« Consumer Culture Conference MP3's | Main | I Never Saw It »

May 31, 2006


the jay

i'm fairly unfamiliar w/ yoder, but how dependent is pacifism on this view of the atonement? in other words, if this view of the atonement goes, does pacifism also hit the door?

(good stuff, bro. when the heck are you coming back in the studio? things are going to get crazy in the next couple of weeks, and i'd love to be ahead of the game w/ your show.)



Anabaptists have tended to have a theory of atonement that is closer to Christus Victor or Moral Influence. I don't know that pacifism is necessarily dependent on either of those theories, but I do believe that pacifism and substitutionary atonement can't co-exist. I think you can argue that Jesus was a pacifist without picking a particular view of the atonement, and then argue that Jesus is our anthropological model. Eventually you have to come to grips with what a theory of atonement says about the character of God, and it's no good to say God is God so she can do what she pleases. That misunderstands how the character of God is revealed and how it influences our ethics.


There are non-Christian pacifists (e.g. Tibetan Buddhists, some Sufi Muslims), so pacifism can't be dependent on any particular Christian atonement scheme. In my limited readings, one commonality has been the belief that violent acts themselves aren't just the problem, so much as the psychological consequences of behaving violently toward other people--that is, viewing them as no more than physical objects to be manipulated, or, worse, evil beings that deeply deserve the pain you so gladly inflict on them. The consequences of behaving violently, whether physically or verbally, tend to last longer than people realize. I tend to think that using physical force to restrain someone who has broken into your home and you believe intends physical harm to your family is different than beating the shit out of some rapist scum who deserves what he gets, the sonofabitch, even though it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish between the two cases based solely on physical responses.

Mike L.

"What if being conquered is absolutely necessary to expose the brutal violence and dark oppression of these principalities and powers, these human ideologies and counterkingdoms—so they, have been exposed, can be seen for what they are and freely rejected, making room for the new and better kingdom?"

This sounds much like the reasoning behind Ghandi's understanding of the Holocaust. Though he acknowledged that a war to stop the Third Reich would be justified, Ghandi argued that the Jews should accept their deaths at the hands of the Nazis and die with dignity, as martyrs whose hands had spilled no blood. Ghandi believed that the Nazis would eventually recongize the errors of their ways and be shamed into ending their needless killing; enough of these realizations would eventually allow mankind as a whole to grow into more civilized creatures.

I am troubled, though, by the notion that large-scale death and suffering at the hands of an evil empire like the Third Reich is somehow satisfactory to God's will. Even with the understanding presented in the book of Habakkuk that God can use warfare and dire circumstances to open unrepentant people's eyes to their own unrighteousness, I still have trouble believing that a God who values the sanctity of life would allow the wholesale slaughter of any group of people in order to advance His Kingdom.

Pacifism is certainly not an easy subject to discuss or defend because it is so counterintuitive to human nature. But I wonder if McLauren would argue the same points if he had survived the Holocaust or Pol Pot's Killing Fields and had seen his own parents, siblings, wife or children gunned down in the name of progress.



This comment stands out: "...God who values the sanctity of life would allow the wholesale slaughter of any group of people in order to advance His Kingdom." Have you read Joshua? Judges?

The kingdom of God doesn't advance through slaughter. I'm not talking about nations not going to war. They will go to war. I'm talking about Christians living peacefully. We're so hopelessly Constantinian sometimes that we forget there is a difference between nation and church.



Thanks for pointing to this. Have you read any William Stringfellow. He's one of my favorites, prefiguring Wink on such matters. The danger is when we think the powers we participate in are not fallen. Marriage seems to be one of those these days. As does being a U.S. American.


Yeah, I agree that sacrificial atonement brings it's own problems. What does it say about God? True, as we see Jesus as divine, we see God willing to go thru a horrible transformation, as he takes on humanity. We see God willing to do the unimaginable, as God chooses to suffer (even to death), for a people that may or may not accept it.

But, if God is also the one being sacrificed "to." Meaning, God is the receptor of the sacrifice that then "satisfies" the Divine need for justice...well, that makes him not so fuzzy-wuzzy-comforting. All of a sudden, God isn't so nice any more. There is something to fear in Divinity. To say that one could be uncomfortable with that would be an understatement.

Honestly, I don't have a good answer for this. Was there a sacrifice? Yes. Did God have something to do with it? Yes. Do I wish there would have been another way? Yes. Sure, we can try to boil it all down to culture. How, God had no other way to work with the Hebrews in Joshua's time. God may have been culturally understood as a "war god." And, that image would only be changed over time. But, most of that is speculation, until we get that nifty time machine. :o)




It's worth pointing out that the usual defense of substitutionary atonement--that justice needed to be served somehow by someone--uses "justice" in ways that are totally foreign to us. Under the law, when someone (say) maliciously and intentionally breaks my arm, our justice system isn't satisfied if someone goes to prison for 3-5 years; it's satisfied when the person who broke my arm goes to prison and makes recompense. (That's the goal, anyway; YMMV.) Postulating an alien notion of justice and recompense wherein God is a Dalek that needs to exterminate someone, anyone, to satisfy its bloodlust, makes God sound not just morally bankrupt but a bit insane as well. Appealing to Hebrew culture doesn't make things any better, as God was supposedly the one in charge of crafting it all those years ago, so if that's all he had to work with it's his own bloody fault (and I mean that literally). (That's my reading at any rate--most SA advocates I've read have argued that God specifically put the blood sacrifice system in place to prefigure the crucifixion.)

See, when you have the question, "What does atonement mean?", it doesn't do any good to respond "It satisfies justice--but the ways you understand justice are entirely wrong in every particular." That's not an explanation, it's playing word games, trying to extract the benevolent connotations of the word "justice" while scuttling its content.


I used to wonder why the "model prayer" has this in it: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Because, God was in charge, right? I mean, God micromanages everything. Every little thing that ever happens has to be his will, or he just isn't God, right? All of that Omin-etc, catagorizations and all. But then, after reading scripture and looking at some secular/historical stuff, I realized that my belief was based more on evangelical ruminations and less on truth.

I kind of feel sorry for people that need to have God micromanaging everything. I don't see in scripture where this really happens. We have to take the cultural context in view, or we do disservice to the people at that time. Has anyone ever realized how Solomon's temple looks like a Pheonician temple? Kind of makes sense when we realize that he hired a bunch of Pheonicians to build it. God has always limited himself so that we can really choose. I realize that typing that may make some people uncomfortable, but I gotta stick with scripture and what it reveals about God and us.

Usually when we see some kind of edict to "kill 'em all..." it is along the lines of, "if they aren't gone then you'll subcomb to being like them. You're not like 'em, so don't worship their gods." Ok, that was my paraphrase, but you get the jist. At the same time, every war was seen not as a war among nations, as much as a war among gods. When things were given to God, they burned them. To us, that would be destroying them. But, to them it was more along the lines of transporting them up to God's treasury.

I tend to struggle more with the idea that God actually desires worship from us. Why? Why would God want us (in all of our ickiness) to worship him? Surely the angels are enough. But then again, I have no real grasp on why he would want to love us either (in all of our ickiness). Scripture doesn't tell us why, as much as just affirms the truth of it.

I think that often times we put more upon scripture than it does to itself.

But, then again it is jmnsho.



Oh, and what is: "YMMV"???




I agree that the idea that God would want worship is silly, which is why, if I believed in God, I would mostly likely be a deist rather than a theist. I don't disagree much with the rest of your points--if you do assume that God was responsible for starting the blood sacrifice system, as most SA advocates I've read do, it's a pretty good bet that he's sort of bloodthirsty and carnage-happy and not the sort of being we ought to have a lot of moral respect for, overwhelming power aside.

YMMV is short for "Your mileage may vary"--usually it's used to mean something along the lines of, this is my experience, but it may not be yours; or this is the way things are supposed to work, but they tend not to a lot of the time.


The comments to this entry are closed.