Archives For Pacifism

 

“Trial and Error

A Yoderian Rejoinder to
Leithart’s DEFENDING CONSTANTINE.


By John  C. Nugent.

Defending Constantine.
Peter Leithart.

Paperback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

[ Peter Leithart’s response has been posted here… ]

Constantine on Trial

Those looking for another excuse to dismiss John Howard Yoder are sure to find it in Peter J. Leithart’s Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom. Though Leithart takes Yoder quite seriously, those less familiar with Yoder’s work may be left with the unfortunate impression that he was a sloppy thinker, blinded by the pacifism of a naïve tradition, and ignorant of the complexities of history. I am sure this is not Leithart’s intention. Leithart, however, does intend to start a “fight” (10) and his admittedly polemical tone sometimes borders on patronizing his primary foe along with his Anabaptist heritage. This should not detract readers from hanging in there with this rather long work. Some of its most stimulating suggestions come near the end. Leithart’s well-crafted and articulate case deserves more than a series of brief reviews; it requires substantive rejoinders both to his historical portrait of Constantine and his theological critique of Yoder. Though no one can speak for Yoder, least of all me, I will nonetheless enter the fray by presenting Leithart’s basic case and evaluating its polemic against Yoder and those who share similar convictions about faith, history and social ethics.

Polemics aside for the moment, Leithart’s task is ambitious: to write a life of Constantine, to rebut popular caricatures, to demonstrate that Yoder’s work on Constantine is wrong both historically and theologically, and to make a case for Constantine as a viable model for Christian political practice (10-11). This task is complicated by the nature of the extant resources. Leithart’s preferred source is Eusebius, a contemporary of Constantine who adoringly portrays him as God’s providential instrument in ushering in the millennium. Leithart grants that Eusebius’ work is replete with exaggerations, contains accounts of questionable historicity, and intentionally omits incriminating material (228). Nonetheless, it remains the earliest and most comprehensive account available, so Leithart makes extensive use of it. He makes less use of the account of Zosimus, a late fifth century pagan who portrays Constantine as a violent ruler who was politically motivated in the worst sense of that term. Beyond this, Leithart had access to an oration of Constantine, published legal decrees, coinage, letters, and miscellaneous excerpts preserved among Eusebius’ writings. This situation is hardly an ideal one for a historian or a theologian.

The title of Leithart’s book gives a sense of his strategy for dealing with this difficult historical material. Consistent with his aims, Leithart plays the part of a defense attorney in a court setting. The last several decades of historians and theologians (e.g., Jacob Burkhardt, James Carroll, Stanley Hauerwas and, of course, Yoder) play the role of prosecuting attorneys who have been overly critical of Constantine and unfairly suspicious of favorable testimonies in the primary sources. It seems, to Leithart, as if they have sought only to find fault. As defense attorney, Leithart tasks himself with finding innocence or at least explaining fourth century details to make his clients’ actions more defensible. Making extensive use of Eusebius, he brings forward as many positive testimonies as possible. Evidence that does not support his case is either ignored, chalked up to exaggeration (126), or creatively re-interpreted with the help of more sympathetic secondary sources (227-230). Though this kind of reading is sure to encourage constructive historical work insofar as careful historians are spurred on to revisit the primary sources neither to prosecute nor to defend Constantine, Leithart’s book is not that kind of work.

Continue Reading…

 

“Blessed Are the Peacemakers

A Review of
The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace.

Nigel Young, Editor.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

The Oxford International
Encyclopedia of Peace.

Nigel Young, Editor.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Oxford international Encyclopedia of PeaceAs followers of Christ, we are called to be peacemakers, and part of our education as disciples of Jesus is learning the things that make for peace.  Thus, it has been exciting to see Peace Studies emerge as an academic discipline over the last three decades, and with the rise of Peace Studies come reference works that assist and propagate research.  And now The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace (OIEP), published earlier this year by Oxford University Press, will undoubtedly reign supreme for many years as the key reference work for Peace Studies.

The four volumes of the OIEP represent a mammoth undertaking; its 850+  articles span over 2700 pages and were collected over a period of more than five years.  The work begins with a brief foreword by the Dalai Lama who praises the work as a “scholarly but accessible reference work [which] will enable many of us to learn from the great ideals and struggles for peace over past centuries, and it will be a valuable resource for teachers of peace and for policy makers” (xix).
Continue Reading…

 

Why does no one today speak as boldly and as eloquently against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as Dr. King did against the Vietnam War? It’s amazing how relevant his message against American militarism is today — 40+ years later.

You need, I need and we all need to watch these videos and to be challenged by the faithful boldness of Dr. King.



Shorter clip:

Longer clip:

 

A Brief Review of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer And The Resistance.
Sabine Dramm.

Hardback: Fortress Press, 2009.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chase Roden.

Given the opportunity, would you have assassinated Adolf Hitler?  Every pacifist alive since World War II has probably been asked some form of this question at least once.  Although any answer we might give would be speculative, ethical extremes can help clarify our thinking — and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man for whom the hypotheticals of Christian nonviolence were real-life decisions.  Bonhoeffer’s fatal choice to participate in a plot to kill Hitler is, to say the least, troubling for many Christian pacifists.  Despite his principled objection to violence, Bonhoeffer came to the conclusion that murder was the appropriate course of action in his circumstance.  Or did he?
Sabine Dramm’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance goes into great detail to answer the questions surrounding the pastor Bonhoeffer’s involvement with the German resistance to Hitler and Nazism, and in doing so reveals a portrait too complex to be summed up by a single decision.  Some of the details of Bonhoeffer’s life run contrary to what modern Christians may assume about him; although his opposition to Hitler was based on his Christian convictions, Bonhoeffer’s active resistance work was largely carried out without the support or knowledge of his denomination or other German churches.  He worked primarily through ecumenical contacts in the World Council of Churches and through his family.  It was a family connection — brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi — who secured Bonhoeffer a position in Military Intelligence, allowing him not only to avoid conscription, but also to travel relatively freely in order to work with foreign church leaders to discuss the severity of the situation in Germany and the possibilities for restructuring the country and the church after the end of the war.
Dramm interacts significantly with Eberhard Bethge’s definitive 1967 biography of Bonhoeffer, offering her own research from new evidence and historical speculation about events and motives that were, by necessity, shrouded in mystery.  Dramm aims to avoid idealizing Bonhoeffer — she believes that the tendency to do so is “dishonest and pointless, and … can only lead to absurd dis(illusion).”  Dramm points out the fractured nature of the resistance — people working together shared so little information that they often didn’t know what their own colleagues were working on — and the seemingly unstoppable power of the Nazi state; in light of these facts, what Bonhoeffer was able to accomplish is impressive enough on its own to need no exaggeration.  Nazi surveillance was so pervasive that resistance efforts had to resort to subtle means of opposition; at one point, Bonhoeffer and Dutch theologian Visser’t Hooft coauthored a theology book and mailed it to American publishers as a failed attempt to send an SOS to Allied nations.  It is easy in hindsight to forget that it was an act of faith for Bonhoeffer to even make plans for life after the end of Third Reich, but the level of historical detail that Dramm provides makes it possible to appreciate his dire circumstances.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance is, ultimately, a specialized history book looking primarily at one aspect of one man’s life (although it doesn’t spare details regarding Bonhoeffer’s co-resistors).  As such, the detail can be a bit overwhelming, but any Christian pacifist who is tired of answering hypothetical questions about WWII may want to check it out.

Given the opportunity, would you have assassinated Adolf Hitler?  Every pacifist alive since World War II has probably been asked some form of this question at least once.  Although any answer we might give would be speculative, ethical extremes can help clarify our thinking — and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man for whom the hypotheticals of Christian nonviolence were real-life decisions.  Bonhoeffer’s fatal choice to participate in a plot to kill Hitler is, to say the least, troubling for many Christian pacifists.  Despite his principled objection to violence, Bonhoeffer came to the conclusion that murder was the appropriate course of action in his circumstance.  Or did he?

Sabine Dramm’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance goes into great detail to answer the questions surrounding the pastor Bonhoeffer’s involvement with the German resistance to Hitler and Nazism, and in doing so reveals a portrait too complex to be summed up by a single decision.  Some of the details of Bonhoeffer’s life run contrary to what modern Christians may assume about him; although his opposition to Hitler was based on his Christian convictions, Bonhoeffer’s active resistance work was largely carried out without the support or knowledge of his denomination or other German churches.  He worked primarily through ecumenical contacts in the World Council of Churches and through his family.  It was a family connection — brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi — who secured Bonhoeffer a position in Military Intelligence, allowing him not only to avoid conscription, but also to travel relatively freely in order to work with foreign church leaders to discuss the severity of the situation in Germany and the possibilities for restructuring the country and the church after the end of the war.

Dramm interacts significantly with Eberhard Bethge’s definitive 1967 biography of Bonhoeffer, offering her own research from new evidence and historical speculation about events and motives that were, by necessity, shrouded in mystery.  Dramm aims to avoid idealizing Bonhoeffer — she believes that the tendency to do so is “dishonest and pointless, and … can only lead to absurd dis(illusion).”  Dramm points out the fractured nature of the resistance — people working together shared so little information that they often didn’t know what their own colleagues were working on — and the seemingly unstoppable power of the Nazi state; in light of these facts, what Bonhoeffer was able to accomplish is impressive enough on its own to need no exaggeration.  Nazi surveillance was so pervasive that resistance efforts had to resort to subtle means of opposition; at one point, Bonhoeffer and Dutch theologian Visser’t Hooft coauthored a theology book and mailed it to American publishers as a failed attempt to send an SOS to Allied nations.  It is easy in hindsight to forget that it was an act of faith for Bonhoeffer to even make plans for life after the end of Third Reich, but the level of historical detail that Dramm provides makes it possible to appreciate his dire circumstances.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance is, ultimately, a specialized history book looking primarily at one aspect of one man’s life (although it doesn’t spare details regarding Bonhoeffer’s co-resistors).  As such, the detail can be a bit overwhelming, but any Christian pacifist who is tired of answering hypothetical questions about WWII may want to check it out.

 

“Yoder’s pièce de résistance?”

A Review of
Christian Attitudes to
War, Peace and Revolution.

by John Howard Yoder.
Edited by Ted Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker.

 Reviewed by Chris Smith

 

Christian Attitudes to
War, Peace and Revolution.

John Howard Yoder.
Edited by Ted Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker.

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2009.
Buy now:   [ ChristianBook.com ]

 

In these days, when governments promise us endless war, the people of God need serious reflection on the ethics of war and our responsibility to follow faithfully in the way of Christ Jesus.  Into this crucial era, Brazos Press has just offered up an essential text on the Christian ethics of war from the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution.  This book was compiled from lectures in a seminary course of the same name, which Yoder taught year after year over the course of three decades from 1966 to his death in 1997.  Christian Attitudes spans the history of the Christian tradition from its earliest years to the present, exploring the various perspectives that churches have taken on military cooperation, with special attention to those positions characterized by their opposition to Christian participation in the military.  It is a tribute to the excellent editorial work of Ted Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker, who assembled and refined this work from Yoder’s lectures, that a work of this scope, stature and rigor can read so clearly and be packed into a little over 400 pages – (not including study guides and other end material).  Yoder’s work here should be understood as a dialogue with Roland Baintain’s heralded work of a similar name, Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace, which served as a textbook for the course on which this new book is based.  Continue Reading…

 

The ORION magazine review of
A NATURAL SENSE OF WONDER:
CONNECTING KIDS WITH NATURE THROUGH THE SEASONS
by Rick Van Noy

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/review/4269/

RULE NUMBER SEVEN in our shaggy tiny house crammed with three lanky children: one hour of screen time per day, you choose the screens. Rule Number Eleven: yes, you can vanish all weekend on your bike whipping through the woods with your buddies, and yes, you can putter around in the creeklet all you want, and yes, you can wander along the riverbank looking for minks and money, just be home by dark.

 

And yes, there is daily wailing and gnashing of teeth about the television/ video/computer rule, but the queen of the house agrees wholeheartedly with Rick Van Noy, who says that any natural setting is better than the “flickering waves of TV and the electrifying boing of video games.” So out into the unkempt yard go the children, and to the creek, and to the river, and to the vacant lot by Mrs. Walsh’s house, which isn’t vacant at all, of course.

 

The greatest virtue of Van Noy’s lean and thoughtful book isn’t his thesis, now proved by oceans of evidence about increased obesity and decreased attention spans, or even his graceful and penetrating prose; it’s the witty ways he draws his two children and their friends outside, away from the electric drug—taking the long way to school, poking headlong into every vacant lot, building a treehouse, wandering off on birding adventures, hiking with other families, so that the day isn’t a Boring Family Outing but motley play, skating, wading in creeks, salamandering, poking in tide pools, running around in the dark chasing lightning bugs, and, well, just puttering around with open eyes and ears.

Read the full review:
http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/review/4269/

A NATURAL SENSE OF WONDER:
CONNECTING KIDS WITH NATURE THROUGH THE SEASONS
Rick Van Noy.

Paperback: U of GA Press, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $14 ]  [ Amazon ]


THE NY REVIEW OF BOOKS reviews several
recent books on George Orwell.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22414


Orwell believed in 1936 that “the combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.” That “never” was a risky call. And on a larger scale, he believed throughout World War II that peace would bring the British revolution he desired, with blood in the gutters and the “red militias…billetted in the Ritz,” as he put it in private diary and public essay. And after the revolution:

The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten….

One out of four on the vision thing; and tractors were hardly a difficult pick.

 

Against such a background, it would be rash to try to predict the continuing afterlife of Orwell’s work. Many of his phrases and mental tropes have already sunk into the conscious and unconscious mind, and we carry them with us as we carry Freudian tropes, whether or not we have read Freud. Some of those English couch potatoes watch programs called Big Brother and Room 101. And if we allow ourselves to hope for a future in which all Orwell’s warnings have been successfully heeded, and in which Animal Farm has become as archaic a text as Rasselas, the world will have to work its way through a lot of dictators and repressive systems first. In Burma there is a joke that Orwell wrote not just a single novel about the country, but a trilogy: Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

 

Orwell shared with Dickens a hatred of tyranny, and in his essay on the Victorian novelist distinguished two types of revolutionary. There are on the one hand the change-of-heart people, who believe that if you change human nature, all the problems of society will fall away; and, on the other, the social engineers, who believe that once you fix society—make it fairer, more democratic, less divided—then the problems of human nature will fall away. These two approaches “appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time.” Dickens was a change-of-heart man, Orwell a systems-and-structures man, not least because—as these essays confirm—he thought human beings recidivist, and beyond mere self-help. “The central problem—how to prevent power from being abused—remains unsolved.” And until then, it is safe to predict that Orwell will remain a living writer.

Read the full review:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22414

All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays.
George Orwell.
Hardcover: Harcourt, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]  [ Amazon ]


A Review of A History of the American Peace Movement
from Colonial Times to the Present.


http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=24095

‘A History of the American Peace Movement from Colonial Times to the Present’ is a remarkable achievement, surveying the entire history of pacifist organizations and leaders in the United States from the beginning of its history to 2006. Moving chronologically from the original peacemakers of the country (Native Americans) through the religious pacifists of the colonial period to the religious and secular non-violent activists for peace and justice in the nineteenth century, to the myriad of peace and justice initiatives of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Howlett and Lieberman provide us with a comprehensive textbook history of the most important people, organizations, and ideas of American peace history. It should be required reading for any student interested in researching any aspect of peace history in the U.S., as it will place any specific peace worker or institution within its broader historical perspective. Indeed, it should be required reading for any specialist in American history because it fills in gaps usually left by history textbooks which focus primarily on wars and violent events, and usually pay little attention to peace movements. It effectively demonstrates how peace movements have always existed in American history, always opposed militarists and those who advocate violence, and effectively pressured for peace and justice at home and abroad. It also clearly shows the important role that non-violent activists for peace and justice have played throughout American history, not only in ending wars and offering peaceful resolutions to conflict, but also in supporting justice movements, such as the women’s rights, workers’ rights, and African-American civil rights movements.

Read the full review:
http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=24095

A History of the American Peace Movement
from Colonial Times to the Present.

Howlett, Lieberman, eds.

Hardcover: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]