Wednesday, October 27, 2010

John Howard Yoder on the Historical Scarcity of the Just War Tradition in the Thought and Practice of Ordinary Christians

"Contrary to the standard history, the just-war position is not the one which has been taken practically be most Christians since Constantine. Most Christians (baptized people) in most wars since pacifism was forsaken have died and killed in the light of thought patterns derived from the crusade or the national-interest pattern. Some have sought to cover and interpret this activity with the rhetoric of the just-war heritage; others have not bothered. The just-war tradition remains prominent as a consensus of the stated best insights of a spiritual and intellectual elite, who used that language as a tool for moral leverage on sovereigns for whom the language of the gospel carried no conviction. Thus just-war rhetoric and consistent pacifism are on the same side of most debates. When honest, both will reject most wars, most causes, and most strategies being prepared and implemented. ...

"Not only was the just-war tradition not really in charge in history, but it was not dominant in spirituality. When a history of thought is based on the writings of a magisterial elite, then it is the just-war tradition which we must report. But how many people like that were there, and how many more drew spiritual sustenance from them?

"If, on the other hand, we were to ask how through the centuries most people -- who were at the same time somehow authentic Christian believers and lived their lives of faith with some explicit sincerity -- thought about war, then we should have to report that their lives were sincerely burdened, not nourished, by the just-war grid. Their lives were nourished, not by the summas of the academicians, but by the lives of the saints. Most of the saints were tacitly nonviolent. Most of the martyr-saints were expressly nonviolent. The rejection of violent self-defense or of service in the armies of Caesar was sometimes the reason for which the saint was martyred. The lives of the saints are told to incite the hearer to trust God for his or her surviving and prospering. Even those saints (like Francis) who lived in the midst of war and the few who were soldiers were not Machiavellian. They cultivated a worldview marked by trusting God for survival, a willingness to suffer rather than to sin, and an absence of any cynical utilitarianism in their definition of the path of obedience. The penitent and the pilgrim were normally, naturally defenseless. The stories of the saints abound in tales of miraculous deliverance from the threats of bandits and brigands.

"It is a source of deep historical confusion to identify the history of Christian morality as a whole with the record of the thought of academic moralists, where just-war thought in Christendom has been located. Such academic formulations may, in some cultures, make a major contribution to how people will actually make decision in the future, if local preachers or confessors take their cues from the professor. But in other traditions, where the instrument of enforcement that the confessional provides is not used, the relation between the academic articulation and the real life of the community is more like that of the froth to the beer."

--John Howard Yoder, When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking (2d ed.; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1996, 2001), 68-70

No comments:

Post a Comment