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Pacifists Lock Their Doors at Night

I was recently in discussion with a self-proclaimed “Christian pacifist” and asked the simple question: Do you lock your house at night? They immediately sniffed out my train of thought and got huffy. That’s different! they said. But is it? I mean, Why do pacifists lock their doors at night if not to keep bad people out. And if bad people happen to get in, then what? Watch helplessly as they steal, rape, or murder? It’s like refusing medical attention on the grounds that you’re Vegan. Despite your commitment to a “higher ideal,” at some point, invasive procedures may be necessary.

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. Call me un-Christian, unenlightened, primitive, a warmonger. Whatever. But how does pacifism practically address — much less survive in — a violent world? How do sit-ins, peace marches, and negotiations work with criminals and assassins? At some point, car alarms, pepper spray and taser guns seem to be a reasonable accessory. Sure, it may not be the highest ideal. But if peace is to be perpetuated, ideals may need to take a back seat to pragmatism. If not, those ideals will go extinct.

Which is why most pacifists lock their doors at night.

There’s a violent contradiction (pardon the pun) at the heart of contemporary pacifism. It’s this:

Pacifists benefit from those who have fought and died for their right to be pacifists.

In the same way that animal activists can be cured by medicines developed through animal experimentation, pacifists can only perpetuate their doctrine as peace is maintained. And peace is often maintained as the result of war. At least, through rigorous self-defense.

There’s only one thing necessary for the eradication of pacifists… that they be consistent.

Surprisingly, many pacifists are. For instance, I was stunned to learn that, when asked about resistance to the Nazis, Gandhi believed the Jews should have prepared to sacrifice their collective lives in non-violence (see Gandhi’s original essay and THIS POST for a more in-depth discussion). His statements are both shocking and honorable: Shocking in the sense of their utter impotence against evil; honorable in the sense that he has followed his convictions to their logical — albeit, absurd — conclusion.

George Orwell, quite the anti-pacifist, once wrote, “If you are not prepared to take a life, you must often be prepared for lives to be lost in some other way.” This is why Orwell viewed Gandhi’s solution as “collective suicide,” suggesting that he “did not understand the nature of totalitarianism.” Orwell writes:

…[Gandhi] believed in “arousing the world”, which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary.

Thus, “a free press and the right of assembly” (i.e., freedom) is necessary for pacifism to prevail. For without that freedom, those of the “higher ideal” might simply “disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again.”

Which is why the consistent pacifist must be prepared to sacrifice far more lives than she saves.

But Jesus was a pacifist! you retort. This is a common argument, but can be misleading for several reasons. Mainly in that it conveniently overlooks certain biblical accounts or principles. For instance, Jesus told the Roman soldiers to be “content with [their] wages (Lk. 3:14) and acknowledged that “earthly kingdoms” have a right to use the sword (Jn. 18:36). He also brought great division among the people (Matt. 10:34-36) and even drove out the moneychangers with physical force. (For a more in-depth treatment see Did Jesus teach pacifism?)

Only the genuinely evil want war, but even Scripture says there is a time for it (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). The Prince of Peace has 12 legions of angels at His disposal (Matthew 26:53) and, before the credits roll, He uses them. According to the Bible, our age culminates, not in a celestial sit-in, but an all-out brawl (see, Armageddon). For all those advocates of non-violence and pacifism who claim Christ as their guru, seeing Him at the forefront of the army of God should be disheartening.

Diplomacy and demonstration have their place. But turning the other cheek does not necessarily mean offering our cheeks to be slapped, nor closing our eyes to those who also want our heads. We are to “Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die” (Prov. 24:11), and “rescue” sometimes calls for extreme measures.  On the surface, non-violence may appear noble — even trendy. But in the end, it’s suicidal.

So as for me and my house, we shall lock our doors.

Painting credit: Fr. Armand Tangi
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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • John K. Patterson July 16, 2012, 10:37 AM

    Excellent post, Mike! I am very glad you spoke up about this subject. Occasionally it can seem like the “trendy,” “more relevant” sections of the body of Christ overestimate the potency of demonstrating, picket signs, and nonviolent protest (at least in certain situations), or overestimate their ability to make an effective difference.

    There have also been a number of pacifist Christians who, with noble intent, have said that they leave it up to God to deliver judgment and give the wicked their due wages. Factually, a very accurate statement. Judgment Day will provide everyone who did not accept Christ with a terrible, exact, and thorough judgment. But in the meantime, Paul did say the state doesn’t bear the sword for nothing, and Jesus didn’t criticize soldiers or centurions or guards on the grounds that their occupations sometimes entailed killing people. That implies pretty clearly that there is an appropriate role for violently punishing those who would harm others, even before their ultimate judgment. We feel a need for evil to be punished now, not just at the final close of the curtains, and it seems that God recognizes that need and honors it.

    • John K. Patterson July 16, 2012, 10:48 AM

      Regarding the second paragraph, it would be like saying to a starving person “Do not worry about tomorrow, for God will provide you with food” without handing them a sandwich. It is like promising the naked that “You will be given clothing” without then handing them a coat. Leaving it up to Judgment Day to finally deal with forced starvation, massacres, genocide, and rape is in essence identical to shirking these other responsibilities Christians have been entrusted with. It allows damage and evil to run rampant while we claim to serve a God who said that the very gates of hell will not prevail against His church.

  • Jill July 16, 2012, 11:20 AM

    I’m not sure how locking doors is the same as using force. I admit to being a pacifist, though not as pacifist as some because I believe in defending the innocent and upholding justice. I do not like the fact that our country’s military has become the aggressive force in the world. I find it appalling that our soldiers are trained to be killers by overriding their moral sense, such that they end up killing themselves, suffering from PTSD, or becoming ruthless killers. Politically, I’m very strongly a pacifist. Being that our main directive as Christians is to love others and carry the gospel to the world, then pacifism is a default way of life for me as a Christian, as well. We can’t carry the gospel using the sword.

    • Mike Duran July 16, 2012, 12:05 PM

      We may not be able to “carry the gospel using the sword.” But we are free to carry the gospel because someone has and does.

      • John Robinson July 16, 2012, 1:19 PM

        Agreed. I’m of the opinion that pacifism, in many cases, is the “Sunday clothes” word for cowardice.

        If a man’s yellow … he knows it.

        • Jill July 16, 2012, 1:32 PM

          Pacifism does not equal cowardice. Pacifism can only spring out of deep courage and trust in God.

      • Jill July 16, 2012, 1:22 PM

        You’re going to have to explain what you mean by this. I’m not sure I agree that a human sword is necessary to further the gospel.

        • John K. Patterson July 16, 2012, 2:05 PM

          You’re right. If the reason one picks up a sword is spreading the gospel and making sure Jesus is glorified, that is completely antithetical to the ways God wants the church to grow and spread. If, on the other hand, the goal is to defend others from life-or-death evil, or defend yourself and your nation, there is no biblical indictment of soldiers when they carry out their military duties by taking lives. Neither John the Baptist nor Jesus told soldiers to give up their occupations entirely. Rather, they said to conduct themselves with righteousness (no false accusation, don’t take more money from people than you need to, etc.)

          True, we are to glorify Christ in every single sphere of life, and recognize that everyone is a human being. But spreading the gospel is not all we are called to do, and in a messy universe there will be times for everything, including war. For this reason, Christian soldiers should not disregard the humanity of their combatants. What you said earlier is correct — it is an insidious and reprehensible practice to shatter a soldier’s moral compass that he might be turned into a more efficient killing machine. What the Christian soldier is supposed to do, as far as I can tell, is oppose his enemy as a soldier, but love him as a human being.

          • Mike Duran July 16, 2012, 2:38 PM

            Jill, “a human sword is [NOT] necessary to further the gospel.” Absolutely. But free societies require due diligence. Americans are uniquely free, both to share the gospel or disavow it, because so many have given and continue to give their lives that we might do so.

            • Jill July 16, 2012, 7:48 PM

              Will you provide specifics? Are you referencing the Revolutionary War? The crusades? Or are you speaking of martyrs? Do you believe we need to police the world to make it just? These are honest questions. I wonder sometimes if we (blog commenters) go round and round on topics while continuously misunderstanding each other.

              • Mike Duran July 17, 2012, 4:55 AM

                The term “policing the world” is loaded, I think, and intended to make America look like a bully (not that you’re using it that way). Jill, I believe it’s biblical to say, When it’s within your power to help, you must do so. Some of that help could involve military intervention. This isn’t a justification for all wars America has ever been involved in, by any means.

                An example of “violence” being needed to end injustice would be the example I used above, of the Holocaust. Pacifists did not end the Holocaust. Soldiers did. If the world had adopted a pacifist stance to Nazism, in theory, we would not be having this conversation. If we were alive to speak. Much less spread the gospel. So I think that’d be one example of how “violence” is necessary to uphold goodness and “Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die” (Prov. 24:11).

                • Katherine Coble July 17, 2012, 8:46 AM

                  Oh, but if the world had adopted a Pacifist stance in 1880 to the Prussians we wouldn’t have had the rise of the situations that led to WWI. Then the starving painter wouldn’t have been gassed and wouldn’t have sat in that soldiers’ hospital hearing about the great philosophers who gave him new causes to dream about.

                  If the world had adopted a Pacifist stance at Versailles, instead of a punitive one that left Germany bankrupt, starving and cut off at the knees, we wouldn’t have had a country that was so eager to get back at the rest of the world that they listened to the ravings of the starving painter. And instead of using Soldiers to end the Holocaust*, we could have used pacifism to prevent its’ ever having started.

                  And of course I’m not addressing the Cossack soldiers who killed more Jews in Pogrom then ever died in the camps.

                  The question remains, however….Did the soldiers end the Holocaust or did the Holocaust end the war? Frankly, Hitler’s armies of the Reich could have fought for another 10 years, realistically, if they had not diverted the manpower and ordnance to the Final Solution. In a very real way those who died in the Holocaust actually shortened the war and led to Hitler’s defeat.

                  Please don’t think I don’t respect soldiers, because I do, very much. They have the courage to put their lives on the line for something they believe in, and not many people have that much guts. Like I said, I lean toward pacifism as I get older, though. A lot of that comes from seeing how the Just Wars of today were caused by the aftermath of the Just Wars of decades past, and how that has daisy-chained into the problems we have now.

                  • John K. Patterson July 17, 2012, 10:07 AM

                    And if Adam had not taken a bite out of the wrong fruit, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. It’s a good thing to wonder what might have been done differently, but the fact is that we are in a brutal, complex, messy world that is the result of mankind’s specific choices. We need to do the best we can given the circumstances, and sometimes violence is the only way to stop injustice. I think it was C.S. Lewis who pointed to pacifism and said that fallen man cannot be expected to fulfill the kind of life that was better suited for angels (and even angels go to war, last time I checked).

  • Nicole July 16, 2012, 3:18 PM

    Pacifism is the worst case scenario of cowardice. It hides behind principles and allows others to die, criticizing the violence in the process yet refusing to defend. It isn’t honorable or high-minded. It assumes heaven or utopia can be attained via some radical kind of diplomacy in a sin-stained earthly residence. Silliness.

    Okay. That was harsh. It’s a choice, albeit a hypocritical one as you detailed, Mike.

    I’m packin’, baby. (JK)

  • Nicole July 16, 2012, 3:41 PM

    Jill, although I do disagree with your premise, I didn’t read any of the comments before reacting to this post. I don’t want to insult you personally, but I vehemently disagree with your conclusion. Please forgive the harshness in expressing my opposite opinion.

    • Jill July 16, 2012, 7:42 PM

      I’m not offended at all. I love to have these conversations. For the sake of clarification, which conclusion do you disagree with?

  • Katherine Coble July 16, 2012, 4:40 PM

    A precaution is not an attack.

    Locking doors does not take the lives of others.

    Pacifism is not cowardice; it is a discipline requiring utter faith in the Lord’s provision.

    I don’t know if Jesus was a pacifist. I do know that he healed the centurion’s ear at Gethsemene. I do know that he instructs us to feed, clothe and shelter the needy.

    There is so much broken in this world that I don’t understand the compulsion to break more people.

  • John Robinson July 16, 2012, 4:51 PM

    Perhaps my problem is I’m coming at this from a male perspective. To wit: I once had a friend who called himself a pacifist. One night over a couple of beers I posited him a scenario.

    “You and your wife are downtown at night,” I said, “walking back to your car, when you’re accosted by a couple of men who begin saying awful things to her. You tell them to be quiet and attempt to pass them, when the larger grabs your arm, throws you to the curb, and then the two drag your wife into an alley. What, as a pacifist, do you do in that situation?”

    My friend smiled, and in utter sincerity said, “I figure it’s all in God’s hands. If I attempt to harm them, I’m sinning. My wife would understand.”

    I couldn’t believe what he’d just said. “Are you serious?

    “Yes,” he nodded. “We would know God must have wanted this to happen, and if I were to interfere, my actions would thwart his plan.”

    Sickened, speechless, I stood, threw a few bills on the table, and left. We never spoke again, but a few years later I heard his wife had left him.

    Wonder why.

    • Katherine Coble July 16, 2012, 9:30 PM

      As a woman who tends toward pacifism in my later years:

      1. I don’t rely on my husband or other men to protect me from harm.
      2. I honestly can’t say how I’d react in a situation of fear, but my first inclination is to ask God how God would have me to respond.
      3. In the specific situation as you’ve presented it, neither I nor my Godly and loving husband would respond in any way to the initial ‘vile things’. He’s worked in mental institutions, I’ve been a fat four eyed nerd with giant breasts for 3/4s of my life. We are quite used to hearing vile things and equally used to ignoring them.

      Can I call myself a pacifist? I don’t know. I know that I consider pacifism an ideal.
      As I get older I’m struck more and more by the nuance of life and the uselessness of hypotheticals. God has always given me the tools to meet the needs of the moment, but often not until they were needed. I find personally that the most useful response is to pray for direction and then follow through.

      The rest of it seems like asking how many trees I would climb if I were a monkey. Interesting to ponder, ultimately of no consequence.

  • Jingo Lingam July 16, 2012, 7:29 PM

    Wooo-hoooo! Now I done found me some like-minded folk! Yessiree! I’m a Sunday trucker Christian motherfucker! Awright! Man, them yeller-bellied Jesus freaks better watch out for us, hoss! Hey, Mike, I shore do like yer style, man! You nailed them damn pacifists to the floor! I sure am glad I got to be a Christian, ’cause now I can take the Bible and do with it as I damn well please! Mike, tell me. How do you do it, chief? Post after post you always seem to shed a little more light on things I never understood. And you’re right! Freedom ain’t free! People get Jesus all wrong, see. They think he actually loved people. But we know better, don’t we Mike? Sure we do. We know different. I sure am glad to find you folks! Now let’s go get us some ragheads and Jesus faggits! Woooo-hew!

    • Mike Duran July 17, 2012, 5:30 AM

      Yee-haw, Jingo! Yer one sly mother-trucker. But ya got it all wrong. Not all us redneck warmongers believe in persuasion by firin’ line. ‘Course, that’d do injustice to the stereotype yer invokin’. Fer sure, Jesus actually loved folks! But don’t go choppin’ up the Good Book to suit yer preferences. Cuz that same Jesus, well He comes with the Lord’s Army to smite judgement on the nations. Yep, that Hippie’s packin’ heat! Don’t know if ya done read that far, but it’s the God’s-honest truth. So thanks fer readin’ this here post, Jingo Lingo. Keep yer powder dry. And happy truckin’….

      • Katherine Coble July 17, 2012, 8:29 AM

        Jesus may come in the end times leading an army. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.”

        There are a lot of things Jesus does at the end of days that are not perceived as license to us to do likewise. Jesus is also going to throw Satan, bound, into the Lake of Fire and establish a new heaven and a new earth.

        (No, I’m not Jingo; I always post under my own name, as I’m sure you know by now.)

  • Jeremiah July 17, 2012, 7:36 AM

    Awesome article and interesting discussion here! I have had friends that in a way were pacifists (though I think they were just against war, not self defense on a small scale–which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me), and I think you hit the nail on the head with this post.

  • Nicole July 17, 2012, 7:53 AM

    I do believe pacificism is cowardice, not godly application. Being insulted and ignoring it doesn’t amount to pacificism. Watching another be harmed when you are able to help is cowardice. God doesn’t advise violence, but he certainly allows defense and soldiers. This place we inhabit is filled with demonic activity. Sometimes it requires sacrificing lives to keep the results of that activity at bay.

    Mike’s exactly right when he says the Lord is going to lead the bloodiest most deadly battle ever with the blood in literal rivers up to the heights of horses’ bridles. Literally or figuratively, evil people will be slain.

    Faith without deeds is useless . . . (James 2:20-24)

  • Bobby July 17, 2012, 2:35 PM

    As a born and bred conservative, I’ve always believed pacifism is an ideal to be reached. I do believe we need a military and police, but I’d love to get a good answer to the idea of escalation: you hurt me, I hurt you even worse, etc. Would dismantling our entire military and disarming citizens cause the world to be shocked into likewise compliance? Doubtful, but I often think pacifism should be the goal in each and every situation, from international politics to personal me and you circumstances.

    And yes, if I saw a man doing something bad to my wife or one year old daughter, I’d kill him in a heartbeat. See, I wouldn’t be thinking at that point. I’d be responding.

  • Bob Avey July 17, 2012, 3:13 PM

    I agree, Mike. And many so called socialists in this country would quickly change their tune if they were forced to actually live in a communist society.

    • Nicole July 18, 2012, 6:18 AM

      Truth, Bob. And they can always move to one . . .

  • Todd Michael Greene July 18, 2012, 1:15 PM

    Awesome, Mike. You’ve put into words some things here that I’ve never been able to pin down and get the words write myself.

  • DD July 19, 2012, 1:15 AM

    A perfect contrast of the two sides of this in Christianity would be the movies The End of the Spear and the Machine Gun Preacher. In the former, the missionaries don’t defend themselves against the natives killing them. In the later film, all-out warfare is used to defend the missions. Both true stories, and perhaps the views at their most extreme, nevertheless well-depicted (though I would warn that Machine Gun Preacher is not a sanitized religious film, it can be brutal).

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