EVAN: Hello, everyone. Today’s discussion topic was brought to you by blog reader/friend/human being Stephen, who commented on last week’s E>.
He concluded that vigilantes were “at least as admirable as the average cop, and probably much more so than most,” but prefaced that by stating that he was very opposed to “violence of any variety.”
Enter our topic: Pacifism.
GORDON: My own sister is a pacifist, on top of being a vegetarian, because apparently she wants the family to die of shame twice.
In all seriousness though, this is a topic I’ve got some familiarity with and definitely a stance I wholeheartedly disagree with.
EVAN: As with quite a few issues outside of racism and feminism, this is yet another subject I don’t have a solid stance on. That being said, I’m going to throw things back to you with the question “What’s wrong with pacifism?”
GORDON: I guess that even though I actually respect pacifists for actually being committed to an ideal (heaven knows such a thing is rare these days), at the end of the day it’s almost insulting to the people undergoing whatever suffering is in question.
The Holocaust immediately springs to mind.
Your solution for the Jews, Roma, gays, Communists, Jevoah’s Witnesses and the disabled is to just line up and die?
Doesn’t that kinda defeat the whole purpose?
EVAN: The whole purpose of what?
I guess we had better define pacifism in a general sense, just because we appear to be discussing it as a form of . . . protest?
GORDON: Well, you’re right to break it down- I’ve kinda made a strawman out of the movement as a whole.
You’ve got everything from the idea that war is something simply never to be entered to those who would cite that any form of violence, including self-defense, is so reprehensible death is a better alternative.
EVAN: We could stick to the philosophy that all violence is abhorrent, since that’s the stance that Stephen left us with.
That being said, another friend of mine used to feel that exact same way.
GORDON: Used to?
EVAN: Well, yes.
It was, from what I remember, rooted in the Scripture passage that we should “turn the other cheek.” Now, as a Christian that’s not really something I have a problem with.
Where we started differing was when he said he wouldn’t raise a hand to defend his family members. It’s one thing to let a guy beat the tar out of you, it’s your body. It’s another thing entirely when others are in danger and can’t protect themselves.
GORDON:Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said something loosely along those lines. I believe he stated that he could forgive anything done to himself; it was not for him, however, to forgive what is done to others.
EVAN: And that sort of encapsulates how I feel about it as well, I think. While we are free not to respond in kind when someone strikes us, I do believe we have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure the safety of others.
GORDON: I feel that I could push you on that point, but let’s keep the conversation broad-
Now we filthy, godless Reds generally abide by the slogan “no war but class war.” We view the whole nation vs. nation as the poor of both sides being sent out to kill and die for the benefit of the wealthy few.
Tell me- what’s your criteria for a justified war or conflict?
EVAN: I suppose, and I do state this without having given it a huge amount of thought, that if protection of the weak is the primary goal then that could be seen as justified.
That is, of course, a source of motivation for a great many conflicts today, so clearly it’s one that can be twisted in a number of different directions.
GORDON: With American warships setting their sights on Syria, that certainly seems to be the case
What about self-defense. You talked about turning the other cheek, but if some guy were to attempt to mug you, would you not fight back?
EVAN: If it meant not getting stabbed? Yeah, probably.
GORDON: Explain yourself. You just said “we are free not to respond in kind when someone strikes us.”
EVAN: As in, if I don’t want to punch a guy back if he punches me, that’s my prerogative.
Wait, I meant if not fighting back meant not getting stabbed. That read strangely, I realize.
GORDON: So you’re saying that you are not necessarily mandated to allow yourself to be dealt physical harm?
EVAN: Like, legally, of course you can defend yourself. But you don’t have to.
GORDON: But would you?
EVAN: You’re going to have to paint a more specific scenario. Is a guy just walking up to me and asking me to give him my wallet [which I don’t carry, by the way, I just don’t use one]?
GORDON: This guy intends to do you some degree of bodily injury.
EVAN: Like, with just his hands? Do I have the option of running away?
GORDON: Okay, we’re getting somewhere interesting. Are you indicating that violence is justified solely as the last resort?
EVAN: If the guy wants my money and says if I don’t give it to him he’ll stab me, I’m likely going to fork those bills over.
If this guy wants to straight-up kill me then yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m going to stop him from killing me.
EVAN: To which, to both?
I don’t think forty dollars, or however much I normally carry with myself at one time, is worth a stab wound.
I don’t want to die.
GORDON: Again, the (general) pacifist mindset would determine your use of violence is putting you on the same immoral level as the aggressor. It’s a gross oversimplification, but the general principle seems to be “violence is reprehensible no matter who does it.”
EVAN: Like I said earlier, I think violence to protect others is a good thing. I think that violence to save lives, my own included, is a good thing.
This doesn’t even border on whether it’s okay to kill others to achieve these ends, I’m just talking straight-up using my hands or an implement of some sort to cause bodily harm to a person in order to help others.
GORDON: Here’s a question then: the year is 1938, and you are a lone Marxist sniper perched on a hill in Austria.
A few thousand feet away is the German chancellor Hitler. Knowing all that will happen if he lives, do you take the shot?
EVAN: There are a lot of assumptions in this question, one of them being that I would put myself in a position where killing others is a day-to-day activity, but . . .
At this point, probably. I mean, I’m saving millions of lives and I’d be willing to accept this as something God can probably take up with me at a later date.
GORDON: What if there a the fluffy blonde heads of a Hitler Youth all around him, and you know that at least a couple will be killed in the process? Do you shoot?
EVAN: I’m sorry, Gordon. Does Mr. Hitler have TNT lining the insides of his skull?
GORDON: You can only hit him that part of the head which makes the skull blow up.
EVAN: This is a really dumb question.
I wouldn’t kill innocents just to murder someone guilty.
GORDON: Even though it would save millions upon millions?
EVAN: Oh man, I’ve made my decision. Now I think it’s time to turn this around and have you explain to these nice people where you are coming from when it comes to pacifism, which we may or may not have veered away from slightly.
GORDON: I’d probably cite the age old saying that other than Nazism, slavery, monarchy, imperialism, and genocide, violence has never solved anything.
EVAN: That works. I accept that.
GORDON: I mean, can you even really look someone in the eye whose life and loved ones are on the line and tell him it’s abhorrent for him to rise up against this?
I think if someone’s okay with committing genocide, a few heartfelt renditions of “We Shall Overcome” isn’t going to change his mind.
EVAN: And again, you’ll find no argument from me. I think my stance on using violence to protect others is very in line with what you’re saying.
GORDON: And with that, we are out of time.
Go in peace, my children.
EVAN: But before you do that, here is yet another poll in which you can share your opinion, because what you think matters!
I think this would have been a more interesting post if you guys added someone who fervently labels themselves as a pacifist to the conversation.
Adding people to our talks is definitely something we’d like to do, but often it’s late-ish on a Tuesday evening, and it’s somewhat difficult to search around for that counter-opinion. You’re absolutely right, though.
“I mean, can you even really look someone in the eye whose life and loved ones are on the line and tell him it’s abhorrent for him to rise up against this?”
If the rising up is expressly violent, then yes, I would absolutely do that. Even if violence was not so horrifying, I think it should still be a very last resort. Instead, it’s generally among the first responses. You seemed a wee bit mocking when you pointed out that “We Shall Overcome” is not likely to be a particularly moving response to thwart a genocidal person. But seriously, there are so many other actions you could try–I won’t speculate on a number, because I think that the manner and number of alternatives to violence are limited only by one’s imagination. I’m a pacifist, but I am by no means a passivist, and I’m all in favour of nonviolent resistance.
Anyway, for quite a plethora of reasons which are all linked together in my general understanding of theology and my worldview, I don’t really think that your arguments are very compelling in this blog post. I’ll try to get around to explaining why in a more articulate way than giving you a list of inspiring books to read, though.