Tag Archives: natural law

Pacifism As Christian Discipleship part 1 of 2

A Response to Daniel M. Bell, Jr.

This post has been several months in the making. Not that it has been in my queue for a while but ever since fellow biblioblogger Craig Falvo and I have had back and forth conversations about pacifism/nonviolence and just war theory, Craig has continued to encourage to pick up Daniel M. Bell Jr.’s Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State. Yesterday, I took him up on his offer.

The objections I raise to the Just War tradition are crucial ones that I hope someday Just War theorists will address; these are questions I do not know if they have been publicly asked or not, but I shall make my inquiries known in these 2 posts. I am aware that Bell may in fact be a proponent of pacifism, but that is not the scope of this series.

Today, I will focus on his Introduction through Chapter 3.

In Christian theology and studies pertaining to ethics, it has become mildly popular (well, that’s more of an understatement) for scholars to advance concepts of community as being counter-cultural to the rugged individualism so endemic in the United States. Bell’s text is no different. Bell’s problem, and I concur with him, is that so many people just invoke the Just War tradition but they are unable to name the terms by which we are to engage in just wars (page 13). In chapters 1 & 2, Bell goes through a brief history of just war theory as it has been proposed by various Christian thinkers, from Augustine to Hugo Grotius. Bell points to Grotius as one of the culprits that leads to the loss of the Just War tradition; because of his focus on international law and relations as such, he wanted to promote the minimum amount of rules as it were that both Westerners and non-Westerners could follow (56-57). Whereas the dictates of the JWT were examined by early Christian apologists according to the Gospel, Grotius made moves that gave special preferences to notions of natural law. HG focuses mostly on the JWT’s concept of just cause, and in his arguments, he even makes room for preemptive strikes (57). Grotian JWT meant a rejection of the Just War Theories of the Middle Ages, along with chivalry and its ethos.

The 19th century sees the birth of a new kind of war: that of “total war” with generals such as Napoleon from France, and Ulysses S. Grants in the United States permitting their soldiers to live off the land, to both destroy and usurp resources of the enemy (60). War had devolved from a church-inspired kenosis to a secular hedonism.

Bell goes on to differentiate between Just War (Christian Discipleship) and Just War (Public Policy Checklist). JW(CD) is “as a form of Christian discipleship, […] connected with Christian convictions and community” (75). JW (PPC), on the other hand, relies on primarily secular sources (76). Secular JWT is more oriented towards law, and more compatible with deontological ethics. The indiviudal person, whether it be citizen or soldier or politician, both knows and does the right thing and “gathers the willpower” to accomplish the task (79). It is about knowing and obeying the rules.

On the other hand, Christian JWT is about forming virtuous persons; in this case, just warriors working for Christian justice. Failure to apply JWT(CD) is a matter of unfaithfulness to the tradition (81). The Church dedicated to JWT(CD) will discipline a people “to love and seek justice for their neighbors as if such a disposition were a second nature (83). JWT(CD), in this light, is NOT about choosing the lesser among evils, but about waging a power of love in confronting the unjust (88).

A Gentile Critique

Through the first three chapter + Introductions, my criticisms that I have held against Just War Theory for a while do not go answered. First, in the discussion of Augustine, Bell does not talk about Augustine arguing that since it was okay for the Hebrews to go to war, it’s okay for Christians. Lisa Sowle Cahill does in Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. I think this is a tremendous leap and quite fundamental to the problem of Augustine’s (and subsequently every Christian after that) Just War Theorizing (see Cahill, Chapter 4 & Augustine, CITY OF GOD, book 19 as well as Contra Faustus the Manichean book 22, chapter 74). The problem with Augustine’s early Christian character ethics in his reading of the Old Testament is that Christians take the place of the Israelites, and ipso facto, we can go to war at the directive of YHWH.

I do not know if anyone has objected to this hermeneutic, but from my reading of the work of Duke theologians J. Kameron Carter and Willie Jennings, I must wonder just how much supersessionism plays into theories of Just War, and for that matter, Natural Law theories, which have Christian ideals at their foundation. What Grotius is working with is a Christian concept of Natural Law. What I am objecting to is the use of NLT all together, especially as it is right now, separated from the Gentile narrative within the story of Israel. Augustine’s mistake is that Israel just not just obey any g*d in general, but YHWH in particular, for YHWH’s specific purposes. In fact, what often gets mentioned when the Hebrew Bible is given as an example of persons of faith going to war is the idea that YHWH is actively involved, here on earth, in military struggles.

YHWH gets replaced, dethroned if you will, by human agents, like the Church or the state in Just War Theory. It is the YHWH of Armies whom the Davids, the Gideons, the Elijahs etc., depend upon for their protection. I do not see any mention of Jewish prophets and judges leading the way for JWT(CD). This point leads me into the second part of my critique, of David Bell’s Radical Orthodoxy theological biases. RO, postliberals, and postconservative narrative theologians tend to over-emphasize the agency of The Church. In fact, Bell states multiple times, but especially in Chapter 3, “that our primary political idenity is root not in governments and nations but in Christ’s body, the church”(96). In fact, Bell is remorseful in the notion that “The Church” has become “apolitical” by “surrendering its moral authority” (97).

Of course this brand of mourning calls for an interpretation of history that relies on the idea that “things were much better when the Church was in charge.” That would require a birth, death, and re-birth narrative–Augustine, Grotius, and now a “recovery of the JWT(CD). But two questions within this one inquiry: 1, what if a person does not share this fall narrative of the church? and 2, what if a person realizes that there was more going on with the state than just the preachers and bishops running things prior to Grotius? Would these facts make a difference?

Honestly, I think they would. Bell suggests (a guilt by association) that the same consequentialist logic that led the Union army to wreak havoc against the South is the same logic used to atomically bomb Japan during World War II (60-61). I find this interpretation misguided. Bell is also ignoring the history of violence perpetrated against black bodies prior to the Civil War. The contexts in which both wars took play are entirely different. The Civil War in the U.S. was a battle for the rights to the bodies of people of African descent. World War I and II were caused by pissing contests among European nations which wanted to see which nation could get the most people of color under their regimes (colonialism). Bloodshed begets bloodshed.

If one looks at the history of the slave revolutions, the Hebrew Bible was quite influential for leaders like Nat Turner, who relied on passages in Ezekiel of all places. Turner claims that he had an encounter with God, and in that encounter, he was told to go to war– a prophet leading God’s people into battle, consistent with the Hebrew Bible. There was no need for a JWT (CD) or JWT (PPC) when it comes to revolution as self-defense. The problem with JWT(CD) & JWT (PPC) is that it is not Christ’s suffering body on the cross that is disciplining human communities, rather it is an arrogant Gentile legalism. Virtue ethics can become a form of legalism in itself. You depend on the stories of people, who follow the ideal rules and personify the kind of game that you would like your community to follow. Character ethics, in other words, transforms human beings into a law themselves rather than the recipients of the Law.

Lastly, just as others have asked of Hauerwas and Milbank, I must ask Bell, which church are you talking about? And when you talk about this church, what will be required for persons of different races, genders, economic backgrounds, and demoninations, to join hands?

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Process Theology: There is no special revelation

On my struggle with the nature/grace dichotomy

Yesterday, I corresponded with a fellow blogger about the topic of Nature versus Grace. Does Grace supersede nature or does Grace perfect nature? Why is this question important? I think it is important because when one talks about for instance, the Ten Commandments as revelation, does that mean that these laws are for a limited number of people who are part of a religious and ethnic group, or are they for everybody? When one considers the push by religious conservatives to get the Decalogue posted up in courthouses, legislatures, and public schools, do not they make the argument that the 10 commandments are for every person of every religion?

So, an appropriate theology to correspond to this politics would be one that perhaps rejects special revelation altogether. Robert Mesle puts it this way,and I think the clearest way possible,

“According to process theology, God is revealed to every creature in every moment in every place in the universe. God does not single out a select few prophets to talk to while excluding the billions of others. God’s self-revelation is the ground of every person’s freedom. God’s self-revelation of love comes to all people in every moment of their lives, calling every person to a vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

–Robert Mesle, Process Theology: A Basic Introduction, page 86

Now, not everyone is going to respond with the same insight or openness, but God is equally available to all. This explains why in the Bible there are moments of insights, justice and liberation (the Exodus, the lives of the prophets, just kings and priests) and there are moments of humans rejecting God’s goodness and persuasion (the “Holy Wars,” the endorsements of human enslavement and women’ inferiority). God’s vision is a process, and humanity’s faithfulness to this vision is a process as well.

At this point, I must interject my POLITICAL critique of process theology. I can accept much of process thinking’s metaphysics based on Scripture, my Christian experience, tradition, and science, but politically there is something I see as lacking. The concept of the separation of church and state (religious freedom) is grounded in notions of particularity, differences between religions and the ethical practices they foster. I believe that special revelation, from an anabaptist perspective works in a way which Christian differentiate themselves because God has disclosed Godself in a unique way, albeit, for the the sake of the world, and not just “the church” or “the elect.” My interpretation of process theism’s vision of revelation is that it can lead to a form of a religiously-pluralistic theocracy, manifested in public policy such as President Obama’s renewing of George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative. Now, this does not necessarily have to be the case; for example, many evangelicals affirm the traditional category of special revelation, but may still find appeals to theocracy attractive.  Also, given that process theologians are more often than not, committed to religious pluralism and what Mesle calls a “committed relativism,” such an empahsis on human freedom and religious diversity may entail a promotion of the separation of church and state.

I do wish there was a better category or distinction than “special” versus “natural” revelation, but we use what we have.

Sexual Ethics and Logos Christology: Neither Natural Law or Nihilism

UPDATE: ** After conversing with Chad via text message, I have concluded that this post affirms most of what Chad argued. There was just confusion with my reading of his conclusion.  But other than that, this is the approach I take. **

Below Chad posted on how Jesus as a rabbi loosed/bound some laws as weightier than others.  While we may disagree on the issue of marriage, I think it is suffice to say that neither Chad or I believe in Natural Law or Nihilism.  Natural law or the idea that there are ordinances that govern the material universe was appealed to by proponents of the recently overturned Proposition 8.  I believe personally that natural law ethics are problematic because of the refusal to deal with particularity; as one professor of mine puts it so succinctly: “Nothing is natural.”  I think that philosophically speaking, cultural conservatives are encapsulated by the logic of natural law, speaking in universals, and discussing what the “rights of man” are.  On the other hand, there is on the other side a proclivity towards what I consider a form of nihilism, that idea that “nothing has any meaning” because all is, in the end, socially constructed and it is the human right to continue to construct and re-construct a world for herself.  I think that purpose is a gift, and that humanity needs help in making the world a better place; in fact, humanity needs a word who continues to speak in a tradition that transcends human particularity but at the same time, invites humanity in its differences to participate in the life of the Creator.

I think distinctively for Christians, this word is the Logos, Christ Jesus, the Word of YHWH who embraced embodiment.  I make no apologies when I say this but Marcion remains wrong because Jesus IS the precedent in the “Old” Testament; Jesus’s story is the story first from the Hebrew people to everyone second.  So, whenever one says that Jesus did this or that as a rabbi, I would like to say, no, we do not know that really since we are unsure which Judaism Jesus practice.  What we do know is this: Christ Jesus is the Logos of the God of Israel, and therefore as special revelation Jesus interprets himself; Jesus of Nazareth in other words, is special revelation that is self-interpreting , the Word interpreting Scripture.  Therefore, he alone has the right to correctly reveal and continue to disclose the multiple meanings of the biblical text. The Logos is the end of the Scripture, and the Logos is the end of all of creation (Colossians 1).  Paul is unable to write Romans 1 (under the auspices of natural law language) without first knowing the revealed law, in this case Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen logos. This is where the theologies of the apostle Paul and Clement of Alexandria meet: Christ is the Logos Incarnate,  is at once, the Law (in the Hebrew Bible), the Law-Giving/Covenant making God Yahweh, as well as the covenant-bearing Son of  Humanity (for more on this from Clement, read his Stromata [I translate it as Carpets] Book 1, specifically his views on Moses receiving the Logos.

I find it difficult to agree with the thinking of natural law arguments or nihilism.  We are either trapped by the subjective whims of a free humanity without limits or bound by what an elite few consider to be “natural.”  Logos Christology frees us from the hopeless binary of either of the first two approaches.  Christ, as the Wisdom of God, corrects human foolish behavior by teaching us the right way.  In the context of the Hebrew Bible and human sexuality, I think that Chad’s analysis falls short. First of all, because something happens with God’s permission does not mean that God honors it, like polygamy.  Of course, I know, that is part of Reformed theology in some circles, but biblically, polygamy fails.  Polygamy happens AFTER the fall (whether it is the fall to violence with Cain and Abel or the fall to empire with Nimrod). David epically fails on his own because he breaks the Law given to Moses, you know, the parts about the king not having multiple wives or building large armies or having slaves; check Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The Deuteronomist is notorious for making a mockery of the monarchy; there is no endorsement. Only warning, disobedience, and tragedy.  The one true king who governs Israel is the Logos itself, or indirectly guiding the Israelites like Wisdom led them out of Egypt according to the Apocrypha.  God never honors or endorses polygamy, concubine, sex slaves, or anything like that; God however does work within those human bodies who practiced these acts because God governs in meekness, through us weak and ignorant human beings.

Outside the mystery of the Incarnation, humanity remains too stupid to know what right or wrong is.  Of course, there is God sends us hints (some call it common grace, others prevenient grace) of what is good and right (the logos with a small l that is carried by the Spirit of God throughout the world).  Jesus had to teach his followers how to pray. He had to teach them about marriage. Whenever I see the added subtitle “Jesus’s teaching on Divorce,” I want to split my hairs and scream! Jesus is disclosing knowledge on marriage and the nature of it; this is what Matthew 19 is about.  Our narrow focus on the two or three verses on divorce does the entire chapter a disservice.  Not everyone can accept Jesus’ words (revelation) precisely because it was NOT natural for humans to understand what marriage is all about.  Marriage does have a purpose, a purpose given to it by the Logos, for man and woman to become 1: 1+1=s 1.  A mystery and revelation simultaneously, much like the idea of the Trinity.

Both natural law social conservatives and nihilist social progressives rely on the idol of marriage, the notion that everyone needs to marry, and family is natural and so is being with another person is as natural as being human, but this notion of relationships is faulty because we never take into consideration Jesus’s words at the end of Matthew 19, about those who leave their households (families, relationships) inheriting the Kingdom of God. This is quite disturbing, the family values of Jesus, that is.

What does this all mean, in conclusion? Should Christians go around creating a theocracy by force? Of course not, but neither should secularists.  However, it is the free gift of God that the church teach what is the purpose of marriage, through living example as well as preaching of the Word.  One cannot conclude just because something appears in Scripture without commentary from God, does not mean God gave it approval.  Instead, we must first check to see how the Word interprets itself (Jesus understands the canon) and work our way out.  We must be taught by the Educator (another Clement reference, I know, I know) before we can teach the world what we have learned.