Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Preston Sprinkle on the Killer at the Door

It's hard to follow the logical structure in this latest post.  It's not clear what the central issue is that is being debated between Sprinkle and Wilson.

Sprinkle says that his main problem is with militarism:

My main problem is with the underlying spirit, which believes that power and violence is the way that evil is overcome. A spirit which proclaims:
      Of course we should carpet bomb terrorists.
      Of course we should kill people on death row.
      Of course we should take out the bad guys with as much force as necessary.
      Of course Christians can kill other people if it’s in war. (American Christians, that is.       Christians in other countries don’t get the same pass.)
It’s not our reluctance to use violence as a lesser of two evils—which acknowledges that it’s still evil. Rather, it’s the eagerness with which we think that violence is the best way to deal with evil, which is exemplified in American Christianity’s fascination with military might. The bigger, the badder, the better. Military historian Andrew Bacevich recently said: “Were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this…country becomes inconceivable.” 
The issue is with militarism--the underlying spirit of militarism.  But it's not clear to me to whom Sprinkle is referring or his intended audience.  The series of "of course" statements suggests he's referring to people who are confident in the claims that follow.  I would be one of those (depending at least on how one disambiguates those somewhat ambiguous statements).  I'm confident, because I've thought about the issue a decent amount, and the evidence against doesn't outweigh the evidence for.  I've never seen a good argument for pacifism and not for lack of trying.  But what's wrong with being confident based on your evaluation of the evidence?  Sprinkle too seems pretty confident.  One can be confident that it's sometimes permissible to use violence while thinking that violence is a last resort; one can think that violence is to be used as a last resort only when one has good evidence that it would be worse not to use violence in the particular situation.

But perhaps it's not confidence with the issue but eagerness.  Eagerness to choose violence as the best way to deal with evil.  Here again I wonder who in particular he has in mind or how many in his audience thinks this way.  Of course we know hotheads who have a penchant for violence, but how many are reading his blog?  I don't know any politician on either side of the aisle who thinks that violence is always or even usually the best way to deal with evil.  (He occasionally talks about the death penalty--which I've discussed before--but the death penalty is rarely used).  Like most issues, it depends on the circumstances.  Very few think that it's better to use violence if an equally good non-violent solution is present.  The debate, then, is over the empirical facts and whether violence in such-and-such circumstances is the best, final option rather than alternatives.  For example, would it be better to let ISIS continue to implement its destructive will on its defenseless victims, or does justice call for military action by the U.S. and/or NATO?  If the latter, will airstrikes be enough to stop the spread of Isis combined with strategically places special forces units, or must there be another ground invasion?  Failure to act could result in at least as much destruction.  Reasonable people can disagree about the likely outcomes.  The answers aren't always obvious.

Then the discussion takes an odd turn:
You want to use violence to defend your family in the rare (yet real) case that someone breaks into your home preprogrammed solely to massacre your wife and kids? Fine. Heck, in the heat of the moment, maybe I would too. But this isn’t the main problem. [my emphasis]The problem is that our posture toward our enemies and method of dealing with evil looks no different than the world’s. How we think about taking care of the person busting down our front door is only the tip of the iceberg.

In any case, let’s go ahead and dive into the well-known scenario thrown at pacifists to see if its ethic is worth its salt. My friend Nicolas Richard Arndt will stand in for our questioner who wants to show that pacifism doesn’t work in the real world. His name is really long, so we’ll just go with his initials (NRA). 
What would Sprinkle do if someone attacked his family?  Maybe defend his family.  Okay, fair enough.  It's not always easy to say what you would do.  (Though, I know what I'd do--defend my wife and defenseless kids with whatever force is necessary).  Then he switches back to posture--matters of the heart so to speak.  So what's at issue?  What Preston would do or matters of the heart? Or the morality of pacifism?

What follows after that is a long hypothetical conversation between Sprinkle and an NRA friend where Sprinkle changes the scenario.  It's again about what Sprinkle would do.  He'd use nonviolence to stop the attacker.  He doesn't have a gun.  What if he did?  He's shoot the gun out of his hand (maybe).  He'd pray. And so forth.

What is the point of this dialogue?  Is it to help us see what Sprinkle would or would not do?  He already said he might use violence in the heat of the moment; I see no reason not to take him at his word.  So what's the point of the long dialogue?  It looks like an extremely long red-herring fallacy.  It appears to serve no purpose other than to distract the reader from the issue of what one should or should not do if a violent criminal invaded one's home and mortally threatened one's family.

Finally, he wraps up the discussion by saying:

I don’t live in a theoretical world; I live in a world turned upside down by a God who justifies the ungodly and calls us to love our enemies.

What would I do if someone tried to harm my family? I’ll disembowel him before I slit his throat with a dull knife. But the question isn’t what would I do, but what should I do. 

So he would use violence.  Or is this tongue-in-cheek?  At any rate, what he would do does not matter.  The question is what he should do.

I agree!  (Then what was the point of the long dialogue?)  What one needs to get clear on is what should be done.  That way if one does find oneself in a similar situation, or finds oneself drafted in the military, or finds one's kid inquiring into whether he should go into law enforcement, one isn't having to think about what one should do in the heat of the moment and one is mentally prepared to do what one thinks one should do or refrain from doing what one thinks one shouldn't.

Sprinkle says he doesn't live in the real world.  He doesn't like this hypothetical scenarios of unlikely situations.

Of course we all live in the real world--the actual world.  But we also think about hypothetical situations, many of which never become actual.  What should I do if I flunk out of college?  What should I do if I ask this girl to marry me and she says no?  Who should I vote for if it's Trump vs. Hillary?  What should I say to my son if he wants to enlist in the Army?

Most cops and military personnel never fire a single shot in combat.  But they prepare both mentally and physically to do what they should and avoid what they shouldn't in the event that they are called upon to do so.  The relative unlikelihood only makes a difference in how much thinking and training are to be invested.  If a situation is very unlikely and not very important, less thought and training is to be invested; the more likely and important, the more thinking and training should be invested.

Matters of life and death are important.  Some thinking and weighing of arguments is a worthy investment even if the situations being thought about are unlikely. The stakes are high whether you act or refrain from acting.

Here's a real life situation, not a "theoretical" hypothetical (whatever that is): An impressionable student reads Sprinkle's book on nonviolence and pacifism.  He has a Christian father and relatives who are police officers.  They are sensible folk with no spirit of militarism.  They think that their calling is to bring salt and light into the police force.  They seem to be above average policemen.  The student, though, starts to question whether his relatives are Christians or at least good Christians.  Would the police force be better without them?  Should they find a new career?  Were they wrong about their calling?  How should he now relate to them?

These are questions worth thinking about.  Arguments for and against are worth weighing.  I find Sprinkle's discussion on the matter of police unclear.

For more on the issue see my post on Sprinkle's chapter on the attacker at the door.

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