Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pragmatic Test

At some point the pragmatic test deserves its day in court. Usually its leveled against the pacifist - i.e., How can we live in a world without war? And that deserves an answer. But there is a more potent practical question the pacifist can ask: Has there ever been a just war?

Both questions appropriately demand livability, an essential component of any conception of Christian life. Something may look great on paper, adorned with proof texts and Luther quotes, but does it work? Can it be lived?

If a pair of scissors was used in a brutal murder, no one would call into question whether or not we should continue to manufacture and use them for their other effective purpose. Just because something is abused does not undermine its validity. But what if we lived in a world where scissors were only ever without exception used not for cutting paper but stabbing victims? Every single time any well-meaning school teacher sought to conduct an art project, she ended up with a room full of bodies. We might begin to wonder if scissors were such a great idea after all.

Enter "just war". Has there ever been a just war? Even if you support war without the "just" part, has there ever been a war for which a Christian could fully support its cause and fully support its means?

This might sound like an unfair test. It might sound like asking, Has there every been a completely untainted democratic process? But that's not what I'm asking. I'm not saying that we throw out democracy because its always tainted. I'm saying we throw out communism because we always end up with totalitarianism.

Enter "war". We don't abandon war for the Christian because it involves non-Christians and its always tainted by evil on both sides. We abandon war because when we set out for justice on paper we always end up with injustice. We fight for unjust reasons, with unjust means, and get unjust results. Sure there might be some mixed blessings in there. I could name a few mixed blessings under Mao or Stalin or Hitler. But collateral blessings are cause for abandonment not embodiment.

And so the pragmatic challenge stands: Has there ever been a just war?


P.D. said...

I'm not entirely sure about this post. I do think that some of these questions are theologically problematic. I have a theory that I'm curious to flesh out, this might make me sound like either an Anabaptist or anarchist (though they I think they are strange bed fellows!). I think that no political system is right or wrong, a christian and the Church must fulfill it's objective either way...

david gentino said...

Josh Chestnut:

"i guess primarily i am wondering about the nature of pragmatic questions in this area. i hope this makes sense but it might not. are you simply making the point that the idea of just war cannot in fact be lived out or practiced or are you making the claim that because just war theory cannot be practiced that it is then untrue? there is a subtle but important difference.

it seems to me that if you are using a pragmatic theory of truth to show why just war is untrue (and so then not what jesus, who himself is truth calls us to) then i am not sure you are in a much better position if the same manner of justification is applied to pacifism. i mean to be a pacfist one must admit that their pacifism does not in fact make the world a safer place and that there have been few if any true blue pacifists.

maybe this isn't your point but it seems to me that questions of just war and pacifism from a christian perspective (as well as all parts of christian doctrine) do not in fact find coherence from pragmatic theories of truth. i am not sure how pacifism can be intelligible apart from the narrative of jesus' life and resurrection as well as the reality of the holy spirit. it is only because of who Jesus is and what he did that we, as the church of christ, can live peacefully in the world, even if that pragmatically makes the world a more violent place. i think this is the point you are making, but i guess i am uncomfortable using a pragmatic approach to dismiss just war theory (which i am not sure i have yet)."

david gentino said...

PD, I think you and Josh are touching on an important point here - that if Christianity does espouse pacifism or at least undermines war, the case can hardly be made that it will "make the world a better place". Christians evangelizing the world in nonviolence is truly as Josh said unintelligible apart from Christ. And its impossible for me to conceive of a world where secular governments are unwilling to take up the sword and fight dirty. Even if their means and ends are dirty, by fire bombing Germany and Japan, killing untold thousands of civilians on purpose, the Allied forces produced some kind of equilibrium the world would have lost without them.

I guess at the end of the day all I'm doing is calling a spade a spade. If Christians ease their consciences in participating in warfare by believing they join good in opposing evil for God's glory I call that in no uncertain terms willful, wicked ignorance.