>Limits of Nonviolent Action, Part II

In response to my comments (posted here), my friend wrote back on Facebook:

I haven’t had time to read all the great links you’ve sent, but will try to bit by bit. Michael Sandel has a great discussion with his students on the controversy between utilitarianism and whether certain moral actions are intrinsically right or wrong regardless of their result (you know about this already, but for any others, see www.justiceharvard.org)

Just found the movie online that you recommended as well.

I strongly agree that doing the right thing will work best long term. The question of course is whether violence is ever the right thing to do, esp. considering that Jesus & God have made use of it in rare cases (more on that later).

I suppose a lot depends on your definition of what “works”. Is it staying alive? Is it being free? Is it having all your basic needs met? Is it someone becoming the leader of a nation after a conflict? Being able to have a satisfying happy life? A combination of some of those? In many wars, both sides do lose for sure and usually much more than any other solution (“The War” with Elijah Wood is a great movie we sometimes showed kids on this topic at TLC…it’s more for kids, but a lot of truth in it, esp. the last section and how people think…I like this last quote from it:
My daddy once said of fighting: “We are meant for better things, you and I.”…What I learned this summer…is that no matter how much people think they understand war…war will never understand people. It’s like a big machine that…nobody really knows how to work. Once it gets outta hand…winds up wrecking all the things you thought you were fighting for. A whole bunch of other good things you sort of forgot you had…no matter what anybody tells you…with God’s help, human beings can do anything.)

But, there are certain cases where war was the enactment of justice (the Civil War in America comes to mind…the southerners were hardcore refusing to give up slavery no matter what AND willing to fight about it) and long term that war has brought about quite a few benefits (although it could have been prosecuted much better than it was). Many died true…but it brought freedom for millions..and eventually the end of segregation and drastic reduction in racism and I’m sure quite a few other things. It would have been wonderful if it could have been avoided in some way…but many southerners considered slavery a moral right of theirs and part of their history and tradition and it was fighting words to try and change that. It seems to me that when people have no morals on certain issues or in some cases none at all, and when millions are already suffering or being harmed…there may be some justification…not acting is an action itself. As the famous saying goes “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. There had been plenty of Quakers and abolitionists trying to stop slavery for over a century…rescuing dozens here and there, but with many 1000s more being enslaved every year, that didn’t put much of a dent in the problem and meant continued suffering and cruelty to millions.

Interesting point on how violence is a tool of the powerful for pride, empire, greed, etc. Yes, I very much agree and non-violence is the best tactic of the powerless. But, the contrary example is the Civil War case above and there are other similar ones…US intervention in S. Korea stopping communists from taking it over.

By the way, you might be interested in reading a book (or at least reviews) of a new book by a colleague of mine, Dr. Brian Myers, who wrote “The Cleanest Race” about how North Koreans treat peace overtures towards them as demonstrations of weakness and inferiority. And since they control the propaganda and information their citizens see so completely as well as the education…it’s not likely that people there will be free anytime soon…America and other countries have stood by in this case and others while millions are oppressed…Of course there are complicated reasons for both sides…taking action with N. Korea could turn into a war with China…so it’s not a simple situation at all.

One big factor of how effective non-violence can be could possibly whether the oppressor has a belief in God and their accountability to him vs. them thinking they themselves are god and will never be accountable for their actions (and other factors of course). Many North Koreans don’t seem to want to even leave…often asking to be returned to N.K. The propaganda is deep. And Kim Jung Il facing protests would have no qualms about killing all involved…none at all..no different from Tianamen, but with far less concern than the Chinese had in my opinion.

Reminds me a bit of the Peace Child thing where what was considered horrible in Christian cultures was the ideal in a jungle shamanistic culture. This is kind of the rub…non-violence seems to work when people have somewhat similar moral values…but when they are vastly different…it doesn’t seem to be effective…how effective would a non-violent protest be against Nazis who were 100% convinced that Jews were better dead than alive and leading the effort to send them to death camps (unfair treaties like Versaille for sure do play a role in causing wars, so the “Quakers” need to be listened to in order to have a solution that both sides consider all or at least mostly just in order to create some kind of lasting peace.)

All these cases above are the rare cases…as before I DO agree with the non-violent position on 90%+ of cases. But, as in science, it’s the controversial areas that get discussed more.

Very good point that empires can’t last long if they use violence to impose their will…hadn’t thought of that…but good point. I also agree that we could be a LOT more effective in changing the world by putting money into development than military. A guy building schools in Afghanistan proves that pretty convincingly for me.

Yes, a big issue is which part of scripture to emphasize (by the way, I have a bit of a peeve about the Bible being only literal or symbolic. Many atheists and evolutionists try to put it in 1 camp or the other. The reality is that like almost any book it has a mixture of literal, symbolic, metaphorical, idiomatic + some other unique forms of its own. It’s not usually difficult to distinguish between them). But, it might be prudent to accept all cases and treat the Bible as a casebook, not as much codebook in its stories (ala Alden Thompsen) and look at the factors that influenced different choices in different situations (Israel being a theocracy under David, while a colony of Rome under Paul for example…what was possible under David, would have been crushed like Spartacus revolt was at the time of Paul).

Very good and practical point on how it’s best to focus on peacemaking since most of us will never face the choice of violence. But, it is something that needs to be dealt with philosophically, esp. since atheists continually ask why God used violence, in rare cases on a large scale.

The case of the Palestinians does certainly seem to be one where their violence harmed them and where non-violence would probably have worked far better…esp. seeing that the Israelis understood at a deep level the desire for a homeland having themselves been in a similar situation.

In the case of the Indians, quite a few tribes did try non-violence, Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce for example and many tried resistance…none seemed to work well. In that case, if I knew the power of the invaders and their attitude…I think I personally, would have chosen the non-violent way if I were an Indian…at least no one dies then and there’s almost no hope of succeeding if you fight guns with arrows. Chief Joseph did his best to try the non-violent way…only as a very last resort did he agree with other chiefs to war, something he was sure they could not win and he was proven right. His story is wrenching.

I think that every other option should be exhausted first and I’m 90-95% in agreement that non-violence is better long term than any other options…I agree that the right thing will work best long term…and that this is almost always the non-violent way. Too often, you are completely right that violence just starts a cycle of harm and hurt and does little to achieve the desired goal. But, the way of Jesus did include violence since Jesus was the divine being who appeared and gave commands much of the time in the OT as well as the Messiah in the NT. Then of course we have the war in heaven when Lucifer first rebelled and the flood. If there is no case where violence is “right”, then the question becomes, why did God as a being of ultimate perfection use it? Some heretically think that God “learned”…something I’m VERY highly skeptical about.

My personal view at present (open to modification after reading the links you’ve given) is that there are a few rare cases where violence can be better than the alternatives (mostly in cases where the oppressors don’t have hardly any sort of moral compass or conscience at all or have past the limits of divine mercy.). In those cases, not to act is a harmful action in itself. God has chosen not to act in a number of cases to show us the results of not taking action (starting with Cain and including some terrible cases in modern times such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao). EGW puts it quite eloquently as usual.

In sparing the life of Cain the murderer, God gave the world an example of what would be the result of permitting the sinner to live to continue a course of unbridled iniquity. Through the influence of Cain’s teaching and example, multitudes of his descendants were led into sin, until “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” Genesis 6:5, 11. {GC 543.2}

In mercy to the world, God blotted out its wicked inhabitants in Noah’s time. In mercy He destroyed the corrupt dwellers in Sodom. Through the deceptive power of Satan the workers of iniquity obtain sympathy and admiration, and are thus constantly leading others to rebellion. It was so in Cain’s and in Noah’s day, and in the time of Abraham and Lot; it is so in our time. It is in mercy to the universe that God will finally destroy the rejecters of His grace. {GC 543.3}

To many these commands {about destroying Canaanites) seem to be contrary to the spirit of love and mercy enjoined in other portions of the Bible, but they were in truth the dictates of infinite wisdom and goodness. God was about to establish Israel in Canaan, to develop among them a nation and government that should be a manifestation of His kingdom upon the earth. They were not only to be inheritors of the true religion, but to disseminate its principles throughout the world. The Canaanites had abandoned themselves to the foulest and most debasing heathenism, and it was necessary that the land should be cleared of what would so surely prevent the fulfillment of God’s gracious purposes…Like the men before the Flood, the Canaanites lived only to blaspheme Heaven and defile the earth. And both love and justice demanded the prompt execution of these rebels against God and foes to man. {PP 492.2}

I think one other reason why God allowed total destruction of Canaan can be seen in the continual violence between the Arabs and Israelis. If some of those nations had survived and continued to grow…eventually the same kind of thing that has happened with the Arabs and Israelis would have happened…multiplied by about 10-20 times or so. But, somehow He will make all things right in the end for each individual case…and all will agree after seeing all the behind the scenes information.

Of course the above cases are God doing this and He knows everything…and when people take matters like this into their own hands…our fallibility and prejudices can sometimes cause more harm than the justice we are seeking. But, are there principles and cases, esp. biblical, that can be established for man to in rare cases use force to reduce the overall suffering and death as God has sometimes done but avoid the abuses and excuses that are often used to waste lives and resources? I continue to think and listen to new ideas and will read your links as I have time…but it seems that in certain cases (like S. Korea, the Civil War, Canaan, etc.) forceful actions can reduce far greater suffering and injustice that would inevitably happen if no force were used and this could explain why God found it necessary to use in certain cases. That’s the utilitarian in me coming out…but the best explanation seems to me to be that God’s severe actions are all done to promote the greatest amount of good for the most people.

I just say a video I’m also getting time to listen to on this: “Is God a Moral Monster” The part I listened to seems to make the same point as EGW with some variations…but I haven’t finished it yet. http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=2ADCD14C5C266815

Thanks again for the links and the stimulating ideas…I will definitely read them and very likely use them in some classes.

To this I replied:

Wow, you took some time with this! Good points and questions. Goodness, where even to begin a response?! 🙂 Well, I see I’m going to get kicked out of the library in 4 minutes, so I’ll try to respond on Thursday (can’t on Wed). Good stuff, and I should reiterate that we’re really talking about just war vs. pacifism. Nonviolent resistance as well as just peacemaking have been advocated by a range of pacifists (Christians, other faiths, and non-religious), Christian just war advocates, and secular real politik advocates.

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