Evolving Christian attitudes towards personal and national self-defense

Veterans Day seemed like an especially apt day to publish this Working Paper, for which comments are gratefully solicited. Summary:

This Article analyzes the changes in orthodox Christian attitudes towards defensive violence.

While the article begins in the 19th century and ends in the 21st, most of the Article is about the 20th century. The article focuses on American Catholicism and on the Vatican, although there is some discussion of American Protestantism.

In the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, the traditional Christian concepts of Just War and of the individual's duty to use force to defend himself and his family remained uncontroversial, as they had been for centuries. Disillusionment over World War One turned many Catholics and Protestants towards pacifism. Without necessarily adopting pacifism as a theory, they adopted pacifism as a practice. World War Two and the early Cold War ended the pacifist interlude for all but a few radical pacifists.

Beginning in the 1960s, much of the American Catholic leadership, like the leadership of mainline Protestant churches, turned sharply Left. Although churches did not repudiate their teachings on Just War, many Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders seemed unable to find any circumstances under which American or Western force actually was legitimate. Pacifism and anti-Americanism marched hand in hand. Today, pacifism now has greater respectability within orthodox Christianity than any time in the past 1700 years.

Among the influential thinkers profiled in this Article are all Popes from World War II to the present, Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement, and the Berrigan Brothers. The article suggests that some recent trends in pacifist or quasi-pacifist approaches have been unduly influenced by hostility to the United States, and by the use of narrowly-focused emotion rather than the rigorous analysis that has characterized Catholic philosophy.

one of many:
This paper? here

[DK: Oops.I just added the link. ]
11.12.2007 6:06pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Who is this supposed to be news to?

However, while I agree that American Catholic pacifism is a Left phenomenon, it is careless to treat post WWI pacifism as a Left phenomenon. There were just as many Rightists, and even more, who jumped on that bandwagon, and the Kellogg-Briand pact was signed by one of the farthest right administrations the U.S. has had.
11.12.2007 6:49pm
Chris Smith (mail):
One group not mentioned, whose attitudes are not changing, is the Amish. They seem omitted in the paper.
11.12.2007 6:52pm
Excellent article. The part about Sgt. Alvin York was very interesting:
York quietly went through basic training, and then in the spring of 1918, spoke to an officer about his continuing objection to war. York's sincerity was obvious and he was taken to see Major George Edward Buxton, the battalion commander. Buxton and York spent a long night discussing the Bible. Buxton pointed to Jesus's instruction that the apostles should carry swords (Luke 22:36); to Jesus statement that earthly kingdoms, unlike Jesus's spiritual kingdom, do fight (John 18:36); and to the obligation for Christians to give governments the "things that are Caesar's." Finally, Buxton read York Ezekiel 33:1-6, in which God told the prophet to tell the people to listen for the watchman's trumpet, and to take warning when an armed invader comes. York was now unsure what to think, so Buxton gave York a ten-day pass to go home and mull things over. York was promised that if he still objected to war, he would be given a non-combat assignment. York returned home, carrying his suitcase as he walked the final twelve miles of the trip. At home, York's pastor and congregation urged him to remain an objector, and so did his mother. He went into the mountains alone, where he spent two days and one night praying for guidance. York came down from the mountain, and explained to a fellow congregant, "If some feller was to come along and bust into your house and mistreat your wife and murder your children, you'd just stand for it? You wouldn't fight?"
11.12.2007 6:58pm
Randy R. (mail):
York's analogy fails. It would work for WWII, when Hitler actually invaded several countries, and they needed to defend themselves. However, with WWI, the situation was quite different. Russia, because of a treaty, decided to come to the aid of the Serbs. Because of Russia's insistence of this, it forced Germany to declare war, and that dragged in the rest of the countries. It was a pointless war -- except perhaps in the Balkin states, no one wanted or actually invaded another country.

The analogy especially fails since the US was in no danger of being invaded by Germany in WWI. Our invovlement in it was a matter of choice. A good one, I think, but a choice nonetheless. York could still have been a CO.
11.12.2007 7:39pm
Kenneth Anderson (mail) (www):
While generally sympathetic to the paper, on quick read I doubt I would agree with the characterization of orthodox Christian attitudes in relation to what we now call Just War teachings. Just War teachings were by and large a small province of Catholic theory, relatively obscure even with the Catholic church, and not much in evidence, really, in the 19th century or the 20th century until the revival of the tradition beginning with people like Paul Ramsey. The attitude toward the use of force by the christian churches was far less concerned with either the justice of war or its conduct, and far more with the relationship between the civic obligation of soldiers to fight for their country, irrespective of shared faithholders on the other side. To the extent there was an ethic of fighting, it is best described as moral realism, rather than just war theory in the Catholic tradition. War was just because the leader said it was, and even if it wasn't, the fundamental issue was the obligation of an individual to fight and to excuse that soldier from culpability; fighting conduct was general belief that there were certain customs of war, but that was not really a religious matter, and was really moral realism of the kind that we associate with Lincoln, for example, and the American Civil War. Orthodoxy was not a matter of Christian just war teachings; that revival comes pretty late in the 20th century. A good source on this earlier history is the dean of this theological history, and student of Paul Ramsey, James Turner Johnson. (Even today, just war theory has a relatively limited place within Catholicism - the Pope, for example, did not do a little walk-through of just war criteria in discussing war in Iraq.)
11.12.2007 7:45pm
Zacharias (mail):
Is this the same "catholic" church whose members can't ever seem to be able to explain their very own Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, who finally figured out the Assumption of Mary in 1950 and didn't apologize to Galileo until he was dead for 350 years?
11.12.2007 7:50pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
In the first line "orthodox" might be confused with "Orthodox". Maybe "catholic" (which tradition includes Protestantism) should be used instead.
11.12.2007 8:11pm
ConfusedCatholic (mail):
Right, so Jesus wasn't a pacifist (as we all know from his confrontations with those commie moneychangers in the temple), he was a ...neocon?

For good revisionist writing, I suggest you take some tips from the inimitable Dr. Bernstein.
11.12.2007 8:13pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Jesus instructed us to turn the other cheek to an insult (a blow upon the cheek). What other instructions did he give about foregoing violence in one's own defense or the defense of another?
11.12.2007 9:06pm
Bama 1L:
You might want to read something besides Weigel on the Vietnam era. Commonweal's editorial stance was pretty consistently anti-war.

Here's an extremely problematic sentence:

"In some cases, Catholic conservatism was beneficial, as in the Church's visceral distrust of Communism, a philosophy which would eventually lead to the greatest mass murders in history."

No, no, no! If the Catholic hierarchy had been somewhat less conservative, it might not have played into the "communists or fascists" dialectic. I seem to recall that in the last paper (on pacifism), you chided the democracies for failing to take action against Hitler. Part of the reason they left him in place was that they figured he was better than the the only alternative they could imagine: communism.
11.12.2007 9:12pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
It's hard to know what to make of Randy's assertion that no other country was invaded in 1914. Belgium?

That was the casus belli as far as the British were concerned, a violation of the treaty of 1830.

Kenneth Anderson's assertion about 'just war' doctrine not being prominent among American Catholics does not match my experience. I got a dose of just war doctrine in elementary school, and a much bigger dose in Catholic high school.
11.12.2007 9:59pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
Is perhaps worth mentioning (p6) that all wires from Germany were cut early in WWI (about 1914) so all news on the war in the US was reported through an English filter.
11.12.2007 10:22pm
Is this the same "catholic" church whose members can't ever seem to be able to explain their very own Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception

No, it's you who can't understand it.

who finally figured out the Assumption of Mary in 1950

I suppose you knew it all along?

and didn't apologize to Galileo until he was dead for 350 years?

Let me guess, you want an apology for something NOW? Perhaps that the mean ol' Church doesn't conform to your morals?
11.12.2007 11:39pm
Randy R. (mail):
"What other instructions did he give about foregoing violence in one's own defense or the defense of another?"

Well, Jesus WAS tortured by being placed on a cross, then killed. For someone who is the son of God and able to perform any miracles he wanted, he could have easily smited his enemies in his defense. Instead, he let them do their work, and asked merely that God forgive them.

"It's hard to know what to make of Randy's assertion that no other country was invaded in 1914. Belgium? "

True, but would Belgium had been invaded by Germany if Russia didn't push the first domino? And still, no one invaded the US, so York's analogy still fails. He could in good conscience refuse to serve in the war as a pacifist.

As I recall, the Vatican had no problem in the Middle Ages maintaining an army and going to war. The popes called upon the Crusades to fight the infidels. They used torture during the Inquisition. They burned others for merely questioning church orthodoxy. So, historically, the Catholic Church had no problem with supporting war and violence. This surprises people?
11.13.2007 12:36am
Randy R. (mail):
Next month begins the holiday season. Soon we will all be singing songs about the Prince of Peace.

We can all do so with a smirk, knowing that Jesus was actually ready to go to war to defend his interests. Peace doesn't seem to enter into the equation.

So why do we sing that song, then? Must be feelgood liberalism run amok....
11.13.2007 12:38am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Or, Germany could have evaluated its two treaties -- one says, don't invade Belgium, the other, help Austria-Hungary against Russia -- and decided to ignore the Austrian treaty.

Simple, no?

According to Tuchman, when the Belgian ambassador to Berlin called to demand his pasport, the foreign minister tut-tutted a bit and said that, after all, who could, in August 1914, know what the verdict of history would be?

The ambassador replied that whatever the verdict was, history would not say that Belgium invaded Germany.

Whatever happens, pacifists can always be depended upon to let other people pull their chestnuts out of the fire. York was a rare, almost unique, honorable exception.
11.13.2007 1:15am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Randy. Jesus' role was to die. Had he smote the bad guys he'd have been...what? The anti-Roman revolutionary leader some of the Jews were hoping for?
Not His role.
11.13.2007 7:33am
Randy R. (mail):
Well, THAT opens a whole can of worms. Why was it his role to die? Who decided? Jesus had no choice in the matter? I guess all that teaching about Jesus forgiving those who killed him is no longer a teaching example, but just another story?

Just goes to show -- you can interpret the Bible any way to fit what you want.

But Harry, the fact is that Germany would have had no reason to invade Belgium had Russia not started the war. Now, perhaps Germany would have nonetheless, but at that point you are at mere speculation. My point is that York's conclusion was that you can't be a pacifist if someone is attacking YOU. I have no argument with that. However, if someone is attacking someone else, then you can make a reasoned argument that you have no obligation to get involved.
11.13.2007 10:23am
ellisz (mail):
Randy, if I have the theology right, it was His role to die to redeem mankind.

also, like Aubrey, I don't take 'turn the other cheek' to compel abject surrender. the moneychangers in the temple example should be enough to cast doubt on such a glib take.

rather, I take it metaphorically, as yet another example of this challenging injunction - forgive your transgressors, and love your enemies.

but you can do both while still defending yourself.
11.13.2007 10:52am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Jesus forgave his tormentors because, although evil is inevitable, woe be to the man who brings it. They had a choice. They chose evil.

The instruction about turning the other cheek has to do with insult. That is, if the blow were lethal or crippling, no instruction to remain passive would be necessary.

It also fails to discuss the three-party problem. How does it apply to defending others?

Nope. Not a reference to pacifism.
11.13.2007 10:56am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Who said anything about an obligation to oppose tyranny or aggression or any other sort of misbehavior?

As a practical matter, we cannot suppress all of it. The pacifist concludes, therefore it is immoral to stand uo against any of it.

The way you'd have it, York would be justified in defending his own house from a marauder but not his neighbor's, even if, say, his neighbor was a bedridden invalid incapable of, say, using her own Second Amendment right/privilege of looking after herself.

Jesus, who I don't believe existed, had something to say about that; or somebody using his name did.
11.13.2007 11:52am
AK (mail):
The Assumption of Mary was formally defined as dogma in 1950, but the Church believed it from its earliest days.

The practice of venerating relics (fractions of body parts, such as bone or blood) of saints and martyrs dates to the first century. As you might expect, unscrupulous individuals trafficked in fraudulent bones and blood.

But we have no evidence that anyone ever tried to pass off a bone as belonging to Jesus or Mary. Why? Because Christians believed that both Jesus and Mary were bodily in heaven.
11.13.2007 1:06pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Well gee Dave, in your discussion of El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980's you forgot to mention the right wing death squads that targeted and assasinated Catholic priests and raped and murdered nuns. Is it any wonder that they weren't too happy with the government?
11.13.2007 1:34pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
But we have no evidence that anyone ever tried to pass off a bone as belonging to Jesus or Mary

But of course there is the Shroud of Turin, enough fragments of the "true cross" to build a house, and enough pieces of the holy grail to stock a bar.
11.13.2007 1:36pm
AK (mail):
Purported fragments of the True Cross are not aren't as numerous as you might think. The claim that the relics would combine to a tremendous volume is John Calvin's rhetorical invention.

But so what if they're all fakes? I'm not saying that any particular relic is authentic. Even if they're fakes, they're evidence of belief. No one in the early Church tried to pass off anything as a relic of Mary, because no one believed that access to Mary's bones was possible. Additionally, there's no evidence of any Christians gathering at Mary's grave or building a church there, like they did with many other saints.
11.13.2007 2:31pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Additionally, there's no evidence of any Christians gathering at Mary's grave or building a church there, like they did with many other saints.

No, but how many weeping or bleeding statues of and purported sightings of Mary have there been by deluded, misguided and downright mentally ill people, some of which the Church has sanctified (e.g. Lourdes)? And don't forget the regular appearances of Mary in baked goods and pastries, on buildings and almost anywhere there is a trick of light or smudge on a wall or sidewalk.

That is not faith, but delusion.
11.13.2007 2:45pm
Randy R. (mail):
Harry: "The way you'd have it, York would be justified in defending his own house from a marauder but not his neighbor's, even if, say, his neighbor was a bedridden invalid incapable of, say, using her own Second Amendment right/privilege of looking after herself. "

No Harry, that's not the way I would have it. But arguing with someone like you who keeps putting words in my mouth gets increasingly tiresome. I never claimed to be a pacifist, and I believe that pacifism has many nuances to it, and each person can claim a different set of nuances.

Aubrey: "Jesus forgave his tormentors because, although evil is inevitable, woe be to the man who brings it. They had a choice. They chose evil."

What woe came to his tormentors? Jesus certainly didn't wish them any woe. in fact, he asked that they be forgiven, which is pretty much the opposite of woe.

Perhaps what Jesus is saying that when you meet violence with violence, it only causes more misery. At least, that's one interpretation. But if you know everything, please go ahead.

Course, there's that little issue about Judas. He had a role to play, and yet he's been condemned for centuries for it.

And perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus's tormentors had a role to play as well. Afterall, if Jesus had a role to play, he couldn't have played it without the help of those same tormentors. Perhaps they weren't so evil at all, but actually were doing God's work.

Which, of course, is another way of saying that each person does what he does not because he wants to 'do evil', but precisely because he truly believes that what he is doing is 'right.'
11.13.2007 3:04pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Randy. The "woe" is a scriptural reference, the reference having to do with free choice. There will be evil, some will avoid it, some embrace it. Forgiveness comes after having chosen evil.
11.13.2007 3:42pm
AK (mail):
J.F. Thomas:

I'm sorry, I don't see what you're getting at.

Someone said that the Assumption of Mary was "finally figured out in 1950," and used the recent promulgation of that dogma to attack the legitimacy of the Catholic faith. I countered that the belief was not of recent vintage by pointing out that early Christians did not behave as we would expect them to if they believed that Mary's body was in a grave somewhere.

The validity of the dogma is not at issue. I don't care whether you believe it or don't. I'm just saying that early Christians believed it, so to say that it's a recent invention is false.

As for Lourdes, well, even Catholics are not required to believe that anything happened at Lourdes. The Church has established that there will be no new public revelation (i.e., revelation that the faithful are required to believe) until the Second Coming, although there may be private revelation that deepens personal faith, provided it does not add to or contradict any teaching of the Church. Really anything can be a private revelation, from an appearance by Mary to a simple granting of a prayer.
11.13.2007 4:50pm
Mike Gallo (mail):
Typo on page 26, paragraph seven, line two.

I enjoyed reading the paper, thank you. I was very recently having a discussion on this topic with my father, who had recently seen Marquette University's play on pacifism - "Poor, Poor, Poor, Tom" or something like that. Anyways, one of the things I don't recall seeing in your work is the "Peter, put away your sword" verse I hear quoted so often. It is interesting that Jesus refutes Peter's potentially lethal retaliation against non-lethal force (at least, non-lethal immediately to Peter) by reminding him that he is not defenseless (something about calling to God to send a legion of angels, or something?). Certainly a good indication that Jesus knows his right to defend his life, but chooses not to.

Oh, and I'm not sure what amount scholarly work is out there to support this, but I have always been taught (100% Catholic school educated . . .) that the commandment is not "Thou Shalt Not Kill," but rather, "Thou Shalt Not Murder."

I've always found the "What about Hitler" question (as posed to pacifists) to be anything but extaordinary. I mean, what about a common thief who would kill you over $17.50? (I refer here to the murder of a delivery driver near my workplace last year.) Certainly such a person can not reasonably be held as likely disuaded by pacifism? It is not the scale of the evil in my book, but rather, the basic principles involved. If a good man must use violence to destroy evil, then he must indeed.

[DK: Thanks! I discuss the question of whether the Gospels mandate pacifism here: ]
11.13.2007 7:25pm
Randy R. (mail):
Aubrey: "Forgiveness comes after having chosen evil."

I understand that. But why would Jesus's tormentors be considered evil when they were merely playing their role? If they didn't kill Jesus, someone certainly would have to in order for him to die.

Or else, Jesus could have just found a scorpian to sting him. But then that sidesteps the whole issue of forgiveness. So obviously, it was necessary for a person to kill him.

The only thing that makes sense is that God chose an evil role for his killers, and they properly acted it out their role, for which they would have to suffer, but for Jesus's asking for forgiveness.

The issue is the same for Judas. And recently, old scrolls have been found that indicate that Judas knew he was supposed to betray Jesus to get the ball rolling. So, Judas wasn't an evil man at all -- he was merely doing what was required.

Anyone who considers that evil would be himself evil, in my book.
11.13.2007 8:06pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Randy. It's not your book. There are plenty of people in the world, and enough of them will choose evil to take care of the necessary business. As you may have noticed.
They can be forgiven, but repentance is necessary.
The Catholics have a sacrament--I think it's a sacrament--called conditional absolution. It's used when a person can't hear confession before something dire happens. Say, a unit about to go into combat (I think the first time it happened in North America involved the Irish Brigade before they went into the line at Gettysburg.) The people solemnly repent their sins and resolve to seek confession at the first opportunity. And they're forgiven. So repentance only takes an instant's thought.

BTW. When I was in the Infantry, I learned the Sh'ma (phonetically), the Twenty-Third Psalm, and the Act of Contrition. Just in case. I'm not a theologian, but you never know who'll be wanting The Word.
11.13.2007 10:34pm