Christian pacifists seem to be dominant voice at What’s Wrong with the World

(Note: As of August 24, new comments have been added to this thread. See also, if you can stand it, the parallel discussion over at 4W, linked below, where I reject the view of that website’s participants that innocents must never be killed in war, even if that means letting the enemy destroy us. One participant, backed up by others, said that if a hijacked airliner were headed for an American city with a nuclear bomb aboard and 40 passengers, he would let the hijacked plane destroy the city rather than shoot down the plane and save the city, because to shoot the plane down would be to murder the passengers, even though the passengers were imminently doomed in any case. Thus the self-described Christian traditionalists at 4W are even more literal and one-dimensional in their moralism than liberal Christians are in their reading of Matthew 25, which leads the liberals to conclude that every immigrant at the border is Jesus. Such are the forms of the breakdown of rationality, even among highly intelligent and sophisticated people, that we must deal with in these latter days. The folks at 4W seem to be rational in other subject areas, such as immigration and Islam, but when it comes to questions of war and national defense, their position is tantamount to radical pacifism, since all the enemy would need to do is put some innocent hostages among the enemy troops, and our side would be unwilling to shoot.)

Earlier I agreed with Paul Cella that it’s a good thing to discuss the morality of Hiroshima. Others disagreed with me and said such discussions only strengthen the left. Having read more of that WWWtW thread now, I see what they were talking about. I’ll let Chris L. explain the situation. He writes:

Over at What’s Wrong with the World, they have had three recent posts that discuss the killing of the innocent to achieve what would be considered a good end. The current post is in relation to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The underlying argument is that killing an innocent person is murder and murder is defined as a sin by God. Therefore, we must never commit murder.

For example, if a terrorist is flying a plane with a nuclear bomb towards New York and there is an innocent person tied up on the plane, we can not shoot down the plane because we would be committing murder. To shoot down the plane would be committing sin (killing the innocent) to achieve a good (saving NYC). According to the Bible, committing sin can never achieve the good. So, in answer to your question, the folks over at WWwtW would state that it does not matter if it was necessary to use the atomic bomb. It is a sin to use them where innocents will knowingly be killed. Therefore, they should not have been used. As William Luse stated in the comments, “We had a further responsibility to make sure the cities were evacuated.”

This view baffles me. It seems to be a type of Pharisee understanding of morality.

If you have the time and inclination, I would be interested to know what your views are on this topic.

LA replies:

I have also commented in the discussion at What’s Wrong with the World. Several of the people in that discussion are the sort of Christian who give people the feeling that Christianity is a diseased utopian state of mind that threatens the survival of civilization. I still have to comment on John Derbyshire’s article about Robert Spencer’s book. Derbyshire’s main point is that as long as our civilization is Christian, there’s no point in even talking about resisting Islamic expansion, since the Christians will open the gates to the Muslims every time. Let us be honest. There are many many Christians whose attitudes give support to Derbyshire’s view. As an example, let me just repeat what I heard Joseph Bottum, formerly at The Weekly Standard, now the managing editor of the Christian neocon journal First Things, say: “If we stopped letting Muslim immigrants into America, we would be as immoral as the terrorists.”.

Paul Cella, one of the founders of What’s Wrong with the World and a long-time VFR commenter, writes:

I saw you post on the debate. Let me take a moment to point out that WWwtW was conceived in emphatic opposition to Liberalism and the Jihad. All of us agree that Islamic immigration into this country should end, NOW—and most of us are on public record with this view. We want explicit discrimination against the Islamic religion written into the US Code. We want specific laws outlawing the preaching of the Islamic doctrines of Jihad and Sharia. We want drastic cuts in immigration more broadly, and we’re not inclined to make undue distinctions between legal and illegal.

So I would just urge that though we may disagree on the morality of bombing of Japanese cities, we’re on the same team here. Bill Luse, myself and Zippy have all emphasized that though we doubt the morality of those bombings, we do not pretend to stand in righteous judgment of the men to had to make those terrible decisions.

LA replies:

Mr. Cella says that Bill Luse and Zippy are anti-Liberals, but in all honesty they sound like hyper-liberals to me. Their views on war sound very similar to those of JPII. Was JPII an anti-liberal on matters of war and piece and crime and punishment?

Here’s my sense of it. Zippy and Luse and so on may be hardline on the single subject of Islam, but philosphically they are extreme, out-of-this-world liberals, saying things like, “You can’t do an immoral thing , i.e., kill a single innocent, even if it will save a million lives.” And my guess is that because they agree with Mr. Cella on Islam, he is not taking in how extreme left the rest of their philosophy is.

It’s like Mary Jackson over at New English Review. She’s apparently conservative (or so people say) in specific issues such as opposing Islam, immigration, and postmodernism. But her underlying premises, principles, and attitudes remain very liberal.

LA continues:

And by the way, we’re not talking about one of those sick “what-if” scenarios that are used in contemporary ethics classes where the choice is literally to murder an innocent person standing in front of you in order to save a million lives. We’re talking about real life situations, like bombing a Japanese city (a MILITARY city with a major army base and lots of factories and workshops producing military goods, a city on which tens of thousands of leaflets had been dropped warning the people to EVACUATE THIS CITY OR DIE) in order to end a war which if it continued would have cause infinitely more death and destruction, indeed the destruction of the entire country and people of Japen, since the military leaders wanted, for honor’s sake, that every Japanese person die rather than surrender to the Americans. The bomb ended that nightmare in two quick blows. As hideous and hellish as it was, I say it was not only the right thing to do, it was a blessing. And I thank God that the Christian pacifists at 4W were not in charge of the U.S. government at that time, because I think of the unlimited evils that their “morality” would have unleashed on the world.

Paul Cella writes:

You write: “And my guess is that because [Zippy and Bill Luse] agree with Mr. Cella on Islam, he is not taking in how extreme left the rest of their philosophy is.” This is difficult for me to credit. Last week Bill was busy arguing against religious liberty. Back in June he wrote one of the best polemics against Derbyshire-esque nihilism I have yet seen. Just yesterday Zippy argued that the doctrine of consent in political philosophy—that “a government’s just powers derive from the consent of the governed”—is heresy. If these men are Liberals, I’m a donut.

It is also difficult for me to see how the insistence on maintaining the prohibition on the deliberate taking of innocent life, can be construed as “extreme left.” It seems to me that it is much easier to construe that prohibition as the foundation of all morality. If circumstances justify violating even this prohibition, what moral prohibition may not be violated base on a circumstantial calculation? Is everything permitted if the situation dire enough?

Finally, in fact there is an extremely long thread discussing a scenario very similar to the one you posed in your “Inquiring minds want to know” comment: . I must confess that I grew weary of it, so I’m not sure how it ended.

LA replies:

Ok, as the Jewish joke goes, then they’re not liberals. But in their extreme devotion to a single idea of “rights” or rather of “right”—a single obsessive of idea of “right” which would lead them to sacrifice the good of their own country and of millions of people—in that important regard their thinking is very like that of liberals.

Terry M. writes:

Mr. Auster, it seems a strange omission to me, that of no mention of God’s Nature in all the comments to that thread over at WWWtW.

Now, I’m definately no expert, nor am I that well versed on the subject, but it seems like all the contributers to that thread (save a paltry couple) are particularly obsessed with a form of higher criticism, and that the ultimate and final authority on the matter rests in their own brand of same.

It seems like there’s no appeal made to God’s unchangeable nature, and shouldn’t there be? I can’t seem to put a finger on it, and I may well be way off base here, but have you considered this? Might I be on to something here? …

LA replies:

That’s really interesting. I like your use of the prhase “higher criticism.” The main thing that strikes me about them is the quality of pure abstract thinking that governs their opinions. And maybe in a different way you’re pointing to the same thing.

This may be different from what you’re saying, but this is what your comment makes me think: A question that ought to be brought up in that discussion, but isn’t brought up, is: What would God want us to do in a given situation? That’s concrete and specific. God’s interactions with Abraham, Jesus’ interactions with his followers, were concrete: Follow me, live your live in relation to me, and in doing that, you will “work things out” and do the right thing. It’s not based on some purely abstract reasoning process such as we’re seeing from my interlocutors at 4W, i.e., “one must never knowingly cause the death of a single innocent person even if the world is destroyed as a result.” Rather, it’s based on a whole human being, relating himself to God and the world and the specific circumstances the world presents to him, and using moral reasoning (the relation of general moral principles to concrete particulars) to figure out the right thing to do. And again, as I said at 4W, that’s not relativism.

Does that make sense?

Terry replies:

The short of it is yes; that makes all kinds of sense to me! The long of it could get exasperatingly long from this end so I’ll try to avoid that…

I am pointing to the exact same thing that you identify in their thinking. It never invokes the ultimate authority (God), nor His special revelation to us (His Word) except as an abstraction from the whole. Moreover, it never contemplates the differences in our existences—God’s necessity; Man’s unnecessary and completely dependent existence. It never considers that guilt and innocence are not ours ultimately to decide. It does not even allow for God himself, who is pure perfection, singularity, and simplicity, to contrast the ideas of killing with murder. It does not even take into account that Christ confirmed the authority of the whole Bible.

The point I’m attempting to make is simply this, if it took God’s Nature seriously into account, it would assent to God’s absolute authority over His creation, including man, and over the idea of guilt and innocence. It would acknowledge the infinite divide between man’s logic, however refined, and that of God. God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gamorah, and by their [the commenters at 4W] idea of “innocence,” those cities must have had many innocents, but we see that only a few escaped. This to them would be unjustifiable if man had destroyed those cities in that way, not having the cities completely evacuated prior to destroying them. Since God did it, on the other hand, then it is seen as justifiable in their eyes. But does God’s nature allow for such an apparent contradiction. Can it be seen as just and righteous if God does it, and evil if man does it; can it be seen as killing if God does it, and murder if man does it, simply because God is God, and man, man? Another thing would be to ask whether God gave those cities fair warning? It seems clear to me that He did, as in the days of the flood, but in both cases they did not listen and were destroyed. Whereas in some others they heeded the warnings and went about correcting themselves—Nineveh. This seems to parallel the question about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I think another version of the question you ask would be: does God use modern man in this way to accomplish His ends, or has He? And if He does (or has), wouldn’t that implicate God as being a murderer, or an accomplice to murder based on their reasoning?

The question is does that make any sense?, because my mind is going in all kinds of directions here.

LA replies:

Your points do make sense. In fact, I think you’re saying something really profound. The 4W guys think that they have the inside track on a single unchangeable rule of absolute morality: thou shalt not knowingly or collaterally kill an innocent person, even if the whole universe must be destroyed as a consequence. They thus think that there is one particular aspect of God’s law that they know absolutely. They’re ignoring the truth, shown in the Bible over and over, that God’s justice, plans, and purposes often transcend man’s ability to understand them. So the 4W guys are in effect reducing the totality of God, or of God’s moral law, to a single rationalistic formula which they think is completely knowable and comprehensible to themselves (which by the way is a very liberal thing to do—see Michael Oakeshott’s famous essay on rationalism), rather than dealing with God as a reality greater than themselves. Now, this is not to say that God is completely unknowable, like Allah. No. God and God’s works are in conformity with human reason (as Pope Benedict said in his ill-fated Regensburg lecture), and so are knowable and intelligible to us. But not completely intelligible. How could God be completely intelligible to us, since he is our infinite creator, and we his finite creatures?

Bob P. writes:

I have been following with interest the discussion both here and at What’s Wrong with the World about the morality of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of your commenters, Terry M., pointed out that there had been no mention of “God’s Nature” in any of the comments. This got me to thinking. Couldn’t a comparison be made between the bombing of Hiroshima and the tenth plague visited upon the people of Egypt by God in the book of Exodus, where all the first born died? Did the innocent not die to accomplish the good of freeing the Israelites from bondage? I know that this sounds rather jarring stated this way. I also realize than man is not God and must not presume to act as if he were God. But since man is made in the image of God, would not it make sense that we would try to act in a similar fashion? I must add that the depth of my knowledge of both history and the Bible is puddle-deep, so I may be way out of line. But it seems that this might be a more interesting question to ponder than the abstract, What would you not have done to end the war? type of question, which Zippy and others kept peppering you with at 4W.

LA replies:

Bob’s question brings to mind what I said in another thread, that there was somehow a horrible, fated “match” between the Japanese’s insanely gung-ho aggressiveness, and the Bomb which was the only way to end that aggressiveness. I’m suggesting that they, to use a word from outside our tradition, karmically brought this on themselves. And that is another way of expressing Bob’s analogy to the slaying of the first born in Exodus. Pharoah symbolizes the human ego, in full resistance to God’s commands, refusing to let go its grip on the human soul so that the soul can go and serve God.. Only punishing disaster can finally humble that ego and make it “let my people go.” So, just as Pharoah’s stubbornness brought on the plagues, leading to the catastrophe of the tenth plague, in the same way the Japanese’s fanaticism brought on the Bomb.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying and would not dream of saying that the individual Japanese people who were incinerated, melted, blinded, and destroyed by the A-bomb deserved what happened to them. I am making an analogy to Exodus, where there is a kind of collective retribution on an entire people.

Terry M. writes:

Forgive the additional reply on this matter, but take a look at the interesting impression my friend E.S. came away with after I turned him on to the 4W discussion. (Note: I don’t think he means to equate the Koran with the Bible, which his words seem to imply.)

Here’s what E.S. wrote to me:

The spirit of the conversation struck me as something of a dangerous polar opposite of radical Islamicism. Just as the radical Muslims think they’re doing God a favor by killing as many as possible, the 4W crowd feel as if they’re doing God a favor by killing no one. Both of these notions arise from a strict translation of each of their scriptures that fail to take into account the whole account of those scriptures. In short, you really hit on something when you brought into question their concept of a God-perspective (or lack thereof). They both (Islamists and 4W’ers) seem to get used to with that part of God they can comfortably wrap their mind around and run away with it. Islamists can’t seem to comprehend His Mercy, 4W don’t seem to comprehend His Justice.

LA replies:

Yes, E.S. is wrong on the “radical Islamicists,” as he calls them, because, contrary to what he believes, there is no larger perspective in the Koran that would obviate the killing of infidels; the Koran and the Islamic law that grows from the Koran and the hadiths repeatedly commands the killing of infidels. But E.S. is right about the 4W Christians, because they are taking one aspect of Christian moral teaching and making it the whole.

And people tend to do this kind of thing more and more in a period of social breakdown. Why? Because society itself has lost its sense of wholeness, so it becomes harder for people to see anything whole. So, out of a desire for certainty, they attach themselves to some partial aspect of things and make that their exclusive focus.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 22, 2007 09:11 PM | Send

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