True Deterrence Lies In The Path of Life, Not The Arms of Death

True Deterrence Lies In The Path of Life, Not The Arms of Death December 14, 2011

In the news, we see politicians debating what we should do with Iran. The fear is that Iran might soon possess nuclear weapons. They certainly want them. They see the power associated with nuclear arms: those who have them are not dictated to, but rather, listened to and engaged. Those who don’t have them can be bullied – and are bullied – by those who have them. This is the real reason why Iran wants them. It is not about destroying Israel. It is about Iran wanting to be seen as an equal of Israel.

The way many think of weapons, such as guns, should make us wonder about the way we think of other weapons, such as nuclear arms. It is said that guns do not kill people, therefore, we should not feel threatened or afraid when people have guns – it is all for self-defense. The same, of course, can be said about nuclear weapons. It is people who control them; it is people, therefore, who use them to kill others. If the logic used in support of gun ownership is sound, it would make sense that every nation should have nuclear weapons. Clearly, something is wrong. Maybe we can come to agree that nuclear deterrence is not the answer (if it were, we should be happy when other nations gain nuclear arms). Maybe we can agree that the notion of deterrence is based upon a fundamental error. When a tool is created so as to kill, we must realize that essence will be realized. Anything else is nominal nonsense.

We can try to accumulate more and more power, but the truth is that the more we grasp for power, the more we grasp for control, the more it is lost from our grip. The more we try to use our might, our nuclear power, to dictate to the world which has none, the more we will find others creating a nuclear arsenal of their own to respond to us. We can’t rely upon might to make right. Indeed, our actions will make sure that someone will see us as a threat, and they will do whatever they can to take us out. “The weapons of power – coercive physical power – lose because they inevitably encounter some adversary more powerful.”[1] We must realize that the solution is not through might. Rather, it is through humility and apparent weakness. “The only real victory can occur by being conquered (as bait/sacrifice: swallowed by evil) and then coming-into-being, at the center of evil, and this is precisely what true Christianity – in secret – has done; thus it is subversive and invisible and at the center of power in its disguised form (mimesis).”[2]

An ancient Christian explanation for the resurrection is based upon this truth: hades, the realm of the dead, took the bait (Christ), swallowing him up, only to find him greater than it itself; Christ is vomited out, and with him, the rest of the dead are expelled from the pits of hell; death itself (the ultimate semblance of power) is destroyed.  Apparent defeat leads to victory. This unveils the powers that be and shows their true impotence. Power is transitory, and the path to tyranny, the path toward domination always leads to self-destruction. The kingdom of hades has been overcome: everyone who follows its ways will find they will meet the same end, showing us the truth of Christ’s words: “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52b RSV).

[1] Philip K. Dick, Exegesis. ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2011),  801.

[2] Ibid., 801.

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  • Love your last paragraph, Henry.

  • Very radical…I like it!

    Regarding the ‘Arms of Death’, somehow I picture an audience reading this and turning into ‘Three Wise Monkeys’. See no evil (look the other way), hear no evil (refuse to acknowledge) and do no evil (sit on your hands).

    Regarding the ‘Path of Life’, I will surely reflect on this image during Eucharist, hoping Christ lingers and evil is expelled.

  • Chris Sullivan

    Thanks Henry for a wonderful post !

    God Bless

  • The Pachyderminator

    If the logic used in support of gun ownership is sound, it would make sense that every nation should have nuclear weapons.

    Uh, no. If you can’t see the difference between a private person keeping a shotgun in their house and a nation-state possessing weapons of mass destruction that can kill hundreds of thousands of people at a stroke, you’re not trying.

    • IF the claim is weapons don’t kill people….

      • bill bannon

        Pachy is correct. Several times Christ’s disciples are shown to have swords…machaira….battle swords and Christ did not command them to sell them or disgard them. You do not hit an innocent with a sword. In fact I think for that reason, NJ should license knives to carry. You do hit innocents with nuclear weapons by the nature of them. If you Henry, live on a campus that has no crime, you may find it hard to understand any weapons. Bergen County NJ is being hit with breaking and entering crews and the news showed an affluent woman in her 50’s who then purchased a shotgun. Above that county in NY years ago, a woman ordered deck cleaning and the guy they sent got it into his mind to rape, kill and disfigure her. Was she lacking in faith….or should she have had a glock…licensed
        for the home? Is faith protecting you Henry or do you live in a low crime context?

        • Actually, Christ did tell Peter to put the sword away, and healed the one Peter attacked. The earliest Christians interpreted Christ quite different from the modern “sword-driven” world. And he is also wrong in the bigger sense: if the issue is we should not allow weapons of mass destruction in the hands of potential threats, and that deterrence doesn’t work, then it is true on the local level, where a gun is itself a weapon of destruction in a similar fashion, and capable of being used for great evil

  • bill bannon

    Christ told Peter to put the sword away not sell it because Peter was acting against one condition of a just war….a reasonable chance of success. Hence Peter was living by the sword because his act had defect in trying to fight the Jewish guards who could overwhelm them in numbers.
    Christ permitted disciples to carry swords for an entirely different reason. In that culture, muggings took place prior to good medical care and were very costly to the ability to work at all….the good Samaritan parable involves a mugging. Christ allowed them to justly carry machaira for defense against criminals….not to otherthrow the Temple soldiers.

    Christ praises the faith of the centurion as the greatest in all Israel… who in effect carried 101 swords everyday. Had the woman in NY killed the deck cleaner in self defense with a glock, her family would not face a hole in their consciousness each day til they die and she would be alive. The man who raped, killed and disfigured her vagina with a knife on the spur of the moment….. will now serve life in prison where he may repent or he may join a gang or he may sin in other ways and add to his mortal sin and add to his hell.
    Several weeks ago, a Spanish Jersey City pastor was beaten by two men in front of his house so badly with brass knuckles that surgeons have to put metal plates around his eye socket under the skin to replace skull matter. If he was going bare on health insurance, he will owe doctors for a decade or more. Did he and the raped and killed lady in NY live by the sword? Is that why bad things happened to them? Did the martyrs live by the lion and therefore were killed by the lion?
    I would urge you of all people to take a non fundy look at that whole phrasing of Christ. Pacifism forces intelligent Christians to suddenly go fundy on “lives by the sword will die by the sword.”. Plenty of gangsters die in bed. Die by the sword is about dying very unprepared for the particular judgement by orienting oneself to control or to temper constantly without exception.

    • Jesus didn’t talk about war or just war – however, Jesus did say if he wanted, he could have storms of angels coming to his aid. Again, the earliest Christians saw what Jesus said and did was the exemplar of the Christian attitude — the early Christians didn’t fight back, they knew not to take up the sword. Peter, and the Apostles, confused Jesus’ words, taking much as literal which were something else — and Jesus points this out, once again, by his action, contending against Peter and Peter’s belief in the sword. Jesus, again, said he who lives by the sword will die by the sword – he is the king of peace. When he talks about bringing sword, not peace, the earliest Christians didn’t think “aha let’s be zealots and make war,” they saw it as descriptive of the way he cuts out sin from within. It is only later that people start looking for justification for violence.

      Praising the Centurion’s faith didn’t mean Jesus approved of everything the Centurion did. Please, you can do better than such fallacious argumentation.

  • bill bannon

    You would have us believe that the centurion had unsurpassed faith according to Christ but had an immoral occupation under which he developed that greatest faith…..and further that Christ forgot to tell him to abandon the occupation as the harlots did who followed Him. Did John the Baptist also forget to mention to the soldiers that they should leave soldiering:
    Luk 3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

    The early Christians perhaps with whom you identify were increasingly helpless before an increasingly rapacious later Rome and it’s lions who killed martyrs. Paul’s Roman military on the other hand protected him from the pharisees and escorted him for weeks to the capital because he appealed to Rome as a citizen of Rome….and Paul stated that Paul’s Rome carried the sword as an avenger of God’s wrath ( ira in the Vulgate). Pilate and Herod were reluctant to execute Christ in the beginning which reluctance would not be typical of a later Rome.
    We in the US may be closer to Paul’s Rome and Christ’s Rome than Christians who lived under the notorious persecutors. Living under the threat of being ripped apart by lions in a later Rome could make one a pacifist easily because in such a world there is nothing to live for…contempt of this life is very attractive in a horrible context. Self defense does not attract those who wish to be in heaven quickly because their world is awful. Their particular vision though ebbs in the Church whenever history makes normal life possible for Christians and nightmarish things decrease. It is then that people defend themselves….and then that they notice that Christ does not require the disciples several times to give up the very possession of weapons of self defense….whatever else He mentions about their slanted relationship to those weapons….He never tells them to not carry since He knows the reality of mugging especially in a culture where surgery is unknown.

    • Bill

      First, argument from silence is no argument. Second, again, the kind of reasoning you are making is not just argument from silence, but assuming positive acceptance by Jesus for everything the Centurion did. This is not found in the text.To look at it in that way is to ignore the meaning of the text — which is a promotion of faith — to show how great a faith a heathen sinner could have in comparison to those of Israel. To read it as you did entirely removes the point.

      As for the rest, we have gone over this many times on here.

      • bill bannon

        John is quite non silent. In telling the soldiers to be content with their pay, he is affirming their work as one good work amongst others. Thus no one in the Bible tells harlots to be content with their pay. Goodnight.

        • Bill, so they didn’t have to stop fornicating, if they were fornicating? They didn’t have to stop worshiping pagan gods if they were worshiping pagan gods? What was said is the extent of what is expected of them?

      • hahahahahaha!, Henry: I just love that “everything the Centurion did,” because you are so right, and could be seen to be “so right” by the gun enthusiast if we ALSO consider what that centurion is alleged to have done with what most classical scholars KNOW was his paieus, his eremonos!

      • The Pachyderminator

        That doesn’t make sense, Henry. The soldiers were being paid to fight, not to fornicate or worship pagan gods.

        • What doesn’t make sense is the idea that the only things expected were what were said – that is the point. Now soldiers, historically, world-wide have had problems with fornication. And if these were soldiers, likely Romans, and well, likely pagans. John didn’t tell them to stop their paganism. The whole point is simple — if ALL they were to do is what was said, all kinds of things would be allowed.

      • The Pachyderminator

        There were all kinds of things he could have told them that he didn’t. But what he did say was that they should be content with their pay. That would be very strange thing to say if what they were being paid for was something intrinsically immoral. St. Augustine makes the same argument somewhere, if I’m not mistaken. This isn’t all on Bill and me.

        • That’s the point — there are all kinds of things he could have said (and maybe DID say); what he did say doesn’t go as far as support for the profession (and that is beside the point for the discussion in here; I’ve never denied the possibility of the profession — especially when one sees it often involved doing public works and not just military might in the ancient world). My point is it is too quick to say “this is all expected of them.”

          • I also doubt you really would want to bring Augustine into this discussion. He is against non-agents of the state (police, soldiers) from using violence, even in self-defense. His position certainly contends against the idea that normal people should be allowed to have guns. And his view of the agent of the state basically says that if they are obeying orders, those who gave the orders are morally culpable — you know, the idea totally repudiated after WWII?

  • Let’s just be blunt, shall we? Pachy and Bill Bannon and the other violence-enthusiasts really can’t conceal their “un-Christian” and unspiritual view that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person IN THIS LIFE. Those of us who live by the teachings of Christ and all the other great spiritual teachers of all the noble religious traditions of the world must trust, on account of our “beliefs”–no matter how vague and undoctrinaire they are–that “to lose one’s immortal soul” through reliance on violence, on power, is the WORST thing that can happen to a human being IN THIS LIFE. The woman whose vagina was carved up TRIUMPHED over her rapist’s sin if she LOVED him as she was dying. That’s what Bill Bannon and Pachy are called to recognise by their so-called “faith,” which they are obviously incapable of actualizing.

    • bill bannon

      You are actually using this topic to praise yourself in public vis a vis us…. as the spiritual zenith you are… while dealing with none of the concrete problems of scripture which has violence from beginning to end….much of it ordered by God or done directly by God in both testaments….see Acts 5 and Acts 12 where God punished three people therein with death as a punishment….not as a reward….as a punishment and He did not express love in the Herod case but rather arranged that his body was consumed by worms. There is love in the other two peoples’ death from God and their simply falling to the ground to be buried….I’m thinking that was a tell that they made it to purgatory since the incident is an echo but a reversal of Dathan and Abiram who are swallowed by the earth in the Pentateuch rather than falling to the earth.
      In my experience of pacifists in concrete life off net including two priests, they have been people who are suppressing an immense temper rather than dialoguing with that temper….under this theory of no harm…..some of that temper you just displayed in looking down on I and Pachy publically not in a reasoned debate but simply in a denunciation…. like the pharisee thanking God in the temple that he was not like the publican over there. Pacifism can be a way of saying….I do not have that horrible anger anymore that came out years ago between me and so and so.

      • Pacifism can be a way of saying….I do not have that horrible anger anymore that came out years ago between me and so and so.

        Exactly; it is my repentance–and I suggest that you had better “repent”–and soon. (It’s good for the soul, beleive me.)

    • The Pachyderminator

      I object to being characterized in this way.

      Digby, you are absolutely correct that to lose one’s immortal soul is the worst thing that can happen to a person, in this life or any other. The one sentence I posted in this thread in no way implies anything to the contrary. If the belief that human life may be defended by force, even deadly force when necessary, implies the sort of materialistic worldview you claim, that is an indictment of the vast majority of the Christian tradition. That might not bother you, but it does bother me.

      Calling anyone who holds this mainstream Christian belief a “violence enthusiast,” even if they are wrong, makes no sense. Violence is never good in itself. Its necessity is always tragic. The reason it is sometimes permissible is that it is sometimes the only way to defend innocent human life. This does not imply that death is the greatest evil. Rather just the opposite: because there are greater evils than death, there are greater evils than killing, and one of them is standing by and allowing human life to be violated when you have the ability to prevent it.

      There are limits, of course. Everyone has the right to life, and the only way to forfeit this right in some measure is to attack the lives of others.

  • Rodak

    Bad is good
    War is peace,

    Or so I’ve heard it said,

    It follows then
    that loving life
    is loving being dead.

  • because there are greater evils than death, there are greater evils than killing, and one of them is standing by and allowing human life to be violated when you have the ability to prevent it.

    Remember what this thread is about, Pachy. Executing someone or attacking a country that has never attacked you, but which has, rather, been attacked, over and over BY YOU (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was America and Saudi Arabia’s proxy in the Iran-Iraq War) is not “preventing” killing. You and your ilk are the ones saying, repeatedly, “War is peace”.

    • The Pachyderminator

      That’s not exactly what I’m saying, but never mind. Your comment was about pacifism in general, and I responded in the same vein. I don’t know what should be done with Iran. You and Henry are probably right about that, but I’m too ignorant to contribute to that discussion.