07 April 2005

"Chastened patriotism"

I'm in Orange County, California, for the funeral of my father-in-law, looking at a hotel television covering John Paul II's funeral.

In free moments, I keep reading Chris Hedges' book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. Back on December 2, I quoted from his New York Review of Books article, and I've continued reading him with much appreciation.

The phrase "chastened patriotism" comes from someone else - Jean Bethke Elshtain, whose book, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, is one of three books reviewed in the March-April issue of Books & Culture. The review article, "Between Pacifism and Jihad: The just-war tradition reconsidered," by J. Daryl Charles, is available online. I like the phrase, although based on Chris Hedges' observations on national mythologies in his book, it seems like a rare and currently unlikely phenomenon.

I have never found just war arguments persuasive, maybe for the same reason that I doubt that chastened patriotism actually exists to a meaningful degree. And the reason isn't that I'm too idealistic. Quite the opposite. The Bible, which commands us to love our enemies, is utterly realistic about human frailties and the universality of sin. To me, pacifism makes sense (and in fact to me only makes sense) as a sign and miracle, evidence of the power of community life in Christ. If a church leader tells me that community life in Christ doesn't make it possible to live so completely differently that we can refuse using or threatening lethal force, if that is a miracle that is beyond God's power, I have to reply that their theology is incomplete or compromised. And God knows the power of social structures and the "powers and principalities" to warp our theology.

In the world of pacifists, this probably makes me something of a hybrid, more than a "vocational" pacifist and less than an absolutist (to borrow from John Howard Yoder's typology). I respect and appreciate the work of thinkers such as Chris Hedges, who take the sentimentality and dilettantism out of the discussion. Evil is real; our response must be equally real. I do not expect these observers of reality to factor in the reality of the Holy Spirit, nor can I claim that the Spirit factor guarantees, pragmatically, a different outcome for any particular confrontation with evil. I am just hoping that the conversation continues, while at the same time we add to the numbers of believers who put all their eggs in the Jesus basket and withdraw their resources from the war system. Truth always serves the cause of God, and Chris Hedges' book has the bitter taste of truth.

1 comment:

Alan Rutherford said...

I was disappointed by that Books & Culture review. Its subheading, "The just-war tradition reconsidered," gave me the impression that at least one of these books had done something other than simply reaffirming just-war thinking. Wouldn't Ron Mock's "Loving without Giving In" have provided some welcome balance to that review?

I haven't read gobs of books about peace issues. John Howard Yoder's "When War Is Unjust" changed my perception of the just-war tradition. I'd always looked at it as diametrically opposed to pacifism. I think Yoder is positing that they're not nearly as far apart as that. If leaders took the criteria for war seriously and applied them honestly, they would seldom if ever resort to war. However, just-war will always get a lot of lipservice by leaders in the West -- and those who support their military victory!