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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Imagine all the Statements of Conscience...

Chalicechick offers some trenchant comments on the one and only proposed "study/action issue" before this year's UUA General Assembly (pdf; see page 8/4): "Should the Unitarian Universalist Association reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war to resolve disputes between peoples and nations and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?"

This appears to be the year former UUA President John Buehrens predicted not long after 9/11:

Coming of age during the Vietnam War, I tried to be a Quaker. But I could not in good conscience say that I objected to all war and all use of force. My father and uncles had served in World War II. Like theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, I reasoned that the creation of greater justice and peace in an unjust and dangerous world often requires us to choose between greater and lesser evils. . . .

We all felt victimized by the tragedy of September 11. A new sense of spiritual unity, transcending ideologies, arose from that shared experience. As time goes on, however, and as our responses to "the war against terrorism" become more pained at what is being done in our names, divisions will re-emerge.

Progressive communities, including Unitarian Universalist congregations, are prone to painful rifts between pacifists and pragmatists. During World War I, pacifists felt ostracized among Unitarians. Former U.S. President William Howard Taft, as moderator of the American Unitarian Association from 1917 to 1918, persuaded the General Assembly that all ministers and churches receiving aid from the AUA be required to support the "crusade for democracy." Pacifist ministers lost their posts in some places, and the distinguished New York Unitarian minister Dr. John Haynes Holmes actually left the AUA with his church.

During the Vietnam era, virtually the reverse occurred in some congregations. Pragmatists sometimes felt morally condemned by pacifist UUs. The current response to terrorism must not be allowed to have that effect. Let those UUs who would witness for consistent nonviolence do so as a matter of conscience. But let us also recognize that pragmatic reasoning about reducing the threat of terrorism can be conscientious as well.

("Pacifists and pragmatists," John Buehrens, UU World 1.1.02)

I don't have a vote at the General Assembly. I can only hope that delegates who do — and ministers inclined to watch the plenary as a kind of spectator sport — will see that this is an unusual and divisive proposal. Unlike many resolutions, which at least try to root a response to a particular historical situation in principles that have already achieved broad consensus among religious liberals, this study/action issue attempts to discern a new principle in the midst of widespread outrage about the war in Iraq. It introduces a doctrine, something we haven't attempted in quite a while. A proposal like this requires serious discernment. Please don't punt on it.

I hate war, too. But it will be a strange day when those of us Unitarian Universalists who accept Max Weber's classic definition of state sovereignty — "a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" — and who see that international law still depends on states as the ultimate enforcers of law become de facto conscientious objectors within our own denomination. There must be more effective ways for congregations to express their dismay at President Bush's disastrous policies.

(Please note: This is a rare instance when I feel compelled, as an individual religious liberal, to comment directly on business before the General Assembly. My comments represent my own opinions only, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer or any institution.)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 11 April 2006 at 7:50 AM

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Clyde Grubbs:

April 11, 2006 08:43 AM | Permalink for this comment


You are misquoting the resolution! The clear wording of the resolve and its intent is to institute an organized discussion of pacific and just war approaches to the use of state violence and to clarify what is now a divisive difference in our ranks. When one reads all of the words of the resolve we find it asks us to study rather than suppress what has been a long held division in our ranks.

If delegates and ministers vote this down because it asks us to consider the pacific as well as the just war point of view it will not save us from division as any one who opens their ears at coffee hour can attest.

But when the various sides hear each others point of view, then we might know our pluralism on this subject.


April 11, 2006 09:00 AM | Permalink for this comment

Unless the plenary conversation about this proposal challenges the bias built into to the one-sentence version I quoted, the entire first year congregational review will be dominated by activists in a handful of congregations — as it is every year — all but guaranteeing that the draft document at next year's G.A. will lean in the pacifist direction. The better approach is for congregations to take an early interest in how badly such a dialogue is likely to go, and for delegates to raise concerns at the start.

A bit of controversy at the beginning is perhaps the only way to guarantee the kind of dialogue you hope for.

Clyde Grubbs:

April 11, 2006 09:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

The UUs who are biased for "just war pragmatism" far outnumber the pacifists, and they are more agressive.

The idea of a pacifist coup is beyond my imagining, but then I hear that gays will be taking over our churches everytime we want to talk about how unwelcoming we can be.

Bill Baar:

April 11, 2006 09:33 AM | Permalink for this comment

Orwell said it best in 1940,

PACIFISM The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States.
Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. After the fall of France, the French pacifists, faced by a real choice which their English colleagues have not had to make, mostly went over to the Nazis, and in England there appears to have been some small overlap of membership between the Peace Pledge Union and the Blackshirts. Pacifist writers have written in praise of Carlyle, one of the intellectual fathers of Fascism. All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.


April 11, 2006 09:37 AM | Permalink for this comment

Clearly we're off to a great start. Perhaps we could propose a better approach. Any suggestions, Clyde?

Peter Ruark:

April 11, 2006 10:19 AM | Permalink for this comment

Philocrites, thanks again for sparking an interesting discussion.

As a person with one foot in UUism, I think we need to be careful not to give ourselves over to absolutes, which can shut down careful thinking and dialogue. As a person with the other foot in Quakerism, I think it is important to maintain a consistent and effective commitment to world peace. Do these two values collide? I think not.

Let's start with the idea of pacifism. In the popular mind, pacifism means taking an absolutist and intellectually lazy position of simply refusing to serve in the military regardless of the context, and encouraging others to do the same. It is a completely "reactionary" position in the truest sense, as it is simply concerned with reacting to specific world events and trends. This may be consistent, but is largely ineffective. (To make things worse, well-meaning proponents often misappropriate the scriptural injunction to turn the other cheek, leading the larger society to conclude that pacifists prefer leaving ourselves open to another attack than to undertake necessary precautions to prevents future 9/11's.)

The broader approach to pacifism that is taken by the Quaker organizations such as AFSC and FCNL--and hopefully by the UUA someday-- is deeper, more intellectually sound, and in fact very pragmatic. In this approach, pacifism means to work against war at all times, not just when governments declare it, by working to prevent the causes of war. The Quakers strenuously opposed the US support of the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980's. For their opposition, they were branded as "soft on Communism," but it was a principled stand against US support of violent organizations that proved to be the right stand, for if we had not supported the rebels there would likely have been no 9/11. During the same decade, the FCNL opposed our support of Saddam before his name became a household word, and of course if the US had not supported him he may not have had the military power to become a threat to the region. Again, the pacifist position was the pragmatic and most morally correct position to take in the 1980's.

For this reason I agree with you, Philocrites, when you brand the statement as divisive. It is divisive to stand by as our country sets the stage for war through support of dictatorship and weapons sales, and then only after war is declared to make a statement of conscience against it. Perhaps the UUA did make statements against our support of the mujahideen and Saddam while they were happening, but actually that is beside the point. The real point is, we can't limit our pacifism to simply making absolutist statements when the country is at war. We have to actively oppose war during "peacetime" when we make decisions on how to spend our money, whom to do business with and whom to lend support to. Even if we adopt a very strict just-war theory, that is pacifism if it is effective in preventing war. Pacifism is a hell of a lot of work that requires doing and not just saying.

Clyde Grubbs:

April 11, 2006 11:00 AM | Permalink for this comment


I appreciate your well thought out statements relative to real pacifism. If UUs wish to further explore Unitarian and Universalist contributions to religious pacifism I suggest that we look deeply at Adin Ballou and john Haynes Holmes whose thinking was and continues to be influencial. And I agree if we wish to commit ourselves to a just war position, that to would be a form of pacifism, because it would mean that we would be in the business of measuring "state soveriegnty" against religious principles rather than the kind of balance of power pragmatics that underlie US foriegn policy. We need to go beyond the self serving rhetoric and ask "is this really a just war" and the answer is seldom unequivocally affirmative.

(I love pacifists, but I embrace a "just war would be ok if I could find one" ethical stance in practice. I make the distinction with Thoreau and Gandhi, between absolute pacifism and non violent resistance. Each situation needs to be analysed concretely, and forceful tactics may be necessary. But force doesn't license violence, its a matter of intention and clarity about the means in the use of force that makes all the difference. Think of an well trained policeman, who uses force as a last resort and doesn't engage her or his anger against a law breaker. They exist, and it is a model of many of us not absolute pacifists.)

But I think you misjudge the study action resolve. It is not an after the fact condemnation of this latest ethical atrocity, it asks us to debate just war and pacific theory. Let us read the resolve, before we react to it.

There are some deep questions for us in this study action question, and we should not be afraid to discuss them.

Peter Ruark:

April 11, 2006 11:55 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks Clyde for pointing that out. I'm realizing I kind of overstated my concern with the proposed statement by focusing on the first part only. In fact I think it would be wonderful to have a discussion of "Should the Unitarian Universalist Association adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?" And if, as you said, the discussion of "an unequivocal rejection of all kinds of violence and war" serves not to divide but to provoke dialogue and exploration, I could certainly feel enthusiastic about that as well. I just think, pragmatically (!) speaking, that as worded the first part may have the (presumably unintended) consequence of dividing the assembly into factions, but if not, great!

Clyde Grubbs:

April 11, 2006 01:50 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wordsmithing takes place in mini assemblies and then it is debated on the floor before things get back to the congregations.

Our conversation about global warming this year has raised our awareness of the issue, people really are talking about it and in a more informed and balanced way.... and yet we still build parking lots. Change in praxis comes slowly.

Christine Robinson:

April 11, 2006 03:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

One way to get a discussion going is to propose to bind a group to a statement so distasteful to them that they have to haul themselves out to a discussion and defeat it. Some people would call that democracy at work, but I call it manipulative. Some people, ironically would call it violent, because it is so coersive of group time and energy. Usually the proponents of such a stragety "only" or "really just" want to start a good discussion which will result in something much more moderate.

Why should a majority who(I agree with Clyde on this point) hold a position of Just War Pragmatism be forced by a small minority with an extreme view (or a great love of "discussion") to attend a debate on extreme pacificism which we know at the outset not a single church in our denomination and very few individuals consistantly hold. And what a discussion it will be. As this tiny forumn has alrealy demonstrated, a small minority starts out smug and a large majority starts out mad. Not a good recipe for discussion.


April 11, 2006 06:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

Clyde may be assuming that I'm opposed to discussing fundamental differences. Nothing could be further from the truth. I simply don't believe that a social justice resolution is an appropriate or helpful vehicle for clarifying those differences.

If the goal is simply to urge congregations to discuss religious interpretations of violence, there are other more productive ways to encourage such reflection besides launching a social justice resolution at the General Assembly. Sermons, essays, and prayer all come to mind.

If the goal is to urge committed pacifists and more conventional liberals (not to mention all the people with other perspectives in our churches) to engage in deeper conversations with each other, a more productive approach would be to set up forums, periodicals, websites, and discussion groups. But no one would expect that the end result of such dialogue would be agreement about the circumstances under which a state can exercise its power through armed force. I know in advance that there are irreconcilable differences of opinion on such a question among us.

The Commission on Social Witness is yoking those kinds of dialogue-oriented goals to a process designed to generate a social justice resolution. But what could be "resolved" in such a process? A majority vote can't decide the moral correctness of multiple equally principled and equally liberal perspectives. And when the engine behind such a resolution is the desire to express real and very understandable anger about a particular war and a particular political crisis, I can't see the process being framed in a way that would keep all parties at the table. It's fundamentally misconceived.

We're asking a committee — or an aggregation of committees — to draft a statement of ethical principles. Why? Who feels the acute need for a clearer set of principles for conflict management in the international arena? Who needs them articulated by the UUA? Who is this resolution ultimately aimed at? Who does it help?

When I read the proposal — thoroughly and several times before writing my original post — I could not imagine any one of the proposed discussion questions yielding a fruitful denominational resolution. I'm sorry. Serious experts have studied each of them; there's no shortage of informed opinions already circulating. Are we to synthesize whole fields of inquiry and come up with a consensus statement? To convince whom?

Most fundamentally, I don't understand why some people expect their congregation or the Association to come up with "a position" on each and every international crisis. Why would we do this? I do expect our churches to probe deeply into the religious and human meanings of the crises of our times, but I have never expected the UUA, any of its committees, or any congregation to do my moral reasoning for me.

Finally, the proposed study/action issue is thoroughly and transparently biased. For example: "Our principles are models for peacemaking yet we act as if violence is more effective than nonviolence in certain situations." Whose judgment is this? Since the UUA has never, to my knowledge, embarked on a course of institutional violence itself, I assume the writers are alluding to instances when Unitarians, Universalists, and UUs have supported the deployment of force by state power. Personally, I'm quite convinced that "violence" (especially if we mean armed force exercised under the rule of law) has been more effective than other options "in certain situations." I am prayerfully mortified that this is true.

I simply don't think it is appropriate or necessary for the UUA to agree to a single doctrine on the moral legitimacy of the use of force. But I'm entirely in favor of UUs discussing the issues with each other.


April 11, 2006 07:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Unitarians have a long history of talking about pacifism in a smarmy way. When a war is unpopular, like the Mexican War or Vietnam, Unitarians get sanctimonious about rejecting all violence. But during the Civil War or World War II the subject doesn't come up.

So it is not unprecedented for UUs to "reject the use of any and all kinds of violence" while simultaneously campaigning for military intervention in Darfur. Just look at Theodore Parker's statements and behavior.

It is not very honest to claim people like Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi were pacifists. King desperately wanted the FBI to arrest Klan members who killed civil right workers. Gandhi wanted peace but was willing to use force against Pakistan.

I would argue that real pacifism, for example, not intervening to help a child being tortured, requires an indifference to the suffering of other human beings which is inconsistent with Unitarian humanist tradition. Most UUs I know would agree.

On the other hand Christian Universalist pacifism makes sense to me.

I also don't understand why "we need to clarify our position." Are we required to have a single position, clear or not? Do we need to "clarify our position" on all issues, including God. Why do we need theological legislation on just this one issue?

Christine Robinson:

April 11, 2006 07:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

UU Wonk,
What is "Christian Universalist pacifism"?


April 11, 2006 08:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

I was thinking of Universalist Adin Ballou, who, unlike most Unitarians, stayed pacifist during the Civil War.

Clyde Grubbs:

April 11, 2006 08:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

What would such a process resolve? Is this a social justice resolution? Study Action proposals are lead to statements of conscience...they are supposed to be different from resolves. The questions are supposed to be more discussion than conclusion.

The process for creating a Statement of Conscience ...congregational study, forums, etc. And framing a question that is substantial and important enough to make it worth discussing.

This is the process being proposed at this GA..

This is not the same as what we have come to think of as Social justice resolutions! From what the CSW has said, they rejected several proposals because they would need to be rewritten to make them conform to study action....and become a statement of conscience.

I agree that the proposed discussion of Peacemaking will be more difficult than some of the previous Statements of Conscience...there haven't been that many, it is a new process.
It is possible we will be able to resolve nothing by Association wide discussion. We may decide that the task is too much for us even at this GA. But I hope we don't decide not to discuss just war theory and pacific theory relative to our theology because it would be too controversal.

The Commission and the Board of trustee's is trying to make these Statement of Conciences less like Social Action resolves and more deep discussions about "conscience." The Moderator wants the plenary to be a place where we discuss real issues and have substantial debates. Philocrites makes a strong argument that this is not a good idea, that we should speak with our individual voices.

My reading of congregational opinion is that many do like to have organized discussions of big issues, but will not be overly influenced by a majority decision that expresses a conscience other than their own.

BTW. The wording is a gift of the First Parish of Wayland who drafted the proposal, which I am informed wanted the issues discussed, and is not trying to provoke a moral crusade, or write a creed on peace, just as we don't have one on global warming, or prison reform. I would like to see a better draft, and I wonder how a series of questions will be turned into a statement of conscience...but I hear that redrafting and rewritting happens...and I have seen such things happen in the past.

Gandhi self identified as a non violent resistance advocate, and critiqued pacifism along the lines that UU Wonk does. I use the word more broadly...I agree with Peter, principled just war advocates are a kind of pacifist. And my friends who are no war paciifists certainly would use force to stop a child abuser.

My interest in this proposal is a discussion of just war theory in our movement. I believe that would be a theological advance over our present mix of secular political stances. I have a close friend who is a "no war pacifist" and I have no illusion that my own "just war pacifism" will reconcile with her peace church no war pacifism through discussion, but I think I have learned to respect each others position.

I am more convinced than I was this morning that we need to have the discussion. I am more open to the idea that Study Action may not be the way to have the discussion. Maybe we need a commission on discussions to organize forums, panels, learned conferences.

Why do we need to clarify our thinking on this issue. Because so many ministers including Bill Sinkford have been stating as if it were a matter of fact that we are a just war church and not a peace church. If we wanted to have no discussion we should have said "we have a significant number of just war advocates, and a smaller number of pacifists, and we have some who just plain pragmatists, they like some wars and don't like others, but for no apparent reason."

But to say we are not a peace church .... it invited a discussion.

Bill Baar:

April 12, 2006 08:20 AM | Permalink for this comment

UU Wonk wrote,

But during the Civil War or World War II the subject doesn't come up.

The Civil War came up among the Unitarian Churches in Northern Illinois and split them.

Look at their websites and you'll find brief mention of it.

Most of the Congregations went against Lincoln and the War.

My Churche's story is a great one. They rejected their abolitionist minister, Augustus Conant, for preaching for a War against slavery. He moved to the Rockford Church and I think was similary rejected.

He became an Army Chaplain at age 50 in the same regiment with Moody of Moody Bible School fame. Conant died in service of yellow fever in Tenn.

His body brought back to the Geneva Unitarian Church he founded and his infant son baptized at the same time while held over Conant's coffin.

The minister during the Second World War was also opposed to US invovlment in Europe. So our Church has a bad record when it come to violence in furtherence of Social Justice.

Good news is after the shame of Conant's death (and I think it can only have been shame felt by the Congregation) they've tempered some of the rhetoric. Our minister often tells Conant's story.

Scott Wells:

April 12, 2006 08:29 AM | Permalink for this comment

Of course, it should be noted that Adin Ballou et alia -- however inspiring -- were not typical of Universalist thought on the matter.


April 12, 2006 12:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

First don't you think this statement is making a theological statment, or at least asking us to make a theological statement about the role of peace and violence in religion. By the way isn't this the day when Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple with a whip?

Secondly I want to comment on the interesting piece that Bill Baar wrote, about that Moody of The Moody Institute. Did you know that Dwight L. Moody grew up in the Unitarian church in Northfield, Ma. I bet we won't see him on any T-shirt far sale by Uni-unique.


April 12, 2006 03:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

Interested in helping steer the UUA's resolutions? Apply by April 20 for an interim position on the Commission on Social Witness, the elected denominational committee that drafts and manages the General Assembly's resolutions.


April 12, 2006 05:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

Christine Robinson urges her congregation to vote against the "peacemaking" study/action issue.

Bill Baar:

April 12, 2006 06:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

Christian Century came out with an Editorial on Iran back in January.

I thought it a very bad one because the criteria they gave us with to consider a strike against Iran was this:

At that point, it will be important for Americans to remember both the failed intelligence on Iraq and the question that Murtha poses: Is there an overriding and demonstrable threat to the safety of the American people?

Iran is on record saying it wants to anniliale the Jewish state. Shouldn't their lives count?

Mainline Protestantism has a bad record of turning it's back on Jews in the name of peace, and Christian Century has been in thick of it before too.

From Joseph Loconte's Auschwitz, and Yesterday's Religious Left.

The Christian Century magazine, the nation's leading religious journal, devoted itself to opposing U.S. intervention. Writing as late as November 1941, editor Charles Clayton Morrison denounced an Anglo-American alliance as "the most ambitious imperialism ever projected." He then offered this dark prediction: "For the United States to make a fateful decision to enter this war on the mistaken and irrational assumption that it is a war for the preservation of anything good in civilization will be the supreme tragedy of our history."

These "progressive" religious thinkers preserved their political and moral neutrality only by downplaying Hitler's anti-Semitic rage. Methodist leader Ernest Fremont Tittle claimed that Nazism could be overcome non-violently -- "with truth and love even unto death" -- yet said almost nothing about the Jewish deaths demanded by his pacifist ideal. When thousands protested the persecution of German Jews during Kristallnacht, Catholic writer Paul Blakely saw only "a fit of national hysteria" orchestrated to drag America into war.


April 12, 2006 06:45 PM | Permalink for this comment

Perhaps it is time that the UUA makes a solid, no-doubts-about-it statement on Bush's war, because the press release issued after the beginning of the invasion of Iraq by the US-British armies was really lame. (The Canadian U statement, on the contrary, was very clear and to the point of what was at stake... and still is.)


April 12, 2006 07:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

Despite Bill's goading, let's not take this conversation off into talk about Iran scenarios right now. I'd prefer to keep focused on the proposed study/action issue.


April 12, 2006 11:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

Some questions about the resolution/process itself:

1. In the mainline denominations (thinking particularly of Methodists), the consequence of strongly worded resolutions has been to produce and then foster a divisiveness that may not have been there previously. These things create winners and losers. And people come back the next time to fight even harder, with even more strongly worded solutions. Factions are created, and people choose sides.

And no one outside of their GAs is influenced in any way whatsoever. Why would we want to go down that road? Why do we need to?

2. The point about using this to manipulate GA into a discussion is a sound one. I find the question of becoming a peace church intriguing, and yet I can't help but feel that someone is trying to snooker me into lining up with their ideology. Folks don't take to that kindly as a general rule.

3. What concrete, observable harm will this resolution concretely and observably fix or prevent?

4. Echoing another poster again, what does this process get us---again, concretely and observably---that an RE curriculum, a sermon competition, or the like doesn't get us? And, why must we have that rather than not have it?

Some thoughts about just war and pacifism:

1. Just war theory was originally formulated during the waning days of the Roman Empire, and it served to justify Rome's conflicts with the invading barbarian tribes. Other classic formulations served to justify the modus operandi of nation-states. Just war theory has always been tainted. And yet WW2 was a just war, and the Civil War certainly produced much good.

2. The larger theological problem is the functioning of the Domination System, or what Walter Wink calls the Powers-That-Be, powered by the Myth of Redemptive Violence. These are huge problems, and I believe our efforts would more fruitfully be spent there.

3. Nonviolence does not equal pacifism. Let's be sure we're not confusing the two. Nor should we be sentimental about either in the midst of our earnestness.

Patrick Murfin:

April 13, 2006 07:59 AM | Permalink for this comment

Earlier this year discussion on this topic led me to post an essay, first to the Unitarian Universalsit Historical Society chat and then in an expanded version to my blog, "Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout." At the time some folks found a historical perspective on the relationships of Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists to matters of war and peace in America useful.

"Is Unitarian Universalism a Peace Church?" (forgive the convoluted grammar of the title) was posted on January 19th. My blog on the cheap does not have a search feature, but you can click on archive in the left margin menu and then click on January 19th. Just click on my identification above to be directed to the blog.

[Link added. —Philo]

Jason Pitzl-Waters:

April 13, 2006 09:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

I also love how many here keep calling pacifism an "extremist" point of view. If so, those who willingly sign up for military service (with full knowledge of America's tendency to enter into unjust conflicts) must certainly be "extremists" as well.

I had only to wait till the fourth post before we get to the famous Orwell "pacifists are secret fascists" essay. Under Godwin's law can I declare this thread ended since someone brought up Hitler?

Maybe we should define our terms? What do people mean when we say "pacifist"? What about someone who practices "nonviolence".

I consider myself a "pacifist" in the mode of Ghandi or King (I suppose that would make me someone who practices "nonviolence" instead, but that may be splitting hairs). I'm also a vegan. I don't consider myself an extremist.

People always question my veganism by asking the standard "stranded on a desert island with a cow" question. My reply is that I'm not stranded on a desert island with a cow.

The same holds true with my pacifism/nonviolence. Would I fight Hitler/a just war? Maybe? Who knows, I have yet to encounter one. Which criteria for "just" are we going to use? Will they match my criteria?

I have no beef (no pun intended) with those who choose to not be pacifists, and I have no "horse" in the UUA discussing the issue. But then most religious institutions are hypocritical of their own theological and moral stances anyway. Look at the Catholics, Pope JPII said outright that Iraq wasn't a just conflict, yet I didn't hear of any priests telling soldiers not to serve in it.

Will the 200,000 UUs "go Quaker". I doubt it will happen. I'm just surprised how little respect nonviolence and pacifism is receiving on this thread.


April 13, 2006 05:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

UU Wonk,
Just a point on an entry of yours a while back. Since when is standing by while a child is tortured and refusing to help "real pacifism?" That's far different from the pacifism of the actual groups and individuals who are committed to it. It's likely Ann Coulter's definition. Your entry indicates that we peace activists have lots of public education to do. I say this respectfully.


April 13, 2006 05:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

Another little point on the Hitler comparisons. These are tiresome already! If Saddam is Hitler, then why did the US support him in the 1980's with nary a peep? And if Iran has their own "Hitler" who is threatening the Jewish state, is going to war the only answer?

Let me say it again: pacifism is working for the prevention of war! No secret fascist fantasies, no cult leanings. Our problems--the whole world's problems--with Iran began when the US decided to prop up the Shah, even though he was persecuting his people. Pacifists were against it. I suspect Christian Century was against it at the time, and their current writers likely acknowledge it was wrong to do. If so, then they certainly have the right to editorialize on the Iran issue. Most people that favor US entry into war ignore or stifle the subject of the circumstances that led to the war.


April 14, 2006 06:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill, Thanks for the interesting history. I was thinking of the many New England Unitarians who proclaimed pacifism during the 1840s but changed their minds during the 1860s.

Peter, I wasn't trying to put anybody down when I used the term "real pacifism" to describe people who abjure all violence. Abjuring all violence is a traditional definition of pacifism. More to the point, abjuring all violence is the explicitly issue in the SAI. The problem of whether to use force to stop blatant crime is one that most serious writers on the subject have dealt with. W. E. Channing thought it was right to put murderers in jail. Adin Ballou disagreed. Channing was very anti-war and anti-military. But by this definition he was not a pacifist.

If the term pacifist means "strongly opposed to war except in rare circumstances" then Channing was a pacifist, as is almost everybody. Of course people might not agree on what things constitute the "rare circumstances".

If pacifist means "working for the prevention of war", then Nobel peace prize winners like Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, and Menachem Begin are pacifists. That is plausible, but not the way the word is generally used today.

I am ignorant here, but my understanding of the traditional Friend's position is that attacking people because they are part of an enemy army is wrong but that attacking people who, as individuals, are believed to be guilty of a crime is acceptable. That is yet another possible definition of pacifism.

The term "non-violence" is also confusing. The fact is that normal politics in the US is non-violent. When politicians buy TV spots, they are being non-violent. King and Gandhi are special because they led non-violent actions in the face of violent attacks. I suppose when we attend a demonstration or even just vote we are being non-violent, but it doesn't seem very unusual.


April 15, 2006 09:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

Kevin makes a connection to our UU retreat from the tradition of reflecting on human sin.


April 15, 2006 02:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

At the risk of sounding like an overly-simple, knuckle-dragging Thog about it, I'll just say this: considering that I am a UU Heathen who follows deities whose areas of influence include warfare and strategy, and whose ancestral culture held up heroic action as the ideal, I'll say there are those cases where war is justified.

I am probably one of only two, but there's my two cents.

Kevin M:

April 16, 2006 02:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

I must admit, Tracie, I had not yet stopped to think about this issue's impact on those who worship such gods as Odin. 30 comments down the page and, behold! a unique and unexpected perspective. It's moments like these that I most enjoy about UUism.


April 18, 2006 10:22 AM | Permalink for this comment

I guess a better world would be one in which both of the possible definitions of pacifism that UU Wonk addresses ("strongly opposed to war except in rare circumstances" and "working for the prevention of war") were the ones used in the popular culture. Sure, in that case Kissinger could call himself a pacifist, saying that Vietnam, Campbodia and Chile were the rare exceptions and that he was working diligently against the causes of war. However, that would spark a much larger debate about what it means to prevent the causes of war and what the rare exceptions should be. If it were fashionable to call oneself a pacifist that would be a great start, and then thinking persons could discuss and debate who is really putting pacifist principles into fashion and who is exploiting the concept for political gain (sort of like what's going on with Christianity and politics now).

Bringing it back to Philocrites original topic, perhaps it would not be a bad idea for the UUA to boldly declare itself as pacifist and then set out to state what that means-- in other words, to redefine it for the popular culture in a way that is not (too) divisive within its own church body.

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