Jesus and Rethinking Self-Defence.
But still people react against this awesome teaching. We need self-defence. When we are attacked we need a gun in the house. We say, “What about a situation where you are being attacked by a murderer? Do you just die? What about the murderer in your house and self-defence? What about the situation where there is an intruder who is going to shoot all of your family and you are standing there with a gun in your hands behind his back? Should you shoot? They omit to mention that you are standing in your pajamas holding a water pistol, or that talking quietly to him might be a good policy, or that stringent gun laws are good policy, or that you are ten million times more likely to see a murder on television than you are in real life. Jesus was not talking about an extreme artificial thought experiment, but about a principle for life. He is quite clear about how his words are to be taken. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall because its foundation was on the rock.” This teaching is our foundation. It is deeper than a rule. It says, Do not retaliate evil for evil, but return good for evil - in principle.
Let us think of this as a long-term principle. What about the Nazis and self-defence? Surely it was right to fight Hitler? But notice the artificial starting point. What if Versailles had been constructed on the basis of loving your enemy, not on the basis of French self-defence. Without the 1919 vindictiveness the European Community might have started thirty years earlier. The Nazi movement occurred because they did did not know enough of good and through lovelessness. They were still locked in the horrors and brutalisation of the First World War, of vicious fighting against fighting, of the rich and munitions people out to kill socialism. It is the brutalisation of violence that causes violence, not the gentleness of turning the other cheek. We talk of defence, but its outcome especially in war is mutual aggression, multiplied into hate and revenge, that generates further aggression through history. You have to be really far gone in a spirit of evil to attack a defenceless and unaggressive party; though it does sometimes happen. Usually, when it occurs the attackers are using the innocent to get back at their real aggressors indirectly. “Defence”, really mutual aggression, is what causes further aggression. Peace, non aggression, causes further peace and the growth of friendship and respect. Any-one could see this, but we have been so brainwashed by the defence idea that we cannot think “defence” has defeated defence. Jesus’ words are not just spoken to individuals, although they are that too, but to all of us and the whole political situation. The way to remain at peace is to be generous in spirit, to fail to retaliate, to build peace. The idea that a war will establish peace, what we are often fed, does not stack up. These words are given to people like me so that I can leave relationships better than they started.This is the way to build what it good and to leave evil unthinkable.
But we still have not bitten the bullet, to use another clunking metaphor. What if we are going to be killed? What about the right of self-defence? What about the right to revolution against the military dictator and the tyrant in the name of justice. Surely, Jesus is denying people the right to self-defence. Yes, it seems that he is. Elsewhere, he says “Do not fear those who can kill the body.” The model is not to fight, not to punch back, not to resist evil. Not to resist evil! That’s appalling. But stay a minute, The world’s greatest teacher might be onto something here. He might have something up his sleeve that we are not seeing. Let’s do a bit of history. The Jews did fight against the brutal Roman oppressors in AD 70, and over a million people were killed in Jerusalem alone, as Josephus reports, until the streets ran with so much blood that it put the fires out. Fighting back didn’t work there. But they lost, so we can’t take that as our guide. What about the French Revolution. They took to the sword to overthrow the hated ancient regime, stormed the Bastille and set the prisoners free, but then there was that stuff about the Terror under Robespierre and Napoleon plunging the whole of Europe into war. It didn’t work there, because the victors were brutalized. Then there was the Russian Revolution. The Tsar was wicked and oppressive. It was a glorious revolution for the workers and it did get rid of capitalists. But, and you have seen it coming, following the glorious Communist Revolution came Stalin and the Gulag. Ah! Somehow taking to arms always corrupts the righteous. Shakespeare wrestles with the problem in the Henry IV history plays. Our confidence in self-defence, the right to strike back, is wilting a bit. It seems it does something to us. Or to move to 2013 we see Assad in Syria, an appalling tyrant, fought by courageous Syrian people. The Assad regime then shows a wicked disrespect for life shelling areas to demolition and is met by constant attacks from the terrorists, who then exult in their own murders. This, too, is no advertisement for the armed response to tyranny. Some 70,000 people have died, often at a level of one thousand a week. Has this been the right way? Is our argument against Jesus going to tolerate that kind of slaughter? The rebels are not ultimately responsible, but the slaughter still happens. Maybe, we need to pull back a bit here and think again.
Let us, for example, consider the Christians of Iraq. The United States and the United Kingdom attacked the Saddam regime. Some 110,000 perhaps died directly from that conflict. Various groups retaliated against the invaders and sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim groups grew up with car bombs and suicide bombs and the deaths that resulted from these mounted to perhaps half a million more. The estimates vary between 150,000 and a million. It depends what deaths are counted. The lower figures address direct violence and the higher figures lawlessness, degraded infrastructure and war-related health problems giving an excess mortality over normal figures.Perhaps a fifth of households have someone who has died in them. It has been a war-induced civil war. Among this population has been a Christian population of 1.4 million which has been persecuted in a lot of places by Islamic groups. They have followed Christ’s teaching and on the whole have formed no militias and not engaged in the war. When their position has become insupportable, if they are able, they have become refugees, escaping with their lives, waiting until stability and some measure of toleration returns. For others it may be permanent. The remaining population has shrunk to 400,000, and will probably go lower. They have suffered and those who remain will suffer more, but if we ask in that country who has provided the best example of the way forward, it will be this group of Christians. They attack or kill no-one, have skills and seek to live peacefully in this war-torn country. Theirs is the only way that makes sense. They are suffering for the right way. Many other Muslims are suffering for the right and good way, too, as the tragedy of perpetuated war unfolds, but the good and right way is not countervailing attack.
Or the final irony. we have constructed nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems which are "self-defence". We are ready, if we are threatened, or really when it is already too late, to vapourise millions of people on the other side. It is supposed to be a "nuclear deterrent", but if the other side is prepared to murder millions of people, if they have lost their humanity to that extent, simply because they believe in weapons, what hope is there. To achieve self-defence, we push towards the ultimate in war. How foolish is that?
The case for "self-defence" is intellectually challenged. It stops at supposed “self-defence”, but history never does. When armed defence has been successful, or when it has not, there is always further recourse to arms and militarism. Self-defence becomes missiles. The victors in World War Two have a Cold War. Someone slaps your face, and you punch them in the stomach, but what happens then? The munitions companies love perpetual war and we have evidenced it throughout this book, but the line Jesus draws for non-retaliation, the line Tolstoy also saw, is definitive for history. Even when provoked, are you a man or woman of peace? Yes. Then you are reasonably safe. No-one needs to arm against you. Billions of us throughout the world are safe and, with Christ, we invite the rest to put up their weapons and live law abiding lives. We can all shake hands empty of swords. It is practical, vastly efficient in economic terms doing away with castles and missiles and gold plated fighter-bombers. Following Christ’s words is building a good house on a sure foundation. This teaching allows peace to win.