Sunday, April 24, 2022

Should Christians join the military and go to war? Part 2 of 2

In Part 1, I talked about my personal story surrounding this issue. Today, I want to talk about some of the specific reasons I had for being a conscientious objector and what I think about those reasons today.

Before I ever joined the Navy, I had already read the sermon on the mount where Jesus seemed to teach pacifism. All that stuff about turning the other cheek, doing good to those who harm you, etc., sure made it seem like you shouldn't hurt people no matter what. That, combined with the hippy phase I was going through as a late teen, made me friendly to the idea of pacifism even before I joined the Navy. So when I was exposed to the Watchtower arguments against Christian involvement in the military, I was already primed to agree with them. I was an easy sell.

Taken at face value, the New Testament does seem to teach a radical kind of pacifism. The fact that you may be harmed in the process doesn't seem to be a good excuse for retaliation or self-defense. We are explicitly told to love our enemies, to do good to those who harm us, not to seek revenge, to turn the other cheek, to forgive people, to seek peace and persue it, etc. Surely this prohibits Christians from taking up arms against anybody, whether in your own back yard or on a battlefield.

Probably the most compelling reason not to take things that far is the fact that sometimes it isn't just you who needs defending. It's your family. It's one thing to allow somebody to harm you without fighting back, but what if they're trying to harm your wife or kids? Surely, we have a responsibility to fight to protect them, don't we? The command to love our enemies surely doesn't nullify the command to love our neighbor. The command to love and care for our families ought to include protecting them when somebody else is trying to harm them. If you'll recall what I wrote in part 1, this reasoning is probably the biggest thing that has caused me to have doubts about my conscientious objector views.

One argument I have not found persuasive, though, is that Jesus was talking about personal conflict, not national conflict. I remember Greg Koukl making this point one time about loving your enemies, but I think he was mistaken. Jesus' command to love your enemies was juxtaposed with the already existing command to love your neighbors. If you look at the command to love our neighbor in its original context, you'll find that "neighbor" refers to fellow Israelites. That is likely how Jesus' audience would've understood the command because they were made up entirely of Jews. If "your neighbor" refers to fellow Israelites, then "your enemies" must refer to non-Israelites. That means the command to also love your enemies isn't talking about personal conflict. Jesus was making a political statement that applied to national conflict.

There seems to be an inconsistency in arguing on the one hand that the command to love our enemies only applies to personal enemies but not national enemies, but then to argue on the other hand that the obligation we have to protect our families with violence if necessary should apply just as much to protecting our country. There's a willingness to extrapolate from protecting our family to protecting our country, but an unwillingness to extrapolate from loving our personal enemies to loving our national enemies. But I digress.

There are a couple of other lesser points worth mentioning regarding Jesus' apparent teaching about pacificism and non-resistance. One is the possibility that Jesus was using hyperbole or he was only talking about insults and inconveniences, not physical harm, and it certainly didn't apply if somebody was trying to kill you. I don't know about that, though. I think we should take it seriously until we have good reason to make an exception. So I suppose we could take Jesus seriously but make room for moral dilemmas in which we have to choose the lesser of two evils. That would allow us to defend ourselves under dire situations like when somebody really wanted to harm us physically, especially if they wanted to kill us.

Another point worth mentioning that I already brought up in my digression is that it may be an unjustified extrapolation to go from defending your immediate family to defending your country. Surely we have obligations to our immediate families that we don't have to strangers who live a thousand miles away. But that does raise a thorny question, which is the question of where your obligation ends. I mean if I saw a stranger being attacked, surely I'd have an obligation to help them if I could. Maybe I don't have the same obligations to strangers that I do to my immediate family, but that doesn't mean I have no obligations. Moreover, tribes are extended families, and nations are extended tribes, so there isn't a clear line to draw between those we have an obligation to protect and those we don't.

That brings me to another argument I used to have against Christians in the military. In the New Testament, we are told that we should think of ourselves as aliens and strangers on earth and that our citizenship is in heaven. That means Christians shouldn't draw their "national" boundaries around certain areas of land the way secular governments do. Instead we should draw our national boundaries around our fellow Christians. There are Christians in almost every nation, and we should not go to war against each other just because of where we live. An American citizen who happens to be living in Canada would be thought a traitor if they joined the Canadians in waging war against America. Well, Jesus said his true followers would be known by the love they have for each other. Wouldn't that love be better displayed if the reason Christians gave for not joining the military is so they would not be forced to fight against Christians living in other countries?

I still think that's a decent argument, but it, too, is weakened by the Koukl Argument. What if the person trying to harm your family is a Christian? Well, if you have an obligation to defend your family with violence if necessary, it shouldn't matter whether the attacker is a Christian or not. So while I agree that in general, Christians shouldn't fight against each other, it does seem like one's fellow Christian can become one's enemy. An ideal solution would be that no Christian anywhere joined the military. Then scenarios like this wouldn't come up because Canada's army would not consist of any Christians trying to harm your neighbors. But the fact of the matter is that Christians do partipate in militaries, so you may be faced with having to defend your neighbors against Christian Canadians.

Another argument against Christian involvement in the military still carries a lot of weight with me. Joining a military requires taking an oath in which you voluntarily put yourself under the command of others who have the authority to tell you who to kill and who to protect. Not every war is a just war, and we all know that many unjust things happen in wars, even if we think the war in general is just. The Bible recommends not only avoiding sin but also avoiding situations that might cause you to sin. This should apply just as well to taking oaths. In fact, Jesus and Solomon both discouraged taking oaths, probably for reasons such as these. They force you into moral dilemmas. An oath could put you in a position of being obligated to do what you are obligated to refrain from doing. It would seem unwise, especially, to put yourself completely under the command of those who do not share your Christian values and are uninterested in your sense of right and wrong, which is exactly what a Christian would be doing by joining a secular military commanded by secular politicians.

The arguments I've heard against this are not at all persuasive. I remember when I was in the Navy, going through the conscientious objector process, being told that Jesus said to give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's, as if to say you could have a divided loyalty. Jesus was talking specifically about paying taxes, though, and I don't see how this passage would allow you to engaged in an unjust war just because you belonged to the government. It is precisely because the government could at any time ask you to engage in an unjust war that you shouldn't have put yourself in that situation in the first place.

One other argument that also still carries a lot of weight with me is that it seems from historical evidence that Christians were nearly unanimous in condemning Christian participation in the military for the first two or three centuries of the church. This is evident both in the New Testament and in the writings of the early Church Fathers. In the New Testament, we have Jesus saying that those who live by the sword die by the sword, and Paul telling us that as Christians we do not wage war as the world does (i.e. by armed conflict). There is evidence in the early Church fathers that there were Christians in the military, but it was universally condemned. You have people like Tertullian explicitly condemning Christian participation in the military, and then you have accounts of people like Maximilian who succumned to martyrdom because he refused military service on the basis that he was a Christian and could not serve. I am sometimes surprised that Catholics became so friendly toward military service when they place so much weight on Tradition. There was a strong Tradition in the early Church about it being wrong for Christians to participate in the military, but that doesn't seem to matter to Catholics today. As a protestant, I'm not bound by Tradition, and I'm free to disagree with the early Chruch fathers. After all, they disagreed with each other on a number of things. But when there seems to be unanimity between them on a subject, that carries a lot of weight with me because it seems unlikely that they would have such a strong concensus on an issue if it were not correct.

One argument that used to be brought up a lot back in the day was that when the Centurion in Acts converted to Christianity, Peter never suggested to him that he should stop being a centurion. Also, John the Baptist told soldiers to be content with their pay, not to get out of the military.

In the case of John the Baptist, that argument didn't carry much weight with me because that happened before the ministry of Jesus in which Jesus introduced a new command--to love your enemies. The argument carries more weight with me now than it did then, though, because even though it's true that John the Baptist came before Jesus, we nevertheless have to consider the question of why the gospel writers decided to include that. The gospel writers weren't simply recording history in a disinterested way; they were teaching principles to a Christian audience. So it would seem that this teaching by John the Baptist was included because it's a principle the author thought still applied to his Christian audience.

In the case of the centurion, that argument didn't carry much weight because it's an argument from silence. We have no idea what advice Peter gave the centurion, because that wasn't the point of the story. The point of the story was about gentiles being able to convert to Christianity without first being Jews, which was a major controversy in the early church. So the argument from the centurion still carries little weight with me.

There's a lot more that could be said on this topic. It was not my intention to give an exhaustive account of all the arguments for and against Christian involvement in warfare and the military. I just wanted to share a bit of my personal reflections on the topic. If you want to read what I wrote back in the mid to late 90's in defense of Christian pacifism, you can check it out on the WayBack Machine: "Principles of a Conscientious Objector." I didn't address every point I made in that article in this post, and I didn't cite as many scriptures, but I hit on what I thought were the most significant points.

The bottom line is that I think there are good arguments for and against Christian involvement in warfare and membership in the military. I am not fully committed to either view. In Romans 14, Paul said that when it came to observing special days or not, or eating certain foods or not, it was a matter of personal conscience. But he also said that if you have doubts about whether it's okay to eat certain foods, then it's better not to do it. I apply Paul's principle to this subject because I am uncertain, so if I had to decide today whether I should join the Navy or not, I probably wouldn't. But at the same time, I wouldn't think any less of somebody who did, and I wouldn't try to discourage it. At most, I would only encourage the person to look into it because I think it's a topic any Christian considering joining the military should give careful study and thought to.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Should Christians join the military and go to war? part 1 of 2

Here's a subject I've been stewing over off and on for 30 years. In this post, I don't plan to prove any points. I just want to share a little bit about the development of my thoughts on the subject.

I joined the Navy in 1992 months apart from one of my best friends (Brian) who also joined. About a year or a year and a half in, he became one of Jehovah's Witnesses and got a conscientious objector discharge. I was a bit startled by his conversion because I thought it put his salvation in jeopardy, and I was also curious about the reasons for his oposition to being in the Navy. He gave me some literature to read from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTS)--the publishing company for the Jehovah's Witnesses that produces all of their literature.

Up until this point, I had been a Christian most of my life, and I had even read the Bible. But I had never studied the Bible, and I had never been part of a church long enough to be indoctrinated. I was pretty open to learning and just trying to figure stuff out. At the time, I could not have even explained the doctrine of the Trinity to you.

Through reading WTS literature I became a whole lot more interested in the Bible and in theology. I became interested in studying the Bible in depth. Although I was never persuaded to become one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I was persuaded to adopt their point of view about a few topics.

One topic I was persuaded by was their view that Christian should not join militaries or go to war for their governments. I was so persuaded that I applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged from the Navy after about four years. I was in the nuclear field which required a six year committment because the school was so long, so I got out about two years early.

After I got out of the Navy, I was so passionate in my belief that Christians shouldn't be in the military that I started the Conscientious Objector Help Page in order to discourage other Christians from joining the military and teach them how to apply for conscientious objector status if they were already in.

Not long after that, I went through my agnostic phase. That's another story. When it was over, I was still strongly opposed to Christians in the military.

Over time, as I delved into the Bible and theological literature, I abandoned most of the views I had adopted as a result of reading WTS literature (e.g. their denial of the Trinity). But I held on to the belief that Christians shouldn't join the military.

Around 1999 or so, I picked up Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Gregory Koukl and Francis Beckwith from a Christian book store, and that book was a turning point for me. That's another story, but I bring it up because it introduced me to Stand to Reason--the apologetics organization that Greg Koukl was the president of.

Greg has had an enormous impact on me over the years. When I first discovered him, he was a breath of fresh air, and I devoured every article, commentary, and radio show archived on their web site (that's before they had a blog). I remember agreeing with Greg about almost everything. But Greg was very pro-military. He especially seemed to love the Marines and seemed to wish he had been one. To me that was a bit of a scandal because he was so right about everything else but wrong about his pro-military views.

But there is one thing Greg said that put a stone in my shoe (to use one of his catch phrases). A big part of my case against Christians joining the military had to do with Jesus' command to love even our enemies, and Paul's statement that love does no harm to its neighbor, and various things along those lines. Greg pointed out that to stand by and do nothing while your family, neighbors, city, state, and country are being attacked is not at all loving toward your family, etc.

Now, I had heard this argument before. Lots of people engaged me in debate because I didn't exactly keep quiet about my beliefs. Usually the way other people would bring it up was to try to make it personal and ask me what I'd do if a loved one were being attacked. For a while, I answered this by saying I would do whatever I could to prevent it short of harming the attacker. In my heart, I knew I would gladly harm the attacker if I could, but morally I thought the nobel thing would be to avoid harming the attacker as far as possible, even if it meant that I and my family could be killed. I was supposed to just trust God the way Daniel trusted God when he disobeyed Nebuchadnezzer and was thrown to the lions.

But Greg didn't simply ask what I would personally do in a sticky situation. He made the argument that laying down my arms would actually be unloving toward those I was most responsible for--my immediate family and loved ones. Greg's argument, though simple, was far more persuasive.

In Relativism, Greg and Frank explained the whole notion of a moral dilemma in which one moral imperative can be overriden by another moral imperative when they come into conflict in the same situation. Before then, I had been kind of a moral absolutist, but as a result of reading their book, I became a moral objectivist (I explained the difference in "The difference between moral objectivism and moral absolutism.") So it seemed that while one might agree that in general people shouldn't harm even their enemies, there were circumstances under which it was appropriate to harm one's enemies. If you think you're supposed to love both your family and your enemies, then you shouldn't want to harm anybody. But if one person is attacking another person (especially an innocent one), and you can stop the attack only by causing injury, then you're in a moral dilemma since to stand by and do nothing may show love toward the enemy, but it does not show love toward the person being attacked. You can't actively love them both in that scenario.

It is because of the stone Greg put in my shoe that I have waivered over the years and have been uncertain about whether it's okay for Christians to join the military. After a while, I adopted the view that personal defense (including the defense of one's family) was okay, but it was still wrong for Christians to join the military for various reasons. I have since then waivered on whether it's wrong to join the military.

My position today is that I have enough doubt that I probably would not join the military if I had the decision to make again, but at the same time, I probably wouldn't discourage other Christians from joining the military, and I wouldn't blame them if they did. Right now, I put the whole subject in the Romans 14 category--follow your conscience. However, I would definitely encourage any Christian who is thinking about joining to carefully reflect on this subject.

In Part 2, I want to talk more specifically about some of my reasons for being a conscientious objector and what I think of those reasons today.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Can grief hallucinations explain the appearances of Jesus?

There are a lot of studies out there involving bereavement and how people respond to it. In many of these studies, they talk about grief hallucinations. According to one paper I found, grief hallucinations occur in anywhere from 30% to 60% of widows. They happen in different ways, though. It can involve seeing somebody, hearing their voice, smelling them, or just feeling their presence. "Hallucination" is a catch-all phrase, as this paper points out. It is sometimes used to refer to experiences that aren't hallucinations in the strictest meaning of the word.

Of course visually seeing a dead loved one is the least common experience among those who have visions, hallucinations, lucid dreams, etc. I didn't dig around to find the statistic on that, but I did find that when it happens, the most frequent interpretation is that it's a ghost or what appears to be a ghost. Just for the sake of argument, let's say visual experiences happen in something like 1% of those grieving the death of a dead loved one. If it happens to be higher, that will only strenghten the point I'm about to make.

That would mean there have been hundreds of millions of people who have experienced visual grief hallucinations. As far as we know, these experiences never lead people to think their dead loved one has risen from the dead. If we follow Hume's reasoning, this would amount to a full proof that grief hallucinations just don't cause people to believe in resurrection. With that being the case, it probably wasn't a grief hallucination that caused the disciples to believe Jesus had risen from the dead.

If, as most scholars think, the disciples saw something that lead them to believe Jesus had risen from the dead (e.g. E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, p.280), but it wasn't a grief hallucination, then maybe they actually saw the risen Jesus himself. Just sayin'!

Happy Easter!

For more on this subject see my 2011 post on The Hallucination Hypothesis.

Friday, April 15, 2022

The spoken v. the written word

When I was going through the Navy's nuclear power program, I remember them telling us early on that people learn in a variety of different ways that involve different senses and different modes. It's different for each person, too. One might learn more through seeing, another through doing, another through hearing, etc. Since they wanted to cram as much information into our heads in as short a time as possible, they taught us to study by using every means available to us. The classroom lectures were very structured. All the information was already outlined and written out. To teach us, they would first read it to us, which would engage our hearing. Then they would write it on the chalkboard (often with charts, diagrams, and illustrations), which would engage our vision and reading capacity. Then we would write it in our notes, which would engage, I guess, our writing faculties or muscle memory. To study, we would copy our notes on dry erase boards over and over, we would read them out loud over and over, we would quiz each other, and we would work problems. So we engaged as many of our various faculties as we could, and this was a very effective way of cramming information into us. These techniques helped me a lot when I got to college.

At the time, I didn't concern myself with which one of these things, if taken by itself, was more effective. But over the years, I've come to see that for me, the written word is far more effective than the spoken word. This is true whether it's me who is listening to somebody else or me who is trying to be heard. I have an easier time following what people are saying if they write it than if I listen to them talk. I also have an easier time explaining myself in writing than I do in speaking.

I don't think most people are like that, though. I often hear people say it's better to speak than to write because in speaking, you can hear the inflection in the voice, which enhances understanding. Speaking in person is even better because you can see facial expressions and hand gestures. That all makes sense to me, and yet I find the written word to be more effective than the spoken word, and I much prefer it.

Of course there are exceptions. If I'm listening to somebody who speaks okay but can't write worth a flip, then in their case I might have an easier time understanding them talk than write. But they are the exception.

Back when I started this blog, blogs were just becoming popular. A lot of people were starting blogs. People used to participate in the comment sections of these blogs. It seemed like that's where all the discussion was taking place. People would respond to each other's blog posts by posting responses on their own blogs if not in the comments.

Now-a-days, I see less and less of that. People have moved on to podcasts and YouTube videos. Now there are YouTube videos responding to other YouTube videos, and that's where all the conversation is taking place. It also takes place in the YouTube comment section, but that's mostly fly-by expressions of agreement or disagreement than engaging discussion.

I don't like it. There was a video recently where Braxton Hunter went on Cameron Bertuzzi's channel to argue against Calvinism. I thought about responding to it in my blog, but as I thought about it, I kept saying to myself, "This would be so much easier to respond to if he just had it all written out." I have no desire to make a YouTube response either because I'm such a terrible speaker.

The older I get, the more frustrated I get with verbal conversation in general. This is especially the case in group conversations. It seems like nobody ever completes a thought before being interrupted. No subject that gets brought up ever really gets discussed before the topic changes all of a sudden. I get frustrated just watching other people talk even when I'm not trying to participate. I don't see how they aren't more frustrated with each other. I keep wanting to interject to say, "Hold on! I want to know what So and So was going to say," or, "I want to know where they were going with that." If somebody says something, and I want to draw them out a little more by asking a question or two, somebody else will inevitably derail it by either answering it in an irrelevant way or by raising another question that takes the conversation in a different direction. How is everybody not at each other's throats all the time? Lately, I've dealt with these thing by simply not engaging people in verbal conversation as much as I used to. I just let stuff go because I feel like there's no point in trying to engage. It'll only lead to frustration.

I'm not trying to push the point of view in this post that the written word is superior to the verbal word. I'm just reporting a little autobiograpy and venting a little. For me the written word is more effective and enjoyable than the spoken word. I'd much rather read an essay than listen to a podcast. I'd much rather engage with a blog post than with a YouTube video. I'd much rather exchange emails than talk on the phone.

What about you? What is your favourite medium for learning and communicating? Why?