Sunday, July 4, 2021

New Scriptures, Old Debate


[A recent post from a Facebook group. The group, Latter Day Lobsters and Sorted Saints, is awful. But it led me to produce this good summary. I particularly liked this post because it explained how Mormon debates about war and peace follow the contours of Christian thought which means we can benefit from reading those Christian thinkers.]

It's time prohibitive to comment on everything posted thus far but reading through the posts has been very enlightening.

It's ironically appropriate that the only significant response, until Slaughter started throwing Moroni under the bus and splitting hairs from section 98 was from the person that agreed with me about the lack of substance from most of the anarchist, libertarian, pacifists that dominant this group but show little of the Peterson ultra-competence. (Even though Slaughter is the only one that approached a substantive response it had serious flaws. See below.)

What strikes me the most is how much the research in my book applies to this discussion. The scriptures Mormons use might be unique, but the debates about them are extremely old. And yet, outside of a brief mention of Augustine by Tyler, there is no indication that anybody knows of that rich history of discussion by scholars like Grotius, Suarez, Vitoria, Walzer, Ramsey, Kant, and even John Locke. The shallow pacifist crowd on this page has indicated some knowledge of 20th century pacifism, and their favorite proof texts in the scriptures, but little else.

A knowledge of this rich body (explained in my book) would affect the debate in multiple ways. For example, in their book on the just war tradition out of Princeton press Charley and Cooke describe many examples of how modern pacifists wrongly elevate the Sermon on the Mount and diminish many others. They provide excellent analysis that shows why the Sermon on the Mount is a personal code and that and other scriptures clearly allow the use of force and warfare.

With knowledge of that intellectual trend and a strong debunking of that method in mind (even if they disagree), the shallow crowd here would be much more cautious about diminishing Moroni's comments on warfare in favor of their Sermon on the Mount pacifism. I guffaw every time I see it because it's like they volunteer to be the basic bitches of the pacifist movement AND they do it while having a condescending and mocking attitude towards their opponents.

Studying the rich intellectual tradition behind just war would also show there are many scriptures that suggest the Sermon on the Mount is not a silver bullet that supersedes all else. John the Baptist didn't tell the soldier that came to him to retire because it disagreed with Christ's gospel (Luke 3:14). Jesus didn't tell the soldier that came to him to retire, but praised his faith (Matthew 8:8-10). Jesus himself didn't turn the other cheek when struck (John 18:23). And of course, Romans 13:1-4 receives heavy treatment because it grants the state permission to use power and calls them God's servants. Those are just a few of the scriptures.

Of course these justifications on paper can be abused in practice, which leads to even more thought and strong guard rails in the form of caution and caveats from the theorists. Very smart people for thousands of years have covered this subject in every way, and applied it to rather sticky questions while also coming up with ideas like international law and human rights. (See Grotius and Vitoria respectively.) The failure of pacifists to recognize that when they cast their sophomoric emojis it's simply one more example of their dilettantish approach to the subject.

Getting back to the Bible, Paul Ramsey made the strong case that the love a Christian has for their neighbor explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan not only justifies, but REQUIRES the use of force. (Which is a major reason why I don't really buy the whole justified but not righteous interpretation of section 98.)

Ramsey asks the simple question, if the good Samaritan happened upon the beaten traveler, in the middle of the being beaten and robbed, would he not intervene to protect him? It would be ridiculous to assume he would hold up the other cheek of the beaten traveler and doing nothing would breach the love of neighbor that Christ was trying to teach.

Even more widely, there is a false dichotomy between the Sermon on the Mount and the just use of force that few on this site recognize. It has to do with the hearts. Christians can be peace loving in their hearts, fulfilling the commands in the Sermon on the Mount, while also using the love for God and their neighbor to protect their neighbors by participating in warfare, as shown by the thought experiment with the good Samaritan.

This wasn't something I invented to have my cake and eat it too as I try to squirm out of Mormon pacifist’s proof texting section 98 about renouncing war and proclaiming peace. (Which is an attack that has been levelled at me. At least those critics used words so they have you beat.) But it is something that goes back to Augustine and has been expounded upon since then. My favorite quote comes from Martin Luther about how physicians can saw off a leg, with all the associating screaming, squirting blood, and horrible sound of grinding through bone. But they are praised for it because they are trying to save the patient's life.

In short, the scriptures are different, but the contours of the debate and even the tactics used are extremely familiar as people would know if they studied more than a handful of pacifists.

If you liked any of my posts I encourage you to read some of my chapter drafts on my next book and offer feedback. Thanks!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Jeremy Runnells is a Total Poser

    I commented over on Hanna Seariac's facebook page about what she labels as men unfairly flexing their power against a less powerful female. 

    So I think Runnells schtick is hilarious and read his response for kicks and giggles. [It is long, but hit control f and type Hanna.] 

    What's ironic to me is that Runnells ignores the implication in your post that you should do better research and then claims that your post is a thought stop technique. Then two paragraphs later he calls the CES a "head jack" and links to a picture of some robot with a hole for downloading information. The article says its the port that connects you to the matrix. That screams cultish programming to me so apparently Runnells has as little grasp of irony as he does scholarship.

    But then in his own post he says it's "simply a letter," "not a thesis for a Phd," not a "textbook" or "dry scientific paper," and not "rigorous" which sure sounds like he agrees with you.

    Yet in the same breath he claims his CES letter leads into his line by line debunking, which he implies, is the pinnacle of in depth research because it is thousands of pages of rebuttals. I've looked at the rebuttals that intersect with my research and he is laughable. For example, here he simply invokes "science" while being factual incorrect, ignorant of history, and not having a good grasp of the research and analysis that makes strong conclusions. 

    The truth is that Runnells is a total poser. He takes the mantle of scholarship and all the associating benefits and prestige when it suits him, and runs away from the burden of creating and defending scholarship when used to critique him.

    This explains why he can take offense at your criticism of the letter not being serious research at the same time that he says it's not a rigorous piece of scholarship, and right before he invokes his debunking articles as the final word of serious scholarship. He's the best scholar in the world, except when he has to defend his "research," and then he isn't.

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Bad Quotes and Good Ideas


    I have a new book coming out, someday, called Beyond Sunzi: Classical Debates on Chinese War and Statecraft. The book was exciting to write as I showed how various strands of Chinese thought interact with each other. I mention it here, besides venting my frustration at glacial publishers, because I see lots of false quotes with somewhat catchy ideas with no sources that don't pass the smell test. Here is a link to many of the worst quotes.

    What’s interesting though is that many of these lousy or fake points are related to good points found in Chinese writing. This post lists a bunch of fake quotes followed by good ideas that are represented in classical Chinese theory (and sometimes elsewhere.)  Because I’m so often responding to memes that have no sourcing at all, I’m making sure to show you the translation and page number I take it from.

 "A leader leads by example, not by force?"

    This has some relation to the teachings of Shen Pu Hai (Shenzi.) He talked about a ruler's need to display inaction or a placid mirror, so his ministers don't try to change their opinions to curry favor. This is more of a Daoist kind of actionless action.[1]

"Sweat more during peace: bleed less during war."

    This sounds a bit like a description of the Roman army by Josephus where he says that Roman training maneuvers were like bloodless battles, and battles like bloody maneuvers.

"If quick, I survive. If not quick, I am lost. This is 'death.'"

    The cadence sounds correct. Classical writing often follows something called the four-character formula. Mao’s basic rules for guerilla warfare was so popular and easier to remember because they were 4 sets of 4 character formulas. Because of the strong stylistic resemblance, it could be from a bad translation of Sunzi though I’ve read multiple translations and still don’t recognize it. 

    Sunzi often talked about quick wars, fast movement, and seizing something the enemy wants. On quick wars, “a victory that is long in coming will blunt their blades and dampen their ardor.”[2] On forcing enemy movement, “One who excels at moving the enemy deploys in a configuration to which the enemy must respond. He offers [or seizes according to Sun Bin] something which the enemy must seize.[3] Moving quickly was something that Confucians valued.

"Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price."

    The points sounds like this from the Wei Liaozi, though this line is disputed (see the next point). "I have heard that in antiquity those who excelled in employing the army could bear to kill half of their officers and soldiers."[4]

"Who does not know the evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits."

    I don't know ANY author that would say this. Sunzi stressed the benefits of winning without battle mostly due to the high material cost of warfare (see above). Confucians would point to the needless loss of life. Legalists would be upset at the economic impact of losing so many farmers/ taxbase. I tried to get, "wading through blood and treading through guts" into my title because that summarizes how pretty much every writer found battle.

"When you understand what suits the terrain…investigate the rules for marching and formation…White blades meet; flying arrows are exchanged; you wade through blood and tread through guts; you cart the dead away and support the wounded; the blood flows for a thousand li; exposed corpses fill the field; thus victory is decided. This is the lowest use of the military."[5]

    Sun Bin, a purported lineal descendant of Sunzi, advised against commanders that employ them like tossed chunks of earth and grass.[6]

    The writer considered the prototypical Confucian minister, Guanzi, said that if the people were forced to crack the bones of their children for cooking then the state uproots itself.[7]

"The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds."

    This one sounded close to something but is not in Sunzi’s text. It is in the history about him. After executing the king’s concubines because they failed to follow orders correctly the king dismissed the army. Sunzi responded to him, “Your majesty only likes the words, he is not able to realize their substance.”[8] That is a close enough translation, but it is not in the Art of War!! Moreover, his concept of punishment was disputed by many, including Sun Bin who said it wasn’t urgent.[9]

"Convince your enemy that he will gain very little by attacking you; this will diminish his enthusiasm."

    The general point is echoed in many places. Sunzi talked about displaying profit to entice the enemy and dampening their chi by waiting to attack. Sun Bin and Wuzi talked about how to manipulate the enemy. Here is the former:

The enemy’s generals are courageous and difficult to frighten. Their weapons are strong, their men numerous and self-reliant. All the warriors of their Three Armies are courageous and untroubled. Their generals are awesome, their soldiers are martial, their officers strong, and their provisions well supplies. None of the feudal Lords dares contend with them. How should we strike them?

To strike them, announce that you do not dare fight. Show them that you are incapable; sit about submissively and await them in order to make their thoughts arrogant and apparently accord with their ambitions. Do not let them recognize your ploy. Thereupon strike where unexpected, attack where they do not defend, apply pressure where they are indolent, and attack their doubts.[10]

"In peace, prepare for war. In war, prepare for peace."

    At first glance this sounded like a Latin phrase, and it is indeed: If you want peace prepare for war.

"Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust."

    This echoes a point that Confucians would make about the importance of character, proper rites, filial piety and the dangers of a corrupt state. Xunzi talked about nations that had the sharpest swords, highest mountains, toughest armor, and yet because they forfeited the mandate of heaven they fell.

"The men of Ch’u make armor out of sharkskin and rhinoceros hides, and it is so tough it rings like metal or stone. They carry steel spear made in Yuan, sharp as the sting of a wasp, and move as nimbly and swiftly as a whirlwind. [Notice the reference to swift movement.] And Chu’s troops were defeated at Chiu sha and their general Tang Mei, was killed; and…the state was ripped apart. Surely this did not come about because Chu lacked stout armor and sharp weapons. Rather it was because its leaders did not follow the proper way."[11]

    Confucius wrote that "an inhumane man cannot long abide in comfort."[12] And: "Only when the year turns freezing cold do we realize that pine and cypress are the last to winter."[13]

    Wei Liaozi wrote: The perfected man [chunzi] does not stop criminals more than five paces away….If you flog a person’s back, brand his ribs, or compress his fingers in order to question him about the nature of his offense, even a state hero could not withstand this cruelly and would falsely implicate himself.[14]

    As you can see, these are bad quotes but good ideas. Some are real quotes that are attributed to someone else. But most of these are bastardized ideas that have little relation to Sunzi and some relation to Chinese thought if you know Chinese well enough. Luckily, I do and have a book about it coming out soon. The zi/ tzu ending in Chinese means master, and they were masters of their craft. It’s a shame people don’t put much energy into learning from such great texts, many of which are translated and easily available, but rely on diluted ideas and fake quotes.

Thanks for reading! I work as a free lance author. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button at the bottom of the page, or you can buy one of my books using the link in the top left. 


[1] Herlee Creel trans., Shen Pu Hai: A Chinese Philosopher of the 4th Century, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 249, 351.

[2] Ralph Sawyer trans., The Art of War, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, (New York: Westview Press, 1993), 159.

[3] Ralph Sawyer trans., Sun Bin: The Art of Warfare,(Westview Press, 1995), 165, 186. One line reads: cause the enemy to roll up his armor and race far off.

[4] Sawyer, Wei Liaozi in the Seven Classics, 276.

[5] Andrew Seth Meyer trans., Huainanzi, by Liu An, chapt 15, (New York: Columbia University Press), 103.

[6] Sawyer, Sun Bin, 200.

[7] W. Allyn Rickett, Guanzi: Political, Economic, and Philosophic Essays from Early China v.1, (Princeton: Princeton University press, 1985), 294.

[8] Spring and Autumn Annals as quoted by Sawyer, Seven Classics, 151.

[9] Sawyer, Sun Bin, 90.

[10] Sawyer, Sun Bin, 169.

[11] Burton Watson trans., Xunzi: Basic Writings, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 71-73.

[12] Chicung Huang, The Analects of Confucius, (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), 67.

[13] Ibid., 107.

[14] Sawyer, Wei Liaozi, 258.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Unexpected Warfare Verses in the Book of Mormon


    I continue to research just war theories. It has been richly rewarding, particularly regarding LDS scriptures. Just like I mentioned with Chinese theory, I find that the Book of Mormon answers questions that I didn’t know were being asked until I started studying important topics.

    What follows are a few scriptures that take on new meaning with a knowledge of Just War theory. One of the reasons for writing the book is not simply to show congruency with the just war “checklist.” (Just authority, just cause, proportionality, just peace.) But how the Book of Mormon interacts agrees, disagrees, or expands on the theory, and how those theories highlight verses we might not have thought applied to warfare. I list them in order of my discoveries of them so they might bounce around a bit, but they reveal a surprisingly robust and coherent theory that we didn’t know was there.

2 Nephi 28:7

Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

    This is a short summary of an interesting philosophy that touches upon Enlightenment thought increasingly seen in the modern age and relates to an important contrast of the people of Ammon and late Nephite soldiers.

    Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke increasingly focused on natural law and secular rights instead of Biblical proof texts. This accommodated the growing scientific belief and provided key ideas about the American right to revolt and basic rights found in the Declaration of Independence and applied across different ethnic and religious boundaries. But it presented some changes that contained a contradiction. The most important change had to do with human life. Religion presents the life as having something after. That made the spiritual state of the participants and potential deaths important. It is why, for example, the Nephites were so sad to send so many Lamanites to the afterworld (Alma 48:23).

    The movement away from a religious based belief in the afterlife makes those lives more important during their mortal frame and death more tragic. This makes human suffering and death more worthy of humanitarian intervention and makes those interventions and potential wars more causality averse at the same time.[1] This is clearly seen applied to American foreign policy. Public opinion supports various humanitarian interventions such as Somalia or Bosnia, but a handful of casualties and downed Blackhawk helicopters produce such angst among policy makers that the mission immediately ended.

    The lack of afterlife also undermines the idea of sacrifice. If there are no treasures in Heaven that demand duty and sacrifice of a soldier (Matthew 6:20), then there are fewer reasons to abandon the pleasures of life such as eating, drinking, and being merry. Plenty of reasons remain for the use of force, such as a natural right to self-defense and immediate dangers to family, community, and defense of other rights.  But the lack of idea that souls continue in the afterlife makes the potential conflict more costly and seemingly tragic.

    The people to whom Nephi refers seem to have a much narrower viewpoint. They don’t worry about the afterlife; they care about their immediate surroundings and pleasure. This could be a truly prophetic vision that at least hinted at future philosophies that focused more on mortal life at the expense of sacrifice and duty (to God but also to a country), and that abandoned the afterlife.  

    The second way it applies to just warfare is seen in the contrasting attitudes of the Anti-Nephi Lehis and late Nephite soldiers. The former praised God in the very act of being killed (Alma 24:21). The late Nephite soldiers in contrast, cursed God, wished to die, but kept on fighting anyway (Mormon 2: 14). The first difference is listed by Mormon. It should be uprising that he began the verse by saying they did not have a broken heart and contrite spirit. As I’ve found, the heart problems are an important part of just warfare. And having a bad heart leads to bad attitudes. The Anti Nephi Lehis praised God, thanked his mercy, and were too afraid of sinning to take up their swords. Showing a longer-range view of their mortal life than the eat, drink and be merry crowd Nephi saw, and modern enlightenment influenced thinkers, the Anti Nephi Lehis were convinced they would be saved with God in direct contrast to their imminent deaths (Alma 24:15). The late Nephite soldiers cursed God, their eating, drinking, and being merry apparently brought them no value, they wanted to die, but kept fighting anyway. They didn’t have faith in, or didn’t care about the afterlife and their attitudes towards God’s grace, and fighting reflected that. They were hopeless and didn’t turn to a source for that hope. That represents Nephi’s discussion of those that try to eat, drink, and be merry, and fear death but still try to squeeze as much debauchery in that life.

2 Nephi 28:24

Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!

    This section is a bit shorter because it refers to those that are at ease in the heart of their security (Alma 60:19.)  Captain Moroni referenced the same idea, though Zion was an abstract concept more than physical capital of Nephite lands. Alma 60:22: Moroni said, Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding?

2 Nephi 31:20

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the capstone of Nephi’s teachings regards the heart. The chapter in my future book about heart problems will be the most important. Even though I will mostly discuss it in relation to 3rd Nephi, I think I will put it first. After describing modern philosophies that discount the afterlife try to rob God’s justice, Nephi tells you the antidote which is appropriately focused on the heart. Having a brightness of hope and love of God. I’ll admit as a military historian and not a theologian I don’t think or talk about love that much, though I hope (no pun intended) that I show it.  But regarding just warfare it is really the key to just intent. And a major message in the Book of Mormon.

    After writing and reflecting on this piece it turned out that this cohesive because the elements of just war logically flow into each other, and the ancient writers of the Book of Mormon were devoted, dutiful, and thoughtful writers of their sacred history. Of course, their words integrate themselves rather well into Christian just war thinkers.  I hope you enjoyed this piece and I look forward to more writing that shows how the Book of Mormon engages Just War ideas beyond the shallow proof texts currently cited. This post was originally much longer, but I spun off a section of it that will hopefully be presented later this year or part of the book. Thanks for reading!

I work as a freelance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below, or buy one of my books using the link in the top left. 


[1] David D. Corey, and J. Daryl Charles. Just War Tradition : An Introduction, (Princeton University Press: 2012), 159.