Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pacifism or Not

So, this guy's bad argument against pacifism irked me, and at least some others, and then there were at least incomplete counters there. Point being, I'd like discussions about theology to be for the sake of reaching some kind of agreement, so can we please, first, give arguments, and, second, ones that are neither stupid, nor offensive?

So, to begin with, if the question is "As Christians, should we be pacifists?" then my first question is "What is this 'pacifism' thing?" I take it that pacifism is the belief that one ought never to intend anyone's death, and a pacifist is one who tries to live according to that belief.

So, first, the original stupid argument (note: ':.' means 'therefore'):
1. Christian pacifism is sometimes based on this verse which commands not murdering.
2. Murdering is different from killing in a legally significant way.
:. 3. This verse does not (on its own) support Christian pacifism.
:. 4. Christian pacifism is wrong...
Right, up until 3., that was fine, but 4. is a fallacy. Compare:
1. If this verse means that, then the other.
2. This verse does not mean that.
:. 3. Not the other.
This is a fallacy, "denying the antecedent." in logical form:
1. If p, then q
2. Not p
:. 3. Not q
Now, if it were 'If q, then p' in the first premise, that would be fine. But for that to be the case in the original would be something like "If Christians should be pacifists, then this verse must, on its own, mean this." Which seems like a stupid claim to make, to me anyway (imagine any other claim that any other verse on its own is supposed to show a belief to be right. If it were just this one verse supporting it, all he'd have to do is say something like "one oughtn't base a belief on a single verse" and he'd be done).

So, great, thank God that's over with. On to the other not-much-of-arguments (not quite so fallacious).

So, working with the argumenty things given by the others in the link above, working top to bottom.


1. We are to be loving.
2. God is love.
3. Jesus is the self-revelation of God.
:. 4. What Jesus did, we should imitate.

So far, so good.

5. Jesus died on a cross without fighting back (Jesus acted as a pacifist in this instance).
:. 6. We ought to always act like pacifists.

Hm... not quite so solid. Pretty good, though, and if you're going to make an argument in a short space, that is about as sound as I would expect. Add in Jesus's comments to Peter about the swords, and you really do have a decent argument. You are going to want to note a shift from physical to spiritual warfare between the Testaments, though, and then read the Revelation of John in a suitably spiritual way, but that, honestly, is not that hard.

I am largely convinced by this, actually. The problem I see, is that it may assume that all reasons people might attack me would be ones where I am limited to kill or be killed and where my death would be on account of my belief in Christ. My love of my neighbor is why I would like to think that I would kill only as a last resort. I suspect that in a good many cases, especially where it is only my life at stake, I would try to incapacitate them or, failing that, let them kill me. So I agree with the priorities there.

The question arises when it is someone for whom my dying is almost certainly not going to affect anything. Christ's death freed us from our sins. His death effected changes in at least some of those watching. If my death was going to be like his in that way, then there is an argument to be made. If not, then I'm not sure the parallel stands. One might argue that I have no way of knowing whether my dying pacifistically will make them question how I could do such a thing, and thus lead them to Christ. True. Again, my best case scenario is for us both to live, and for me to forgive them. Second best, only I die. Third, they die. The pacifist wants third to be more than just I die, but I don't kill the guy attacking me. Really? I don't want to kill any more than anyone else, but should I sacrifice everyone else for the sake of this one? There seems to be some tension here. Should Christ spiritually killing the enemy for the sake of his bride be mirrored by physical fighting against those who would kill our families? Is there something wrong with this other-preservation instinct which I have, such that I would kill to save others? I agree that it is the worse end, and that one should mourn having to take that action, yet I suspect that I still would if it came to that.

Right, on to the next one: King.

Erm... actually, this isn't that great an argument so far as I can tell.
1. The Sermon on the Mount increases the requirement from do not kill to go reconcile with the other.
2. Pacifism is not non-resistance, but a way of resisting.
:. 3. No killing ever.

Okay... funny, I read that and thought "so... why pacifism again?" Apparently loving another requires never for any reason killing them (I should note that King is ignoring the kill/murder distinction which, while not conclusive, I do think is relevant). Well, I'll agree that it makes it a horrible thing to have to do, but I do not see why it makes it something one may never do. Again, there can be a conflict between this one's life and the life of another who I also love. If I can save the others, even if it means I must kill this one, should I? If it were only my life at stake, I would give it up to save my attacker, but if my giving up of my life means others lose their lives against their will... then I will feel guilt again. Yes I trust God, and I hope he never requires this decision of me, I trust he will give a third way if that circumstance arises, I hope that my martial arts training allows me to keep from having to kill anyone in such a circumstance, but I will if that is the only option I see open to me. Again, this argument may work fine, but only in certain highly restricted circumstances.

Sprinkle: I don't see an argument here, and I have no idea what he is talking about with Romans 12 and 1 Peter 2-3. He is mostly just saying that pacifists are not pansies, which I wouldn't argue with anyway. So... on to the next. McKnight, who is making pretty much the same point--that pacifism is not inactive. And finally: Wilson-Hartgrove, making the same point.

Okay, Wilson-Hartgrove helps me make sense of the verses Sprinkle referenced. Wilson-Hartgrove talk about not returning evil for evil as if it were synonymous with killing someone trying to kill you, which is question-begging. The verses Sprinkle refers to also talk about how we are not supposed to return evil for evil, so I am guessing that is mostly what he is talking about. So, they are both question-begging (So... they're fallacious too). Yes, we all agree we aren't supposed to return evil for evil, the question is whether killing is always evil, even when done to protect others.

Okay, so, the first two arguments were okay... the other three not so much, apart from the "pacifism is not the same as inactivity," which isn't totally useless. Still, not an argument for pacifism.

Hopefully this post has presented an argument which is neither irrational nor offensive. Hopefully, too, some further progress can be made on this issue. I suggest that the pacifists ought to show why I ought to prefer someone else murdering others to my killing (which is not necessarily murder, or if it is, still needs to be shown to be) the one who would murder.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sketch of a Philosophy of Mind

To be a creature is to be a valuer, i.e., to be one who considers things on an evaluative level.
To be a person at the level on which humans are persons is to be a self-aware valuer, i.e., a valuer whose values exist in a network such that some values exist as a result of a cross-section of values.

A dog, for example, values, but does not have any equivalent to the problem of evil to consider. A dog who existed as a person might have a difficulty in considering whether or not to trust someone who seemed at some times to care for it and at other times not to. For creatures, anything like this problem is played out in living--it acts on a certain answer (trust/don't trust) and that answer may or may not be changed by the results of acting according to it.

A person, on the other hand, is capable of self-reflective evaluation of the evidence, so that the evidence may be considered, whether it points to one answer or the other. This occurs, for instance, in our ability to consider what a person's intent may have been. It also occurs in the case of someone who has encountered evidence that someone is not trustworthy, yet also sees evidence that they have no survivable option but to trust that person, when such a person chooses to trust the person even though they would never do so under normal conditions. A dog might act according to a cost-benefit type analysis, but a person is able to go beyond that to consider some options viable which are not viable at first glance. This lack of ability to consider evidence may account for the remarkable loyalty of tamed animals. (I should note that I am writing based on a layman's understanding of animal psychology)

A person's self-reflective capacity, then, gives rise to the logical side of the person. We begin with some set of values (we value our own good), which must then be ordered in some way or other. This requirement that we order our values, combined with our self-reflective nature, requires us to adopt some standard of coherence for ourselves, i.e., logic.

This forms the basis on which I argue for belief in an external world, other minds, and God, among other things.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Young and Old

There is a survey currently ongoing about whether "Youth Group" is biblical. I have often noted than when one is philosophizing one often asks questions about the original question before answering anything, and I feel the need to do so in this case as well. So, I could ask "what do you mean by 'Youth Group'?" but let me be more specific. Why do you suppose the youth should be separated off from the rest of the church like that? I've been in churches where kids going into college played with kids who could not yet talk, and everywhere in between. Like, College aged, high school aged, middle school aged, elementary school aged, not yet school aged, etc., all hanging out together is possible.

I am not saying that there is no room for a particular age group to be particularly discipled as a unit. I am questioning our motives for doing so. If we are doing so because the other ages would find it boring to sit in a room and talk about some of these things, then I at least hope we mean those younger for whom the issues of that age have not quite become problematic in their lives. Even there, however, there is something to be said for being exposed to problems and possible ways of addressing those problems before one is actually needing to live out a way of addressing those problems. Still, it might make sense to treat some topics for particular groups.

My hesitation is primarily that I would expect that intergenerational groups--or even just multiple ages--would be more helpful to all involved. It would also, probably, be less stressful to whoever would be leading a youth group if that person had the backup of the rest of the grown ups, including that old woman who has actually had to deal with this in her children, and then her children dealing with it in their children, or the old guy who has been married for longer than the average youth group leader has been alive, especially if those old folks are still thinking relatively clearly. Sometimes I wonder whether 30-year-olds leading 15-year-olds is a lot more like the blind leading the blind than a lot more often than we sometimes think.

I am admittedly biased in that I have always preferred the company of my elders to the company of my peers, but that does not seem like a bad bias to have.

Yes, there is a generation gap. However, that might be a symptom, rather than a cause, of our youth group mentality. If the generations actually hung out a bit more, maybe they'd figure each other out a bit more, since their worlds would overlap more. Yes, older people have lived through things we who are young have not, but that is just more reason to hang out around them. In hearing their stories, we can pick up some of what they gained in living through those things.

Respect your elders, let the little children come to Him, be one body. Your differences aren't that great, we all need the same Gospel. Get that first, then we can start thinking about what any given group may need drawn out particularly. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Government and Church

My Socratic "The government can't hurt me" is conflicting with my Socratic interest in virtuous government.

My Pauline "The government can't hurt me" is raising my Pauline concern that the Church be orderly enough that when governments seem chaotic we are a place where the orderliness of God provides comfort and rest.

I am usually quite ready to argue that the government has relatively little power in the big scheme of things, or even the medium one. I am quite ready to say that the governments of the world are really quite small players in the world. Yes, they can stop food flow, and deny basic human rights, which are very bad, but in even a medium scheme of things, these are small affairs. I care about them, because I care about how we should live, and these interfere with feeding the poor, caring for the oppressed, etc., and in that sense governments are important and it is appropriate to be concerned with how they act. However, the government cannot stop the spread of the word of God. Nor can they stop the people of God from being the people of God. In this way, what the government does is tiny compared to what the Church, under the headship of Christ, does.

No one can hurt a Christian. By this I do not mean that we are invincible, nor oblivious to hunger or pain. I mean that those are not harms relevant to a Christian's decisions. They are not deterrents. Death is not something for Christians to fear, nor hunger, nor strife if it is required of God. The Church is where we exist as God's people, remembering how Christ makes us untouchable by the world. We recall how he took the evils of this world on himself. Christ has made us virtuous and thus we need not fear whatever comes--what bad we once deserved, he has already taken. In the Church, Christ is made visible. His love, his righteousness, and, especially relevant when considering unstable governments, his permanence and orderliness. Thus the Church--and each church--should be a place where we find refuge from the chaos of the world in the calm of Christ who saved us out of the world.

We need not fear the passing away of a mere government, nor need we fear its remaining. What we should be doing, however, is be the people of God who, because his kingdom is here in us, show the permanence of the heavenly kingdom. We need not do anything, for Christ has accomplished it. What we ought to do, we will do, if we are in Christ. What we ought to do we will be unable to do unless we know Christ. It is our dependence on Christ, rather than things of this world, which makes the Church stable. The Church is stable because her foundation is stable. If our churches are a part of the universal Church, then they will also exhibit that stability to the world.

We do not need to fear falling behind, nor struggle to keep up with others, for we have already seen the end of the race. If we show who God is by who we are and what our churches are like, then we will draw those who have learned that the world cannot fulfill their desires. If we try to fulfill their worldly desires, we will find ourselves on another foundation, and thus on an insecure foundation, unstable, and unable to bear us through trials of various kinds. If you draw people to church by anything other than who God is, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified, then you will be on another foundation. If you draw them by appealing to their deepest need, their need for a savior from sin and to know God, then you will be building on Christ, and then you can draw all sorts, in all conditions. If you appeal to the things of this world, you will draw the things of this world into the church, but if you appeal to the things which are above, you will likewise draw the things that are above into the Church.

Only Jesus Christ who died to save sinners and draw them to God appeals to the true state of humanity. It is a timelessly sweet Gospel. If we try to draw people in by any other means, it will be obscured at best, and lost at worst. Do we not believe that it is a beautiful Gospel? Then do not preach anything else: this is the antidote to the fear of man, this is the assurance that God cares for us through all our trials, this is the only power which can sustain us through turmoil. Would you reassure people when the government has shut down? Preach the Gospel. When terrorists strike? The Gospel. In all times, in all places, in all ways, preach the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ who payed the debt to set the captives free and to feed our souls with his life! It is not up to us to get people to come, nor to make them listen. Our job is simply to not hold back in preaching--how can we? Do we not know how precious this is? How can we keep from speaking and writing about it? How do our conversations not derail into it? How is it that we do not realize how great our God is and how amazing his grace towards us? So, learn from him how great he is. Then you will see, and then you will not be able to hold back from speaking about the things of God when you get up and when you sit down and when you go to bed and when you are at your table and when you are going out and coming in and eating and drinking and on and on. His love is intoxicating--his grace is beautiful. We will have it oozing out of our pores when we reach heaven and finally realize how awesome it is that God should love us, and how incredible his means of salvation, and how deep our sin from which he was able and willing to save us. Then we will sing without ceasing because we will not be forced to cease by the troubles of this world. Yet even now, let our lives be songs of praise to him who saved us!