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“what would you do if someone broke into your home…?”: responding to a common objection to nonviolence

On life.remixed I’ve often addressed questions and concerns about peace and violence. Recently I interviewed a friend and anti-war activist, Simon Moyle, and there was much in the way of fruitful (and passionate) discussion in the aftermath.

One of the most common objections to nonviolence is a question which normally goes something like, “What would you do if, say, someone broke into your home with a gun to kill your wife/partner/child?”

The challenger often uses this question as a way of demonstrating that the pacifist’s conviction about violence is inconsistent, and that the existence of violence is necessary. It is often posed in such a way that if the pacifist cannot give a satisfactory answer then violence is apparently vindicated, even in terms of warfare, despite the fact that the analogy between personal and collective violence is flawed.

Theologian John Howard Yoder suggests that the question suffers from a number of debilitating assumptions that are almost always unconscious to the challenger. Yoder posits that since there is no such thing as a self-interpreting situation we must understand the questioner’s assumptions before we can even try to answer the question. Read the rest of this entry

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