Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pacifism and the Grain of the Universe

Speaking at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre as part of a dialogue between the Radical Reformation and Radical Orthodoxy, John Milbank had this to say about pacifism:

[pacifism is] counter-intuitive in relation to our created nature, trying too much to jump out of our animality and the limited range of our responses like the instinctive protection of those close to us. We're not angels. We can't quite, we shouldn't try to, jump out of that kind of animality, because it belongs to our created nature.

If you want to get a room full of pacifists to temporarily abandon their non-violent convictions, saying something like that is probably your best bet.

But does Milbank have a point? Is, for example, the intuition to protect through necessary coercion/violence a part of our created nature? Does pacifism expect too much of us by asking us to shed our animal skin and adopt an angelic complexion? To put it more starkly, is "pure pacifism" (Milbank's term) anti-creation?

Far be it from me to tell John Milbank what's what (or pace John Milbank, as they say), but "We're not angels" is not a sustainable avenue of argument against pacifism. I say this in part because of Milbank's own assertion elsewhere that "resurrection, not death, is the ground of the ethical." Given Jesus's description of resurrection life, Milbank actually ends up falling on his own sword (to use a confusing metaphor given the topic at hand): 

"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." (Matt. 22:30)

Eschatologically speaking, while we may not be angels, we will in some sense be like them. Indeed, according to Paul, we will judge them. So the admission "We're not angels", far from excusing a more animalistic morality, actually calls us to a more excellent way. My theological jujitsu is complete.

As one of the dialogue partners said to Milbank, pacifism is not an ontological state; it is a practice. A way of being in the world shaped by Jesus's way of being in the world. It is not so much interested in conforming to the created order as it is in being a witness to new creation.

No comments:

Post a Comment