Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Non-Pacifists Need To Stop Calling Themselves Christian?

I was originally writing this as a comment on Kyle Cupp's post "Auding Christianity" at Journey's In Alternity, in which he discusses a post by Andrew Hackman of Hackman's Musings entitled "Bill Maher Needs to Preach at YOUR Church This Sunday". However, a couple days passed due to "the press of business" (to use Scrooge's term) and when I got around to starting to write the comment it was running long, so here it is as a post.

To set the stage, Hackman quotes approvingly a Bill Maher rant in which Maher claims that Christians who share his (Maher's) excitement over Osama Bin Laden's death should stop calling themselves Christians:
New rule: if you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.
...
For almost 2,000 years, Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor” and how “turn the other cheek” can mean “screw you I’m buying space lasers.”

Martin Luther King gets to call himself a Christian because he actually practiced loving his enemies.

And Gandhi was so fucking Christian he was Hindu.

But if you rejoice in revenge, torture and war – hey, that’s why they call it the weekend – you cannot say you’re a follower of the guy who explicitly said, “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you.” The next line isn’t “and if that doesn’t work, send a titanium fanged dog to rip his nuts off.”
...
Christians, I know, I’m sorry, I know you hate this and you want to square this circle, but you can’t.

I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing.

You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans.

And if you believe the Earth was given to you to kick ass on while gloating, you’re not really a Christian – you’re a Texan.
Hackman agrees and asserts:
Let's face it, pretty much everyone outside of Christian circles thinks Christians are ass-hats. I think most Christians are ass-hats, and I am one of them (sort-of, kind-of, maybe). Why is that? I think it is because of what Bill hits on here. If we lived these core teachings, we would really be Christian. However, we have turned Christianity into a club where I am in and you are out. Instead of spreading Jesus' teachings - that the Kingdom of God means you love your enemy and bless those who curse you - we encourage people to join our church or get them to do an "accept Jesus" prayer. Then, with our blessed assurance in tow, we go on to live just as self-absorbed as our darkest corners dictate.
Kyle gives some qualified agreement and says:
Let’s face it, if the ethos of Jesus Christ doesn’t apply in the real world, with all its nuances and morally messy difficulties, then it’s bubcus. If it doesn’t apply when Christians are faced with the annihilation of their families or their country, then it’s a crap system. An ethos is only worth something if it applies in the worse situations imaginable.

Maher is more or less right when he says, “…nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark. Kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales. There’s interpreting, and then there’s just ignoring. It’s just ignoring if you’re for torture – as are more evangelical Christians than any other religion. You’re supposed to look at that figure of Christ on the cross and think, ‘How could a man suffer like that and forgive?’ Not, ‘Romans are pussies, he still has his eyes.’” You can’t say you’re a follower of Jesus when you rejoice in revenge, torture, and war.

If Christians respond to their enemies the same way that others do, then there’s something really big missing in the practice of their religion.
Several points in response.

- On the main point of whether Maher has brought up an important insight on Christianity and Christians, here: I think that Hackman and you err a bit in seeing Maher as making a valuable contribution here, perhaps misled by the fact that he's ostensibly making a provacative point about an issue which you feel strongly about and are frustrated that more Christians are not more activist about.

Hackman says:
Let’s face it, pretty much everyone outside of Christian circles thinks Christians are ass-hats. I think most Christians are ass-hats, and I am one of them (sort-of, kind-of, maybe). Why is that? I think it is because of what Bill hits on here. If we lived these core teachings, we would really be Christian.
At the risk of sounding mealy-mouthed here, I think part of why Hackman finds Maher's typically angry rant appealing is that Hackman has allowed himself to fall into, like Maher, thinking that most Christians are asshats.

Now, as Maher says, this is fine if you're a non-Christian and you think it's just fine to hate a large portion of the world's population, but it's problematic if you're a Christian. Hackman is angry that Christians do not, by his reading, love their enemies. His response, however, is apparently to decide that Christians are people that he can hate. As Foghorn Leghorn would say, "That just don't add up." You can't revel in hating Christians because you think that they in turn hate other people too much. At least, not if your claim is that you are Christian and that Christians are supposed to be marked by their lack of hatred for others.

- Once we leave aside the "asshats" complaint, which basically boils down to Hackman saying that he doesn't like most Christians, how much validity is there to this argument that most Christians who aren't pacifists need to come up with another name for themselves?

First off, I think we could agree that this is a highly unattractive way for a Christian to try to make a point. Christ made even stronger points about a number of other moral issues, but I don't think that Kyle or Hackman would necessarily be as quick to endorse some far right wing commentator who said, "So let's just be clear: if you're a Christian, and you're divorced, you need to find some other name to call yourself. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing."

Or even a poverty advocate who said, "So let's just be clear: if you're a Christian, and you haven't sold all your possessions -- all of them! -- and given them to the poor, you need to find some other name to call yourself. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing."

These are bad ways of making an allegedly Christian point because they don't exude love for the other, they do not echo the beatitudes, they exude scorn and derision. There's more of the Pharisee in this approach then there is of Jesus.

This isn't to say that Jesus' sermons were all about fuzzy animals, flowers and rainbows -- but at a basic level, scorn doesn't convey love, and rage doesn't convey pacifism.

- Alright, so leaving aside the idea of some Christians finding another name for themselves, is there a core nugget of truth here?

Yes and no.

On the one hand, Maher has (in his effort to make the case that Christians should abandon Christianity because they were never Christian anyway) successfully come up with some examples of hatred and vindictiveness so extreme that he's right. If you look at a crucifix and think, "Romans are pussies, he still has his eyes," then there is indeed a good case that you're not working within a Christian frame of reference.

If you would much rather that terrorists on the far side of the world be torn apart by attack dogs than that they have a conversion of heart and stop being terrorists, then you are putting violence and revenge above Christian forgiveness.

And if Christians really are thinking that way, then they need to reexamine their feelings based on the teachings that they take the name of.

That said, in the second half of Kyle's post, he seems to want to make the case that the tension which Maher's rant points to is that any idea of just war or violence on the part of Christians is necessarily in conflict with the beatitudes and with Christianity. Now, Maher might agree with this, especially as his entire point is that Christianity itself is irrational and not even lived out by its adherants. Further, Maher is engaging, from the outside, in what many people think that Christianity consists of: Reading the bible in a vacuum and then announcing that Christianity is whatever your first impression of what Jesus was "all about" suggests. Thus Maher's conclusion that Christians must not merely renounce hatred and revenge (which they clearly musted) but that they just endorse total non-violence.

However, we as Catholics do not approach the bible in this contextless fashion. We come to it through the Traditions and doctrines of the Church as developed by the Church Fathers and by saints and theologians down to the present day. And looked at this way, just war and self defense (when properly understood) are not cases of people 'lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor”', they are what Christ's Church teaches.

15 comments:

Mary said...

I'm not a Maher fan in the slightest, but dontcha think "And if you believe the Earth was given to you to kick ass on while gloating, you’re not really a Christian – you’re a Texan." was a tad bit funny? (My bro-in-law is Texan).

Foxfier said...

Let's face it, pretty much everyone outside of Christian circles thinks Christians are ass-hats. I think most Christians are ass-hats, and I am one of them (sort-of, kind-of, maybe). Why is that?

Because you're both ass-hats suffering from projection. Duh.

(I've been told I should strive to answer questions in the spirit they were offered.)

Kyle R. Cupp said...

For the record, I do not ask that non-pacifist Christians cease calling themselves followers of Christ and find a new name for themselves. I may have given the impression to the contrary. I maintain that violence is not a Christian response to evil and that to engage in it is to act in a way that bypasses, if not always runs counter, to the law of love proclaimed by Christ. A Christian may engage in violence or war without moral fault, but doing so is not a Christian act, so to speak. To respond to evil with violence may be a sensible and justified act, but it is an act of one of the world, not one of the Kingdom of God; a worldly act, not a holy act, though holiness may accompany violence. There are worse ways of being than being worldly, being of the world; but there are also greater ways, ways that take us beyond sorrowful human affairs to a glorious participation in the divine.

Darwin said...

A Christian may engage in violence or war without moral fault, but doing so is not a Christian act, so to speak. To respond to evil with violence may be a sensible and justified act, but it is an act of one of the world, not one of the Kingdom of God; a worldly act, not a holy act, though holiness may accompany violence.

I'll admit that there's something a bit appealing, as an old fashioned kind of guy, about your formulation here of violence at times being sensible or justified, but being an act of this world not of the Kingdom of God.

This is, after all, a lot of the thinking that went into the idea that the lay vocation "in this world" is inherently inferior to the religious vocation of vowed celibacy, poverty and non-violence. The whole point of those who devoted themselves entirely to God making such vows was that they were making themselves "not of this world" and instead devoting themselves entirely to the next.

"My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants (would) be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here."

It follows, in a sense, that it is only when devoting oneself to the kingdoms of this world that one fights, while those who put their trust in the world to come do not. Just as those who put their trust in the world to come do not marry, as "At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven." And those who are living for the next world live in total poverty, as they are storing up treasures in heaven rather than in this life.

So yes, there's certainly a tradition of this in the Church, and being a backwards leaning kind of fellow, I certainly don't reject it.

That said, one of the areas in which the Church has clearly come to a more full and balanced understanding of Christ's teaching in the last 1000 years is in understanding that the ways of this world and the ways of the next need not be seen as totally divorced and at war with each other.

While living in this world has its inherent temptations, it can in fact be a means of sanctification. God created the world, and while as fallen creatures we are always tempted to live for the world rather than for God, putting it in His place, the world is itself good, and we are creatures created in this world, not trapped in this world and waiting for the next.

As such, the fact that marriage, commerce, state authority, self defense and even just war are things of this world and necessitated by the nature of this world (which is less than perfect) does not mean that they are somehow set aside from or opposed to Christianity or the Kingdom.

So yes -- violence in just and needful cause is something of this world, and I'm Dantean enough to believe that those of us who (like you and I) devote outselves to this world and live in it with jobs and families and computers and such are putting outselves in the way of the Valley of the Preoccuptied in Purgatory, and the lower spheres of the Heavens. And yet I would certainly not say that this means that we can, as people following a vocation in this world, then abandon our responsibilities which we have assumed in this world on the theory that we can somehow have it both ways. Having chosen to live out a lay vocation, we must seek sanctification through that worldly vocation -- not insist that everyone pursue the trendy parts of a religious vocation while living in the world.

donumvitae said...

Whoa....

Maher (and Kyle) is engaging in a rather interesting conflation here. It is very true that violence may never be sought as an end in itself. That does not imply that violence may never be morally licit, or even necessary.

A similar argument can be made regarding the pleasures of marital love. The pleasure may never be sought as an end in itself. Does that mean it is immoral to enjoy marital bliss with one's spouse? Hell, no!

While violence is certainly not a moral good, the safety of one's self and family most assuredly is. As such, it can be a moral obligation to use whatever violence is necessary to protect those persons under your care (spouse and children). It is morally remiss to stand by and "avoid violence" while allowing violence to be done to one's children. The defense of one's family is not only a right, but a solemn duty (see Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2265).

I would agree that anyone who is rejoicing at the thought of Osama rotting in Hell is not behaving as a Christian. I am still very glad that he is no longer a threat. This relief is in no way contrary to the teachings of Christ.

God bless!
Wayne Johnson

Tausign said...

Maher’s rant can best be described as a ‘cunning diatribe’ and the commentators who get caught in its wake are seduced by its deceit. This tactic is as ‘old-school’ as the temptation in the dessert.

The point you made about the manner of criticism as a revelation of its true nature was insightful. To paraphrase your point, the original rant and its echoes ‘…do not exude love but exude scorn instead’. BINGO!

To your question in the post title, I’d like to ask, what is a ‘non-pacifist’? Not to be too cute, but I would conclude that a non-pacifist = a non-nonviolent person =someone who’s violent. At any rate, I personally eschew the label ‘pacifist’. I would argue that the connection between ‘pacifism’ and the gospel (i.e. being a peacemaker) is tenuous at best.

The attributes that are most associated with the gospel are qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the fruits of the Spirit and are the features we should 'judge' in ourselves alone, and not attempt to point out the deficiencies of others. Even if Maher were sincere he would have failed in this last regard.

Gail F said...

Christianity is 2000 years old and has NEVER been composed of pacifists, although of course there have been pacifist Christians. To decide on your own that all Christians ought to be pacifists and then get angry with them for not being so is preposterous silliness. I applaud you for trying to answer it -- I doubt that Maher et al care in the slightest, but some people might benefit.

Andrew said...

"His response, however, is apparently to decide that Christians are people that he can hate."

Greetings all! I don't want to sound like I am splitting hairs, but: 1.)leave a little room for satire, that article was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. 2.) There are expressions of emotion other than love and hate. Exasperation is a fine example. If a Christian pastes a fish onto the back of their bumper and then proceeds to drive as if they own the road, this produces in me a feeling of exasperation. This was an emotion often expressed by Jesus when certain individuals and subgroups among his people used their religion to lord themselves over others. It can, but doesn't have to, lead to hate.

I know Christians overall would have a hard time hearing what Maher said because A.) He is Bill Maher and B.) Most Christians are not going to be able to hear what he said without getting a little defensive. He was poking Christians in the eye... and with their own material.

Still, (and I know I am going to be in the minority here)I think we are in danger of missing the point because we don't like the source and/or delivery.

Andrew said...

""So let's just be clear: if you're a Christian, and you're divorced, you need to find some other name to call yourself. I’m not even judging you,.."

I don't think that is an analogous point... being divorced is an event, but to generally advocate it would be a life perspective. I don't think Christians will always be able to avoid violent situations nor will they always make the most Christ like choice when they find themselves there; but that is a different position from having an attitude of, or advocating violence.

Darwin said...

Andrew,

Thanks for coming by and for your irenic response.

I wouldn't claim to have written my post tongue and cheek, but FWIW I don't think I would have responded to it if I'd read it myself, I was mostly drawn into discussing it because Kyle wrote a post which used it as a jumping-off point, and Kyle and I have a long running (though friendly) argument going about the question of just war versus pacifism in Catholic teaching.

I guess as a second influence, I actually spend a fair amount of time hanging out with New Atheist types, since I am something of an evolution fan, and so when I run into Maher's stuff I tend to immediately think, "Yeah, I know where you're coming from."

That said, a couple points:

- I certainly agree that one is at times exasperated at other Christians -- the fish bumper sticker and obnoxious driving being a key example. I guess I'd tend to think of a phrase like "Most Christians are asshats," as being more a statement of general prejudice thatn occasional individual exasperation, but I certainly understand that people use that kind of phrasing with different degrees of weight and I may have simply taken it wrong.

- One of my issues with the idea that Maher has a basically important point is that it seems to me that he simplifies the Christian understanding of love of enemy and of just war or violence to such an extent that he ends up getting it completely wrong -- in much the way that many other New Atheists simplify issues of scriptural interpretation to the point of not even understanding what they're trying to disprove. Layered on top of this is the fact that I'm talking as a Catholic, and so from my point of view someone who basically comes at the bible cold, does a quick read of the beatitudes, and pronounces on what the Christian doctrine relating to self defense and such is is in a significantly less authoritative position than the one who reads what people like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas had to say on the issue. I don't consider them to be simplyer "lawyering up" the issue, but rather more thoroughly explicating Christ's teaching.

- Drawing from that, in short, I don't think one can simply go from the doctrine that we must love our enemies and not respond to every wrong with revenge to the conclusion that self defense (whether at the personal or state level) is never moral when conducted via violence.

- On the divorce example -- being divorced isn't simply a situation, it's a situation one gets into via a number of actions, some being actions one has a part in and others being actions one has very little control over. On the other hand, being at war is much the same way. (How much at fault was Poland in 1939 for being at war with both Germany and Russia?) It also bears pointing out because Christ arguably condemned divorce and remarriage more times than he did violence. That may not be the image that Maher fans have of Christ, since they tend to assume that Christ was basically just a nice, hippy kind of guy with a bunch of really annoying modern followers, but it is actually what's in the gospels. (This isn't to say that one should thus be an asshat to people who are divorced, but rather to point out that there's a lot of stuff one can throw around ignorantly about Christianity if one is a comedian with airtime to fill, and that doesn't necessarily make any of those interpretations particularly valuable.)

Andrew said...

Thanks Darwin, I appreciate your thoughtful response.

On the divorce point, Maher made reference to Christians who "rejoice in revenge, torture and war" and I think that was the fulcrum of his address throughout. I think there is a distinction there, as there would be between a Christian who is divorced, and a Christian who is pro-divorce.

You mentioned prejudice and I probably have to confess to some of that. I was raised in conservative evangelical circles, and those are still the primary waters in which I swim.... so, when I hear "Christian" that tends to be my default image. I would guess that tends to Maher's image too because he references evangelicals being more pro-torture than any other religion. I have found that image to be fairly consistent; over the years I have never known anyone more hawkish than my evangelical Christian friends. To them, enemy-love is something Jesus did... like walking on water... and like walking on water, they do not consider it a realistic possibility.

BTW. Since I was raised conservative evangelical... you can imagine what I was taught to think about Catholics. However, there are a number of Catholic authors (amongst others) who have helped keep me in the Christian orbit as I hit escape velocity with my Evangelical Christian faith - St. Francis, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa,etc. The fact that I read and quote these authors gives my poor mother endless heartburn. :)

Darwin said...

On the divorce point, Maher made reference to Christians who "rejoice in revenge, torture and war" and I think that was the fulcrum of his address throughout. I think there is a distinction there, as there would be between a Christian who is divorced, and a Christian who is pro-divorce.

And at that level, I don't have any disagreement. My impression -- and perhaps I was overreacting -- was that Maher was using "rejoice in revenge, torture and war" as a prejudicial form of "not committed to non-violence in all situations even self defense and just war". But that was in great part because of how the tertiary discussion was going.

I'd agree that Christianity is incompatible with "rejoicing" in violence, revenge, torture, etc. My beef is with the attempt which sometimes follows to equivicate those with any use of force at all for any reason.

I was raised in conservative evangelical circles, and those are still the primary waters in which I swim.... so, when I hear "Christian" that tends to be my default image. I would guess that tends to Maher's image too...

That seems to be the case with a not of New Atheist types one runs into on Science Blogs as well -- I think in part because the Evangelical approach to scriptural analysis is basic enough that it's easier to understand (or at least mock) for the untutored outsider.

Since I was raised conservative evangelical... you can imagine what I was taught to think about Catholics. However, there are a number of Catholic authors (amongst others) who have helped keep me in the Christian orbit as I hit escape velocity with my Evangelical Christian faith

Glad to hear you've been engaging in some good theological slumming. :-) As a bibliophile, I must admit to being rather proud of the Catholic literary and theological tradition.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Andrew,

Somewhat tangentially to the main point of the post, you might be interested in reading some of Stanley Hauerwas' work. He's the leading Christian pacifist thinker these days. He was on the editorial board of First Things, and resigned over the late Fr. Neuhaus' editorial policy of enthusiastic support for the Iraq War.

CMinor said...

In hopes of shedding a little light:
I originally came across this item courtesy of a young friend, who submitted it under the comment "If you celebrated OBL's death, you're not a Christian."

I responded to him thusly:
"Well,...duh. Or you're a flawed one in need of repentance and forgiveness. Just like the rest of us."

I think a couple of points need to be reiterated:

1. Not everybody who romped around Lafayette Park and Manhattan shouting "USA!" was a practicing, or even a baptized, Christian. Possibly few were; in any case I doubt any demographers were on the scene collecting religious data. I think Mr. Maher may have made the common error of equating "resident of the United States" with "Christian" in presenting his case. It makes for a handy "twofer" in a straw man, but it's not very accurate or--if he is aware of what he's doing--honest.

2. A Christian is defined as one who holds certain beliefs about Jesus Christ. Falling short in living some of Christ's teachings doesn't make you a non-Christian, it makes you a Christian who has fallen short. (Catechism 101, Bill.) Some Christians, for various reasons, fell short in resisting the temptation to dance on OBL's grave. That fact doesn't equal a material alteration in their basic beliefs, it just demonstrates that which all Christians know--that we are sinful, and need God's forgiveness and grace. Those of us who didn't indulge in the collective chest-thumping are (hopefully) aware enough of the places where we ourselves fall short to not be too quick with the tar, feathers, and rail.

Aside to Tausign: I often find temptation in the dessert. Sorry, couldn't resist.;-)

Tony said...

Andrew said: I don't think Christians will always be able to avoid violent situations nor will they always make the most Christ like choice when they find themselves there; but that is a different position from having an attitude of, or advocating violence.

This is exactly what I was thinking. If someone invades my home with the intent on doing me and my family harm. I will do the following in the following order:

1. Gather up all my family and run away, leaving my posessions.

If I cannot run, I will:

2. Stand and try and persuade the criminal to leave my home without either of us having to resort to violence.

If he will not listen and pursues his course of action I will:

3. Shoot him twice in the chest and evaluate whether that has stopped him. if not, I will then:

4. Shoot him in the head.

If he is neutralized, I will call an ambulance, the police, and a priest to hopefully give him last rites. I want his soul to be happy with God in heaven, but God has given me the task of protecting my family. That is a task I take seriously.