Christian Perception of War

Subject: Religion
Type: Synthesis Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1273
Topics: Christianity, Film Analysis, Theology, War
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The movie “Hacksaw Ridge” tells of the experiences of a pacifist combat medic, a devout Seventh – day Adventist, who not only refused to use but also carry firearms due to his religious conviction. Thus, the film’s theme is built on pacifism. From its pacifist theme, arguments can be developed on whether Christians should go to war or even kill. On one hand, Luther (1961, p. 4) quotes the bible and argues that since power is only from God, everyone must be subjected to power and authority. On the other hand, Antal and Winnings (2015, p. 383) argue that war only leads to moral injury. Therefore, this paper will discus and analyze the opposing Christian perspectives on whether Christians should go to war and actually kill. Further, it will highlight Christian and non-Christian views of the movie.

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Ideally, conscientious Christians embrace two dominant stances on war: the Just War Theory and Pacifism. Pacifism, on one hand, argues that war has no justification under any circumstances. The Just War Theory, on the other hand, argues that while war is neither good nor preferred, it is sometimes inevitable although it also provides that war must be conducted within the confines of justice. According to the argument by Antal and Winnings (2015), the greater challenge veterans face is the moral injury occasioned by the violence they experienced and witnessed in war. In support of this opinion, Smith (2015, p. 19) adds that God did not plan violence for humans and although non-violence does not have direct value in itself, it produces genuine peace and long-term benefits.  From this, it is evident that Smith (2015) does not agree with the notion of conducting war within the confined of justice. This opinion by Smith (2015) ideally disputes the Just War Theory. This argument can also be supported by the bible: God’s sixth commandment explicitly prohibits killing, and it is common knowledge that killing is the only definite occurrence in war.

Smith (2015, p. 18) points out that there are circumstances under which self-sacrifice is more important than self-defence, and he uses the death of Jesus on the cross as an example. However, he also argues that self-sacrifice can indeed manifest in violent acts for the purpose of defending others. In explanation, he points out that justifiable defence can be both a right and critical duty for individuals charged with responsibility over the lives of others and the common good of the family and nation. The problem, Smith (2015, p. 18) notes, is that rendering aggressors unable to cause harm may unfortunately involve the need to take their lives. Here, Smith seems to contradict his own argument against the Just War Theory, despite an attempt to justify his argument that the aggressors are accountable for the resulting fatalities. Linking this to the theme of “Hacksaw Ridge”, conscientious Christians can arguably be said to refrain from engaging their enemies in war and their killing, even if such killing is justified.

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In support of pacifism, Luther (1961, p. 5) disputes the provisions of the non-resistance law, as described in the phenomenon of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth”. Instead, he embraces the concept of “turn the other cheek”.  Luther (1961, p. 5) goes on to quote Paul who claimed it was written that vengeance belonged to God and that men should not defend themselves. Essentially, these arguments are against Christians returning evil for evil rather than loving their enemies. By decrying the laws of Moses, Luther (1961) Luther explicitly comes out as a pacifist and as such, believes Christians must seek God’s righteousness. Luther (1961, p. 4) also quoted Paul as saying that everyone, including Christians, must be subjected to power and authority. Just like Smith (2015), he also seems to contradict himself here because he insists that Christians do not need secular law and the secular sword (the secular sword here symbolizing war). However, he explains that even the true Christian lives and interacts with the secular world, whereby he toils not only for himself but his neighbors as well. He goes on to say that the secular sword is actually beneficial because it punishes sin and deters evil. Critically analyzing this argument, it is apparent that Luther believes secular laws compel Christians to submit to the honor authority so that government may be sustained and held honorably. Clearly, there is ambiguity on what Christian think of war.

The three articles discussed above are actually in agreement that war is not consistent with the provisions of non-resistance as preached by Jesus. In that context, rather than committing violence, pacifists would rather suffer under it. By arguing that Jesus himself modeled pacifism, its proponents believe that every Christian should strongly condemn war (Antal & Winnings, 2015). In their interpretation of non-resistance, pacifists believe that Christians must never resist evil. In the context of modern day war, this would translate into submission to aggression, effectively refusing to start war even when aggressors are ready for war. Christians, therefore, are obligated to carry on the example of Jesus. However, proponents of the Just War Theory, which can also be seen as the root cause of the contradictions of proponents of pacifism, can justify their claims by citing Jesus’ reaction when a temple was turned into a marketplace. Essentially, Jesus reacted violently and physically, perhaps suggesting he was not strictly a pacifist.

It is also possible to argue that sin is a reality that is ever present in life and must be addressed. Luther (1961) also justifies this concept and, despite appearing pacifist, seems to agree that even for Christians, war is necessary sometimes and under justifiable circumstances. For instance, he supports Paul’s argument that everyone including Christians must be under authority and power. By his own admission, Luther (1961) believes the secular sword is necessary in the secular world as well as among Christians. However, he is in agreement with Antal and Winings (2015) and Smith (2015) that only governments, as opposed to individuals, should be vested with the right of retribution under God. Essentially, this creates an opinion that opposes pacifism. Pacifism, on one hand, totally rejects violence, whether justifiable violence or otherwise. The other group, although not directly advocating for fascism, argues that justifiable war must be fought. Their argument, therefore, is that the secular world has political inclinations on which governance is founded. Conflict is therefore, logically, inevitable.

Most Christians praised “Hacksaw Ridge” for its efforts in depicting the legacy of a pacifist and demonstrating the real courage of an individual committing to their convictions. While most believed the second half of the film was ruthlessly violent, they also found that the pacifist theme toned down violent scenes. Interestingly, even non-Christians applauded the theme, although most acknowledged that justifiable war is inevitable. Ideally, it can be argued that absolute situations do not exist in the context of aggression, war and pacifism. For example, Smith (2015, p. 20) points out that the commandment of loving one’s neighbour is sometimes not consistent with the love of oneself, particularly when one’s neighbour is a violent aggressor.  Luther (1961) also agrees with this position.

In conclusion, Christians present opposing views on whether they should participate in war and even kill. One school of thought advocates for strict pacifism, while another acknowledges that situations of justifiable war are real. Equally importantly, both groups justify their arguments convincingly, implying that the true Christian will need their own discretion in judging which way to go. Finally, while the pacifists paint a picture of idealism, those advocating for justifiable war turn out as pragmatists.

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  1. Antal, C. J., & Winings, K. (2015). Moral injury, soul repair, and creating a place for grace. Religious Education, 110(4), 382-394. Retrieved from http://www.uubelfast.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Antal_MoralInjury.pdf
  2. Luther, M. (1961). Secular Authority: to what extent it should be obeyed. Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, 363-402. Retrieved from http://www.onthewing.org/user/Luther%20-%20Extent%20of%20Secular%20Authority.pdf
  3. Smith, B. (2015). Is there Theological Justification for Christians to Use Violence in Self Defence. Cited, 23, 1-30. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/2487726/Is_there_theological_justification_for_Christians_to_use_violence_in_self-defense
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