Four Types of Violence, Part Four: Self-Defense

What I’ve said so far is pretty non-controversial.  Nobody, religious or not, really thinks it’s okay to kill someone for the insurance money, or hunt down and kill someone instead of pressing charges at the police station, or forcibly convert someone (at least nominally) to your religion or point of view.

It’s possible to get so caught up in your nation’s patriotism and propaganda that you miss the fact that a war is primarily about conquest (securing national interests, or, to be cynical, “oil”) as opposed to the official line, which says it’s vital to defend us all from harm.

That’s a failure of discernment, and a dangerous one, but it doesn’t mean people who feel that way actually believe wars of conquest are okay.  A few might, but most do not.

The last type of violence, however, gets the juices flowing.  It’s the difference between just war and pacifism, between the Baptists and Anabaptists.

Self-Defense:  Defensive violence sees an attack in progress and steps in to stop it.

  • It could be a person breaking into a house during the middle of the night, when it’s obvious the owners are home.
  • It could be an invasion by another country.
  • It could be a genocide that merits a peacekeeping action by the U.N. or a coalition of nations.
  • It could be a woman accosted on a city street.
  • It could be World War II.

This is where the rubber meets the road.  Do you raise your hand to fight back, or do you stand on principle and allow yourself (or a third party, such as a crime victim or ethnic group facing genocide) to be slaughtered?

It sounds like an easy answer, but the truth is, it’s not.  Jesus talks a lot about peacemakers, about non-aggression, as does the apostle Paul.

And the truth is, just about any war can be justified as a defensive action if the government works hard enough to manipulate public sentiment (or even presents misinformation, such as in the Gulf of Tonkin or U.S.S. Maine incidents).

If “Just War Theory” doesn’t effectively prevent (or at least condemn) any of the many wars the U.S. keeps finding itself in, what it’s good for? 

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2 comments on “Four Types of Violence, Part Four: Self-Defense

  1. Paul Mayhan says:

    Further muddying the waters of a defensive “just war” is to consider the reason that the aggressor invaded to begin with. I can see instances when invading a nation is the right thing to do, or at least the option that does the least amount of harm to the least number of people.

    • Tim Dedeaux says:

      I can see that, too. I mean, the US technically invaded several nations during the course of World War II.

      I just think that the average layperson evangelical doesn’t have a well-defined concept of what “just war” is, other than whatever war the US is about to get into now.

      I know I didn’t for a long time. You might say I don’t have one now, just a lot of skepticism and the beginnings of a theory.

      I also think we tend to almost idolize patriotism, linking our love for country to our Christianity. That combination strikes me as less “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” and more “you got your toothpaste in my orange juice.”
      Sometimes two good things don’t taste great together.

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