Just War

This tag is associated with 14 posts

Book Review: “Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Trey Palmisano

The question of Bonhoeffer’s views on pacifism and related issues like just war or tyrannicide is one that has been controversial almost since the beginning of Bonhoeffer scholarship. Trey Palmisano argues in Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that such questions are needlessly reductionistic. Instead, Palmisano suggests that instead taking seriously Bonhoeffer’s own claim of consistency means we need to read him in light of how peace and violence might intermix or even be called for in different situations.

After a brief introduction including a timeline of Bonhoeffer’s life, Palmisano begins with a survey of major influences on Bonhoeffer’s thought. Martin Luther’s influence can’t be understated, and Palmisano thankfully notes the distinct impact Luther had on Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor. Specifically, Luther’s impact on Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology as well as the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms are highlighted here. Regarding the latter, Palmisano reflects more nuance than several other writers, noting that Bonhoeffer did not reject Two Kingdoms theology as many have suggested. Instead, Bonhoeffer saw the Nazi attempt to separate public and private life, and the success they had in foisting this false dichotomy on the German Christian church, as a threat to sound doctrine. Instead, Bonhoeffer accepted a separation between church and state while rejecting the Reich’s attempts to subordinate the church, particularly to racial injustice. Other thinkers who influenced Bonhoeffer surveyed are Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Reinhold Seeberg, and Barth.

The next chapter looks at Bonhoeffer’s ethical method. This is Palmisano’s central contribution to Bonhoeffer scholarship and ties into the other chapters. First, he notes that Bonhoeffer faced questions of individuality vs. community; formal and material cause and effect, and a world-church relationship that was fracturing in new and challenging ways with the threat from the Nazis. He surveys other ethical systems, noting where Bonhoeffer may reflect them while also going beyond or against them. For example, regarding deontological ethics, it is clear that Bonhoeffer felt it failed to adequately account for abstraction in ethical questions. More plausible for impacts on Bonhoeffer are situational ethics–something that largely developed after him in philosophical circles–and a kind of utilitarianism. But neither of these captures what Bonhoeffer thought for ethical grounding. After this survey of different views, Palmisano goes over Bonhoeffer’s own ethical development through his early career and into late in his life. Then, Bonhoeffer’s Christology is clearly central to his thought, and this continues throughout his career. Palmisano argues that it is this Christological grounding in ethics that makes it possible to see the individual and other as dual grounds for ethical relationships, with Christ as the central, objective grounds. Thus, Bonhoeffer’s ethic has an objective criterion in Christ while largely being capable of contextual/subjective application of moral norms. Revelation, for Bonhoeffer, in the form of Christ, is to encounter oneself and reshape one’s ethical standards and boundaries (51-52; 53ff). The way this plays out in the real world–something that was particularly concerning to Bonhoeffer–is that “Obedience understood as the dutiful observance of commandments is never simple because too many moving parts exist… obedience… is oriented to a relationship with Christ…” and this relationship with Christ ultimately yields an almost “creative” ethical stance in which questions are approached on an individual basis following the question of who Christ is for us and for the other (64-65).

The third chapter explores Bonhoeffer’s “Quest for Peace” and argues that Bonhoeffer did not “discover” pacifism in New York, but rather had experiences that brought those ideas to the forefront (see, for example, 78ff). Drawing from Discipleship, Palmisano notes that for Bonhoeffer violence has no place in the gospel message (90) while also nuancing it as a contextual ethical response to relationship (91). Bonhoeffer’s own responses to those in military service as well as to questions of war show a more complex response than a perfect pacifism. Thus, Palmisano concludes that Bonhoeffer’s alleged pacifism is instead “bound to a dynamic notion of ethical relationship through which its very expression was subject to change…” Moreover, “Bonhoeffer’s pacifism is situationally diffuse, located at one and the same time in both the sacred and the secular…” (106).

We especially see this contextuality in Bonhoeffer’s response to the question of murder. Palmisano uses this stronger word because Bonhoeffer does not himself put words like tyrannicide in between himself and the question of killing, and one which Bonhoeffer saw as guilt-laden regardless (120, note 36). The question of killing Hitler, then, is able to be located not in an outside perspective of tyrannicide and the ethical justification thereof, but rather within Bonhoeffer’s own strands of thought and ethical method (125ff). Thus, for Bonhoeffer, taking on sin and guilt for the sake of the other is itself capable of being sanctified, or, at least, forgiven through the “deep waters of relationship with Christ” (143).

Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers a bold, refreshing interpretation of Bonhoeffer in regards to the ethics involved in pacifism, just war, and murder/tyrannicide. The greatest strength is that Palmisano is able to offer a cohesive account of Bonhoeffer’s ethics, rather than chopping his thought into distinct and sometimes opposed periods. Moreover, he is able to ground it (thought not explicitly) in the concept of Lutheran thinking and development of those doctrines. He thus offers a compelling, and, to my mind, convincing way of reading Bonhoeffer on pacifism and related questions. Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrannicide: Bonhoeffer’s Church-World Theology and His Changing Forms of Political Thinking and Involvement” by David M. Gides

The question of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s view on subjects related to war: Just War, Pacifism, Tyrranicide, and related issues is one that is hotly contested in Bonhoeffer scholarship. David M. Gides’s Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrranicide: Bonhoeffer’s Church-World Theology and His Changing Forms of Political Thinking and Involvement makes the case that Bonhoeffer did not experience a unity of thought on the subject and instead changed over time. Gides argues that Bonhoeffer ultimately developed a church-world theology that went beyond a conservative Lutheran Two Kingdoms position as well as against a time in his life in which he held to pacifism.

Gides separates Bonhoeffer’s thought on church-world relations into four phases, in contrast with what he says is the majority opinion that separates his thought into three stages. These phases are the church and world in mild tension, the church and world in heightened tension, the church against or apart from the world, and the church as the world. Gides argues that, too often, interpreters of Bonhoeffer’s thought have taken quotes from different parts of his life in order to try to form a cohesive picture, when instead Bonhoeffer’s thought had significant development through these phases (xii-xiii).

In the earliest phase, Bonhoeffer was decidedly not a pacifist and saw violence as potentially being sanctified through certain actions like laying down one’s life for the neighbor or to take up arms to defend the Volk (folk = the nation/people) (112-114). Gides argues this earliest statement and those like it were driven by a conservative or traditional Lutheran understanding of the Two Kingdoms theology which allowed for this lack of engagement with the state by Christians. Heightened tension in the world led Bonhoeffer to back off these early statements. Later in his life, Bonhoeffer felt a drive for ecumenism and pacifism, but this movement included engagement in the world directly. Here we see Bonhoeffer’s three stages of church-state engagement: questioning the state’s actions, providing service to victims of the state, and ultimately seizing the wheel itself from the state (also known as the famous “drive a spoke through the wheel” statement) to direct it away from evil (185). Later, Bonhoeffer makes some extremely strong statements about peace, including a powerful statement about the differences between peace and security. These show that he had moved into a pacifistic view, but his pacifism in this phase of his life, according to Gides, was one that separated the church from the state almost entirely, to the point where the church had to move away from or against the state (220-224; 230ff; see also his discussion of Discipleship in this context). Finally, Gides argues Bonhoeffer developed a church-world theology that allowed for direct action in which the church is the world and tyrannicide is possible. This phase included Bonhoeffer’s own involvement in the Abwehr and in part of a plot to kill Hitler (328-332).

Gides’s work is challenging and well-thought out. He presents serious challenges for several views, especially those that argue that Bonhoeffer remained explicitly pacifist (or that he was pacifistic throughout his life) as well as views that see Bonhoeffer’s thought as entirely cohesive. It does seem clear that Bonhoeffer’s thought developed on these questions, particularly comparing his pacifistic stage (phase 3) to his earliest thoughts on peace and war (phase 1).

There are some challenges to Gides’s theses, as well. One is the challenge offered by a minority of Bonhoeffer scholars that Bonhoeffer was not involved in the plot to kill Hitler at all (eg. in Bonhoeffer the Assassin?). Gides’s work was written before this other work, so it’s difficult to know what his defense would be, but it seems Gides would answer that Bonhoeffer does seem to be clearly involved in this plot, or at least, minimally, in actions that set him against the state in ways that could lead to such plots. That alone would undermine a fully pacifist view. Gides does acknowledge the diversity of pacifistic views (too often, pacifism is seen as a unified thought), and it would be interesting to see a full engagement with his work from the side of a pacifist developing a view from Bonhoeffer’s thought. It does seem to me Bonhoeffer made contributions to pacifistic thought, but that he could not be included in any pacifist position that holds to absolute non-violence.

Another challenge is that of Lutheran Two Kingdoms theology itself. Gides mentions this theology at multiple points in the work, but doesn’t do much legwork to define how he’s using it. Most often, Gides uses it alongside the word “conservative,” making it a narrower referent than the broader notion of Two Kingdoms thinking. Specifically, Gides seems to denote by “Two Kingdoms” the later developed Lutheran position that held to a kind of pseudo separation of church and state that enabled many in Germany to simply look the other way with what the secular authorities were doing, thus excusing or even participating in atrocities. However, such a theory of Two Kingdoms is one that, while “conservative” in the sense of being what seemed to be the traditional view in Germany at the time of Bonhoeffer’s life, does not fully show the breadth of thought on the Two Kingdoms theology of Luther. Indeed, Gides’s view of Bonhoeffer’s final position seems to be one that may actually be more fully in line with Luther’s Two Kingdoms theology than was the “conservative” position of the same during his life (see, for example, DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther). In fact, one could make the argument that we could read Bonhoeffer cohesively within the bounds of Lutheran Two Kingdoms thought. Thus, Gides’s phases would be different interpretations of the Two Kingdoms theology, and the final phase especially may be closest to Luther’s own thinking on the topic. His phases in thought could then be seen to be sliding along the possible interpretations of Two Kingdoms theology. Gides does make the distinction that he is speaking of this “conservative” Two Kingdoms thought, but when he stresses that Bonhoeffer apparently rejected Two Kingdoms thinking, I believe he goes too far, because it seems more accurate to say that Bonhoeffer’s ultimate church-world theology was that of a fully realized Two Kingdoms.

Gides’s Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrranicide is a thoughtful reflection and interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s theology of church-world relations. His unique division of Bonhoeffer’s thought is reason for reflection, while his ultimate thesis will surely spark debate among those interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology. More importantly, he provides a way forward in reading Bonhoeffer’s ultimate theology, though not one that sees it as cohesive throughout his life.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– read more posts I’ve written on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and thought. There are also several Bonoheffer-specific book reviews here.

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Peace Must Be Dared: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call for true, insecure peace

“How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety.” (DBWE 13:308)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words continue to resonate prophetically into our own times. As war seems to loom around every corner, and the potential for armed conflict increases, fear mounts and we turn to our weapons and armies to bring us peace. But Bonhoeffer’s words correct this fleeing to violent means of security, and he challenges us to realize that there is a huge difference between peace and security. Arming ourselves for war does not bring peace but rather confuses the security we feel from our weapons with peace. Bonhoeffer explains:

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. (DBWE 13, 308-309)

Our rush to mistrust the national “other” leads us not to peace but to confusing safety with peace. Peace, as Bonhoeffer says, must be dared. It demands vulnerability and, yes, trust of the other. And though this may seem foolish, we have been told that as we walk with Christ, we will be seen as fools to the world. God makes the supposed wisdom of the world, a wisdom which seeks security and safety, foolishness as we seek peace. Next, Bonhoeffer offers one of the most powerful calls to international peace that has perhaps ever been uttered or written:

Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross. Which of us can say he knows what it might mean for the world if one nation should meet the aggressor, not with weapons in hand, but praying, defenseless, and for that very reason protected by “a bulwark never failing”? (DBWE 309)

These words are worth reading and re-reading and reflecting upon. Think about what Bonhoeffer is saying, particularly in context of his total corpus. He famously wrote that “When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die” (Discipleship). But if that’s Christ’s call; if the way of the cross is a bid to come and die, do we truly, really think that Bonhoeffer is asking us to spiritualize that call to death, that call to the cross? Or is Bonhoeffer truly saying, radically, that the call from Christ is a real call for peace, a call that asks us to set aside our securities and safety and be willing, yes, to lay down our lives for the sake of our neighbor and even our enemy; a bid to come and die to know the peace that surpasses all human understanding?

Yes, it may seem foolish. Yes, it may seem unwise. But a true, radical call to peace as a call from Christ is a call to come and die. It sets aside all securities; it sets aside the fear of the other; and it asks us to truly, radically, follow where the way leads to the cross of Christ.

Peace and Security and the “Other”

Bonhoeffer’s words are relevant to more than war, too. More than once, as I’ve talked about refugee crises around the globe, people questioned me on whether it was safe to have potentially dangerous people around. Now, I vehemently disagree with any notion that the “other” is inherently violent, or that we as Christians should turn away from the passages in Scripture which so clearly state we ought to care for the sojourner in our land and the refugee. But even more, Bonhoeffer’s insight here makes clear that those who live in fear of the “other” and use that as justification for their turning away the sojourner or refugee are living by making security their goal rather than peace. Peace, Bonhoeffer states, is the opposite of security. The appeal to the security of our home forsakes love of neighbor and true, lasting peace in favor of the idolatry of security. In fear, we demand the closing of our homes, our neighborhoods, and our borders to the “other.” In fear, we blasphemously turn aside from the words of God and turn them into spiritualized texts that we use to soothe our consciousness as we watch the least of those among us get thrown into camps; get turned away; get sent to die; starve; die of thirst; and more. Our demands for peace, which we have conflated with security, have turned into a fearful rejection of the peace of God and the way of the cross.

Peace Must Be Dared
(DBWE 309, capitalization mine)

Bonhoeffer’s Context, and Ours

Bonhoeffer spoke these words during an ecumenical conference that sat in recent memory of the Great War and with the seething political forces moving towards the Second World War. He ends his demand for peace at this conference with the question: “Who knows if we shall see each other again another year?” It would be four years until Germany would take over Austria and have parts of Czechoslovakia ceded to Hitler. But Bonhoeffer issued his call for demanding peace, a call that would be ignored, as the German Christian church capitulated to the Nazis. It was a call that some may look back upon and see as naive. But in our own world, in the here and now, what wars can we prevent? What tragedies and miscarriages of justice continue for the sake of our false security-oriented “peace”? What would happen if we answered the fears of the “illegal,” the “refugee,” or the “enemy” with a call for daring peace–by praying and setting ourselves, defenseless, to fight against injustice with the power of God? What if we did dare peace?

SDG.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon demands we hear him today– Bonhoeffer’s prophetic words resonate in more than peace; here, find some analysis of what he said about the poor.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– A collection of my posts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and reviews related to him (scroll down for more).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Robotech: The Macross Saga- Pacifism, Loyalty, and Honor

robotech-macross

Robotech was one of the first anime programs to be released in the United States, in 1985. So I’m a little late to the party to finally be watching it, but I always wanted to when I was little, and my wife got me the series for Christmas a year ago. I was surprised by the depth of some of the worldview-level issues that were addressed in the show alongside a story of aliens vs. humans. Here, I will examine some of these worldview issues from the show from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Pacifism in the Face of Annihilation

One of the characters who shows up later on in the show is Lynn Kyle, is a pacifist. He believes that the army is repugnant, at best, and harbors a deep detestation for military personnel. Yet the story Robotech tells is one in which an alien race is bent on wiping out humanity. Is pacifism a moral choice in the face of annihilation?

I can’t help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I think of situations like this. Staying silent in the face of injustice is itself an act. To stand aside and let others defend oneself while there is a whole people bent on xenocide is itself an ethical decision which seems to have moral implications. I would argue those implications show that such inaction is injustice, and this is a theme found throughout Christian theology from around the time of Augustine.

Loyalty and Honor

Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes demonstrate the attributes of loyalty and honor. Rick is constantly loyal in his friendship to Minmei, as well as his loyalty to the other members of his squadron. Lisa’s honorable commitment to Rick and to her crew on board the starship is also worthy of mentioning. Together, they demonstrate virtue.

Christians have long debated what kind of ethical theory best matches up with reality. Virtue ethics is the kind in which one’s character guides behavior. Here, we can see that Rick and Lisa embody a kind of virtue ethic which can serve as a model for remaining loyal and honorable even amidst temptations.

Domestic Abuse and Leaving the Relationship

Minmei’s relationship with Kyle is clearly verbally abusive. Too often, people are counseled to stay in such abusive relationships whether with the hope of “fixing” the abusive partner or due to some sense of necessity to maintain a relationship. Thankfully, Minmei leaves the abusive relationship, though it ultimately does not end with the happiest outcome, she does get herself out of a poor situation.

Theologically, it should be impermissible to counsel someone to stay in an abusive relationship. I recommend this post on the difficulties with a theology that argues for staying in an abusive relationship.

Cultural Conversion

A powerful theme in Robotech is that of cultural conversion. Minmei’s singing ultimately brings some of the Zentraedi onto the side of the humans (whom they call “micronians”). Although at times simplistic, this portrayal resonates with some pretty deep themes. What is it about music which can resonate with us? How might we engage with culture in ways that are impactful? What can we do through music to present a winsome case for Christ?

Christians have debated how conversion relates to culture and whether conversion means an abandonment of one’s own culture. Richard Twiss, for example, writes about this from the perspective of Native Americans who are followers of Christ. The power of culture to persuade is something that I think we must not lose sight of. Whether it is song, dress, or something else, cultural expressions can often be integrated into Christianity and even made sense of by Christianity. If all truth is from God, as seems to be right to affirm, then Christian engagement with the culture is a powerful tool for conversion and discussion.

Conclusion

What? Did I just write a worldview-level post on an anime? You better believe it. I always say that every story has a worldview (a phrase that I got from Brian Godawa, though I don’t know who coined it). Robotech was no different. I recommend watching the series and seeing what kind of worldview questions you find in it. Or, if nothing else, at least you can enjoy the giant robots.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1”- A Christian Perspective

mockingjay-p1“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is yet another blockbuster hit in the Hunger Games Trilogy. Here, I will reflect on a number of themes found in the movie, drawing out places the film resonates with the Christian worldview. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Social Contract?

The concept of a “social contract” theory of government is put forward by President Snow. At one point, he is speaking out for peace (ironically, while executing several prisoners), and his argument is that the Districts are in a contract with the Capitol, which is to provide “order” and justice.

The scene is deeply ironic–and meant to be. It shows what is inherently wrong in a system which relies upon a contract (in this case, one that a side is forced into) as the basis for morality. Simply having such a contract does not, in and of itself bring about a moral system. Ultimately, people are able to distort meanings of terms and ask things like “what does ‘order’ mean?” and change it to suit their needs. The only sound basis for morality is something which cannot be changed on a semantic issue or on the whims of the masses.

If We Burn, You Burn With Us!

There is such a strong sense of injustice that pervades the film that I think little time has been spent thinking on this phrase that has become somewhat a tagline for the movie: “If we burn, you burn with us!” It’s a kind of “eye for an eye” statement which seems at first to have some sense of retributive justice but perhaps ultimately falls into a kind of self-administered vengeance. However, when one probes more deeply one wonders whether it is a species of a “just war” argument.

Such an argument opens up all kinds of avenues for debate, but I think it ultimately does come down to the question of which is greater injustice: allowing a clearly evil system to continue interminably, or stopping it with the only means that can bring about change. It’s a thorny issue, but one I think Christians should consider thoughtfully.

Slaves Among Us

Finnick Odair, one of the Victors, was sold by President Snow into sex slavery. It’s an extremely uncomfortable issue, but one I am glad the film raised. Snow used the threat of violence against loved ones to force Finnick into this system–a disgusting evil. Unfortunately, the reality of sex slavery, including for children, is an extremely real and pervasive vileness that continues in our present age. The United States has many hot spots for sex slavery, and it continues abroad as well. We must work to end this horrific injustice and bring down the systems of evil that help prop it up.

Conclusion

“Mockingjay Part 1,” like the Hunger Games titles before it, brings up many issues for Christians to consider. I encourage you to see it and discuss it with others. Let me know what you think in the comments! Check out the links below for a number of my previous discussions of other films and books in the series.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Christian Reflection on The Hunger Games Trilogy– I discuss the entire Hunger Games Trilogy, with a number of comments upon the themes and events found therein.

The Hunger Games Movie: A Christian Perspective– I wrote about the movie, “The Hunger Games” and provided some insight into what Christians may take away as talking points from the film.

“Catching Fire”- A Christian Reflection on the Film

The image is from an official movie poster and I claim no rights to it. I use it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Modern Warfare and the Power of God

hwb-tec

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Modern Warfare and the Power of God

I’ve been reading through Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem, a collection of essays about the problem of war in the Bible. One of the essays was by Stephen Chapman and had a number of powerful quotes and ideas sprinkled throughout. I particularly enjoyed one part about modern warfare:

Modernity is arguably no less brutal than the ancient world for conducting a secularized, technologized, indiscriminate form of war that excludes God from the kill zone on principle, thereby seducing the strong into believing that they are masters of their own destiny. Indeed, the biblical witness unblinkingly confronts modernity most sharply right at this point: “Assyria will not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God’ to the work of our hands'” (Hosea 14:3) (66, cited below)

The so-called secularization of war has not somehow cleansed it of evil, but rather made the work of our hands the sole credit and often reason for war. Salvation comes not from others, but we turn to the work of our hands–cruise missiles, drone strikes, and the like–to wage war for resources, land, money, and the like. Has war become more or less justified? Is it somehow sanctified through “secularization”? I think this quote speaks powerfully to these notions. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the book now and I really have enjoyed it. It hasn’t quite been about the topics I expected, but it’s been more challenging and expanding in its vision for that reason.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Stephen Chapman, “Martial Memory, Peaceable Vision: Divine War in the OT” in Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

SDG.

“Lone Survivor” – A Christian reflection on the film

lone-survivor-movieI watched Lone Survivor recently with a friend. I’m a fan of war movies (my favorites being “Patton,” “Midway,” and “Gettysburg”), so I figured i’d probably enjoy this one. I was surprised at points at the depth of the film’s narrative. Here, I will be commenting on the content on the film; not on the true story itself or any side-stories that came off of it. There will, of course, be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows. I will not be summarizing the plot, which may easily be found here.

The Trilemma

Early in the film, the SEALs encounter a situation which brings them to a trilemma: local goat herders compromise their mission security. They are left with three options: they may let the herders go and run for the hills themselves, knowing that a huge number of hostiles will be pursuing them; they may tie the herders up, hoping that they would be found before they died from local predators or cold; or they could terminate the prisoners. The latter two would violate the rules of war, but the soldiers themselves had little chance of surviving with the first option.

Their decision is eventually made after some tense debate; they free the prisoners and flee to try to call for an extract. The SEALs clearly did the right thing in this situation, not purely from a legal perspective but from an ethical perspective as well. The murder of innocents to preserve one’s own safety is not justified. However, the situation also illustrated the intense complexity of the situation of such a war. It also illustrated the very human emotional struggle we would go through in a similar situation: how would you deal with the trilemma? Can you answer it honestly that you would put your own life in extreme peril? Tough questions.

Kill Everything that Moves?

I was a bit worried that the film might serve to portray a simplistic good/bad guy dichotomy in which anyone who looked remotely Arabic was painted as a villain and everyone that moved was to be killed. That was not at all the case. Although it is clear that the Taliban are the “bad guys” in this film, Marcus Luttrell, the “lone survivor,” is ultimately saved by a local who was following Pashtun codes which grant protection for those in need.

There is thus illustrated in the film a greater range of rightness and wrongness than simply good/bad guy. Ancient customs may present a beautiful way to provide succor for someone in need; even a possible enemy. The adherence to strict codes for hospitality is something to which Christians should relate; one need only to read the Bible to discover numerous commands to give relief to the foreigner in the land of Israel or to take care of those in need. The situation in the movie is made interesting because Luttrell was a combatant and it was truly dangerous to those who would take him in to do so.

A Complex Situation

Christians have a wide variety of views when it comes to war. There are strong traditions of pacifism and just war theory, with a spectrum of variances of these two major positions along the way. I am not a political analyst, nor am I up-to-date on the facts related to the war in Afghanistan. Thus, I’m not going to try to comment on the specifics of the war because I would betray ignorance. However, I do think it is important to note that the film does depict some truly evil actions taken by the Taliban in the beheading of a man simply because he may have spoken to the Americans.

But does the issue of violence end there? Does that mean we should intervene? After all, if Americans weren’t there to begin with, such violence (perhaps?) would not happen, for there would be no Americans to inform. But I, again, want to emphasize I don’t know the whole story. I do think that a book by William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence, brings into question some of the assumptions we have regarding religion and violence in situations like Afghanistan.

Conclusion

“Lone Survivor” is, unquestionably, a brutal film. There is much violence as well as quite a bit of vulgar language. But amidst these things, the film managed to convey a picture of the war in Afghanistan that was more than a simplistic black-and-white picture. It poignantly portrayed the difficulties of ethical situations in war. It also called into question the notion that there can be quick-and-easy lines drawn for friend and foe. I recommend the film for adults.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T.  Cavanaugh– I review the book which has led me to discuss the ways the category of religion is used to stigmatize the other and also forced me to rethink a number of issues. I highly recommend this book.

Lone Survivor and Insufferable Anti-American Self-Righteousness– The film has caused quite a bit of critical discussion. Here, a soldier reflects on the reaction to the film. Having now seen the movie, I think the viewpoint offered here is interesting and worth the read.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card: A Christian reflection

enders-game-novel-coverEnder’s Game by Orson Scott Card has been receiving increased attention of late due to the upcoming movie based on the work. For my thoughts on the movie, check out my look into the film. I read this book about ten years ago, and have since listened to the audiobook and re-read the book. Here, we will delve into some major themes which run through the novel. There are major plot SPOILERS ahead, so you have been warned.

The Children

Ender himself is a child. Yet throughout the book he ranges from trying to simply be a child to an admiral. He has a calculating, almost “killer” mentality and cannot bear to lose. He insists on excellence. Yet he is shaped by his past, while trying to avoid it. When he is confronted with a situation of survival–or at least one he perceives as such–he reacts with the cold efficiency of a practiced soldier. He escalates the scenario to the point that the “enemy” can never cause harm to him again.

Ender has been selected to be the future leader of Earth’s International Fleet, which is heading off to the worlds of the “Buggers” (also known as the “Formics”) to destroy them. The Buggers are a race of sentient creatures who have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed humanity both times.

Ender’s brother, Peter, is a sadist. There is no other way to describe him. He loves to inflict pain and scare people. He uses his power to attack the powerless. The scenes in which Peter abuses his brother and sister, Valentine, are disturbing. He also tortures animals. He is evil… or is he?

Valentine is perhaps the paradigm of good in the book. She was “too soft” to be the commander of the International Fleet. She ends up reforming Peter to some degree, though she loses some of herself in that process.

There are a number of children with whom Ender interacts with in Battle School, and they range from friends to enemies. He ends up killing one of them, Bonzo, in self-defense, though he doesn’t learn he actually killed him until much later.

Death, Evolution, and Ethics

The death of Bonzo leads to a number of interesting moral issues. Did Ender step over the line? He continually thinks in terms in which he needs to destroy any possibility of an “enemy” coming back to hurt him, but this mentality is fostered by those who have trained him. Ender has to learn to become a military leader, and he is guided in this learning by Colonel Graff and Mazer Rackham. They guide him, but they do so with a distinctly hands-off approach in which they try to teach him he can rely on no one but himself. This gives Ender a kind of do-or-die mentality that becomes literal a number of times throughout the book.

Bonzo’s death is viewed by Graff as a necessary sacrifice for the fate of humanity. Both Ender and Graff reflect a kind of evolutionary morality wherein the strong survive. They view the war with the Buggers as yet another aspect of this morality. If it comes down to it, it may be that either the Buggers or humans can survive. Graff and Ender seem to agree that this means that humans must be the ones to survive; they are tied to their evolutionary mentality. They must choose to survive.

Yet the book does not seem to actually endorse that kind of morality, for it leads to an untold amount of suffering and indeed the destruction of an entire species of sentient beings. Not only that, but when Ender encounters more knowledge about the Buggers later, he mourns with the Buggers who lamented over the fact that the two species could not reconcile.

Just War and Genocide/Xenocide

The fact that the Buggers did not know what they were doing gives Ender’s Game a spectacularly unique way to look into the issue of “Just War.” The Buggers don’t have writing, they haven’t developed spoken language. Instead, they have a kind of “hive mind” which allows them to communicate instantly across space. The Queens control all the various workers, which are almost extensions of themselves. Because of this radically different culture, the Buggers did not even realize they were attempting to exterminate other sentient creatures until after the second war. After that, they did not attempt to mount another attack.

Was this lack of effort a realization that humans were sentient? Was it an offer of peace?

Card seems to write that it is, though he never makes it explicit in the book. Yet humans have been attacked and nearly destroyed twice by these aliens, so they mount a counter-offensive. Ultimately, this counter-offensive destroys the Buggers entirely. It is an act of genocide–in fact, it is xenocide, the destruction of an entire species.

However, Ender continues to think that what he is doing when he is commanding the International Fleet is just a game. They never inform him that he is commanding the real army. He ends up making a decision which destroys the Bugger homeworld, and with it, their entire civilization. It kills all the Buggers [except one, as we will see].

One is forced to grapple with the questions that this raises. The fact is that the Buggers attempted to exterminate humanity in order to populate Earth as another colony. But it is possible that they didn’t know what they were doing, and stopped once they seemingly realized humans were sentient. Conversely, humans didn’t know what the Buggers were doing in not attacking. For all the humans knew, the Buggers could have been preparing themselves to attack again with better weapons and even more superior numbers.

I think this book would be a great one for bringing up discussions of Just War, because it doesn’t portray it as a black-and-white issue. Is it possible for war to be just? The issues Card raises here will foster some great discussion of that very question.

Redemption

Yet the book does not end with the destruction of the buggers. Ender goes to colonize one of the planets, now devoid of intelligent life, which make perfect colony worlds for Earth’s overflowing population. The realization that he has destroyed an entire species haunts Ender, but he chooses to go to one of the colonies with his sister.

While he is the governor of this colony, he discovers that one Bugger has survived. A queen larva had been hidden by the Buggers in such a way that only Ender could find her. She shares the memories of the Buggers with him. Here we see one of the most poignant scenes in the book:

If only we could have talked to you, the hive queen said in Ender’s words. But since it could not be, we ask only this: that you remember us, not as enemies, but as tragic sisters, changed into a foul shape by fate or God or evolution. If we had kissed, it would have been the miracle to make us human in each other’s eyes. Instead, we killed each other. (322, cited below)

Ender publishes a work which reflects on the Buggers.It begins a new spiritual/religious movement, which has someone called a “Speaker for the Dead,”  who speaks the truth about people who died, no matter how painful it would be. The teachings of this faith are from Ender’s book, which reflects the need for harmony and  truth.

Ultimately, redemption is left open. Ender travels the stars in search of a place that the Buggers can be planted such that they live on. He seeks to undo the evil he caused. We are left with the last line of the book: “He looked for a long time” (324).

Other Themes

The concept of overpopulation is found throughout the book. People are limited to only two children. Ender, however, is a “third,” which means that the government had to explicitly let his family have another child. The complexities of this issue are only touched upon, but couuld help drive discussion in a small group or reflection for an individual.

Religion only makes a few passing mentions in the book. It is largely feared/suppressed in the book, though the “Speaker for the Dead” becomes a new religion or kind of spirituality. It is unclear of how this religion is specifically apart from any other religion, but it seems like it is because the teachings come from the “Speaker for the Dead” as a kind of religious text.

orsonandmeConclusion

Ender’s Game is a highly compelling tale of justice, war, and horror. The complexities of human nature are not often explored in such a straightforward way as is done in the novel. Is Ender a hero? Is he a savior? Or is he just a poor child thrust into increasingly intense situations? What is justice, is it possible to have a just war? These themes and more will come up in discussions of the book. It is a classic, and for good reason. I highly recommend the book, and I’ll be one of the first in line to see the movie. The book explores a number of extremely important themes, and it does so in such a way that leaves the answers open-ended. Readers are almost encouraged to think about the topics themselves and come up with reasonable answers. 

I can’t help but share the picture on the right of me (about 7-8 years ago) with Orson Scott Card. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life.  I found Card to be a gracious, wonderful man who was perfectly willing to sit down with a fanboy teenager and discuss heady issues about philosophy, teaching children about moral issues, and science fiction.

Be sure to check out my look at the movie.

Source

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (New York: Tor, 1991).

Links

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I take a look at how science fiction has dealt with theological topics, with a particular focus on dialogue about religion.

Be sure to check out my other looks at popular books [scroll down on this link for a number of posts].

Also look into my reviews of several popular movies.

There is No Combat Without Movement– A very different look at Ender’s Game which explores the use of military tactics in the book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Crusades: Wanton Religious Violence?

gb-starkThe Crusades are often cited as the prime example of the evils of religion and of Christianity specifically. The picture is often painted of an innocent world on which Christians came in violent fervor, raping and pillaging as they went. But this picture of the Crusades is inaccurate on a number of levels. Here, I’ll explore the historical context of the Crusades with an eye towards seeing why they occurred. I’ll wrap it up with a discussion on violence and religion.

The Historical Context of the Crusades

The Crusades were not just some bubbling up of violence latent within all religions. Instead, they were part of a history of conquest across the Asian and European continents. Prior to the Crusades, there was a sweeping conquest by the Muslims of territory formerly possessed by various Christian nations.

Muslim invasions had pressed in on all sides. Rodney Stark, in his extremely important work on the Crusades, God’s Battalions, notes the conquests which had pressed in on Europe from all sides. After surveying a number of Muslim conquests, he notes:

Many critics of the Crusades would seem to suppose that after the Muslims had overrun a major portion of Christendom, they should have been ignored or forgiven… This outlook is certainly unrealistic and probably insincere. Not only had the Byzantines lost most of their empire, the enemy was at their gates… (32-33)

Prior to the Crusades, it is absolutely essential to note that the invaders were, quite literally, at the gates. Constantinople was threatened in the East, and Spain was overthrown in the West. Europe was under assault. The map below illustrates the situation in the time during and before the Crusades well.

The question of the Crusades must be understood within this historical setting: much of the land which European countries had controlled had been taken, by force. Furthermore, those who had taken these lands were knocking on the very gates of Europe, having already crossed into Europe in many places. Stark’s words, therefore, seem to ring true: is it really genuine to assume that these invaders should have been ignored or forgiven? Is that the reality of “secular” nations? It seems to me the very fact that so much land had been lost, as well as so much wealth, would lead many to war for “secular” reasons rather than religious reasons.

crusade-map

Regarding the beginning of the Crusades, Stark writes:

[T]hat’s when it all [The Crusades] started–in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt, and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. (9)

So the Crusades were not unprovoked mass murders of innocents. But they were indeed quite brutal, and involved no small amount of very un-Christian activities. Raping and pillaging has no part in the Christian worldview. But Stark once again has a sobering point: war was hell. “[I]t was a brutal and intolerant age” (29). The criticism of brutality equally applies to both sides, but it is also equally anachronistic about the realities of that time. This is not to say that the horrors which occurred were not awful; it is to say that to criticize the Crusaders or Muslims as though they were doing something extraordinarily brutal for their time period is extremely short-sighted.

The Crusades as a Polemic Device

The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. Like virtually any part of human history, both good and evil intentions and outcomes were involved. To view the Crusades as either an entirely evil affair showing how religion is ultimately prone to violence or as a benevolent attempt by loving people to liberate lands that were rightfully theirs is to grossly oversimplify the historical reality. Unfortunately, modern looks at the Crusades have largely leaned towards the former of these positions, without any acknowledgement of the historical context as noted above.

Instead, the Crusades were a complex of historical events which were often brutal, often provoked, and never motivated for just one reason. To say that the Crusades are a typical example of the violence of religion is, frankly, ahistorical. Was religion involved? Yes. Were there even “religious reasons” involved in the motivations for the Crusades? Clearly. But the general movement with recent attacks on Christianity has been to argue that the Crusades were purely religious instances of religious brutality. The historical perspective provided above provides evidence against that limited perspective.

The Crusades have been used as a kind of polemic device against Christianity. Whenever it is argued that Christianity is reasonable, someone inevitably brings up this historical period. Readers will note that this historical perspective has not attempted to explain away the Crusades. Instead, I have argued for the notion that these events were historically complex, involving a number of factors beyond purely war for the sake of a faith.

As Keith Ward has noted:

It is… beyond dispute that the Crusades were a major disaster… The Crusades can be seen as justified defense… but their conduct and continuance rapidly became unjustifiable on any Christian principles. (68-69, Is Religion Dangerous? cited below)

The point is simple: there were many motivations behind the Crusades, some of them justified. Yet in carrying out the Crusades, many horrible actions were taken which were unjustifiable. Does this somehow disprove Christianity? Not on Christianity’s own principles, on which we expect to see people acting as sinner-saints in the process of sanctification.

Crusade The Taking of BeirutReligious and Secular Violence

Apart from the historical outline given here, there is another, equally important point: the dichotomy between religious violence and secular violence is simply a myth. The reason for this is because human actions are far more complex in their motivations than a simple dichotomy of one or the other reason. In our everyday experience, we know that the decisions we make are very rarely made for only one reason.

Oddly, Stark is able to note that “many historians have urged entirely material, secular explanations for the early Muslim conquests…” (13). This, in contrast to the many historians and new atheists who continue to press that the Crusades were entirely religious in their provocations. The unfortunate truth this reveals is the very human tendency to simplify history beyond the point of breaking. Human actions, particularly corporate human actions, have extremely complex motivations behind them. They are not all-or-nothing affairs which happen due to one reason or another. Very often we make decisions for a combination of reasons of differing strengths, weighing options against each other whether we realize it or not.

By utilizing the Crusades as a rhetorical device–a polemic weapon–many have done damage to the historical events themselves. Worse, they have engaged in faulty reasoning and attacked the religious other due to their own emotional hatred. The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. They were affairs of human history. To forget that is to drown them in a sea of obfuscation. Let us get beyond simple polemical attacks on the “other.” Let us instead engage in honest history and dialogue with our neighbors.

Links

The Myth of “Religion”: Constructing the Other as an enemy– I explore the notion that religion is violent and argue that one of the major difficulties with this notion is that the distinction between secular/religious is a myth.

For an interesting exploration of some aspects of Muslim Philosophy, see my book review: The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

Essential reading: Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Pacifism, Matthew 5, and “Turning the other cheek”– Glenn Andrew Peoples discusses pacifism in the Christian tradition and some of the arguments in its favor. Ultimately, he finds these arguments wanting.

Sources

Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Keith Ward, Is Religion Dangerous? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006).

Image Credit:

The image of the map is from this page with free resources for instructors. I do not claim credit for this image, nor do I claim that the makers of this resource in any way endorse this post.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“For Greater Glory” – A look at a movie about Christianity in the face of violence

fgg-movieFor Greater Glory tells the story of the Mexican Government’s persecution of the Roman Catholic Church following its anti-catholic laws written in 1917. It follows the lives of various Cristeros, those Mexicans who revolted against the government in the name of religious liberty. The movie goes beyond being just another Western movie to exploring some extremely important sociological and religious themes. I won’t summarize the plot (you can find that here), but there will still be SPOILERS below.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good 

The general Enrique Gorostieta Velarde is clearly a “good guy.” He was, himself, no Christian and certainly not a Roman Catholic, but he stood up against those who would persecute people simply for their beliefs. He also did not stand for compromise: he wanted toleration to be granted to Roman Catholics. He fought for an ideal. Even if that ideal was not one of the faith he was fighting to defend, he felt that there was injustice, and fought against it.

It is unclear whether the historical Enrique Gorostieta Velarde ever became a Christian. In the film, it certainly make it seem as though in making his arguments, he came into a kind of faith in God. It also seems to be the case that the historical general had some political ambitions in that he desired to bring about a change in the Constitution to provide for more toleration.

Father Christopher is an example for Christians everywhere. He does not back down in the face of violence. He became a martyr by standing in front of men who were doing him violence and proclaiming Christ to them. His martyrdom served as inspiration for a number of people in the film.

The Bad

The anti-catholics in the film are clearly the “bad guys.” It is hard to argue with this. Anyone who chooses to attack and kill people simply because of their beliefs certainly qualifies for the catchall “bad guy” terminology.

Plutarco Elías Calles, the Mexican President, an atheist, decides that he must use a violent crackdown to keep the Roman Catholic Church from becoming involved in Mexico. He couches his oppression of the Roman Catholics in language of secularism. Instead of focusing upon their religion, he makes his argument based upon the rule of government: the Roman Catholics serve a ruler (the Pope) who is outside of this country, and so they are a danger to the stability of this country. Despite this “secular” language, the fact of the matter is that throughout the film, the government is viscous not just towards the Roman Catholics as people who serve a different master, but also simply as religious persons. Crosses  are burned and churches are destroyed. People are slaughtered during worship. It is a wholesale war against Christianity.

The Ugly

The film does not draw a hard and fast line between “good” and “bad,” however. There are also the ugly: those who, with good intentions, also commit atrocities. The Cristeros (those who fought for religious tolerance of Roman Catholicism) who commit atrocities were the “ugly.” Some felt they had to fight evil with evil, and committed horrible acts in the name of their cause. This is exactly what Christians are called to avoid.

Just War and Pacifism

The movie brought up the constant debate within Christianity between just war theorists and pacifists. It was surprising how lucidly it presented the issues. There were those in the film who refuse to use violence to fight against the government, citing Christ’s example of turning the other cheek. Yet even they become involved in getting supplies such as bullets to the Cristeros. On the other hand, there are those who argue for a just war tradition: when injustice is running rampant, should not Christians be among those who stand up against it, even if that calls for using force? The film never answers one way or another; instead, it leaves it to those watching to weigh the merits of just war and pacifism.

I tend to favor the just war theory myself. It seems to me that if a government like the Nazi Regime exists, then it is perfectly justifiable to use force to prevent them from perpetuating their evils.

Historically, according to more than one source I looked up, it is argued that the Cristeros actually had little impact on the overall outcome of the changes and toleration which came to Mexico. Instead, it was a deal negotiated by the Vatican with the Mexican government. Yet it seems for me historically perplexing as to why, exactly, the Mexican government would have desired a compromise if the Cristeros were not in operation. I speak here as no expert on the topic by any means. I’d be interested in reading your own thoughts.

The Elephant in the Room

It is hard to see this movie without thinking about the elephant in the room: atheists are in power, and religious people are killed. It’s a theme in the movie, but it also plays out time and again throughout human history: the French Revolution, the Soviet Union, the massacres of Armenians in Turkey, the Spanish Civil War, and more. Why is it that it seems, historically, every time a secularist government has taken power, the religious persons are the ones who suffer violence?

The answer to this vexing question seems to me to be quite clear: the notion that religion is violent and secularism stops violence is just false. Not only that, but the distinction between secular and religious is, itself, a mere construct with no ontological reality. I have argued this before when I discuss the Myth of Religion.

Conclusion

“For Greater Glory” is a movie that should be a must-see for those interested in worldview discussions. I could see it being used at an interfaith group, church youth group, or seeker group to generate discussion. The movie is definitely violent, and it shows the good, the bad, and the ugly unapologetically. It is for that reason that it must be seen.

What is perhaps the most shocking part of this movie is the fact that, prior to watching it, I had never heard or even imagined that Mexico had persecuted Christians. The violence committed against Christians by others in authority continues into the modern era, and it is truly depressing to know how little we hear about it. I can’t help sometimes but join with David and say “How long, Oh LORD?” (Psalm 13).

Links

I discuss the way that construct of “religion” has been used to denigrate an alleged “religious other” in my post: The Myth of Religion.

I have looked at a number of other popular movies. Check them out (scroll down to see more posts) in my movies category.

An interesting discussion of Christian pacifism can be found over at Glenn Andrew Peoples’ blog: Pacifism, Matthew 5, and ‘Turning the other cheek’.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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