The folly of pacifism

Micah Tillman has an interesting discussion going on over at his blog. He notes that pacifism taken to its logical end must result in anarchism. Personally, I prefer black and white. If pacifism could stand up to scrutiny, I’d be all for it. I don’t like having to wade through shades of gray. Unfortunately, life just isn’t that easy.

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36 Responses to “The folly of pacifism”

  1. Kansas Bob says:

    The pacifism that is most dangerous is the kind that acquiesces to our head’s thinking and dismisses the inner voice of the heart. It is so hard to stand up for your heart and so easy to give in to rationalization. I guess that is the difference between being prophetic and being political.. not that I really know for sure :)

  2. casey says:

    Being political would be selective pacifism, wouldn’t it? Pacifism when it suits your political purposes…

  3. Rick Rouse says:

    Pacifists envision a world in which we “all just get along”, but history and the Bible clearly show that we humans are far too imperfect for that. Unfortunately, there are times, circumstances and events that require a God-fearing nation to go to war – just one of the bad things we must endure as a result of the fall of man into a world of sin.

  4. casey says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Rick.

  5. Rick Rouse says:

    You’re welcome Casey. I love your site and your views – I’ll be stopping by often.

  6. Michaela says:

    That doesn’t make any sense. Pacifism is opposition to war and military action not government action.
    And just because humans are imperfect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the route of pacifism. In the Bible it says that we are supposed to strive to be like God. Well, we are imperfect and we will never be like God until we die but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
    I am a pacifist because Jesus said love your enemies and I think fighting them in a war is not very loving. Also, the Bible says pray for those who persecute you. Very different then gunning them down.
    You should check out my post that I wrote awhile ago about pacifism. I’m not saying I have all the answers but just check it out.

  7. casey says:

    I’m a little confused, Michaela. You do not oppose government action, i.e. police using force to subdue criminals, snipers gunning down terrorists or hostage takers, etc.? Are you in fact saying that violence is unacceptable except when it is acceptable?

  8. Michaela says:

    Ok well I guess you have to define government action. I do not believe in violence so no, I don’t believe in police gunning people down. Of course, what are you going to do when a criminal isn’t listening to the cops? Let him walk away? Probably not.

    There is violence in this world and people use violence to stop it. It’s like fighting fire with fire. I don’t agree with it but what can I do?

    Honestly, if someone were to attack me, would I not use self-defense? Most likely yes. It’s an instinct to protect myself. I’m not perfect and I wish I could say that I’ve never been violent before. But violence is wrong and I agree with that whole-heartedly.

  9. casey says:


    You don’t agree with using force to protect innocent people? If a hostage taker is pointing a gun to a victim’s head, you do not think the cops should bring in a sharpshooter to shoot him dead in order to save the victim’s life? Would you prefer that they allow him to live and the victim to die?

    It’s interesting that you mention “fighting fire with fire.” The expression comes from a tactic of heading off a raging fire by looking ahead to where the fire can be expected to grow, clearing a line of safety over which the flames cannot jump, then deliberately burning away what would be potential fuel for the threatening inferno.

    If you’re simply stating that you wish violence didn’t exist, you’re not a pacifist, you’re a human. No one in their right mind enjoys violence or is happy when it is used. We live in a fallen world, and unfortunately evil exists.

  10. Rick Rouse says:

    If we all lived in a perfect world there would be no reason for war. But alas, our world is far from perfect. There are countless madmen and evildoers around the globe who would like nothing better than to kill us all and reap the monetary and/or “heavenly” reward.

    Should we have sat by and refused to enter WWII while Hitler was exterminating innocent people by the millions and overthrowing governments right and left? Should we have sat by and allowed him to develop nuclear weapons to attach to his V-2 rockets given the fact that he was already well on his way towards world domination?

    The first and most important responsibility of any government is to do whatever it takes to protect its citizens from attack. As Christians we have a moral duty to come to the aid and defense of innocents who are being maimed and killed at the whim of a dictator. And self-defense isn’t just a right, it’s a requirement for our survival. Personally, I think Jesus would be appalled if we failed to meet even one of these obligations – even if violence was required in order to do it.

  11. Michaela says:

    Of course I believe in protecting innocent people. I would want to be protected. I am human, as you say.

    Saying we live in a fallen world and evil exists is a lame excuse to condone violence. You could use the same argument for sinning. And as Christians, aren’t we supposed to oppose evil?

  12. Michaela says:

    Oh, and by the way, I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did, but I’m not God. I just believe that pacifism is part of the answer. What should we have done instead of fighting Hitler with military action? I have no idea. I just don’t know. But that’s ok. I’m ok with not knowing everything.

  13. casey says:


    Saying that you oppose violence but offering no alternatives is an intellectual cop-out, and it shows that pacifism cannot pass muster (which was the original contention). Yes, Christians are supposed to oppose evil. Sometimes that involves the use of force. Your position is exactly what sent so many Jews to their deaths in World War II. As Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” I challenge you to find a passage of Scripture where the government is commanded to refrain from the use of force or to forgive evildoers. You won’t find it. You are confusing Jesus’ commands to the individual with his commands to the government. They are not interchangeable.

  14. Rick Rouse says:

    Violence is never a good option, but unfortunately, in the world in which we live it is occasionally the ONLY realistic option available to us. To stand by and do nothing while evil goes on around us is not only misguided, it is also…well, evil.

    There are several accounts in God’s Word where He not only sanctioned violence in order to fight evil, but He even chose sides and actively assisted in the other side’s destruction.

    This passage concerning Sampson is but one example:

    Judges 15:14-16

    14 – And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.

    15 – And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.

    16 – And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.

    And of course I’m sure you’re familiar with how God parted the waters of the Red Sea to allow Moses and His people to escape, only to bring them rushing back together to drown the approaching enemy?

  15. Michaela says:

    The greatest commandment in the Bible is love God and love your neighbour. Jesus said so Himself. I’m pretty sure that is a command to citizens AND the government.

    And I didn’t say we should do nothing. Jesus said love your enemies and PRAY for those who persecute you. I whole-heartedly believe in the power of prayer. Prayer can change the world. A lot of Christians have stopped praying and I think that’s one of the major reasons why this world is messed up. God gives us direction and answers in prayer. If we prayed more we would see the hearts of men change. And prayer is not inaction.

  16. casey says:

    Hi Michaela,

    Rick brought up an important point. If Jesus is a pacifist, then why did he command the Israelites to go to war? The government is not commanded to love its neighbors. The government has no emotions or mind of its own.

    For [the governing authority] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Rom. 13:4)

    A sword is not used for correction but for killing.

    You are right that prayer is important. David was a man after God’s own heart, and he prayed fervently. Then he took action: killing Goliath, sending out his army to destroy his enemies, etc.

    As individuals, we can show our love for our enemies by praying for them. I pray for bin Laden. I hope that he becomes a Christian and that he will set an example for the Muslim world. I also pray that God will bring him to justice and that he will be executed for the deaths that he has caused.

  17. Michaela says:

    Seems ironic that you would pray for someone and then go out and kill them. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

    And with the whole government thing, if you disobey your government you can expect to be punished by them, even killed. You are praying for the death of Bin Laden? Whoa. That’s kind of intense. Anyways, that’s your choice. I personally don’t agree with praying that someone will be killed. We aren’t God. Only God should be able to make that choice.

    And, you are right. I suppose that violence is necessary to stop some evil. Hitler needed to be stopped somehow. I still am strongly opposed to violence though. But I guess what peeves me the most is when Christians start wars and the like. It’s a little different when we end them, like you said.

  18. casey says:

    Yes, Michaela. I am praying for the death of bin Laden. David prayed for the death of his enemies.

    Break their teeth in their mouth, O God! Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! Let them flow away as waters which run continually…Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes, Like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun. (Psalm 58:6-8)

    The desire for justice is not wrong, despite what humanists might have you believe. Since you concur that violence is necessary to stop some evil, you can’t rightly consider yourself a die-hard pacifist. As I said, no one in their right mind likes violence, and just because you dislike violence that does not make you a pacifist.

    I agree with you that violence is bad and that it should be avoided whenever possible. Christians should never sit quiet as their governments start wars. They should insist that their governments use any means at their disposal to avoid war. There are times, however, when violence and war are unavoidable.

  19. Michaela says:

    Well, I never said I was a die-hard pacifist. Die-hard is rather extreme especially since I’m not perfect and I’m open to knew ideas.

    I don’t agree with the government using war as a solution to their problems. That would be pacifism. And I don’t even care what you call me, it’s just a word. It’s hard to sum up your beliefs in a single definition.

    And insisting that your government should use avoid war is taking the pacifism route. I never said all violence and war is unavoidable. But a lot of it can be prevented. Thus, pacifism is the route I take.

  20. Michaela says:

    Oh, and I still don’t believe that prayer for your enemies to die is acceptable. We are humans and we don’t always have the good of mankind in mind. We want revenge or see “justice” served, so to speak. David was a man after God’s own heart. He prayed on a constant basis and I can bet that most of the time he knew what God wanted. Can you say the same? I certainly can’t. Praying for our enemies to die would probably come out of selfishness and not out of godliness.

  21. casey says:

    Pacifism is only a word, but it is “the doctrine that all violence is unjustifiable.” If you believe that violence is sometimes justifiable then you’re a quasi-pacifist or basically a sane individual. If you believe that self-defense is justified then you no longer fit the accepted definition of “pacifist.” The argument from the beginning is that pacifism in the commonly understood sense is untenable. You have been arguing a different definition of pacifism.

    Praying for murderers to meet certain doom is actually praying for God’s will to be done. God himself said, “Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.” (Numbers 35:31) The penalty for murder is death. There may be selfish desires involved, but that can be said about anything we pray for.

  22. Michaela says:

    Ok, I don’t think violence is acceptable but I don’t think all violence is avoidable because we don’t live in a perfect world. But nonetheless, I still don’t think it’s acceptable. People who believe in “just-war” believe that war is acceptable or that war can be justified, hence why it’s called “just-war”. Am I right to assume that you are just-war?

    I don’t think the government should use violence as means to solve problems. I will never agree with it. One of the 10 commandments is thou shall not kill. Well, gunning people down is killing them. And I never said self-defense is justified. Again, I don’t agree with violence. I just said that I’m human and I’d probably defend myself if someone attacked me. But I hope that I would do what Jesus did and not fight back when people attacked me.

    Well, there is a thing called mercy. God shows mercy and grace to people because Jesus died for our sins. In the old testament there had to be a punishment for people’s sins. Now, though there are consequences, I doubt that God would kill every single murderer. God takes away the punishment of death and shows us mercy and grace. So, I still don’t believe that prayer for the death of a murderer is acceptable.

  23. casey says:

    Sorry, although I feel this discussion has come full circle, I just can’t let two of your last statements go unchallenged. First, the commandment is not “Thou shalt not kill,” but “Thou shalt not murder.” There is a difference. God commanded the Israelites to kill (execute) murderers. The commandment did not prevent the Israelites from executing murderers and it did not prevent them from going to war. The “Thou shalt not kill” translation is an unfortunate mistake by the King James translators.

    Second, God does not take away the punishment of death. Each and every one of us will experience physical death. That is the consequence of our rebellion. God did not “kill every single murderer” in the Old Testament, either. That was the responsibility of the government. The command to execute murderers was given before the state of Israel came into existence (see Gen. 9:6) and is a universal command because all human beings are created in the image of God. The murder of an innocent human being is not something that can be punished with anything other than death because any other punishment cheapens the life of the victim.

  24. Michaela says:

    Ok, so how do you know it’s a mistake by the King James translators?

    The Old Testament is different from now. God’s rules were good for them. For example, He told them not to eat pork because they didn’t know how to cook it. But Jesus said it doesn’t matter if we eat pork or not. Telling them to kill murderers made them afraid to murder themselves.

    But today we don’t have the same rules. Everyone gets the chance to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, not because we deserve it but because of God’s mercy and grace. They didn’t have that in the Old Testament. And also, it is our job to tell people about Christ and when we kill them we aren’t giving the opportunity to follow Christ.

  25. casey says:

    How do I know it is a mistake by the King James translators? Because God cannot contradict himself. If in the 10 commandments he said “Thou shalt not kill,” but then said, “Thou shalt kill” a few chapters later we have a big problem. It’s fairly obvious that he was talking about murder. Anyway, if you want to look at the original Hebrew, the word is “ratsah,” which should be rendered “murder.” This root refers only to criminal acts of killing. The word for kill in Hebrew is “harag.” The translators should have been more careful.

  26. Michaela says:

    Good point.

    But praying for someone’s death is still wrong.

  27. casey says:

    How about praying for God’s will to be done and justice to be served? ;) (Revelation 6:9-10)

  28. Michaela says:

    What about when Jesus said turn the other cheek? Ah, pacifism for ya! :)

    Haha. I think this conversation is going no where.

  29. casey says:

    See comment #16. Personal vengeance was prohibited in the Old Testament as well.

  30. Michaela says:

    Well, I believe (just like Gandhi) Jesus meant it literally when He said turn the other cheek and I believe He meant it for all people in all situations. Jesus was a master at turning the other cheek? He never fought back once. What about when the men were going to stone the prostitute? He could of fought back to protect her. That would be justified, wouldn’t it?

  31. Rick Rouse says:

    “What about when the men were going to stone the prostitute? He could of fought back to protect her. That would be justified, wouldn’t it?”

    Actually, Jesus did “fight back” on the prostitute’s behalf. Like Solomon in the case of the disputed baby, He used logic and a few carefully chosen words to settle the situation. In those two cases violence wasn’t necessary in order to solve the problems at hand, but unfortunately, sometimes it is.

    In addition to being the Son of the Living God, Jesus was also the wisest philosopher who ever walked the face of the earth. His words were sharper and more effective than any sword. But unlike Him, we humans can’t always ensure that justice prevails by using words alone.

    Michaela, I believe that you’re a compassionate person who loves the Lord and seeks to do your best to serve him, but I also believe this is one issue where we’ll simply have to “agree to disagree”.

  32. casey says:

    Nevermind the fact that a slap on the right cheek is not a life-threatening attack, you can point out words of wisdom from the Beattitudes all day long, but you’re still missing the point I made back in response #16 that there are different commands for the government and the individual. Individuals are not to seek revenge, but the government is commanded to punish evildoers.

    I’m with Rick on this one: I think we’re going to have to “agree to disagree.”

  33. Michaela says:

    I doubt that even if violence was necessary that Jesus would have fought back because Jesus doesn’t need to. Jesus used His words and I believe we can do the same.

    And I did respond to #16. I said we can expect to get in trouble by the government by disobeying it because that’s how the world works.

    Unfortunately, I’ve learned that you can use the Bible to argue either way with pacifism. So I agree to disagree.

  34. Rick Rouse says:

    May God bless you and your family during this Christmas season and throughout the new year.

  35. casey says:

    Thanks, Rick. Same to you.