Thursday, March 3, 2022
It's Thursday, March 3rd, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Christian Just War Theory: Some Principles for Thinking Christianly in Light of Attacks on Civilian Areas in Ukraine
Very sad news coming out of Ukraine as the Ukrainian people continue a very brave defense against the Russian invasion and offensive. One of the interesting things to note right now is the fact that to the moral horror of a watching world, Russia is using munitions against civilians that are outlawed by the Geneva Convention. We're looking at so-called cluster munitions, but we're also looking at the intentional effort to use weaponry that will scare the Ukrainian people into subservience or surrender.
This form of psychological warfare is very common, as you look at the history of warfare throughout the centuries of world history, but we need to understand that as we are in the modern world, there are new weapons that bring even deadlier opportunities for striking against civilians.
Now, as you are thinking through this, I just want to take us back to some basic issues of Christian worldview thinking when it comes to war. And as we're thinking about war, the Christian church has had to struggle with this issue for a matter of centuries. There have been very few periods of peace in the world. Generally, at some point, somewhere in the world, there's armed conflict. The Christian worldview based in a realistic understanding of sin understands that human individuals will sin, but also collectives of human individuals will sin. And that includes communities at one level, tribes at another, and nations. Nations will war against nations.
So the Christian church has struggled throughout the centuries to try to think in consistent biblical and theological fidelity about the question, the horrifying question of war. When is war justified? If justified, how is war to be fought? This is known classically as Christian just war theory.
All three of those words are important. Just, meaning when is a war justly fought and justifiable in terms of the use of arms. And it also comes down to Christian. That's the most important to the modifiers here. It's not just an understanding of the justice or injustice of war. It is a distinctively Christian biblical understanding. And yes, it is a theory. That is to say, it's an intellectual framework. So, Christian just war theory has been developed rather consistently throughout the history of the Christian church. And it's interesting to note that Christian just war theory is basically affirmed by the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic Church and the historic Protestant churches.
It is deeply rooted in distinctively Christian modes of thinking. For example, there's a great division in the two questions. Number one, when is war justified? That means that the Christian understands there is a very limited set of circumstances in which recourse to arms is justified. And it generally comes down to the very first principle being this, a justified war must be a war of defense, not a war of offense. So in other words, if you declare war and invade another country, the burden of proof is on you to show that this was somehow justifiable.
And it's on that count by the way that Vladimir Putin failed spectacularly. His invasion of Ukraine is an offensive invasion and he has used as justification, ridiculous, frankly irrational charges such as the charge that Ukraine was getting ready to invade Russia. So based upon biblical principles, Christian just war theory is underlying the fact that it is without justification that a nation would invade a nation just to gain political advantage, just to gain its territory. And of course, all you have to think about are the horrifying wars of just the 20th century to understand just how difficult it is to justify invading another nation.
But that just war theory, pointing to when war is justifiable, has several different points. And one of them has to be that war has to be the last resort. All other efforts at trying to achieve some kind of peace must have failed. And again, we're looking at a situation of abject moral failure as we consider Russia's armed invasion against Ukraine.
But the second half of Christian just war theory isn't about when war is justifiable, but about the justifiable means of conducting war. Now again, this is really important. One of the most crucial principles of how a war is fought justly is that combat must be limited to combatants rather than to civilians. In other words, it's really important in moral terms that civilians be protected and that the distinction between combatants and civilians be recognized.
Now, in the course of modern warfare, and in particular with the development of modern aerial bombardment, and that came specifically as a moral challenge in World War II, this particular principle of Christian just war theory has been tested to the limit.
But in the case of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, what we're really talking about is not complicated questions at all. What we're talking about are very clear questions. And now the report comes from many international observers that the Russians are using cluster munitions and other forms of modern weaponry in order to basically beat the civilian population into subservience, and in order to lead civilians to demand a surrender on the part of the Ukrainian government.
In one sense, you could describe this as psychological warfare, but that's almost always in the history of human civilization what the targeting of civilians means. It is generally an effort to try to destroy the credibility of the opposing government. That would be, in this case, to try to subvert the government of Ukraine by leading the people simply to demand at fear for their own lives, that the nation would surrender to an attacking foe.
This is where the overwhelming evidence coming from the media indicate that the shelling against residential communities in Ukrainian cities. It is particularly seen as an egregious reach of Christian just war theory, the Geneva Convention, and other international accords by targeting civilians rather than hardened armed and military targets. And once again, we just have to underline the likely intention here is what can only be described as psychological warfare. And let's not minimize just how whole horrifying psychological warfare is. You have families, you have civilians who cannot sleep simply because they are afraid of their own apartment or complex being targeted by a missile or shelling. This situation is generally intolerable for civilian populations, at least for very long. The Ukrainians are holding out quite bravely.
War in Ukraine Brings a Return to Objective Truth in Post-Christian Europe: The Sobering Reality of War and Moral Urgency to Confront Truth
But next I want to turn, just to understand that this Christian just war theory is so deeply embedded by Christian influence in Western patterns of thought that it has awakened in one sense, even the rather secular post-Christian nations of Europe to the reality that they are missing and must now go back and find a certain kind of moral logic that actually can only be explained by the history of Christian thought.
That leads us to another big issue. And it comes up in a news report by Roger Cohen published in the New York Times just yesterday. The headline in the article, "Europe Abandons Indifference to Lift Up Ukraine's Cause." Roger Cohen is reporting on the fact that many secular liberal European nations had basically bought into the idea of cosmopolitan peace to the extent that they simply denied the obvious when looking at the potential aggression of Russia against Ukraine, the threats. But now of course, it's not just a threat, it's an actual invasion.
But now I want to point to a particular paragraph in the article, "If the idea of truth, in the United States as elsewhere, appeared to have been lost in the disorienting bombardment of social media, with the line between fact and falsehood ever fainter, the sheer enormity of Russian lies — the denial of the existence of a war, for example — appears to have done something to restore its value and importance."
So now we're told that perhaps this historical occurrence with the Russian invasion of Ukraine has convinced even some people in post-Christian Europe that there are indeed some moral facts that can be known and cannot sanely be ignored, and that there is an objective right and an objective wrong. This is a far bigger story and Christians understand it, because what we have seen over the course of the last say 150 years in Western civilization has been an intentional, very pervasive effort to try to subvert the very idea of truth. Now, in one sense, that's necessary to the secular project. You can't have a successful secularism if you're going to argue that truth is objectively real. And the reason for that is simple, because when it comes to so much of what has to be operationally recognized as truth, it's not as simple as something that can be mathematically explained like 5+5=10. Murder is wrong, but on what basis can you claim that murder is wrong?
If you deny that there is any objective truth or, in more subtle forms, if you deny that objective truth can be known, you're left with nothing more than arguing that truth is an argument. That's it. Truth and argument. You have your truth. Oprah, for example, that great moral philosopher of the 21st century, Oprah is famous for saying to people, "Tell me your truth." Well, as you think about the reality of truth, your truth had better be the truth or your truth is not the truth. But we're living in a time of moral relativism, and that relativistic understanding of truth has been so pervasive in society that, here's my point.
In yesterday's edition of the New York Times, you actually have a report in the elite media saying, hey, wait just a minute. Maybe we do need that idea that moral facts are real. That's fascinating. Christians need to be alert every once in a while to watching what goes on in the world and recognizing that the world's pretensions about truth or, for that matter, the non-existence of truth just fail.
So let's just remind ourselves of how we reach this predicament. Over the course of the last two centuries, but in particular, over the course of the last century, those who have sought to liberate humanity from the constraints of say the Judeo-Christian tradition or particularly the authority of Christianity and the culture, they have argued that truth is basically just an argument that is used by the powerful to limit the powerless. And so liberation is in destroying the idea of truth.
Now, as we think about say the last decades of the 20th century, given currents in French and German European thought, there arose the movement known as postmodernism, the idea that modernity was based upon rejecting scientific knowledge for non-scientific arenas and limiting what might be said to be real or unreal truth or untruth to the scientific arena or to the kinds of facts that could be ascertainable by the scientific method.
So again, here's the point. You can ascertain the exact weight that is the atomic weight of a cesium atom by scientific investigation. But you cannot, by scientific investigation, come to the conclusion that a lie is a sin and that the truth is superior. That is a judgment that is not susceptible to scientific investigation.
And here's something else. Most of us live most of our lives in the non-scientific arena. Most of what parents say to their children is not particularly scientific. It might accord with science, but they're not there to argue about the Bernoulli principle or the law of gravity. They're to say, don't hit your sister. Entire structures of post-secular thinking involving such things as critical theory have been based upon the idea that any claim to truth is a barely disguised claim to power. It is oppressive. It is patriarchal. It represents hegemony.
All those words are current in the academy, and we're supposed to avoid them until all of a sudden someone says, "Hey, it's wrong to invade another country." Well, do you mean that as an attitude? Are you expressing an emotion? Or do you mean that it's actually morally wrong?
Now here's where Christians need to get excited, because this means that the conversation is moving into our territory. Interesting, we should say to the secularists. You say it's wrong. I know it's wrong. But why do you think it's wrong? Do you just dislike it? Do you have an emotional state that tells you that war is something morally inferior to peace? Do you think it's somehow absolutely wrong? Well, if you do believe that something say is absolutely wrong or absolutely right, who made it so? How is it so? It cannot be a matter of math. It has to be matter of something far more comprehensive.
So again, Christians need to recognize the conversation is strangely enough, in this moral urgency, moving in a direction that gives us opportunities, perhaps even in talking with our classmates, with our neighbors, with our coworkers saying, yes, I think you're absolutely right. There is moral right and there is moral wrong. I want to ask you why you believe it. I want to have the opportunity to tell you why I believe it. And that's where you go to scripture. You go to the moral character of God.
The Oligarch Paradox: So What is Oligarchy, and What’s behind the Western Strategy to Force Russia's Oligarchs to Suffer?
But next, I want to shift to something else that is very interesting. And this tells us something about how force is brought about, how influence is brought about in a society. And an interesting word has emerged, and it even came out in President Biden's State of the Union address. Oligarch, and in particular Russian oligarchs. Lots of news reports coming in the last 48 to 72 hours about some of the Russian oligarchs now deciding that Vladimir Putin's war is costing them too much.
Now, interestingly, the President of the United States in his State of the Union address on Tuesday indicated that a part of the official strategy of the United States is to cause the Russian oligarch's unbelievable, unprecedented pain. Now why? Do Americans dislike Russian oligarchs? No, that's not the basic issue here. The basic issue here is that Vladimir Putin can't survive if enough of the Russian oligarchs decide he is too expensive to keep, he is costing us too much. He must go.
So let's be blunt. What is happening here is that the United States government and ally governments are trying to make the Russian oligarchs experience so much pain that they will decide they have to get rid of Vladimir Putin and they must end Vladimir Putin's war. It might turn out to be a brilliant strategy, but it reminds us of some basic insights we gain from the Christian worldview.
For example, the word oligarch. It points a system of ordering society known as an oligarchy. Now, we won't do the etymology here. I'll simply tell you. It means that a very few people who hold very much power hold almost all the property. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Russia. In Russia, most of the power, most of the property, most of the capital, most of the dachas, most of the mansions, most of the land, and most of the economic activity is controlled by just a handful of people.
Now, in the west, we would refer to this as the ultimate form of crony capitalism. That is to say, people simply enrich themselves and their families and their cronies and that's it. But in Russia, it's high art. So let's just think about human history for a moment. Oligarchy has basically been the rule throughout the history of human civilization. There have been a few people who have owned just about everything. The rest of the people owned just about nothing. So in Russia, you had the aristocrats, the aristocracy on the one hand and the surfs and even those who had less than the surfs on the other hand. The same was true, even as you think of a society, more egalitarians, such as say, Britain, or more properly England. There, you had the landed gentry, the aristocrats that often had ennobled titles, they were dukes, viscounts, earls and all the rest. They had vast land holdings.
Now, by the way, that's better than one person owning everything. So just a little worldview hint here about history, the British aristocracy forced King John, you'll recall in the Magna Carta, to sign an agreement whereby he could no longer exercise despotic rule. So in other words, having at least so several people owning everything is better than having one person own everything.
When the framers of the United State and our order, when the founders came over, people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others, they established landed estates. And some of them came by it by aristocratic inheritance. But most of them actually accumulated it by their own labor. And they built homes imitating the English gentry in order to say our power and property will be dispersed in order to avoid a dictatorship or an autocracy.
In the Soviet Union, you just had a new form of the aristocrats owning everything and the serfs owning nothing. It was the ruling elite of the Communist Party that had everything. With the breakup of communism and with the eventual crackup of the Soviet Union, several powerful people and their friends moved in to just get about everything, to claim property, to gain control of vast sectors of the economy and hold it for themselves.
Russia is an oligarchy. It's property, it's businesses, it's commerce, it's booming energy sector, all of that is basically in control of a very few. Vladimir Putin, Western intelligence sources indicate, is worth something like $100 billion. Now just let that soak in for a moment. What if you were to find out that someone to spent his entire life as a middle class person in public office, and somehow retired with $100 billion. Think most Americans would, just put it bluntly, smell a rat. But in Russia, the rat is called the president. But I'm using the word rat here strategically because you know the old adage about what happens when a sinking ship goes down and the rats leave. And as you're looking at the crony capitalism and the oligarchy of Russia, you see the Western strategy now. Make the oligarchs suffer, capture their yachts, take their condominiums in London, take over their properties, seize their bank accounts, freeze all of their assets and maybe they, like rats fleeing a ship, will decide they have to get rid of the person who's sinking the ship in the first place.
It's an interesting strategy. It'll be interesting to see if it works, but the Christian worldview principles here are that, once again, the concentration of too much power and too much wealth in too few is given the Christian understanding of the power of sin an invitation to corruption and inevitable disaster.
Various Aspects of Culture Coalesce around a Moral Judgment as FIFA and the Metropolitan Opera Cancel Russia: The Inescapability and Comprehensiveness of the Biblical Worldview
One final aspect we see, all of the sudden, developing in the Russian and aggression against Ukraine, the power of culture and using culture in order to bring about change. Now, this gets down to the fact that between nations, cultural ties are extremely important. And this is where you have not only a lot of attention. Just consider the Olympics, but also the entire world of international sports and international competitions and international music and international art.
As you think back to the Cold War, one of the first cracks in the Cold War came with cultural exchanges between the United States and what was then the Soviet Union. But one of the things happening right now is that aspects of the culture, powerful forces in the culture, are having to take a moral stand. Just consider the International Olympic Committee and FIFA that's F-I-F-A, the organization that governs world soccer. FIFA and the IOC have said no more Russian competition and competitors for the foreseeable future. And that's going to come as an enormous blow, not only to the teams and the competitors, but to the entire world of international sport. But a moral stand has to be taken. When organizations like the IOC and FIFA take this kind of action, you can count on the fact that they are doing so only because they see the situation as extreme.
But here's another interesting aspect. It's one thing perhaps for Putin to make the Russian oligarchs mad. It might be another thing for him to make millions of soccer fans mad. In any event, flights are being ended. The airspace of Europe and North America is largely closed to Russian airlines. Russian citizens can't get in or out of their own country. They can't transfer money. Their stock exchange is plunging. The value of the ruble is also depreciating very quickly. And you also have even more. These are fascinating headlines that Christians need to understand are part of a bigger picture.
Here's one. And it's in the style section, the culture section of yesterday's New York Times. I doubt any Christians find their way there, but nonetheless, Javier Hernandez has written an article. Here's the headline, "Metropolitan Opera Cuts Ties with Pro-Putin Artists." Well, think of it this way. As you're talking about soccer, you're talking about one very wide dimension of the culture. It's the most popular sport worldwide. When you're talking about opera, fair to say a little more rarefied, a smaller audience. But it turns out that the Metropolitan Opera in New York has now decided no more artists regardless of their ability. It doesn't matter how high a note they can reach, if they are ardent in their support for Vladimir Putin, no more singing at the Metropolitan Opera.
In another report in the same paper, Javier Hernandez reports, "Valery Gergiev, the star Russian maestro and prominent supporter of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, was removed Tuesday from his post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic after he refused to denounce Mr. Putin's invasion of Ukraine." And a Russian diva identified as one of opera's biggest international stars, who also has ties to Mr. Putin, "saw her engagements with the Bavarian State Opera canceled and the Zurich Opera House announced that she had withdrawn from her next performances there."
So what are we looking at here? Very, very interesting. We're looking at various dimensions of the culture coalescing around a moral judgment. Now again, there's a lot more to be said about this, but here's what's really important for Christians to recognize. Dogs don't make moral judgements. Now dogs don't sing in the opera and they don't get canceled from the opera, but cows are not debating the moral right or wrongness of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Caterpillars are doing their caterpillar thing. Only human beings think this way, because only human beings are made in the image of God. And the biblical worldview tells us not only that human beings can think this way, but that human beings cannot not think this way. In terms of what is known as creation revelation, this is one of those things that human beings cannot not know. You cannot not know that murder is wrong, because it is built into creation and it is built inside our moral conscience by a holy God who made us in his image.
A lot more to be said here, but it is really, really fascinating to see how a moral consensus is developing in a society that said for so many years, morality is just relative. All of a sudden it realizes, wait just a minute. If morality's relative, we can't make this judgment, and we have to make this judgment.
And then we see various sectors of society having to join in a moral judgment at great reluctance. This has to do with FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, international bankers, Bitcoin, and the Metropolitan Opera. What other moral judgment right now combines moral action required of all of them?
There will be a lot more for us to consider, but I wanted to spend the time today on The Briefing looking at these developments, because we have no way to expect that all of this will come together with such clarity in any other series of headlines in the near future.
We need not to miss what is happening right now and understand how the Christian worldview, the biblical worldview alone, allows us to think sanely and consistently about the moral reality of what we are seeing.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you before a live audience in Santa Clarita, California, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for the Briefing.