Friday, February 22, 2008

Just War or Pacifism?

That's essentially the question the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has posed for itself. At the 2006 General Assembly the UUA resolved to give the question four years of study. Paul Rasor takes a look at both traditions in the current UU World.
Specifically, he focuses on a restrictive model of just war theory that philosopher Jenny Teichman refers to as "just war pacifism."
For Unitarian Universalists, a key benefit of the just war approach is its assumption that decisions about war and peace are always subject to moral criticism. Walzer argues that just war “is a doctrine of radical responsibility” because it holds officials morally accountable for decisions that affect the lives of thousands of human beings. The restrictive just war model is therefore a valuable tool that can help us frame our prophetic critique.

Pacifism, as he describes its place in peace churches, is rooted in Christianity, which would be problematic for most UUs. As he writes:
The just war model developed largely through principles of natural law, not through articles of faith or interpretation of scripture. To put it in terms we liberals are familiar with, just war is grounded in reason, not in revelation.

For the peace churches, pacifism is not a philosophical position; it is a way of life. The commitment to nonviolence does not come from being rationally persuaded that peace is the best policy, and decisions about war are not made through reasoned analysis or by applying a list of criteria. Instead, as Roman Catholic ethicist Lisa Cahill puts it, pacifism is "a practical embodiment of a religious conversion experience." It speaks through the heart, not through the mind. Cahill says that critics of pacifism often misunderstand this. Just war is basically a "rule-based approach to the problem of violence," and when just war theorists look at pacifism, they see a rule-based theory with only one rule. But this misses the point. Pacifism cannot be understood by trying to discern the types of violence it will or will not allow. Instead, it can be understood only by looking at "the core understanding of the Christian moral life upon which [it] is premised."

Rasor goes on to touch upon the history of both philosophies in Unitarianism and Universalism from William Ellery Channing through Theodore Parker and Adin Ballou and up to the Viet Nam War, pointing out the divide that has existed between the two camps. He concludes that a compromise that he calls "prophetic nonviolence" could bridge this. He proposes connecting UU principles directly to the prophetic critique:
  • We affirm the basic unity of all existence. Beneath our individuality and our enormous diversity lies a profound relationality—an interdependent web—that connects us. This unity helps us envision a world in which there is no Other to war against.
  • Love is one of the deepest theological principles in our tradition. By affirming the value of love, we commit ourselves to creating relationships of compassion, respect, mutuality, and forgiveness. We commit ourselves to loving our neighbor, and to seeing everyone as our neighbor. We are challenged to think about how love might apply to international relations.
  • We affirm that all persons have inherent worth and dignity, including the right to a meaningful and fulfilling life. War obviously restricts the possibilities for human fulfillment.
  • Freedom is grounded in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Because human beings are free moral agents, any form of coercion or violence is an assault on our very humanity. War is the product of human choices, and human beings have the moral capacity to make different choices.
  • Justice is manifested in the right ordering of human relationships; war represents the breakdown of rightly ordered relationships. We have a religious obligation to create just communities and social structures, and an obligation to speak out against unjust practices and structures.
  • Power can be exercised for good or evil; it can create or destroy, liberate or oppress. War is an expression of coercive and violent power; peace and justice require cooperative forms of power. Power’s ambiguous nature means that its use must be guided by our core values such as love and justice.

It's a very good article, probably the best thing I've read in UU World (far, far better than the extremely offensive piece a couple issues back about why UUism doesn't appeal to blue collars). I highly recommend reading the entire thing. I find it difficult to ever justify war because I find it difficult to justify the nation-states themselves. I don't believe in pacifism, however, because just as I would like to reserve the right to defend myself, I would like to reserve the right to assist in another's defense.

Apropos of nothing, here's Fugazi "Styrofoam"

1 comment:

VikingMoose said...

that's really interesting!