September 18, 2014

Just war and justly pro-life

Heavily armed RCMP officers enter a residence during manhunt
 for shooting suspect in Moncton (New Brunswick),
 Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Andrew Vaughan/ THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 18, 2014

Just war and justly pro-life

A friend asked me the following question to challenge my non-pacifist, just war position: How can you be consistently pro-life without also being against the use of lethal force to resolve conflict?

Here's how: by simultaneously applying two distinctions: (1) absolute vs. prima facie; (2) innocent life vs. life that's forfeited the right to life.

Human life has great worth, but the prohibition against its destruction isn't absolute. Sometimes, say, when a murderer is engaged in a shooting spree in a school, a police officer may have to kill the murderer—and this killing is just.

Yes, the shooter has the right to life, but it's a prima facie right, not an absolute right.

“Prima facie” is Latin for first appearance. In ethics it means duty X is what apparently ought to be done, unless a more pressing duty Y outweighs it. For example, I have a duty to keep my promise to Morgan to meet him for lunch, unless I must save Patricia from drowning while on my way to meet Morgan.

Also, police officers have the duty to protect school shooters, but the duty to innocent students being shot outweighs the duty to the murderer. If lethal force—killing the shooter—is required to defend the lives of innocents, then the shooter forfeits his right to life.

Biblical history provides ample evidence of people who engaged in activities that forfeit their right to life. There are occasions when people are justly killed by God either by natural means (e.g., flood, pestilence) or by human agents of God's wrath (e.g., the sword of government).

In other words, humans are made in God's image and thus have great worth, but they aren't God and thus don't have absolute worth.

Sadly, if we allow evil aggressors (who require lethal force to be stopped) to murder innocents, that is, if we preclude all lethal police/ military interventions, then we sacrifice innocent lives—people who haven't forfeited their right to life—to evil forces. This is neither pro-life nor just.

But wait: what about abortionists who kill innocent children? Should I apply lethal force to the abortionists? My answer: No.

There is still some reasonable debate or doubt about whether the unborn in the early stages is an actual human being or person (though the reasonableness of this doubt is shrinking as more science and careful thinking are done), and there are still peaceful means that have promise of success to enable the protection of the unborn (e.g., education, law reform, crisis pregnancy centres).

But in the case of, say, ISIS, there is no reasonable doubt that innocent human persons are being murdered. And there is no reasonable doubt that there aren't any wholly peaceful means which will actually enable the urgent protection of the men, women, and children who are presently being murdered and targeted for murder. Also, ISIS is clear that the only "peace" it wants is a peace in which all opposition is destroyed.

Unlike the abortion situation, then, with ISIS we have a case in which killers are clearly on a murderous rampage—a rampage whose explicit murderous intent, brutal track record, and dangerous growth make it not at all amenable to being stopped by a non-lethal force.

But how does the just war view relate to the pro-life view on euthanasia? I think that here we have to keep in mind that whereas ISIS has engaged in acts which forfeit their right to life, the elderly and disabled and terminally ill haven't engaged in acts that forfeit their right to life.

Thus, by making two careful distinctions—absolute vs. prima facie, and innocent life vs. life that's forfeited the right to life—one can be consistently pro-life and pro-just-war.

Surely it's reasonable and good—and pro-life—to favour the judicious, wise use of lethal force to protect innocent lives—especially the weak and vulnerable—from murderous aggressors. That's why we arm police officers.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

September 04, 2014


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 4, 2014


I've been thinking about Islam lately, to better understand ISIS/ the Islamic State. Let's look at four topics: Jesus and Muhammad, jihad, "religion of peace," and terrorists.

1. Jesus and Muhammad

Jesus is an important prophet, according to Islam, but Jesus is not God in human flesh, contrary to Christianity.

Also, Jesus didn't die on the cross (somebody else did) and Jesus didn't resurrect bodily after death—all this according to the Qur'an, written in another country 600 years after the events. (Note: Christianity's New Testament evidences are closer to the events geographically and in time because they contain accounts of eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses.)

The focus of Islam is the man Muhammad, who is (allegedly) God's latest and greatest prophet. Significantly, whereas Jesus shed his own blood for others, Muhammad shed the blood of others.

2. Jihad

Is jihad a holy war against unbelievers (infidels) or merely a personal spiritual struggle? Consider these observations from Irving Hexham, a well-respected professor of religious studies at University of Calgary, from his book Understanding World Religions (2011):

"[T]he popular milk-and-water version of Islam found in most religious studies texts [in Western universities] is, to say the least, misleading. Jihad is indeed primarily a form of warfare in defense of Islam [i.e., it's not merely a spiritual/ personal struggle against one's carnal desires]."

According to Hexham, "This means that, however much one may disagree with the methods of people like Osama bin Laden [ISIS, etc.], it is highly misleading to dismiss them as 'extremists' or argue that they 'don't understand Islam,' as some writers suggest."

Hexham adds: "The truth is, bin Laden [ISIS, etc.] have decided that Islam is under threat from the West and that Western values are undermining Muslim societies. Therefore, in their own eyes, they are fighting a legitimate war, or jihad, in defense of Islam."

3. "Religion of peace"

When Muslims talk about Islam being a "religion of peace," peace isn't what we in the West usually think. It's not live and let live.

Hexham writes: "For Muslims, Islam is a religion of peace, because the imposition of Islamic rule brings areas under Muslim control to peace and order in accordance with Islamic teachings about the will of God. Thus it is a Pax Islamica, which imposes peace by dominating all opponents by force or arms."

Hexham concludes: "it seems clear that to say that 'Islam is a religion of peace' is not the same thing as saying that 'Islam is a peaceful religion.'"

4. Terrorists

So, are all Muslims terrorists? Answer: No, definitely not.

Zane Pratt, a Christian missionary to central Asia, is author of the article, "10 things every Christian should know about Islam." Pratt (correctly) observes: "The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists."

Pratt adds: "In fact, normal Islamic religious law forbids the intentional killing of non-combatants in battle. It also forbids suicide. It's a small minority view that allows these things, and it's a small minority who engage in terrorist activities."

But let's pause a moment. According to Pratt, "it's a small minority [of Muslims] who engage in terrorist activity." Yet, according to Hexham, it is "highly misleading to dismiss them [this small minority] as 'extremists' or argue that they 'don't understand Islam.'"

Enter: the need to think carefully.

Review: (1) Islam denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who spread his message peacefully, but Islam admires Muhammad, who spread his message violently; (2) those Muslims who take jihad as killing non-Muslims understand Islam and are not extremists; (3) Islam, as a "religion of peace," tends to view "peace" as submission to, i.e., forceful domination by, Islamic rule; (4) the vast majority of Muslims are (truly) peaceful.

What should we do? I recommend that we show love to Muslims, pray for them, discern truth, plus speak truth with gentleness and respect.

I also recommend Nabeel Qureshi's book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (2014).

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

August 21, 2014

War or peace?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, August 21, 2014

War or peace?

Which would you choose: war or peace? Peace, surely.

But what about these options: war or a peace at home which permits a murderous tyranny in other countries, a tyranny bent on world conquest?

In such a scenario, if peaceful diplomatic efforts are ineffective and cost the lives of large and growing numbers of innocents, I would choose war—just war.

I would choose just war as a last resort, with reluctance, to protect innocents from evil aggressors. Lethal force would be limited to what's needed, protecting non-combatants, aiming for a just peace.

Bear with me as I address three objections.

Objection 1. The Bible commands "Do not kill."

No, the Bible commands "Do not murder." Killing and murder are different morally. All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder.

Think of a police officer who must kill someone engaged in a deadly shooting spree in a school. The police officer doesn't murder; the killer of the students murders. The police officer kills the murderer to protect innocents; the murderer kills innocents. The police officer kills justly; the murderer kills unjustly.

Objection 2. Jesus said: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Yes, Jesus said this, but this has to do with personal relationships, not matters of government. It has to do with a backhand slap to the face, which in Jesus' culture is an insult. It means that if someone insults you, suck it up.

Context is important. Jesus is talking to individuals about how to relate to one another within a society ruled by a foreign power. Jesus is not talking about the affairs of state. (About the affairs of state, Paul in Romans 13 says the state legitimately bears the sword and is God’s agent of wrath.)

C. S. Lewis, in his essay "Why I am not a Pacifist," points out that Jesus' audience consists of a "private people in a disarmed nation" and "war was not what they would have been thinking of."

Also, Lewis asks:  "Does anyone suppose that our Lord’s hearers understood him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim?" For Lewis, context renders such an understanding impossible.

The turn-the-other-cheek passage, then, doesn't mean we shouldn't use force to protect others.

Interestingly, Jesus even commends a centurion—a soldier—for his faith.

Objection 3. Aren't we supposed to love our neighbours? Doesn't love preclude war?

Yes, we should love our neighbours. No, love doesn't preclude war.

Here I side with Augustine (354-430 AD). According to Augustine, love of neighbour sometimes requires that we use violence to protect our neighbour, as when our neighbour is threatened by an assailant.

In the name of love, according to Augustine, we may have to use military force—a lethal force—to stop an army from murdering innocent neighbours.

Reminder: Not all killing is murder. Think again of the good police officer who justly kills a rampaging killer of innocents. Soldiers—just soldiers—are like that good police officer.

Of course, much more can (and should) be said.

I am neither a warmonger nor a pacifist. I believe that sometimes violent force is justified—as in police situations and on a larger scale when military force is needed—to protect innocents from aggressive, murderous thugs.

Just war is never completely just, to be sure, and it's terrible.

But a so-called "peace" that permits large and growing numbers of innocent men, women, and children to be raped, tortured, cut in half, beheaded, and slaughtered is worse—much worse.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. After high school, Hendrik served for three years as an infantryman in the Canadian Armed Forces.)