Scott Morizot on just war and the orthodox view on killing humans

Scott Morizot is one of those people I wish would write a book. He blogs about faith, and sometimes about gluten-free diet -which is also interesting to me, since my wife can’t eat wheat due to a mild gluten intolerance…- and when he writes about something, there’s a big chance that it’s worth reading.  (I’m not reading all his links about American politics though, I don’t want to get too frustrated about a continent that’s not mine…) He’s very interesting because he writes from a perspective that I’d call ‘classical christianity’, which is more in line with the church fathers, and very close to the eastern orthodox, even if he’s not EO himself.

Due to circumstances he’s not blogging that frequently nowadays, but there’s stuff in his archives that I really recommend, like his series on heaven and hell and on original sin. He also has a series on sola scriptura that’s very challenging.  And a lot of commentary on ancient texts and other interesting stuff. (did I mention the gluten-free diet?)

Recently I was reading a discussion on the Jesus creed blog on muslims, christians and war (also recommended, both this post and the blog itself) which contained some comments that are just too good to be hidden in a blog comment discussion. So I will quote them here, so I have access to them when I want, and so that you all can be enlightened by them:

Which Christian just war theory? 😉 The first thoughts are on it were expressed by Augustine. I’m not sure I would call it a developed theory, per se. He was struggling in his part of the world with the real and (for him) immediate question of what to do when the nation itself is predominantly Christian and the barbarians are at the gate, as it were. His thoughts were expressed in three points.

St. Thomas Aquinas fleshed it out more in his Summa Theologica, but as I recall (been some years since I read it) stuck with essentially the same three points Augustine used.

Without looking them up (always a dangerous thing), I believe Augustine’s original three tenets were:

1. War must only be waged for a good purpose, not for power or gain.
2. War must only be waged by a properly instituted state.
3. The central goal must always be peace, even in the midst of violence.

More modern versions have many more points (and clarifications of points). As a former soldier and in trying to develop an understanding of historical Christian perspectives on war once I found myself one, I read all that I could find once upon a time (including a really good paper published through West Point).

Personally, I prefer the Orthodox understanding and approach to the attempts in Western theology. The basic Orthodox approach is that Christians are called to love and killing another human being is always evil. It is never good. However, we live in a broken world and sometimes people (and states) are placed in situations where it seems the only options they have are evil (whether that’s reality or merely our broken perception is always hard to say). They can kill or engage in war, which is evil, or they can refrain and by not opposing evil with violence allow worse evil to occur.

Regardless, killing another human being damages a person’s humanity deeply. A priest who sheds blood is deposed (though the possibility of restoration through repentance and economia remains open). A communicant who takes a life was typically restricted from communion for a period of time for repentance and restoration (traditionally 1-3 years) even though their action may have been “justified” or even required by their circumstances. The focus is always on healing the damage and not on determining whether or not it was “justified”.

I think that’s a better approach. Within the Christian perspective, violence always runs counter to love. That was, after all, God’s charge against humanity in the story of Noah — the world was “full of violence.” If we do not act, in and through Christ, to heal and be healed of violence, who else will?

The second one is a lot later in the discussion.

I came back and read the comments and, as often seems to be case, they seem to be a back and forth around the wrong question: When is it justified or right to kill another human being? It’s as though if a sufficient justification can be found, it somehow ameliorates the effects or consequences of the act.

But how can that be true? In the Christian perspective, Christ joined the divine nature wholly and inseparably, but without confusion, to our common human nature. It’s through that act, joining us in suffering (though without sin), even to death, and then defeating death that mankind was redeemed and our healing begun. It is no longer the nature of man to die, which is why the NT and early Christians typically called what happens to us now “sleep” indicating its new and impermanent nature.

This also means that when you kill another, you not only attempt to kill a human being, part of the humanity that in nature has been joined with Christ, but you damage yourself as well. Sin is like a disease, running rampant in our mortal bodies. We are either being healed or we are falling under its sway. Unless someone can explain how you can kill another human being as an act of love toward that human being (willfully acting for their good), then clearly your act is “missing the mark” — the very definition of sin in the NT. Surely no Christian disputes that point? What is the foremost command of our Lord, after all — repeated again and again by him and by his apostles?

With that said, are there situations where our choices appear constricted to the lesser of two evils? Certainly. But a lesser evil is still evil. It seems to me that much of just war arguments consist largely of trying to rationalize evil, even the lesser evil in a particular situation, into good.

And that’s a problem on multiple levels. When people begin to feel the evil they are doing is justified or even righteous, things can become topsy-turvy. We see that repeatedly in Christian history. The Crusades. The Inquisition. The usual litany of charges. They had convinced themselves that what they were doing was good and that’s a very dangerous place to be. We are no less subject to such temptation. We must guard against it. And when we recognize and acknowledge that it is evil and a failure of love to kill another, that’s a start.

But it also has a more insidious effect. If we do not recognize that the perhaps necessary act of a person defending innocents, a police officer upholding law, or a soldier fighting (within the bounds of conscience) according to the dictates of his nation, is still sin, we may not act to heal the person suffering from the effects of that sin. For unacknowledged (or even justified) sin is then left free to wreak its havoc unchecked and unchallenged. One who has committed violence or killed another human being has damaged themselves. They require healing, but healing can only begin if a mirror is held in front of them so they can see that damage. And for Christians, the mirror is always Christ. He shows us as we are in his light.

When Christians try to argue that killing others is ever “right” we have lost our way. There are times it is necessary (or at least I lack the imagination to see any way it can always be avoided). But it’s a necessity that must be covered in tears of repentance and sorrow. When we kill, we have made the world a little darker, even if it would have grown even darker had we not.

I especially love that last paragraph. This is really important stuff, that we need to talk about more. That we need to live more.

what do you people think?



One response to “Scott Morizot on just war and the orthodox view on killing humans

  1. wow… that last paragraph is hard hitting… definitely makes you rethink things.

    Thanks for highlighting these comments. I read the original blog post, but didn’t dig into the comments…

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