I listened to an old emergent podcast featuring Brian McLaren called "Power, in ways we don't understand." Overall I thought it was wonderful, and much of what McLaren is saying resonates with me.
Not that this is the subject of my post, but I was really excited about how he explained what the gospel really is. I don't have a transcript of the whole thing in front of me, so I'll have to paraphrase something he said.
The gospel today is primarily personal, with the emphasis on saving souls. Then there's a rather large footnote on how to have a better life here on Earth before you get to heaven. Then there's a bit smaller footnote on how to improve our communities, and then a tiny little footnote on how the gospel impacts the whole world.
McLaren proposes thinking about it the other way around--start with what the gospel means to the whole world, then think about what that means for our communities, and then about what it means for our individual lives.
Along the way he stumbles onto this global issue of war and peace. As McLaren looks up to Stanley Hauerwas on many things, he also finds himself attracted to Hauerwas' pacifism.
McLaren says he is a "pacifist sympathizer." He also says pacifists are "ahead of their time." I'm paraphrasing a bit, but he says something like we need a "peace race" rather than an arms race. This kind of attitude seems pretty typical among the emergent strain of Christainity.
I'm not sure what I think. We live in an interesting time in which to formulate opinions about war and peace. A lot of liberals have been crying out for the past eight years that we failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam, and we're repeating our same mistakes.
But let's be honest, the lesson a lot of conservatives learned from Vietnam is that pacifism seems to come wrapped in a package of absurd liberal philosophy that simply doesn't work in real life. Vietnam didn't teach America to be pacifists; it taught us that pacifists are weird.
I say this as a 23 year-old inhereting the conversation that was going on decades before I was alive, but this is what I hear through the maze of opinions.
Iraq isn't exactly my generation's Vietnam. There has been no draft (and no draft dodging). Both the Hawks and the Doves have expressed their opinions from the comfort of their own blogs. Hardly any opinions of the war, good or bad, are forged out of any sort of practical experience.
That's all relative, of course. There are many brave men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps their opinion contain something in them that the rest of our opinions don't. It's just hard to say. But we do have a volunteer military. I think the dynamics would be very different if everyone were called to serve.
Anyway, how do we as Christians think about war? I get disturbed often by people who are way too decided. Either the Bible clearly teaches that war can be justified--I mean, just look at all the slaughter that God commanded Joshua to carry out--or it clearly teaches pacifism.
The words of Jesus on this subject are minimal, and at best they are cryptic. He did say, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword," (Mt 26:52) but this does not immediately condemn soliders. After all, those who perish by the sword are often given great honor because of it.
My own opinion at this point is that I cannot accept either "just war theory" or pacifism. How can theory really justify anything to do with killing people? It's like the problem of evil--it doesn't have a truly good explanation because it isn't good.
I have already expressed on this blog my frustration with ethics that try to come up with hypotheticals and "solve" them. I think the desire to solve hypotheticals is culturally conditioned, and it's something I think we need to train our culture out of as much as possible.
The way I view ethics these days is this. We are like a pianist sitting down to play. The music is already there in the keys of the piano; they just have to be struck in the correct order, with the correct timing and dynamics.
But what shall I play? thinks the pianist. He has this notion of beauty deeply embedded in his heart, and he wants to make that become real. He ponders this for a moment, longing for some perfect melody to come to mind. At last he takes a deep breath, and starts to play.
Is there any perfect melody? Is there any piece of music or art that can ever fully express the idea of beauty that is embedded in all of our hearts? Perhaps not. But the fact that the pianist listened to that longing in his heart, and then started to play--that is what made him a musician.
We long to see heaven on earth. As a Christian, I believe we will see it. But the only way we can make ethical decisions is to both desire to see heaven unleashed and then to act. Theoretical concerns do not make an action ethical or not.
Who is the soldier to boast that he was perfectly justified in killing his opponents? And then again, who is the pacifist to judge a nation for defending itself? Why do we all see this big need to justify ourselves, as if anything in this dark, corrupt world could really be justified?
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pacifist who plotted to kill Hitler. There was a man who understood ethics. There was a man who longed for heaven in his heart, and then tried with all of his might to somehow bridge the unbridgeable gap between heaven and hell.
To all the soldiers out there, I applaud your bravery. And to all the pacifists out there, I applaud your idealism.
We all have our cross to bear.