A Further Perspective

Pacifism in the Dock

 The Christian-Pacifist attacks on C. S. Lewis come from a long tradition of leftism.

By 9.13.12

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Mark Tooley has done us a service by calling attention to Stanley Hauerwas's challenge to C.S. Lewis's demolition of Christian Pacifism. However, I believe there are several further points to make on this subject.

Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, had the wily old devil Screwtape point out to his pupil that, from the point of view of Hell war, though it caused agreeable terror, wickedness and suffering among humans, also, unfortunately, led to deplorable instances of bravery, nobility and self-sacrifice. In wartime people were aware of what was in fact always with them -- death, and one of Hell's most useful tools, contented worldliness, was lost. From Hell's point of view, war was a two-edged sword, and devils should not be too quick to unthinkingly rejoice over it.

The "patient" in The Screwtape Letters -- the young man whose damnation Screwtape and his pupil are working towards -- becomes an air-raid warden, dies bravely doing his duty and is at once translated into the presence of God -- from Hell's point of view a disastrous ending.

Thus, for Lewis war, as such, was morally important only insofar as it led one to Heaven or Hell. This is not, of course, to say he was either unpatriotic or a war-monger. As Mr. Tooley pointed out, he had served in the front line in World War I. He was a junior Lieutenant. One of a class that had an average life-expectancy of about two weeks. Some details are given in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy.

In World War II, though still carrying shell-splinters in his body from the previous war, he joined the Home Guard and took part in freezing, dreary patrols on bitter English winter nights, in addition to his other war-work, such as broadcasting and giving talks at Royal Air Force Stations. Lewis believed -- his sermon "The Weight of Glory" is one of the most powerful expressions of this -- that we were beings who were going to live as spirits forever.

That we were going to die on Earth was inevitable and not very important. The state of mind in which we died was all-important, and a life devoted to avoiding death at all costs, even if it meant allowing Treblinka and Auschwitz to flourish undisturbed, was not admirable and certainly not Christian.

"Auschwitz" by the way, is one of a number of words conspicuously not mentioned in Hauerwas's essay. He does claim, however: "But there are nonviolent alternatives to protect innocent people from unjust attack. It is, moreover, quite a logical leap from using force to stop a homicidal maniac to justifying war." And what about when you are confronted by a whole nation, or a large part of one, behaving like homicidal maniacs? This avoidance of the difficult questions is typical of the flabbier Christian-pacifist writings and deserves no respect.

Refusing to defend oneself was one matter; refusing to defend others was another. In another essay, "The Necessity of Chivalry," Lewis wrote in praise of the Knight, the figure who combined strength and valor with gentleness and care for others. The knight, Lewis said, was an artificial creation -- most men when unimproved were either wimps or brutes -- but the knight was essential for Christian civilization. In The Lord of the Rings, Lewis's friend J.R.R. Tolkien put in a pacifist, the forest-spirit Tom Bombadil; he was kindly and helpful, but it was made clear he could not cope with the task of standing up to evil.

However, one of the major points against pacifism, which is not mentioned in Mr. Tooley's column, is its history: it has a record in the last century of being on the wrong side, too frequently to be by mere chance.

The war in Vietnam produced massive pacifist demonstrations against the defense of South Vietnam, but North Vietnam's massive and direct invasion of South Vietnam in the first part of 1975 produced no protests whatsoever. Similarly, in World War II, pacifism flourished in the British Empire (and previously France) for the most part before the German attack on Russia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the international peace movement also collapsed, though wars went on. Quite apart from empirical evidence, innumerable studies (such as William C. Fletcher's Religion and Soviet Foreign Policy) have put it beyond doubt that the international peace movements in the 20th century were predominantly communist-controlled.

It is quite enlightening. with the advantages of hindsight, to read the literature put out by various pacifist/religious bodies during the Cold War today and see how total their pro-Soviet bias was.

Much literature put out by the World Council of Churches, the Christian Peace Conference and the Congress for International Co-Operation and Disarmament, for example (they were constantly sub-dividing and changing their names), supported even such utterly indefensible and inhuman episodes as the Pol Pot genocide in Cambodia and terrorism in southern Africa.

The International Ecumenical movement, blending into the "peace" movement, opened the way for the positioning of Russian clergymen who were actually KGB officers in key strategic places within it. The whole religious-pacifist complex was made up of interlocking committees, councils, individuals, national churches, denominations and special interest groups in a way that defied analysis.

It goes virtually without saying that they were fanatically opposed to the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative. When the anti-Communist clergyman Richard Wurmbrand attacked the pro-communist bias of the World Council of Churches and its failure to expose or condemn communist atrocities, a pamphlet was produced by the WCC, Richard Wurmbrand: A Reaction, accusing him of "persecuting" the Soviet Union, although without detailing the numbers of secret police and armored divisions with which he was carrying out this remarkable feat.

The point is that it is not the likes of C. S. Lewis who are in the dock having to explain themselves. It is the pacifist groups and churches that allowed themselves to be used for so long, to the detriment of Christianity, and who have perverted a noble ideal.

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.