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Hello John,

An interesting series of posts.

Once on another blog -- where pacifists often write -- I asked the following question.

When does the failure to use force, when force is the only means capable of stopping a grave evil (i.e., genocide), become complicity in that evil?

I was sincerely looking for a reasoned response. None of the pacifists replied.

Now it's possible that my question was just overlooked.

But ... I wonder.

At any rate, until someone can convincingly answer that question.
I will remain ... unconvinced.

john (the less)


Your question is carefully and appropriately worded, John.

It does not surprise me that you did not receive a reasoned response. Most blogs, I'm afraid, like the people who write them, are mostly about rallying the troops to whatever positions they already hold on issues dear to their gut or to some other body part, the brain excluded.

I prefer to keep this blog a full-bodied one, and also a place of genuine dialogue. Within limits, it's fine with me if you write from your heart, your gut, your brain . . . , well, I'll stop there.

Stephen (aka Q)

Cho was diagnosed with a severe form of an anxiety disorder known as selective mutism in middle school, as well as depression. He received treatment and continued receiving therapy until his junior year of high school. During Cho's last two years at Virginia Tech, several incidences of aberrant behavior, as well as writings submitted by him filled with disturbing references to violence, caused concerns among teachers and classmates.

This makes Cho a perfect example of Hauerwas's point, "… that Christians should be concerned with the wider questions that arise prior to such scenarios taking place." Instead of arguing that it would have been just to kill Cho, how about arguing that someone ought to have intervened to head off this incident before it began?

However: I don't fundamentally disagree with your thesis, John. If the only way to stop Cho, after the killing started, was to kill him; and if I was in a position to kill him; I believe I would do it to prevent other, innocent people from dying violently and senselessly.

Nonetheless, your argument is fundamentally flawed in exactly the same way as the pro-torture argument is fundamentally flawed:

(a) You reason in the abstract, from limit-case scenarios in which violence arguably is justified.

(b) But President Bush and others of his ilk will leverage your theoretical support for war to justify military action in real-world situations where the moral boundaries are much murkier.

In the case of torture, the limit-case scenario involves the "ticking time bomb", envisioned as nuclear, meaning that hundreds of thousands of innocent lives are at stake. In that situation, torture looks perfectly reasonable.

In reality, the USA has tortured suspected terrorists in the absence of any such ticking time bomb; and reportedly, tens of thousands of those tortured suspects were, in fact, innocent.

Thus, in your abstract reasoning, you unwittingly lend your support to a great evil committed by your government.

The same thing applies to war. Just war _theory_ works fine in the _abstract_, and in limit-cases like W.W.II. But what you're abetting _in practice_ are ill-advised military adventures like the one in Iraq.

Christians should refuse to play ball with the political hawks. We should make the case for peace and let others, with blood-stained hands, make the argument for war.

Stephen (aka Q)

One might also take issue with the Psalm you've quoted:

"My shield, in whom I take shelter,
who makes peoples my subjects."

Is that a Jewish ideal or a Christian one? Is America a Christian nation, with a mission to reduce the pagan nations to vassalage?

The point is, we can't adopt these Old Testament texts — not unless you're prepared to go the whole way to argue that America is God's chosen nation and America should be a theocracy with the Penteteuch for its law code.


Thanks for your lucid comments, Stephen.

I can't follow you, however, in thinking that a soft pacifist position, in a world full of contradictions, is clearly the best way to go. Historically speaking, soft pacifism has a lousy track record. Historians suggest that it cost the US and its allies, by delaying preparations for and involvement in WWII, millions of lives. By the way, the soft pacifists ("give peace a chance" was their slogan) during the adventure in Yugoslavia, were Republicans, with Dems being the warmongers. But I think Clinton and Holbrooke did the right thing, including bombing the Chinese embassy. Now if you wish to tell me you are against blank-check American commitments in dozens of places around the globe, and that in a situation like present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, we should let the "natives" fend for themselves - I remember a Republican campaigning on that platform before 9/11, and getting elected.

But I don't see anyone except Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich campaigning on a similar platform today.

I point these things out because you make it sound as if there are good guys - the Democrats, and bad guys - the Republicans. Surely you know better.

I think the example of the Iraq war is a good one to continue reflecting on. Many on the right and the left judge this war, a continuation, really, of an earlier one, as a misguided adventure. But a hardy minority on both the right and left have defended it. People as different as Kanan Makiya, Elie Wiesel, John McCain, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Berman, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Tony Blair.

Obviously the war is unpopular among Sunni Muslims: the oppression of the Shia majority and the Kurdish minority in Iraq and elsewhere was and is a non-problem for them.

The war in Iraq was poorly executed, as most wars are. It was supposed to be the undoing of American power in the world, something many on the right and left wish for - but be careful what you wish for.

Afghanistan and Irag have not been the undoing of American power, even though the occupation and the associated costs may eventually exceed those of the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan. It is important to try to understand why.

There is one thing that stops me from writing off the liquidation of the Baathist regime, and the birth, amidst blood and filth, of a new Iraq, as nothing more than unmitigated evil. That's because the new Iraq, an outcome of the war, is also an answer to the prayers of millions of Shia and Kurds. Of course the Shia would have wished that the Mahdi in person had liberated them. Instead they have to settle for Bush, who does not even do a good imitation of Cyrus who is called a messiah in Second Isaiah.

But history tends to be like that.

Stephen (aka Q)

Just because I criticize President Bush and his Administration, does not mean that I think the Democrats are a better fit for the Christian conscience.

In my view, Christians ought to be consistently pro-life: against abortion, supporting the responsible use of birth control (because not using birth control leads to a higher rate of abortion), opposing war and torture, combatting HIV/AIDS, etc. Neither political party lines up with the issues as I've just laid them out.

My argument is that the state is not a Christian institution and Christians ought not to be cozy with it. Politicians act out of political, not religious motives. This is clear not only from contemporary experience: it is the same conclusion the Deuteronomistic Historian came to.

I am arguing for a radical separation of church and state. The state may legitimately bear the sword: the church must stand unequivocally for peace. That's my position; not Republicans=bad, Democrats=good.


Stephen, thanks for the clarification. Your position reminds me of "the seamless garment" position of some Catholics who are consistently pro-life and in consistent opposition to war and torture.

The difficulty I see with the "radical separation of church and state" thesis is that it leaves the Christian in politics, in the military, law enforcement, etc., rudderless.

Now it's possible to interpret separation of church and state in institutional terms, such that they are fiscally independent entities, with no one in the state appointing someone in the church or viceversa, and at the same time, allow church and state to collaborate in sectors of joint concern. That's a good liberal democratic model.

But you seem to want to go further and have the church stand for something, indeed, always the same something, overe against the state. As if the church is to understand itself as the conscience of the state as it goes to war and threatens and inflicts harm and death on those that resist its demands.

Color me unimpressed. I would rather participate in, not as the member of a church, but as the member of a movement that is transversal, with Christian, Jewish, and non-religious motivations, the application of pressure on elected officials such that troops are committed against a regime like that of Darfur (i.e., an act of war) when it is committing genocide. In other words, I would rather stand for war in some instances, than feebly hold up a banner of peace as the world marches merrily off to war in the wake of a 9/11.

Truman 1

This Psalm is very powerful in its views of the wicked and it is closely related to many different events in history. There are many times that people have had the chance to help those that are in need and do not act in order to increase their own power. Joseph Stalin is an example of an individual that had the chance to help his people and instead starved them to increase his power. In the bible there have been many violent acts that take place as well and Jesus always said that to retaliate in violence was wrong. He was always in favor of keeping peace which was very wise and at that time many of the people still did not follow his word.


Hi Truman 1,

So, if "Jesus always said that to retaliate in violence is wrong," can one be a soldier or law enforcement officer and a follower of Jesus?

Some jobs require under specific circumstances the use of violence to to stop violence. The Amish and the Mennonites believe that a Christian cannot hold such jobs. What is your position, and how do you justify it?

Nathan Smith

Just found this interesting:
"Let’s face it: for the foreseeable future, coalitions of the willing, not the UN, will face down would-be and actual aggressors if at all."

Well, the foreseeable future has arrived. ;-) Not that the Libya situation is the best example by any stretch of the imagination.


Hi Nathan,

If I'm not mistaken, the French intervention in the Ivory Coast was UN-condoned as was the multilateral intervention in Libya.

Both are examples of the fact that military intervention by the "great powers" is back in fashion.

Pulp Fiction 3


In response to your question to Truman 1 saying "Can one be a soldier or law enforcement officer and a follower of Jesus?" I believe that one can. Even though it seems that Jesus is against retaliation I believe there are situations and circumstances in which Jesus is in agreement with some retaliation. For example, if a person is a police officer, part of his job is to stop crime amongst people. In order to be successful in doing so the police officer is going to have to use violence in some situations. I believe that God is aware of that fact and it is alright. So I believe that a soldier or a law enforcement officer can be a follower of Jesus and can still fulfill their duties.

Nell 1

Even if the use of war is commanded in the Bible, I do not feel that is it the first action that should be initiated upon conflict. There may be people in the world who deserve to be punished severely but war and death are not always the first thing that should occur. Rushing into war is not the most important thing. I understand that the Bible wants those who have done wrong to suffer the consequences but what about those who repent? If one is to do horrible actions and yet repents and is truly sorry, are they still supposed to receive such horrible punishment? God forgives people and therefore one would hope that such punishment could be spared. I also agree 100% with Pulp Fiction 3. I do feel that a soldier or law enforcement officer can be a follower of Jesus. They did a good job giving an example of the police officer who is fulfilling their duties but still a follower of Jesus. God knows that certain positions, such that of the police officer, are needed to keep peace and limit the amounts of violence in society. I guess it just seems that people always take the most extreme measures of punishment than step back and look at other possibilities.

Nell 4


For your question that you asked Truman 1 "Can one be a soldier or law enforcement officer and a follower of Jesus?" I would have to completely agree with Pulp Fiction 3. As for being a veteran I would only hope so. I think God knew as the world would prosper and years were going to go on, he knew police officers and soldiers were going to be in this world to serve and protect our country. I think God knows that certain job positions such as these are needed to keep the peace and try to limit the violence as much as possible. Or else, this world would have ended a long time ago in chaos.


Most countries have unresolved issues rooting from their religious believes. I believe a lot of the time this is overseen due to a lot of the political and economical differences that are conflicted also.
One question I have is - is one held subject to sin when they do not know any better, when they have not been taught differently? For example,If a child grows up in a communist country, and has never known any better.Does god hold these people accountable to sin? and should we as specific religion followers consider these people "wicked" or "sinners?" take into consideration the limited resources that one has in a communist country to learn and broaden their education on a lot of important topics. I think this happens a lot in democracies and free liberal countries as well. We are taught from are parents most of the time to believe in certain religions, should we be held accountable for following our parent guidance. the 5th commandment is honor your father and mother! just curious if someone could answer my questions thanks a lot!

Nell 6

This Psalm is very powerful it relates to all of the wars we have faced in our nation’s history. When people are facing struggles in their lives and other people see this we do not always come to the rescue and help them out. There are people out there they inflict pain on other people just to feel more powerful themselves. In you discussion with Truman 1 you ask if a person can be a soldier or a policeman and a follower of Jesus I think that they can. Those people are the ones that are protecting our country against people who only want to do bad things to us and gain power for themselves. They are also not just killing people because they want to they are doing it to protect us from harm and things that could be worse.

Lior 4

I do agree that there is a huge difference in using violence to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Doing violence for the sake of doing violence, or doing violence to gain power should never be done. Even in the case of protecting the weak violence should only be used when all other methods have been tried.

Truman Show 2

I agree that we should not rush into war at every opportunity. I also agree that we do need to crush the wicked. I believe that as a Christian we are at war against the Devil every day, and we need to crush the wicked to stop the spread of the wicked. I really like the use Isaiah 58: 6-7 telling us how to get away from wickedness by letting the oppressed go free, feeding the hungry, letting the poor into your house, and clothe the naked. I also agree that we should try to crush the wicked in a way were we don’t actually crush them, but this way does not work all of the time and we have to use force to crush the wicked.

Pulp Fiction 4

I found the idea of “frightening scenarios”, and the discussion of pre-emptive violence that followed, very interesting. I just can’t get behind the use of such violence. Take the example of Seung-Hui Cho. There’s no way I could have justified killing Cho because he seemed like someone that would shoot a bunch of people, and the current justice system in the U.S. wouldn’t have bought that argument either. It’s better to let the unrighteous start the chain of violence than to incite it yourself based on a hunch or some possibly flawed information.

Chariots of Fire 4

In response to the previously asked question to Truman 1 I believe that God understands and accepts the use of violence. If he didn't support it then why would there be so many instances in the bible of him supporting nations in battle to overthrow other nations doing wrong doing, one very strong example of this would be Deuteronomy 20 " When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots, an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you" I interpret this as God supports you in times of war. Then latter in Deuteronomy it states " When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all it's males to the sword." I interpret this as God supporting killing for the better good. This would mean you can be a christian and a police officer or soldier and nothing would be wrong about it.

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    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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