I will state my premises and argument, define the terms, expand and elaborate on my points and argument, and then I will defend against probable counter arguments. I have deliberately organized my argument this way so it is easier to see my presuppositions and conclusions. This should make it easy to understand and address my argument.
Basic Argument: Claiming Christianity demands Christians be Pacifists is logically fallacious because it conflicts with one of Christianity’s key tenants, its universality. Christianity holds that it is for everyone everywhere, so to demand that Christians be Pacifists is to require everyone everywhere be Pacifists. However, this undermines the universality of Christianity because some type of violence is required for any human society to function. So to maintain that Christians must be Pacifists requires that some people in the world (the people performing the necessary violence) either not be Christians or not follow their faith completely. Christianity is then not universal. If violence is necessary for any human society to function and if Christianity is for everyone, then not all Christians can be Pacifists. Some or perhaps even most Christians could be Pacifists, but they cannot all be.
Terms: I am defining Christianity in the broad sense as everything that affirms the truth of grace through Christ’s death and resurrection and God’s revelation of himself in the Bible. This includes virtually all Protestant and Catholic denominations, but excludes groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am defining Pacifism as the strict adherence to non-violence in all circumstances. Not all people who call themselves Pacifists define the term this way. There are people who describe themselves as Pacifists who would use some forms of violence to defend their lives or their families’ lives but always object to fighting in wars. Some Pacifists say only non-lethal violence should be used, (which I don’t think is possible, but that’s for another time) and there are other variations. The critique I am making only fully works against Pacifism in its strictest sense. The more tolerant of violence the Christian Pacifist becomes the less valid my critique is. I will occasionally use the word “exceptional” and here I mean this as something that is non-universal or rare. I am not defining it here as something that is both rare and praiseworthy.
Premise One: Violence is necessary for any human society to function. Many people are likely appalled by this, but it is true. Every human society has had (and needed) laws. Whether these laws are primarily social, legal, or cultural in nature does not matter. I am yet to find anyone who will argue that a society without laws (in the broadest sense of the term) existed or that any group of people living together doesn’t need some set of rules. Even if those laws are things like, “the law of the jungle” or an unwritten and unspoken set of rules, they are still laws in every practical sense. Everyone agrees (at least I’ve found no one who disagrees, if anyone is aware of someone who does please let me know) that such rules are necessary. People who claim we don’t need laws usually mean that we don’t need written laws. They think that cultural and social laws or laws of common sense are enough. That may be true, but the point is that at a practical level even these more basic rules function in way that is indistinguishable from a written code. I’ve never found an anarchist in the truest sense. They simply think that non-written laws are better than formal rules, but even these are still laws.
Laws always require enforcement. Any law without enforcement is as useless as a rock band without instruments, a gun without bullets, or a day without coffee. We have laws that say don’t murder or steal, but if nothing is done to prevent or deter the murder and the thief the laws are useless. The murder keeps killing and the thief keeps stealing. The point of a law is to prevent certain types of behavior or to make it unlikely the behavior will occur again. So to have laws makes some type of enforcement necessary. Law enforcement (the concept and the police) have taken a lot of different forms, but all of these forms can be traced back to violence or the threat of violence. All law enforcement takes its power from violence or the threat of violence, so it is impossible to enforce laws without violence. I am quite sure this statement will generate many objections, but I encourage any objector to trace back the forms of enforcement and punishment to their source. The source is always violence or the threat of violence.
Violence and the threat of violence are indistinguishable in this sense. It is true that often people with no intention of violence will threaten it (which makes them liars), but the threat only holds power if someone believes it will be carried out. If everyone only threatened violence and no one carried it out (it would be a wonderfully comical world) the threats would be useless. As an analogy, suppose all the police in a fictitious city were given orders to always threaten to shot suspects but never actually do it. Assuming that all the police followed the order things would probably go well for a while. But eventually word would get around that Fictitious City Police threaten violence but never carry it out. Crime would probably rise and the police would be ineffective because they would have lost their power. While this is a fictitious example, the principal holds true. Threats of violence require actual violence backing them up to be effective. So threats of violence and actual violence are indistinguishable in any way that matters here. Even something like a monetary fine as law enforcement is still a violent act at its core. Money is being forcibly taken from someone in a fine. If he refuses to pay the fine, law enforcement will have to use violence or threaten him so he will pay.
Because societies always need laws and some type of violence to enforce them, some type of violence (however limited I hope) is always necessary for society to function.
Premise Two: Christianity claims it is universal. By this I mean that Christianity claims it is for the whole world. Not every religion makes this claim. I doubt anyone who has studied Christianity will disagree with me here. There are numerous references in the Bible that make it plain that Christ and New Testament authors regarded Christianity as the way for all men (a non-gender specific use of “men” here).
There are some types of denominations that try to work around this universality. Usually they stream from or relate to Calvinism. They basically try to have it both ways by claiming that Christianity is and is not universal. That is a horrific simplification, but I’ll get more in depth on it later.
So Christianity is universal. Its scriptures claim it is, and its adherents claim it is, and historically it has made efforts to spread all over the world.
Conclusion: The conclusion rests on the law of non-contradiction. A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same context. So Christianity cannot be Universal and non-Universal at the same time. It cannot demand an exceptional tenant and be Universal. If Christianity demands both things, it is logically fallacious. To use plain speak, it just doesn’t make sense and we should reject it. So I am forced to conclude that a version of Christianity that demands all Christians be Pacifists is a logically self-defeating concept. Essentially;
1. Human societies require at least some violent actions.
2. Christianity claims it is for all human societies.
3. So given 1 and 2,
4. Christianity must allow for at least some violent actions.
This does not mean that Christians cannot be Pacifists, they can be. After all a Christian can be any number of things that not all Christians can be. For example, some Christians are women and some are men. Clearly it is not a problem that the female Christians cannot become male Christians and visa versa (Major surgery does not count here because it does not change the chromosomes that produce gender). It would be problematic if all the female Christians claimed all the male Christians had to become women to be “true Christians” because clearly this is not possible (However I have attended some churches where men are required to act more like women than men). Likewise, a Christian can be a Pacifist so long as he does not claim that all Christians must be Pacifists. Essentially a person’s Pacifism must not come from Christianity, but from somewhere else. Maybe the person just does not like the thought of violence in the same way that I abhor the thought of decaffeinated coffee. There are many principals Christians can embrace that are separate from Christianity. Nearly all American Christians think democracy and free speech are wonderful principals. But these principals come from being an American, not from being a Christian. Christians in other parts of the world may find the idea of free speech to be dangerous and democracy to be an incredibly inefficient form of government.
Separating Pacifism and Christianity does not mean that Pacifism is inherently stupid or bad. It is usually high minded, good intentioned, and the worst that can be said of it is that it is naïve. It probably is the best default approach to a lot of situations. Pacifism just cannot be logically demand as the answer to all conflicts by a worldview that claims to be universal.
So I have concluded that it is not logically valid to claim that following Christ demands Pacifism. If you want to be a Pacifist for other reasons, that is fine as the contradiction only lies in the requirement (but examine your other reasons to see if they are valid). It is as logically valid to be a Christian and a Pacifist as it is to be a Christian and an American. But it is as foolish to claim that all Christians must be Pacifists as it is to claim that all Christians must be Americans or Europeans.
An Out: For those who do not like my conclusion I can offer you an out. If either of my two premises are wrong the whole argument fails. So find a reason why one of them are wrong. The easiest out is to join a Christian denomination that does not believe Christianity is Universal (Yes they do exist and are considered orthodox). Most of these denominations are off-shots of Calvinism or relate to it in some way. Part of Calvinism is the idea of the Elect. Only these Elect people will actually be saved and the rest are . . . well they’re pretty much damned. This is a terribly unfair summery, but the point is that these denominations do not actually claim Christianity is Universal, so there is no logical problem if they also demand Pacifism. I think there are good reasons to reject Calvinism and similar ideas, but I’m not writing here to refute them. It is worth noting the most of these variations of Christianity soften the blow of Non-Universality by claiming that people cannot know who the Elect are, only God knows. However, that reintroduces the logic problem of demanding Pacifism with Christianity (If only God knows who the elect are then it is impossible for us to know who is saved and thus impossible for us to know who is required to be a Pacifist).
Two Counter Arguments: “Violence is not necessary for human society to function.” This counter claim to premise one can take several forms. Some people claim that society can be organized in ways that do not require violence (while admitting that at least most of them are). Some people will argue that as Christians should not conform to the world so we should not allow for violence even if human society requires it. I am sure there are other variations, but I think these two statements cover most of them.
I say that if we can organize society in way that does not require violence, great let’s do it. So now . . . how do we do it? I’ve tried to do some research on this and while my research is in no way exhaustive (I am only 28), I have been unable to find any society that does not have at least a small threat of violence at work somewhere in it, and I have seen no theories or examples that can work for larger groups of people for long periods of time. I can find no evidence for the claim that society can be organized without violence. Saying “We can do X” does not mean that we can do X, you need to provide evidence and reasons why we can do X.
Pacifistic theorists often like to cite Amish and Mennonite communities as the very evidence I cannot see. While I find much to admire in Amish and Mennonite approach to life, I do not see how they can be held up as examples of non-violent communities because they are not independent communities. The ones in the United States enjoy the protection of the local police and the international protection of the US military. They can afford to be as pacifistic as they want to be because they do not have to worry about protecting themselves from external evil and violence. If some Amish or Mennonite people operated their own sovereign country, I think that would be a very strong case worth considering. But they don’t, so it’s not. Most citizens can and probably should be as pacifistic as the Amish and Mennonites are. Having police and military enable people to act non-violently and that is a good thing.
Saying “It might be different” doesn’t mean it is different, so saying we might be able to have a society without violence does not mean we can. Until someone can show demonstrate a workable and plausible way of organizing society without violence, I have to conclude that we need the violence. I do welcome ideas and theories about how else society might be organized. If there are non-violent ways of minimizing and suppressing evil and suffering, I would like to know about them.
The second counterargument revolves around Christians specifically. This counter argument does not dispute that human societies need violence, but claims that Christians should not act like the rest of humanity in regards to violence. There are several different ways of justifying this claim, but they all say that Christians should act separate (in some fashion, not necessarily physically separate) from the rest of humanity. While this is certainly true about some things (they will know we are Christians by our love ) it is not true in a broad general sense. Christians still have to eat food and sleep, so we are not completely separate from the rest of humanity. Simply arguing that Christians should be separate from the rest of the world is not enough; the argument must establish that the issue of violence is one of the areas that is separate. This is where I find these counterarguments fail. If “Christ told us to be separate from the world” is used to claim that Christians should not use violence the same argument and logic can be used to claim that Christians shouldn’t eat, sleep, or do anything else that someone else in the world does. Clearly Christians need to eat and sleep. This counter argument is fallacious because it is too broad.
My purpose here is simply to establish the logical relationship between Christianity and Pacifism. I am not attempting to explain the hows and whys of when violence is justified and when it is evil. That is a far more difficult and complicated topic which I am not covering here. It is clear that most violence is evil and unjustifiable. Nothing I say here should be used to justify specific acts of violence as that would be evil and logically fallacious. But I think it is clear that a Christian police officer can be justified in shooting a dangerous criminal, and a Christian soldier can be justified in killing enemy soldiers to protect his country.