Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter IX - Christianity and War

Christianity is opposed to war, in the sense that if men and nations universally behaved as Christians, wars would cease. The ideal of the Kingdom of GOD involves the reign upon earth of universal peace. War is, therefore, in itself, an unchristian thing. It is, moreover, a barbarous and irrational method of determining disputes, since the factors which humanly speaking are decisive for success in war, viz. the organized and unflinching use of superior physical force, are in principle irrelevant to the rights or wrongs of the cause which may be at stake. The victories of might and right do not invariably coincide.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a certain proportion of Christians–the Quakers, for example, and many individuals who have either been influenced by the teaching of Tolstoy, or else, thinking the matter out for themselves, have arrived at similar conclusions to those of Tolstoy and the Quakers–should hold that in the event of war a man’s loyalty to his earthly city must give way to his loyalty to his heavenly King in this matter. Experience shows that there are men who are prepared to suffer persecution, imprisonment, or death itself rather than violate their principles by service in the armed forces of the Crown.

There are obviously circumstances conceivable in which it would be the duty of all Christians to become “Conscientious Objectors.” Such circumstances would arise in any case in which the state endeavoured to compel men’s services in a war which their conscience disapproved. In the present European War it so happens that there are probably no Englishmen who regard the German cause as righteous and the Allies’ cause as wrong. The problem of Conscientious Objection has, therefore, only arisen in the case of those Christians who hold the abstract doctrine of the absolute wrongness, in whatever circumstances, of all war as such.

There are those who, though personally rejecting this doctrine, consider that those who hold it are wrong only in that they are spiritually in advance of their time. The majority, however, of Christians have felt that the Pacifist or Quaker doctrine is not merely impracticable under present conditions, but that it rests upon a fallacious principle. For it appears to deny that physical force can ever be rightfully employed as the instrument of a moral purpose. In the last resort it is akin to the anti-sacramental doctrine which regards what is material as essentially opposed to what is spiritual.

The questions at issue are not really to be solved by the quotation of isolated texts or sayings of our Lord from the Gospels. What is really in dispute is the question of the form which, in the context of a given set of national and political circumstances, may rightfully be given to the application of the Christian principle of universal, righteous, and self-sacrificing Love. No one can dispute the fact that in certain circumstances Christianity may demand the readiness to die for others. Are there any circumstances in which Christianity may demand the readiness to slay for others, either personally, or mediately through service in a military machine which as a whole is the instrument of a national purpose only to be achieved through the slaughter of those in the ranks of the opposing armies?

The majority of Christians have answered this question in the affirmative. They have held that there are circumstances in which the claims of Love are more genuinely and adequately acknowledged by taking part in warfare than by abstaining from it. They have insisted that there are circumstances in which it is no true act of love, even towards the aggressor, or perhaps towards the aggressor least of all, to permit him to achieve an evil purpose unchecked: that resistance, even by force of arms, may be in the truest interests of the enemy himself. They have maintained that it is possible to fight in a Christian temper and spirit, without either personal malice or hatred of the foe: that not all killing is murder, and that to rob a man of physical life, as an incident in the assertion of the claims of righteousness, is not, from the point of view of those who believe in human immortality, to do him that ultimate and essential injury which it might otherwise be held to be.

No one, however, who has had anything to do with modern war can doubt that it is intrinsically beastly and devilish, or that it is apt to arouse passions, in all but the saintliest of men, which are of an extremely ugly kind. To affirm that it is possible, as a matter of theory, to fight in a wholly Christian spirit and temper, is not to assert that in actual practice more than a small minority of soldiers succeed in doing so. It is possible to be devoutly thankful that when the issue was posed by the conduct of the Germanic powers in the August of 1914 the British Empire replied by entering upon war, to hold that it was emphatically the right thing to do, and that it represented a course of conduct more intrinsically Christian than neutrality would have been. But it is not possible to maintain with truth that the British nation as a whole has been fighting either in a Christian temper or from Christian motives. It is undeniable that uglier motives and passions have crept in. Sermons in Christian pulpits upon such themes as the duty of forgiveness or the Christian ideal of love towards the enemy have been neither frequent nor popular. Undoubtedly the German Government in its general policy, and particular units of the German Army and Navy upon many occasions, have acted in such a way as to give provocation of the very strongest kind to the unregenerate human impulses of hatred and of revenge. It is not surprising, though it is regrettable, that under the influence of this provocation many persons, otherwise Christian, have either frankly abandoned the Christian doctrine of human brotherhood, or else have denied that the Germans are to be regarded as human beings. On the whole, and speaking very broadly, it may be said that the troops have shown themselves more Christian in these respects than have the civil population, though there are many exceptions upon both sides. It is to be feared that the Church, in so far as she has been represented by her clergy (though here, again, there are many exceptions), has been too anxious to be identified with a merely Jingo patriotism to exercise any very appreciable influence in restraint of unchristian passions. It is to be hoped and anticipated that there will be a strong reaction after the war both against militarism and the less desirable aspects of the military mind, and also against the belligerent temper and spirit–especially, perhaps, on the part of the men who have themselves served and suffered in the field.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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