I recently finished reading Daniel M. Bell Jr.’s excellent little book, Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State. And while I have neither the time nor the inclination to write a full review, I figured I would post more than a few excerpts here over the next few days and weeks.

Bell’s book isn’t perfect, and there are a few areas where I think we are left with more questions than answers, but overall it is a very good introduction to just war history, theory, and practice from a distinctively Christian perspective, and its benefits and usefulness far outweigh its flaws.

While Bell avoids partisan debates for the most part he pulls no punches in speaking straightforwardly about what justice demands in the Christian tradition as it developed from the Augustine and the fathers (modified from Plato and the Greeks) through to Aquinas, Vitoria, and Grotius in the early modern period.it is an excellent introduction to the Just War tradition from a distinctively Christian perspective, and its strengths are much more prominent than its weaknesses.

After a brief history of Just War thinking, and making an important distinction between modern, secular, just war theory, what he calls Just War as public policy checklist or Just War (PPC), and Just War as Christian discipleship or Just War (CD), Bell asks the question, “Has there ever been a just war?”

"Such is the history, in brief, of the just war tradition since its adoption and adaptation by Christianity. What the history reflects is that war is not one thing always and forever, that it is no necessarily and inevitably “hell” as Sherman and others would have it. To the contrary, it is a human practice and as such is capable of being waged in different ways, from the highly ritualized and almost game-like wars of medieval chivalry that were minimally lethal (my favorite example being a yearlong war involving one thousand knights in the 1127 CE during which five died, four of those being the result of accidents), to the limited wars of attrition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the total wars that characterized significant wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

At the outset of this chapter, the question was raised as to whether war could ever be just. Both pacifists and realists suggest the answer is no. While the historical overview suggests that war need not be total, it does not provide an entirely satisfactory answer to the question of whether war can in fact be just. By itself it does not refute the skeptics. These skeptics sometimes pose the question of just war in a more pointed manner by asking, Has there ever been a just war?

Such a question threatens to plunge us into the midst of the culture wars and the ideological battles of the current moment. After all, there is no shortage of persons willing to proclaim this or that war just or unjust in a manner that appears to be driven more by the political fortunes of the moment than by any deep familiarity with the just war tradition. From the longer perspective of history, there are historians of war and of just war who have argue that there have indeed been just wars.

From a Christian theological perspective, however, the question of whether there has ever been a just war is largely beside the point. From the standpoint of the Christian moral life, it is the wrong question. After all, the Christian moral life does not depend on whether that life has ever been lived faithfully before or not. If Christians are called to be a just war people by God then the proper response to that call is not to step back and ask, Has anyone else done it before us? Rather, even if it means going forth like Abram and his family into the unknown and unprecedented (Heb. 11:8), the proper, faithful response is to discern how our life should be so ordered in response to that call that we might be a people who wage war or refrain from waging war in accord with the precepts of just war. In other words, the proper response to the call to just war is not, Has it been done before? but, How then should we order our live so that we might respond to the call faithfully?

Perhaps the misguided nature of the question will be clearer if we put a similar challenge to another facet of the Christian life. Take, for example, the Ten Commandments. We might ask if there has ever been a Christian community that has embodied them perfectly? Has there ever been a Christian church that has succeeded in living out even one of them perfectly? Or take the Great Commandment that we love God and our neighbor. Has there ever been a church that has followed that commandment without flaw or failure? That the answer to these questions is no does not in itself render the commandments invalid, irrelevant, or unrealistic. That the Christian church has displayed and in the course of its life continues to terrible failures with regard to both love of God and of neighbor does not abolish that calling or erase the reality of that love in its life. That we miss the mark, that we continue to struggle with sin, does not diminish either the high calling to or the reality of holiness and virtue in the life of the church. Our failure as a people does not disprove God’s call; neither does our repeated failure establish that we are not in fact capable of accepting and embodying that call. All of this means that even if one could definitively show that the church had never even once embodied the just war discipline in war, that in itself would not prove that just war was neither the church’s calling nor a real possibility in its life."


From an article entitled, "Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father," published in the Atlantic.

On Screaming

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.

Concerning Face and Hands

Cast your countenance upward to the light, and lift your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off. For the stains are upon you; even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon. And in the breast pocket of your garment, and upon the tie of your shoe, rice and other fragments are distributed in a manner wonderful to see. Only hold yourself still; hold still, I say. Give each finger in its turn for my examination thereof, and also each thumb. Lo, how iniquitous they appear. What I do is as it must be; and you shall not go hence until I have done.

Read the rest here.  It's a hoot.

Obama said in an interview:

“You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

So, rather than training up his children in the way they should go his ethical evolution is following the course of the natural ignorance and immaturity of small children.  Lack of ethical awareness is no vice in children, they must be taught.  It probably wouldn't occur to his daughters to share or eat vegetables either if someone didn't teach them.  Should that lead to some profound conversion to selfishness and a junk food diet?  This kind of abdication of moral responsibility is scary enough when we see it among the masses, but to have a man attempting to lead a nation who doesn't even know what it means to lead and teach his children moral standards is disastrous.  And the fact that so many will see this statement as sage wisdom bodes poorly for our future as a culture. 

"This morning a splendid dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas.  This morning Kansas rolled out of its sleep into a sunlight grandly announced, proclaimed throughout heaven, one more of the very finite number of days that this old prairie has been called Kansas, or Iowa.  But it has all been one day, that first day.  Light is constant, we just turn over in it.  So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.  My grandfather's grave turned into the light, and the dew on his weedy little mortality patch was glorious.

'Thou wast in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, the topaz, and the diamond.'

While I'm thinking of it--when you are an old man like I am, you might think of writing some sort of account of yourself, as I am doing.  In my experience of it, age has a tendency to make one's sense of oneself harder to maintain, less robust in some ways.

Why do I love the thought of you old?  That first twinge of arthritis in your knee is a thing I imagine with all the tenderness I felt when you showed me your loose tooth.  Be diligent in your prayers, old man.  I hope you will have seen more of the world than I ever got around to seeing--only myself to blame.  And I hope you will have read some of my books.  And God bless your eyes, and your hearing also, and of course your heart.  I wish I could help you carrry the weight of many years.  But the Lord will have that fatherly satisfaction."

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 209-210
"Two or three of the ladies had pronounced views on points of doctrine, particularly sin and damnation, which they never learned from me.  I blame the radio for sowing a good deal of confusion where theology is concerned.  And television is worse.  You can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten.  I do wonder where it will end."

--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 208

I find it impossible to read this passage without thinking of certain notable blogs in presbyterian and reformed circles.
"I fell to thinking about the passage in the Institutes where it says the image of the Lord in anyone is much more than reason enough to love him, and that the Lord stands wating to take our enemies' sins upon Himself.  So it is a rejection of the reality of grace to hold our eneemy at fault.  Those things can only be true.  It seems to me people tend to forget that we are to love our enemies, not to satisfy some standare of righteousness, but because God their Father loves them.  I have probably preached on that a hundred times."

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 189
"I don't know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else's virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it."

--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 188
"I have thought about that very often--how the times change, and the same words that carry a good many people into the howling wilderness in one generation are irksome or meaningless in the next.  You might think I am under some sort of obligation to try to 'save' young Boughton, that by inquiring into these things he is putting me under that obligation.  Well, I have had a certain amount of experience with skepticism and the conversation it generates, and there is an inevitable futility in it.  It is even destructive.  Young people from my own flock have come home with a copy of La Nausee or L'Immoraliste, flummoxed by the possibility of unbelief, when I must have told them a thousand times that unbelief is possible.  And they are attracted to it by the very books that tell them what a misery it is.  And they want me to defend religion, and they want me to give them 'proofs.'  I just won't do it.  It only confirms them in their skepticism.  Because nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense."

--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 176-177
"There is a tendency among some religious people even to invite ridicule and to bring down on themselves an intellectual contempt which seems to me in some cases justified.  Nevertheless, I would advise you against defensiveness on principle.  It precludes the best eventualities along with the worst.  At the most basic level, it expresses a lack of faith.  As I have said, the worst eventualities can have great value as experience.  And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer.  I know this, I have seen the truth of it with my own eyes, though I have not myself always managed to live by it, the Good Lord knows.  I truly doubt I would know how to live by it fro evan a day, or an hour.  That is a remarkable thing to consider."

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson, 154
To contemplate nature, then, is in Blake's phrase to cleanse the "doors of our perception," both on the physical and on the spiritual level, and thereby to discern the energies or logoi of God in everything that he has made.  It is to discover, not so much through our discursive reason as through our spiritual intellect, that the whole universe is a cosmic Burning Bush, filled with the divine Fire yet not consumed.  

--Bp. Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, 118.

"A new heaven and a new earth": man is not saved from his body but in it; not saved from the material world but with it.  Because man is microcosm and mediator of the creation, his own salvation involves also the reconciliation and transfiguration of the whole animate and inanimate creation around him--its deliverance "from the bondage of corruption" and entry "into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8.21).  In the "new earth" of the Age to come there  is surely a place not only for man but for the animals: in and through man, they too will share in immortality, and so will rocks, trees and plants, fire and water." 

 --Ibid. 136-137.

This resurrection kingdom , in which we shall by God's mercy dwell with our soul and body reunited, i in the third place a kingdom which shall have "no end."  Its eternity and infinity are beyond the scope of our fallen imagination, but of two things at any rate we may be sure.  First, perfection is not uniform but diversified.  Secondly, perfection is not static but dynamic.

First, eternity signifies an inexhaustible variety.  If it is true of our experience in this life that holiness is not monotonous but always different, must this not be true also, and to an incomparably higher degree, of the future life?  God promises to us: "To him that overcomes I will give... a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no man knows except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2.17).  Even in the Age to come, the inner meaning of my unique personhood will continue to be be eternally a secret between God and me.  In God's kingdom each is one with all the others, yet each is distinctively himself, bearing the same delineaments as he had in this life, yet with these characteristics healed, renewed and glorified.  In the words of St. Isaias of Sketis: 

'The Lord in his mercy grants rest to each according to his works--to the great according to his greatness and to the little according to his littleness; for he said, 'In my Father's house are many mansions' (John 14.2).  Though the kingdom is one, yet in the one kingdom each finds his own special place and his own special work.'

Secondly, eternity signifies unending progress, a never-ceasing advance.  As J.R.R. Tokien has said, 'Roads go ever ever on.'  This is true of the spiritual Way, not only in the present life, but also in the Age to come.  We move constantly onwards.  And it is forward that we go, not back.  The Age to come is not simply a return to the beginning, a restoration of the original state of perfection in Paradise, but it is a fresh departure.  There is to be a new heaven and a new earth; and the last things will be greater than the first.  

'Here below,' says Newman, 'to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.'  But is this the case only here below?  St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that even in heaven perfection is growth.  In a fine paradox he says that the essence of perfection consists precisely in never becoming perfect, but in always reaching forward to some higher perfection that lies beyond.  Because God is infinite, this constant 'reaching forward' or epekstasis, as the Greek Fathers termed it, proves limitless.  The soul possesses God, and yet still seeks him; her joy is full, and yet she grows always more intense.  God grows ever nearer to us, yet he still remains the Other; we behold him face to face, yet we still continue to advance further and further into the divine mystery.  Although strangers no longer, we do not cease to be pilgrims.  We go forward "from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3.18), and then to a glory that is greater still.  Never, in all eternity, shall we reach a point where we have accomplished all that there is to do, or discovered all that there is to know.  'Not only in this present age but also in the Age to come,' says St. Irenaeus, "God will always have something more to teach man, and man will always have something more to learn from God.'" 

--Ibid, 137-138