I watched the documentary "Prince of Peace: God of War" yesterday. It was clearly a low budget film - just 'talking heads', a few still photos and some simple text graphics - but it was interesting and thought-provoking enough to be quite watchable for its entire running time of just over an hour.
The film is basically various theologians on both sides of the debate giving their opinions on 'just war' theory. Just in case it wasn't clear from what they said, each time a new interviewee appeared it would give his (all the theologians were male) name, affiliation and say either "(Just War)" or "(Pacifist)" - although most of the time it was totally clear from what they said anyway.
At one point the film director / producer lets his bias be known when he describes himself as a 'moderate pacifist' (although he then goes on to say that interviewing all the 'just war' theorists made him a lot more pacifist than he had been at the outset; I suspect it will have the same influence on the viewer).
The most striking difference between the two sets of theologians was their point of reference. All the 'pacifist' theologians used Jesus as the basis of their position, all the 'just war' theologians used the Bible as their basis. This, once again, made me consider the way believers approach the bible - is the whole thing the equally valid Word of God, or is Jesus himself the Word of God and the bible merely the book that points to him?
Certainly if you start with Jesus, it is clear that violence and war is never the answer (even in the clearing of the temple story, the apparent violence was never directed at people, but only used to overturn tables and disperse livestock), whereas if you start with the bible (especially if you start at the start) then war and violence are apparently acceptable - and even commanded - in certain circumstances. I think I'll stick to the red letters...
The film does have a bias, but even given that, I still think the 'pacifists' come over a lot better than the 'just war' people. Fundamentally, the pacifists seem like nicer people and the just war folk come across as being a bit smug and arrogant. The worst instance of this comes in the 2nd last scene of the film when the just war proponent 'Dr Victor Shepherd' (Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, Canada) makes the following statement:
"I myself want to be a pacifist with all my heart, and I'm almost there, until once again I see film footage of a five year old, an eight year old, a nine year old, Jewish children huddled on a railway platform in eastern Europe, three days away from their execution [...] When they arrived in such places as [...] Auschwitz, their parents were gassed first and then their bodies were fed into crematoria. The children were fed live into crematoria. Now at this point I have to tell you my pacifism evaporates. I fail to understand how anybody could not intervene, for the sake of those children, regardless of what that intervention entailed in situations like that."He then sat back with the most smug smile on his face that seemed to say "there, I've won, I've played the Nazi card and nothing can trump that...".
The final scene of the movie is a story told by Tony Campolo which absolutely does trump it. But you'll have to watch the film to find out what it was - unless I blog about it in a future posting.
But the attitude expressed seems to be this: Faced with the horror of the holocaust, there is no alternative but to resort to violence. Pacifists cannot intervene. There are no peaceful actions that can be taken. Things like that make me so angry I want to kill someone...
Sorry, but I don't buy it. As I say, Tony Campolo's story does trump it anyway, but even without that story, the message of Jesus remains clear: Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, be willing to die but not to kill.
Anyway, its a thought provoking film and the issue really should be one that is talked about in Christian circles, but in my experience it never is properly addressed. Recommended.