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Posted by on May 3, 2016 | 2 comments

Pacifism and Politics: The Tank and the Letter

Pacifism and Politics: The Tank and the Letter

One has to be careful not to project onto the past what is known to have occurred later, as if, in those days, people had before them two alternatives, with full knowledge of their consequences. We have to admit that certain choices were made in a kind of fog.[1] The most famous pacifist whom Hitler prompted to change his mind was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As is well known, Bonhoeffer concluded that pacifism, while almost always the right approach, could on rare occasions become a way of avoiding responsibility for the hard decisions politicians have to make. But Paul Ricoeur had a similar trajectory. Years before becoming famous as a gentle and irenic philosopher, Ricoeur was a militant pacifist and Marxist, writing revolutionary tracts in French socialist journals.[2] In the 1930s he and his circle demanded that France lay down her arms and not engage in any warfare. We should learn our lesson from the First World War, they said: conflict of nations is nothing more than a bored Bourgeoisie who have...

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2016 | 6 comments

Safety is not a Christian virtue

Safety is not a Christian virtue

In 1934, Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed the ecumenical peace organization World Alliance for International Friendship through Churches in Denmark.[1] Centrally in this address, Bonhoeffer argues that the World Alliance must function as the universal Church by working for peace with the aim of not only ending war but finding victory over it. Victory over war involves understanding war “as the work of evil powers in this world, enemies of God.”[2] As Christians, Bonhoeffer reminds his audience that the work of peace is a mandate for the ecumenical Church, not an optional problem that needs to be dealt with. The mission of peace among Christians transcends and unites across any and all societal boundaries, be they “national, political, social, or racial.”[3] In this address, Bonhoeffer highlights the confusion of safety with peace: “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security.”[4] To pursue safety is to diverge...

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Posted by on Jul 27, 2015 | 4 comments

The Liturgy of Political Discourse

The Liturgy of Political Discourse

The Big Lebowski is one of my and my friend Tyler’s favorite films. It takes very little provocation to get us to watch it, and I’ve even had viewings as close together as a week apart. A film that’s been seen so much reaches a place of comfortable familiarity–one begins to laugh even before the jokes land, and it’s perfectly possible to finish lines (if you want to be that annoying guy). There is something like this that happens in the morass of American political discourse, though it rarely involves laughter. As one grows older, one is bound to notice that American political discourse falls into patterns. That pattern may shift as certain ideologies ebb and flow, but by and large it’s so familiar one feels one really could finish the lines before they’re said. This is particular noticeable as we get nearer to the next American presidential race and political debate begins to move from constant background buzz to the foreground of American life (even for those of us not currently living on...

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 | 1 comment

Civil Liberties are for the Ones You Hate

Civil Liberties are for the Ones You Hate

Civil liberties aren’t for you. They aren’t for your friends. They’re for the people you hate. In the wake of the murders at Charlie Hebdo, many writers have pointed to the fact that it’s quite reasonable to detest the work of Charlie Hebdo and still believe they had the right to freedom of expression (and, even more fundamentally, the right to life.) These opinions recognize the fact that civil liberties come before the particularities of the people who receive those liberties. They recognize that liberty is enshrined in laws precisely to protect those whose ideas and lifestyles we might find detestable, but this is a point we too often seem to forget. You see, we make civil liberties into laws in order to protect the fragile dream of a pluralist society. Pluralist societies depend on people and associations of different creeds being able to work together for a common political good. The problem is that we humans are not by nature comfortable with such an arrangement. It’s easy enough...

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