Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Short(er) Response to "Why I am Not a Pacifist"

C.S. Lewis tends to surprise his reader (at least this one) with somewhat uncommon but at the same time incredibly convincing arguments. He usually leaves none thirsty who thirst of novelty and spiritual depth. But, I am afraid, his chapter “Why I am Not a Pacifist” in The Weight of Glory failed to do so. His arguments were none too surprising and frankly unconvincing (to me at least, and I think to many others who are influenced by folks like Desmond Tutu or folks like John Howard Yoder and Walter Wink—folks whom Lewis preceded too far, I presume, for him to be privy of them). I could write a more holistic systematic response to his chapter and I would if I thought it necessary (much of it might seem redundant since my response to Darrell Cole’s article) but I think a shorter response will do.

Lewis is, foremost, a theological and philosophical genius as well as a creative mastermind of fiction. There were points in Lewis’ arguments where I appreciated his thoroughness and mathematical logic so much that I found myself looking for things I could agree with him on, of which I found many. But in the end reading his chapter was a bit like watching math. As it is true with math—that numbers are quite a bit more complex than the ink on our page or the figures on our screens might justly portray—it is also true of Lewis: the complexity and ugliness of violent conflict cannot actually be reasoned out in terms of “A” versus “B” (as Lewis tries to do on page 75-76). He did no justice to Pacifist thought by reducing it to a choice of two thought patters of which I found myself aligned with neither but still positioned against him (see page 76). I discovered the same weaknesses in his arguments as he did in the Pacifist's (speculative starting points being one such example. see page 71). And Lewis failed to surprise with the novelty of some more spiritually deep argument when, permeating throughout his whole argument is the same presupposition I find throughout just-war theory; that the opposite of war is submission (the best example of this presupposition in his thinking is in the top paragraph on page 78). And here is where I might be able to identify what might really be at the heart of my contention with Lewis on this subject--he fails to offer the third option: that of non-violent resistance. It remains true that I am not a Pacifist either and so it may be that Lewis never meant to argue with me but only with those who are fine with the label "pacifist."

I'm sure I'll have a much better handle on all of this when I finally actually read The Politics of Jesus by Yoder and Jesus and Nonviolence by Wink, both of which I received in the mail today, finally!


SarahJoy said...

Good. Yay for Yoder! I love that book. It made me so happy.

P.S. You're not a pacifist?

WES ELLIS said...

I'm rarely comfortable with a label. I might be a pacifist, depending on what you mean. But it seems that most people equate pacifism with reasoned complacency and doing nothing, which doesn't describe my belief. I believe in resistance and change.

read this:

but most importantly read the article at the end of that post.