Like joining Greenpeace and hating whales

by Richard on June 9, 2011

Shamelessly stolen from the splendid PamBG

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1

PamBG 06.09.11 at 10:59 am

I’ll be interested to hear the defenses for the concept of “Why Jesus didn’t really mean do good to those who persecute you”.

2

Kim 06.09.11 at 11:37 am

I saw this clip when it first came out. It’s actually a quite brilliant sermon, inerrantly biblical, hilariously funny, and chillingly direct. It is also a succint and compelling argument on why the church must reject violence, especially seemingly righteous violence - not because Christians are good while the world is evil, but because Christians themselves are too prone to sin (not least the sin of self-deceit) to assume responsbility for directing the course of history by violent means. And it takes an atheist to be right on the money. Figure it.

3

Wood 06.09.11 at 12:12 pm

Bill Maher, by the way, for this is he, is pro-death-penalty, pro-military, and anti-social security.

This is sort of a “stopped clock/twice a day” interface really.

4

Malc 06.09.11 at 1:21 pm

but Wood…. aren’t most evangelical American Christians exactly the same…??

5

Richard 06.09.11 at 2:33 pm

@Wood & Kim: It is bizarre that it takes someone like Bill Maher to point out what should be obvious to anyone who has read the gospels. Prophets come in many shapes and sizes.

6

PamBG 06.09.11 at 2:43 pm

What Richard said.

7

Kim 06.09.11 at 2:54 pm

@ Wood and Malc: The difference is that Maher can tell the time.

8

Wood 06.09.11 at 3:02 pm

@Richard Oh, absolutely. And kind of sad, too.

9

Tony Buglass 06.09.11 at 4:32 pm

“Fans not followers.” Brilliant.

10

Kim 06.09.11 at 5:23 pm

An old line, Tony - I once preached a sermon with that title!

My favourite line in the monologue is “Gandhi was so fucking Christian he was Hindu.”

11

Richard 06.09.11 at 7:29 pm

Wood’s too. He tweeted it earlier.

12

Paul Martin 06.09.11 at 10:00 pm

Wow that was on the money!

13

Joseph W 06.09.11 at 10:13 pm

I don’t think the Sermon on the Mount applies to sovereign nations, just individuals, but I should say I think Bill Maher did an excellent job in the way he presented his case. A very sharp man.

14

Paul Martin 06.09.11 at 10:36 pm

But are not sovereign nations made up of individuals?

BTW what have Earl and Doug to say on this?

15

Tony Buglass 06.09.11 at 11:49 pm

They’ve been a bit quiet, haven’t they?

16

Kim 06.10.11 at 12:24 am

Maher isn’t talking about government policy, Joseph, he’s talking about Christians, specifically evangelical Christians, and their “auditing” of the teaching of Jesus on violence. He mentions Obama once. Obama is the president. But he also claims to be a Christian. So are you arguing for some kind of Lutheran two kingdoms doctrine, where you park your Christian faith on Pennsylvania Avenue when you enter the White House? The main problem with such a strategy - viz., that faith is an irrelevance in the affairs of state because there is a strict division of labour between the sacred and the secular, the private and the public - is that the gospels do not mention it. There is also the little historical lesson that a two-kingdoms culture-Protestantism eased public acquiescence in the Deutsche Christen support for Nazi ideology. “Let the church look after your souls,” said Goebbels, “it is for the Reich to look after your bodies”. That is precisely the problem with the church, by and large, in the US: it accepts an advisory role to the government, but when the decisions are made, it concedes the obedience of its members to the flag rather than the cross.

17

Joseph W 06.10.11 at 12:26 am

My argument would go:

1. War is sometimes just.
2. Some acts of war are just.
3. Assassinating Bin Laden is a just act of war.

It doesn’t mean that we should go around killing people who we don’t like.

To that extent I agree fully with Maher.

I also agree that Christians should follow Christ’s teachings and examples.

18

PamBG 06.10.11 at 12:30 am

But are not sovereign nations made up of individuals?

No. Sovereign nations get to kill anyone they don’t like because it’s almost impossible to pin the deed on any one individual.

19

PamBG 06.10.11 at 12:31 am

1. From a Christian point of view, I’d argue that war is never just although it could sometimes be the least worst option.

Parse for points 2. and 3.

20

Joseph W 06.10.11 at 12:37 am

Look, if Bin Laden had murdered Obama’s children, and Obama had murdered Bin Laden in revenge, I’d say there’s good reason to question Obama’s judgement as a Christian.

It wouldn’t mean: Obama’s not a Christian.

I think Obama killing Bin Laden as the commander-in-chief of the US forces, eliminating his number 1 enemy who has declared war on his nation, is reasonable.

21

Kim 06.10.11 at 12:49 am

Talk about begging the question, Joseph. Which “war” are we talking about? The so-called “war on terror”? The “war” where the US government first made up the name, and has followed by making up the moral criteria for conducting it as it goes along? And “just”, you say? As in church teaching on “just war criteria”? “Assassination”, i.e., with no intent to take BL alive? I’m afraid your theological intelligence has gone on holiday.

22

PamBG 06.10.11 at 11:15 am

I think Obama killing Bin Laden as the commander-in-chief of the US forces, eliminating his number 1 enemy who has declared war on his nation, is reasonable.

It may very well be “reasonable” for a politician deciding on an act of war.

But that actually cuts to the heart of this video. As Christians, we don’t get to decide what we personally think is “reasonable”. As this video points out “Non-violence was kinda Jesus’ big thing.” It’s “kinda” the central thing he taught. If I said I was a devoted follower of Gandhi and I think Gandhi would have thought it reasonable to kill all his enemies, you’d look at me and wonder if I’d studied history and had any flipping clue what he stood for.

Maher gets to decide what he thinks is reasonable. He doesn’t claim to be a follower of Jesus. Possibly because he understands what it means to follow Jesus and he understands that passive resistance can put himself, his family and his country at risk.

Which is why Christians never have the option to take the view that, in a war, one side is entirely good and that it doesn’t matter when the good guys kill their enemies babies.

23

Joseph W 06.10.11 at 6:59 pm

Okay.

Jesus says turn the other cheek.

If someone wants to take your tunic, says Jesus, let him take your cloak as well.

Let’s imagine someone breaks into a jewellery shop and steals a golden watch. Two policemen walk by.

Should the policemen let the thief also take a diamond ring?

24

Kim 06.10.11 at 8:07 pm

Of course not. But you are confusing policing with waging war, two very different things socially and structurally.

25

Joseph W 06.10.11 at 9:36 pm

I’m comparing the way the Gospels literally apply with an individual, to the way they apply to state apparatus.

You seem to be implying that Obama should act literally on Jesus’ commands, as an individual Christian, even in his role as Commander-in-Chief.

But these individual Christians who are policemen, shouldn’t just let the thief steal more things, even though Jesus says they should let someone take your cloak as well as your tunic.

You disagree about whether in principle it was right to kill Bin Laden. Okay.

What I’m saying, is you can’t literally apply Jesus’ commands to his followers, to the state apparatus.

You’re saying, you can apply it to police but not to the army.

26

Joseph W 06.10.11 at 9:36 pm

*should say:

“You’re saying, you can apply it to the army but not to the police.”

27

Anonymous 06.10.11 at 9:57 pm

“You seem to be implying that Obama should act literally on Jesus’ commands, as an individual Christian, even in his role as Commander-in-Chief.”

Actually Obama, and any card-carrying Christian — should ixnay any ambition to be the President in the first place, due to the inevitable conflict between the teachings of their Lord and that job description.

28

doug 06.10.11 at 11:06 pm

I’m with Joseph W. on this one in him pointing out the double standard on the killing of Bin Laden and war. War on terror is just as much a war like any other. There isn’t any “murdering of people we don’t like”. It is the killing of people who will murder innocent people in the future and at the same time have murdered innocent people as well.

29

Joseph W 06.10.11 at 11:12 pm

Anon, who then should be President, on this earth?

No-one?

Should it be in the President’s job description then, that he must reject Christ?

30

Kim 06.10.11 at 11:23 pm

With Yoder, I am always looking for constructive conversations between pacifists and just-war Christians. If just-war Christians hold their position with integrity, there is no reason why they should not almost always be on the same page as pacifists over particular wars. If a war is demonstrably unjust, by just-war criteria themselves (ad bellum or in bello), then Chrisians who knowingly engage in it, against the teaching of the church, as commanders or as grunts, ply their profession in sin. There should be nothing controversial about this statement. It is the straightforward theo-logic of the matter. Pacifists will want to contest just-war theory itself, of course, but - again - just-war Christians who wage unjust wars stand self-condemned. Bush and Blair - and now Obama and Cameron - well, you know what they say about ducks. Again, for the sake of argument, I am not demanding that they be pacifists, just honourable just-war Christians. And I take it as read that the church trumps the state when it comes to obedience.

And on the police and the military, as Yoder observes: “The doctrine of the ‘just war’ is an effort to extend into the realm of war the logic of the limited violence of police authority - but [he adds] not a very successful one.” It is certainly unsuccessful in Iraq and Afghanistan - in the overwhelming opinion of the churches.

31

PamBG 06.11.11 at 12:41 am

Joseph W:

Jesus didn’t have one or two “literal” comments about non-violent resistance that we have to take as literal but we can ignore everything else. Non-violent resistance not only constitutes the bulk of Jesus’ teaching, it constitutes the central act that Christians say brings redemption: his crucifixion.

That’s why I made the comparison with Gandhi in our time. To be a follower of Gandhi, does a person absolutely have to be a vegetarian? I’d say no. Can a person be a war-monger? Absolutely not because non-violent resistance was the center of meaning for Gandhi. It was also the center of meaning for Jesus.

As to who should be President, my point is this: You may very well say that the President is entitled to make decisions about war. Do not, however, ask me as a Christian minister to say “Oh, Jesus would approve of war when we do it even though he doesn’t approve of war when our enemies do it.” Don’t expect me to bless war in my office as a Christian minister. And don’t expect me to say that God thinks war is OK in my office as a Christian minister.

32

Tony Buglass 06.11.11 at 9:51 am

PamBG: “…I’d argue that war is never just although it could sometimes be the least worst option.”

This hits the nail on the head, as far as I’m concerned. Just war theory doesn’t seem to me to cover adequately the problem of war developing its own momentum, its own self-justifying standards and practices. In 1939, RAF bombers dropped leaflets on German cities and brought their bombs home when they couldn’t be sure of hitting the naval units they were going after. The German practice of bombing cities was condemned. By the end of 1942, the RAF was embarked upon a strategy of pattern bombing of German cities, culminating in the devastation of every major city and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. That which was condemned as evil at the start of the war had become the norm, not only accepted but celebrated by most British people.

War may be the least worst option, and may be the only available response when we are attacked. I would always hope that war is the last option - unfortunately, I’m not convinced that our current campaign in Afghanistan was the most appropriate or last choice, any more than he invasion of Iraq was to do with the last option in dealing with a bad situation - George W was itching to finish his daddy’s unfinished business. The thousands of innocent lives lost since then surely challenge any concept of ‘just war’.

33

Joseph W 06.11.11 at 11:45 am

Kim, I don’t expect you to say anything, apart from what you think. That’s all I would ever expect from anyone.

“Jesus didn’t have one or two “literal” comments about non-violent resistance that we have to take as literal but we can ignore everything else.”

Hold on, “turn the other cheek” does not mean: don’t fight back, or some for of pacifism.

Here is the verse in full:

“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

If we apply this to governments, does this mean:

“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone murders 3000 of your citizens, allow him to murder another 3000 also.”

If you draw political pacifism from the “turn the other cheek”, you must take with it the idea of political submission to murderous forces.

But it would be more sensible to say, that what Jesus says here about “turning the other cheek [to present it for your enemy to strike]“, has nothing to do with how governments should protect their citizens - which is the entire point of government.

34

PamBG 06.11.11 at 4:33 pm

If you draw political pacifism from the “turn the other cheek”, you must take with it the idea of political submission to murderous forces.

Again: Least worst option. If the US sends all its military might to Iceland to bomb civilians and homes and factories, will God understand and have mercy on them if they shoot back and kill some American soldiers? Yes, I believe God will.

Will God say “Oh, in this instance, killing people is not murder”? No, I don’t believe God will. God will, however, understand that killing American soldiers in this case was the least-worst option.

I am trying to make a distinction here between:
(a) God understands the concept of necessary and defensive force and will forgive it.

and

(b) God favours the United States and will bless the US whenever it kills people who the US considers to be its enemies.

And did Jesus take his teachings seriously enough to get himself killed? Um, yes. Was getting all his people killed his ultimate objective? Of course not.

35

Joseph W 06.11.11 at 11:51 pm

“Least worst option”

Pam - Okay but then we’re talking about pragmatism and utilitarianism when it comes to war, rather than how to apply Jesus’ commands in the Beatitudes to governments.

For example, I strongly believe that killing Bin Laden was the “least worst option”.

36

PamBG 06.12.11 at 12:50 am

Okay but then we’re talking about pragmatism and utilitarianism when it comes to war, rather than how to apply Jesus’ commands in the Beatitudes to governments.

Maybe you are. I’m not. There have been many conversations on this blog over the last few months where people have come here expecting Christian ministers to say “God will bless you for killing those evil people, your enemies”. And, when we haven’t said that, the accusation is that we are inherently racist and “anti-you” (for any and all values of “you”.)

What I believe is the heart of the Christian message is that God loves everyone. Period. Without exception. Even your enemies. Even the person who killed your father or child. That doesn’t mean God thinks that the killing was OK or that it wasn’t a sin. It means you don’t get to kill your enemy with God’s blessing.

For example, I strongly believe that killing Bin Laden was the “least worst option”.

Politically and pragmatically, my own suspicion is that it was largely irrelevant.

37

Joseph W 06.12.11 at 10:37 am

It means you don’t get to kill your enemy with God’s blessing.

Yes, but we’ve established that there’s a difference between

a) murdering someone
b) killing someone as a just act of war

most people would class the assassination of Bin Laden as the latter, for perfectly moral, Christian reasons.

38

Kim 06.12.11 at 12:56 pm

In assassinating BL, the US - let’s see - broke international law, rejected due process, and violated natural human rights. Even pre-theologically this behaviour is hardly moral; Machiavellian more like; like, er, something out of the BL school of geopolitics. Which, of course, is the awful irony of the self-corrupting ways the US wages it’s “war” against terror.

And as “for perfectly moral, Christian reasons” - a THEOLOGY FAIL for sure. Not least, Joseph, because you continue to beg the question whether the war on terror constitutes a just war, or even, for that matter, a “war” (wars are military conflicts between nations), rather than, as it was for Bush, a visceral act of vengeance for a criminal act of mass murder

Finally, since when does what “most people” think constitute a moral argument? Again, it seems to be asking too much of you to engage with church teaching, let alone with the New Testament, on this matter. Instead you mimic the 24/12/01 (Christmas Eve!) article in Newsweek entitled “Evil in the Cross Hairs”, which shamelessly explored reviving political assassination as an approved method of promoting national security. And, hey, what do you know …

I think I’m done here. Others can have a last word.

39

PamBG 06.12.11 at 12:58 pm

Yes, but we’ve established that there’s a difference between

a) murdering someone
b) killing someone as a just act of war

Sorry, who is “we”. I have not established that. I deny it totally. There is no difference at all. Both are sins.

most people would class the assassination of Bin Laden as the latter, for perfectly moral, Christian reasons.

Most people have bastardized the Christian religion. The old stereotypical question comes to mind: Just because my friends are jumping off a cliff, should I follow?

40

Joseph W 06.12.11 at 1:36 pm

I said “most people”, because the assumption seems to be that you can only support the killing of Bin Laden, if you’re a heretical Christian who deliberately ignores Jesus’ commands. I just wanted to point out, that isn’t generally the case.

It’s not that, if you support Bin Laden’s assassination, then you must be a psychopath or a horrible person.

I don’t support every aspect of the war on terror. I do support the war against the Taliban and Bin Laden 100%.

If there is no difference between killing and murdering, then Hitler is no morally worse than General Patton.

“Again, it seems to be asking too much of you to engage with church teaching, let alone with the New Testament, on this matter.”

Please, let’s do so, that would be great.

Which church teaching/ New Testament passage would you like me to engage with?

41

PamBG 06.12.11 at 4:17 pm

I said “most people”, because the assumption seems to be that you can only support the killing of Bin Laden, if you’re a heretical Christian who deliberately ignores Jesus’ commands. I just wanted to point out, that isn’t generally the case.

Of course, it’s not generally the case. Because we always want to justify our actions and to see ourselves as entirely in the right and our enemy entirely in the wrong.

It’s not that, if you support Bin Laden’s assassination, then you must be a psychopath or a horrible person.

No. It simply means that, exactly like everyone else in the world, you are a fallible, sinful human being.

If there is no difference between killing and murdering, then Hitler is no morally worse than General Patton.

In Christian doctrine, that’s true. I know it wasn’t Patton, but do you actually want to be in a position where you argue that the bombing of Dresden was a moral act? That the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents on the ground were something to be celebrated in the eyes of God as nothing more than a pragmatic action in a war that was just?

Coming out of conservative Christianity, what I find odd is that I was constantly taught that I should understand that I’m a sinner. But this seemed to require nothing more than sitting and looking at my navel thinking “I’m so horrible that God couldn’t possibly love me.”

Whereas the doctrine of everyone being a sinner is perfectly plain in this context of violence: sometimes we have to commit a sin to save ourselves but where we will lose our path is when we say “I had to do it to save my life, therefore I am not a sinner and not only was my action not a sin, it was actually a blessing upon the universe.”

We’ve got the doctrine of “everyone is a sinner” totally upside down. God doesn’t want us to sit around pointlessly thinking that we’re horrible individuals. God does want us to stop killing each other.

42

Tony Buglass 06.12.11 at 11:50 pm

“I know it wasn’t Patton, but do you actually want to be in a position where you argue that the bombing of Dresden was a moral act? ”

No, it was Bomber Harris. There was a very good drama-doc about him a few years ago, starring John Thaw as Harris and Robert Hardy as Churchill. I seem to remember a scene in which Harris delivers a lecture on “The Ethics of Bombing” and is upbraided by his chaplain for having really dealt with the bombing of ethics.

DH and Earl possibly would argue the case you posit. I wouldn’t, but I suggest it illustrates my earlier argument that war has its own momentum, and the fact that Dresden was bombed in the way it was by the same Allies who condemned Guernica and Rotterdam yet ended up delivering much greater devastation, shows something of the awful contingency of war. Once the war had begun between the powers who engaged in it, the consequences were almost inevitable. With hindsight, we might want to argue that the British wold have acted more morally or with greater restraint had they produced more Mosquitos than Lancasters, dropping fewer bombs with greater precision, with fewer losses of less-vulnerable aircraft and fewer aircrew - but that is hindsight, based upon the experience of later technologies. I stand by what I suggested earlier, agreeing with you, that war might be the least worst option - Dresden is a messy case, but was logical consequence of that least worst option; tragic, certainly, and never good, but part of a war which, if not just, was preferable to the alternative. Bomber Harris may have been unfairly vilified for his actions in ordering the attacks on Dresden, and used as a scapegoat by Churchill, but I reckon Hitler was at least as responsible if not more so for the thousands of civilian casualties in a city which was part of a state engaged in total war and thus a legitimate military target.

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