To what extent if at all might a religious ethic be pacifist

Pacifists in order to maintain peace are opposed to any use of war or violence whatsoever. Consequently such values implicate that when faced with violence or conflict the pacifist response will be in favour of diminishing; economic competition, the fear of foreign monopoly and any quest driven to obtain power, for these are considered rivals to establishing peace. i Christians themselves value the importance of maintaining peace throughout society, which has been greatly emphasised in the teaching of the Golden Rule.

To treat others as you wish to be treatedii is to act lovingly and peacefully not only to the ones we love, but also to the ones who challenge us. Love is valued greatly in Christianity due to the way it was expressed by God in his perfect creation, that was built to suit the needs of humanity. Where as Christians respect humanity in order to thank God for such a harmonising environment, pacifism may also help Christians build upon their key objective of becoming Christ-likeiii.

Just as pacifism encourages us to use reason and logic in the face of conflict, Christianity advises us to ‘love to one’s neighbour as oneself’iv. The two concepts combined encourage respect towards one another, which in turn could be said to meet the pacifist goal of peace making. However to place yourself in your neighbours situation may be interpretated as to provide you with God given reason to prevent the making of irrational decisions. It does not therefore mean it is acceptable to allow yourself to be exploited.

Because of this, pacifism does not directly correspond with a Christian ethic, for whilst a Christian should act fairly, force may still be considered necessary, for to not rightfully defend yourself indicates little love for yourself. These personal enemies of pride, sloth and anxiety are considered to produce an unloving attitude towards yourself but also prevent you loving your neighbour, defeating the Christian ideal of agapev. Pacifism overcomes such problems by taking a variety of forms.

Whilst the absolutist stance of rejecting any form of violence correspond greatly with the New Testament teachings that we should ‘turn the other cheek in the face of violence’, and ‘one must love ones enemies’vi, it should not be overlooked that Christianity being a deontological faith, (formed out of a duty to God) implicates Christians through the example of Jesus Christ’s execution, are to lay down their life for others and therefore have a duty to protect the oppressed and weak.

As liberation theology suggests, the church should be involved in the struggle for economic and political justice. Pacifism by taking a contingent standpoint overcomes the problematic and unrealistic approach set by absolute pacifism. It accepts that peace; in order to be maintained at times relies on force to be used. Whether the force takes form through passive resistance or armed defence depends entirely on the situation and is therefore subjectivevii. This again acts as a constraint to the Christian ethic.

For whilst acknowledging the possible need for force in the Christian faith, you are disrespecting God, the God who in Genesis is perceived as the ‘greatest possible being of which nothing greater can be conceived’, he is the one rule giver and no-one is beyond his ruling. Society therefore has no place to decide which wars are suitable to fight and which are not. Through God’s gift of Free Will to mankind, he acknowledged (primarily through the fall of man) that we are irrational beings, led by emotion. Therefore for Christians to adopt a relative pacifist approach could result in selfish, harmful deeds.

Furthermore, the relative standpoint in comparison to the absolute pacifist ideal is completely contradictory which considerably devalues its worth. If pacifism was a part of Christianity it would have to be through its absolute form, for this implies acting through duty, therefore involving the use of rational thought and the deontological principles of Christianity. Yet we have already identified the problematic idealistic nature of absolute pacifism. Whilst religion is not intended as a social construct as implied by Freudiii, it still must meet the needs of society otherwise the religion is inapplicable to life.

To not adopt the pacifist approach is not to suggest Christians are to act violently but simply accepts that in our ever-changing environment there is the possibility that force may be necessary. This has been supported throughout the chequered past of Christianity. Christians who are guided by the absolute morality of Jesus Christ, for centuries had no holy war doctrine, the absolute authority of the 10 commandments condemning any action of killing or mistreatment of civilisation was accepted and therefore saw Christians adopting a pacifist approach.

However this was all to change in 1095 CE when Pope, Urban 2, established a defensive war. Although the fighters were depicted as soldiers of Christ, mirroring the sacrificial love of Jesus who died for the world, it was therefore implied that as a soldier of Christ you would receive pardon of your sins in the afterlife. Such suggestions are harmful and are not the direct influence of God but the manipulation of authority. Although the first crusades were considered a success as to its aim of freeing Jerusalem, the later crusades resulted in many Western casualties and no real achievement.

To which they were criticised for fighting for the wrong intentions often to gain land than fight in the name of peaceviii. To adopt a pacifist, peaceful ethic would not allow clergy leaders to manipulate its followers into a forced obligation to fight. However if you cannot even trust church leaders then what evidence is there that we are ever capable of becoming Christ like? In the Middle Ages crusades, (a series of Christian military expeditions to reclaim the Holy Land for Muslims) with the intention to supposedly limit warfare began to develop. They were acting out of a holy cause of enforcing peace.

This devalued the opinion of humanistic pacifism that asserted as the children of God, blessed with rational abilities we are capable to solve disputes peacefully by ourselves. Although supported by the example of Mohandas Gandhi to encourage Britain to withdraw from India and also the example led by Martin Luther King to acquire civil rights for black peoplevii, this optimistic approach of a well reasoned society is unrealistic to human behaviour. To suggest we wish to resolve differences as justly and harmoniously as possible is a delusional idea for Christians to adopt.

It is not deniable that throughout Christian teachings especially through the example of Jesus that pacifist themes of love and forgiveness are displayed. As St Augustine stated, ‘Jesus’ own life was executed in the name of responding passively’vii, but how realistic is this to modern day? For whilst it is altogether plausible that Nazism would not have remained if people had not avoided the situation for so long, it is highly questionable that Hitler would have been defeated by non-violent means.

Many Christians have no objection to the traditional pacifist teachings of love and forgiveness but when placed under a situation of war pacifism seems unrealistic. If Christians are to value the sanctity of their God given life it would not be too wrong to suggest that they should do their up most to maintain and protect life, so at times relegating the pacifist approach. ix The concept of pacifism is not only an issue for Christians to the consequences of this life but to those who reinforce belief in the afterlife are also concerned with eschatology, (end of time).

To reach this higher plain of the kingdom of God requires a Christian to be of distinct holiness and to have led a life most similar to Christ, which would implicate that a Christian ethic should most definitely be adopting the pacifist stance. vi Due to the ever-changing attitudes of Christianity, it becomes difficult to define a Christian ethic as pacifist. The diversity in decisions should not necessarily be considered a negative point, for such diversity in authority and interpretation make Christianity fitting to our ever growing, learning society.

The Old Testament presentation of God is of an angered, biased God who uses violence as a means to solution, as shown in his attack on the Amorites. This however should not be perceived as a justification of war, for God is well beyond our understanding, it is not ours to reason why, and because it is down to interpretation alone it may act simply as an illustration to the powerfulness of God through a liberal Christians interpretation or the brutal nature of God if viewed from a fundamentalists literal, unyielding interpretation, to which such a circular argument holds no solution.

Such teachings should not be taken at fundamentalist value alone, for where Moses in the Old Testament is presented as killing an Egyptian soldier as revenge for abusing a Hebrew slavex it is done in the name of justice. This holds implication s for pacifism by suggesting that force is sometimes necessary, by acknowledging such a value you are denying aspects of pacifism but not in its whole entirety. For Christianity is built on love, as emphasized in the New Testament. When soldiers visited John the Baptist he advised them to ‘rob no-one by violence’vi but did not condemn them for their job.

For Christianity despite its absolute nature is not a strict moral code, it is guidance. The Ten Commandments are not orders as to how one must live their life but are implied in Kant’s categorical imperative, as a sense of ought ness and duty to God. For if they must be complied by, God would not enable us the free will to decide. This free will represents the loving nature of an all loving and powerful God who does not intervene. As God the most authoritive being does not intervene it is not the right of the church to decide for a whole Christian community whether a pacifist ethic should be adopted.

The intuitionist nature of using your own reason and logic reinforces that you can only become the most moral person by making choices through your own free will and therefore to adopt an ethic of absolute pacifism is to loose your freedom of choice. If as St Thomas Aquinas stated that in fact we all serve a purpose, one which we have to discover through our own rational thought and reason then it is not down to Christianity to force absolute pacifism but for ourselves to discover.

Where as conscientious objectors argue that a Christian’s private morality supersedes any obligation to the state, this could be the applied similarly to when you consider that a Christians individual response to an ethic of pacifism is of more value than conforming with an Emperor’s or leaders belief. In the example of Pope Pius xii in 1956, it was stated that Catholics could not be considered conscientious objectors, as the issue of war was too grave to be left to the individual conscience.

This view was highly challenged and changed by the Second Vatican Council because it is a contradiction as part of the Christian faith to undermine the value of God given reason when surely is from the most holy source of God? The value of individual interpretation has been met further by the Just War theory. For whilst it offers distinct guidelines as to what conditions can make a war acceptable it is down to your own interpretation of what you consider to be just. As Gnostics assert, it is the knowledge from within your soul that shall lead to man’s salvationxi.

Just War Theory, introduced by Augustine, acts as a direct contrast to pacifism, for even contingent pacifism does not have a direct involvement in war. Pacifist are supported by Catholic teachings, which condemn direct killing on the basis of natural law, and therefore do not condone the Just war theory, however Catholics are just one aspect of the Christian faith, its diverse reactions and responses may not comply to pacifism at all times but they are still of great worth because their principles are all grounded in the Christian form of love.

Pacifisms objection to force is that violence is of harm to society. The Christian tradition however makes strict emphasis on the importance of the common good, sharing the interests of society. Pacifism could be argued to be on an individualistic approach to pursue their own individual good of rigid values to not fight and therefore implicate a pacifist moral life to be morally more important than the life of the threatened innocent.

Who has the right to decide? Christians may however of undermined the value of their argument with the introduction of The Just War Theory, for to then view your faith as a legitimate authority to deciding when violence may be used is grounded out through the Church’s opinions and not the divine source of God. If formed through the teachings it is still a matter of interpretation to which we are not told which interpretation is more valid.

The Just War theory has two distinguished elements, firstly jus ad bellum, (the justification for going to war), this by assuming that a legitimate authority is fit to judge what is in fact a just cause. From this instinct pacifism appears to take the greater stance, it may be arguable that through our intuition that we obtain the legitimate authority, however pacifism by assuming that we are not holy enough to make decisions concerning life and death decisions is more reflective of the Christian teachings that nobody is beyond the authority of God.

Where as we praise Christianity for giving the opportunity for people to have faith in their convictions it is implausible that when considering the possible good as to outweighing the harm caused, humankind can surely not envisage that we can balance benefits against costs when consequences include the destruction of mankind. For Christians to choose the justification of war out of the predicted result is a teleological response.

This is a problem to Christianity as any ethical code adopted by Christianity essentially needs to be of a deontological nature in order to maintain the principle that we act out of our duty to God and of no selfish cause. Secondly is the assumption of jus in bello studying the just means within war. In order to achieve peace minimum force must be used. This acts a contradiction for this implies that force is not a necessary action, which would imply a pacifist stance, should be taken.

Just war is problematic to the typically successful challenge that a non pacifist approach may be taken, for by justifying war and setting a criteria to when and when not to fight you are contradicting not only the original trust of an individuals intuition as a true source of decision making but the conditions set forth are unattainable. For instance a criteria of war as only a last resort is a contradictory statement, for you can always resort to something else.

As the Society of Quakers assert, everybody should overcome all that causes conflict between people, this may never be done through force. vi When re-examining the question of whether a Christian ethic should be pacifist, it is a self-contained argument. Christianity throughout its history has adopted a pacifist approach, it is therefore plausible for it to be part of a Christian ethic because pacifism acts as a doctrine of peace and is therefore in compliance with the central issues of the New Testament.

However the real question is, should a Christian ethic be pacifist? Where Christianity is already grounded in such principles it is unnecessary for it to adopt an absolute pacifist response, as it should be down to the individual to interpret the teachings in their own way, as has been throughout the majority of Christian teachings.

Peace is an entirely subjective man made concept; it cannot be defined and therefore is the responsibility of each individual to act in accordance with his or her own view. Whilst this may potentially cause a society revolved in chaos, if every Christian has truly acted out of their God given reason then they have done the right thing and fulfilled God’s divine plan, for it is not ours to reason why.

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