Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paul Mills on Peace

I found a box on a shelf in the Olney school library containing pamphlets about peace.

One was called "The Bible and War" by Paul M. Mills.

Mills makes an eloquent argument against war. I wonder that pamphlets such as these moulder away on the back shelves of libraries and aren't everywhere. Does anyone know of a link to this pamphlet on the web?

This pamphlet has no copyright date, but the latest citation dates from 1945. It was issued by Oregon Yearly meeting.

Some points Mills makes:

--The moral damage of war is worse than the physical. Do you agree? This counters the kind of liberal anti-war arguments that make me uneasy: In the liberal mindset, war is an evil because it costs money that could be spent on medicines and food and housing for the poor. War is too expensive. But then I wonder: if war were cheap or economically beneficial to the poor, would that make it OK?

--Mills notes that for the first 300 years after Jesus, the church considered war and revenge as unChristian. He cites Origen: "We no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war anymore, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus who is our leader ... And none fight better for the king than we do. ... we fight on his behalf, forming a special army--an army of piety--by offering our prayers to God."

Mills also quotes Hippolytus to the effect that no Christian should kill or become a soldier and that "weaponlessness" is "becoming to the Gospel."

-- In the mid fourth century, the peace stance changed. Mills attributes this to the Christian response to the pagans invading the Roman Empire. Augustine, who relied on the Roman Empire to protect the church, believed that if Rome fell, Christianity would be finished. Christians needed to fight alongside the Romans to preserve the faith. Out of this sprung "just war" theory.

About just war theory, Mill writes: "Sixteen centuries with their wars should be sufficient to disillusion us regarding Augustine's dream of wars conducted in a good, kind, Christian way. It cannot be done."

--Mill writes that Augustine's "great mistake" was in trying to adjust the Bible to circumstances and not circumstances to the Bible. War was a way out, but it "was not the Christian way out. Now we can see that his way did not work."

As Mills highlights, Christians joining the Roman army did not prevent Rome falling to the pagans. Rome fell. However, the power of the Gospel did not fall, but spread, despite the dissolution of the Roman Empire. Scattered Christians converted the pagans to Christianity through peaceful means. They didn't need the military might of the Romans.

I had never considered that the lack of a strong, coherent empire did nothing to impede the expansion of a different kind of kingdom. Although the pagan tribes of the north became more powerful than the Romans, the pagans became Christian and not vice versa.

What do you think of Mills's assertions? And do you agree that the moral damage of war is worse than the physical?


David Carl said...

Greetings Diane,

While I've heard economic arguments about the cost of war, it never occurred to me that these were anyone's chief point of opposition. I have always assumed that its the death, pain and suffering that motivates most of those who labor against war.
The "cost" is merely an extension of the damage: the diversion of valuable resources away from true human needs and values. Certainly there's a moral element to how we spend our money, whether on the personal or national level. Its not just a question of a lot of money being spent, but of the suffering of those without adequate health care or nutrition, for example, because our resources have been misused on prosecuting wars.

I'm not familiar with the pamphlet, but I've encountered similar -- and very thorough -- discussion of early Christian attitudes toward peace and war in "A Portraiture of Quakerism" by Thomas Clarkson, a book which, by the way, I would highly recommend for anyone who would like to really get a feel for the depths of Quaker faith and practice.



Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Dear Diane,

What do I think of Mills’s assertions?

I suspect that attributing the end of Christian pacifism to the barbarian invasions of the fourth century is oversimplistic. A number of other things also happened, some of them well before the barbarian invasions, which would have furthered a rise of Christian belief in military solutions even if the barbarians had not invaded.

The first was that Christianity became the faith of a substantial minority in many parts of the Roman empire. This happened even before 300 A.D.; and as it happened, Christians came to feel a vested interest in the health and prosperity of the communities where they lived. Some historians have argued that this weakened Christian opposition to involvement in the military.

The second factor, coming a little after the first, was that the Roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity on the eve of a great battle in 312, seeing (according to Eusebius) a vision of a cross and the legend In Hoc Signo Vinces — “in this sign, conquer.” This was sixty-six years, almost three human generations, before the barbarian Visigoths turned violent and the barbarian conquest of the western Roman empire began. Constantine’s subsequent military successes, with his soldiers carrying the Chi-Rho of Christianity painted on their shields, had a powerful effect on the popular imagination.

The third factor, which arose in the late fourth century, around the time of the fall of the Western Empire, was that the Orthodox Church entered into a death struggle with heterodoxy, struggling more or less simultaneously with Gnosticism, Marcionism, Montanism, Arianism, and other heresies for supremacy in the Christian community. In the course of this struggle, the Orthodox Church’s allies in the Roman government began applying force on the Orthodox side. The Orthodox liked and encouraged this use of force.

These factors intermingled. The Visigoths who began the barbarian invasions were actually already Christians — but not Orthodox Christians; they were Arians. The Christians who fought against them were defending their local communities, following the example of Constantine, and warring against Arian heresy, simultaneously. Orthodox Catholics were killing Priscillian heretics within the borders of the Arian Visigothic kingdom all through the history of that kingdom.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single example of a government that actually invoked Augustine’s criteria and said it was living up to them. So I don’t know that we can truthfully say, as Mills said, that Augustine’s “way did not work”. How do we know if it worked, when it never has been tried?

And a final point. Is it really truthful to say that “the power of the Gospel did not fall”, given that the meaning of “Christian” changed from living in obedience to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, to living as a baptized member of a tribe that had officially pledged its loyalty to an ecclesial hierarchy? Personally, I don’t think so.

All the best,

Diane said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the comment. I too would think the death, dismemberment and suffering of war would be the most important of the "rational" deterents but I imagine the point still holds that if we were able to kill "humanely" or at with "fewer than X number of casualties," that would not justify war. In fact, I believe there's an old Star Trek episode that makes this point in which people on an alien planet voluntarily report to vaporizing chambers to keep war clean and neat.


Yes, some of what you say is lodged somewhere in my neurons, and all of it is interesting and illuminating to this discussion. Mills does boil his points down to a fine nub. Unfortunately, as is always the case when trying to cram complexity into a few pages, things do get distorted. So thanks for the broader context! At the same time, I do take his point that Christianity was able to spread without much trouble after the "fall" of Rome. I imagine all of this can be debated as well, as Rome didn't exactly "fall" all at once ... but ...OK. Nuff said for now.

Nate Swift said...

Cost and the pain and suffering are very much to the fore in perceptions of the moral and physical objection to war, but there is another factor that I think has a huge moral impact, and that is the inevitable "demonization" of the "enemy." Most of the atrocities of war can only be done when the people commiting them refuse to recognize that they are dealing with humans very much like themselves and can rally around such sentiments as "they deserve it," etc. One of the major elements of the message of Jesus was the extension of "kinship" to all people, and war with those we love is seldom a major part of the scene.
Marshall's point about the changed nature of the religion is well made, however, even within that context, there was always some small percentage that "got it," because the gospel message was still included and the Spirit still moved on those who would respond. Were there more or fewer real followers of Jesus in the mix than there would have been? Don't look at me, I couldn't say.

In His Love,