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April 24, 2004



What, D-Rod, do you think a pacifist would have done on that plane? Pacifism doesn't mean passivity, it doesn't mean sitting in your seat. It might mean attempting to take over the cockpit -- just NOT USING LETHAL FORCE. You posit a false dichotomy: killing or sitting like a bump on a log... that's an unfair depiction of what pacifism is.


Well, I'd say that it was "lethal force" on that flight since everybody died, but maybe that was "unfair" of me. I don't know - it just came to mind. I think to be a "true pacifist" a person would honestly never use violence under any circumstances including protecting his or her own family from certain and imminent death. I do have some respect for that conviction if held that deeply, but I am against advocating it as a realist norm for everyone.

Jonathan Dresner

There's an interesting disjunction in the last two comments: Hugo is positing pacifism which abjures "lethal force" (but leaves open the possibility of non-lethal but violent acts) while d-rod is positing pacifism which is radically non-violent (and unnecessarily passive). You're going to have to agree what you're talking about or give up, folks.

I would also point out that "lethal force" should mean actions taken with the intent or likely result of death of others. The gray area here is going to be "likely result."


Etymology notwithstanding, I think it's a mistake to confuse pacifism with peacemaking. If youir goal is to eschew lethal force as an end in itself, then fine, be a pacifist. But if your goal is to actually promote a lasting, stable peace, you'd better be ready to use lethal force if necessary.


Quite right. What other means do you mean, Hugo? Getting in the way, like the Quakers on the West Bank? Ineffective with terrorists, even if obedient, and you'll die anyhow. Prayer? Ok, but I'm firmly of the "Praise the Lord and pass the Ammo" school of thought there. Running away? Ok again, but not in an airbourne plane. Sweet reason? Good luck! Attacking the highjackers, but not to kill? Inconsistent. If you take Jesus literally as a command, "Do not resist an evil person" means just that. You do sit still. If you can use only a certain amount of force, but not kill, you are essentially paraphrasing the "Just war" doctrine, in a watered down form. Taking over the plane by subterfuge or stealth might be OK, but what happens when they try to get it back?


Although it hurts my argument to point this out, i forgot to mention perhaps the most successful example of pacifism changing the way a government treats a persecuted minority: The early Christian martyrs, who not only ended their persecution, but converted an empire with their patience.

i only admit this omission because Hugo's intellectual honesty is an example i should follow on his own blog.


Thanks, everyone. This is good stuff.

Again, I don't think pacifism is the renunciation of all kinds of force, just non-lethal force. Jesus chased money-changers out of a temple with a whip. That gives us pacifists some idea of what we can be permitted to do. We can "get in the way", the way Christian Peacemaker Teams do. We can -- as so many in this country have done -- bang on missile silos to damage them (if only in a very minor way).

If I had been on Flight 93, I don't know what I would have done. I do recommend everyone read Yoder's "What Would You Do", which is his pacifist answer to the question that always gets asked of us when we renounce non-violence. (You know, "what would you do if someone came at your chinchilla with a gun", or something like that. Here's what Yoder wrote, it is NOT (alas) online:

The real temptation of good people like us is not the crude the crass, and the carnal. The really refined temptation, with which Jesus himself was tried, is that of egocentric altruism. It is being oneself the incarnation of a good and righteous cause for which others may rightly be made to suffer. It is stating one's self‑justification in the form of a duty to others.
I do not know what I would do if some insane or criminal person were to attack my wife or child, sister or mother. But I know that what I should do would be illuminated by what God my Father did when his "only begotten Son" was being threatened. Or by what Abraham, my father in the faith, was ready to sacrifice out of obedience; Abraham could ready himself to give up his son because he believed in the resurrection. It was "for the sake of the joy that was set before him" that Christ himself could "endure the cross."


Oh, and I am so happy about this discussion. Annika, thanks for the kind words about honesty.


Again, I don't think pacifism is the renunciation of all kinds of force, just non-lethal force. Jesus chased money-changers out of a temple with a whip. That gives us pacifists some idea of what we can be permitted to do.

How so? Jesus never claimed to be a pacifist. A pacifist would never have allowed, let alone commanded, his disciples to purchase swords for self-defense (Luke 22:36).


Ah, be careful, XRLQ -- there's no mention of self-defense in the Scripture passage. I'm told -- someone please help now -- that the word translated as sword better translates as "short ceremonial staff". Curse the fact that I dropped out of Greek. Someone come and sort this out!


I can see it: "Peter, put your ceremonial staff back into it's sheath! (After presumably bludgeoning Malchus's ear off)" and "If you don't have a short ceremonial staff, sell your cloak and buy one" (!) ;-) .

There is another issue which Just Warriors like to bring up, and that's Jesus' attitude to the authority figures around him. He healed the centurion's servant, without a word about his nasty job. Likewise, when soldiers asked John the Baptist "What should we do?", he did not answer "Thou brood of militant vipers! Avoid the draft, leave the army, and go and grow lentils!". He said "Be content with your pay, and don't accuse people falsely". When Cornelius asked Peter "What shall I do?" Peter's advice was the same as any other convert's. Not to mention Julius, Paul's centurion, et. alea.


i think the idea of pacifism as we understand it today would get a lot of blank stares from people during Jesus' brutal time and society. Modern pacifism probably is something that could not have existed until (i'd guess) the enlightenment. Which is not to say that Jesus wasn't on to something, but i don't think you can interpret his pacifistic sayings to mean that he advocated total non-violence in the way Gandhi did. And speaking of Gandhi, i don't think he would raise a hand if someone were to go after your chinchillas. He was sooo strict with his own belief system he almost let his wife and son die from fever rather than allow their doctor to give them a cup of broth (it contained beef).


Having done a Gandhi course recently, I can say that there is a reason that Nehru and Congress shunted Gandhi gently aside when they'd got past the moral imperative to the actual governing! He didn't even want India to have an army, and would have liked to disarm the police. Not to mention the letter he wrote advocating letting Hitler win WWII. His ideas on stopping the holocaust weren't too solid either.


Ah yes, Simon Peter and his sword. It's only in John where Peter and Malchus are identified by name. But we can't forget what Jesus says in Matthew at this moment: all who live by the sword shall die by the sword.

Click here to go to a nice little page on early Christian fathers and pacifism; scroll down to what Tertullian has to say about the centurion and military service.

I like this bit: Indeed, if, putting my strength to the question, I banish from us the military life...


I guess at some level I would find it extremely irritating to constantly be questioning myself in the face of someone's violence: not that one shouldn't think before they act, but c'mon, I find it extremely bothersome to think: "Well what is my 'likely intent' here? How violent does this particular situation call for me to get? What moves can I use? If christ used a whip, can I use this rope? What are the theological merits of the sleeper-hold?" Bah! Not trying to take a cheap shot, but all that is too much neuroticism for me.

The rise of technology also poses problems for pacifism, what with making easier to kill large numbers of people and control/enslave others. As Churchill noted in his finest hour speech, when you have a circumstance where "Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization" and we face the spectre of "a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science" -- how can non-lethal force be honestly considered? Isn't slightly ridiculous to think that if we all were pacifists in the face of Nazi aggression that maybe, in the long run, they'd be so impressed with our patience & virtue that we'd earn back our freedom?

Well our early Church fathers did that, as annika pointed out, and their pacifism paved the way for the rise of christianity. And ultimately what matters more: our freedom or our obedience to Christ? We are called to suffer for him right?

What about suffering in service of his providence? Surely there was some providence in not only the founding but the history of America? Yes others have usurped that for their own ends (i.e. manifest destiny) but still, hasn't the man upstairs provided somewhat for America? If so, should suffering on the battlefield to defend America be counted as illegitimate because of the violence involved? Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword -- well you gotta die from something don't you?


I like this story about swords - After William Penn became a Quaker, supposedly he asked George Fox if he should put down his sword. Fox replied by saying "Carry it as long as you can." A few years later they met again and Penn carried no sword, Penn said "I carried it as long as I could." For me,living a life of nonviolence has to come from a place of obedience. And if I can live nonviolence with those I love than I have a better shot at understanding it with my enemy.


Oh, I do like that story about Penn -- thanks!


Surely (not Shirley) you jest. Having just sold their cloaks, what on earth were Jesus's disciples to do with a short, ceremonial staff? Hold some bizarre ritual in the nude? I don't think so.

Read in context, I think it's pretty clear what this passage was about: Jesus's disciples were used to living in a protective "bubble," where no one could hurt them as long as they were with Jesus. Jesus knew that protective bubble was about to go away, so he warned his disciples to arm themselves. Intially, he suggested that each should have a sword, but he settled for two for the group - enough for defense, though not enough to mount an offensive against anyone else.

The way I see it, there are really only two possibilities. Either Luke got the story wrong, or Jesus wasn't a pacifist. I don't think there is a third possibility.


For me, it comes down to this-Governments can do things that individual people can't. That was Hubmaier's contention, and I agree with him. This is a "doubtful matter" in Scripture, upon which we must be guided by our own consciences. Penn put down his sword in obedience to his conscience. Good on him. I laid my red poppy on the cenotaph in a spirit of gratitude and respect, support National service and the War in Iraq for the same reason. "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind", I think. But I get very annoyed when Quakers, Anglicans et. al. haul up the processional cross to the front of the Anti-war demonstration and act like they have the monopoly on virtue. Sorry, but I can't go there.


I would never claim pacifists have a monopoly on virtue. The Just War tradition and the Pacifist tradition both have long histories in the Christian west; we who hold one side owe our brethren on the other side our continuing respect and friendship, despite our many differences. When we see Him face to face, all our questions will be answered; I doubt that our stance on war will be a standard by which we are to be judged.


I agree with Xrlq on the sword interpretation. An important point in the pacifism discussion here is how would the Mennonite Church suggest America respond to the 9/11 attack. I read an essay by a Mennonite who suggested that America should look at what we did wrong and that it was basically payback for our foreign policy in Vietnam and elsewhere. The response proposed was then to increase foreign aid to developing countries and not overthrow the Taliban or hunt down al Qaeda. Seems to me we did the Afghans a huge favor, especially the women there as Islamism is at its essence a hideously brutal and unremitting attack on female equality.


First off, d-Rod, you paint Islam with a broad brush. The Taliban is not representative of Islam, neither is female genital mutilation. Second, the troubling resurgence of warlordism and the ongoing practice of honor killings suggest that outside of cities, women's lot in Afghanistan has not improved substantially.

If the Mennonite whom you read suggested that American deserved 9-11, then I repudiate that entirely. What happened on 9-11 was deep, profound evil. Nothing in American foreign policy excused it. That being said, pacifists are still left with the question of how to respond in faith. The answers aren't easy. But the jury is still out on whether the president's war against terror has been successful or not -- that will take years to decide. In the meantime, brave pacifists will go and stand in the gap in Palestine and Iraq and offer an alternative to both terror and war. Check out the activities at www.cpt.org


I wrote Islamism not Islam - I assumed that you would know the difference. Secondly, womens rights in Afghanistan has improved substantially and will continue to improve.


I do know the difference -- moderate Islamism in Turkey, for example, is very different as a political movement than the Taliban. Indeed, the Islamist party in Turkey regularly puts up female candidates.

On Afghanistan:



You know, Dr. Schwyzer, if you have ever travel outside of a big city in Turkey, Morroco or Malaysia (the so-called moderate Islam states), that the subjugation of women is still appalling. I've got to say that I am totally annoyed by your insensitivity here and can't see why anyone else hasn't called you on it.

The new Afghan Ambassador, Said Tayeb Jawad, stated Afghan girls have returned to school in record numbers. About 42 percent of the 4 million children attending classes are girls. "We have come a long way in two short years," Jawad said.

Afghan women do need our continued support and sustained engagement of the U.S. so we must keep Afghanistan in the spotlight. But if it wasn't for smashing the Taliban they would still live in fear of a totalitarian theocracy and have no hope. Islamism is generally understood to be the strict implementation of Sharia Law by the State under which women and "non-believers" are second-class citizens.

How the brutal oppression of women in Afghanistan was related to their religious beliefs has been ignored by the feminist press. Women being allowed to vote is only one thing. Not being forced to wear canvas sacks over their heads is another. The U.S. has spent milions on women's centers in Afghanistan and yet Dr. Schwyzer points out the negative in some lawless area, not the mass slaughter of Afghans who were opposed to the Taliban. It should also be noted that the Bible also says women are properly subject to their husbands. Pacifism is anti-woman - Islamism is anti-woman, and the Bible is anti-woman.

It is funny that Hugo cites possible biblical mistranslation in his efforts to conform his sword quote to his particular pacifist "interpretation". How much mistranslation is there in the Bible? Should we discover that translations of the Scriptures were less than satisfactory then we should be perfectly entitled to entertain doubts about this matter with regards to any quote in the Holy Book. In fact, is undeniable that quotations attributed to Jesus and others are often markedly different from edition to edition.

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