Monday, February 06, 2006

C. S. Lewis and the problem of war

This is an interesting piece on Lewis's understanding of war and peace.


Jarrod Cochran said...

This is a great article! While I am a huge fan of Lewis' body of work, I do at times have difficulty with his historical stands of Christianity and its stances on things such as peacemaking and pacifism. As revealed by his writings, Lewis never really studied Christian history past the medieval times and there are a great many examples of Christian pacifists recorded in the first centuries as well as in the bible itself (see Stephen, the first Christian martyr and read of the stories how most all the apostles were put to death).

While I do not assume that every Christian should become a strict pacifist (I must admit that I am not anywhere close; though I am daily striving towards this goal), I do believe that every follower of Christ should at least be understanding and respectful of the Christian who has taken a pacifist-stance. And while pacifism is not required for all followers of Christ just yet, I believe it should be as soon as possible.

The reason I make such a contention is that I see that those people who hold to the vision of Christ and the Kingdom of God never believe that the ways of violence lead to peace. I know that the theory of Just War will come to many minds as they read this, but I pose this question: What wars in the history of the world have been halted or cancelled due to the Just War Theory? The answer is none.

There are many Christ-followers and nonbelievers alike who have told me that the stances of pacifism or non-violent resistance are impractical. This argument of impracticality makes little sense to me. Practicality used in this way is a means of preserving the status quo, and I believe that the Kingdom of God is far from the status quo. For me, the only practical way to further the Kingdom of God (remember the Lord's Prayer where Jesus says "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.") is to live as a peacemaker and a non-violent resister.

Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this to be true. This is why history remembers him and his followers' acts of non-violence as the way the fight for equality was won.

I might be off the mark on this and would love to hear other's thoughts about the issue of pacifism and Christianity. Thanks again, Victor for another thought-provoking blog!

- Jarrod

Jason Pratt said...

For what it's worth: in his address "Why I am not a Pacifist" (given to a society of pacifists during WWII), Lewis _does_ make reference to historical tradition pre-dating medieval times (Augustine, Paul, Jesus and John the Baptist, iirc.) Lewis' point is not that a resolution to complete non-violence (whether at the social or at the private level) is completely wrong; he simply disputes attempts by some pacifists to claim non-pacifism is completely wrong.

It would be a mistake to confuse martyrdom with the position of pacifism (though doubtless there were Christian pacifists in the first Christian centuries.) Although I don't recall Lewis making use of this argument in his address: if we believe Christ to be the Incarnation of God; and if we believe the story of the OT to be a reliable record of God's actions and judgments (to any large degree); and if we believe the canonical Gospels are largely accurate as to the sayings of Jesus; _and_ if we believe the Revelation to John should be accepted into the canon as being an inspired vision with any significant accuracy whatever... {inhale}{g}

...then we have our answer. God is _not_ a pacifist, in the sense of being committed to non-violence; and apparently doesn't require His followers to be necessarily non-violent either.

What this has to be juxtaposed with, is the witness in these same texts, that God is _working toward_ a reconciliation with, and among, _everyone_: those in the heavens as well as those below. (Per St. Paul's letter to the Colossians, among others.) That _includes_ anyone with whom He goes to war. Again, as Paul says in Colossians, this is connected directly to Christ's sacrifice on the cross: a martyrdom by a God Who wars, not for the sake of His allies, but for the sake of His enemies!--whoever and wherever they are.

This is why the Just War tradition was instituted: because people did (and among many Christians we still do) take seriously that God the martyr is also God Pantokrator, the Lord of Hosts at war.

What also must be taken seriously--and which dedicated pacifists can be excellent witnesses for--is the goal of reconciliation, and the end of war. This is even the message of the end of RevJohn where most people, even Christians, are completely unprepared to see it. (Ironically, the Christians most insistent on the final admonition not to add or omit a word of that scroll, are also most likely to completely miss the point of reconciliation toward the condemned in chapters 19 to the end; indeed to interpret those verses completely opposite to the future and hope they're actually promising.)


Jarrod Cochran said...


That is probably one of the best responses I've ever read regarding C.S. Lewis, pacifism, and God. Thank you for your post and your rebuttal. This is some good food for thought.