Saturday, September 25, 2010
Christianity and Violence
Here's a question: is non-violence a moral imperative for Christians? By violence, for the purposes of this inquiry, I mean the use of destructive force, not merely rough treatment.
I take it as a premiss that the Christian will admit, in light of the revelation of God in Christ Crucified, that each human being is granted an infinite value, in light of which the deliberate destruction of human life is, under any circumstances, to be avoided as of all crimes the most heinous.
Yet I believe the answer to our question must be no. First of all, no one can deprive a person of the right to defend his own life, or the life of another, when it is under immediate attack. If there are any natural rights at all, the right to life must be the most fundamental. As for the aggressor's right, he himself has imperiled it for the moment by willfully placing life in jeopardy. This does not mean that a Christian may not choose to insist upon his right. But this raises another question. What is the Christian's duty with regard to protecting the life of another, particularly if that other is less capable of self-defense?
Much here will depend upon the intent of the other. If such a person has a clear, stated intention to become a voluntary victim of violence as part of a strategy of combatting injustice, then one would be absolved of the duty of forceful intervention. I cannot escape the conviction however, that one would be duty bound in any other case to intervene, with force if necessary. Otherwise one would become an accessory in the act of the aggressor, and through cowardice, his moral equivalent. This is particularly true when the target of violence is a child or any other person who, by reason of immaturity or helplessness, is ill-equipped to make a choice for self-sacrifice.
Once we admit so much, we are compelled also to admit that participation in a defensive war would not be a violation of moral principle. My view here is that while nothing that is in accord with natural law can be in conflict with Christian practice, yet Christians are called, though not compelled, to follow a higher path, particularly in the case of war, where violence tends always to become indiscriminate and more impenetrable to moral vision. Also, where any alternative to the destruction of human life exists, we are bound to pursue it. Often these alternatives to violence will require more, not less, courage to enact; and all too often we have absolved ourselves of the imperative duty to exercise this courage.
I will be thinking about this more in days to come, but these are my first, sketchy thoughts on the matter.