Within Philosophy, ethics is a major field of study that tries to define morality in the complex world that we live in. The following sample research paper explores the topic of Christian ethics as it pertains to war and violence.
Christian ethics and personal philosophies
Ethics is known as a brand of philosophy that usually involves a form of defending one’s position on the concept of right and wrong. In “The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics,” two individuals discuss and debate the ethics of war as well as the overall definition of Christian ethics as a moral philosophy.
Each individual presents their respective case for or against violence through the lens of the Christian tradition. Each seeks to resolve the questions dealing with free will and morality as human beings. The dialogue between DLC and BES takes on the discussion of Christian ethics and its place in the lives of Christians and non-Christians. In the first part of the dialogue, DLC discusses the thought process on whether Christian ethics is:
“A subset of some larger enterprise of ethics [that] threatens to limit our ability to attend to God’s call to us” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
DLC sees Christian ethics as a distinction between the:
“Behavior of the Church and its members and the behavior of all people taking on the viewpoint that often times in discussions such as these and in general, there are more questions than answers regarding the Christian tradition versus the modern day ethical processes.” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”)
DLC on the Christian ethics of war
DLC begins a discourse on the ethics of war and the Christian thought of war as it relates to the aspects of what Jesus would do.
“What Jesus’ proclamation of God’s inbreaking reign means for the way Christians live their lives here and now,” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”)
DLC states essentially noting the Christian tradition of following what Jesus said but not being pacificists. Pacificism is typically defined as:
“Opposition to war. People are pacifists for several reasons such as religious faith, non-religious belief in the sanctity of life, or practice belief that war is wasteful and ineffective. There are several different sorts of pacifism, but they all include the idea that war and violence are unjustifiable, and that conflicts should be settled in a peaceful way” (“Pacifism”).
DLC uses the distinction of pacificism and the ethics of war in the opening dialogue to both draw differences between the counterpart, DLC and the fact that from the perspective of Jesus, war is not necessary or more aligned with the Bible’s pacificist point of view.
BES on Christian ethics and war
BES seeks to explore the differences between violence and non-violence, or rather war and the absence of it. The opening definition of Christian ethics to BES is:
“A reflection on values and principles that determine which acts to commit and which to avoid, and what kind of person to be, to which standards we hold ourselves and our community” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”),
But then BES turns around and somewhat removes the working definition that has just been described by stating it as more of an assumption rather than anything definitive from the just war theorist point of view. Christian ethics to BES is more of a good character exhibition or journey that is individual in all of us and is founded on the experiences that each and every one of us goes through.
God’s plan for humanity
“I think that God gave us the power of reason, a power that is hampered but not destroyed and that reason yields many insights into God’s plan for humanity. The use of reason – or natural law as the Catholic tradition puts it” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
He points to war during the Jewish history and other Biblical accounts of war. To BES, war is a means to an end and unavoidable in common human law and understanding. War is simply what happens rather than anything separate from it. Human differences and the thirst for power is what causes war from what BES states with:
“The agreements that the nations of the world have made on human rights conventions, conventions guiding warfare, and the institutions of international law” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
Justifying war using God’s original plans
BES seeks to justify war with that statement, but also tries to stay away from it with the following statement:
“I don’t pretend that these agreements can eliminate war, but without them, I think the world would be much worse off” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”)
From this point, DLC takes a more utilitarian approach and begins discussing how the international community has a responsibility; so to speak to decide whether certain actions (i.e. war, violence) are acceptable or not. These agreements must have some kind of commonality between them. To do this, DLC believes:
“It means for how we should act toward each other. Each nation brings to the table its own understanding of norms of behavior, and reaching an agreement is a political process in which commonalities and differences are debated, concessions made, and a consensus is reached on what can be jointly affirmed” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
DLC is basically noting that consensus can be made, and because of this consensus; war can be avoided. While nations have their own thoughts and mores regarding what deems war or not, this can all be satisfied with a meeting or meetings and a thorough process of understanding each and every nation’s point of view and then coming to a resolution.
While DLC understands:
“It’s very clear that people cannot agree on what’s right and wrong there is a reason to believe that there can be an agreement made thus inhibiting the onset of war.”(“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”)
Traditions of war in Christian history
BES concedes DLC’s point about the national self-interest and the interpretations that different countries have regarding what war and violence are to them but states:
“When it comes to rules of war, conventions are based on mutual self-interest, but the content of these conventions largely reflects the judgments of the Western just war tradition thereby noting again that war is unavoidable in the sense that it has been a traditional trajectory for the world (mostly the West) and why should the world veer from it.” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”)
BES uses Biblical history in this thought:
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13:7-8 KJV).
DLC counters by noting that a natural law is not necessary to come to the realization that agreements between nations are necessary to combat the threat of war. DLC’s main concern with natural law:
“Is that it starts us off by looking for moral norms that will be universally applicable, whereas [we should] start by listening for what the Church [we] belong to is called to do and what [an individual’s] part in that calling should be” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
This statement suggests DLC believes war is avoidable if we as individuals do what we have been called to do irrespective of the natural law. Our focus then should be on what Jesus said and his overall credence in our lives rather than debating the morality of war and its consequences, and rendering it as the natural law.
BES thoughts on the teachings of Jesus
BES shifts the thought towards the teachings of Jesus and respectfully disagrees with what DLC has purported by noting that what Jesus said has to be understood properly, far from a literal sense. It can be said that DLC’s argument won BES over to a certain extent as BES closes this discourse by recognizing that the commandment of Jesus to:
“Love your enemies doesn’t answer every practical question we face” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
Following the dialogue on the international agreement between nations, DLC and BES both take an older philosophy associated with Descartes. They move to a discussion on eschatology and how it relates to war. DLC’s position is centered on Jesus and the way in which he lived which in turn should be how we live as individuals:
“Living without recourse to violence is a crucial component of such discipleship” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
BES notes that eschatology is central to the Christian teaching on war. The Christian teaching as it relates to war is relevant today to BES.
“Its significance doesn’t strike home for many Christians” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”) as far as BES is concerned.
BES advocates that Christians often “get wrapped up in everyday living and forget to ask:
“Where is my life going? Where is this world going? Are God’s priorities my, and our, priorities?” Christians, then, should look to God’s announcement of the future that God has planned for us to take our bearings” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
So is BES stating that war is the central product of Biblical scripture for which Christians should look to for a general understanding of their daily lives? It appears so given that statement.
Christians lack of logical reasoning for war
BES contends that Christians are not there yet in this logical reasoning. Both men believe Christians rely on the morals of the Book of Genesis more than modern Christian thought. BES says in so many words that Christians are not looking to God as much as they should be for guidance but relates it to the just war theory.
Could it be that BES is contending that war is the way to live for the Christian person? It is relatively conclusive that such an argument is coming from BES’s discourse on eschatology and war, but that is not the central argument.
The central argument here is that Christians should understand that war will be a part of their lives as individuals. That “God is both already and not yet” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”) as Christians look to the future and the way war will factor into the moral equation. For BES, Christians have to or rather need to understand that they must be realistic regarding much of what the Bible states and the teachings of Jesus.
While we can use them as a model for our daily lives, they are not the end of how we should live. There is then more to the Christian tradition and eschatology to BES in how this argument is framed. On the one hand, BES notes that Christians should look toward God for guidance in their lives and:
“Express mutual forbearance, forgiveness and caring; they should reject domination and be reluctant to use coercion as a means to achieve social ends” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
Given BES’s viewpoint on the Christian guiding light of Jesus and its slant on war, DLC asks the question as to how we should be interpreting the Bible then. That is a crucial statement that has been heavily debated throughout time. Are believers to rely heavily on Platonic Christian thought or philosophy that peace can be achieved through war either now or later? This is the question that DLC asks in the response to BES.
Morality evidence from the New Testament
DLC and BES then focus on the importance of the New Testament and its hard sayings. Hard sayings are:”enigmatic statement[s] that is not meant to be taken literally but to challenge the audience’s way of thinking. Jesus’ statement is not an absolute ban on forceful self-defense any more than his sayings that “disciples should leave their families to follow him” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
BES contends that hard sayings are often considered mandates for all Christians to follow, but the interpretation of this can be many. For BES, Christian ethics does not necessarily follow this anymore. BES expresses:
“I would not say that Jesus’ teachings were inadequate for later Christian ethics but that, by necessarily focusing on his day and age, Jesus could only address certain questions and draw a limited range of explicit implications when instructing his disciples” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
Moral rules were different then than they are now, and moral judgments have evolved. This gets into the question of morality and its relative importance to society as a whole. What is morality and is each and every person’s definition of it different? Absolutely. Thus, BES’ position is a relatively notable one because it is easy to substantiate because of the varying opinions on Jesus and his hard sayings that Christians have.
Translating New Testament views on Christian ethics
DLC adds that a form of cautiousness must be applied when discussing Jesus and the hard sayings that are often noted by Christians. DLC notes that not everything is addressed in the Bible and it is essential that Christians use the Bible as a metric for the living, but that:
“They can find more determinative content than that in Jesus’ teaching; they are called to a distinctive way of living that is the practical working out of our identity as persons created, redeemed, and reconciled by God” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
It is not that DLC is saying that Christians should ignore the teachings of Jesus but that they should consider other possibilities that have risen up since the teachings of the time.
“There are limits to what we can do,” DLC writes (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
Christians must understand their place in the violent world and refuse to participate in such violence, based on the teachings of Jesus but also should take responsibility for the violence that does happen. DLC asserts that Jesus intended for his followers to follow his teachings, yet with the times being different, Christians must also keep that in perspective in their traditional thoughts on his teachings and in the discussion on war.
Ethical priorities of the Church
The final discourse between DLC and BES is on the priorities of the Church. DLC speaks of the responsibility of Christians and their calling to:
“Witness to the inbreaking of the reign of God, a reign that will countenance no violence, however worthy the motive. We are responsible for being faithful disciples of Christ, which, among other things, rules out killing people” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
DLC’s position is clear on what the Church should or needs to do. The Church should undoubtedly seek to follow the teachings of Jesus and uphold them as much as they can without exerting force in the form of violence against their fellow man. For BES, Christian discipleship is a by any means necessary format:
“Carries a concern for responsibility and for changing the world, so far as possible and with licit means” (“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics”).
There is a justification for war inherent in this argument giving way to the fact that each individual throughout this discourse has remained true to form in their beliefs.
The concept of war is one of vast reasoning than the simple question of whether it should be practiced.Major world religions have established ethical guidelines for behavior and war. But Christianity is the one religion with vast opinions that differ for other Christian denominations. The definition of Christian ethics has taken on many forms as Christians of different mentalities hold different viewpoints.
DLC’s justifies this as saying that consensus can be reached. This is the thought that we are more alike than we think as Christian people and individuals in general. BES’ asserts along the pathway of the just war theory, which contends that war has always been and always will be regardless of the changing times, viewpoints and dispositions that people hold.
War is in effect, inevitable. The varying spectrum of outlooks on violence and war not solely presented by DLC and BES; is a vast one that continues to be a point of contentious debate among both Christians and non-Christians because of the history that violence has held on the global stage.
“Mark 13:7–8.” Biblia.Com, 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. http://biblia.com/bible/kjv1900/Mk13.7-8.
“Pacificism.” BBC Ethics. The BBC, 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/war/against/pacifism_1.shtml.
“The Starting Point and Method of Christian Ethics.” Handout. Print.