David Clough and Brian Stiltner. Faith and Force: A Christian Debate About War

David L.Clough and Brian Stiltner. Faith and Force: A Christian Debate About War. Georgetown University Press, 2007.

A timely and interesting book. Clough is a British Methodist pacifist; Stiltner an American Catholic non-pacifist. They are friends and have gathered the results of a debate they had with one another over the moral acceptability of war, especially in the context of the U.S. and British war on Iraq.

I highly recommend it, not so much because either writer is necessarily extraordinarily able in presenting his views but because of their honest, respectful, and detailed give and take. They perform a great service in showing how the arguments supporting both pacifism and the acceptability of war might be challenged.  In most writing on this topic, you have one side or the other, allowing writers to evade the hard challenges.

Of course, as a pacifist, I prefer Clough’s presentation. But both writers make many good points and represent their viewpoints ably.

My biggest criticism would be that they treat the just war position mostly as the view that war should be prevented or even abolished. This is the view of some in that camp, most notably the American Catholic Bishops in their 1983 letter The Challenge of Peace. However, the view that war should be restrained (which is much more favorable concerning the moral acceptability of warfare) is not presented as being in the mainstream of the just war tradition–even though this is the view of several of the most important just war theorists (e.g., James Turner Johnson, Paul Ramsey, William T. O’Brien, probably John Courtney Murray).

In this way, the distance between pacifism and just war thought comes across as much less than if the restraint view were considered as the determinative view in the just war tradition. That is, the common ground these writers affirm may give a false impression that the differences in the “Christian debate about war” might be more amenable to resolution than is actually the case.

I am coming to suspect that the “just war” view is actually quite unstable. Those in the just war school who believe in preventing war are being pushed ever closer to pacifism. Those in the just war school who affirm restraining war (that is, making war more moral and therefore more acceptable) end up being very close to what I would call the “blank check” view (that when it comes to war, citizens essentially give their governments a blank check). 

So perhaps Stiltner may be moving closer to pacifism, but he does not represent the just war position as a whole, only one important strand within it.

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