There has been a bit of a glut lately of articles and books discussing war and peace, and the place of Christian participation in either or both. Perhaps the most recent publication is that of Nigel Biggar, In Defence of War. Biggar is Regis Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, and Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life at Oxford University. I have come into brief contact with Biggar, and have two friends who have been advised by him in their studies here in Oxford.
I am slowing working through parts of In Defence of War and aim to post some quotes from it here and there. I am not usually very good at following through on such plans, however, so please do not feel a need to depends on my doing so. Regardless, here are some gems from chapter 1, “Against Christian pacifism.”
Not even pacifists object simply to acts that result in the deaths of other people, for they themselves are prepared to perform deliberate acts of omission, which permit innocents to die at the hands of the unjust. (30)
I am apt to sum up this point by noting that the peacemaker is willing to lay down her life for others while the pacifist is willing that others lay down their lives. Of course, the peacemaker also is willing to lay down the lives of the unjust to protect the innocent.
Biggar also draws out a larger vision of Christian (and human) responsibility in this world.
Our capacity to determine the effects of our action, and so to control the direction of history, is very limited; and when, rising up against frustration and despair, we resolve to impose our will at all costs, the results are ruthless and unjust. Sometimes it really is better to do nothing; sometimes prayer is (at least) less harmful than action. Nevertheless, human beings are made in the image of God to tend the world. We are made to care for what deserves to be cared for, and to flourish in its service. We are made to take responsibility under God—to take responsibility while being responsible. Therefore, in full knowledge of the irony of history and of the fragility of whatever we achieve, we must do what we can to defend and promote what is good—but within the limits of what we may. The question, then, is whatever war can ever tell the difference between what can be done and what may be done, and whether it can allow the latter to govern the former. (31)
More may follow.