A THEOLOGICAL METAPHYSIC
7-1. I have assumed that God is the ultimate source of all good, and that God is
universally good, or omnibenevolent.
If this assumption is valid, then it follows logically enough that God is incapable
of any evil thing, including simple retribution, for retribution implies not only requiting
good for good, but evil for evil. That is, divine justice is not in the least retributive
but is instead totally good and thus always forgiving. Thus do we see the solution to
the ancient riddle as to how God can be both infinitely just and infinitely merciful at
the same time: God's justice is mercy, forgiveness, and everything else that follows
from its core of unconditional benevolence. All of this follows from the assumption
of the omnibenevolence of God.
God, as the author of all good and of no evil, would be as incapable of doing evil
as he would of lying. An omnibenevolent God would thus be constrained to use only
good means in order to achieve his good ends. God could therefore never retribute
evil for evil, even for the sake of the most perfect end: God could not retribute evil
for evil, even if the offense were against himself or against the most innocent of his
Does this imply limitations of divine power? Does the claim of the
omnibenevolence of God contradict the idea of an omnipotent God? The answer is
in the negative, but only if it is also assumed that good is more powerful than evil: in
foregoing evil means, God relinquishes no power, for evil means do not have the
power to promote lasting good.
7-2. A statist, retributive conception of justice, in comparison with divine justice,
must entail the requirement to requite good for good acts, and evil for evil acts. So
conceived, God and the state embody different conceptions of justice.
The retributive state cannot be the agent of the non-retributive God, for nothing
that acts in an evil capacity could be ordained of a God who cannot do any evil.
Moreover, since by definition there can be only one sovereign, we must choose
between divine and statist conceptions of justice, and thus between allegiance to God
and to the violent, retributive state.
Along the same line, belief in a non-retributive God forces one to reconceptualize
the concept of a just peace: a just peace is one wherein the social order is achieved
and maintained only by just means. Since the conception of "just" or "justice" used
here is a non-retributive conception, then the idea of "just means" would therefore
preclude any act of war, violence, or threat of such.
7-3. From metaphysical assumptions we can go directly to ethical conclusions.
We can also go to the central problems of political theory, such as the morality of war
and punishment, or the problem of the conflict between legal and moral obligation.
From a divine metaphysic, that is, we may derive conclusions of an ethical nature
relating to the larger society:
First, since war and punishment are inherently evil, we must conclude that they
could not be sanctioned by the God of perfect goodness.
Second, since sovereignty is indivisible, we must choose divinely-sanctioned
individual conscience over the laws of the state as the locus of our moral obligation.
Third, since retributive means are inherently unjust, a just peace is a peace that is
achieved and maintained by perfectly non-retributive means.
I have said earlier that a secular reduction of Christian ethics is impossible. Since
political philosophy is a branch of ethics or moral philosophy, I hope that the remarks
above indicate as well that a secular reduction of the problems of political philosophy
is likewise impossible.
7-4. In addition to the assumption of the omnibenevolence of God, I have also
assumed in this work that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Defending this
metaphysical claim is very difficult, even more difficult than defending the assumption
of the omnibenevolence of God. For the moment I only ask the sceptical
reader to assume that Jesus believed that he was the Messiah. Even the assumption
that he so believed is not, however, without its problems: there is admittedly the
possibility or even likelihood that those who might have embellished the story of his
life with regard to incidentals also falsely attributed to Jesus religious claims that he
did not make, or attributed to him powers that he did not have.
It is therefore possible that one might try to develop a pacifist ethic independent
of all claims about the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, while yet starting from the ethical
insights attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. This would be quite reasonable, of course,
but the problem with such an approach is that some of the most powerful ethical
messages in the New Testament are so intimately tied up with religious claims that the
force of Jesus' ethical claims would be weakened greatly if one had to conclude that
he did not believe in his own divinity.
For example, the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, "the
foal of a beast of burden," loses all of its force if it is merely the story of a man
choosing a donkey as his means of locomotion: the whole point of the story seems to
have been that here was a man who not only believed that he was the Messiah, but
who also believed that it was not appropriate for even the Messiah to ride into
Jerusalem on the white steed of a conquering military hero--a ruler in the usual sense.
Here was a conception of the Messiah, that is, as one who came not to conquer and
destroy, but to save; not to rule in the conventional sense, but to serve (more
precisely, to rule by serving).
Another example would be the account in Matthew where Jesus is being defended
with the sword by one of his disciples against the mob Judas has led into the Garden
of Gethsemane. Jesus is reputed to have said, "Put away your sword, for all who live
by the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I could not pray to my Father
to provide me with twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:52-53) The interesting
thing is that only the first part of this passage is typically quoted, whereas it in is the
second part that Jesus clearly drives home the point that his methods are going to be
different from those of all secular rulers.
He might have said it another way without any loss of meaning: "If I am who I say
I am, do you think that I could not be delivered from this unruly mob? And, do you
think, if force were the way that the world might be saved, that I could not muster as
many troops as might be required?" His deliberate choice not to use violence is here
linked in the most direct way with a claim to his divinity: an all-powerful God could
certainly have more destructive force at his disposal than all secular rulers, if such
force were the means of saving the human race.
If Jesus had not believed in his own divinity, then these two powerful passages--
one involving his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and the other involving his
repudiation of the sword--would not be included in the account of his life. These two
most powerful ethical messages against domination and violence, that is, are linked
directly to theological claims. Again one can see why no secular reduction of
Christian ethics is possible without great loss of force of the teachings themselves.
The conclusion is inescapable: if the accounts are even roughly accurate, Jesus
definitely did at least believe that he was the Messiah.
7-5. It seems reasonable to conclude, as so many have done, that a person who
actually believed himself to be the Messiah was either that which he claimed, or else
that he was quite mad. Therefore, if I have indeed offered a rational reconstruction
of the political thought of Jesus of Nazareth, the question is whether the pacifistic
belief system which I have attributed to him is also mad, the product of a deranged
That is, is it madness always to return good for evil, or to assume that God always
does so as well? The question is a reasonable one, given the obvious practical
difficulties with the pacifist position. One might, after all, conclude that one who
offered opposing ideas, such as Nietzsche, was really sane while Jesus of Nazareth
was utterly mad.
7-6. Why is Jesus of Nazareth not included in the usual anthologies of social
and political philosophers? Why are the secondary sources of Augustine, Aquinas,
Luther, or Calvin included instead? Perhaps my secularist colleagues could deign
to answer this question. Could it be because the latter four all justified the violent,
coercive state and its practices of war and punishment, whereas Jesus was against the
horrible practices that define the state?
As I have tried to show, even the fragments of Jesus' thought which we have
inherited demonstrate a very coherent underlying belief system, and there is no
question but that these teachings have enormous relevance for the morality of the
social practices which lie at the core of political theory. Indeed, his teachings are a
political theory, although one that is not held in wide repute among most political
theorists: most political theorists are defenders of the barbaric practices of war and
punishment. Political theory in its most common manifestations is thus a very
reactionary enterprise, and still political theorists marvel that they are not taken
seriously in the mainstream of political science.
Have we so conveniently pigeonholed religious questions that we have made the
issue of the nature of God and his message irrelevant to all practical affairs? Is the
message of Nietzsche, whose works are in the sacred canon of political theory,
more relevant to morality and public affairs than the message of Jesus of
7-7. I have affirmed belief in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth as the foundation
of all other arguments since I believe that the true persuasive force is not to be found
so much in the formal teachings of Jesus as in his example: what we ultimately want
to know from trying to reconstruct his ideas is something about the personhood of
The overall picture of Jesus of Nazareth that seems to emerge is that of a man so
gentle and kind, and whose life and death are recounted in a manner so generally
consistent with his teachings, that I find it difficult to believe that the story could have
been fabricated (although I do believe there to be some historical inaccuracies in the
accounts which have come down).
This is not to say that it is inconceivable that either the teachings or the account
of his deeds could have been fabricated. If so, however, it seems unlikely that the
teachings and the life could have meshed so perfectly. There still remains the
possibility, of course, that both the life and the teachings could have been fabricated.
Yet, anyone who would have had the moral vision to conceive of such an ethical
system and such a perfect life could not have had the moral depravity to have offered
such a lie.
7-8. To the extent that the Christian ethical teachings support and complement the
religious claims, it is not incorrect to say that both are defended here together, and
I admit that it is not always clear which is assumption and which is conclusion. Even
so, I cannot deny that it could turn out to be the case that the specific ethical and
religious claims might finally stand or fall separately. All that I am saying here is that
I doubt that that could ever be the case. If I should turn out to be mistaken in my
religious views, however, I still hope that the attempt to offer this particular version
of an ethical system in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth will turn out to have had its
uses, if only as a corrective for much of what is wrong with modern Christianity and
its glib mixing of religious teachings with the more pervasive--and still dominant--civil
7-9. If there is a God, then we should certainly want to know as much about that
God as possible. The problem of the epistemology of religious belief is a problem for
another chapter, and so here I will simply say that we must assume something about
the existence and nature of God if we are going to be able to live meaningful lives.
Agnosticism risks nothing and everything at once: it is a cowardly approach to the
existential experiment of life, the worst kind of fence-sitting in the face of a critical
conflict of ideas and of choices for action.
Surely even the most cynical sceptic must acknowledge that, if there is a God, that
fact must be of some significance. If God is the source of all goodness, we should
certainly want to try to know God and emulate the divine goodness. In our present
condition, however, we do not even know to what spirit we belong; we think as
human beings think, not as God thinks, and this impels us to tend to want to destroy
our enemies rather than to assist, rescue, or redeem them. If we would be guided by
the Spirit of God, fully realizing our moral autonomy and self-control manifested in
benevolent action, then surely we must try to learn something about the thoughts of
God. The Spirit of Peace cannot dwell in us, and thus guide us or cure us, if we do
not think like God.
7-10. We must never lose sight of the linkage between spirit and thought: our
motivations derive from our thoughts. If we push aside the divine way of thinking,
then our motivations are driven by unregulated passions and appetites. Since these
unregulated passions and appetites are the greatest threat to a peaceful order, we who
would aspire to both a peaceful and a voluntary society must strive to know the mind
of God, the thoughts of God, and to encourage others to do likewise.
To what do we turn to know about God and to know the thoughts of God?
7-11. The truth about God and about ethics is not codified in the Bible: it is almost
certainly trying to escape the pages of the Bible and the scholarly and ecclesiastical
traditions which have created and stood guard over the Bible.
We must be careful not to confuse faith in God with faith in the Bible. The Bible
is sometimes, perhaps often, wrong. God never is. The Great Lie of most of
organized religion is the claim that God inspired literally every word in the Bible.
Although this claim is never adequately defended, it persists with a stubbornness
which defies explanation.
Could it be that persons do not want to think for themselves? What if it should be
the case that learning to do precisely that is the ultimate reason for the trials of this
life? When we see or endure evil for no apparent purpose, we must ask what is in the
mind of God. What, that is, is he trying to teach us in a particular situation?
We may take comfort from the fact that he never desires to destroy us, but to
salvage us from our errors and to restore us to happiness and wholeness.
7-12. An omniscient God, by definition, can never be wrong. Yet, if God is never
wrong, then he never has to change his mind: his will is eternal. What then are we to
make of the doctrine of two laws or "testaments," one old and one new?
One cannot have it both ways: either God and his will (or law) are unchanging, or
they are not. If they are unchanging, then it is only human understanding of God and
God's will which has changed. Biblical inerrantism is thus most fundamentally at
variance with the idea of an unchanging God: God, say the inerrantists, gave us two
laws. Is their God a God of shifting sand, or a reed blowing in the wind? What kind
of Rock is this, that metamorphoses over time? What claim has it for being eternal
if it does not differ from the physical creation which is all about us?
The biblical inerrantists are fundamentally in error.
7-13. Biblical inerrantism is not the way that we know God or the thoughts of
God. Biblical inerrantism is a form of idolatry, for it absolutizes not belief in God or
his will but belief in a particular, historically limited human conception of God and his
will, specifically that found in the traditional reading of the Bible as a coherent and
complete statement of the will of God.
It is precisely this kind of idolatry which allows the Bible to be used to justify the
most reactionary of social practices and causes, not least of which are the institutions
of war, punishment, and social exclusion or discrimination of all kinds.
The doctrine of the so-called "just war" is one reactionary doctrine which is often
buttressed by references to the wars of the Old Testament. Persons of open minds
cannot but see that many of the accounts of the Old Testament represent very primi-
tive scientific, historical, and--most of all--theological conceptions. Surely the same
is true of the ethical conceptions contained there.
It is no coincidence that these primitive ideas were resurrected and given
theoretical justification during the Dark Ages. The "just war" doctrine is one such
7-14. One cannot really simultaneously embrace the ethical teachings of both the
Old and New Testaments without severe qualifications. Nor can one reasonably
suppose that the God of the Old Testament is, strictly speaking, the same God as that
of the New Testament, except in the limited sense that the writers of both testaments
were in search of the one true God.
All that one can safely say is that the two "Laws" reflect two conceptions of God,
conceptions that grew out of an evolving culture and which reflect evolving religious
conceptions within and beyond that culture.
7-15. When one says that the law of God is simply the will of God, one wants to
make a further point: this is not a law which, like secular law, provides for penalties
if it is not obeyed. Rather, the will of God is as a lighted path: if one chooses to get
off of it, the fear and emptiness that one feels only impel one to want to find it again.
God, ever faithful and benign, eternally holds forth the beacon to rescue and salvage
God does not punish. We punish ourselves, and never more so than when we try
to punish others.
7-16. The will of God is so perfectly good that it is the way of Being, of life, of
spiritual harmony rather than fear and emptiness.
Anything outside of the will and thoughts of God is really not anything at all: it is
nothingness. The hellish fear that we face when we face that nothingness is not from
God. Any such punishment of the soul is that which we inflict upon ourselves as a
result of rejecting God and his life-giving will or thoughts. It is never God's will that
we should do this, much less that we should suffer this self-imposed horror. God
wills only that we should stop, repent of, such nonsense and enjoy again the benefits
of his grace and redemption: life in its fullness, everlasting.
7-17. Need we fear losing permanent sight of God? I do not think so. Although
we may turn away from God, he is always there when we have had enough of
darkness and decide again that we want to know and find him.
In a vast sea of emptiness, the light that is God always shines out in bright relief.
God never hides himself--nor his Being and comfort from fear--from those who seek
him and his refuge. It takes a conscious, strong, and deliberate effort to block out the
light which is the will of God, and even then it has a way of getting past our most
God seeks us out even when we seek to escape or renounce him and his will.
There is no escaping God--or his redemption. There is yet anguish enough in losing
sight of God if only for a season, and no rational person would lightly dismiss the
dangers of doing so, whatever may be the length of that hellish season.
7-18. If one claims that Jesus was indeed unique in his relationship to God the
Father, then what one means is either that he was God in human form, or else that he
was a child of God in a different sense than the rest of us are children of God--or
The image which presents itself to us in either case is that of the germ of divine
inspiration growing and learning in the child and man during his own lifetime, finally
reaching perfection in thought and action (probably not on the Mount of Transfigura-
tion but on the cross), then working through the rest of human history for the full
human appreciation and acceptance of the significance of his views. All of this is to
say that Jesus was not born with perfect wisdom, even if he was God Incarnate, and
he did not receive perfect wisdom in an instant.
The implication of these simple claims is that Jesus' understanding must have been
imperfect up until very nearly the end of his life. If so, then it is up to us to try to
make the same journey more or less on our own, guided not only by the trends and
directions which are most manifest in Jesus' teachings, but by the indwelling Spirit of
God in all of us.
"Have you been saved?" is thus a ridiculous question which the inerrantists shove
into our faces. We are not "saved" until we come to think like God, and we can no
more expect that to occur in an instant than we could have expected Christ to have
attained full wisdom in an instant. The process of being "saved" is a lifelong
7-19. In refusing to write anything down and in relying as much upon his personal
example as on anything he said, Jesus expressed great faith in the power of ideas,
ideas manifested in action. Indeed, his faith in these ideas was so great that he
believed that they would triumph even if many of his witnesses were illiterate, and
even if individuals and officialdom, both secular and ecclesiastical, operated
deliberately to try to destroy his credibility.
Perhaps Jesus was himself an illiterate man: "And the Pharisees said, `How does
this man know letters, having never learned?'" (John 7:15)
7-20. The core of Christian ethics has had to survive not only new ways of
thinking, but old ways as well which continue to afflict his followers. The example
of Paul is instructive.
Paul's fundamental error was perhaps inevitable, given his own grounding in the
ancient retributive Judaic tradition. Paul's statement of the significance of Jesus' death
and resurrection in retributive language (the sacrifice of the perfect lamb) is at best
metaphorical, and at worst downright misleading, for it distorts the significance of the
cross from being an expression of ethical and spiritual perfection into some kind of
ritualistic nonsense which God had to endure in order to appease himself: "I would
love to be able to forgive you, but first I must sacrifice myself to Myself."
7-21. True repentance comes only through the restorative powers of the Spirit of
God working through human reason to induce us to rethink our lives and actions. I
would not be surprised if the ancient origins of this word "repent" were not originally
very close to the origins of the word "pensive," which means "thoughtful" (but which
surely had its roots in a verb similar to "think"--the Latin pensare: to ponder). Thus,
if we could go back not merely to Latin but to the probably prehistoric Latin root out
of which one might speculate that both "pensive" and "penitent" arose, we might find
that the origins of an act of repentance lie ultimately in the process of rethinking our
earlier choices, rather than from the state of being sorry (Latin paenitere: to be sorry)
for our misdeeds.
We are truly sorry for the victims of our injustices only after we have rethought,
not before. At the point at which we become capable of feeling sorrow, we also
become capable of feeling love, and of being healed in an emotional sense. The
capacity for truly compassionate sorrow and thus for a corresponding compassionate
love comes from rethinking, repenting, and thus being forgiven of our sins: "Her
great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven; where little has been
forgiven, little love is shown." (Luke 7:47, New English Bible)
7-22. Where there is no rethinking, there can be no change of mind; where there
is no change of mind, there can be no change of heart; and where there is no change
of heart, there can be no capacity to feel truly sorry for what we have done. We do
well to remember that the wellspring of genuine emotion lies yet in the capacity for
rational thought, not in some mechanism of mere physiology: human emotion and
human reason are but two sides of the same coin, two aspects of the psyche.
7-23. What is this moral purification, this healing, that comes with both forgiving
and being forgiven? Why is it that the feeling of the psyche is the same both when we
are forgiven by God and when we forgive others?
The reason is surely that the restorative powers of the Spirit of God are operative
in both cases: that which comforts us--that which purifies, forgives, heals--and then
leaves the psyche at rest is the forgiving Spirit of God. When we invoke that spirit
in our dealings with others, we are transformed by it: it becomes the ground of true
7-24. The purification stage of repentance is not pleasant, but neither does it
represent harshness on God's part: God's truth has simply let us see ourselves, and we
do not like what we see. In addition, its initial stage--the search process for what is
wrong with ourselves--can be slow and painful, but painful only because of our own
resistance to the Spirit of God. After this self-diagnosis (with God's aid) comes the
purgative phase, or perhaps the surgery of the cancer on the soul which is the false
rationalization of wrong-doing. This is often intensely painful, but brief. It is perhaps
not so much a separate phase as the culmination of the search process, when the false
rationalization grudgingly gives way to the truth, tearing at us as if it were some
demonic false self trying to hang onto the soul that it has afflicted.
In less metaphorical language, that anguished, horrible moment which is often the
culmination of true repentance is perhaps an instantaneous glimpse of what we are
compared to what we ought to be. The pain of the glimpse is no sooner felt than it
is gone, however, for we are transformed by the vision of what we ought to be, the
divine vision brought to us by the Spirit of God, a vision which always comforts and
7-25. In the restorative phase of repentance, the truth as to what ought to be done
(and ought to have been done) comes flooding in as an instant balm. We know at that
point that we should not have done some evil to another person.
When we are injured by another, we may also go through much of the same
process if we lose faith in the worth of others, or if we lose faith in God and thus seek
retribution rather than strive to understand and forgive. The consideration of revenge
we call "resentment," during which time the wound is picked at and the concomitant
anger nursed. This is itself sin, even if never acted out.
It is, of course, possible to be injured without wanting revenge. In such a case, the
indwelling power of God comforts the psyche during the external social trauma and
then provides the restorative for natural recuperation. (This salvation from revenge
at the time does not, of course, preclude the possibility that later, in a moment of
spiritual weakness, the memory of the injury may trigger resentment and the desire for
The healing, restorative process is in some ways the same in all of the three cases
of injury: when we sin, when we are injured and sin by not forgiving, and when we are
injured and do not sin. The sense of sameness comes from the goodness of God,
which is unchanging. Thus it is that, no matter how it is that the psyche came to be
injured, and however it came to be purified (where that is called for), the healing or
restorative phase is the same, and the sense of goodness or comfort coming from God
is likewise the same.
7-26. God is always good, always redemptive, never punitive nor angry--never a
God to be feared. If we fear God, it is indeed out of a glimmer that we shall have to
face the truth and let go of our comfortable rationalizations.
Only in this very limited sense is it the case that "The fear of God is the beginning
of all wisdom." It is a foolish fear, for God is not the source of this fear nor of any
threat which should induce fear. In fearing God, the false self perhaps fears that
which will lead to the end of its cancerous existence on our soul. The true self is
redeemed by the truth of God and has nothing to fear from God--and knows it.
Trust in God is the completion of all wisdom.
7-27. It is instructive that the King James Version makes reference to not getting
angry at one's brother "without cause." (Matthew 5:22, KJV) The implication is that,
if one has good cause, anger is alright.
On this point, however, the translators of the King James Version overstepped the
valid discretion of translators and inserted their own views: the original Greek
contains absolutely no linguistic referent which could possibly be translated as "with-
out cause." The passage in question is the more significant because the words are not
those of this or that disciple or apostle: they are words attributed to Jesus of
Nazareth. Why would the translators take such liberties, unless they (like most
persons) were absolutely convinced that anger is sometimes the appropriate response?
It is noteworthy that the book of James abjures anger categorically: "A man's anger
does not promote the Kingdom of Heaven." (James 1:20) If God is not a God of
anger but of compassion, however, then we, too, should make our decisions based
upon compassion rather than upon anger or any other evil tendency. Anger is, after
all, a momentary lapse of rationality. It should never be glorified, and it is never in
any sense therapeutic.
7-28. In the Lord's Prayer (found, not coincidentally, with the Sermon on the
Mount in Matthew 6: 9-15), there is the injunction to forgive others if we wish to be
forgiven. This is not to say that God would not forgive us if we failed to forgive
others: it is to say that in some sense he cannot, for the peaceful spirit of God cannot
dwell in us and inspire us to know and follow the way that leads out of peril if we
block that spirit by harboring vindictive thoughts and motives, thoughts and motives
which do not come from God. God, in giving us free moral agency, has given us the
choice to accept or not to accept him. Even so, he knows that we cannot long endure
the emptiness of life without him, and so he knows that sooner or later our choice will
be to seek him again.
God waits for us, and it is comforting to know that he has infinite patience for
those whom he has ordained as having infinite worth: all persons. In the meantime,
the anger or resentment which we harbor toward others is our own self-imposed hell.
It does not come from God, nor does God cast us into such a hell.
7-29. It is noteworthy that, with regard to forgiveness, there are two teachings by
Jesus which may represent the evolution of his thinking further and further away from
the retributive upbringing of his culture and toward the non-retributive ideal which
defines his unique gift to us. First, in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus offers a set of
contingencies for dealing with those who have wronged us but refuse to repent,
beginning with confrontation and culminating with exposure and public condemna-
tion, and possibly even expulsion from the community: "Treat him as a pagan or a tax
gatherer." A similar teaching occurs in Luke simply as "If your brother wrongs you,
reprove him; and if he repents, forgive him." (Luke 17:3) In both teachings, there is
a condition attached to forgiveness: our offender must repent and express sorrow.
The implication seems to be that, if another wrongs us but does not repent, we
have no obligation to forgive that person. It is true that Jesus seems very liberal here
in saying that, no matter how many times our brother has sinned against us, we must
always be prepared to forgive. Yet, the condition is still there: "if he repents."
In the account by Mark, by contrast, there is a far more liberal statement: "When
you stand praying, if you have a grievance against anyone, forgive him." (Mark
11:25) No contingency is provided for here: there is not the condition, "if he
repents." Rather, one is simply always to forgive others, regardless of whether or not
they have repented or expressed sorrow for their act.
If this interpretation is correct, then the message of unconditional forgiveness
seems to culminate on the cross, where Jesus forgives, without condition of any kind,
those who are executing him and those (including the rulers and soldiers) who are
continuing to taunt him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
(Luke 23:34-36) Is it possible that Jesus changed his mind, that he grew in wisdom
even up to the moment of his death? Or is it possible instead that the various
witnesses and New Testament writers simply interpreted his teachings in different
ways, because of their own belief systems? I must suspend final judgment, since there
is no way to prove an answer one way or the other. I am inclined to think that even
Jesus did not understand the fullness of the divine message until very near the end of
his life: the process of "growing in wisdom" (demonstrated as a young boy arguing
with the elders in the temple) continued either until his death or until a fairly short
time before his death. One can only speculate as to whether he began his ministry
before or after he attained fullness of wisdom on the matter of repentance, or on any
On such questions hangs the ultimate significance of the life and message of Jesus
of Nazareth. There may also be implications here as to how different Jesus really was
from the rest of us.
7-30. The most wonderful thing to which we may look forward in the next life is
surely freedom from the judgment of others. To the extent that one can live without
judging others in this life, one is indeed an angelos of God, which in the Greek means
literally nothing more or less than "messenger." (Strictly speaking, the transliteration
from the Greek gives us aggelos, with the double gamma--our "gg"--nasalized in
Greek as an English "ng" sound.)
From that root we also get the word "evangelist." The most effective evangelist,
angel, or messenger is, of course, someone who exemplifies through deeds the
benevolent and non-judgmental message which is God's requirement of us, one to the
To be free of the critical judgment by others of our moral worth--that would
indeed be heaven. If we carry the message of non-judgment through our example, we
shall indeed be carrying a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven wherever we go: we
shall be messengers from God. That is as close as we can get to being "angels" in this
7-31. God's judgment is always supportive, encouraging. It is never condemna
tory. The same message of support, encouragement, is the only message which we
are obliged to offer to others in the name of judgment.
Our only moral obligation about judgment of persons is to judge ourselves and to
live up to that judgment. So doing will be sufficient reproof of, or encouragement for,
others. God will decide which is appropriate to their needs. We are thus obligated
to concentrate upon doing the will of God, freed of the perceived necessity of
assessing the shortcomings of others. It is not for us to decide whether another needs
to be inspired or reproved. Our good example may do either, and God will decide
which function our example will perform.
Make no mistake: the avoidance of judging others is not an easy virtue to perfect.
Perhaps it is the last virtue, since some say that being non-judgmental is the sin of the
pious, those who have made great progress in conquering their other weaknesses.
One might as easily argue, however, that it is the first virtue, the foundation of all of
the others: perhaps the least virtuous persons are the ones most disposed to judge and
condemn others, often ruining their lives and reputations in the process.
7-32. It is well to remember that the role of accuser is not sanctioned by the God
of the New Testament. There is no constitutional foundation for the role of accuser,
prosecutor, in the Peaceable Kingdom. Those who accuse must invoke the retributive
credo found in an earlier conception of the moral constitution, the Law of Moses.
7-33. Those who would understand the systematic nature of the Sermon on the
Mount must consult Matthew, chapter five, verses 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43. Each of
these verses contains the phrase, "You have been taught. . . , but I say unto you. . .
," either contradicting or going beyond some earlier teaching of the Law of Moses,
including several of those teachings which we call the "Ten Commandments." Most
of these teachings are obvious enough, but the one that deals with judgment is not.
Yet it is vitally important. In the "Old Law," one was simply enjoined not to engage
in false witness or judgment of another. I would speculate that the actual sermon, as
delivered by Jesus of Nazareth, was originally structured such that the teaching in
Matthew 7:1 to "judge not" was counterposed to the commandment not to "bear false
witness." That is, whereas in the "Old Law" one was being enjoined not to judge
falsely, in the "New Law" in Matthew 7:1, one is being enjoined to judge the worth
of others not at all.
This is pure speculation, of course, but it does remind us of the possibility that
Jesus is showing us an alternative to the statist way of handing injustice: no judges,
no courts, no lawsuits, no counteraccusations, no attempts at self-defense, no attempt
to reclaim what was ours before another took it.
Is that too radical, or is that simply what we must infer from these teachings if we
are to realize the fulfillment of the will of God? It is interesting that these are the only
parts of the Bible that biblical inerrantists do not take literally, and it is these
teachings that go to the heart of the message of the Prince of Peace.
7-34. If Jesus did not come to set right the incompleteness and imperfections in
the Mosaic conception of justice, then why did he come? His "sacrifice" has been
made much of by the Apostle Paul, but it is necessary that the metaphor of "the
perfect lamb that was slain for the remission of sins" be seen for what it was: a
metaphor. Not only was it a metaphor, but it was a metaphor which depended for its
sense upon a retributive conception of justice: certain evils must be reciprocated in
order to wipe out prior evils.
This is the most blatant form of retributivism, what one might call the "cosmic
imbalance" theory. On this view, another evil is needed in order to cancel a previous
evil. This is Mosaic to the core, part and parcel of the world view which defended not
only animal sacrifice to propitiate an "angry" God, but the foundation of the ethic of
"an eye for an eye," quite a barbaric and superstitious conception of justice. The so-
called "New Law" clearly rejects this conception. Paul perhaps used the metaphor
simply because he believed that such a metaphor was needed to reach those reared in
the retributive tradition. Yet, there are several things wrong with this kind of
rationalization. First, there is every reason to believe that Paul meant literally what
he said. Paul himself was steeped in the retributive tradition of the Mosaic Law, even
to the extent that his entire treatment of the state in Romans 13 is totally retributive
Paul, however useful he may have been to the spread of Christian teachings, also
contaminated those teachings to a considerable extent by his retributive worldview.
7-35. If the mere sacrifice of Jesus had been needed to negate the sin of the world,
then Jesus could quietly have jumped off of a cliff in the solitude of the mountains.
That act would have been witnessed by God the Father, who alone sees all things and
who alone needed to be "placated," on the crudest retributive view. No, the
significance of the cross is not to be found in any retributive sacrificial nonsense: the
significance of the cross is the total and complete repudiation of the retributive
conception and its replacement with an ethic of perfect forgiveness.
7-36. If one ideal has guided all of my thoughts throughout this work, it is the
ideal represented by the vision of a man perfect in thought and deed, but without any
of the self defenses or other imperfect means adopted by ordinary mortals when
confronted with either danger or falsehood. The vision, that is, is indeed that of the
Messiah, but a Messiah that I fear that many will be as unable to accept in this age as
others were unable to accept almost two thousand years ago: a deliberately
Not many persons, that is, can be expected at present to make themselves so
deliberately vulnerable as to choose not to use certain powers at their disposal for
their own self-defense. Perhaps we are unlike the Messiah in that we do not have
certain powers at our disposal, but we may nonetheless be like him in that we may
morally choose not to use our existing powers in certain ways, especially not for mere
Most persons, however, will yield to the temptation of self-defense when in
desperate straits, even if it means destroying another, or accusing their accusers in
order to save their own reputations. Human weakness does not, however, vitiate the
psychologically ("spiritually") redemptive power of the divine message.
7-37. If we cannot accept divinely sanctioned limitations on the means that we
may use to defend ourselves, I can only conclude that we cannot accept God, for God
by his nature is apparently constrained by his own goodness to use only perfect means
to achieve his perfect ends. If this is true of God the Father, it must certainly have
been true of Jesus as the Son of God: he came, above all, to give us an example of
what it means to be constrained by the requirements of divine goodness to use only
perfect means for the attainment of our ends in an imperfect world.
Jesus, that is, was constrained by his own goodness not to use deceit, violence,
force, or any other evil to defend himself or to promote other aspects of his
"kingdom" on earth. This is what I mean when I say that we, as children of God, are
likewise constrained by conscience to accept divinely sanctioned limitations on the
powers at our disposal. If we cannot pass the test of not using certain means to
achieve our ends within the very narrow limits of present human power, we may be
sure that God will not grant us greater powers.
My presumption, then, is that we are being groomed to wield greater powers than
we presently have, but that God cannot simply give us such powers until we have
demonstrated in this life an acceptance of certain constraints upon the use of whatever
powers we may already have.
7-38. If I reveal my doubts, do I open myself up to the charge that I have not the
courage of my convictions? Indeed, I am appalled by the vacillations of my faith and
concomitant moral courage. Yet, I must admit to my own intermittent misgivings:
others must know that this faith is no easy faith to accept, so that they will not be
discouraged if embracing it seems to bring only more suffering and self-doubt rather
than the happiness which all of us so earnestly seek.
7-39. Oh, to be perfect! The aspiration seems so absurd; yet, without it what is
indeed the meaning of all the doubts and sufferings that we presently endure?
Perfection surely must come at quite a price, and I mean not merely the sacrifice of
Christ but our own long and winding search for the wisdom and understanding which
could sustain our faith under any possible degree of duress. Only so, as a hard anvil
upon which perfect souls are to be forged, can the trials of this life make sense; but
only so can our lives come to be consistent with the supreme goodness of God.
There is nothing foolish or absurd about trying to live a perfectly peaceable life.
Perhaps the foolishness lies in trying to rationalize anything less as the will of God.
7-40. I do believe that one of the purposes of the life of Christ was to show us an
example of self-government which is as far superior to common conceptions of
democracy as his own conception of a divine "kingdom" was superior to every
existing kingdom which he saw and could have emulated: kingdoms based upon
domination, deceit, arrogant nationalism, and hierarchies of power and pride.
I do believe that he came to show us an example of peaceableness raised to such
a state of perfection that its attainment requires our continuous study in all of our
interpersonal relations, not merely in the relations between nations, families, and
I do believe that he came to show us the most perfect conception of forgiveness,
a forgiveness so complete that he was incapable of hating those who committed the
worst atrocities against him.
I also believe that he came to show us the example of an unconditional love so
great that it always took the initiative of good will, never waiting to anticipate
whether or not such good will and good action would be reciprocated in thought or
Most of all, for the sake of trying to understand the purpose of the life of Christ,
I believe that he came to earth in the form of man for the overarching purpose of
exemplifying the kind of life which I have just attempted to describe. If, after all is
said and done, the example which he gave us is not absolutely unique in its
forbearance toward injustice, then I fail to see how or why he should be worthy of
imitation, much less worship. If such a life cannot be called "pacifistic" in some sense,
then I do not know why we should call him the "Prince of Peace."
It was not, that is, so that he could forgive our sins that he lived and died, but so
that we should learn how to forgive and get along with one another.
7-41. Let us define a first order evil as an evil which typically involves the choice
to give in to an unworthy or inappropriate appetite or passion. This encompasses a
great deal, and these can be grievous evils indeed. Nonetheless, there are also evils
arising from a failure to repent of these first order evils, and these can be classed as
second order evils. They typically manifest themselves as an arrogant tendency to
judge other persons, or as a hostile, vindictive, or blame-oriented psychological
disposition. All manner of abusiveness, narrow-mindedness, and downright meanness
can be seen as falling within this category.
It is not at all clear that these evils classed as "second order" by virtue of their
occurrence are actually lesser evils. Indeed, they are probably the more insidious
evils. The label "second order" refers to the fact that these evils are derivative: they
do not merely involve the lack of rationality and knowledge but involve as well overt
and deliberate rationalization for prior evils. They are generally manifested not only
as rationalization for the first order evils but as concomitant tendency to project one's
self-loathing and self-contempt onto other persons. This predisposition, further
rationalized, blocks one from admitting one's own failings and thus prevents being
"saved" from (repenting of) one's own first order evils.
Those who are most abusive and judgmental of others may be demonstrating, for
all I know, the depth of their own depravity, a vast accumulation of unrepented sins.
That is food for thought at just those moments when we are disposed to sit in
judgment upon the shortcomings of others: it is our own failings that are gnawing at
us from the inside.
7-42. In the Lord's Prayer, we find the appeal, "Forgive us as we forgive others,"
followed by the teaching that, "If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father
in heaven forgive you." The language about forgiveness here is indeed metaphorical,
for God is always of a forgiving disposition.
Such metaphorical language is useful because it reminds us that, unless we stop
trying to justify our misdeeds, or stop judging others (projecting our own evil and
self-contempt onto others), then we cannot get on with the business of examining our
own faults and freeing ourselves from (being "saved" of) our own enslavements,
addictions, and rationalizations that we use to deny our sin. (I have no substitute
word for this last concept, "sin," since it is as clear and concise a moral concept that
one could wish for: it says it all, and with only three letters. One is reminded of Karl
Menninger's excellent little book, Whatever Became of Sin?1)
The rule of God is different from that of earthly sovereigns precisely in that God,
as defined as being perfectly good, does not enforce His will through evil. If he used
the threat of punishment to enforce his will, then he would not be morally different
from earthly sovereigns, for punishment is always an inherent evil, no matter what
good ends it might be used to try to promote. Of God we expect not only perfect
ends, but perfect means as well.
God, that is, is always of a forgiving Spirit--even when we are in the depths of our
depravity and torment and thereby far removed from his grace.
7-43. That God does not punish can be seen in Christ's remark, "I came to save
men's lives, not to destroy them." There is, however, one final and important sense
in which God does judge and thus does seem to punish: his Truth casts our own half-
truths into relief, and his Truth shows as well our blatant falsehoods and rationaliza-
tions to be the utter darkness and meaninglessness that they are. Even here, however,
the ever benign providential sovereign does not undercut our rationalizations
prematurely: he carries us many times when our rationalizations could not, and he
chooses an opportune time to reveal his truth and thus to do his pruning.
7-44. Is it possible that no one, not even God, can exist in perfect "emotional"
(spiritual?) isolation from other sentient beings? Is such an isolated, aloof God a
stern, hoary conception of God akin to the Nietzschean conception of Zarathustra?2
Has Nietzsche, through his fictionalized character, given us an inadvertent vision of
God--or of a monster? Is God so constituted and so complete that he needs no other
beings, but creates them solely for their own joy of existence?
7-45. Is one who lets evil happen as culpable as one who overtly commits evil?
If so, then what shall we say of God, who permits evil to occur in the world? Shall
we blame him for that evil?
If not, then are we justified in blaming the pacifist for not using violence to stop
(ostensibly) a greater violence? The answer is not self-evident. No glib answers will
suffice or comfort.
7-46. Perhaps God is limited to the use of the force of ideas, not the force of
punishment, to achieve his purposes. Perhaps he can no more punish (requite evil for
evil) than he can lie. That might be one reason that he allows evil to exist in the
world: the same goodness that constrains him from lying might also constrain him
from using other imperfect means.
If pacifists are constrained by the same requirement--that they must use ideal
(divine?) means to achieve valid ends--then are they not as justified as God in refusing
to use force? And does this not exonerate them from the charge that they are guilty
of a sin of omission by refusing to take life in the name of saving life?
7-47. Is it possible that we really do not want to be like God, that we prefer the
impotence of secular modes of power, of throwing our weight around, of intimidating
others and showing our dominance? If so, we shall find, I fear, that that is only the
illusion of power, and in choosing it we cut ourselves off from the only true Power
Is arrogance not based on the illusion of power that we do not have?
7-48. Does God work through the state and other private command hierarchies
protected and sanctioned by the police power of the state--our employers?
By way of answer, let us return to the source of "employer" in the French verb
employer: to use. The employer is the user. The employee is the one who is used.
Would God sanction the use of one human being by another? Is that what Jesus
meant when he said that, "Secular rulers like to lord it over their subjects, to make
them feel the weight of their authority. But it must not be so among you. For he who
is greatest among you would be your servant." (Matthew 20:25-28)
In this age, our employers, public or private, are part of the command structure of
the state, as defined at the beginning of the chapter on church and state. They are
among the "secular rulers." They are--let us not mince words--almost always our
tyrants, rarely our benefactors.
It is for this reason, their propensity toward tyranny, that most are obsessed with
maintaining what they call their "authority." They want to preserve the system of
domination of which they are a part, and from which they gain much in the way of
material and social rewards.
The psychological, spiritual, losses of such gains are, of course, devastating.
7-49. It is not too strong to say that state authority begins with the secular
sovereign in each realm and goes down to our supervisors or bosses. That is the real
meaning of the chain of command for the state as a whole. We err when we confine
our discussions of it to the obviously public sphere: the sphere of private enterprise
is also sanctioned or enforced by the public sphere.
That is, private property is a public institution, an arm of the state, since it is
sanctioned and protected by the sword of the state.
7-50. I respect another's right to his beliefs without thereby respecting the beliefs
themselves. If a man tells me that his religion practices infant sacrifice, I could not
possibly say that what I feel for his beliefs is anything approaching respect. Nor do
I have the luxury of not criticizing his beliefs: although I might respect his right to
believe as he will, I respect truth too much to allow his beliefs to go unchallenged.
7-51. Many defenses of "pacifism" are not labeled as such. Quite a few, such as
historian Stephen Ambrose's "revisionist" accounts of the Cold War,3 are not doctri-
naire pacifism in any sense, and yet they do offer some arguments and historical
interpretations which are compatible with many pacifist claims.
Other variants of pacifism recommend something like a "world state." Christian
ethics, as I understand it, certainly would not be compatible with this view, since the
state is inherently violent and retributive and thus counter to the whole thrust of
Christian ethics. One cannot but be alarmed by those who speak blithely about a
"world state" or "world government." Do they not realize that there is already One
7-52. I have claimed that the actual teachings of Jesus were perfectly non-
retributive and perfectly altruistic, but the biblical account of his teachings does not
seem to support this notion with anything like perfect consistency. That is, even in
the New Testament there are difficulties with a consistently non-retributive
Nonetheless, the appeal of a perfectly non-retributive vision from the story of the
life of Jesus forces one to re-examine the Bible, and to posit it and not the vision as
being in error. As has been so often asked, however, what epistemological criterion
is going to guide one once one starts questioning the legitimacy of this or that biblical
passage while affirming the legitimacy of yet another?
The rationalist will recognize the answer: the coherence criterion of truth. The
view of Jesus of Nazareth, if he was the Messiah, must make sense, and its sense or
meaning must cohere around some central themes and acts which have the strongest
intuitive appeal. Passages which do not cohere with such central themes must be
adjudged suspect, and so must the infallibility of their authors.
7-53. Paul categorically says that the secular authorities are in God's service, for
the sake of bringing punishment upon the offender, and that innocent persons do not
have to fear such authorities.
Why, then, did Jesus fear his crucifixion at the hands of the Roman authorities?
The story of Jesus in Gethsemane is quite clear as to what Jesus was feeling as he
anticipated the trials that awaited him. Was Jesus deserving of his fate? If so, there
is a reductio of the whole Christian message. In addition, if persons always get what
they deserve, then Paul's own repeated imprisonment was what he deserved rather
than simple persecution in the course of service of God. Since he clearly did not
believe that his own imprisonment was always (if ever) any kind of divine punishment
of him, it is not clear why he would have made such a categorical statement about
punishment by the authorities ("in God's service") in Romans 13.
Rationalization will not solve the problem of Paul's inconsistencies: Paul said what
he said, and it is nonsense. If what he meant was that persons should obey the secular
authorities only when they are in God's service, then so be it. He did not say precisely
7-54. As for moral desert at the hands of the secular authorities, did six million
Jews deserve their fate at the hands of Adolph Hitler? The idea is preposterous.
7-55. One important thing to remember about the passage in Romans 13, which
seems to sanction the state as the instrument of God, is that it was written by Paul to
Romans. That is, it was written to Roman citizens, persons who surely were confused
as to the implications of loyalty to Christ versus loyalty to the state: Caesar's state,
the very state, in fact, which had executed the Christ.
The relevant passages in Romans 13 for political philosophy are only a few lines
in length, indicating that they were not part of a long and systematic treatment as to
the role of Christians vis-…-vis the state: they were fairly specific injunctions to
persons who probably wondered whether or not they should be in overt rebellion
against the state.
At the very least, Paul was teaching against violent rebellion, and he apparently
tried to buttress such an injunction against violent rebellion with some kind of
rationale of state authority. If so, however, he went too far--far too far.
7-56. Is it reasonable to expect Paul to have had the fullness of wisdom and
insight of the Messiah himself?
7-57. If God does not rule through the coercive state, as suggested by Paul in
Romans 13, then how does he rule? The only possibility compatible with the vision
of an omniscient and omnipotent God is that God exercises some kind of "providential
hand" over both our minds and over events in the world.
The issue of the nature of this divine providence is at once the most neglected and
most important of concepts for political philosophy. No political philosopher that I
know of has tried to deal seriously with the concept of divine providence on a
sustained theoretical basis.
Authoritarian conceptions of "natural law" have instead become the focus of the
ultimate questions of political philosophy, and, where the issue of the divine hand has
surfaced in treatises on political philosophy, it has been almost immediately swept into
the hand of the state: ever since Paul, and thus since Augustine and Aquinas (and after
them Luther and Calvin), the coercive state has been presumed to be the divine
instrument not only of retribution but of ordering and coordinating human events.
Can such a view be correct? Has not this elevation of the violent, coercive state
meant a corresponding abasement of God, especially if God is perceived as being a
providential God and if his providence is thought to work primarily through moral
suasion--not through delegation of his authority to state officials whose office and
status are protected by the sword?
Is not a non-violent and non-authoritarian rendering of the natural law tradition
7-58. It is not too strong to say that, when one speaks of God while minimizing
the providential aspect of divine governance in human affairs, it is not really God
anymore that one talks about, but something else. That is, one who professes belief
in God but denies any meaningful providential role by God in human affairs does
not really believe in God at all, but in some purely fictional construct which goes by
the name of "God."
In the absence of a meaningful providential theism, a coercive statism tends to raise
its ugly head, even in Christianity--or perhaps especially in Christianity.
7-59. Perhaps it is not too strong to say that the foundation of a truly coherent
pacifism is a strong conception of the providential role of God in human affairs. Only
by positing a strong role for God in planning (willing) and enforcing (ordering) human
affairs are the premises defended in this work at all plausible.
Indeed, if there is a weakness in most theories of pacifism, it is that they have
ignored this most fundamental metaphysical underpinning. Such theories have failed,
that is, to deal seriously with the problem of order in the absence of violence and
coercion. It is not enough to be opposed to war. It is necessary to see one's
opposition to war as being a manifestation of a more general opposition to state
coercion, violence, and judgment. Since this is all too often not seen, what is often
found is a strident "pacifism" which is moralistic and judgmental to the core and which
too easily invokes the law courts and judgment of persons over persons, even as it
hollowly abjures war. This failure is also part of the failure of pacifist "movements,"
which are based all too often upon a fleeting outrage at this or that war or state action
but which have no intellectual coherence or spiritual sustenance for dealing with the
perennial attempts of the state to repress dissent against war and other moral
When the state does try to repress anti-war movements, flimsy pacifistic impulses
cannot give persons the patience to continue to dissent peacefully. The "pacifist" who
loses his or her temper and perspective can all too easily become a mere terrorist,
employing the very same methods at the individual level which are abjured at the
larger societal level.
Such pseudo-pacifism may even tend to prolong wars, by undermining the
legitimacy of all truly peaceful attempts at rational moral suasion, and by provoking
a popular reaction against the cause of peace.
7-60. One may believe in the Trinity without yet believing that God exists in "three
persons," or in any plurality of persons, for our God is one God, one person, which
is to say one psychic Being. God may yet exhibit or manifest his face in more than
one way, and these various facets of God may correctly be labeled as Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit. The idea of "God in three persons" is a noble if perhaps simplistic
attempt to comprehend the presently incomprehensible. Such a formulation does not
ultimately make sense, however, and it is not biblical: it is a line from a hymn.
7-61. God is. As Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58) God is
surely not constrained by time, as human beings are, unless he chooses so to constrain
himself by taking human form. Nor is God constrained by space, for surely neither
space nor time have any ultimate meaning or purpose apart from that assigned to them
by God. Yet, to be created by God in human form is to be constrained by the limits
of space and time. Some kinds of limitations are necessary for the definitions of
human personhood and existence. Only God can exist without limits. Humankind,
in trying to know or live an existence which is unbounded, tries thereby to throw off
the definition of its own existence, the limitations imposed upon it by God.
To try to live as human beings without any limits is an act of self-destruction,
spiritually as well as physically. Indeed, to try to throw off all limits may the ultimate
nature of sin.
7-62. If this life is for the purpose of divine teaching, then we might think of each
part of our lives--especially the trials--as analogous to taking a course or courses in
school. Each course--or segment of our lives--has some essential point or points to
be learned, and each is designed for the purpose of promoting that learning. Every
stage of our lives, every job and every relationship, every worthy project, and every
significant thing that happens to us is surely such a course, or part of one or more
"courses." This is true even where God does not ordain such projects, jobs, or
relationships. He will still use them as epochs during which we may learn some
essential point--but this is hardly to say that he did not have a better plan for our
learning in mind than our folly and our suffering.
7-63. God's enemy in the learning process is within each of us, although I do not
presume to understand the nature or source of this enemy. To posit one evil one,
Satan, seems to be an exercise in infinite regression, for, if one angel really fell from
heaven, then we should have to explain why or how evil got a foothold in heaven, or
in that being's life. Was there a pre-Satan who tempted Satan, and a pre-pre-Satan
before that, ad infinitum, ad absurdum?
7-64. To explain the source of evil, it seems better overall to assume that there are
forces at work in all incomplete personalities which resist the full development of
those personalities. These forces are surely, in part at least, the result of the
immaturity which comes from incomplete knowledge or understanding.
One wants to believe that, when one's knowledge is complete, one will indeed be
up to "the master's level" and that one will have no propensity to sin even as one
retains the capacity of free will. There seems to be a paradox here, but I think that
it need not be any more problematic than many other paradoxes which occur in the
context of religious writings.
In any case, since all of us were, in one sense, created from nothing and are still not
yet the fullness of that something which we are becoming, then it should come as no
surprise to have to conclude that all of us have within us the seeds of evil, that
remnant of nothingness which is being replaced by the meaningfulness which is
existence and a partaking of the divine.
7-65. If there is a single metaphysical assumption (besides the existence of God)
which lies behind the present work, it is indeed the assumption that the world is
incomplete. This assumption almost forces one to forego the process of judging the
moral worth of others. An incomplete creation implies also incomplete human beings,
beings who have not reached the fullness of their potential rationality and wisdom.
Judging and blaming them for their failings is pointless: sin exists, but knowing when
to assess blame is both impossible and pointless.
Perhaps God never blames. Perhaps that is a lesson that Jesus, God incarnate,
came to teach. Perhaps it was also a lesson that he, as a human being, had to learn.
Otherwise we should have to assume that he sprang forth "complete" from the womb.
If Jesus did act in a retributive manner in driving the money-changers from the
temple and in judging the Pharisaic priesthood harshly, then one must reflect upon the
fact that these events were followed by his own greatest trials. Is it possible that even
the Christ had to have his faith in his teachings of non-judgment and non-retribution
tested to the fullest, just as do other human beings? I am not comfortable with such
a conclusion, but it is a possibility.
7-66. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." If Jesus was wise, and
if he also "increased in wisdom" (Luke 2:52), then these last words are the culmina
tion of his wisdom. If he increased in wisdom, then he did not always have perfect
Perhaps he only finally attained it on the cross. Perhaps only there did he see the
necessity of forgiving prior to repentance. If we could learn that, we would instantly
abolish penitentiaries, those places where we send persons to become "penitent," to
repent. What a sacrilege! What utter human folly, that we believe that the best way
to teach virtue is to brutalize further.
7-67. How does one survive psychologically--spiritually--in prison, or in the face
of any kind of harsh judgment from others?
Perhaps one finally learns that survival and redemption come not only from
admitting to oneself one's failings, but giving one's jailers or persecutors the benefit
of the doubt: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.
7-68. Perhaps the metaphysical assumption of incomplete knowledge implies the
ethical conclusion of forgiveness: from recognition of the fact that persons commit
evil deeds out of incomplete knowledge and understanding comes the ethical
conclusion that one ought thereby to forego judgment.
Non-retributivism, an ethical conclusion, thus might have its foundation in a
metaphysical assumption of the incompleteness of the divine creation, including the
incomplete development of human understanding and of human nature.
7-69. The idea of God in his Providence as being in control of an Infinite Set of
Benign Contingencies would have enormous implications for pacifism. Those who
do not "see their way clear" (in terms of predicting consequences) might yet take
some comfort from knowing that God has provided contingencies for dealing with the
supposedly blind and sometimes imprudent choices which all persons are called upon
to make. This moral comfort, which we call "faith," could provide the basis for self-
sacrificial actions, actions which at the time of decision seem to imply no future for
the individual. In cases where death is not indeed the outcome (as it sometimes will
be), the comfort of knowing that God stands in the wings with surprising (and
surprisingly) peaceful solutions might be seen to imply that some otherwise
"impractical" or "na‹ve" solutions (by the prudential standards of the self-
proclaimed "realists") might be the ultimate in practicality.
Thus in a very literal sense one who has "no thought for tomorrow" or who stands
prepared to "lose his life that he may gain it" is not necessarily an imprudent fool after
all: God may have designed his creation such that those who are seemingly imprudent
in the sense of indifference to their personal welfare as they try to promote the will of
God may well be protected and backed up by infinite benign contingencies, implying
a backup for every possible situation. One wants to emphasize that this does not
mean that such actors will always fare well or even survive by worldly standards. It
is only to say that, even when a course of action seems foolish or imprudent by
worldly standards, it might well be in strict accordance with the will of God and thus
quite wise and prudent in the ultimate and most meaningful sense.
7-70. If there are any implications about ethics as a result of speculations about
time, especially the future, it would seem that consequentialist ethics such as
utilitarianism are most suspect. For, if the future is not yet, and thus is not, then
neither are future consequences, and thus it is hard to see how that which is not can
be the ultimate basis for ethical decision-making, as proclaimed by the principle of
utility. What we know of the future is that it seems to be subject to change, and it
seems that, although we certainly must take account of expected consequences in
moral decision-making and in all action, it would be a mistake to make that which is
subject to change the ultimate basis of our choices.
It would seem far better to make the ultimate foundation of decision-making that
which is eternal and unchanging: not expected consequences, but the ultimate and
complete will of God, as well as we can ascertain it. On the basis of our conception
of the will of God, it would seem to be the case that we are obligated to try to bring
future ends or consequences into being in accordance with that will, using means or
methods which are also in accordance with that will.
7-71. There is a tradition, now the philosophical fashion, that says that philoso
phers should begin with weak metaphysical premises or assumptions, so that we can
proceed with our arguments and discussions from "settled ideas" or "settled assump-
tions" (whatever those might be). To posit the existence of God, or to speculate
about his nature, or about human nature, is not seen by such persons to be a fruitful
way to proceed: persons disagree too much about such things, we are told, as if we
are being given a great new insight.
I have one thing to say to that tradition: weak assumptions, weak conclusions.
7-72. Why do the true retributivists say over and over that only the "blood of the
Lamb" washes away or forgives sins?
They say it because such a belief saves them from the necessity of forgiving sins.
They can repeat the incantation and then get back to the dirty business of war,
punishment, and social exclusion of all kinds. By their retributive metaphysic of God
they thus make all of their religious beliefs totally irrelevant for ethical action in this
life. True forgiveness would mean saving persons in the here and now, in practical
This is the lesson that a mature Christianity must learn if it is to realize its mission
of redemption and salvation in the world. To speak of saving souls in the next life
while being indifferent to the welfare of individual persons or souls in this life is the
greatest folly of which a nominal Christianity is capable, and it is a folly which it
achieves on a regular and predictable basis.
Is there a war to be fought? Then rest assured that "Christians" will come to the
fray. Are there wrongdoers to be apprehended and punished? Then look for
"Christians" on the forefront of this or that crowd hungry for "justice."
For God came into the world, and the world knew him not. Nor does it yet.