Tuesday, April 12, 2016

In The Right Measure

OK, this post isn't a celebration of the pop song by Nick Lowe but that does have a catchy chorus:  "You gotta to be cruel to be kind, in the right measure.  Cruel to be kind, it's a very good sign."

Lowe's song wormed its way as I read Marc LiVecche's "The Violence of Pacifism."  Responding to a Sojourners blogger who suggested today's Christians would be judged by their inaction in the face of great evils, LiVecche criticizes the Sojourners' advocacy of pacifism.  That, LiVecche argues, actually makes things worse.  The Crucifixion certainly indicts human violence, but focusing solely there, LiVecche suggests, misses the point.  

The cross saved us, indeed, from our sins; but it did not save us from sinning: that is, it reconciled us to God but not necessarily to our neighbor. Scripture certainly doesn’t pretend so, as demonstrated by Paul’s assertion that God provides the sword as a necessary answer, however temporary and ultimately inadequate, to the practical problem of human evil.

Correct--in this fallen world, to achieve good sometimes you need a show--and sometimes use--of force.  LiVecche again:

The just war tradition recognizes that those who mean the innocent harm cannot always be talked out of their evildoing and must, instead, be knocked out of it. In fact, for an example of this we can gesture briefly to Mattson’s concern about racism. In September of 1957, in order to support the Little Rock Nine’s attempt to integrate Central High School in Arkansas, President Eisenhower needed to order the Army’s 101stAirborne Division to protect the nine from the ongoing threats of white mob violence hellbent on preventing black students from going to class. Force and power, the very things Mattson [SD note: Sojourners' blogger] wants Christians to abandon, were necessary to desegregate schools. Force cannot create peace, but it can create the conditions necessary for peace to have any chance at all of taking root. In any case, while there is a divine mandate that speaks to turning our other cheek to our attacker, there is never such warrant to turn our neighbor’s unstruck cheek to their attacker. This should all be rather self-evident. If our actions in history result in greater harm for our innocent-neighbor getting their teeth kicked out but great delight for our enemy-neighbor doing the kicking, we ought to wonder if there’s something amiss in our policy. When the cost of the preservation of our own piety is our innocent-neighbor’s annihilation, then this act of self-centered other-donation is a moral perversion. So pacifism also does violence to the innocently assailed neighbor.

Wow, that's a powerful line--and a provocative criticism of a pro-pacifist argument that, LiVecche recognizes, far too often gets a free-pass in today's conversations.  Pacifism is, of course, admirable:  Dorothy Day and even modern figures like Bishop Robert Barron have advocated it.  But to declare oneself for that is far different than declaring for oneself and everybody else the same agenda.  We cannot, LiVecche notes, hide our refusal act under a non-violent mantle.  Our faith requires action, and sometimes, rarely, we pray, circumstances might require the use of force.  This recognition should be seen for what it is:  a proportionate and infrequent response.  Resorting to violence first is a lustful, self-satisfying response that helps no one and hurts everybody involved, both victim and perpetrator. LiVecche does a good service to reiterate this.

Read it all here.

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