the Pagan charge that Christianity made people leave the army, and thus left Rome defenseless against the Barbarian Hordes.

        One interesting modern parallel is between Goth/Rome and Mexico/USA- both cases were (well, largely anyway) about disparate economic systems separated by a river.

  • Andrew Huntsman

    The second classification of being a conscientious objector is not that uncommon for soldiers that have specific skills. A good example would be Military Chaplains, who exist on the battlefield to offer spiritual support to soldiers, and administer religious rites on the field of battle. They do not carry weapons, but they do have a security team that will fight on their behalf.
    Conscientious objectors enlisting who still wish to serve are designated 1-O-A, and are sent to Modified Basic Training to be trained on all military tasks except the use of weapons, and are typically groomed to be Medics so that might help soldiers on the battlefield. Since he applied for CO status after military training, it would be difficult for him to deploy without retraining, and not necessarily to the same unit. If you want to read the Army regulation regarding conscientious objectors, it is AR 600-43.

    Great blog Leah.

  • stranger danger

    simple kick him out. he’s nothing more than a liability. He allowed his imaginary GOD to harm others on a battlefield. Instead of just watching out for their own safety, other soldiers are required to defend him. What would he do if his own soldiers were kidnapped or attacked? would he help or would he just allow his fellow man to die because his fairy tale says “no killing.”

    how pathetic

    • I very much doubt you could prove that God is a fairy tale, that there is no deity at all, or indeed that killing is really a good idea. But that aside, check your own history, Desmond Doss was an American hero who dragged injured soldiers off the battlefield after all the armed troops had retreated, & under heavy fire. He was a contentious objector of the second kind mentioned by Leah. Your argument here is really just an attack on someone who believes in something that you really can’t be certain doesn’t exist, so you shout you piece & stamp your feet.

      • stranger danger

        Evolution, big bang, string theory, etc

        I could go on but you religious nutjobs don’t believe in science

        • But none of these theories make any mention of God. Citing them as proofs is like saying that maxwell’s equations demonstrate that sourdough is the best bread.

          • stranger danger

            Read God’s delusion and learn

            rejoice there is no god. get a life

          • Ted Seeber

            God’s Delusion should be re-titled Dawkin’s delusion. It’s a narcissistic look at the work of a man who can’t admit to being wrong.

        • Paul Prescod

          Stranger Danger: I’m an atheist. You’re not helping.

          If you can’t be bothered to actually write out an argument (preferably with correct punctuation, capital letters, book titles) then please just go away. How do you think that it makes atheists look when you cannot be bothered to hit the “shift key” or look up the name of Dawkins’ book?

          • stranger danger

            Paul, I’m sorry that you’re a fake atheist, but that’s not my problem.

            Want a taste of logic? The bible says god created humans and placed them in some magical garden
            Fact: we came from evolution

            The bible says god created the heavens and the earth.
            Fact: there is no heaven and the universe was created by the big bang.

            Want to know why people continuously believe in imaginary things? Here’s a passage from a recent article

            “Believers are not all alike, but several factors have been correlated with paranormal beliefs and experiences in general. One is the trait of absorption: Those who get lost in fiction and their own fantasies may treat their imaginations as especially real. Another trait is low behavioral inhibition: If you’re impulsive, you’re less prone to check your initial interpretations of events against reality. And susceptibility to false memories allows you to twist experiences to fit a paranormal narrative.

            Childhood trauma and a history of negative life events can also increase belief in the paranormal. The psychologist Harvey Irwin has suggested that early experiences with diminished control lead to the need for a sense of mastery; paranormal belief becomes a way to make sense of anomalous events. Indeed, the desire for control is a strong predictor of pattern-finding. Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky showed that when healthy subjects feel a lack of control, they’re more likely to see images in snowy visual noise, to rely on superstitious rituals, and to explain coincidences as conspiracies.

            Believers are not necessarily less intelligent than skeptics. Only weak or nonexistent correlations with education and overall reasoning ability have been shown.

            On the other hand, “there is a weak but consistent correlation between paranormal beliefs and various measures of psychological maladjustment, whether you’re looking at a tendency toward depression or mania or schizotypy,” says Chris French, the head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. While some conclude that if you believe in ESP or ghosts you’re crazy, “that’s far too naive and simplistic,” French says. “There are situations where having these beliefs can be psychologically advantageous”—as a form of coping, for example. “It’s a very complex picture.”

            Paranormal believers also exhibit many traits one might consider positive (within reason): They’re more intuitive, open to experience, and sensation-seeking. English psychologist Susan Blackmore, who went from believer to skeptic, has seen both sides of the spectrum. She says she’s the only person ever to have been on the executive council of both the Society for Psychical Research and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. “I can tell you,” she quips, “that the believers’ conferences have much better parties.”

          • Ted Seeber

            ” The bible says god created humans and placed them in some magical garden”

            Since when is a rain forest “Magical”?

        • Well, none of the things you mentioned actually exclude the existence of every possible conception of a deity, or the supernatural, which would make your atheism essentially an act of faith, then by the same argument you use, a fariy tale.

          The gospel according to Dawkins, a person with finite knowledge, is hardly an argument. The boeing 747 gambit, chapter 3, maintains that a universe created by an abrahamic deity, would be observably different. This is not a very scientific argument favouring atheism, firstly, it doesn’t help against hindu deitie or many others. Secondly, since Dawkins is an atheist he doesn’t believe in any deity, let alone the one in question, so without any experience of the thing he is examining he makes claims about it, as far as I know science is about experience, not blind postulating, if you accept such arguments, then your disbelief in one conception of god is an act of blind faith, & rejection of any other irrational, since it doesn’t follow logically.

          But lets do science to atheism. Atheism claims that life has a natural cause, it does, life comes from life, no record anywhere in all human history has any creature ever been recorded as having come from inorganic compounds, or simply spawning from the presence of some compounds which do not presuppose life in a “warm pond.” The fact that we have produced some substances found in corpses, which don’t spontaneously spring to life, isn’t an argument for atheism anyway, since the situations created in the laboratory are created by intelligent beings with a purpose it is still a design argument. Science is about induction, or extrapolation of finite data to infinite situations. With all observed life coming from life, we can assume, scientifically that life has no origin, & therefore pre existed the universe, of course, we call beings living prior to the universe gods, thus, it is atheists who ignore science, at least on this point.

          The only generic argument I have ever heard, & therefore the only valid one for atheism, as opposed to the arguments against particular conceptions of deity, which could be used against a Christian to support paganism; hinduism or any number of other religions, is the absence of evidence argument, which is itself an argument against atheism, since I much doubt that you have any evidence that there is no god of any kind.

          • stranger danger

            Right because we currently don’t have evidence of such thing……….GOD.

            Wow you’re pathetic. Science has proven time and time again that there is no God. It’s only a matter of time until science finds evidence of the natural cause. Maybe if you fundies didn’t block science during the dark ages and continuously block scientific funding, we might we traveling the stars by now.

            I find it hilarious that you fundies love to praise about your bible but science has proven time and time again that it’s all wrong. Show me a passage from the bible that’s true. oh wait you can’t

          • don’t feed the troll….

          • stranger danger

            right I’m a troll for showing a fallacy

            Oh look we have no evidence now, thus GOD
            We have no medication to cure children in Cambodia, thus GOD

            I swear you fundies are crazy. The moment something doesn’t fit, GOD.

          • Right because we currently don’t have evidence of such thing……….GOD

            So you agree with the idea that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

            Oh look we have no evidence now, thus GOD […] I swear you fundies are crazy. The moment something doesn’t fit, GOD.

            Except when it would logically imply some kind of deity, or the supernatural. Consistent much? It’s normally a little more difficult to point out this inconsistency among atheists, but like one of your fellow atheists already pointed out on this thread, you’re not much use to them.

            It’s only a matter of time until science finds evidence of the natural cause.

            This is a statement of faith, not of fact. Perhaps science will find a natural cause (for what I’m not really sure, you didn’t say.) You may be referring to my argument on the origin of life, if so, that isn’t an absence of evidence argument, it’s an argument using the available evidence, which is (strange as this may seem) what science is all about. If you would like me to construct an absence of evidence argument that would logically exclude atheism, I will.

            You keep making statements about the Bible, which doesn’t really help you. It does not logically follow to say that since you have an argument (somehow it doesn’t even need to be valid) against one religion, no possible deity can exist. To be an atheist on such an argument isn’t based on reason, it is based on faith that the Christian God is the only possible conception of a god. By using this argument, you’re actually arguing that Christianity is convincing enough to require a counter argument, while the other religions are not even convincing enough to respond to. If anything, this gives credit to Christianity.

            Science has proven time and time again that there is no God.

            Really? Then you’d have pointed it how, but you haven’t. It has proved that certain (not all) things are naturally possible, albeit highly improbable by themselves.

            I will happily debate the issue of whether atheism is valid or not, since there’s no point in having the discussion of which god, unless we agree there actually might be one, but it would be nice if you a) had something intelligent to say, & b) didn’t have to resort to name calling.

        • Tara S

          “WHO’S THAT TRIP-TRAPPING ON MY BRIDGE?” “It’s me, a nice happy little billy goat! Isn’t it a beautiful, wondrous day?” “THERE IS NO GOD, AND I’M GONNA EAT YOU, YOU FUNDY!” “Fundy? No, I said I’m a *billy goat*…see the beard?” “YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN SCIENCE!” “What?”

        • Tim

          Wait, were those ‘theories’ that you were mentioning? Similar to the Flat Earth Theory or the Rain Follows the Plow Theory? Scientific theories are merely speculative understandings of natural things, in other words our best guess. So don’t flout those theories as scientific fact because that is scientifically (you know, the thing you said religious people hate?) inaccurate. Also, do you know who added plenty to the development of the scientific method? Oh, that’s right, St. Thomas Aquinas.

    • Jubal DiGriz

      If morally Mehl-Laituri was objectively correct in refusing to take up arms, that would apply to the soldiers around in him too… and probably the whole army and the people he was fighting against. Taken to the extreme, the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan would stop being military and become humanitarian, with civil discussion on how best to put those countries together between the international and local groups.

      I had a brief dance with contentious objector status myself, and I was told in a back-channel way that the main reason objectors are shuffled away from any combat role is that such a person is extremely demoralizing for the rest of the unit. As noted earlier, there are a fair number of examples of objectors making real and heroic contributions to a unit, but with the U.S. armed forces current volunteer soldier model, keeping objectors away from anyone else is more important.

      • I was told in a back-channel way that the main reason objectors are shuffled away from any combat role is that such a person is extremely demoralizing for the rest of the unit. — How odd. Why would they be demoralizing? I’d think it would be the opposite, that since they’re willing to help/assist in any other way possible they would be encouraging. Maybe the Powers That Be are just afraid that others will start to question the legitimacy of killing. (But I’d think that would be a good thing. It should be questioned, thoroughly and frequently — I would not want an army filled with people who think killing other people is a great thing and lots of fun.)

        • Ted Seeber

          You aren’t the Powers-That-Be, who do specifically want an army full of soldiers that think killing people is fun.

    • Instead of just watching out for their own safety, other soldiers are required to defend him. — Well, I think that’s the whole point of not putting such folks in a combat situation. They won’t BE on the battlefield, therefore they’re not interfering with battlefield ops.

  • Doragoon

    Maybe I grew up reading too much Heinlein to be confused by any of this, but I can’t see killing as a sin. Murder is a sin. Killing imprudently is a sin. But fighting in a war is not a sin.

    I have trouble with your concept of sin eaters. Christianity doesn’t have moral reletivism. We don’t weigh one sin agaisnt another and decide which is the least sinful. If it was the right thing to do, then it must be the right thing to do on it’s own, not simply becouse of an intolerable alternative.

    • Paul Prescod

      “fighting in a war is not a sin”
      1: Where did Jesus make an exception for war in “love thy neighbour” and “turn the other cheek”?

      2: How can killing someone be “loving them”? I’d like to know how you loving kill someone.

      3: Are you saying that “killing in a war” is not a sin, no matter the cause of the war? If America invades Canada for maple syrup then there is no sin in the killing?

      4: What *is* the difference between “murder” and “killing in a war”? How many combatants do you need to consider a conflict a “war”. Can my neighbour and I declare a “revolutionary war” against our “oppressors” and start killing people?

      5: Please explain how a person killing to defend his family s not simply “weighing one sin against another to decide which is the least sinful?” I’m somewhat afraid you’ll say that “killing in self-defense is not murder”, but that’s not helpful. We are trying to define murder (“unjustified killing”) by determining when it is justified and when it is not.

      6: May I assume that you are anti-abortion? Do you make an exception for the likely-death of the mother and baby in childbirth? If so, is this not “avoiding an intolerable alternative?” Or would you actually say that it would be better to chance both of their deaths than to terminate the fetus?

      You may not be confused on this issue, but so far you have not given any indication of having thought it through either. I’m sure that your next correspondence will correct that.

      • leahlibresco

        Re number 2: I think the easiest example is the rabies example, where you’re putting someone down because you don’t have a way to stop them from harming themselves or others in a way that they would never freely consent to. To go for spoiler-y sci-fi examples: (spoiler for X-Men 3) I would say that Wolverine killing Jean counts as an act of love. And so would (really mild spoilers for Firefly) Mal’s promise that he’d kill Jayne before he could get captured by Reavers.

        • Paul Prescod

          @leahlibresco : I’m sorry I wasn’t more explicit. I meant “kill an enemy lovingly.”

          • Ted Seeber

            The most loving way to kill an enemy, from St. Augustine of Hippo’s original Just War Doctrine, is to give him a chance to kill you back.

      • bbtp

        Fortunately, there’s no need to start playing “dueling proof-texts.” Christian governments have made war and soldiers have been declared Saints, so the Church clearly thinks that war is not incompatible with Christianity. The onus is therefore not on the layman to show that war is forbidden by God.

        • Jubal DiGriz

          There is a very large gap between the act of “Christian governments” and the will of God. I’ve heard many arguments that worldly concerns forced Christian churches to support (or start) conflicts that if making decisions solely from scripture they would not have. Also, if you think that fighting a war is compatible with Christianity, then there is the matter of figuring out if all wars that have claimed to be just actually were. If all were just, then the distinction has no meaning. If only some were just, then some claims about being a just war were false, but were fought anyways by Christian soldiers. And if unjust wars have been and/or continue to be fought by Christian soldiers, what is the value of Church teachings on just war?

          • bbtp

            I agree, and I don’t have any answers, not having studied the matter. The point is just that citing random Bible verses out of context is usually naive or in bad faith when there’s a huge weight of Church practice on the other side of the scale.

            Look, there are lots of Buddhist texts that support vegetarianism. That doesn’t mean the Dalai Lama is a vegetarian. Likewise, the Church has evidently found some way not to be a pacifist organization despite the cited verse. Since the Church has obviously reconciled (or at least thinks it’s reconciled) that verse with what it endorses or allows, someone who wants to claim that Catholics are wrong about their own beliefs had better bring something more to the table.

        • Paul Prescod

          You just outsource your moral thinking like that? I’m not sure whether to envy you or pity you.

          But thanks for reminding me of one of the most objectionable aspects of Catholic theology and practice.

          • bbtp

            I’m sure you sincerely pity me and you’re not just saying that to be a jerk. But your pity, if sincere, is misdirected, because the argument is logical (and I’m not Catholic.) If the Church has supported wars, then it must be possible to reconcile the totality of Christian belief (whether or not that belief is true) with war, and citing a particular Biblical text to the contrary is just irrelevant. It’s like citing the text of the Constitution to “prove” that the federal government can’t regulate a farmer’s raising and consuming his own wheat.

      • Doragoon

        I’m reminded of a Chesterton poem/Loncore song, “The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose. You never loved your friends, my friend, as I have loved my foes.”

        First, there are absolutely things worth dieing for, and things worth killing for.

        Whether it’s a president, a king, or a citisen in a voting booth, making the decision whether to go to war or not is a moral question.

        I fail to see the difficulty understanding virtuous killing. People don’t have trouble with the concepts of virtuous eating, or virtuous driving, or virtuous medicine. All those activities can be done sinfully, yet you single out killing as differant. I’m confused.

        Unjustified killing is exactly that. Killing without justice, which is of course a virtue.

        Lastly, on abortion, there are lots of ways to aproach this, but I prefer to use a personal theory, “Technology can’t change morality.” If we had the technology to save both mother and the child (such as an artificial womb or the like) then it would be immoral to kill either, even through withholding treatment. Therefore, it’s not moral to kill either in order to save the other.

        You treat the mother and the child. One of the worst concepts to come out of the abortion debate is the indifferance that doctors are encuraged to feel. That someone isn’t your patient so you don’t have an obligation to treat them. It’s the moral equivelent of passing someone injured on the street and saying that someone else will help them.

        • To equate eating or taking medicine, which are my choices about my own life/health/body, with killing, which is about my choices about someone else’s life/health/body, is simply nonsensical. Unless you’re making an argument about being a vegetarian or something?

        • Paul Prescod

          You said: “fighting in a war is not a sin.” And yet in your follow-up you did not mention the word “war” at all. So you have yet to back up your assertion. In fact, it is not even clear whether you meant to say that: “fighting in a war is not necessarily a sin” or “fighting in a war is never a sin” or “killing in war obeys the same rules as killing in any other circumstance” in which case it would have been clearer to leave out reference to war altogether, as Leah mostly did.

          I have nothing to add to Delphi Psmith in your ridiculous equation of killing and eating. Presuming you are a Christian: murder is prohibited by the 10 commandments. Eating is not.

          With respect to “technology cannot change morality”: the technology available in a circumstance is an aspect of the situation. Of course it is relevant to the morally correct action that you should take. For example, if a technology emerges that allows people to live longer, then a hospital has a new moral obligation imposed upon them: to try and acquire that technology. Conversely, the existence of the atom bomb creates a new moral imperative to keep enriched uranium out of the hands of terrorists. Your theory that technology can be separated out of a discussion of ethics does not work.

      • bill bannon

        The turn the other cheek passage has one version that denotes that it is the right cheek. Scholars have opined that that means your opponent hits you with his left or weaker hand…ergo a mideastern insult ritual was being addressed by Christ not severe assault…Christ who Himself did not turn the other cheek when He was before Pilate and was struck. Paul also was struck before the High Priest and protested according to temple rules.
        Paul, ask yourself what you would do if you came home and a larger man was just beginning to rip your wife or daugthers clothes off. I’d get on her side, behind her, and press a shotgun in his ribs and tell him to back up. If he grabbed for it, I’d pull the trigger. No murder there. Just killing which occurs throughout the Old Testament multiple times.
        Exodus 22:1
        [If a thief is caught* in the act of housebreaking and beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt involved.
        2 But if after sunrise he is thus beaten, there is bloodguilt.]
        The meaning us that daylight bespeaks a burglar whereas night presumes an armed home invader.

    • Ted Seeber

      Ever hear of the difference between Venal and Mortal Sin?

      One doesn’t have to be a moral relativist to figure out that some sins are less sinful than others.

  • Aquinas talks about resistance to injustice in the Summa: an individual can use violence to stave off attack only to the extent necessary to repel the assailant (though in some cases this may involve killing the person as a last resort or because of one’s limited means of resistance). However, this is just w/r/t an individual acting on his own. Soldiers act as agents of a community and its government. So the space of just resistance by soldiers is rather different than for non-soldiers. Soldiers act not only as defenders but also potentially as executors of justice. Police Forces are a species of military, after all. Hence ordinarily there’s little space for an individual soldier (under someone else’s authority) to puzzle out whether what he’s doing is just: normally he can’t really know, and because it most cases he’s simply obliged to obey the ordinances of his community’s governing power (in this case manifested in his commander’s orders) he should follow along. The exceptions to this are difficult to maneuver, because they require a greater degree of personal prudence (obedience doesn’t require that much prudence), but obviously in cases where commands are malicious and contrary to justice a soldier would need to disobey them.

    • Skittle

      Police forces should never be a species of military, although I am aware that countries like France (with their somewhat different system of law) have exactly that. A civilian policeforce is terribly important: the enforcers of the law should never be doing anything like waging war with the population of their own country. Policing by consent and all that: it’s why the inability of the police to stop a determined riot is a good thing, because you do not want a policeforce that can overpower the population when they decide en mass not to comply.

      I really thought this civilian policeforce thing, along with a system of common law, was something America took from Britain. Or did you go for the French model?

      • My reasoning is just based on what constitutes a military: an ordered, armed body of people under the authority of the state who employ arms or the threat of violence to protect the community from its enemies. Since willful lawbreakers are acting against the established order of the state, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to me to say that the Police is a species of military. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they need to go on military marches or wear camouflage or anything like that (though some of them do), nor does it mean that the police force is an evil thing occupying our cities against our consent. But I do think the connection between the military and the massive police forces that exist in large cities is difficult to miss.

        • Skittle

          See, I don’t think the police should be enforcing the established order of the state against the people, if the people disagree, nor do I think lawbreakers should be seen as “enemies” of the state or of the community. I can see that if your police do that, they are indeed a species of military. But I do not want to live in a country where that is the case. It doesn’t make them evil, but it does make them a military force acting against the population of the country (lawbreakers are still citizens).

          Thanks, Ted Seeber, for the clarification: I hadn’t realised America had mostly taken the French model for policing.

          The British model is supposed to work by consent, rather than the threat of violence. It doesn’t always work, but it is why people were so horrified by the footage showing police beating people during protests and riots. The Peterloo Massacre still lives in our cultural memory, and we do not want soldiers policing our streets.

          • Ted Seeber

            I would point out that America left England about 50 years previous to Peterloo. Our country was born in military.

          • Skittle

            A fair point well made, Ted.

      • Ted Seeber

        Where most of America is indeed under English Common Law, America took the French police model. That’s why our policemen carry weapons as a standard part of the uniform- where the English Bobby isn’t allowed to carry a gun.

  • As a Quaker, I’ve thought about this a fair amount. The pacifism has been one of the most philosophically difficult parts of my religious conversion. It’s something I accepted as part and parcel of what I was signing up for, and have wrestled with since.

    What I’ve learned, as I take pacifism more seriously, is really how many alternatives to violence there actually are. It has been easy for me to dichotomize violent responses and non-violent responses, and to see non-violent responses as a sort of blank monolith, all looking exactly the same. I sort of wrote them off, thinking maybe not in so many words, but more or less, ‘All well and good, but in the case of this injustice, there isn’t a lunch counter to sit down at.’ Or people would be sitting at metaphorical lunch counters (like the gates of VT Yankee, our local, loathed, nuclear power plant), and getting arrested, and it seemed totally pointless (nobody’s mind was changed; VT Yankee is still standing there).

    What I’ve started figuring out is somethng that’s really stupidly obvious: there are as many different ways to non-violently resist as there are ways to violently resist, and just as there are ways to be effectively and ineffectively violent, there are ways to be effectively and ineffectively nonviolent.

    The mind-changer for me was in 2009, when a number of peace-loving Christians, including a friend of mine, got themselves arrested in front of a gun shop that was involved in selling handhuns illegally to criminals. They were arrested and tried; some months later, amidst all the negative publicity, the shop closed. Anyway, reading their statements at trial was moving for me, and helped me think about the purpose and use of nonviolent resistance in a new way.

    So that’s my answer to what sort of resistance a Christian should offer. As to whether lethal violence can ever be an act of love, I haven’t the foggiest. These days, committed to my peace church, I tend to think that the situations where that might be the case are so far-fetched and unlikely that it’s better not to even risk it. There was a post of yours a while back where you quoted someone saying that there are certain inviolable rules, like never killing someone who has helped you, because the chance that you’re wrong about killing them is much bigger than the chance that it actually is the right thing to do. That’s sort of where I am with lethal violence of any kind.

    I’ve been exposed to violence, and I panic, and what I might do in a state of panic I don’t know, but in a state of pure moral detachment, that’s my opinion.

    • Doragoon

      I’ve always wondered how pacifists can tolerate the existence of the police. Isn’t it wrong for people to use violence on your behalf?

      • I’m not sure I understand your question. The purpose of the police, generally speaking, is to STOP violence, whether it’s a beating or a mugging or domestic violence or whatever. They do this either directly, by intervening at the time, or indirectly, by catching and arresting perpetrators who then go through the criminal justice system. Yes, there are bad cops who misuse their position, but no one (pacifist or otherwise) would defend that.

        • bbtp

          What about the police using violence in defense of property? Ownership requires the right to exclude, and that implies forcible exclusion and removal. More generally, the assertion of any legal right whatsoever is, at bottom, backed by the threat of unleashing the legitimate violence of the state against the counterparty.

      • Some pacifists do indeed object to police on those grounds. Personally, knowing lots of cops and generally being a cop fan, I believe they stop more violence than they create, although I’m really into police using less violent methods of intervention.

        Yes, it does concern me that I am willing to have violence exercised on my behalf. It’s an area I need to think a lot more about.

  • Kirt Higdon

    I don’t think conscientious objector soldiers are all that uncommon. There was one who was an unarmed medic in my unit in Vietnam and he was highly respected.

  • jerry lynch

    “To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether tis nobler…”