Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Augustine's Just War Theory

I just finished the most aggravating paper that I've ever written. I'm actually very interested in both the time period and the subject matter. I have had a nightmare with the research. I ordered a bunch of books I needed, and none of them came in on time. I took a whole week off from church 2 weeks ago, just to get this thing done, and instead of being able to read and write, I spent the whole time scrambling around for resources. On top of that, most of the resources I found weren't that good. At any rate, I do believe that my paper contains plenty of truthful factual information, though perhaps not the whole picture of all aspects involved. I got to the point where I just had to suck it up and type it. I sent it to my teacher...1 1/2 weeks late. He had told me he would give me a few extra days, but I don't know how many days he considers "a few". He is a really cool guy, and is typically very patient. I'll find out what he thinks about it.

BUT, since I've already posted my paper on the GA's changing views from pacifism to militant during WWI, if you, O Reader, are interested, here is a completely different setting where the early church shifted from pacific to militant, and for basically similar reasons. In the GA's case, you hear it from those resisting the change to a militant mindset, and from Augustine, you hear a guy who hates war, but basically paves the path for the Just War mindset because circumstances seem to necessitate it. It may not be a good paper, but maybe it will provide some food for thought. Click Here To Read My Paper

Now that I've spent a whole semester studying Christians and warfare, here's what I think:

Christians are to be peaceful people. We should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. When it appears that our nation might go to war, we should be on our knees daily, begging God to dissolve the problems without mankind choosing to resort to violence.

I don't know if there is a perfect example in scripture of whether or not we can fight in wars. You can point at the Sermon on the Mount teachings, or at Jesus telling Peter to put away his sword and say, "We can't participate in war without violating the teachings of Christ." You can also point to Jesus fashioning a whip to drive the moneychangers out of the temple, not to mention Abraham, David, and Moses...heroes of the faith...who were warriors. At the same time, life doesn't always leave us in a situation choosing between a good option and a bad option. Because we live in a sinful world, we are sometimes left choosing the lesser of two evils.

There are good reasons why war veterans refer to war as "Hell". People in wars do unspeakably evil things. Even those fighting for the nobler cause come home with permanent scars; mentally, physically, and emotionally. But I am open to the possibility that some of the men who go and do these terrible things are able to do so out of love for their fellow man.

I think of Everett Six. Though he recently passed away, in talking to me about his experiences in WWII against the Nazis, he was a machine gunner, who sometimes went more than 48 hours with no sleep and no food. He told me of how once, in the snow, the Nazis quietly approached, holding white sheets over themselves, hoping they wouldn't be noticed. In his own words, he "mowed them down". Mentally, he never could return to normal life after that. But even as he told me about some of the Germans he killed, in the same conversation, he talked about how good and kind many of the Germans were that he met. He said that a lot of them were under the influence of a bad person, and really didn't mean to be as evil as what they acted. I think Everett would be a textbook example of a person fighting a just war. He hated war. He hated the fighting and the killing. BUT, he saw a greater evil in standing by, letting innocents be slaughtered than to step up in a spirit of love and fight to protect those who couldn't protect themselves and to protect his family from what was becoming a very real threat. In a sense, Everett became the very image of Christ in laying his own life on the line (and permanently giving up his mental well-being) for the good of others.

But of all the wars we've been a part of, other than WWII, I don't think I can say any of them are truly just in the sense that Augustine laid out.

I have concluded that what a person will decide about whether it is right or wrong for a Christian to fight on behalf of his government will really depend on the government and the circumstances. In times like the 1940's or under Constantine's reign, when the government is supportive of Christianity, and an evil outside force threatens ruthlessly, people seem to see the need and just cause for fighting evil powers. When the government is hostile to Christianity, such as in the earliest church when emperors like Nero, Caligula, and Diocletian were torturing and killing Christians, our Kingdom mindset rises to the surface, and we say boldly, "I'm part of an everlasting kingdom, much greater than this one."

I personally will never join the military; the only exception being if an invading army shows up on our shores, in our neighborhoods, trying to kick down my door to attack my family. Too few wars are really just enough, in my eyes, to want to participate. I live within a peaceful country, for which I'm thankful, and have more than enough work to do spreading the gospel. Likewise, when I have friends who decide to join the military, and I have recently, I will continue to get them aside to encourage them to think very seriously about whether at some guy's order they are willing to take another person's life when Jesus sent us to bring life.

I am unsatisfied with the mentality of many military types who basically say, "I don't like killing, but my job is to follow orders." I'm convinced the reason that drunkeness is a sin is because a person gives up control of himself. How is this different? A prostitute could say the same of her pimp, "I don't like fornicating with strangers for money, but my job is to sleep with who he tells me to." Either I am a Christian all of the time, or none of the time. Compartmentalization is sinful and Godless. If I can see a way as a Christian to participate in a particular government military action (such as the WWII situation), then fine, but if not, I ought not ever do something that violates my conscience.

If all the people in the world were Christians...real Christians...there would be no need for wars or weapons. So while the government works for peace through coercive means, I intend to work for peace by spreading the teachings of Jesus. Governments stay in control by wielding the sword, but if everyone would lay their idols of selfishness, greed, and power at the foot of the cross, there would not be a need for the wielder of the sword.

That may be idealistic, but just because I won't completely attain it, does that mean it isn't worth striving for? Rather than waiting for everyone else to get rid of their bombs and guns first in order for me to be peaceful, to borrow from a Quaker, why shouldn't I lay down mine first, and be the first one to choose peace? Christ lead by example...why not me?

I'm happy to live in America, but I pledge my allegience to Christ first. I pray that I am never forced to choose between picking up a gun to fight for an earthly kingdom, and watching my loved ones be persecuted. For now, I'm thankful for my blessings, and I think I'm done with the whole war issue.


  1. Amen!


  2. Mark,

    I just saw you comments on my blog. Thanks for stopping by. In a week when I have more time, I will read with more attention. But I like what you are writing. I am glad to see more Christians wrestling with this issue. It is not settled for me which is why I titled my post "Why I am Pursuaded Towards Non-Violent Justice."