Peace and Revolution: The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism, by Guenter Lewy (Eerdmans, 284 pp.; $18.95, cloth). Reviewed by Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a syndicated columnist for Copley News Service. Bandow is author of Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics (Crossway).
In early 1975, the American-backed government of South Vietnam disintegrated in the face of a massive Communist military offensive. Leading pacifist groups uniformly hailed the conquest of North Vietnamese arms: A writer in WIN magazine, published by the War Resisters League, acclaimed the “triumph for revolutionary politics.” The few activists who condemned a military offensive that violated the Paris peace accords, left thousands dead, and trapped millions under Communist rule were roundly criticized for their arrogance in attacking the forces that had brought “peace” to Vietnam.
There was a time when pacifists truly believed in nonviolence, but Guenter Lewy, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, documents how the Vietnam War transformed antitotalitarian adherents of pacifism into left-wing advocates of revolutionary violence.
A National Conscience
Lewy reviews the tragic corruption of four major pacifist groups: the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), nominally a Quaker organization; the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), many of whose members were Quakers; the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), originally founded as a Christian association; and the War Resisters League (WRL), a secular group. His tone is one of sadness rather than anger, which makes the impact of his book all the more powerful.
“Until the 1960s,” writes Lewy, “American pacifism enjoyed a generally undisputed reputation of moral rectitude.” In 1933, for instance, the membership of the FOR voted overwhelmingly to oppose class warfare as well as international conflict; the group also rejected cooperation with Communist-front organizations. The three other pacifist bodies maintained similar policies. Over the ensuing years the pacifist movement, though small, acted as a national conscience, challenging the realpolitik guiding America’s foreign policy.
However, the groups’ orientations shifted as they began cooperating with leftist organizations to oppose the Vietnam War. Lewy may make too much of the AFSC’S switch from advocating a withdrawal of all outside forces to working for a unilateral American pullout—after all, the group could directly influence only U.S. policy. But he also documents the profound ideological move from opposing American intervention to supporting North Vietnamese aggression. All four of the major pacifist organizations suffered from wrenching internal conflict as principled pacifists resisted, unsuccessfully, the decision to back revolutionary violence.
This philosophical schizophrenia manifested itself not only in the macabre celebrations of North Vietnam’s military victory, but also in a profound reluctance to criticize Communist Vietnam for its massive human-rights violations. In 1977, for instance, FOR’S executive committee dissociated itself from an appeal circulated by two staff members, lamenting that the controversy “has tended to divide and disrupt the peace community.”
Leaning To The Left
This callous indifference to the victims of Marxist-Leninist revolutions persists. Pacifist groups lauded social progress in Cuba and the “experiment in new forms of social organization and development” in Grenada, and they now propagandize on behalf of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas.
But while opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America is eminently defensible, support for the Ortega regime is not. (Lewy sharply criticizes the pacifists’ noninterventionist stance, although it is certainly consistent with their principles.)
Indeed, the groups have been almost obsequious in dealing with the Sandinistas. According to Peace and Revolution, Joanne Sheehan of the WRL wrote Nicaragua’s ambassador to the U.S. to complain about the lack of conscientious-objector status for Nicaraguans; she prefaced her letter by assuring the ambassador that “the WRL is very much in support of the people’s revolution in Nicaragua.”
Also Reviewed In This Section:
The Excellent Empire, by Jaroslav Pelikan
Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response, edited by James K. Hoffmeier
What Is Judaism?by Emil L. Fackenheim
The Believable Futures of American Protestantism, edited by Richard John Neuhaus
Evangelical Renewal in the Mainline Denominations, edited by Ronald H. Nash
Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition, by Thomas C. Oden
The Episcopal Church in Crisis, by John Booty
The Episcopal Church’s History: 1945–1985, by David E. Sumner
The Evangelical Movement, by Mark Ellingsen
The Emerging Parish, by Joseph Gremillion and Jim Castelli
Communing With Great Minds
The Excellent Empire: The Fall of Rome and the Triumph of the Church, by Jaroslav Pelikan (Harper & Row, 133 pp.; $18.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Mark Noll, professor of history at Wheaton College (Ill.), and author of One Nation Under God? (Harper & Row).
Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor of History at Yale, is the author of several large works on the history of Christianity, especially his multivolume study of The Christian Tradition. But Pelikan is also the master of the literary cameo—the slim, but no less learned treatment of a specific theme. Books like The Vindication of Tradition, Bach Among the Theologians, and now The Excellent Empire testify to Pelikan’s mastery of this short form.
This book can best be called a thematic meditation in response to Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. To Gibbon, who shared the skepticism about supernatural Christianity characteristic of the Enlightenment, the fall of Rome resulted from “the triumph of barbarism and religion.” Pelikan’s intent is to contrast Gibbon’s interpretation with that of early leaders in the church who actually lived through “the decline and fall of Rome.”
Thus, while Gibbon saw the conversion of Constantine to Christianity as a portent of weakness, the early church historian Eusebius hailed it as the very climax of Rome’s glory.
Gibbon regarded the sack of Rome by Alaric the Goth in 410 as melancholy proof of decline. To the Bible translator Jerome, the same event was rather an apocalyptic sign of the in-breaking rule of Christ.
Gibbon, somewhat reluctantly, saw at least a little virtue in the Christianity that otherwise seemed to him the advance of superstition. But to Augustine of Hippo, the early church’s greatest theologian, the fall of Rome was the source of yet deeper ambiguities, as set out in The City of God, an even more monumental book than Gibbon’s.
Pelikan’s meditation on these themes is subtle, his writing is filled with quotations, and the themes of this short book are complex. It is, nonetheless, a delightful opportunity to peer over the shoulder of one of our age’s great minds as it communes with the great minds of the past.
American pacifism truly faces what Lewy calls a “moral crisis.” For while principled pacifism can be criticized for utopianism in a world in which freedom and justice can, at times, be maintained only by resort to the sword, it nevertheless offers an important moral standard by which to periodically measure our actions.
The corrupt form of pacifism that now animates the AFSC and its soulmates is, in contrast, dangerous as well as fraudulent, for it provides a humanitarian gloss for totalitarian ideologies that have institutionalized violence and suffering on a global scale.
This disturbing book by Guenter Lewy should cause those pacifists who have sold their moral inheritance for a pottage of political activism to return to their roots.
Life After Moses
In Congregation: Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich; xiv + 526 pp.; $29.95, hardcover), 37 leading writers—all American, all Jewish—reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures. The authors range from Max Apple to Elie Wiesel (with Mordecai Richler and Isaac Bashevis Singer in between). The tone ranges from angry to reverent. Here is Houston novelist Max Apple on the Book of Joshua:
“No doubt in the history of another people Joshua might be the chief hero. After all, it is Joshua who leads his army into the land of his enemies and triumphs there, Joshua who leads his people to the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham, Joshua who is the powerful, unyielding, triumphant general.
Alas, poor Joshua: to him falls the role of warrior among shepherds, soldier among dreamers, servant of the Lord who serves after Moses.…
Joshua knows that to succeed Moses is more difficult than to overcome Canaanites, Moses talked to God. Moses ascended Mount Sinai and returned with the Ten Commandments. Moses shaped a nation out of slaves, a moral nation, and then ‘though his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated,’ Moses died. At that dramatic moment the Torah ends. After Moses, in spite of all his accomplishments, everything is still to be done.
… [Joshua] is a powerful general, but how he wishes for the certainty of Moses, his ‘father’; how he wishes that the times were not out of joint, that he was still free to roam in the desert, in the great afterglow of the escape from Egypt and the numbing pleasure of the Manna which glistens like the dew and satisfies all hunger; how Joshua still longs to be the young man following orders; how much easier it is to spy out the land than to send in spies; how much easier to be the son than the father.”
Not Quite A Consensus
Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response, edited by James K. Hoffmeier (Baker, 260 pp.; $10.95, paper). Reviewed by Guy M. Condon, executive director of Americans United for Life Legal Defense Fund.
Fifteen Wheaton College faculty members have taken an interdisciplinary tug at one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.
The title, Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response, as well as the foreword by Wheaton College President Richard Chase and introduction by editor James K. Hoffmeier, suggest this collection of essays will foster a uniquely and definitively Christian view of abortion. However, while for the most part the book does move in that direction, it fails to show a consensus. In fact, in a few cases, it expresses views about the unborn more typically held by people who consider themselves atheists and in favor of abortion on demand.
The book first reviews historical, biblical, and theological perspectives on abortion. Its second section analyzes current ethical and philosophical trends, and a third section gives practical information about pregnancy, politics, the judiciary, statistics, sociological trends, and abortion counseling.
The first section, for the most part, exhibits a coherent analysis of biblical perspectives. According to Andrew E. Hill, “Abortion was apparently too unthinkable to the Hebrew mind—given ancient Near Eastern legal norms and divinely revealed covenant stipulations pertaining to life and godliness—that it did not even warrant treatment in the Old Testament legal corpora.” Hoffmeier, who teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College, tackles Exodus 21:22–25, which prescribes the punishment for one who harms a pregnant woman, causing her to deliver prematurely. The passage contains a vexing ambivalence over whether further retaliation, including death, relates to the injury brought to the child born prematurely or to the mother. Hoffmeier places the verses in context and effectively argues that “harm” appears to apply to the prematurely born child as well as the mother.
C. Hassell Bullock observes that “the prophetic and poetic books offer no prescriptive word on the subject of abortion.” But while these books do not give rules, “they say much about the supreme value of life.” And Victor R. Gordon writes that “the New Testament makes no mention of abortion,” but points out “abortion was not addressed, because it was not an issue for the Jewish community.…
“It was not until the second century that abortion became a serious temptation to Christians,” then influenced by Greco-Roman support of abortion practices.
A few hairline cracks in this first section begin to weaken the cohesion of the work as a whole, however. For example, Donald M. Lake tampers with the traditional idea that unborn life is sacred because it mysteriously embodies the image of God from the point of conception. He states that “image of God” is not something static, but dynamic, and regards the fetus as something less than a complete human being.
Cracks give way to fissures in the section on ethics. Philosophy teacher Arthur F. Holmes writes: “A human life is a created thing, therefore not of absolute, unconditional value.” Along the same lines, “abortion becomes increasingly objectionable” only “as pregnancy proceeds.”
Holmes, in referring to current U.S. policy, claims that “the law does [emphasis mine] and must enforce at least a minimal morality that is essential to the harmoniously functioning society.”
He encourages Christians to work toward a consensus that objects to late-term abortions, then expresses the consensus by proposing legislation that regulates abortion after the first trimester. Unfortunately, this would still permit 90 percent of the abortions taking place today.
Such a compromise seems to ignore Holmes’s opening statement that “the value Scripture places on human fetal life as a trust from God stands against abortion on demand.” It certainly conflicts with Hoffmeier’s conclusion: “Looking at Old Testament law from a proper cultural context, it is evident that the life of the unborn is put on the same par as a person outside the womb.”
In the final section, Lyman A. Kellstedt gives a pithy summary of how abortion on demand became public policy. James L. Rogers, who is currently researching the effects of public policy on moral behavior, provides an authoritative critique of research that has been used erroneously to support the abortion logic. Other essays give a biological description of pregnancy, some sociological insights on teen pregnancy, and insights on how to counsel people about abortion.
Hoffmeier and his colleagues have properly identified an urgent need within the Christian community to develop consensus, not to mention conviction, regarding abortion. Much of Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Response serves that purpose. But the work overall stands in need of a second editing that either leaves out Holmes’s chapter or rewrites the title and introduction to inform readers that they should expect diverse and traditionally unorthodox perspectives within the collection.
Commuing With Great Minds
What Is Judaism? An Interpretation for the Present Age, by Emil L. Fackenheim (Summit Books, 292 pp.; $18.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Reed Jolley, pastor of Santa Barbara (Calif.) Community Church.
In an essay entitled “On the Reading of Old Books,” C. S. Lewis argued that if one wants to understand Plato, for example, he should read Plato instead of a book explaining Platonism. Likewise, Christians should turn to Emil Fackenheim’s What Is Judaism? An Interpretation for the Present Age to understand twentieth-century Judaism, for here the reader encounters a cogent, lucid, and readable description from one within that faith.
At 22 years of age, Fackenheim, a rabbinical student, found himself in a Nazi jail cell with 20 other Jews. In that lurid setting, one of his cell mates asked, “What does Judaism have to say to us now?” Fackenheim remained silent.
What Is Judaism? is his belated attempt at an answer. The author asks what it means to be Jewish in light of the Holocaust, the death of European Jewry, and the creation of the State of Israel. In so doing he grapples with secularism, pluralism, higher critical studies of the Old Testament, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and Christian particularism. The net result is a refreshingly honest and insightful glimpse into modern Judaism.
Love For The Torah
As the author interacts with the modern world, he exposes the reader to the Jewish way of thinking and being. Throughout his pondering, Rabbi Fackenheim expresses his love for the Torah. Grace came into the world through Abraham, Moses, and, in particular, through the gift of the Torah, he says. Therefore, the Law is a “yoke,” not a burden. The Law teaches the Jew how best to live his or her life in today’s world.
Fackenheim also exposes the reader to his lifelong love of Midrash (Jewish commentary on the Law). In the various citations of Midrash, the world view of rabbinic Judaism shines warmly: “On Judgement Day every person will have to give account of every good that he might have enjoyed and did not” (quoted from Rabbi Rav in the third century).
Attempts At Conversion
Christian readers, pastors, and laymen alike will gain valuable insight by reading Fackenheim’s work. The author explains why Christian attempts at proselytizing are offensive to the Jew.
“A post-Holocaust Jew can still view Christian attempts to convert Jews as sincere and well intended. But even as such they are no longer acceptable: They have become attempts to do in one way what Hitler did in another.” In other words, the attempt to convert a Jew is to ask him to cease being Jewish and thus to undermine Judaism.
The author also offers evangelical readers a Jewish understanding of the Jewish scriptures. His understanding of the first part of our Bible is priceless for those reared in dispensational and Reformed traditions.
Fackenheim asks the right questions. Does God exist after Auschwitz? Is prayer efficacious? Is the Jewish tradition viable in our time? Is Messiah coming? His answers will both intrigue and grieve those who have placed their faith in Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
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