The ‘Just War’…Is It Christ-like?

yet the doctrine of sin states the need for war if all nonviolent means fail. “turn the other cheek” doesn’t mean hit me again.” (Luke)

Sin pretty much entails there will be problems…but at what point is violence okay and not okay…this is the problem with allowing even the thought of violent retribution a chance (a little leaven can ruin the whole lump of dough).

I was thinking about non-violence last night – and what Jesus may or may not have taught on this issue. I think Jesus falls solidly on the side of non-violence – peace by any means. It’s not just that ‘turn the other cheek scripture’ that makes the case. His core ideas are about the treatment of others – as you would like to be treated…I think we all hate being ‘hit’? Jesus also allows the rule of law of the land to take place…and not become a violent aggressor, even though he was falsely tried and put to ‘death’.

In ommission, Jesus never teaches about how to use one’s violence as a means for the kingdom of God. Jesus never hits anyone (the healer likely shouldnt). In the case of the ‘turn the other cheek’ teaching – there is nothing stating any violent means at all (if pushed too far). Jesus never backed war – even if there were factions amongst his own group that did (zealots and in one incidence James and John wanted to call fire down on people – killing them).

I find it hard to use this man, Jesus, to back anything ‘war like’ or ‘violent’. Sin or no sin.

Luke on April 28, 2010

Jesus was nonviolent, but was NOT peace by any means. He was about humanitarianism; a recognition of the shared humanity, not dehumanizing and “othering” the opponent.

while Jesus wasn’t a zealot, he did have their sympathies as he was engaged in a creative, nonviolent resistance movement. he was not about war physically, but spiritually yes. he was fighting, we can’t mistake that. his means however, are what we should focus on. however, there is always the Temple scene, the Legion and pigs incident, and the withering of the fig tree.

Just War is not about using violence as a means of the kingdom. war goes away once the kingdom arrives. however, when faced with an aggressor that will not back down and will not negotiate and will not recognize your humanity, that is where the tradition (save for the Brethren and Quakers) goes defensive. Reinhold Neihbur is my man here. i really enjoy his writing. Moral Man and Immoral Society is a great read and really covers it. this has morphed into the “Just Peace” movement found in my denom. here is a link to the website.

What do you think, Can Christians be ‘violent’?

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25 thoughts on “The ‘Just War’…Is It Christ-like?

  1. Jesus never hit anyway? Oh yeah? What about his little whipping scene in the Temple? Do you think he just cracked his whip in the air and everyone ran away in fear? And as far as him being all sweet and kind all the time, he sure called my sages a lot of not so nice names, in general of course since it is always ‘the Pharisees’ or ‘the Scribes and Pharisees’, ‘the Jews’ rather than any specific person, a very dehumanizing tactic, BTW, which continues on to this day.

    I know the usual thing for Christians is to brush all of this aside as us hypocritical Jews getting what we deserved, Jesus standing up so valiantly against the misguided, or even evil, religious leaders of his day, but how is this mentality any different than the idea of going to war and giving another country what someone thinks they deserve; going to war to because a country paints another country as evil just because that country won’t bow at the feet of the other?

  2. In the Qu’ran, the sura written during the Meccan period, when Mohammad was surrounded by enemy, Allah inspired him to speak of peace. But the Medina suras turned it about and Mohammad channeled an Allah that spoke of dominance and violence.

    If Jesus had lived in a place where they were unchallenged and the enemy did not occupy but was outside, he may have channeled a Yahweh of violence.

    (HT: Robert Wright’s book: The Evolution of God)

  3. I think that the slippery slope of the 3 monotheistic faiths (those of the “Book”) is that any religious rationale can be used to spawn violence and hatred toward the ‘Other’. We do not need a history lesson to demonstrate this because it is still being played-out in real world scenarios at the present.

    We have Iranian nationals and leaders that want that big bomb to strike fear; and maybe even use upon their “enemies.” We have Muslim suicide bombers across the entire globe that are willing to kill at will for the most frivolous rationale; always a religious reasoning. We have Israeli nationals that are settling everyday on Palestinian lands (illegally) and are trying to summon Messiah, or Armageddon, or whatever, and are desiring to fight a religious and political fight against all “Arabs”. We have Jewish nationals that are not against open warfare with Arab nations. We have Christian leaders (a great deal of them) that openly support warfare, even if unsupported and unsanctioned by any government other than the US. And we had US leaders that were open evangelical Christians that honestly believed that God’s will was a useful foreign policy.

    So violence looks alive and well in the 3 big religions and amongst the followers and even leaderships of the people.

    We have already established on this blog that Jesus’s message can be interpreted to become whatever one wants it to be…….. so why not throw a solid justification for holy war on top of it, the other guys are doing it already.

    Non-violence does not sell and is not too sexy among religious followers (so it appears in the past 5,000 years) otherwise ‘Jainism’ would be the worlds biggest religion but it is not. In fact most people have probably never heard of Jain.

  4. y’all need to read what Just War is. it does not equal holy war. like the Midrash story where after Pharaoh’s Army is drown in the red sea and the angels wanted to celebrate, God said “no, we shall mourn, for those were my children too.”

  5. i don’t mean to sound like i know it all, i don’t, but please check the link out to get the gist.

    as for ” he sure called my sages a lot of not so nice names, in general of course since it is always ‘the Pharisees’ or ‘the Scribes and Pharisees’, ‘the Jews’ rather than any specific person, a very dehumanizing tactic”

    well, true. but did HE do it or was it the writers of those gospels? putting him next to Hillel, they seem to say a lot of the same stuff, but Hillel in a much more learned way.. .Jesus was much more folksy. but it has resulted in a lot of undo strife and persecution which does continue to this day. boooooo.

    • Jason’s post was that Jesus was always peaceful and loving, yet a plain reading of the text shows me another side that isn’t so peaceful and loving, but which I see usually being excused. We don’t know if this was Jesus talking or if this was what the writers put in his mouth, but I think the possibility that he might very well have said what is attributed to him needs to be left open, rather than being written off or re-interpreted because it doesn’t fit the image someone would like to have of Jesus. Jesus would never…yes, but what if he did?

      And you know I do the same with my texts, refusing to whitewash the horrifying, refusing to say God is all this or that, or even any this or that. The stories of God in Tanakh also lead to undo strife and persecution, but I think if we refuse to give in to the surface rah-rah, God killed them all and they deserved it, we can see another lesson, how awful people can act when they think they have God in their pocket. Or another, people will use God to excuse anything and everything? Or another…? At the same time, however, there is always in the back of my mind, what if these stories are right? What if God is really like the power that came out of the Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark? What do I do with that? And therein lies the struggle, the refusal to be content with simple statements such as God is good or God loves you so you should love God, too, God would never… God will always… The only answers I will put in these blanks are God will never bore me and God will always fascinate me!

      The difference with Hillel, IMO of course, is that we don’t hold Hillel up as any ultimate role model for all humanity. Most of us know a few of his teachings, that’s about it, plus he’s always been one of us, no other religion evolved from his teachings to turn the not so nice he said back on us.

  6. “Jesus never hit anyway? Oh yeah? What about his little whipping scene in the Temple? Do you think he just cracked his whip in the air and everyone ran away in fear? And as far as him being all sweet and kind all the time, he sure called my sages a lot of not so nice names…” (Yael)

    On one hand I agree, the whipping thing was violent. One could say it was done for a ‘righteous cause’ but then again – that only goes to support the hatred in any religious group. I will say he was human and as a human, we let our emotions get the best of us at times. This doesnt seem to be his normal everyday behavior.

    As for the name-calling, that also happened and to this day many Christians try use this as justification to be ‘rude’ to non-Christians. However, I would say in many of the instances he is arguing theology and he bursts into a polemic with names that usually have some attached meaning to them that adds to the polemic. It’d be different if he was outright calling them ‘*ssholes’ or something…but I am not sure this is what he is doing.

    One also must remember this was a fellow Jewish countryman arguing with other Jewish counter-parts (all in the same culture). I think a lot of that is missed in the reading as people adjust to the era’s they read the gospels in. They may think it’s a Christian (Anglo-Saxon) person and a Jewish person arguing against one another (and the way it is written lends itself to this interpretation). However, factually it would of been two Jewish groups debating (sometimes heatedly).

    • Just so you know, I’m not ignoring your comment, Jason. My last free minutes were yesterday when I typed my response to Luke! You make good points and I would like to go more in depth on your comment about two Jewish groups, remember that video you linked awhile back where Amy Jill Levine talked about this? Anyway…I am just finishing printing some things here at shul and then will be leaving to finish preparing for Shabbat at home. I’ll comment again on the flip side.

    • OK, Jason, you’re telling me it’s so much better to call people broods of vipers and sons of the devil than it would be to call them assholes? You’re saying he got carried away in the heat of argument and burst into polemic, yet you would still say he was all about modeling the right way to treat people? How so?

      And even if all of this should just be taken as two Jewish groups in heated debate, what difference does that make? (Other than that no other group should think it’s OK for them to use the same words he used.) If Jesus was all about peace why couldn’t he get along with his fellow countrymen?

      Now a person could claim that Jesus’ rhetoric was no different than any other of his day, and that may well be true. But, no one is holding up any of these others arguing as peace models. If anything they proved the opposite. All these Jewish factions fighting with each other eventually began openly fighting with Rome as well, with terrible consequences. It is taught the Temple was destroyed due to the baseless hatred of Jews for each other. If anything all Jesus did was add one more group to baselessly hate everyone else and be hated in return.

      I know the claim is made that no matter what his actions were justified, but so what. That is what happens when the war drums start sounding, too. It’s always the other persons fault. I don’t see this being any different in Jesus’ case. He may have said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ but where is the evidence of him trying to make peace with any of the people he called names?

      • “Brood of vipers and sons of the devil”

        This is a great point because this is violent language and it is blatant judgements by the king of supposed non-violence and non-judgement. Jesus’s messages consistently contradict many points from not only his Judaism beliefs but also from his own supposed moral teachings. Once again the validity of his life is up for debate and his high-morality is definitely ni question – if read with a mind for the truth of the matter. Bertrand Russell has some interesting things to say about the high moral standing of Jesus. I stand on the side of skepticism myself. What can be truly objectively believed and followed in the Gospels when so much of it is blatant contradiction.

      • well, if y’all didn’t kick the poor Christians out of your synagoges, they wouldn’t have said such hurtful things about your traditions.

        now we can continue this tit-for-tat (HI JOHN T!) or we can talk about the issue at hand, namely: would JESUS advocate a Just War position? Christianity already does and it was first articulated from Augustine, but this is post-Constantine, so that colors it a bit.

        Jesus (or those writing about him) may have harsh words to say about the hypocrisy he/they saw within his/their tradition, but it was THEIR tradition. you’re letting how those words have been used color your view of Jesus. this retrojection is not serving you well at this point.

      • Luke,
        I don’t like Jesus, I make no bones about it. If my view of Jesus is colored by my dislike of him, how different is that from yours which is colored by your love for the guy? One could just as easily say you are prejudiced for the guy as they could say I am prejudiced against the guy.

        All I am pointing out here is that Jesus can just as easily be used as a model for war as a model for peace. As to whether he would support a just war or not, that is a conversation for Christians to enter, I already know the answer. If you guys decide war can be justified at times then Jesus will support the idea of a Just War, if you decide that war can never be justified, Jesus will not support the idea of a Just War. See how simple that was? There was no need to bring Jesus into the conversation at all since he will merely be the rubber stamp of authenticity to whatever conclusion people have already reached.

        Anyway, your comment is quite condescending. Perhaps you are copying your role model in putting down those who will never agree with you? 😛

        Johnny Bird,
        I became quite skeptical about Jesus many years ago. Jesus contradictions do indeed abound, yet they were ever denied, brushed aside, explained away, not acknowledged. Contradictions don’t bother me, if they did I could not follow Judaism; what bothers me the lack of acknowledgment of contradictions. To me contradictions are what is fascinating about religion because then we get to wrestle with them. Life is contradictory, people are contradictory, what’s the big deal if religion is as well? Yet, this is not allowed in some places, especially as pertains to Jesus. I would never bring up the negative side of his character except that I don’t see Christians talking about this themselves. Instead all that I see as bad is deemed not actually Jesus but instead later interpretations, while all that they see as good is deemed a totally accurate depiction of Jesus. Even many of those who hold to quite liberal interpretations of the NT still insist the Jews with whom Jesus interacted were hypocrites while never seeing the same could be said by those ‘hypocrites’ about Jesus.

        But, no matter. I’m dropping out of the conversation. I am trying to keep a sense of humor in my conversations so will quit while it is still intact. I can sit here and laugh because thank goodness that for all the nuttiness I have to deal with within my own religion at least we don’t have Jesus!

      • “You’re saying he got carried away in the heat of argument and burst into polemic, yet you would still say he was all about modeling the right way to treat people? How so?” (Yael)

        That’s my claim, just based on the wording that gets used. Although it is not exactly friendly langauge – it is neither inciting violence towards Jewish sects (Pharisee’s, Herodians, and Saduccee’s). And if there was any call to violence, Jesus himself is not seen making it in any outright command or parable.

        It’d be absolutely ludicrous to say there was not some animosity – there was and the stories point this out. However, it is not clear anywhere in the NT that a call to violence towards any group (including the Romans – who were the actual enemies of the day) was made.

        If so, where? I mean, it should be rather clearly laid out – like ‘against the Romans, one may use the sword’ or something of the ilk. I find nothing. This is just a simple fact of the NT…a book that has the original disciples of Jesus dying without the use or even the threat of violence. It makes sense the gospels would also follow this idea. Paul also seems to be going the same route.

        “If Jesus was all about peace why couldn’t he get along with his fellow countrymen?” (Yael)

        Did he need to? Mlk and Malcolm were seeking the same ends, with varying means. Gandhi had his detractors in India. Che had people within his culture that opposed his ideas. Huey P Newton had internal strife within his own group. Within First Nations communities we all don’t agree on civil action against the gov’t (some more violent than others in civil disobedience to seek changes to laws and policy).

        These can be very heated debates – in the case of Malcolm, Huey, Gandhi, and Che – their detractors, within their own culture, killed them. Not everyone agrees with the stance an individual takes – and in the times of Jesus – I could see him being the odd man out – with a stance that was not opposing enough of the Roman forces. In fact, someone within his own faction (a zealot) had him set-up. It’s a story we have seen, if not from the 4 examples I have already given.

        “But, no one is holding up any of these others arguing as peace models. If anything they proved the opposite” (Yael)

        I am making the point so that Christians have no excuse for their behavior when they are caught using the behavior of ‘war’ against other peoples – whether Muslims, Jews, gays, etc. The stronger a stand I take for peace, the less room for Christian factions to claim war in the name of God. I mean, this is what I wrestle with.

  7. Of course Chriostians can be violent.

    There is good violence. WWII was a very violent war. Many people, of all faiths participated.

    The Bible telss us that we are to hate evil. Sometimes we just have to fight evil and defeat it.

  8. “There is good violence. WWII was a very violent war. Many people, of all faiths participated.” (Steve)

    Everyone always brings up WW2 as a catch all for every war ever being fought as justification for a ‘just war’ ideal. I do not think any wars are ‘just’ – however, understanding human pride and stupidity, I see why it happens. But no war is ever ‘normal’…not even WW2.

    WW2 showed us why we can never have another such war – from introduction to genocide to realizing how depraved humans can get. We are moving farther away from that time – and it’s sad we cannot hear the speeches of those veterans who saw everything there. The stories are absolutely horrific.

    Now maybe WW2 needed to be fought, we obviously could not let Germany (or Japan and Italy) do what it was doing. However, not every war is like that one…in fact I seen few since that war that is even close in severity to that one. And when we do see wars like that, the West doesn’t do much to change anything. Sad, but true.

    “The Bible telss us that we are to hate evil. Sometimes we just have to fight evil and defeat it.” (Steve)

    I agree, we should hate evil (behavior/actions). On a personal level, what does that even mean? Do we have the right to act violently towards another individual because they are doing things we consider ‘evil’? Or is there another way to deal with this?

    When we discuss war, we must discuss what makes war occur, those ideas and feelings inside of us.

  9. **I was thinking about non-violence last night **

    This raises an interesting point to me … how is violence defined? Is it good? Is it evil? A necessary evil? Or relative to the situation, and thus morally neutral within itself?

    The other thing I’m wondering about the concept of a “just war.” Based on how I understand it, war is acceptable in certain situations in order to prevent certain evils. So some evils are worthy of a violent response, and some are not. Doesn’t this put evil acts on a sliding scale? And thus, sins on a sliding scale? How does that fit into the idea that are sins are equal before God?

    • Just a small clarification, the US is the ONLY nation-state in the history of humanity to us an atomic weapon in combat. And they did not warn the Japanese people (in both the highly populated cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima) that they were dropping the bombs. It was an experiment in a real combat scenario. I would not exactly say it was “ironic.” It was more a show of power and yes it is among the most extremely violent acts in human history. Even the Nazis cannot make the claim that they dropped atomic bombs on cities; even though they certainly would have if given the chance.

  10. WWII is the extreme case of violence in the world but bear in mind that WWII has nothing to do with ‘faith’ and the message of non-violence; if one were truly non-violent then they would not go to war in any case.

    WWII was an experience that rarely happens but the ‘War in Iraq’ now that is a different thing altogether. If you cannot see the difference between the ‘War in Iraq’ and the War on global fascism (WWII), then you need to read and pay attention a little closer to the facts; and definitely we all need to do some better researching other than listening to the five minutes of updates every week from the mainstream propaganda machines.

  11. “would JESUS advocate a Just War position? Christianity already does and it was first articulated from Augustine, but this is post-Constantine, so that colors it a bit.”

    Yes but you mentioned “Jesus”, so then what does Constantine have to do with anything in the just war department? Absolutely nothing is the answer. Your logic is off the radar.
    Does Jesus advocate non-violence and the answer is yes he does, but he definitely contradicts his own words with other condemnations of Jewish sects (with violent language) and with even violent acts.

    “well, if y’all didn’t kick the poor Christians out of your synagoges, they wouldn’t have said such hurtful things about your traditions.”

    Is this an argumentative position or an accusation? Were you there to account for every synagogue? Or are you just repeating and readjusting classic fairy-tales that Euro-christians have been spinning for centuries about Jewish hatreds of Christianity?

    Your whole line of reasoning stinks of political right-wing ideology and not a theological debate.

    • Actually on this point Luke is correct. We even added a prayer to our service that Christians could not say to make sure they left or at least could be identified. They were seen as traitors who sided with Rome during the Bar Kochba revolt. Christians could not support Bar Kochba because he claimed to be messiah and obviously they considered messiah to have already arrived.

      Luke isn’t right wing, no way, no how. He and I are good blogging pals. He’s just joking around with me as I did back with him. We have a long history, and much as I dislike his Jesus, I respect Luke’s dedication to his faith.

  12. Johnny

    Actually there is some evidence that points to a language problem in regards to the dropping of the A-bomb. As is the case now, the americans had very poor translators. It seems the Japanese may have had the same problem.

  13. Yael,

    “One could just as easily say you are prejudiced for the guy as they could say I am prejudiced against the guy.”

    absolutely!

    “If you guys decide war can be justified at times then Jesus will support the idea of a Just War, if you decide that war can never be justified, Jesus will not support the idea of a Just War. See how simple that was?”

    actually, i think Jesus would be against war in all forms but spiritual. when there is spiritual hypocrisy, political oppression, and stagnation on all fronts, that’s what i see Jesus fighting against. however, given the complexity of world politics, war is unavoidable in some cases. Jesus didn’t have this in mind, i don’t believe, when he was teaching and preaching in the backwaters of the Roman Empire. he never thought it would become the religion of the empire because what he was saying was so anti-Roman.

    so we have Jesus and yet we have our tradition ABOUT Jesus to go on. just as you have G-d and your tradition ABOUT G-d to go on. would God ever support war? I don’t think so, i don’t see it in God’s nature (despite Joshua and such stories, Jonah, Job and the wisdom lit. argues against it as do many of the prophets). however, i think Just War is also in your tradition as well.

    “Anyway, your comment is quite condescending.”

    yup! yet it’s supported. if we want to argue in terms of who has it worse, you win in terms of persecution. but maybe in a different way, i do as well. mystic style guys who i really like (aka NOT right wing… HI JOHNNY!) like Origen, John Huss, Meister Eckhart, the Bloodhearts, Teresa of Avila, St. Francis, Matthew Fox, and Reinhold Neihbur were all considered heretics at one point or another and many were put to death by their fellow Christians. my closest relative, the slovak Huss, was burned at the stake. sometimes i feel as i am to follow as i don’t fit the mold with my own faith peers, nor with atheist critique, and maybe with some Jewish critique, but not totally as we always seem to find our points of connection.

    “i believe i’m a heretic to both sides.” Erasmus of Rotterdam. i should have that tattoo’d on my forehead. it would serve Jay well too as his Ebonitic faith is even weirder than mine 😉

  14. “Doesn’t this put evil acts on a sliding scale? And thus, sins on a sliding scale? How does that fit into the idea that are sins are equal before God?” (OSS)

    Are all sins equal? I think the point the bible is trying to make is ‘a sin is a sin’ (and each sin is problematic in nature). I think Christians have run with a few things Paul has said and made claims murder and lying are equal (for example). That’s obviously garbage.

    All sin is equal before God in that it is a problem we humans have – whether small or big…and in what we have learned from addictions counselling – most things start off small then become big (so some of what Paul is saying is true). Our adverse behaviors will seek to condemn us if we cannot curb their appetites.

    I don’t believe all sins are equal (personally). Stabbing someone and killing someone are different (for example). Attempted rape and actual rape are different (for example). They are all ‘wrong’ (equally wrong) but the severity of the damage of each is obvious.

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