The Just War doctrine relates to the notion that, in certain circumstances, war may be ethically justified for reasons of personal, national or religious self-defense. This has nothing to do with a disturbed individual taking on the role of “savior” of humanity through horrific and irrational acts of violence, as we’ve recently seen, for instance, in Norway.
With no direct New Testament scriptural support for the idea of a Just War, Catholic Tradition endorses it. St. Augustine supports the Just War on the basis of numerous holy wars portrayed in the Old Testament. The Middle Ages endorsed it in the Inquisitions. And the most recent Catholic Catechism cites St. Thomas Aquinas, who condones killing as a legitimate form of self defense, be that personal or national (1995: p. 604).
The contemporary understanding of the Just War speaks to the organized killing, when absolutely necessary, of other human beings on the wrong side of the religious or political fence. All peaceful solutions have failed, the enemy poses some kind of grand scale threat and there’s a reasonable expectation of victory. Most theologians, for instance, would agree that Hitler and the Nazi’s simply had to be stopped.
Similarities and Differences in non-Christian Religions
In Islam, the notion of Jihad might point to a uniquely Islamic understanding of a kind of ‘Just War’ doctrine (although it would not be called a Just War because that is a uniquely Christian concept). And in Hinduism, the Baghavad-Gita endorses killing in keeping with one’s moral duty to uphold the apparently sacred dharma. While it may be hard for many to see what these two forms of war have to do with self-defense, an intellectual argument could probably be made within each religion to try to convince others that these kinds of war are about self-defense. One, of course, doesn’t have to agree. And God knows the truth of the matter.
Meanwhile, Buddhist scriptures speak of peace and non-violence, and Buddhism is often hailed as a non-violent path. But Moojan Momen points out that scriptural, philosophical and folkloric justifications for violence exist in the Buddhist tradition (Moojan Momen, The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach, Oxford: Oneworld, 1999, p. 410). Bernard Faure also says that Buddhist doctrine has often been adapted to justify war (Bernard Faure, “Buddhism and Violence,” Sangam.org, December 6, 2003). And John Ferguson draws on scripture, legend and history to outline five justifications for war in the Buddhist tradition (War and Peace in the World’s Religions, London: Sheldon Press, 1977, pp. 55-57).
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A Kshatriya is a hereditary member of the warrior caste, as outlined in the Hindu Veda.
The whole concept of the Kshatriya raises concerns among some thinking people because in the Bhagavad Gita it justifies killing on the basis of this being some kind of sacred duty (dharma).
This idea is comparable to the Catholic notion of the “Just War,” but not equivalent because Catholicism, and Christian scripture in general, clearly advocates “turning the other cheek” and “loving one’s enemies” as the ultimate ideal–an ideal not found in the Bhagavad Gita.
Some Hindus maintain that Krishna only advocates war after all attempts at obtaining a peaceful solution to a family conflict have failed (not unlike the Just War concept). But these peacemaking attempts certainly are not emphasized in the Bhagavad Gita, itself, as they are in the New Testament. While the New Testament predicts that wars will occur in the future, at no place does it advocate them nor claim that a war can have a holy status, as we find in the Bhagavad Gita.
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Ahimsa Mohandas Gandhi‘s life exemplified this Jain ideal of non-violence.
Himsa means “harming.” The prefix a implies the opposite, “not-harming.”
Ahimsa is based on respect for all life. It’s believed that violence to the living merely harms self and others, binding the doer to undesirable future incarnations on Earth.
The ideal is central to Buddhism and particularly Jainism. Because the early Hindu Vedas prescribe animal sacrifices and the Bhagavad Gita advocates killing without attachment, it would be difficult to say that Hinduism fits perfectly with ahimsa. But the idea is found within the Hindu Chandogya Upanisad and in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
As with Catholicism from St. Augustine of Hippo onward, Hinduism advocates peace while maintaining room for allegedly necessary violence, also known as the Just War.
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Arjuna Renowned hero in Indian culture and Krishna‘s charioteer in the Bhagavad Gita.
Arjuna arguably has the status of a demigod among of much the Hindu-Indian populace.
In the Gita he is prodded by Krishna to fight kith and kin.
Despite his initial reluctance, he overcomes the chronic procrastination which Shakespeare‘s Hamlet cannot–that is, a crippling fear, self-doubt and over-thinking that leads to inaction.
Krishna instructs Arjuna that the body dies but the soul is immortal. Arjuna’s kshatriya caste demands as sacred duty (dharma) that he fight.
According to a literal interpretation of the Gita, it is far better to do one’s dharma – even if this entails killing – than to ignore it.
Today the Gita is cherished for its psychological and spiritual value. Arjuna’s “killing” is usually understood as the death of negative attitudes which otherwise would bind the eternal soul (atman) to worldly pleasures and desires.
On the political level, however, the Gita may be interpreted as roughly paralleling the Christian notion of the just war and the Moslem idea of Jihad.
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Augustine of Hippo, St. (354-430) St. Augustine is one of the most influential figures in Christian history and one of the four Latin Doctors of the Catholic Church. Another theological luminary, St. Thomas Aquinas, often refers to Augustine.
In his Confessions Augustine says that prior to his conversion he was a libertine, flatterer, hedonist and dabbler in just about every philosophy in existence during the early years of Christianity.
Before converting he was a leading scholar and teacher. He had read Plato and Cicero, and became especially fond of Manichaeism.
In 372 he had a son, Adeonatus, out of wedlock.
After years of intervening prayer from his mother, St. Monica, Augustine allegedly “saw the light.”
A passage from the New Testament utterly changed him and he quickly embraced his new-found faith. Adeonatus followed.
Augustine was ordained in 391 and leveled an attack on the non-Christian religions of his day, especially Roman paganism.
In The City of God (413-426) he asks: If the Roman gods are so powerful, why did they allow Rome to fall?
He writes of two cities: one ruled by God and inhabited by the chosen people, the other ruled by the Devil and inhabited by those lost to darkness.
Augustine also refuted the Christian heresies of Donatism and Pelegianism.
His understanding of time is sometimes likened to that of Albert Einstein and Carl Jung‘s but this is a mistake. Augustine’s view of time is rooted within primitive, old-world thinking.
For Augustine God exists above and beyond creation in an eternal present but this does not mean that the past and the future always exist within creation, as some New Age and New Physics thinkers believe.
Rather, time for Augustine is a subjective experience discerned through motion and change.
If the past and future do exist…they are not there as future of past, but as present.” He continues “…it is only possible to see something which exists. So when we speak of foreseeing the future, we do not see things which are not yet in being, that is, things which are future, but it may be that we see their causes or signs, which are already in being.” From this he concludes, “…it is abundantly clear that neither the future nor the past exist, and therefore it is not strictly correct to say that there are three times, past, present, and future. It might be correct to say that there a that there are three times, a present of past things, a present of present things, and a present of future things.
Saint Augustine Of Hippo, Confessions. Trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1961. pp. 267-269.
For Augustine, God knows every event that has happened, is and will happen, not because God is all events and all time but because God creates and exists above and beyond all events and time. God, therefore, has perfect knowledge of past, present and future or, as some writers put it, such knowledge exists “in the mind of God.”†
Thus Augustine’s view of God differs from theorists who tend to associate God with a so-called “world soul” (anima mundi) and from pantheistic philosophers claiming that Creator and Creation are identical or two interconnected phases of one unified process.
For many Christians and other monotheists, God is above and beyond but also immanent within creation–this being a very different conceptualization (with equally different ethical and perhaps experiential implications) that merely saying God is “All That Is.”
On the issue of Free Will vs. Determinism, Augustine essentially says that we are free to make personal choices but God knows in advance how we will choose.
Atheists find this standpoint unsatisfactory, while those who have taken a leap of faith do not. The former tend to want to understand everything with their intellects first. The latter believe that they will be taught by God what they need to know when the time is right.
It seems the two positions (atheism vs. faith-based) represent qualitatively different approaches-that is, different modes of being, experiencing and understanding. Although this claim is complicated by the fact that many say that atheism is founded on belief and furthermore, that the word “faith” has a variety of connotations among believers.
Augustine is also known for articulating the idea of the Just War, a view which some Christians find appalling, regarding it as a Satanic distortion of Jesus’ message, perpetuated by various man-made religious doctrines purporting to be divinely inspired.
†This may seem a trivial distinction to some but it has important implications for discourse on memory, intuition, insight, premonition and precognition and, in particular, the hypothesized mechanisms which would enable these faculties.