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Case for war is utilitarian, not Christian

23 May 2014


From Ruth Harris

Sir, - Lord Harries of Pentregarth says in his review of In Defence of War by Professor Nigel Biggar (Books, 9 May) that it is "an important book". I would say, rather, that it is a frightening book, defending plenty of war and violence as it does. The most "important book" Christians could ever read about Christianity and war is Walter Wink's The Powers that Be; and I urge them to read it.

It is a fallacy that war is a necessary evil (or, as Professor Biggar seems to think, no evil at all), and that people must be killed by their fellow humans in order to let others live. There were many countries that successfully resisted the Nazis, and others who overturned Communist oppression, through non-violent resistance and sabotage. This information has been ignored by pro-just-war advocates and by the powers that be, which insist thatwar and standing armies are necessary.

Saying we can kill some people to save others may be a moral argument that some people believe in with integrity, but they cannot argue that it is Christian. It is utilitarianism, and that has nothing to do with Christianity or the Kingdom of God. In Jesus's vision, every person is of equal value in the Kingdom, there is no preference for one country or another, and it is not our imperative to decide who dies and who lives.

War and the threat of war belong to a domination society, which Jesus quite clearly resisted. Jesus spoke with true wisdom and insight. He knew that non-violence was not just a pipe dream for naïve pacifists, but God's calling to us, and the only thing that will bring in the Kingdom. He also knew that it works, and that returning violence with violence doesn't. Non-violent resistance is not only Christlike, but also the only pragmatic way to challenge and transform the injustice in the world. We should be working hard to organise people in order to make it work.

The Church should return to its true calling, which is to stand up to injustice, not by ending other people's lives, but by being prepared to put our own lives at risk in the righteous cause of non-violent resistance all around the world. It is a calling that the Church abandoned as soon as it became linked to the State, and it is probably the saddest thing about the state of the Church.

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