Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More from Human Smoke

Someone asked Mohandas Gandhi about English pacifists. It was May 1938.

The problem with the English pacifists, Gandhi said, was that they made moral calculations: "When they speak of pacifism they do so with the mental reservation that when pacifism fails, arms might be used." A true pacifist never calculated. "Someone has to arise in England with the living faith to say that England, whatever happens, shall not use arms," said Gandhi. "They are a nation fully armed, and if they having the power deliberately refuse to use arms, theirs will be the first example of Christianity in active practice on a mass scale. That will be a real miracle."
No miracle occurred.

Oswald Garrison Villard, an editor of The Nation, wrote that great armaments were the road to fascism. "They bring with them increased worship of the State, increased nationalism, increased State service, and therefore play into the hands of those like Hitler and Mussolini who declare that the citizen is made for the State and not the State for the citizen," he said. It was July 2, 1938.


Matt Dowling said...

Alright Chip, you've finally compelled me to purchase "Human Smoke." It's interesting thinking about Gandhi's thoughts here...during a class I recently taught on the biblical/theological support for Christian pacifism, I often heard remarks that intimated we have a "right" to defend ourselves if attacked. I'd often ask them how one can reconcile this thought with Matt. 5:38ff and with the clear indication that Jesus consciously chose the way of suffering obedience vs. the way of violence.

My sense is that the American ethos of "my rights, right now" is so deeply ingrained that it makes it difficult to conceive that we might not have a right to expect earthly justice as a Christian. When mentioning such a thought in class, I would see heads nod, but I wondered if these class-goers really were thinking through the implications of that line of reasoning.

chip said...

Thanks, Matt. We need this stuff to get to "the pew level." Not my forte, at least at this point.

I like to point out that the only time in the entire Bible that "rights" are spoken of is when Paul says he declined to assert his rights as an apostle. There's a Biblical pattern if I ever saw one!!!

Ty said...
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Ty said...

Blogger Ty said...

Would that disqualify people like Martin Luther King, who pursued pacifism because he believed it would be effective?

BTW - I had an Advance Reader's Copy of Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age. It appears to be well researched, but I loaned it to my dad (a former history teacher) before I could really look at it in detail. What I saw of it and what he told me, though,leads me to believe that Gandhi was not nearly so consistent in his thought as one would hope, yet his non-violent impact on the world has been quite significant and positive.

chip said...

Ty -- certainly MLK thought his actions would change things in the US, and they did. But was that really his reason for being non-violent? He was non-violent because it was coherent with the gospel, and because he knew that that was the only way to make permanent change in people -- to change their hearts and the heart of an entire society. That's the kind of change we as a nation continue to need.

Ty said...

I don't know if Walter Taylor ever published his work on King, but he said, based on an analysis of King's life's work, that though King believed that non-violence was superior theologically, it was what he believed to be its superior impact that drove him to accept it as his only method of resisting. Taylor told me that many of Kings statements led him to believe that King's writings and speeches led him to believe that King's reason for opposing violence (in view of Gandhi)was not primarily theology but effectiveness. So I am relying almost entirely on someone else's work, but King was one of his major theological interests (the others include R. Niebuhr and S. Hauerwas).

Whether or not King felt that way, what about people who do? If one shuns violence for another reason are they just as "good?" What if one avoids violence only to keep from taking any action?