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This has been the Achilles heel of pacifism for me. It’s the realization that in the end, everyone looks for relief from suffering. When people are pressed to the end and have no hope of saving themselves, they scream for others to rescue them. The reality of self-preservation has kept the human species alive.

The Achilles Heel of Pacifism

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“The dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race” -C.S. Lewis
This has been the Achilles heel of pacifism for me. It’s the realization that in the end, everyone looks for relief from suffering. When people are pressed to the end and have no hope of saving themselves, they scream for others to rescue them. The reality of self-preservation has kept the human species alive. Religious idealism is dangerous when the most vulnerable among us suffer so we can spiritualize reality.

Even Jesus prayed for the cup to pass, if possible.

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Jesus (Matthew 26:39)

“If possible”…that’s a phrase that sums up the human experience in my ongoing pursuit of a philosophy of life that wont drive me mad. Paul, a Roman citizen penned similar worlds that speak to gordian knot of war, violence and peace.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Apostle Paul (Romans 12:18)

The writings of C.S. Lewis were hammered out on the anvil of service and survival of World War II. The sparks that so easily fly off his books, were ignited in the tensions of thought smelted in the crucibles of horror and heroism and the lasting weight of them is proof of the gold they produced.

I need the wisdom of Lewis in an era when the resurgence of ethnic and religious barbarism is once again seeking to bring people and countries under it’s bloody boot and flag.

In the past, our country was roused from pacifistic postures when our own lives were slaughtered and the national interests and conscience of Americans was provoked from inaction to action.

The idealism of humanism and the illusions of secularism were getting smashed on the reality of human despotism and depravity. The actual reach of those unimaginable horrors were to be discovered only when the light of liberty finally dawned on the darkness of Nazi concentration camps.

One of the most complex and morally defeating parts of WW2 was the story of the church in Germany. The challenges of examining what takes place in the minds and hearts of religious people in the face of evil is one of the most needful contemplations required today. We must look back, so we can move forward and avoid the same sins of the past, and do what is right today.

The inability or unwillingness to face the actual realities and practices of evil, was truly one of the threads of that moral nearsightedness. Believing in ourselves instead of what God says about us, unraveled the fabric of society into brutalities unimaginable up to that point. But the same shock and horror is taking place today on the daily news, religious people continue to pontificate while other religious people decapitate.

The Achilles heel of our undoing will be the pride of our own self-deification. Our worship of an illusion of humanity has continued to result in the slaughter and suffering of humanity at a scale that mimics an uncheck plague.

The failure of religious minds and hearts to differentiate the realities of life under the sun and the kingdom coming has been tragic. They have proliferated a confusing set of moral codes that continue to bind the hands and feet of those who would seek to protect and provide for the vulnerable, oppressed and suffering of the world. The blood of those people is on the hands, mouths and pens of those who bind consciences and cloud minds with illogical and  unreasonable philosophies.

When we call for the military to use its armaments for humanitarian relief, we cheer but forget the way or means for which those weapons of mass destruction were created and used previously or in conjunction with mercy. We excuse ourselves from the moral weight of justice when we call others to fight for us. Isn’t it ironic that people call armed police, charged with protecting to the point of death, and walk away with a clear conscience because we supposedly didn’t do the actual work of harm? These types of moral mirages are all about us, and we bear the responsibility to be students of the history, humanity, scriptures and our own souls. Ignorance and tolerance won’t save us from the judgments of time.

I fear the Christians and progressive, sentimental secularists might once again be the ones who hand the keys of the cities over to the new Islamic Caliphate in the name of idealism, peace and brotherhood.

About Eric Blauer

I am Frederick Christian Blauer IV, but I go by Eric, it sounds less like a megalomaniac but still hints at my Scandinavian destiny of coastal conquest and ultimate rule. I have accumulated a fair number of titles: son, brother, husband, father, pastor, writer, artist and a few other more colorful titles by my fanged fans. I am a lover of story be it heard, read or watched in all beauty, gory or glory. I write and speak as an exorcist or poltergeist, splashing holy water, spilling wine and breaking bread between the apocalypse and a sleeping baby. I am possessed by too many words and they get driven out like wild pigs and into the waters of my blog at www.fcb4.tumblr.com. I work as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church (www.jacobswellspokane.com) across the tracks on 'that' side of town. I follow Christ in East Central Spokane among saints, sinners, angels, demons, crime, condoms, chaos, beauty, goodness and powerful weakness. I have more questions than answers, grey hairs than brown, fat than muscle, fire than fireplace and experience more love from my wife, family and friends than a man should be blessed with in one lifetime.

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14 comments

  1. Liv Larson Andrews

    When Christians kill other Christians, it is a failure of ecumenism.
    When Christians kill non-Christians, it is a failure of mission.
    – so says Stanley Hauerwas, somewhere.
    I do not think that fuzzy humanism or secularism is to blame for a weak response to injustice, which I hear you equating with pacifism in this piece.
    Pacifism is a dedicated practice of non-violence, of seeking reconciliation with enemies rather than retribution. I believe this is central to the call of the gospel, and the NT speaks frequently of the “ministry of reconciliation” we are given.
    No, it does not happen instantly or in a perfect world devoid of genuine loss and hurt. I believe the cross is affirmation of that. Jesus does not take up violence to defend himself.
    And though you wrestle with the human need for self-preservation, that is a goal many pacifists set aside. Choosing to never use force or coercion in a world such as ours means you choose to get squashed.
    John Howard Yoder would say anytime we place practicality or self preservation or efficiency or any other goal up front, we have displaced Christ.
    I get frustrated and sad when I see Christians basically decide that non violence is so impractical we should just go along with a well-armed state and trust it will work out. Look instead at Reuben from last week’s readings. Jacob’s sons want to kill Joseph outright, and hide it. Knowing he can’t save Joseph completely, Reuben speaks up anyway and proposed putting him in a pit. No, not exactly a humane solution, but it’s not bloodshed. And Joseph goes on to deliver the whole family from famine.
    To me, an economy based on militarism and imperialism is far more to blame for aggression against our people than wimpy Christians or humanists.

  2. The problem I see with that response is how empty it would sound to the child being threatened with beheading in Iraq. Would you feel just and righteous calling her up on a phone and say that? I couldn’t. I would do everything to defend her and if Jesus had a problem with that I leave my case in his hands.

  3. Liv Larson Andrews

    And many pacifists make it clear they are choosing something other than the way of Jesus if they killed the person beheading the child. Essentially agreeing to be condemned for violence that delivers another person.
    But I’m saying there’s a thousand other failures before the beheading happens. There are a thousand other ways this world could be organized so that the threat of beheading wasn’t about to happen. As it has gone most recently with our nation, we have chosen a path of violent response which has only more deeply sowed violent hatred against us. Who will stop? When?

  4. The quote I started this article with pinpoints the crux of the problem with pacifism: it’s a philosophy based on a reality of a kingdom coming but not yet.

    CS Lewis put it this way: “Whether it ought to happen or not, the thing you are recommending is not going to happen.”

    The same issue is with poverty, it won’t be eliminated, Jesus himself said that in Mark 14:7: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want…”

    Poverty and war are realities of this fallen world. Practically confronting poverty and war is done in the crux of those tensions.

  5. Ernesto Tinajero

    CS Lewis was echoing Reinhold Niebuhr. The pacifists are not much of a problem as they hold little power, though. The danger that Niebuhr and Lewis shared was the idealist who does not factor their own dark soul in the equation. Niebuhr was correct in being wary of this that claim righteous innocence and fight to make a better world or the idealists in the Bush Administration that thought they could bring peace and democracy to Iraq, so much so the lied to justify their adventures. They went in not understanding the people they were going to save nor the their own dark impulses. Mission was not accomplished and blood still flows from their folly. You are right that we live in a fallen world, but this does not justify the use of violence haphazardly and without factoring the taint of our own sin. When we try to be the saviors of the world, (or try to be Jesus) at the point of a sword, we will see the results as we have in Iraq. Many on the Right claimed the doctrine of American exceptionalism and justify all sorts of military adventures under this ill-begotten doctrine. Will we confess our culpability in waging war in Iraq or continue to fain innocences? We need to then we arrive at what John said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We have deceived ourselves in our glory for righteous victory and the children of Iraq are paying for our sin. My prayer is yes, but the realist in me knows the truth, we will do as Pilot and wash our hands of it.

  6. Tito, if we choose inaction due to our sinfulness or propensity to act with wrong motives, we could never respond to any injustice. Everything is tainted but that doesn’t mean we are religiously paralyzed. I fear such contemplations turn into self introspective quagmires. You cannot untie the knot of human depravity, you must act in spite of it and in light of it.

    Again I think Lewis’s quote about the dentist applies, the toothed removed vs the irrational dream of a cavity free world. I choose the tooth.

    • Eric, I agree with you about pacifism, but as Christian realist, I see the “Achilles Heel” is its idealism and it shares the same type idealism that neo-cons practice. The same idealism leads us to the path of ruin. No where did you read in response a call to no action, but rather a call to lose the innocence act and thinking we are pure, attitudes common in many of the Hawks in Washington. If we think we are pure, than the truth is not in us. You use the example German Christians. Most Christians in Nazi Germany did not turn a blind eye, rather they whole heartily accepted Nazism and wrapped God and Fatherland into one package, much like some do in this country, God and country. Seeing WND.com can only confirm this unfortunate fact. Only the Confessing Church in Germany provided any resistance to the Nazis. Most German Christian then embraced a patriotism that many today practice. I join the confessing church in declaring: On the contrary, The Declaration proclaims that the Church “is solely Christ’s property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.” (8.17) Rejecting domestication of the Word in the Church, The Declaration points to the inalienable lordship of Jesus Christ by the Spirit and to the external character of church unity which “can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed” (8.01): it submits itself explicitly and radically to Holy Scripture as God’s gracious Word. (Bartmen Declaration)

      If only we Christians would reject the pull of country and cross and place faith only in the cross.

  7. Tito,
    I’m not sure what any of that really means to you. For me the principle of a cross led life doesn’t embrace the idea of watching children be beheaded in the name of some declaration, ideology or philosophy. It means laying ones life down in a way that refelects the highest love for another in the act of saving. Love acts, doing the highest good to save innocent life. Not theoretically or even theologically but practically. Scribes crucified the savior and the same is going on today.

    • Ernesto Tinajero

      Well, forgive me, you post got my blood boiling. Saying that we have to go with your vision or accepting kids murder? So first, since you have not made any claim on what to do, I am sure what you mean. I do you know condescending watching children beheading is both repulsive and unChristian. Do you say we should go in militarily with boots on the ground to stop it. Or do we support the people fighting ISIS (which we are, witness the recent defeats at the hands of the Kurds and Shiites). The thrust of you post did not advocate any hard policy choices, it a self-righteous piece to attack pacifists, and has saved no ones live (NOT ONE) nor even gave a way of saving those children’s lives. It had no tough choice pulled teeth, but a great scheme to make make men better at the point of sword. CS Lewis was proved right about the Grand scheme of the nation making Bunglers of the Bush administration.

      It also did not deal with the rise of ISIS and how they stoked the resentment to the Bush administrations bungled war in Iraq among the areas Sunni. The idealist in the en-con right have blood on their hands and our response to ISIS has to acknowledge this. The question of what Americans role is in ending the slaughter is important and has to deal complex situation (Kurds and Turkey, Shiites with Iran, Sunnis with Syria) We tried your John Wayne, good guys t the rescue with guns a shooting and shock and awe. Bush and Radical Right came with lies (WMD?), self-righteous (we will be greeted as heroes) and bungled into failure after after failure. The highest act of love is the Cross and we have to see our own sin. We need stand up a evil, but using it to feel morally superior to pacifist while dining nothing is not standing up to evil, but tsk, tsk, the world as it passes. Advocate some tough ways like helping the Kurds and Shiites, or advocating boots on the ground, but saying “see, I am better than pacifists” does not help anyone, kids or not. High horse are fun to ride, but a useless in the real world.

  8. Ernesto,
    Man bro you sound quite agitated in your comment, not like you are really interested in dialogue but more like a fight, but I’ll attempt to respond.

    Yesterday I sat with a young Muslim woman who fled Iraq with her family 6 years ago due to the sectarian violence. She still has family in Baghdad. We were talking about her family’s fear for her cousins who are girls and how the isis girl abductions is terrifying them. Her hope is that people will protect and defeat the men kidnapping and killing her people.

    I do too, whatever way that can
    happens.

    The Kurds may be one way. My military friends who have trained, fought and killed with the Kurds by their side, say they are admiral people and soliders.

    My Islamic friend thinks the Kurds just want land.

    My real hope is in the other young Muslim I had dinner with two nights ago at his home. He is finishing his masters, will complete a PhD and the head back to Afghanistan to work for peace through industry building, education and politics.

    So I stand with my Muslim friends and families in pursuing peace by whatever means actually helps keep thier families alive, safe and helps provide a future of promise. No easy road but I support my AirForce soninlaw and I suppurt the war against radicalized Islamic groups like isis or hamas.

    I also support American refugee resettlement. We lead the world in receiving, educating, supporting and rebuilding lives impacted by war, shortsighted foreign policy and the aftermath of religion, whatever brand of self serving ideology goes with it.

    I’m sorry if my article sent a message of superiority, that wasn’t my intent personally but if it’s a superior ideology, than I’ll let that stand in the name of protection and peace.

  9. Ernesto Tinajero

    Now, you play nice.
    “I’m not sure what any of that really means to you.” Eric, I direct challenge.
    “For me the principle of a cross led life doesn’t embrace the idea of watching children be beheaded in the name of some declaration, ideology or philosophy.” Combined with the previous statement, the laws of language you are saying my ideas do embrace watching horrors, which is an insult.
    “It means laying ones life down in a way that refelects the highest love for another in the act of saving. Love acts, doing the highest good to save innocent life. Not theoretically or even theologically but practically. Scribes crucified the savior and the same is going on today.” Rome crucified Jesus. By saying this, you are claiming that those that disagree with you are ignorant of Jesus. Whatever you may say about Stanley Hauerwas, Liv or myself, our faith is in Jesus. You insulted me (and the others) in implying that if we don’t agree with you, we are just closing our eyes to dying children. The irony is that I am a Christian realist, Stanley’s point that Liv echoes is still valid whether you agree with his pacifism or not. When you slap a man in the face, don’t be surprised that he is perturbed with you.
    And to answer your direct challenge, This means we need to pray for more of God’s Grace and Jesus in the situation.

  10. Notice I said “For me”…that means this is my opinion and my thoughts and actions.

    • Ernesto Tinajero

      Yes, but do you really think that I don’t care about children being beheaded. And we you imply that, I would not get offended? Have you not read my posts? Am I a monster in your eyes, for only a monster blinded by rage or a monster of indifference would not be moved to take actions. Then, you don’t see this as an insults. I forgive you, but can’t you see how such statements can offend?

  11. I think you are a good man but we disagree on the full means to address brutality against the vulnerable.

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