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!

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