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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

What about Hitler?

A persistent viral infection has found me curled up at home reading and given me the opportunity to go back and work my way through some of the books piled up on my bedside table, while in the background the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq is announced and analysed.

The inability of radio journalists to press politicians on the impact of the war on Iraqi society and on the difficulty of arriving at any unambiguous assessment of what that military intervention has meant is frustrating.

Brendan Nelson seemed remarkably comfortable with the assessment that Iraqis were happy not to have security forces torturing them and their families now that Sadaam's regime has gone. Fair point but he was not then pressed on the issue of how that might be balanced against the internal conflict with torture, banditry, kidnapping and civil war with the result that there have been 2 million refugees and two million other Iraqis displaced within the country. Even on a utilitarian ethical assessment that might be a difficult calculation to balance out even after 5 years and politicians are mostly utilitarian, most of the time. but no Brendan wasn't pressed on that issue.

The difficulties of responding to such "wicked problems" are ones that Christians who take Jesus's teaching and life seriously have to struggle with continually. It often pops up for example in the "What about Hitler?" question.

One of the books I have picked up to work my way through is Robert Brimlow's book of that title, with the subtitle "Wrestling with Jesus's call to Nonviolence in an Evil World' (Brazos Press, 2006).

Robert Brimlow in the introduction makes his starting point clear:

...part of what is entailed in our call to follow Jesus is that we are called away from violence. We are not called to be pacifists; we are called to be christians, and part of what it means to to be Christians is to be peacemakers. ...

The gospel is full of teachings that counsel us to make peace by following Jesus, and there are numerous examples from the Lord's life that illustrate what those counsels mean. The problem is that those counsels and teachings and examples are very clear, while at the same time they seem to be impossible. What makes them hard is not that they are too vague or so broadly expressed that they are open to a wide variety of contrary interpretations. They are straightforward and unambiguous. (p.11)

Brimlow is making the point that the call to peacemaking is an essential element of discipleship not some add on for those interested in political or social activism.

While our recognition that we are called to be disciples might occur suddenly, the transformation that is required takes time. The way to become faithful is live faithfully. ... Christian peacemaking makes sense and ceases to be absurd only when it is embedded in a life of faithfulness and practices that arise from our faithfulness. (p.13)

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