Saturday, January 23, 2010

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition

Fr. Longenecker, "We Are On the Lord's Side" (Standing on My Head, January 20, 2010):
The issue of Jesus guns reminds me of the sniper in the film Saving Private Ryan. The boy is from the deep South and quotes verses from the psalms as he pulls the trigger. "Bless the Lord my Rock, who teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight."Click. Bang. Pop goes the weasel.

It has been suggested that gun sights should not feature Bible verses and weapons should not carry religious encouragement. The gospel, we are told, is all about love. That's right, and at the end the loving person gets tortured and crucified naked in public, while his buddies deny him, run away and one hangs himself. I'm afraid the the gospel is not all puppies and kittens and Jesus carried me on the beach when I only saw one set of footprints.

The fact of the matter is that as we will always have the poor with us we shall always have the war with us. This being the case, we had better make the best of a bad job and ensure that as much as possible the wars we fight are just and that they are fought in a way that is just and avoids all killing as much as possible. In order to do this the military need to have a set of ethics and rules of engagement....

If there is going to be war, then I would rather have soldiers who had faith and standards of morality and a sense of there being such a thing as right and wrong and justice in the world, and it is Christianity that helps to make that alive and relevant in people's lives. So Bible verses on weapons therefore makes rather a lot of sense to me. So does lessons for soldiers in ethical standards of warfare, how to avoid killing and how to treat prisoners well. If that is the case then there is a strong argument for considerably more religion in the war place than less.
This line of argument cuts sharply against the grain of a large swath of Catholic sentiment today, not to speak of the sentiment of general culture. Yet those acquainted with the Catholic tradition of natural law and moral reasoning about the just use of coercion, lethal force, and warfare will know that there is nothing exceptional about Fr. Nongenecker's line of thinking here. Prof. James Turner Johnson of Rutgers University, probably the leading authority on Just War Theory today, makes the startling and counterintuitive claim that we ought to thank God for smart bomb technology, for example, because it allows our military to reduce casualties among noncombatants (one of the criteria of a just war). C.S. Lewis's essays "Learning in Wartime" and "Why I am not a Pacifist" in The Weight of Glory are a good, accessible entrée into the traditional ways of understanding such issues.

[Hat tip to J.M.]


Anonymous said...

I disagree . "War is a punishment of God to chastise men, and it is a sign that man is no longer a true son of God. When the Most High created the world, He made all things: the sun, the sea, the stars, the rivers, the plants, the animals, but He did not make arms. He created man and gave him eyes that he might cast loving glances, and a mouth to utter loving words, and ears to listen to such words, and hands to give help and to caress, and feet to run fast to assist our neighbours in need, and a heart capable of loving. He gave man intelligence, speech, affections and taste. But He did not give man hatred. Why? Because man, a creature of God, was to be love as God is Love. If man had remained a creature of God, he would have persevered in love, and the human family would have not known either war or death." - [from the poem of the man god volume 1 page 271.]

Pertinacious Papist said...


Forgive me, but it looks to me as if your disagreement could be based on a number of spurious assumptions. While I would assume no disagreement on the proposition that war, like any form of strife, is a result of Original Sin and our Fallen nature, this is no reason to assume also that war itself must always be sinful, hateful, and unloving. Here is where a reading of the C.S. Lewis essays may properly be considered a 'primer' in re-thinking such matters as this in accordance with the classical Catholic-Augustinian-Thomist tradition.

Let me also relate a remark by James H. Toner, Professor of International Relations and Military Ethics at the U.S. Air War College. A number of years ago, he said, while teaching in Vermont, he was on a public affairs panel discussing just war issues. He soon discovered that he was the sole supporter of that notion and was feeling considerable hostility from his audience. An elderly man in the rear stood and said that he wanted to support his views on just war, adding that he was a classical musician. Great, thought Toner: there's one person in the room who agrees with me, and he's probably a nut. "I want to tell you," the man continued, "what is the sweetest music I have ever heard." Toner cringed. "Although I have heard wonderful music thousands of times," the man went on, "the most beautiful was the sound of U.S. Army tanks. You see, they were coming to [the death camp where I was being held as a young man], and that sound meant that I would be able to grow up." (First Things, 5/02, 6)

A war fought in a just cause, despite the horror of killing, can in fact be a loving thing if it liberates captives, crushes oppressive tyranny, and restores a just peace. Again, this isn't to confuse the Pax Romana with the Pax Christi. It is simply moral reasoning about what justice requires under our fallen condition.

Lutheran said...

"It is simply moral reasoning about what justice requires under our fallen condition."

Fine consideration and distinction. It is how one can make sense of nonsense. It is how one can understand an activity quite apart from the Lord under the environment in which we all live.

I would prefer to note that I do disagree with the philosophical concept of just war in how it has been composed. Christians are not mandated to war. We are, in the Life of Christ, determined to protect peace and maintain justice. This proves impossible under the constraints of a theory or rules of war which naturally demand something more than such protection and maintenance.

The theory as heavily developed upon by Aquinas determined particular constraints that lead to more bloodshed, more material loss. Among these constraints are the relative parity of force and determination of timing in a defensive action.

It is rather better to not meet the enemy on equal terms but to overwhelm it--thus ending the conflict more thoroughly, lessening the duration of it, and (while avoiding the destruction of civilians) lessening the loss of life and property.

To only meet the enemy as it has crossed into one's own lands leads one to disadvantage and quite possibly a lengthening in the duration of the war and a certain increase in the loss of life and property as one must assume that such a war is one that must seek complete annihilation, and never assumed it to be an activity of sport or show of force.

Because war cannot simply be met on one’s own lands but must be met in foreign lands either as a first strike or counter-action and equal terms of force are actually destructive, a system of absolute discipline must be adhered to so as to avoid breakdown in rationale. This is a discipline that would demand that all soldiers sent would adhere to Christian principles first and others secondarily. But how is it that the life as found in the Life of Christ can order war? Isn’t the order of war a function of nation?

At the same time as I take such a stance against just war theory, I perfectly understand that people often find themselves immersed into conditions and situations that they would rather not ever be in, but simultaneously cannot simply walk away from. These situations are clear in war. As a Christian, one is asked to defend one’s brother, and so Christians do. Christians are asked to defend the weak, the sick, the young, and so Christians do this.
At the same time, Christians are asked by their nations to kill, are given training with this specific purpose, and they are asked to pursue killing for their nation as requisite for defending the Faith. This is terrible distortion. Though I would never hesitate to pray for the well-being of soldiers in the field and pray for their rapid success in helping to end a conflict, I could not pray for this type of nationalized Christianity. Any citizen of a nation has but one Lord. The king or government under which they find themselves a citizen is important, even bordering on critical to identity but should never be hyphenated with the Faith in the Lord which is certainly critical.

Anonymous said...

"No more war; never again war" said Paul VI at the UN. That is surely a gospel aspiration. The perpetuity of original sin does not entail the perpetuity of mankind's grossest evils. The use of the quote from John's gospel is a common misinterpretation, corrected a million times.

Pertinacious Papist said...


On the one hand, it seems to me that your quarrel is not with the moral reasoning of Just War theorizing, but with the limitations of a particular, dated theory of Just War, which required waiting until the conflict was brought across one's borders, etc. James Turner Johnson would reply that in this vein your own moral reasoning about what is required simply extends such Just War theorizing beyond the historical limitations of a particular theory, whether of St. Augustine, St. Thomas, or whoever. He would add that such updating is constantly taking place at the one place were such moral reasoning about just warfare still occurs, and that is -- believe it or not -- in our war colleges, like West Point.

On the other hand, you make some statements that suggest something closer to a classic Reinhold Niebuhrean Lutheran position -- namely, that war is prohibited by the New Testament ethic, yet is a clearn and present necessity because of the fall. This leads to Niebuhr's view that yes, Christians must go to war and kill and fight, as the Allies did in WWII to stop Hitler; but they must do so with long faces and regret that they are involved in unavoidable sinning. This stands in sharp contrast to C.S. Lewis's corrective in the aforementioned essays, where he says that Christians fighting in a just conflict should go into battle like the gallant knights of the middle ages, with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts. (I'm not answering the questions this raises here; just calling for a further, and perhaps deeper, exploration and reflection.)

Yet again, in the last part of your comment, you seem to be raising not an objection against Just War reasoning, but against the particular deformation of a civil religion that weds God and Country -- a phenomenon addressed in Robert Bellah's book on the subject a couple of decades ago. But here again, I am not sure how this prevents Christians, in any given just conflict against an unjust enemy, from concluding correctly that God is no the side of justice -- just as conscientious objectors have found that they could not in good conscience fight in a war that lacked a just cause, let alone any clear cause (as I concluded about the war in Vietnam).

Another good way to test Just War moral reasoning is to consider the same reasoning on the micro-level of a police force or the national guard. But that's another discussion.

Pertinacious Papist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pertinacious Papist said...

Anonymous writes:

"'No more war; never again war' said Paul VI at the UN. That is surely a gospel aspiration. The perpetuity of original sin does not entail the perpetuity of mankind's grossest evils."

Pope Paul VI's statement is an eschatological hope, not a realistic or even responsible foreign policy recommendation. To misunderstand it otherwise would be to confuse the Pax Romana with the Pax Christi. It would be like a Governor or Mayor telling his police force: "No more shooting; never again shooting." Well, we all look forward to the Peaceable Kingdom what that aspiration is realized, but we're not there yet. In the meantime, men like James H. Toner are overjoyed at the 'music' of American tanks coming to liberate them from Hitler's death camps; and I doubt that the parents of school children at places like Columbine would find an unarmed police force much comfort.

Anonymous also writes:

"The use of the quote from John's gospel is a common misinterpretation, corrected a million times."

Which quote?

Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), is one of George Weigel's books I truly admire. It's the clearest account I know of what went wrong in Catholic thinking about warfare under the pontificates of John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. During the Vietnam era, in particular, there were a number of bishops who simply went muddle-headed -- as many of them did also about liturgy and everything else, it seems.

Here is my essay, "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning," which I presented as an address at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne University, for what it's worth.

Lutheran said...

Pertinacious Papist--

Theory of just war was dated from its very inception, whether written by Aquinas in relation to the Turk or Luther in relation to the Saracen. It remains a theory that weaves a nation or for today’s more common situations, a state, with the Christian ideals. Still, the picture remains the same in which that state demands an adherence or loyalty to itself.

Even considering war in microcosm, the issue arises in what it is that is faith-based and what is simply base. I believe that the faith-based side of the issue comes in acceptance of a forgiving God. This is due to the fact that no war is limited but is instead one of annihilation, and therefore to expect reactions to stop such activity cannot ultimately be reigned in by constraints of rule. I mention the base-side of war due to the fact that its activity is centered more in something primal, something closer to the animal rather than the human. From this, one defends himself, his family, his friends--but not out of faith. Rather the defense comes out of distress strung out to the point of desperation.

On C. S. Lewis, and I love his work, he describes a world of myth in knights happily slaughtering their enemies. The reality is that your phrase "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" is all too real in dictating the actions of even the best people under such duress.

I cannot find a smile in my heart even as the enemy is unjust, evil, and imminent threat. The particular reality of acting out of desperation remains. The concept of justice is lost as people find themselves primarily serving a state or nation.

As I noted earlier however, I perfectly recognize that wars occur and people, good people even, are drawn into them on all levels and suffering them in all ways. Just because something seismic occurs almost regularly as we all see through the news and firsthand accounts show us, it is not necessrily right.

Further, in consideration of the current situation of the West in finding itself under the duress of being forced to defend itself from utter ruin, war is inevitable. Here once again however, the places of faith and primal fear as found in the microcosm remain the same--they are simply writ large by a civilization behaving as the individual rather than as some amorphous blob.

And so, under the struggles of the individual and civilization, one finds "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" as the operative words of the day. Defending its justice is to rationalize survival of extreme moments, extreme times.

I suppose I am riding the razor's edge in determining just war theory lacking while also understanding valid situations of personal and communal defense. Ultimately though, where I hesitate to fully agree with the concept is in the authority of the state in its relation to its gambling upon, using and vitally depending upon the faith of the individual to pursue such violence if the threat forces their hand. Under such a perspective, it becomes confusing as to who defends/leads whom and for what reasons.

Anonymous said...

the quote I meant was "the poor you have always with you".

To say Paul VI is eschatological is right, but eschatology begins here and now.

Anonymous said...

God's will and national interests do not necessarily coincide. In any case, preemptive war is hardly "turning the other cheek." The idea of it smacks of the principle, "do unto others before they do unto you." It is hard enough to justify a war of defense let alone a war of preemptive aggression. If "to live is Christ and to die is gain," wouldn't it be better to start making some ploughshares?

Pertinacious Papist said...


I'm not sure whether this comes down to a matter of difference in classic Catholic and Lutheran perspectives, such as related (if imperfectly) by Reinhold's brother H. Richard Niebuhr in Christ and Culture, or whether it's simply a personal disagreement. But it seems to me that if we're not simply talking past one another, or missing a couple of underlying assumptions of one another here or there, they we may have to simply agree to disagree.

Between the disjunction of the (1) demands of faith and NT ethic of love and (2) the primal reaction of desperate, irrational, all-caution-thrown-to-the-wind attempts to simply survive ("unlimited war"), it seems to me that the moral reasoning of the just war tradition offers a third alternative: (3) stop and think about what is reasonably demanded of you in this circumstance: do you file meekly like most European Jews to the death camps? In some circumstances, that may be all one can do, besides praying. In other circumstances, it seems to me that there is much more one can do, collectively as well as individually -- and that this is what morality requires of one.

You mention that war is invariably "unlimited." I'm not at all sure that this is so. While this may often be so, both in the case of individuals in combat and their commanding officers and heads of state who authorize them, I do not thing it is always or necessarily so. In the Faulklands Islands war, there was an encounter in which the Argentinians held up a while flag, and when the Brits came forward in good faith that their opponents were surrendering, the Argentinians opened fire. This is surely limitless desperation. On the other hand, the code of honor which says that one must not fire upon those who hoist the white flag of surrender has often been honored, as it was honored then by the Brits, at least until they were fired upon by their dishonorable opponents. I also think, despite the imperfect manner in which policies are invariably implemented in the messy affairs that wars always are, that nations and their armies have very often gone out of their way to avoid involving noncombatants, their homes and means of livelihood, notwithstanding Sherman in Georgia.

(Continued ...)

Pertinacious Papist said...

(Continued ...)

More to the point, however, there may be a significant difference here between the Lutheran Two Kingdom Theory and the Transformationalist Augustinian vision of the Catholic tradition on this issue. According to H. Richard Niebuhr, the Two Kingdom Theory views a Christian as belonging both to the Kingdom of Christ and to the 'Kingdom' of, say, the United States. On this view, there are two allegiances which he has, one to Christ (obviously the higher) and one to the U.S. If he serves in the police force or the military, he invariably runs afoul of the demands of the NT ethics exhibited in the Gospel requirements of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) of turning the other cheek, not resisting the one who is evil, but going the second mile in giving him more than he asks. This leads, on the Two Kingdom Theory, to irresoluble "paradoxes." One is bound to keep the peace as a police officer, even if it means taking out the man on a shooting rampage at a McDonalds in violation of the Gospel imperatives. At this point, according to both Niebuhrs (Reinhold and H. Richard), one is bound by his obligation to the 'Kingdom' of the U.S. to do his duty even if it involves performing an act that falls far short of, or even explicitly violates, the high standards of the Sermon on the Mount. Hence, Reinhold's remark that one must do his duty with a long face.

It seems to me, however, that this is not at all the Catholic view. On the Catholic view, Jesus was not laying out civil or military policy statements in the Sermon on the Mount, as many Protestants (such as Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, Jim Wallace, etc.) and even some Catholics since Vatican II seem to suppose. Rather, he was laying out the demands of the supernatural virtues in one's personal relationships with others. There is a frequent misconception that justice is something short of love. This may be true in the sense that justice demands that we respect all people, though it does not demand that we like or love all people or have everyone as our best friend. Yet it must never be overlooked that justice itself is a matter of love. It is loving to be just.

A great deal of the transformationalist vision of Catholic history comes out of the Church's experience in the years after the Edict of Milan when Christians increasingly found themselves, not a marginalized sect waiting for the Second Coming, but thrust into positions of authority in the Empire. It was St. Augustine who preeminently assisted the Latin Church in rethinking its task in the world in light of this new circumstance. It was out of this circumstance, too, that he drafted the first template of conditions for a just war.

This transformationalist vision, just like all of the other four "Christ and Culture" paradigms identified by H. Richard Niebuhr, has (as Jeremiah Larry Yoder points out) a grounding in Scripture (though he distorts the Catholic paradigm and misidentifies the transformationalist one with Calvinism). What favors the transormationalist vision is that it most clearly does justice (it seems to me) to the fundamental requirements of a good creation, original sin, and restoration via redemption. As Kuyper once pointed out, there is not one square inch of the world about which Christ does not declare: "This is mine." This includes the State. "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" is mis-read if it is understood in a compartmentalizing way. As Jesus pointed out to Pilate, even his (Pilate's) authority came ultimately from God the Father. This means the State owes Christ obedience. What is possible will depend on what sort of state and body politic it represents. It's role must never be confused with that of the Church. Its mission is not evangelization. But it owes Christ the debt of justice; and that is the aim it must have in all it does, even in keeping the domestic peace and waging war.

Pertinacious Papist said...


Thanks for the reference from the Gospel of John, my friend.

You added: "To say Paul VI is eschatological is right, but eschatology begins here and now."

It depends what you mean. Theories of "Realized Eschatology" are a conceit of Liberal Protestantism. But since you say "BEGINS here and now," that's probably not quite right. If it meant that we could achieve a warless world before the Second Advent, I hope you would agree with me in dismissing such a hope as naive. If it meant that the Sermon on the Mount's imperatives about turning the other cheek and not resisting evil provide the standards by which Catholics (and other Christians) who serve in public office, the police force, or department of defense are to conduct their policies, this seems to me to involve the fundamental category mistake common to those "historic peace churches" (Mennonites, Amish, Quakers) as well as various sects (Jehovah's Witnesses) who refuse public office, or service in the police force or national defense as incompatible with their Christian calling. John the Baptist told the soldiers he encountered to be satisfied with their wages. St. Paul called us (in Romans 13) to submit to the state (where its demands do not conflict with Christ's), even stating that God has ordained its power of the "sword" to execute God's wrath upon the "wrongdoer."

Lutheran said...

Pertinacious Papist--

Well stated and I find that I still disagree with the concept of just war theory. Why? As you state that not all wars are total wars, I find myself collegially grinning and reminded of old talks on how to teach with the hammer. My perspective is that war is total for each individual involved and therefore the whole of each participating army. As one is scandalously finding himself shot when the circumstances were, by “the rules”, determined to be safe and combat ceasing, the results for him are total. This totality is inevitably felt throughout his unit and any resulting fight resumes under desperate circumstances to include even vengeance.

Again, I perfectly understand any reaction to foul play in the use of such imagery so as to draw in one’s opponent, but this again simply illustrates the desperate nature of the fight from the start. Say what you will about the ethic of each fighting force, and I recognize one to be superior to the other in your example, but as the other opponent feels surrounded/constricted, expect him to lunge out in what anyone might see as peculiar ways.

I appreciate the interpretation of the Life in Christ as being one in which we are called to live anew, as you note. This could not be so much truer. In this new life, however, rules for war appear wildly contradictory. This should not be understood that I respect any self-stated rights of an oppressor. That is crockery. The option to stand by and pray while watching people be lined up and shot is out of the question.

What I mean to say is that though war is apart from the Life in Christ, one must expect its travails while living in a broken world. One must be at the ready to first avoid such strife. If this is impossible, one must defend to the hilt himself, his family, his neighbors, as possible. Indeed the defense is savage in that its option relies on the use of the very form of insult to life as the opponent chose to begin his lashing about with. What is different is in the reliance on the Word of God to protect oneself. One should effort to pray for God’s forgiveness in pursuing such violence, even if it is used to rescue others.

Pertinacious Papist said...


So am I right in thinking that the difference between us is not at all great? It seems we would both agree on the need to exhaust every alternative before resorting to coercive or lethal force or warfare, but would both recognize situations in which there is no alternative, when something like the defense of family or the helpless is involved (which are just war criteria by the way). Does the difference come down to the fact that you would insist on the need to ask God's forgiveness for engaging in such an action, whereas the Catholic would not?

An analogy might be capital punishment, of which there are ample examples in the O.T. Should the executor of God's will in the O.T. -- sometimes at the direct command of God (as when Samuel chastised Saul for failing to kill the enemy king) -- feel a need to ask God's forgiveness for his act?

This, in turn, raises the question whether the only way in which God's will is accessible is through special (supernatural) revelation -- either a direct revelation as the OT patriarchs and prophets had from God or the written revelation in Scripture -- or whether it is not also accessible through the moral reasoning that involves what is traditionally called natural law. We all know how the Protestant tradition (and not a few renegade Catholics) have been influenced adversely by Karl Barth's very loud "Nein!" against natural law. But we also know the withering critiques of Barth's proposition that have been forthcoming since its advent in the last century. A good nuts-and-bolts introduction to the common sense of natural law is J. Budziszewski's book, What We Can't Not Know, which I used a couple of years at Lenoir-Rhyne University as an effective discussion eliciting text.

Lutheran said...

Pertinacious Papist--

"So am I right in thinking that the difference between us is not at all great?"

Absolutely. Certainly nothing to lose sleep over but instead find as an entertaining difference.