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Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today
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Divergent Christian Views on Just War
Many Christians accept that war can be justified, particularly if it meets the conditions of the Just War theory. However, there are some who disagree.
- Some sections of the Bible support the defence of a weaker country.
'God presides in the heavenly council;
in the assembly of the gods he gives his decision:
2 “You must stop judging unjustly;
you must no longer be partial to the wicked!
3 Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans;
be fair to the needy and the helpless.
4 Rescue them from the power of evil people' Psalm 82:1-4
- There are examples of war in the Old Testament that are supported by God, therefore some Christians accept that some wars are justified.
- The Catholic Church has set out a Just War Doctrine: the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church. This doctrine is followed by Catholics across the world, alongside other church denominations that have also accepted it.
- Violence, whilst unacceptable, is necessary if it is in self-defence. Therefore, countries have a right to keep armed forces.
- St Paul taught Christians that they should obey their government, even if they don't agree with them. If a government decides a war is just, then Christians should support it.
'Everyone must obey state authorities, because no authority exists without God's permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God. Whoever opposes the existing authority opposes what God has ordered; and anyone who does so will bring judgment on himself. Romans 13:1-2
Some Christians are completely against war, regardless of whether it has met the conditions of the Just War theory.
- Jesus taught about the importance of peace and as Christians follow his teachings, they are less likely to accept war.
- The Church teaches about the importance of peace.
- Some Christians are pacifists, so do not accept the Just War theory. The Quakers are an example of a denomination that teaches pacifism.
- They feel that the Just War theory has an inherent weakness; both sides may believe that they have met the conditions of a just war. They can't both be right, therefore, neither side can honestly claim to be justified in going to war.
- Some countries may claim that they are fighting for a just cause, however, this is open to abuse, with governments interpreting the Just War theory to suit their agenda. For example, in WW II Hitler claimed Germany was fighting a just war, and that the Nazis' cause was a good one. However, few people today would agree with his reasoning. Indeed, the Nazis' establishment of the Third Reich and grabbing of European land by any means, is as far removed from a just war as is possible to imagine. This is particularly true with regard to how they fought, and the killing of millions of innocent Jews in the Holocaust.
Ethical theories applied
Situation ethics argues that the right action to take is the one that is the kindest and most loving thing, in any situation. People may apply this theory to the idea of a just war, and argue that killing many people in a war, whether or not just, is not a very kind or loving thing to do, therefore, a just war is not acceptable.
However, others might argue that defending a weaker country or your own country from invasion by an aggressive enemy is the kindest and most loving thing to do. A just war rescues people, saving them from being overrun by an enemy country that may mistreat them if allowed to do so.
Utilitarianism states that the right action is the one that brings happiness to the greatest number of people in any given situation. A war, whether just or not, causes enormous loss of life, bringing unhappiness to many. Therefore, some might argue that a just war is unacceptable.
However, others might apply the theory to argue that, whilst a just war causes unhappiness, it may bring happiness to more people if it is being fought to defend a weaker nation or in self-defence. Yes, the loss of life brings unhappiness, however, more people may be able to experience happiness by resisting an aggressive invasion than by allowing their own, or another country, to be taken over by an enemy,