(just stuff I happen to be thinking about)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why C.S. Lewis was Right to Not Be a Pacifist

Stanley Hauerwas has written an article explaining the non-pacifist position of C.S. Lewis and arguing that he ought to have been a pacifist. His exposition of Lewis's writings on war and pacifism is helpful, concise but rather complete. This first half of the article is worth reading both for those who are unfamiliar with Lewis and those who know him well.

Hauerwas then shifts gears from this excellent summary to a strange claim. Having given the many and well thought out reasons why C.S. Lewis was not a pacifist, he says that he ought to have been. His argument is that Lewis was only opposed to the facile claim that "war is so horrible it has got to be wrong", but that it never occurred to Lewis that a Christian ought to oppose war on the grounds that "we were not created to kill", a sense revealed by the life of Jesus Christ.

I think it unlikely that Lewis never noticed that Jesus Christ was nonviolent. That is a central feature of the Gospels, though not without some inconsistency: "Let him who does not have a sword sell his cloak and buy one." Clearly with regard to his own suffering and death, he allowed no violence nor fought, because he was drinking the cup that the Father had given him, but is this an example that Christians ought to follow absolutely? No. And C.S. Lewis tells us why, and Hauerwas nicely sums up Lewis's reasons, then fails to answer them sufficiently.

Lewis argues that we are not Christians in a vacuum. St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and many other great figures of Christianity did not think that war was always wrong. Hauerwas would have us look to the martyrs instead, but the martyrs were private citizens. Just as Jesus Christ offered his life to the Father, and would have been foolish to violently resist the offering, the martyrs offered their lives in witness to Jesus Christ. No private person is obligated to use violence in their own defense, but they are often obligated to use violence in the defense of others. The responsibility of a leader of a people cannot be abrogated with a willingness to be sacrificed. That would be the leader's choice, but then he must stop being the leader, for he has sworn off the world and cannot be expected to defend it. What country of Christians ever said to the violent invaders, "Kill us, our wives, our children. Rape, pillage, torture. We will not resist."? Few monasteries have ever taken up that position.

Lewis says that we must protect the innocent from "homicidal maniacs". Hauerwas shunts this aside by saying that he does support a largely peaceable police system. It is as if he does not know the context in which Lewis wrote those words. Hauerwas must get over the impregnable argument in favor of war that is the person of Adolf Hitler. What police force would have stopped him? Would the world be a better place if they had just let him run rampant, if the English had handed over their country to him, if the Russians had welcomed his armies into Moscow?

Hauerwas then pulls out his most powerful argument, all the more powerful because he lets Lewis express the argument himself (Learning in War-Time): "a more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God's hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not." How can we know that the world is better for having fought wars? World War II is the classic case of a good war: evil Axis powers versus Allies fighting for freedom. I, and most of the world, believes that the world would be a far worse place if the Allies had been pacifists, but how do we know?

This is the problem that we confront in every war, and it cuts both ways. Perhaps, if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq they would have unleashed terrorism and chemical warfare against the world; there is no evidence that this is true, but it might have happened. Perhaps if the Allies had followed the course of France, Hitler would have never started up the concentration camps and would have been a just ruler of Europe; there is no evidence that this is true, but it might have happened.

Hauerwas, having glided over these powerful arguments, says that Lewis's strongest argument is that people are used to war and cannot imagine a world without it. Then he suggests that he, Hauerwas, has an imagination strong enough for the task. Perhaps he does, but unless he can share that imagination with the rest of the world it will not have global consequences. Until people no longer want to fight, there will be war; there will most certainly be war. Should we Christians really have nothing to say about this fact of the world as it is? Has not chivalry and just war made one of the worst facts about the world a little better?

A Christian was not made to kill another man, but he will if he has to, because some things are worth defending, not only at the cost of one's own life but even at the cost of another's. War is horrible, we all agree, and unfortunately, in this life, that is not sufficient proof that it wrong. Hauerwas would have us bring the Kingdom into this world, and I support his intention. Let him be part of the Franciscan Crusade that went without weapons and had longer success in conquering the Holy Land than anyone else, but we should not pretend that the Franciscans would have saved Europe at Lepanto, nor that God would have intervened. Someone had to stop the invasion, and how was that going to happen if not by waging war?


  1. After reading both sides I'm a little torn on this debate. There are good reasons and intuitions supporting each side. In the end, I think it is more consistent with the Gospel to side with Hauerwas.

    The ideal response to the tremendous evil of Hitler or Horde at Lepanto is to let the evil exhaust itself in its "victories". It will always destroy itself from the inside out, very quickly if met with creative non-violent resistance. We may all pray to let the cup pass from us, but if we are ever called upon to give the grave witness of Christian love, our best response may very well be to lay down our lives for our friends. If our families are also willing to give such a grave witness, we ought to let them as well. Accepting this does not mean throwing prudence to the wind.

    Meeting violence with violence simply gives rise to more violence. Either physical or psychical. The only thing that totally confounds it is running up against freely given self-sacrificial love.

  2. Thanks, this is in some ways a helpful response, but I don't see how you have responded from a Christian perspective to what you call Hauerwas's "most powerful argument". Hauerwas is making the point (quoting Lewis) that we can "leav[e] futurity in God's hands" because God is God and has already won all the necessary wars. You ask how we can know whether the world is better for the Allies having defeated the Axis, and then argue that "This is the problem that we confront in every war, and it cuts both ways." But there's the rub - it doesn't cut both ways for Hauerwas. We can leave the future in God's hands because we already know that God wins in the future. In fact, for Hauerwas, God has won in the present, except the powers of darkness don't know it yet, or seem intent on continuing in a lost cause. It doesn't "cut both ways" for Christian theology because God is already victor and that victory will be fulfilled.

    So, for me, you have failed to address Hauerwas's "most powerful argument". I would be interested in your response.

    In Him,


    1. Don't mind my butting in, but Hauerwas' article does not seem to address what Lewis really means when he says that we cannot know what might have happened had we NOT waged war. I think a proponent of just war theory could, and should, retort: We are still responsible for acting justly, for acting in, and for, the good. If we adopt the position: "Well God wins at the end anyhow!" I fear this would place a Christian in a state of immobility, morally speaking--which could be perilous. This is precisely why proponents of just war theory criticize pacifism: because it is argued in some very particular instances that it is necessary and just to act in a violent and life-threatening way. The position that I fear may render the Christian immobile places him in an equally morally-dubious dilemma. Why help the old lady onto the bus? God wins at the end anyhow. Why feed the hungry? God wins at the end anyhow. Why give a fig for the murdered unborn? God wins at the end anyhow. Though God is victor no matter, He has left us to fight wars daily, against the demons as well as against our self-focused selves. Though God is victor as He was on the Cross, our actions directed towards the good are nevertheless expected of us. In fact, that is partly how God wins. Providence knows how we shall act and sees the whole story, as it were, and how it "plays out." Anyway, my point is, we are still obligated to act duteously. And one of the points of the deacon's article, I think, is essentially that that is what a "just war" is about.

  3. If what C.S. Lewis meant was that we have to leave the present in God's hands, then we would have to, as he says, stop asking people to pass the salt, if God wanted us to have it, it will appear on our plate. To leave the future to God means not being overly concerned with planning a future that is beyond the reach of human plans. When we see injustice, we must act, yes even to go to war if that is the right act.

    God's victory over evil does not mean that we get to stop fighting evil in the present. If an individual chooses to live a life prophetic of the Kingdom, it is a higher calling: let them be celibate, poor, and submissive, let them choose to die rather than to fight, we will canonize them because they represent what we are waiting for, what God has promised, the victory he has won, but if a man chooses to be in the world, to marry and have a family, to acquire the pleasures of this world, he must fight when his country calls on him in a just war.

  4. "God's victory over evil does not mean that we get to stop fighting evil..." But it does mean that we are to keep our eyes on him, his commands and his example.
    What our non-pacifist brothers continually ignore is abhorrence of bloodshed by early Christians and Christian pacifists through the centuries.

    Cyprian: “The world is wet with mutual blood(shed): and homicide is a crime when individuals commit it, (but) it is called a virtue, when it is carried on publicly.”

    “What pride flushes the patriot’s cheek when he remembers that his nation can murder faster than any other people. Ah, foolish generation, ye are groping in the flames of hell to find your heaven, raking amid blood and bones for the foul thing which ye call glory. Killing is not the path to prosperity; huge armaments are a curse to the nation itself as well as to its neighbours. 1026.706==Charles Spurgeon

    D.L. Moody: “There has never been a time in my life when I felt that I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow-being. In this respect I am a Quaker.”

    “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. 8 But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth.”–David

  5. There have been pacifist Christians in every age, but not the majority. The third quote, from the Old Testament, and you probably do not want to go to the OT to prove that God is opposed to war, suggests that the Lord wants his temple built with clean hands, but the text suggests that he was generally behind David in battle.

    Cyprian is a pre-313 Christian. Many, many, many Christians after 313 explain support for war (while still hating it). Before 313, no government was Christian, and since governments fight wars, no Christian was responsible for the decision to fight. More importantly, Cyprian was in the Roman Empire. The wars of Rome were usually not just. They were imperialistic and not covered under the duty of defense that supports Christian warfare.

    When Constantine saw the Cross at Milan and heard "Conquer in this sign", and painted it on the shields of his men, and freed Christians from persecution through war, was that the deception of the devil?

    But authority only takes us so far. Though I could point to 1000 Christian writers who support just war, that is only partially significant. The arguments have to be answered. What is a Christian nation to do when invaded? Just let it happen?

  6. The words "pacifist" and "Christian<" let alone "pacifist" and "Jew," can not coexist within the same person, for if YAHWEH EL ELOHIM Himself has commanded that you physically fight an enemy that intends to do yourself, or others, harm, then you had BETTER fight that enemy, or else you are worse than an infidel, a traitor, a rebel, a wicked child, a seditionist, a secessionist, and a practitioner of treason as well as hypocrisy, idolatry, witchcraft, sorcery, and profanity according to YAHWEH EL ELOHIM and His Word. A person that practices pacifism is also of Lucifer, for they rebelled against YAHWEH EL ELOHIM Himself, even AFTER consulting the RUACH HA'KODESH on the matter, thus they insulted YAHWEH EL ELOHIM, as well as mocked Him, twice over, and mocking the RUACH HA'KODESH is the same as blaspheming the RUACH HA'KODESH and there is no forgiveness whatsoever of that sin in the life of the individual that has committed it in their lives, period, full stop. Finally, as the Holy Scriptures say, "No one can serve two masters. The reason that this is so is because they will either serve one or the other and they will betray one or the other in the end." The Holy Scriptures also say, "A person that is double-minded is unstable in all of their ways, please avoid being around such a person."