Posted by: Kenn Hermann | August 8, 2006

Oliver O’Donovan as an Aid in Thinking through the Israel-Hezbollah War

I, for one, am puzzled that we have not heard more from the Christian community on the implications of the Just War tradition (or, for that matter, the Pacifist tradition) for interpreting and understanding the current war in the Middle East. I have some thoughts along those lines for a future entry. In the meantime, we can all profit from meditating on the following.

Oliver O’Donovan, a prominent Anglican ethicist at Oxford, has turned his attention to the moral issues that Christians must consider in their understanding of warfare throughout his distinguished career. His latest book is The Just War Revisited (2003). I started reading in the hope of getting my bearings in the current conflict. Hardly a single person in the West disputes that Israel was somehow justified in defending itself against the threat of Hezbollah (I certainly do not) — and yet consider this quotation from the first two pages of the book.

“The will of God for humankind is peace: that all-determining truth contains, and shapes, any further truths that we may hope to learn on this subject. And from it flow three futher propositions. First, God’s peace is the original ontological truth of creation. We must deny the sceptical proposition that competition and what metaphysicians call ‘difference’ are the fundamental realities of the universe, a proposition which the creation, preservation and redemption of the world make impossible to entertain. Secondly, God’s peace is the goal of history. We must deny the supposed cultural value of war, its heroic glorification as an advancement of civilization. For war serves the ends of history only as evil serves good,, and the power to bring good out of evil belongs to God alone. Thirdly, God’s peace is a practical demand laid on us. We must deny any ‘right’ to the pursuit of war, any claim on the part of a people that it may sacrifice its neighbours in the cause of its own survival or prosperity. For the Gospel demands that we renounce goods that can only be won at the cost of our neighbours’ good.” 1-2

Even though Judaism does not adhere to the Augustinian-Thomist tradition of Just War thinking, we in the Christian community must still strive to interpret the current conflict through the lens of the Gospel. I am particularly struck by the third corollary in light of Israel’s claim that laying waste to Lebanon is the only way it can protect its homeland and root out Hezbollah.


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