Monday, June 16, 2014

CS Lewis Passes on Pacifism (Pt. 1)

Recently I was on reading reviews of Brian Zahnd’s book A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace in order to decide whether to add it to my wishlist. It seemed like an easy-add: An affordable ($10) book by someone like me (an Evangelical Pastor evolving from prioritizing patriotism to prioritizing the kingdom call of peace) with a good ratio of 5-star reviews (average review was 4.5 out of 5). But one reviewer comment caught my attention:

“Zahnd does not engage other prominent Christian voices that deeply disagreed with the accuracy of Christ-based pacifism. Perhaps the best example is CS Lewis's essay "Why I am not a Pacifist" in The Weight of Glory. It is deeply compassionate and rigorously logical while offering a Christ-compatible view on war. I reread it immediately after finishing Zahnd's book, and the comparison leaves A Farewell to Mars (sadly) decimated.”

Interestingly enough, I was in the midst of reading “The Weight of Glory” and had just reached that very essay. As a lover of Lewis’ work, I was very interested to read his argument against pacifism, knowing that it would provide some of the best counter-arguments available to Christians. Over the next who knows how long, I’d like to comment on Lewis’ essay bit by bit. I did add Zahnd’s book to my wish list, but I have no wish to neglect a counter-perspective as thoughtful and cleverly stated as Lewis surely offers (I also doubt Zahnd neglects it… even if this particular book wasn’t the place to address it). 

Today, I’ll struggle just to limit my reaction to the 1st sentence! Lewis’ essay begins with this statement: “The question is whether to serve in the wars at the command of the civil society to which we belong is a wicked action, or an action morally indifferent, or an action morally obligatory.”

There are 3 quick responses I have to this way of phrasing the question. First, we should eliminate ‘morally indifferent’ (I’m sure Lewis agrees!). War includes both violence toward and the death of human beings made in the image of God. Our participation in such is clearly a moral issue. Second, we must insist that the phrase ‘the wars’ is much too broad. Even if Lewis proves persuasive in his non-pacifism… surely that cannot indicate a blanket approval of Christian participation in all wars that an earthly nation may call them toward.  Third, we must question what authority the ‘civil society’ has to ‘command’ Christians. It seems to me that any authority a nation has is derived. A Christian submits to an authority other than Jesus only insofar as Christ has delegated said authority. Ultimately, we don’t ‘belong’ to anyone but Christ. 

With those clarifications in mind, Lewis’ opening question may be re-stated in a number of ways: The question is whether or not Christ has given earthly nations the right to war in general (I think He has). The question is whether or not an earthly nation has the right to war in a particular case (they must be considered case by case). The question is whether or not that particular case should involve the participation of Christ’s people (surely Christians shouldn’t sit on the sidelines during such a serious event as war!). The question is whether or not that participation should mirror that of other citizens of that nation (it is my position that our participation should not mirror the violence/killing of worldly soldiers, but should be participation of a quite different kind!). 

We’ll see if the rest of Lewis’ essay persuades me away from any of these positions.

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