Friday, August 8, 2008

Vague thoughts on war

Here I am, teacup at my side, thinking numerous vague and unformed thoughts despite the late hour of the morning.

Friday morning is often one when I indulge and get a hard copy of the SF Chronicle so that I can linger over the movie reviews and see Bad Reporter in all its full-color glory. Getting the actual paper means I get a much better overview of the news; I never look very deeply when I'm glancing over headlines on the computer screen. So I miss things like stories about the woman complaining that her son's Fisher Price walkie-talkie picked up lewd CB discussions between truckers. Important stuff like that.

But I'm also still thinking about an article I saw online yesterday, in print today, about U.S. deaths surging in Afghanistan. As both my former parish and my current parish pray by name for those killed in Iraq, I'm now thinking about those in Afghanistan and how to remember them. I also find myself strangely affirmative of U.S. troops' presence there while thinking we probably should have focused our attention on Afghanistan from the outset, if we were going to have troops anywhere at all. And how do I reconcile this with my own personal desire to see the U.S. involved in something other than belligerance. I've become far more of a "just war" person than a pacifist as I get older, while hating the easy way in which just war theory is bandied about in self-justification.

Did you know that General Convention 2003 passed a resolution that "urge[d] dioceses and congregations to study and better understand Just War theory and pacifism as they apply to the situation of the United States in responding to contemporary international conflicts"? And further "commend[ed] 'Just Peace Readings' from the Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies of the Episcopal Church Center, and the website,, as an important resource in the continuing study of Just War"? Bet you didn't. I learned about that when our youth Sunday School studied War and Peace a few years back. As a result of that Sunday School, I learned about Just War theory and about this resolution

This was a worthwhile resolution and I'm sorry it was not more widely practiced. At least I never heard it was. Just War theory is a very important and very helpful way to think about war. It should not be dismissed out of hand because it has been used by those who seek justification for war, because that's not what it does. It's not facile. It's not simplistic. And it's worth a deeper look by everyone, and I think especially by people whose greatest and first desire is peace.

I'll come back to this.


qoe said...

I would be very interested how you might apply "just war" to Israel's bombardment of the Palestinians, and the role the U.S. has played in that, as well as all other hotspots in the Middle East,South America, South East Asia...

This is what I mean when I ask about the church's role in MDG's and foreign policy.

"Just war" theory is, as you say, extremely complex and there are many books on it, written by academics who have never seen military action.

But real people die, do they not? And just war theory is the neocons justification for supporting a permanent war economy.

The Old Testament God was the God of war. I don't get that from Jesus.

LKT said...

I wouldn't apply just war theory to Israel's bombardment of the Palestinians, nor to Palestinians' use of suicide bombers. And the reason I think we need to study Just War theory is so that neocons can't hijack it as they have. Which is one of the same reasons (besides, of course, our own spiritual nourishment) why we need to study Scriptures: so that we know when people are misusing them.

Bonhoeffer said...

GOE -- I'm troubled by your comments, since they seem to offer a knee-jerk and simplistic response to a thoughtful post. Just War theory isn't pro-war;and just because people on the right (or left) abuse and distort the concept doesn't make this ancient theology invalid.

I'm a church liberal myself, but I also know how deeply complex and multi-layered many of these issues are. Simplistic one-size-fits-all answers, from either the left or right, add nothing to the debate and only foster the widening divide.

Perhaps if we all put down our slogans and came out from behind our bumper stickers, we'd find that there's more shared ground than we might have expected. This is what the Presiding Bishop keeps saying to the Anglican communion and perhaps all of us need to follow her counsel on all the issues that divide us.

Finally, to say "the Old Testament God was the God of war" and that "I don't get that from Jesus" shows the same tendency to simplify to the point of dangerous distortion. It is the OT God of whom Micah writes, "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." It is the OT God who is a creator and a sustainer, who demands justice for the widow and orphan, who requires sabbath and sharing, who offers compassion to Hagar, Ruth and so many others. And, of course, the OT God is the God Jesus teaches us about in the New Testament.

To suggest that the God of the OT is a different God than that of the NT is to dismiss the very bedrock of our faith and to be blind to the long arc of God's relationship with humankind. It's also just plain wrong.

qoe said...

The point made about God as depicted in the OT was about how the PEOPLE defined and understood their God, the God of Abraham, who led them out of Egypt to be their God.

While our English Bible uses the words "God" and "Lord" (sometimes these two appear together) the original texts use many other terms. El became Elohim, example. Then there is JWHW. BUT, there is another important designation of God: Melech, the King.

Melech, in the theocratic context does not designate God as a war-god. However, as King, JWHW is invoked to consecrate the wars of Israel in Canaan. Take a tour through Judges and Numbers.

People define God to suit their purpose, particularly if the purpose is war. This does not in anyway truly define the Undefinable, however.

God, as defined by the teachings of Jesus, it seems to me, remains outside outside that OT theocratic context.

qoe said...

Silly me, I forgot that God is also designated as Adonai!

qoe said...

Owing to current events, the US military (Gates personally in charge) now having rushed to Georgia to offer “humanitarian aid”, in the form of military presence (has anything remotely similar happened in Sudan? Myanmar? Mauritania? Curious, is it not?), in a conflict described as having nothing, and I mean nothing, and Condi Rice repeats adamantly, NOTHING to do with oil pipelines, I thought I would give myself a reality check on a statement I posted here earlier, and review the OT to see if I could be imagining that militarism is documented there.

Nope. Not my imagination. No distortion. The Bible is full of war. Throughout the OT, God is documented as not only allowing wars to occur, but also as explicitly directing the Israelites to go to battle (Num. Jos. 1:2, Jdg. 1:1-2, etc.). God is documented as approving and even demanding a count for those who can serve in a standing army (Num. 1:1-4). God gives his people strength and counsel as war approaches (Jos. 1; Jdg. 20:3-4). Not only that, he apparently calls for annihilation (genocide!!) of an entire people (Jdg. 20:16-18) when God apparently tells the Israelites "do not leave alive anything that breathes” (Jdg. 20:16). As documented in the OT, one would be given to believe that God not only permitted war, but that God planned, ordained, and used it to fit a plan and purpose. God is also documented as using military force to punish the Israelites (2 Ki. 25) when they to repent of their wickedness.

Other texts to check out, if interested:

Exodus 15
Exodus 17.14-16
Deuteronomy 33
Deuteronomy 20
Deuteronomy 25.17-19
Judges 5
Samuel 15.2-3
Habakkuk 3
Psalm 68

I think it would be interesting to apply “Just War” Theory to these OT battle stories. Would they be justified? I wonder.

When we say that the scriptures are the word of God, we need to be very, very careful. God did not write the Bible; this chronicle was composed by many people from oral histories derived from multiple tribal cultures extending into pre-history—a patchwork quilt of texts that was redacted when compiled into a canon, in order to provide continuity. Just because the text is labeled “the Bible” and “scripture” does not mean that we have license to turn off our critical thinking or that we can ignore or even deny that bad stuff was happening to all sorts of people in the name of God.

I do not believe that God asks me to define what God is. I also do not believe that God asks us to allow the ancients’ perspective on war to determine our modern bioethic.

I stand by what I said before, and if I am wrong, so be it—at least that is taking firm responsibility for my opinion—; God created me to be a thoughtful and discerning creature and I am fallible. But it is human (not an act of the Divine Being) to attempt (and fail) to adequately define God, and it is human to use God as justification for human actions (good and bad). Invoking the name of God as justification (even sanctification) means that the human person does not have to take responsibility for an inhuman act.

I don't see Jesus letting us get away with that. And I don't think that saying so denies the long arc of God's relationship with humankind.