Wednesday, December 02, 2009

John Stuart Mill on war & cowardice

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
The Contest in America.” Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 143, page 683-684. Harper & Bros., New York, April 1862.


Father Robert Lyons said...

Have to register a strong disagreement with Mill on this one. I cannot, in good conscience, approve of Christian participation in the military.

In WW2, for instance, many Christians on both sides were pushed onto the battlefield to kill one another by secular rulers. Christians should never kill Christians at the whim of a secular ruler, no matter what the reason.

I struggled for years with the issue of nationalism, militarism, and finally reached the conclusion that it was completely incompatable with my faith. The only time I could even conscience using physical force against another human being is if someone threatens my wife or child with mortal harm.

To me, pacifism isn't a matter of cowardice, it is a matter of recognizing that Christ himself would never have taken up arms at the whim of the state, and also of recognizing that my sole allegiance is to Christ.

Thus, while I, in worldly fact, may be an American citizen, I give my only allegiance to the Kingdom of God. This often causes problems at sporting events when I have to find creative ways to sneak out (usually to the bathroom) before all the nationalistic stuff goes on... and then rush back before kick-off, but, that's a price I am willing to pay.

I tried kneeling in prayer one time during the national anthem at a hockey game, but decided that it felt too much like bragging about Jesus for show and didn't really get the meaning of what I was doing across... besides, there isn't much room to kneel in the stands! LOL!


Fr. Chris Larimer said...

I respect your decision - and it greatly comports with earliest Christianity. However, as an Anglican, this is not a matter left to my individual conscience. Many of our greatest saints, including the protomartyr of Britain (St. Alban) and our Patron (St. George) were soldiers. Some soldiers laid aside their arms upon coming to Christ. Others transformed the meaning of soldiering by becoming Christians.

So long as you don't condemn those Christians who do take up the cause of their national defense (attempting to seek the welfare of the city, as commanded in Jer. 29), I don't think you impinge on others Christian liberty.

XXXVII. Of the Civil Magistrates.
The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.
Where we attribute to the King's Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.
The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.
The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.
It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars.

37 The state and its civil representatives
The sovereign has the chief power in the realm of England and his other possessions. The supreme government of all in this realm, whatever their station, whether ecclesiastical and civil, and in all matters, belongs to him and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign jurisdiction. When we attribute to the sovereign the chief government (a title which seems to have offended some slanderous persons) we do not grant our rulers the ministry of either God's Word or of the sacraments. This is also made clear in the Injunctions published by Queen Elizabeth I. By this title we acknowledge only the prerogative which we see in holy Scripture God has given to all godly rulers. They should rule all people committed to their charge by God, whatever their station or rank, whether ecclesiastical or secular, and restrain with the civil power those who are stubborn or practise evil.
The bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in this realm of England.
The laws of the realm may punish Christian people with death for heinous and grave offences.
It is lawful for Christian men at the command of the state to carry weapons and serve in wars.

Father Robert Lyons said...


No, I don't. I am in the minority (well, I am the only pacifist I know!) in my Synod.

I do think, though, that the Church needs to look at the doctrine of Just War, and really have a LONG discussion about exactly what it means. Historically, the Just War doctrine requires proportional response in battle, and I would question how 'proportional' the responses have been with the rise of modern weaponry. An atom bomb doesn't differentiate between civilian and combatant.