Justice and peace

  • Created by: devinter
  • Created on: 16-04-16 16:58

Christian Attitudes to War

Central to Christ’s teaching is the idea that people should love one another and try to live in peace.However, the Old Testament and most Christian thinkers suggest that sometimes a war is necessary to overcome evilSuch a war will still be wrong in itself but it is not as bad as what could happen if the enemy were not fought

It may also be seen as necessary to fight in defence of the weak As with many things the Bible give differing viewpoints and Christians have to decide which teaching is most relevant to their current situation 

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Holy War

As a missionary religion Christianity has always actively sought converts and from time to time it has been involved in socalled ‘Holy Wars’

The best example of this was the Crusades where Christian Europe fought to keep Jerusalem and the Holy Land in Christian hands; crusaders were told it was not a sin to kill non-Christians

Major Christian denominations today would not support the idea of Holy War

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Just War Theory

To help deal with the confused teachings in the Bible, St Thomas Aquinas developed the ‘Just War Theory’ in the thirteenth century

Many Christians believe that a war can be the lesser of two evils and the Just War theory helps to identify situations where this may be the case and according to Just War theory a war is justified if:

  • It is started by the proper authority – the legitimate government or ruler
  • The people or country being attacked have done something to deserve it (Just Cause)
  • The war is being fought to promote good and to avoid evil (Just Intention)
  • War is the last resort after all other ways to resolve the conflict have been tried

Two more criteria were added later:

  • Innocent civilians should not be harmed and there should be proportionality – only the necessary force and/or weapons should be used
  • Peace must be restored at the end of the conflict

It is only possible to tell if a war satisfied all of these criteria once the war is over

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Pacifism and Conscientious Objection

There are people who are opposed to any participation in wars: in the past they have been called ‘conscientious objectors‘. Such people are not always Christians although some Christian groups do adopt this view. For example the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) hold the view that war is never right under any circumstances This is called ‘Pacifism’

Pacifists can be divided into

  • Absolute Pacifists who believe violence is always wrong, even if it is in self-defence or for a good cause
  • Conditional Pacifists who believe that while violence is intrinsically wrong it is sometimes the lesser of two evils

Some Christians Churches are Absolute Pacifists such as the Quakers (see above) and the Amishin America.The Amish are so committed to Pacifism that anything with links to war or violence is frowned upon – for example Amish men do not have moustaches as this is a fashion that developed through the military. Many people argue that since Christ allowed himself to be killed, and instructed his followers not to defend him, even self-defence is not an acceptable excuse for violence.Other Churches have supported wars in the past and would be described as Conditional Pacifists 

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Christianity and the Treatment of Criminals

Central to Christian teachings is a message of love and forgiveness and Christianity teaches that God loves everyone and forgives people’s sins if they genuinely repent. Christianity is unique in having a founder who was executed as a criminal; Jesus rose then rose from the dead to redeem the sins of humanity

All of this means that Christians are often seen as being ‘soft’ on criminals because they preach forgiveness and don’t believe in retribution.They do believe that there is a need for those who break the law to be punished, but it is important that these punishments are just

Justice is about treating people as they deserve – no better and no worse

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Aims of Punishment

Sociologists have identified six aims that punishments may have

  • Retribution: a punishment that fits the crime e.g. executing a murderer
  • Protection: protecting society from the criminal e.g. prison
  • Deterrence: discouraging others from doing the same thing or the original criminal from doing it again
  • Reform: fitting the criminal for a different lifestyle e.g. providing training for a new job 
  • Reparation: making amends for the crime, giving something back to society e.g. community service
  • Vindication: showing the need to respect the law and the justice of punishment e.g. prison sentences for contempt of court

Christian principles would suggest that Christians are unlikely to agree with retribution or revenge as this is not a loving way to act and most Christians would approve of protection, reform and reparation.Some Christians support the idea of restorative justice where the criminal and their victim can meet in order to try to understand one another better

An important point for Christians is that the criminal is also a human made in the image of God and part of God’s plan for humanity but, since humanity was given free will they believe that criminals have chosen to commit their crimes and so should take the consequences

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Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry lived in the nineteenth century and At this time prisons were extremely unpleasant places – there was no drainage or sanitation; cells were overcrowded; not enough food was available to the prisoners; prisoners were subject to violence and abuse. Many of the people in the prisons had only committed minor crimes such as theft of a loaf of bread.Children were kept in the same prisons as adults – some as young as 7 or 8

Elizabeth Fry was a Quaker and she was one of the first people to campaign for prisoners to be given basic human rights. She worked particularly in Newgate prison in London to end cruelty and abuse and to achieve better living conditions. She introduced the idea that prisoners should be entitled to some privacy. She also advocated teaching them a trade so that they wouldn’t go back to crime when their sentence was over

Many of her ideas are still used today and some Christian groups still work in prisons today – for example Prison Visitors visit people who have no one else to visit them 

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Capital Punishment For

Capital Punishment is the taking of a criminal’s life as a punishment for their crime .Capital punishment can be carried out in many ways including: hanging, shooting, stoning, gassing, electrocution, lethal injection, beheading and society as whole is divided on the issue of capital punishment and so is Christianity

People in Favour say…

  • It ensures that criminals will never re-offend
  • It is a deterrent to others considering the same crime
  • It demonstrates how seriously society takes some crimes
  • The victim’s family will feel justice has been done
  • The Bible says to ‘take life for life’
  • Capital Punishment has been around as long as the human race has
  • Revenge is a natural impulse when a terrible thing has happened
  • It costs less to kill someone than to keep them in prison 
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Capital Punishment AGAINST

People Against say… 

  • There is no evidence that it puts people off committing crimes
  • It is cruel and inhumane to take someone’s life
  • Executions spread the grief to another innocent family
  • It turns all of us into murderers as killing is done in our name
  • Killing someone is still expensive
  • Even if killing someone is cheaper than life in prison it is a terrible thing to put money above life
  • It creates a violent society where killing is acceptable
  • You cannot pardon a corpse if you find out you were wrong
  • Executions risk creating martyrs
  • In a civilised society revenge should have no part in justice
  • We can never be certain enough we have the right person
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Social Injustice

This is a situation where some members of society are allowed fewer rights and privileges than others. Christians believe that all people are made in the image of God and so equally valuable. This means that Christians should try to make the world a fairer place.

The Bible contains teachings about – looking after the poor and weak, not having favourites or discriminating for any reason, treating ‘aliens’ (people who are not from your own country) as you would treat your relatives.

Liberation Theology is a Christian movement which aims to put these beliefs into action – it is particularly active in South America where Christians risk their own lives speaking out against the injustices that they see around them

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Biblical teachings about war

“Prepare for war! Rouse the Warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears ” Joel 3:9

“Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Michah 4:3

 “Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it” Psalm 34:15

“You have heard that it was said „eye for eye and tooth for tooth‟. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also.” Matthew 26:52

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven” Matthew 5:44–45

 “„Put your sword back in its place‟, Jesus said to him, „for all who draw the sword will die by the sword‟.” Matthew 26:52

“In everything do to others what you would have them to unto you; for that is the law and the prophets” Matthew 7:12

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Biblical teachings on punishment

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” Proverbs 23:13–14

“Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear it and be afraid.” Deuteronomy 21:21

 “If a man steals and ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” Exodus 22:1

“But if there is serious injury you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Exodus 21:23–25

 “Appoint judges and officials…and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone.” Deuteronomy 16:18–20

“If any one of you is without sin let him be the first to throw the stone at her.” John 8:7

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brothers eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 

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Biblical teaching on social injustice

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galations 3:28

 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.” Leviticus 19:33–34

 “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a golden ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say „here‟s a good seat for you‟ but say to the poor man „stand there‟ or „sit on the floor by my feet‟ have you not discriminated amongst yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:2–4

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