Stanley Hauerwas–Man of war: Why C.S. Lewis was not a pacifist

Many people are Christians because of the work of C.S. Lewis. With wit and wisdom, Lewis imaginatively exploded the hollow pretensions of the secular. Moreover, he helped many see, for the first time, the world in the light of fact that “it had really happened once.”

It is, therefore, not easy to criticize Lewis when he has such a devoted following. Yet I must write critically of Lewis because here I want to examine his views concerning violence and war. I am a pacifist. Lewis was anything but a pacifist. I want to show that his arguments against pacifism are inadequate, but I also that he provides imaginative resources for Christians to imagine a very different form of Christian nonviolence, a form unknown to Lewis, with which I hope he might have had some sympathy.

Before turning to Lewis’s arguments against pacifism, I think it important to set the context for his more formal reflections on war by calling attention to Lewis’s experience of war.

Read it all.


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17 comments on “Stanley Hauerwas–Man of war: Why C.S. Lewis was not a pacifist

  1. carl+ says:

    “Christian noviolence, a form unknown to Lewis”. Hauerwas (and Yoder) never substantiates this claim, nor elsewhere, do they successfully demonstrate that two types of Christian pacificism actually exist. Lewis on the other hand, as Hauerwas confirms, was well aware of the many “aspects” of pacificism, none of which changed its essential nature. Additionally, I find it disturbing that Hauerwas confuses the Cross as means and end in order to justify his understanding of Jesus’ non-resistance as pacificism (Mt 26:53).

  2. David Hein says:

    Cf. the life, death, and witness of Maj. Hugh E. J. Lister, a combatant officer in the Welsh Guards, killed during the battle to take Hechtel, Belgium, several months after the Normandy breakout. He, too, was devoted to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In fact, he was a priest of the Church of England and–to his friend Austin Farrer–“the one saint of his generation.” But Lister knew he had to take up arms against Nazi tyranny. Thank God for Hugh Lister.

    For more:

    Hein, David. “Hugh Lister (1901–44): A Modern Saint?” Theology 103 (2000): 339–46.

    Hein, David. “Hugh Lister (1901-44): Priest, Labor Leader, Combatant Officer.” Anglican and Episcopal History 70 (2001): 353-74.

    Hein, David. “Farrer on Friendship, Sainthood, and the Will of God.” In Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer, ed. David Hein and Edward Hugh Henderson, 119-148. New York and London: T & T Clark/Continuum, 2004. See pp. 120-128: i.e., the section entitled “Exemplar: Hugh Lister.”

  3. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    One of the things that I never can quite get past from the Pacifist crowd’s arguments is that they never take any responsibility for Pacifism’s historic failures. Europe tried very hard to be Pacifist time and again in the lead up to World War II in relationship to Hitler. Time and again, that Pacifism only emboldened Hitler. If the rest of Western Europe and America had stepped up to Hitler from the beginning and said, “Uh, no, you are not going to re-arm Germany against the Treaty of Versailles, and we will stop you by whatever means necessary,” I am not convinced World War II would ever have happened. That is precisely because Pacifism failed in the face of a mad man.

    Even Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a flaming Pacifist for most of his adult life, came to believe that Hitler had to be opposed. When you have a greater evil and a lesser evil, you have to pick the lesser evil, and if that means you have to give up your seat in heaven, you do it because when the Church fails, you have no other option.

  4. David Hein says:

    “Europe tried very hard to be Pacifist time and again in the lead up to World War II in relationship to Hitler.”

    A. Hastings’s History of English Christianity is very good on that period.

  5. majorc says:

    It’s ironic that the pacifism so prevalent after WWI was in fact a contributing factor I believe in the horrific slaughter that became WWII. Europe was so eager to “get along” with Hitler they failed to recognize the growing evil and deal with it. Can you be a true pacifist and allow the slaughter of innoncents?

  6. Randy Hoover-Dempsey says:

    One of the most common critiques of TEC is that it is enculturated, that it is adopting the cultural norms of the society in place of the norms of Christianity. However, critics of TEC display their own enculturation in their quick defense of the abuses of militarism and capitalism.

    The historic evidence of the misuse of scripture to support cultural evils abounds. Sermons were preached throughout our country using scripture to support slave-holding and to demonize abolitionists. Those preachers were wrong, and their willingness to abuse the Gospel to prove their point is shameful.

    The primary question for those of us who follow Jesus as Savior is, Who is Lord? As a sinner in need of Jesus and his cleansing work, I am daily reminded that I, like my slave-holding and ignorant brethren from the past, may be wrong in what I believe. It is only by God’s grace and mercy that any of us can live in unity, constancy and peace.

    I appreciate Hauerwas and his efforts. I understand what he means when he says that he is a pacifist because he is aware of his own propensity for violence.

  7. MichaelA says:

    #3 in particular is very well put. C. S. Lewis understood that life was not simple. He loathed war, as did his friend and fellow christian Tolkien. Both had experienced it and never wanted to go through it again. But they were also both realists who understood that sometimes war is inevitable, and sometimes there are worse things than it.

  8. David Hein says:

    “However, critics of TEC display their own enculturation in their quick defense of the abuses of militarism and capitalism.”

    Who? Citation, quotation? Otherwise, I begin to smell the faint damp odor of a straw man. I’ve heard people accept a just-war defense (with all its recognition of tragedy) of taking up arms in the Second World War and I’ve heard people offer a nuanced defense of democratic capitalism as the best option for the poor, but, even though I read a lot, I don’t remember hearing a “quick defense of the abuses of militarism and capitalism.” And if I did hear such, I’m sure I would have written it off as not worth paying attention to.

    “I understand what he means when he says that he is a pacifist because he is aware of his own propensity for violence.” Well, sure: if Hauerwas needs to be a pacifist in order to keep from being violent, then by all means he should be a pacifist; and we should all be grateful. We should all oppose violence and strive for peace, both among nations and in our neighborhoods and families. But I don’t know of anyone who, on the personal level, was a greater lover of peace and hater of war (and this person knew war and its sacrifices intimately) than George C. Marshall. If I were around him, I would not have worried about his propensity for violence, but I would have been grateful to him for his willingness to use power justly to halt unjust violence and premeditated murder on a massive scale.

  9. MichaelA says:

    [blockquote] “To be able to conceive a world without war would have been the kind of imaginative challenge befitting an imagination like that of Lewis.” [/blockquote]
    But Lewis did! This is where Hauerwas doesn’t seem to know Lewis’ writings as well as he claims: The societies of Malacandra in “Out of the Silent Planet” and Perelandra in “Voyage to Venus” were without war – because they were without sin.

    Lewis was smart enough to know that a truly pacifist society is only possible if there is no sin, and he did imagine this, and wrote in detail about it.

  10. Randy Hoover-Dempsey says:

    Well, David, as I said, I might be wrong. However, if you think I’m constructing a straw man or woman, this must be your first visit to the comments section of this blog. Welcome.

  11. Sarah says:

    RE: “However, critics of TEC display their own enculturation in their quick defense of the abuses of militarism and capitalism.”

    Yes — it’s disgraceful how all those critics of TEC constantly defend all the [i]abuses[/i] of militarism and capitalism, rather than simply defending just war and capitalism as they should.

    One wonders why Randy Hoover-Dempsey brought that up on this thread. I might as well say on this same thread: “However, TEC-liberals-pretending-to-be-moderates display their own love of gay marriage in their quick defense of clown eucharists and hip hop masses.”

    Perhaps true, on occasion, but irrelevant to the thread and apparently placed here merely to bring up “abuses of militarism and capitalism” rather than actually explaining why one supports pacifism.

  12. Randy Hoover-Dempsey says:

    First of all, “Bravo” to Canon Harmon for posting this Hauerwas article.

    Secondly, I would characterize militarism as the opposite of pacifism. We live in a culture and economy that has deep roots in militarism: 1. We exist in an almost perpetual state of war with someone. 2. The amount of our national budget which goes to pay for wars, present and past, and for our citizens who have been participants and victims of wars is vast. How much of our religious conversation is dedicated to issues of war and peace as compared to issues of sex and property?

    Thirdly, our enculturation–no matter what our political and theological perspective–gets in the way of our mission.

  13. Randy Hoover-Dempsey says:

    And, finally, enculturation is a major theme of this blog whatever the topic. This is made clear by the sticky note at the top of the blog for the last weeks. The implication being that there is a cultural and theological purity that may be found here that cannot be found elsewhere, especially in The Episcopal Church. My experience and theology leads me to believe that we are all sinners, and that our sin permeates everything that we do.

  14. Sarah says:

    RE: “And, finally, enculturation is a major theme of this blog whatever the topic.”

    That’s lovely. Thanks for sharing that.

    But I see that David Hein also pointed out the strewn red herring above which is that nobody’s offering “quick defense of the abuses of militarism and capitalism” on this thread.

    Sure would be easier if someone would just go ahead and argue for or against pacifism so that then something more substantive could be said in response. But instead we have a trail away from the topic, all about the purported “quick defense of the abuses of militarism and capitalism” by people who criticize TEC.

    David Hein, Archer, Carl+, majorc, and MichaelA, thanks for the substantive and informing comments on this thread. I enjoyed listening in.

  15. majorc says:

    #14 – I don’t think anyone will step up to defend “…abuses of militarism or capitalism…” unless you regard the military and capitalism as inherently evil. Surely not.

  16. dwstroudmd+ says:

    Jesus told the soldiers :
    Luke 3:14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence* to no man, neither accuse [any] falsely; and be content with your wages.

    *1) to shake thoroughly; 2) to make to tremble; 3) to terrify; 4) to agitate; 5) to extort from one by intimidation money or other property

    He didn’t tell them to be pacifists, apparently. And they did ask. So this is not an argument from silence. Soldiering, professionally, was not forbidden by Jesus; intimidation was. Interesting.

    Now, personally, I’ll take Lewis any day over Hauerwas and probably on any subject – which is not to say the latter is always in error, but in this I think he errs.

  17. Michael Snow says:

    Some comments completely misunderstand Christian pacifism: “…they never take any responsibility for Pacifism’s historic failures.” #3
    This is a utilitarian view. Christians who are pacifists out of a sense of obedience to following Christ’s commands and example may indeed be historic failures in the world’s eyes.
    “Lewis was smart enough to know that a truly pacifist society is only possible if there is no sin…” #9
    A ‘pacifist society’ is a Utopian vision, not a Christian one. The early Christians were not pacifists because they hoped for a Utopia or to transform society. They abhorred bloodshed and ‘could not bear to see a man put to death, even justly.’
    Cyprian: “The world is wet with mutual blood(shed): and homicide is a crime when individuals commit it, (but) it is called a virtue, when it is carried on publicly.”
    etc. see C. John Cadoux’s classic on early Christians and war.
    And the same with later pacifists.
    C.H. Spurgeon:
    “What pride flushes the patriot’s cheek when he remembers that his nation can murder faster than any other people. Ah, foolish generation, ye are groping in the flames of hell to find your heaven, raking amid blood and bones for the foul thing which ye call glory. Killing is not the path to prosperity; huge armaments are a curse
    to the nation itself as well as to its neighbours.” 1026.706
    D.L. Moody: “There has never been a time in my life when I felt that I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow-being. In this respect I am a Quaker.”