Sunday, November 29, 2009

UU - A peace church or a just war church?

Capt. Thomas Beall has a wonderful article today, Sunday, 11/29/09, on his blog, The Prophetic Imperative, entitled "Stand Up or Stand Aside" in which he discusses the question which Unitarian Universalists are struggling with - whether Unitarian Universalism should be a peace church or a just war church.

Please read it and foward it to others. It deserves a wide audience for reflection, discernment, and action.


  1. I noticed earlier that you have a reading list posted. I'd like to suggest that you add these two books to the list. The first is "War is a Force that Give Us Meaning" by Chris Hedges, a longtime journalist who covered several wars.

    The second book is "A Terrible Love of War" by James Hillman, a post-Jungian psychologist. In this book Hillman describes warfare in archetypal and mythological terms. UUs who wish to understand warfare might want to read at least one of these books.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I can strongly recommend Chris Hedges' book, "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning." Hedges was also a student of Unitarian theologian and scholar Rev. James Luther Adams at Harvard Divinity School.

    I haven't read the other book. Thanks for suggesting it. Tom Beall

  3. Hillman is also the author of "The Soul's Code."

  4. I did not favor the church becoming a peace church at the time of the study action issue, mostly because I thought we were going at it for the wrong reasons. Here's the post I wrote about it at the time.


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  6. Also-- David, how to do justify your criticisms of the Catholics for officially staying out of World War II and only working behind the scenes in light of your apparent belief that UUism should be a "peace church" and stay out of all future wars?

    Do you think that after the next holocaust, there will be angry UUs asking the questions you ask about the Catholics?

  7. I've read many of the arguments against pacifism and against being a "peace church" here and elsewhere and I have written a lot about it on my own blog so I won't belabor my arguments here. If you are interested in the perspective of a career military officer with military command experience and a completely military education I invite you to read it.

    I read your blog post, "Chalicechick", and while I admire the logic and thoughtfulness of your arguments, I no longer subscribe to them - although I once did. But I found I could come to a different understanding.

    Let me just say that I arrived at my pacifist position because of and not in spite of my military experience - especially after the experiences of last 10 years and most especially after my experiences at Guantanamo.

    Until recently, I probably believed that some wars can be just until I realized that all just war arguments are premised on the idea that someone decides that a war is just. Now, if there is a just God out there, I would be happy to leave the choice to her / him / it but I am not happy leaving it with fallible men like George W. Bush or Barrack Obama. They invariably get it wrong, making decisions on war and peace colored by political, economic and "strategic" considerations that have nothing to do with justice.

    "Chalicechick" you make a statement similar to one I have heard often when you say, "Do you think that after the next holocaust..." I infer that you are assuming that there will be a next holocaust, that war is inevitable. You don't have to believe me when I tell you I disagree with that. I invite you to consider the words of John F. Kennedy:

    "First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again."

    Kennedy goes on to say that he is not advocating an idealistic and unrealistic vision of peace but one founded on practical steps taken by people of good will to live together in peace. He goes on to say in this speech (given at American University in 1963):

    "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

    I invite you to read the rest of this speech, this vision for a world achieving a realizable peace: His words inspired me, when I was grappling with my own identity that pacifism is possible, is practical, and is a worthy goal.

    That is why I think the UU church can, should, and must become a peace church.

    Thanks for writing and listening.

    Tom Beall

  8. I do think there will be a next holocaust. 300,000 people are dead in Darfur and the conflict continues with no sign of stopping. That doesn't reach remotely the number killed in the holocaust, but again, it's not over yet.

    Will we be asked someday why we didn't save those people with the bitterness that David uses to talk about the Catholic church? Maybe.

    Or maybe that will happen with the next major conflict.

    Even if the UUA were to become pacifist, that wouldn't mean much for the rest of the world. It's possible that we would be setting a good example, but the Quakers actually have pacifism in theif faith tradition, and their example hasn't done very much.

    I think it's one thing to take Bonhoeffer's approach and say that if the whole world were pacifist, this stuff wouldn't happen. For all I know you're right. But the whole world isn't pacifist.

    In the end, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be a pacifist. I am saying that a church without a theological creed also doesn't need a political one and that there are good people, and good Unitarians, on both sides of this debate.

    We should keep both voices in our church, not make one voice official church policy.

  9. Chalicechick,

    I really do respect and appreciate your opinion, because I embraced it for so many years. I wish I knew your real name because I would like to talk to you on that basis. You can find my e-mail address on my blogger profile if you would like to continue this discussion in that venue.

    Unlike you, I think our church becoming a peace church would mean something. I also think that by welcoming both voices and not taking a stand we give those who advocate aggressive war a free hand.

    To offer an example, I saw George W. Bush speak at the Naval War College when I was on the faculty there before I retired. I sat in the third row not ten feet from him. He was speaking on the Iraq War and he spoke with a certainty and conviction that one could not see when watching him on TV. I admired his conviction even as I disagreed with him - my commander-in-chief. He was convinced the Iraq War, our war, was just. We had given him the power to continue it and he was going to do so.

    I don't think that advocating peace is a political decision, inappropriate to a church. It is a moral decision, one that a church should and can take. Maybe we as UU's can't stop war on our own but we can help start our country down a path toward peace by speaking collectively of another vision than that offered by George W. Bush. That is what Bonhoeffer encourages us to do.

    You mention the Quakers. I have been attending Quaker meetings and may decide that it is the church for me because of their convicition of peace. If an old militarist like me can embrace their peace testimony maybe they make more of a difference than you think.

    I've studied war for many years. I've written about it, taught it, practiced it. I know the world is a savage, terrible place as you rightly point out. But I am convinced it will always remain that way, for your children in the future, until someone decides that it can be something different and helps us take that path. I hope my church can be one of the first in our society to make that decision. Otherwise, the next generation will go off to war to be maimed and killed just like so many in the present generation.

    The peace I advocate is a vision. History is filled with examples of similar visions, thought impossible, being fulfilled - the civil rights movement is a good example. We can accomplish the same for peace.

    I am not saying that you shouldn't support just war or that we should close our doors to those with similar views. I am saying that we should take a stand because the times demand it of us.



  10. The times demanding it of us are exactly my concern. I don't like this war either and would have voted for the GA resolution against it or either of the actions of immediate witness against it that were passed.

    But becoming a peace church is a huge step and I don't think it is one UUs want to take for the right reasons right now.

    Ask a bunch of UUs about the peacemaking resolution and you're going to hear a lot more about this one war than you will about a fundamental objection to war in general. I get that you have one. Indeed, you're the first UU I've run across who seems to have truly thought through the implications of what becoming a peace church would mean. And I respect that you support it anyway, though I disagree.

    Judging from every discussion I ever had on the topic, you're a pretty rare example, though.

    I don't know if after time and reflection, the UUs would come to decide that being a peace church is right for them even if it means that it means we will never support sending troops to places like Darfur. But I submit that the time and reflection is very much necessary.

    This decision, should it be made, should be made consciously and in the spirit of love and global connection. If people are so focused on this war that they can't see past it, they are making that decision out of fear and I just don't see that they are ready to make it.


  11. Dear Tom et al:

    Unitarian Universalism and the world desperately need your witness. I share your faith in pacifism with the exception of self defense. Is this contradictory?

    CC - my issue with the Catholic church is their anti-semitism and their silence about what the Nazis were doing. Pacifism in my understanding is not doing nothing. It is providing vigorous witness and taking steps to make war unnecessay and counter-productive.

    I appreciate the suggestion of Hedges and Hillman's books.

    I believe that Unitarian Universalism should become a Peace church. With the values it purports to espouse it is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn as far as I can see. Either we value what we say we value or we don't and we indeed become hypocrits. If we do believe in the dignity and worth of every person how can we kill him? If we believe in justice, equity, and compassion, how can we kill her? If we believe in the interdependent web of all existence how can we destroy parts of it?

    The free and responsible search for truth in meaning does not mean "fair and balanced". How is one to be "fair and balanced" about a fact that is not true?

    War is a scourge on humanity and if we continue to allow it, with our technological capacity as humans we can end our life on the planet. We have the technology but not the moral awareness to accompany it responsibly. I think Tom's ideas call us to a higher sense of who we can become as human beings. As always, there are those caught in fear of survival and they will cling to the notion that war can protect and save them. In our modern world, not any more. You can hide, but you will be killed as collateral damage as surely as the person next to you whom you love.

    I am a John Lennon fan = "Imagine".

  12. (((I share your faith in pacifism with the exception of self defense. Is this contradictory?)))

    Given that almost any war is propagandized as either self-defense or defense of others, yes.

    Those who favor going into Afghanistan now say that if the Taliban wins in Afghanistan, they will end up taking over Pakistan. Pakistan has nukes.

    Similarly, those who want to go into North Korea are concerned about Kim Jong Il's nukes.

    The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were both treated as self-defense.

    I'm not saying that if you believe in one self-defense justification you have to believe them all, I sure don't, but if you leave the door open for self-defense, then you are allowing for the concept of a just war.

    ((((my issue with the Catholic church is their anti-semitism and their silence about what the Nazis were doing.)))

    So the thousands of Jews they did save and the fact that in 1941 the New York Times wrote:

    "The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas... he is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all... the Pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism... he left no doubt that the Nazi aims are also irreconcilable with his own conception of a Christian peace."

    hasn't made much of an impression, I take it.

    How about the fact that even after Hitler came to Italy, relatively few Jews died there because the Vatican was able to protect so many?

    Again, comparing what countries and religions actually did in Europe in the 30's and 40's to the ideal will have you condemning every religion and every country. But if you compare what countries and religions were doing against each other, the Catholic church comes out pretty well.

    The fact that you by your own admission hate the Catholics does not mean those facts aren't true. Sorry if your hatred makes it hard for you to accept. Those sorts of intellectual blinders are one reason why I try to avoid hating people.

    (((If we do believe in the dignity and worth of every person how can we kill him? )))

    A bomb has worth. If it's ticking and nearby, I favor destroying it if I can. Destroying something that has worth is not necessarily an optimal thing to do, but it happens all the time.

    (((If we believe in justice, equity, and compassion, how can we kill her?))))

    Justice and equity actually lean toward preventing those who are killing from killing again. As for compassion, what compassion do you have for people who are dying when your response to their deaths is to declare that we shouldn't DO anything to help them out, we should just "say" from across the ocean that we object and pretend a nation in Africa that is killing people is going to give a shit about our opinion?

    At least lots of Catholics died trying to stop the holocaust.

    (((( If we believe in the interdependent web of all existence how can we destroy parts of it? )))

    Because some parts of the web are more destructive to the web than they are helpful. Buildings depend on what is functionally a web of supports to keep the building together. If a support is falling apart and becoming dangerous to the building, they send an engineer in to fix it.

    Also, just because I can still defend going to war to help innocent people by using the UUA as a creed doesn't mean that you're supposed to.

    The principles are ideally supposed to be presented with the purposes and the purposes say, quite clearly "Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any society unless such is used as a creedal test."

    We believe in freedom of belief, and that belief trumps the seven principles. That's why the seven principles aren't a creed.

    who does not like Imagine, FWIW.

  13. Dear CC:

    Your definition of self defense is different than what I was thinking of. If you define "self defense" as protecting my future self interest by attacking you now. I am against it. I am using self defense as in being directly attacked, I have a right to defend myself. I also would distinguish self-defense from retaliation. If you still want to push my argument, then I am a pacifist. I would rather be killed that kill someone else.

    Daniel Goldhagen writes about the anti-semitism which made the hollocaust possible. It came from the pulpits where Jews were referred to as Christ Killers. There is a long history of this in Europe in the Catholic Church. Pope Pius was trying to get control of the horse after it was out of the barn. How is it that the Hollocaust happend in a Catholic/Lutheran country in the cradle of Western Civilization? It didn't just happen out of the blue. I think this is Tom's point that wars aren't usually discontinuous from the norms and attitudes endemic to society. Somebody, after all, has to do the politicians bidding. What good is religion if it allows the fields to be plowed and seeded with enmity? War needs to be stopped before the seeds are planted or they will germinate when the conditions are right. Supposing war was not an option to even be considered? Then the seed of war couldn't germinate even if the conditions were right because people would figure out some other way of dealing with it.

    I am not sure I understand your argument about Africa. We should stop the killing by killing? How about changing the circumstances that has lead to the killing to begin with? If the United States had given the countries of the Middle East the TRILLION dollars it has spent on killing them we might have quite a different result in a more postive way.

    I don't think anyone is arguing that the 7 principles are a creed. I haven't said that have I? I rather think of the principles as values. Values imply a choice and a decision. To say that I value this rather than that is not to be critical or discriminatory but rather to take a position or a stand on something which is based on some criteria that the person values.

    I happen to value the inherent worth and dignity of every person and fail to see how killing them in war supports that value.

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    Oh, I love things that Catholics believe in and have done in the name of their religion. I also detest some of the things that Catholics have done in the name of their religion. As you have pointed out, we could say this about any religion.

    I have a great deal of gratitude and appreciation for my religious training and experience in the Catholic church. It is OK to hate people in the family as in there are days when I hate my spouse and hate my kids. An African American can call another African American a "nigger" and even do it affectionately, but a white honkey like me better not do that. Capish?

    All the best,

    David Markham

  14. I think the title of this post presents a false choice. The UUA is a church without an official position on war, just or otherwise. The questions is, should we take a position, as an official doctrine of the church- and that deserves a separate vote from what that position should be!

  15. First off, if you can hate Catholics, why would it be so wrong for Catholics to hate Jews?

    As someone who runs around hating people, you of all people should know that even if you hate somebody, you don't just go and kill them. There should be a big extra factor in there somewhere, so even if all Catholics went around hating Jews as Christ killers, they wouldn't have done anything about it without other motivation.

    Certainly some churches called them Christ-killers, Catholics included. I'm certainly not going to argue that hating people is harmless. But churches had called Jews Christ-killers for 1500 years at that point and nobody had ever had a holocaust about it before, so it stands to reason that calling Jews Christ killers wasn't the primary cause.

    As the Merchant of Venice suggests, Jews were also for centuries the only ones allowed to lend money with interest. If you were a Christian and you needed money to open a business and couldn't borrow it from a family member willing to lend without interest, you had to borrow it from a Jew.

    Needless to say, people with failed businesses who had to give what they had remaining back to their creditor blamed the Jew and Jews were constantly being accused of predatory lending and blamed for the fact that Christians were poor.

    After the Treaty of Versailles, all of Germany WAS poor and the Jews, who had always been blamed for poverty, were an easy scapegoat. Naturally, it wasn't the Jews' fault that a Christian couldn't run a business, but hatred makes it hard to see the people you hate rationally so the Christians didn't get that.

    I'm really not sure the Catholic Church had much to do with that.

    As for Africa, yes, the usual way to stop something like that is to remove those who are killing from power. Usually that involves getting one's hands dirty with some violence.

    My guess is if we had given the countries of the middle east that money, their leaders would have more fancy palaces and their people would still hate us. My impression is that the war is fundamentally not about money, it's about culture.

    When you treat the principles as if they make all your moral decisions, you are treating them as a creed. If you say to yourself "We shouldn't do this because it violates the principles," that's using it as a creed. If you say "I think what you just did is a violation of one of the principles so you're a hypocrite and a bad Unitarian" you're using them as a creed.

    So yes, by putting the concept of war up against a creedal test by going line-by-line on the principles, you are treating them as a creed.

    And besides, most issues can be read both ways. I value the inherent dignity of people so much that I'd rather lose a few of them removing a murderous dictator than let that dictator keep killing for years on end.

    I've got some family members who have mistreated me pretty seriously and I don't hate them, mostly because I know enough about them to be able to look at their behavior and figure out why it seemed like the thing to do. I can see, like, sexual abuse victims hating their abusers, but on the whole I'd say hating your family members is kind of weird.

    I do know a guy who claims to hate his ex yet constantly dates women with the same qualities he hated in her.

    I'm going to treat your last sentence as a non -sequitur because it appears to be one. As for the adoption of negative terms by marginalized cultures, yes, it certainly happens and those terms retain their negative associations when used by members of the dominant culture. As someone with kids, I'm sure you've observed that a kid can insult his little brother all day, but when the kid down the street insults the same sibling, the older brother will defend his little brother. A man who teases his wife a lot can still end up in a bar fight if a stranger says the same things.

    That's not the exact same dynamic, but it is pretty close.