A Discussion Of Means, Not Ends

meanssomething I’ve started a series on stories of Nonviolence, basically sharing real life stories that I’ve heard over the past few years that tell of creative nonviolent responses to crime and violence. The reason I began these posts was that in my conversations over the last several years it seems quite rare that people have ever heard of actual creative nonviolent responses, aside from maybe the Civil Rights movement in the USA.

My posts last week talked about Nonviolent movements against the Nazi’s during World War II and was taken from a book called The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink. I hadn’t given the jump from personal actions to nations and states much thought before I posted. But, having received a couple comments from readers who both know their history and politics better then I do, I wanted to take a moment to clarify my position on nonviolence, particularly my stance from a faith perspective.

As a follower of the teachings of Christ, the discussion of war and pacifism is not a discussion of ends. We are not to choose are course of action based on what we think the possible or hypothetical ends of an action are (there are probably situations where you can do this, but I don’t believe this is one of them). Certainly if I was not a Christian, not some one who believed in the teachings in scripture and the person of Jesus Christ , I would more then likely primarily consider the ends to choose my course. For myself though, I believe that the means are more important then the ends we might conceive of. That, ultimately the end does matter, but what is important is that we are moral and just in our means or will never have a truly moral and just end.

We see numerous examples in the Bible where a choice was made based on means (as they saw God had called them to) rather then the ends that seemed likely. Daniel in the Lions den, Moses going to Pharaoh, Abraham venturing out, Stephen who was stoned, Jesus being crucified, and Paul going to prison. The most clear example probably is Rack, Shack and Benny (care of VeggieTales), when they refuse to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s God. The ends seemed quite obvious even to them: They’d be burned up in the furnace. But they knew clearly they needed to follow what God had clearly called them to regardless of the outcome; and we were all quite surprised at the outcome.

This is my point: If pacifism is what God clearly calls us to in the Bible, then we must follow it, regardless of how irrational it might be from our worldly (and even historical) perspective. My purpose behind sharing stories of nonviolence on this blog is not to prove nonviolence as a viable means to a ‘successful’ end, though I think that will be shown in many of the stories. Rather, my point is simply to tell these stories so that the concept of nonviolence movies from an abstract fantasy to a more concrete possible reality in others minds.

All this is to really say this, Wink could be wrong on his assessment of the ‘success’ of nonviolence against Nazi Germany. It could be argued based on our history and ones outlook on human nature that nonviolence is simply not a viable alternative to violence, but that will not alter my opinion on it being what followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to do.

(This post was adapted from one I wrote a while back, that has an interesting comment thread worth checking out). [photo credit]

16 thoughts on “A Discussion Of Means, Not Ends”

  1. "If pacifism is what God clearly calls us to in the Bible, then we must follow it, regardless of how irrational it "

    This quote distills a huge part of why I am not a Christian anymore. (I LOVE the blog and non violence btw, i think it's very good and rational stuff!)

    however, the point at which someone says "I'm going to follow the Bible, even if it seems irrational" is where I have to disagree.

  2. "If pacifism is what God clearly calls us to in the Bible, then we must follow it, regardless of how irrational it "

    This quote distills a huge part of why I am not a Christian anymore. (I LOVE the blog and non violence btw, i think it's very good and rational stuff!)

    however, the point at which someone says "I'm going to follow the Bible, even if it seems irrational" is where I have to disagree.

  3. there are a million different views on what the Bible "clearly" says, including godhatesfags.com (those cats know and can debate the Bible very well!) theirs is a view that I consider highly irrational, but also they would argue is one that the Bible clearly supports. Do i think it does? no…

    but we're each making our own judgement, using our rational powers, about what the Bible "clearly" says.

    once again for the record i don't disagree with any of your conclusions. I think they're very rational and compassionate and good. I've just never been able to make sense of the arguments of "God told me to do this so it doesn't matter what you think" or "i'm doing this even if it seems wrong because the Bible says so." both of these arguments have been used for incredible evil, and great good, and I think at the root of both of them is a personal, rational choice of how to interpret what our senses are taking in.

  4. there are a million different views on what the Bible "clearly" says, including godhatesfags.com (those cats know and can debate the Bible very well!) theirs is a view that I consider highly irrational, but also they would argue is one that the Bible clearly supports. Do i think it does? no…

    but we're each making our own judgement, using our rational powers, about what the Bible "clearly" says.

    once again for the record i don't disagree with any of your conclusions. I think they're very rational and compassionate and good. I've just never been able to make sense of the arguments of "God told me to do this so it doesn't matter what you think" or "i'm doing this even if it seems wrong because the Bible says so." both of these arguments have been used for incredible evil, and great good, and I think at the root of both of them is a personal, rational choice of how to interpret what our senses are taking in.

  5. Ariah, I love it so much that your blog is calling so many of us to challenge the way we see the world and I give you many kudos for that. I debated a lot whether to comment on the previous posting you made about Pacifism during WWII, but it's sitting on my head. Three of my boyfriend's grandparents are holocaust survivors. Two were children and lost their whole families and his grandfather managed to escape a death camp and join the uprising of those fighting the Germans off in the forest before settling in Israel at the end of the War.
    I believe in what Yeshua taught. I am amazed in how He handled such adversity and taught us to turn the other cheek and about His kingdom and how upside down it is from the world we live in. However, not for one minute do I believe that non-violence was the answer to the Nazi's final solution for our people. I am grateful for those who tried any means to stop our utter anhiliation and at the same time disgusted that a country as powerful as the USA stayed out of this "conflict" whilst knowing the genocide that was occurring.
    Violence was the answer, we can also see that violence was God's answer many times through the Bible. We can't just through the Tanakh away and say that the New Testament replaces it. The New Testament fulfills it. "A time to kill and a time to heal." There is a time for everything Ariah.
    I know that God's kingdom is not made up of the physical things we see, however to neglect the mass destruction of millions of His people because the means is not "ethical" is the same to me as preaching the gospel to a homeless person but not giving them a crumb. "It's a spiritual kingdom after all."
    If I were faced with an intruder threatening to murder my family, I wouldn't recite the Shemah and lay down and die. I would fight and do whatever I could to protect those that I loved even if that meant murdering him. If that is "unbeliever-like" then what kind of God do we serve?
    I am pained deeply by what is occurring in Darfur and Rwanda presently. Although many are trying pacifist means to stop the genocide taking place, why should one more innocent life be lost when many countries have the means to rescue them from their hellish existence? Should we look at one of these people that have lost their families and say, "we're so sorry, we fasted for you, we protested for you, we wrote letters for you and had bake-offs." When it is the protection and intervention of our armed forces that they really need.

    1. Tammy,
      Thanks a bunch for chiming in. I really appreciate it and am honored when people feel willing to open up and both be honest and challenge different view points on this blog. I’m encouraged that it can be and will remain a safe place for dialog.
      Ket Let me start by saying that none of my views are intended with callousness toward soldiers or others who choose to fight, or those who have been killed or survived tragedies like the Holocaust, Darfur, Rwanda, or other tragic killings. I do not intended my views to be a judgement of others actions in an attempt to stop injustices or genocides. Yet, I believe there is opportunity to point out that, as I’ve looked at what we both see as authoritative scripture, this is the conclusion that I’ve come to.

      My point in the above post was and is to say that, as with all of the convictions that we have as followers of Yeshua, it is not a matter of us determining the best end result, but rather following the means that we believe and know is right. That being said, I’ll address a couple of the things you brought up.

      1) Yes, in the Tanakh we see God using violence many times. My question to you is how you apply this today. God used violence in the Old Testament, he the armies of Israel were called to annihalate entire cities, men, women and children. In turn, God used the Babylonians violence to punish Israel. Do we carry that over to today How does that carry over to today? Was God using the Nazi’s Violence to punish the Jewish people? Should the ? Did God tell Bush to go to war in Iraq? Should we commit Is there a city or people group today that should be completely annihalted? that deserves genocide? I understand it says “A time to kill and a time to heal.” But that rings true as much for World War II as it does for 9/11.

      2) You bring up the age old question of “What would you do if…” and conclude that you would “protect those that I loved”. As believers we are called to “love our enemies”, so protecting those that you love from someone (this intruder) that you love is a difficult situation. I’m not saying you should do nothing, but I would suggest violence is not an appropriate solution. Would you murder your brother to protect your mother?

      3) I am most certainly not suggesting that we do bake-offs rather then take action. That is not pacifism or nonviolence, that is passive. However, I don’t think it is unfair for me to suggest that violence, particularly war, is not a very good solution either. You mention “why should one more innocent life be lost…”, and I agree with that statement. hundreds of thousands of lives are lost in war, innocent lives. It’s not the criminals that are the victims of war, it is children. Take our recent war in Iraq as an example. over 90,000 civilians have been killed. If you don’t want innocent lives lost, I think you should reconsider war and militaries as effective solutions.

      I hope that wasn’t too much. Feel free to just address one point or whatever you feel is worth noting.

  6. Ben, thanks for your thoughts, honestly, I always appreciate a comment from you.
    You forgot to include the rest of that quote:
    "regardless of how irrational it … might be from our worldly (and even historical) perspective."

    I'm not advocating all out irrationality. And, I don't think this type of 'faith' is unique to Christianity or religion at all really. On personal levels we trust and follow friends in moments that might seem irrational to us (and maybe that's gotten some of us in trouble, but other times it was for our benefit). On larger levels, this type of faith isn't much unlike actual soldiers in war. They take and follow orders of their commanding officer even at times that it seems irrational, because they trust the one in charge has a better perspective and overall picture of what is best in the moment (again, there are instances where this is not good, but other times it is necessary. I'm not advocating torture because the President says so or anything like that). As children we learn to trust our parents over our impulses.

    So, I'm not advocating complete irrationality, but rather encouraging following something that might appear counterintuitive to our worldly and historical perspective. Jesus said many things that were complete reversals of a world perspective. "The last shall be first" "Love your enemies" "Put others before yourselves" these are all things that are completely irrational when you look at our history. And yet, I think many of us feel compelled in our heart, that these are right. That they lead to a better way, not just for ourselves but for everyone.

    My whole point in doing this series is to make Nonviolence seem more rational. To ground it in real stories that people can know and reference.
    I'll ask you in return, to think about your own life. Have you made decisions that seem irrational on some levels, but you knew in your gut or in your mind that they were right?

  7. Ben, thanks for your thoughts, honestly, I always appreciate a comment from you.
    You forgot to include the rest of that quote:
    "regardless of how irrational it … might be from our worldly (and even historical) perspective."

    I'm not advocating all out irrationality. And, I don't think this type of 'faith' is unique to Christianity or religion at all really. On personal levels we trust and follow friends in moments that might seem irrational to us (and maybe that's gotten some of us in trouble, but other times it was for our benefit). On larger levels, this type of faith isn't much unlike actual soldiers in war. They take and follow orders of their commanding officer even at times that it seems irrational, because they trust the one in charge has a better perspective and overall picture of what is best in the moment (again, there are instances where this is not good, but other times it is necessary. I'm not advocating torture because the President says so or anything like that). As children we learn to trust our parents over our impulses.

    So, I'm not advocating complete irrationality, but rather encouraging following something that might appear counterintuitive to our worldly and historical perspective. Jesus said many things that were complete reversals of a world perspective. "The last shall be first" "Love your enemies" "Put others before yourselves" these are all things that are completely irrational when you look at our history. And yet, I think many of us feel compelled in our heart, that these are right. That they lead to a better way, not just for ourselves but for everyone.

    My whole point in doing this series is to make Nonviolence seem more rational. To ground it in real stories that people can know and reference.
    I'll ask you in return, to think about your own life. Have you made decisions that seem irrational on some levels, but you knew in your gut or in your mind that they were right?

  8. Solid thought again. And I completely agree with you,

    "God told me to do this so it doesn't matter what you think" or "i'm doing this even if it seems wrong because the Bible says so."

    These are both very dangerous statements that have caused both evil and good in the world. And I will agree at having the same sort of confusion in dealing with people on that level. I think I should further clarify my intent in the above post.

    As I mentioned before, the post came originally out of a serious of posts regarding specifically war, dialogging with fellow Christians who were (and I assume still are) staunch supporters. In that dialog what often happened, and still does when war is brought up, is that facts were brought up regarding political situations, agendas, etc as to why war was and is an appropriate option. As you can see on my recent post regarding Nonviolence against the Nazis, several historical and political counterpoints were given.
    Politics are not my strong suit, and I'll be the first to admit I'm no history buff either, I can barely keep dates straight. The stories I posted I believe were true, though someone else might critique the finer points. But, when it comes down to it, the reason I believe in Nonviolence is not because of these stories I've heard where it has been effective. I have not examined all conflicts throughout history categorizing them as violent and nonviolent and found that nonviolence has proven to be the better option. Nor do I know if the complexities of our political world will ever allow for nonviolence on national and state levels, I don't know those answers.

    But, as a follower of the teachings I read in the Bible, and dialogging with other Christians who hold the Bible to be authoritative, I think it comes down to finding common ground from which we can have our discussion and disagreements. And that common foundation is the Bible.

    I'm not even saying I'm right, I'm just saying that if your going to convince me to change my mind, that's the place you'll need to start. I've never heard a war-supporting Christian make sense of Jesus' call to "Love your enemies", or the countless other passages that call for us to love others above ourselves. My intent is not to put myself above discussion or act as if I'm inline with God and others aren't, but simply to find and advocate for a common place and beginning to carry on discussion.
    (got long winded there, I think I'll stop now)

  9. Solid thought again. And I completely agree with you,

    "God told me to do this so it doesn't matter what you think" or "i'm doing this even if it seems wrong because the Bible says so."

    These are both very dangerous statements that have caused both evil and good in the world. And I will agree at having the same sort of confusion in dealing with people on that level. I think I should further clarify my intent in the above post.

    As I mentioned before, the post came originally out of a serious of posts regarding specifically war, dialogging with fellow Christians who were (and I assume still are) staunch supporters. In that dialog what often happened, and still does when war is brought up, is that facts were brought up regarding political situations, agendas, etc as to why war was and is an appropriate option. As you can see on my recent post regarding Nonviolence against the Nazis, several historical and political counterpoints were given.
    Politics are not my strong suit, and I'll be the first to admit I'm no history buff either, I can barely keep dates straight. The stories I posted I believe were true, though someone else might critique the finer points. But, when it comes down to it, the reason I believe in Nonviolence is not because of these stories I've heard where it has been effective. I have not examined all conflicts throughout history categorizing them as violent and nonviolent and found that nonviolence has proven to be the better option. Nor do I know if the complexities of our political world will ever allow for nonviolence on national and state levels, I don't know those answers.

    But, as a follower of the teachings I read in the Bible, and dialogging with other Christians who hold the Bible to be authoritative, I think it comes down to finding common ground from which we can have our discussion and disagreements. And that common foundation is the Bible.

    I'm not even saying I'm right, I'm just saying that if your going to convince me to change my mind, that's the place you'll need to start. I've never heard a war-supporting Christian make sense of Jesus' call to "Love your enemies", or the countless other passages that call for us to love others above ourselves. My intent is not to put myself above discussion or act as if I'm inline with God and others aren't, but simply to find and advocate for a common place and beginning to carry on discussion.
    (got long winded there, I think I'll stop now)

  10. great and thoughtfulreplies, thanks Ariah!

    I am a huge supporter of doing things that seem irrationaly when viewed from a "wordly and historical perspective"

    I'm also definitly a person that follows my gut!

    I would, however, (and i'm NOT saying you're doing this!) never claim that my gut was God, or the right thing for anyone else to do but me (and close friends, also a good point).

    I think that non-violence is definitly something that seems irrational when viewed by our society and commend you greatly for this blog!

    I think great change will come from it

  11. great and thoughtfulreplies, thanks Ariah!

    I am a huge supporter of doing things that seem irrationaly when viewed from a "wordly and historical perspective"

    I'm also definitly a person that follows my gut!

    I would, however, (and i'm NOT saying you're doing this!) never claim that my gut was God, or the right thing for anyone else to do but me (and close friends, also a good point).

    I think that non-violence is definitly something that seems irrational when viewed by our society and commend you greatly for this blog!

    I think great change will come from it

  12. great and thoughtfulreplies, thanks Ariah!

    I am a huge supporter of doing things that seem irrationaly when viewed from a "wordly and historical perspective"

    I'm also definitly a person that follows my gut!

    I would, however, (and i'm NOT saying you're doing this!) never claim that my gut was God, or the right thing for anyone else to do but me (and close friends, also a good point).

    I think that non-violence is definitly something that seems irrational when viewed by our society and commend you greatly for this blog!

    I think great change will come from it

  13. Ben,Thanks again, make sure to chime in more over here. I totally agree,about claiming “God told me” or anything in that category. I'm surethere are some out there who feel more of a solid 'connection' in thatregard, but I guess I'm just not one of them, and I'm usuallyskeptical (for better or worse) of people who are.

  14. Ben,Thanks again, make sure to chime in more over here. I totally agree,about claiming “God told me” or anything in that category. I'm surethere are some out there who feel more of a solid 'connection' in thatregard, but I guess I'm just not one of them, and I'm usuallyskeptical (for better or worse) of people who are.

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