Just War and the Gospel


#1

Hello, all! I’m Marcus.

Let me give you a bit of a background on myself, to flesh out the significance of this issue to me. I’m a Navy veteran. I joined in 2004 and left the Navy in 2009. I participated in some morally questionable missions, and did things and thought things which I’m very ashamed of. At that time, I was an atheist, and these experiences had a hand in shattering the faith I had in the “gods” I’d replaced God with at the time: freedom, justice, honor, money, myself, the United States - these were all my idols, my ultimate concerns which replaced God at the time.

I went through a very rough transition when I got out. At first, I turned to a kind of radical political activism and focused on the liberation oppressed people. It was all empty. None of it satisfied me, and the freedom I was looking for for myself and others wasn’t there. After I burnt out from that, I started praying to God, and the only things that have satisfied me in ways nothing else has has been Jesus Christ and loving others.

Now you can better understand the significance of the subject of Just War as an issue to me. I’ve been very concerned lately about the happenings in the Middle East, especially of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS/ISIL. I firmly believe that this state-like organization is fascist. That it meets all the criteria of fascism I can recall: that it’s pursuing with a redemptive (from their understanding) violence an internal purity (they’re purging Sunnis who aren’t working with them, slaughtering Shia, carrying out a campaign of genocide against Yazidis, and very prominently killing Christians as well) to return to an idealized past (Islamic Caliphate and enforcing the laws, norms, and mores they imagine with it) and violent expansion of territory (capturing Syrian and Iraqi territory, they’ve stated their ultimate goals as essentially world domination, which is of course ridiculous, but it’s their intent of relentless violent expansion that’s expressed here).

Their relative strength at the moment is, as far as I’m aware, weak in comparison to the manpower of the Kurds (lots of manpower but not much capability), or even the Iraqi military (lots of manpower, very little loyalty, horribly corrupt) but it’s strength lies in their physical assets, finances, experience in warfare, and frankly, their shocking brutality (I watched a video they’d recorded of them slaughtering old men and children inside a building, of them slaughtering 50-75 unarmed men in less than a minute, and footage from a killing field with at least several hundred bodies). I see them as an immediate threat to the people in Iraq and Syria, and if they’re not disbanded, I see them as gaining a lot of strength and territory, and a growing number of innocent victims, in the next three to five years and threatening a very large conflict in the Middle East.

That said, I’d like to get to Just War and the Gospel.

I’m familiar with the criteria of Just War, but I’m admittedly ignorant of the scriptural foundations of Just War. I’ve heard Luke 22:35-38 used as support of Just War, but the context of it doesn’t seem to me to be supportive of violence, even defensive violence. I see it more as a figurative expression of Jesus to expect conflict and crisis when a person is “sent forth” by Jesus, or as I read it, when a person follows Christ they should expect to be in conflict with this world - which to me also evokes a similar meaning to Matthew 10:34-36. Especially his exclamation of “It is enough!” seems to me to be a repudiation of violence, even that which could be thought of as defensive, like “Don’t you get it? You don’t actually need one or two literal swords! Two is two too many!”

Further, there’s so much about Jesus, not just His ministry, but His willingness to go to the cross without violent resistance against the Romans or Sanhedrin (and especially His stopping Peter from violently resisting His captors), that screams to me that even if Just War is justifiable through the Gospel (which I’m unsure that it is), that violent resistance against the aggressive violence of evil men isn’t what Christ calls us to do. I feel like Christ’s way is completely different to the world’s way, and that violence, and the acquisition of power even toward supposedly noble ends that leads us to violent conflict is the essence of the world’s way.

Is the Gospel truly compatible with Just War? Is it permissible, but not the supererogatory course? I also grapple with the question that even if Just War is in harmony with the Christ, has it ever in the history of humankind been adhered to by any belligerent throughout the course of an entire conflict? If we as a nation ever go to war Justly, can we trust ourselves to remain Just, and can we imagine terminating conflict if we discover we’re creating greater evil than would exist without violent conflict?

Finally, what specifically should we as the Church do? How do we love these enemies? How can we love our neighbors, and try to protect our neighbors under threat from these enemies without violence?


#2

The first assumption you make is that what the Church teaches should be found in Scripture and specifically in the teachings of Christ. That is a good place to start.

On the other hand, while we have passages in which Christ speaks of violence between individuals, we do not hear of him talking about wars between nations. Certainly the establishment of the state of Israel at the time of Moses was accompanied by massive armed conflict on the battlefield. Was Moses declaring the conquest over the enemies of the Jews as a just war? One would think so, since the Jews were following the command of God to establish Israel as the Promised Land.

You’ve said you understand the just war principles so we don’t need to go into them. Do you agree with them? I expect you do, as not to engage in a just war is to submit and let Satan have his way, just as he is presently having his way with ISIS today.


#3

What if ISIS invaded the U.S.? Should we fight back or surrender?

I think that sums it up nicely.


#4

It’s confusing to me. I think I believe in self-defense… when do we turn the other cheek? It is so hard for us to believe that God will intervene. You know, faith the size of a mustard seed…


#5

There is much material on CA about Just War so I won’t go into that.

catholic.com/search/content/just%20war

We should pray for their conversion. They are certainly agents of Satan at present.

How can we love our neighbors, and try to protect our neighbors under threat from these enemies without violence?

Force should always be a very last resort but sometimes there is no way to defend against brute force except with force. Terrorists like Hamas and ISIS are not likely to adopt peaceful co-existence.


#6

I don’t think that interpretation has very good evidence for it. But that isn’t the only passage that supports just war doctrine. There is much about just war in many of the most dramatic Bible stories, especially in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, one of the passages that is traditionally used to defend the Church’s just war doctrine is Romans 13:4 - “[The ruler] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

One of the things this shows is that the legitimate use of the sword is reactionary – the evildoer acted first. This is one place where the first principle of just war is supported: a just war ought to be defensive.

Other passages from both the Old and New Testaments can be used to back up other principles of just war doctrine.

Further, there’s so much about Jesus, not just His ministry, but His willingness to go to the cross without violent resistance against the Romans or Sanhedrin (and especially His stopping Peter from violently resisting His captors), that screams to me that even if Just War is justifiable through the Gospel (which I’m unsure that it is), that violent resistance against the aggressive violence of evil men isn’t what Christ calls us to do.

My understanding of the Church’s just war tradition is that even a just war is not holy. It is lamentable and sorrowful, because war is sin. The thing is, when you are not the attacker but are only defending yourself, the sin is not your fault, but the attacker’s. The deaths are still sinful and unnecessary, but they are not the fault of the defender: the attackers bring upon themselves their own deaths.

Is the Gospel truly compatible with Just War? Is it permissible, but not the supererogatory course?

To allow your attacker to kill you is to accept martyrdom, and my understanding is that there is supererogatory virtue in accepting martyrdom versus fighting against it. But everyone has a right to defend themselves, and Romans 13:4 (among other passages) teach that nations have a right to defend themselves too.

I also grapple with the question that even if Just War is in harmony with the Christ, has it ever in the history of humankind been adhered to by any belligerent throughout the course of an entire conflict? If we as a nation ever go to war Justly, can we trust ourselves to remain Just, and can we imagine terminating conflict if we discover we’re creating greater evil than would exist without violent conflict?

First, if a situation can be resolved without violent conflict, then a just war cannot be waged. That is the second principle of just war doctrine: peaceful solutions must be sought out so thoroughly that a just war can only be waged if a peaceful solution is impossible.

Second, if defending your nation will produce greater evils than would exist without defending yourself, then it is my understanding that you may not do so. That is the fourth principle of just war: “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”

Third, it is unlikely that every action in a just war has been without sin on both sides, because the leaders and members of the armies are human and are likely to sin every day, and in war there are many temptations. But there are wars that have been given serious and studied attempts to conform to just war doctrine.

The Crusades may be the classic example here. When the Fourth Crusade failed to follow the first principle of the Church’s just war doctrine (no aggression), the Crusaders were excommunicated. When the Eighth Crusade marched into Africa, they found they could settle the conflict by means of a treaty without bloodshed, and their leader (King St. Louis IX) was canonized in part because of his leadership in that averted conflict. In doing this they were following the second principle of just war doctrine (war should not be waged if a peaceful solution exists).

Finally, what specifically should we as the Church do? How do we love these enemies? How can we love our neighbors, and try to protect our neighbors under threat from these enemies without violence?

The first thing we can do to love our enemies is pray for them. Prayer is an expression of love because prayer, almost by definition, is to wish something good upon another, and love, by definition, is to will the good of another.

We can also support efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the Christians who are fleeing Iraq. There are organizations springing up that take donations and provide assistance to them. Any good policy proposal that seeks to offer refugee status for Christian exiles from these countries is a policy we can support. And, if there are countries that are marching into Iraq and Syria to protect the Christians there, my understanding of just war doctrine says that we can support such efforts. But not if they are just bombing Iraqis. That is meeting violence with violence, and it is no solution at all.


#7

Thank you, all of you, for your responses. They’ve given me more to think about.

I remain skeptical of Just War, but I’ll go back to the catechism, maybe strike up a conversation with the priests of my parish if either has the time, and poke around for more reading material on it.


#8

Just war theory springs from the right, even the duty, to use force, even lethal force, to defend innocent life, even your own.

[quote=Catechism of the Catholic Church]2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.
[/quote]

If the right to defend one or two exists, then the right to defend many must also be, as there is no single point where that right will go away. When the defense involves nation states, the situation is more complex, but the basic formula remains. Just War theory/doctrine largely rests on this, but may logically be separated from this basic principle, assuming its elements are met, to initiate certain offensive maneuvers against a prior aggressor. Finally, punishment for crimes, especially when sanctioned by a global authority, may morally justify some behavior that would normally be seen as an act of war.


#9

What do you do with that part where Jesus returns to earth riding on a white horse with a sword issuing from his mouth that slays all his enemies and burns them in eternal fire?

Jesus is no pacifist in the Book of Revelation. He is a warrior who destroys evildoers.


#10

Actually Jesus is the ULTIMATE pacifist/hippy. Peace and Love towards all.

There is no such thing as a Just war.

“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”

― Jimmy Carter, The Nobel Peace Prize Lecture


#11

Jesus thinks differently. He says, “I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Rev. 2:16)

The Bible says Jesus is a warrior: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.” (Revelation 19:11)

Therefore, there is such a thing as a just war.

“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”

I agree with Jimmy Carter. The traditional doctrine of Just War, if I understand it correctly, recognizes that war is an evil committed by an unjust aggressor against a just defender. But it is not evil for a nation to defend itself when it is attacked and when its rights are threatened. If I understand it correctly, that’s where the Just War doctrine begins.


#12

Thank you.

Mjophus, if I may ask, are you a father? A husband?

Marriage and parenthood often changes the way you look at the world–and gives wonderful insight into the primary ways that God relates to us, since He is Father and Christ is Bridegroom.

As a father of two little boys and as a husband, I see Jesus’s actions in this context: he gave HIMSELF up for his Bride, for his brothers and sisters, for God the Father’s sons and daughters. He died for us, to save us from death (both spiritual and, ultimately, physical death). He did it in the only manner possible: not fighting back, but sacrificing himself.

On the other hand, while we are called to similar sacrifice, we are not called to the same, for our deaths cannot redeem the whole human race.

Instead, should we not be willing to die to protect the lives of others? By whatever means are necessary to do so?

As a husband and father, it is inconceivable to me to see virtue in NOT defending my wife and children from an immediate aggressor. That would be cowardice–*I suggest looking up all the mentions of cowardice in the Bible and considering that in context of defense *. Cowardice is listed in a couple of places as among the chief sins, and Scott Hahn makes a strong case for it being one of the primary faults involved in Adam’s Original Sin.

It is NOT virtue to stand by and let women and children be raped and murdered. That is grave sin. The Church recognizes that in the previously-referenced Catechism passages, where it speaks of a grave moral duty to protect life, even by force, in some circumstances.

Why else would God have given men a body built for war and a mindset ready to engage in battle if not to use it against evil and in defense of those under our care against evil?

Thus, there is a component of natural law. But surely the OT provides much direct evidence of our unchangeable God as a “mighty warrior,” and His people as a warrior people.

So while individually we may be called to give ourselves up to death, there is a huge difference when others are being threatened with death and we have the capacity to defend them. We are not to make the choice for them and just offer them up to death.

The fact is that the human condition necessitates some level of combat against evil. Our Incarnational, sacramental faith recognizes that truth is both spiritual and physical; thus, we must combat evil both spiritually and physically.

If violence were to be left unopposed, it would destroy all. Even the early martyr ages of the Church only ended when those with power backed by force put a stop to it. Otherwise, the persecutions would have continued unchecked by those who hated Christians enough to kill them.

I don’t think there has ever been a clearer case of justification for war than this situation with IS. It meets all the conditions very clearly.


#13

War!
What is it good for? Absolutely NOTHING.


#14

Care to address the reasoned responses people have given previously? Or would you rather choose to live in a dream world and ignore the evil around you?

What would you suggest be done in the face of ISIS? What should be done to stop the slaughter of innocents?

Or have you no mercy for the innocent, only for genocidal murderers, rapists, and slavers?


#15

Wouldn’t that mean that Jesus fights with words, cuts with words, because He is the WORD of God???


#16

How did the early Christians fight back against St. Paul? They didn’t, but God took him by the hand and lead him to the truth. Then he was persecuted first by both sides. Distrust by the Christians; then physically by the persecutors of Christ…

I don’t know what I’m trying to say except when do we trust God enough??? I want to do the right thing. I want to trust God. Will He tell me when to fight?


#17

I think it means more than just that He will tell the persecutors they are wrong, if that’s what you mean, because 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”

Jesus will cut with words, yes, but if my understanding is correct, His words will kill the Antichrist and Jesus will destroy his forces from heaven. Not exactly the picture of a pacifist.

I think this understanding is supported by the Catechism. In paragraphs 675-677 it speaks of the Antichrist and how he will persecute the Church, and it cites Revelation 20:7-10 to show how God will end his reign: “And [the Antichrist’s forces] marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”


#18

If you examine Just War principles, I think you will find it encompasses the experience of the early Christians–why they didn’t fight back. For them, though, I think the primary thing going on was the important work of the Spirit in getting through the radical new message of love and salvation without interference of violence.

As time went on and Christianity spread, more and more soldiers were Christian. You find no prohibition about them fighting wars–only admonitions to do what is right and not abuse their position or carry out unjust orders.

Even the New Testament records conditions with regards to soldiers–Jesus even praised a Roman centurion (a commander) for having greater faith than any he had yet encountered. He did not tell the centurion to then go and leave his profession. And he was not shy about telling people to do that sort of thing–the Apostles and others he called out of their work at least to some extent, and he told the virtuous rich young man that the next great step to his otherwise extremely praiseworthy life (this is a guy whom Jesus recognized kept ALL the commandments!, so I’ll wager he was more virtuous than any of us!) was to go and sell all that he had and come and follow Jesus.

Indeed, we find these examples in dealing with soldiers quite consistent with Just War principles, as well as principles regarding governing authority. Respect and obey legitimate temporal authority and live moral upright lives, not abusing your position.

Long after the Church was legitimized and had to take up the slack of the collapsing Roman Empire, maintaining temporal order, it found more and more need to authorize use of force to protect people. It had to step into that role that was abdicated by a loss of separate temporal, governing authority–the primary role of any government being to protect its citizens from unjust aggression.

I think this is why we find so much war, also, in the OT. Israel was a temporal power and had to immediately deal with all those temporal issues in a violent, tribal world with many greater, corrupt powers around them. The OT, therefore, is filled with examples of forced used to protect God’s people–and even aggression. Now, I think those were special circumstances of God’s provision that were rare even back then and don’t apply anymore, but it shows that God does not make blanket prohibition on the use of force.

In fact, God is able to rectify all injustices of war. And if Jesus, at his Second Coming, does bring death and judgment upon some, it is entirely within his rights. What is physical death compared to spiritual, after all? The Lord giveth (life), the Lord taketh away; blest be the Lord.

But back to the point of the early Christians, applying the principles of Just War, did they have a legitimate authority that could have waged war? Did they have a reasonable chance of success? At the least, neither of those conditions really applied. Also, there were means of redress and potential negotiation or persuasion that were available to them, as well as reasonably remaining “under the radar,” so to speak, to avoid persecution.

In conditions like ISIS, there is no alternative to dealing with these people other than to prevent them from being able to kill–by taking away their weapons and means of acquiring them, disrupting their organization, and imprisoning them, and then trying to prevent them from being able attract new recruits. But that cannot be accomplished without first using a very significant degree of violent force to stop their advance and break their power and organization. They will die rather than be so disrupted. So we will have to kill them, to save others. It’s a sad fact of their sin, and the human condition: we must in many cases kill them to prevent them from killing innocents.


#19

Francis Phillips, Catholic HeraldInternational August 6, 2013

TS Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month. For the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including those who survived the atomic bomb, August is crueler. Looking at the faces of elderly Japanese weeping during the recent 65th anniversary reminds one what a dreadful event it was. Those who argued for the dropping of the atomic bomb, including the late Leonard Cheshire VC, must contend with all those, such as the former priest Bruce Kent, who have always argued passionately against nuclear warfare of any kind. Nuclear war is one thing; but what about conventional warfare? The firebombing of Tokyo during the Second World War by General Curtis LeMay killed over 100,000 ordinary people – as many as who died at Hiroshima. Reading the newly published memoirs of the American (Protestant) theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, has made me think again about the Christian idea of the “just war”. Indeed, is the concept valid anymore?

The late pope, John Paul II, was certain, at least, that the war against Iraq was completely wrong; “War never again!” was his deep and abiding conviction. Hauerwas was a Christian believer in the theory of the just war – until he met a fellow academic who argued him into Christian pacifism. Like the late great Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, he has incurred unpopularity among his fellows Americans for his anti-war stand, particularly since 9/11.


#20

How do you think the American revolution would have went if they refused to wage war? The US would not exist right now, nor would many other countries, if there is NO just wars, then prayer should be enough to resolve things in our world, but it isnt, so something is wrong.


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