Archive for the ‘Public opinion’ Category
The Cause of Peace Demands the Specific Attention of Christians
“There is not one generation of the church which has slumbered over the evils of war that can stand guiltless.”
IF war could be abolished, and peace universally secured, the combined voice of mankind would admit it were a consummation devoutly to be wished.
But notwithstanding this admission, to some the whole subject of peace is but an Utopian scheme. To others, who admit the truth of inspired prophecy, universal peace is something that will take place in some distant age, but like the beauty of a fair morning, or the blessings of a fruitful season, it will be the absolute gift of God, exclusive of all human agency. Some entirely despair of its accomplishment, and feel that war, though terrible, is as inevitable as the tempest and the earthquake. Others stand aloof, and gravely rebuke its friends because they propose no one simple, undisputed principle, around which all may gather for common adoption and combined action. And others again seem to feel that no special effort is necessary, imagining that the general advancement of philosophy and Christianity will do the work.
We are persuaded that these views are fraught with no little danger to the whole cause of Christian benevolence and philanthropy. Their influence, so far as it extends, (and this in some of the above forms is over a wide portion of the community,) discourages all distinct attention to the cause of universal peace on earth. The first point is, to convince the advocates of Christian benevolence that something can, and ought to be done in the way of specific and direct action. The evils of war, in all their dreadful detail, should be exposed to view, its effects upon social enjoyment, national prosperity, civil liberty, life, morals, religion, and every thing which enters into the composition of human happiness, should be effectually exhibited, for the purpose of awaking and directing the feelings of mankind; but still the great object now is to bring the Christian community to feel obligation and be excited by a sense of duty and responsibility. In our view, the church, (and we use the word as including all who believe and love the gospel), must put forth efforts with specific reference to the cause of peace, or war will forever remain spreading its mourning and woe over the face of the earth, and laying its obstacles before every movement of the good, in their efforts of humanity and benevolence.
Full and deep is our persuasion, that the church will soon see, and be obliged to admit, that the cause of benevolence most fearfully, and perhaps fatally, labours under the weight which the spirit of war is from every side throwing upon it. But alas! so far is the church from this position, that if Christianity, in form and feeling as she now exhibits it, were to become universal, it would leave the nations of the earth still in the allowed use of all their terrible preparations for the slaughter of each other. And would such a result be that day of glory which the ancient Prophets have so exultingly described? Surely, something must be done to spread Christianity through the earth, a better form than her professors have practiced for sixteen centuries, or the leopard and the kid, the lion and the lamb, will never lie down together. Good men, who love the gospel, and believe its predictions, must be brought to act together, on this subject, with zeal and energy. The time is coming when nation shall no more lift up sword against nation, but like every other predicted good to man, it involves the obligation of his own direct agency; and it is time that with the prediction in view, and the way of its fulfilment clearly seen, the Christian world were up and moving on in firm faith to its accomplishment.
Many reasons combine their influence in urging to such a direct and specific effort in the cause of peace.
1. The world will not free itself from war spontaneously.
Evils seldom cure themselves by their own operation. However terrible be the consequences which spring from the lusts of men, we never witness such a phenomenon as the rising of the mass of mankind spontaneously, and throwing off their vices, and thus shaking themselves loose from the despotism of their own appetites. The examples are all the other way. Unless some bold and zealous reformer has risen up, and with unsparing rebuke and faithful warning aroused the people, and in persuasive eloquence led them away from their delusions, they have gone on like the old world, filling the earth with violence; or like Sodom augmenting their wickedness before the Lord “exceedingly,” until his judgments have “cut short the work in righteousness by an awful extermination.” War presents no exception to this general rule. The years of the present century which have already passed, afford no encouragement in regard to the future, when left to its own course. In this term of thirty-five years, are included almost all the wars of Buonaparte, with the horrours of the Russian campaign, the bloody battle of Borodino, the passage of the Beresina, and the final consummation on the field of Waterloo—the wars with Greece, with the massacre at Scio—the war of America with Great Britain—the civil wars of Spain and Portugal—the invasion of Turkey by the Russians, with many other wars of less note, in South America, Europe, and Asia. How loudly do they proclaim that the savage thirst for blood is still unslaked, and that deeds of butchery are not yet foresworn, even by those who bear the Christian name! The present moment, it is true, is more calm; the future prospect is more bright, but it is not by any means the result of the mingled action of the vices and passions of men, working themselves pure from their defilements, by their own motion. The men of peace, and the still more widely diffused principles of peace, though unseen, are abroad in the earth; prayer and labour go hand in hand, and the public mind, unconscious whence it comes, begins to feel their influence. So by the silent influence of the dew of heaven, the air is softened and purified, and a fresher green is spread over the face of nature. But let these few hands hang down, through weariness and despondency, because the professed disciples of Christ refuse any encouraging cooperation, and the nations, unchecked, will pursue the course to which pride, revenge, selfishness, and mad ambition, urge, and the present calm be of but short duration; it will prove but the stillness before the storm. The tempest of war will again sweep over the land, and spread its mangled and bleeding victims over a thousand battle fields.
2. The deep delusion which prevails on this subject.
The public mind seems in nothing to be led on more passively, without rational conviction, and without inquiry, than the subject of war. For ages a deep delusion has rested on the nations, and led millions to the field of battle, unconscious of the cause, and regardless of the reasons of the war, like beasts to the slaughter. The ranks are filled by a thousand expedients. The bounty and pay, the hope of plunder, the freedom from moral restraint, change, excitement, fame, discontent, caprice, conscription, intoxication, all are used to allure or compel the man to become a soldier; and when once enrolled, the force of martial discipline controls and directs him, as passive to all the purposes of rational self-government as the weapon he wields. He is henceforth a simple instrument in the hand of another, to be used in the most effective way for human destruction. An hundred thousand men on a side are thus arrayed against each other; all made in the image of God, responsible to him for every act, at the price of eternal retributions, giving up their reason, and conscience, and submitting to be used by one ambitious or angry man, according to his own unquestioned order, and in blind compliance therewith turning all their force upon each other, to wound, and maim, and kill, in the greatest possible degree, till, in a few hours, half of them have fallen on the field, and their souls by thousands, in all their uncancelled guilt, have gone to the judgment. Where is there delusion so deep and dreadful as this, except it be that which permits the world and the church to look on and see the destruction of their brethren, with no inquiry into its necessity, no examination of its cause, no efforts to avert its certain and frequent recurrence? Here is one of the most astonishing instances to how dreadful an evil the human mind can be exposed, and yet from the force of long continued and deep seated delusion, slumber in guilty neglect and indifference.
A thousand things conspire to perpetuate this delusion. War appeals to all the bad passions of human nature, and also administers to the gratification of what is styled the nobler qualities of man. There is not only revenge and rapine and licentiousness for the depraved, but splendour, and distinction, and power for the ambitious. Deeds of heroic courage and intrepid valour, and sometimes even of generous sacrifice and patriotic endurance spread a magic charm around this work of butchery, dazzling and deluding the mind, while poetry and its kindred arts lend their aid to heighten the effect. The option so generally imbibed, that this whole subject is beyond the reach of common hands, and in the keeping of legislators and national cabinets, as if they were sacred retreats from the influence of public sentiment, and the intrusion of injunctions of divine authority, with the power of precedent and habit, serve to bind this curse upon the world as with “bands of iron and brass.” Those who “will not touch it with one of their fingers,” bind the burden without resistance or rebuke on others, whose wealth, and sons, and blood, must be put in contribution to sustain it. And can such an evil be removed by efforts having no distinct aim or specific direction?
That credulous heart which has expected such a result, from such means, will meet with certain disappointment. The evil, in its length and breadth, must be measured, and the overwhelming sum of misery and death which it occasions, must be told, with direct purpose to awaken the slumbering millions that they may understand it, and arouse themselves to effort. In no other way will the least ray of hope dawn upon the future.
3. Peace is important not only as an end, but as a means.
While the final triumph of religion is sure, it is not to be expected that the cause of peace will have no distinct agency in accomplishing this triumph. That it is simply to be combined with other blessings, and not itself to be a powerful agent in the accomplishment of other benevolent aims, is an opinion violating all probability. No subject seems to have filled the minds of ancient Prophets with more ecstacy than this. On no occasion do they pour forth their fervid emotions in more glowing language, than when describing the profound and holy peace which is to pervade the nations under the gospel. Whatever may be the state of the church now, prophets and apostles of old, held this fact in the most prominent and conspicuous point of view. The sons of peace, and the nations of peace, were to be the direct instruments of advancing still farther the principles and blessings of the gospel.
Thus the cause of peace is to be viewed not merely as an item in the last triumph, but as one of the essential agents in securing it.
The common knowledge of the wars of Christendom is one of the greatest obstacles to the success of Christian missionary work. The taunting and cutting remark has been made to more than one missionary— look at home! The traditions of the bloody Crusades, and the remembrance of the invasion of Egypt by the French, are still retained by all the inhabitants on the plains of Turkey and Persia. Oh! how deep rooted must be the prejudices in many a non-Christian mind, throughout Asia, and suffering Africa, against any gift from nations whom they know to be so often, and so deeply stained with blood. We shall never win their confidence while in one hand we bear the gospel which reveals it, and in the other, hold a sword. Whatever may be the spirit and principles of the new religion, the practice of those nations who profess it will be felt the first, and strike the deepest. No miracle is needed to carry conviction to non-Christian minds that the religion of the Bible is from heaven. It is enough that it be sent to them by a people who practice according to its pure and peaceful principles.
4. To clear the church from the guilt of war.
In morals and religion, we are responsible for the evils which we might have prevented, as well as for those which we immediately occasion. There is not therefore one generation of the church which has slumbered over the evils of war, that can stand guiltless before God. Though in times of general ignorance, God may have “winked at it,” yet now most emphatically, is the call to repent, and to “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” Light has been shed upon the evils, and the absurdity of war as a redress for national grievances, both from nature and the Bible. Whatever may be said of the very few wars in self defence, for national existence, the great proportion of all wars, (the exceptions are so few as not to modify the general rule)—can be characterized only as bloody, savage, guilty transactions. Every injury inflicted, evil incurred, and life lost, cries aloud to heaven for justice, to be executed somewhere. And if the church of God, by slumbering at her post, is giving occasion to evils which she might prevent, she cannot stand acquitted at the bar of her final Judge. Judgment will “begin at the house of God” for it. It may be in the shape of abortive efforts, and fruitless charities, and unanswered prayers. God will speak till his voice be heard, and his meaning understood; and if his professed people refuse then to obey, there remaineth no other judgment but utterly to “destroy both them and their fathers’ house, while enlargement and deliverance shall arise from another place.” The church cannot, therefore, without fearful guilt and danger, refuse fairly to consider this subject, and solemnly and deliberately as in the sight of her Redeemer, decide what she ought to teach—how she ought to act—and where she ought to throw her light and influence. Her missionaries, and those to whom they go, her future sons and daughters, her coming prophets and evangelists, the whole world, need the full announcement of her creed, and this illustrated by her practice. All feeling which approaches the subject of war, other than that of the most serious and prayerful frame of mind, betokens an indifference to its enormities, worthy of all rebuke from both the church and her divine Lord and Master.
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* Another item from the 19th century anti-war movement literature. Minor edits have been made for the benefit of modern readers — the webmaster.
Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847), ‘Thoughts on Universal Peace‘ (Section 3). In: Works of Thomas Chalmers. Philadelphia: Towar, 1830 (pp. 295–303). This is an example of the remarkable 19th century anti-war literature that awaits rediscovery by modern readers. More examples can be found in The Book of Peace (1845) and on my website.
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III. I trust it is evident from all that has been said, how it is only by the extension of Christian principle among the people of the earth, that the atrocities of war will at length be swept away from it; and that each of us in hastening the commencement of that blissful period, in his own sphere, is doing all that in him lies to bring his own heart, and the hearts of others, under the supreme influence of this principle. It is public opinion, which in the long run governs the world; and while I look with confidence to a gradual revolution in the state of public opinion from the omnipotence of gospel truth working its silent, but effectual way, through the families of mankind — yet I will not deny that much may be done to accelerate the advent of perpetual and universal peace, by a distinct body of men embarking their every talent, and their every acquirement in the prosecution of this, as a distinct object…. Were each individual member of such a scheme to prosecute his own walk, and come forward with his own peculiar contribution, the fruit of the united labours of all would be one of the finest collections of Christian eloquence, and of enlightened morals, and of sound political philosophy, that ever was presented to the world. I could not fasten on another cause more fitted to call forth such a variety of talent, and to rally around it so many of the generous and accomplished sons [sic] of humanity, and to give each of them a devotedness, and a power far beyond whatever could be sent into the hearts of enthusiasts, by the mere impulse of literary ambition.
Let one take up the question of war in its principle, and make the full weight of his moral severity rest upon it, and upon all its abominations. Let another take up the question of war in its consequences, and bring his every power of graphical description to the task of presenting an awakened public with an impressive detail of its cruelties and its horrors. Let another neutralize the poetry of war, and dismantle it of all those bewitching splendours, which the hand of misguided genius has thrown over it.
Let another teach the world a truer, and more magnanimous path to national glory, than any country of the world has yet walked in. Let another tell with irresistible argument, how the Christian ethics of a nation is at one with the Christian ethics of, its humblest individual.
Let another bring all the resources of his political science to unfold the vast energies of defensive war, and show, that instead of that ceaseless jealousy and disquietude, which are ever keeping alive the flame of hostility among the nations, each may wait in prepared security, till the first footstep of an invader shall be the signal for mustering around the standard of its outraged rights, all the steel, and spirit, and patriotism of the country.
Let another pour the light of modern speculation into the mysteries of trade and prove that not a single war has been undertaken for any of its objects, where the millions and the millions more which were lavished on the cause, have not all been cheated away from us by the phantom of an imaginary interest.
This may look to many like the Utopianism of a romantic anticipation — but I shall never despair of the cause of truth addressed to a Christian public, when the clear light of principle can be brought to every one of its positions, and when its practical and conclusive establishment forms one of the most distinct of Heaven’s prophecies — “that men shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks — and that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn the art of war any more.”
Most educated people know at least a few facts about the life of Socrates, including that:
(1) he claimed to have wisdom only insofar as he admitted his ignorance;
(2) he constantly battled the word-twisting Sophists of his day; and
(3) he was ultimately tried and executed by the ignorant mass opinion of the Athenians.
Knowing just this much one could easily characterize Socrates’ mission as a crusade against false opinion.
In Plato’s Socratic dialogues, the term ‘false opinion’ occurs often and prominently. Interestingly, the actual Greek term used, pseude doxazein is a verb, not a noun. We might translate it in modern English as something like ‘false opinionizing’, ‘false opining’, or ‘the mental process of forming false opinions’. This is significant, for by understanding false opinion as a cognitive process, we can potentially understand and remedy it..
False opinion afflicts us everywhere, and it is no small wonder that Socrates was so committed to opposing it. Some examples at the individual and collective level include:
- I know that I’m right.
- This other person injured me, so I must retaliate.
- All Republicans are greedy (or all Democrats are soft-headed ‘bleeding hearts’).
- The only way to counter terrorism is with multiple wars.
We could easily list a hundred other examples. Not a day occurs that false opinion doesn’t harm us in dozens of ways. Every human problem, if not caused by false opinion in the first place, is at least made worse by it.
Because of the importance of false opinion, I propose that we supply a better name for the phenomenon. A plausible candidate is pseudodoxia (pseudo = false; doxia = opinionizing). This has the same form we use for other abnormal cognitive processes, such as dementia, melancholia, mania, and paranoia. A term like this helps to underscore the nature of false opinion as a real and distinct cognitive abnormality or disorder.
What, then, do we know or what can we plausibly conjecture about pseudodoxia? Plato and Socrates give us clues, including these:
First, it involves a failure to distinguish between a proven fact and mere opinion. Valid reasoning involves (1) a proven or highly plausible first principle (e.g., all triangles have three sides), and (2) logical inferences derived from valid first principles.
Pseudodoxia, in contrast, involves (1) uncritical acceptance of an unproven and completely conjectural first principle (e.g., ‘I really want to smoke this cigarette’) and (2) logical inferences deduced from a such false or merely conjectural first principles.
Second, pseudodoxia involves an intrusion of wants, desires, and needs into the sphere of reason. That is, wants and fears co-opt reasoning and judgment. In English, we informally call this sort of thing ‘wishful thinking.’ With false opinion or pseudodoxia, such wishful thinking is not distinguished from true, rational logic; one accepts the conclusions of the former as if it were the latter.
Plato and Socrates also outline for us what must happen to overcome this powerful enemy:
Our first recourse is to avoid the dangers of false opinion is to know it exists. Once a person is alerted to the workings of false opinion, it becomes apparent how much harm it causes, and one develops the motivation to oppose it.
Second, people must understand that there is an alternative to false opinion. As noted, false opinion develops in connection with faulty, self-serving first principles. The antidote is to recognize the role of what philosophers call noesis. Noesis is a special mental faculty, like seeing, which apprehends truths directly (bypassing verbal or discursive thought). Not everything is knowable by noesis — rather, it concerns such things as direct insights into one’s own nature, (‘know thyself’) and moral truths. For example, sometimes in life we have little epiphany experiences, where, either by reflection, or reading, or by noticing something in another person, we are made aware of the real meaning of something like love, friendship, integrity, and so on. It is these sorts of things that should form the foundations of our logical inferences, not idle opinion that merely enters our mind as a hostile prejudice or wish-fulfilling daydream.
Thus, to take a concrete example, a soldier at war tends to accept uncritically the assumption that “my opponents are evil, demonic beings.” Yet something may happen that causes him to see the enemy in a different light. He may see them wounded, say, or interacting with families. Then he has a valid, noetic insight: “Wait, these people are no different from me.” The conclusions he derives from the latter would constitute true opinion.
Third, another alternative, one based on ‘Socratic ignorance’ is to learn to be content simply to say, ‘I don’t know.’ This is also the strategy of Pyrhhonic skepticism.
I will write more on this, either with further posts or adding to this one, but this is enough to get started.
Though the information isn’t especially easy to find, semi-regular opinion polls on the Afghan and Iraq wars have been conducted by several sources, including CBS News, Fox News, USA Today, Newsweek, CNN, and the Gallup Organization. The ABC News/Washington Post polls are especially instructive, because of arguably better-worded questions. (As we know, how a question is phrased can substantially affect results.)
Since 2007, the ABC News polling unit has been asking the question, “All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?” to groups of roughly N = 1000 respondents.
Because the cumulative graphs in the report are not very good, I’ve prepared two figures, below, from the data.
The first shows the proportion of respondents saying, “No” to the question over time. The blue line indicates actual response rates; the green line is a quadratic trend line. The important thing is the growth of negative opinion, now well over 50%.
Because, each time, from 3% to 5% subjects gave “Unsure” as their response, pro-war opinion and anti-war opinion sum to less than 100%. For example, in July 2010, 53% called the war not worth fighting, 4% were unsure, and only 43% were for the war – a 10% disparity.
Buried in the data is an interesting detail. Respondents were asked to say whether they felt “strongly” or “somewhat” that the war was worth/not worth fighting. This invites a stratified comparison of rates of strong approval vs. strong disapproval. This comparison is shown in the following figure:
As shown, when considering only those with strong beliefs, the disparity in favor of anti-war sentiment is more marked. For example, in July 2010, 38% of respondents strongly believed the war was not worth fighting, vs. only 24% who felt strongly the opposite. Factoring in degree of sentiment, therefore, makes an even stronger case that Americans do not support the war.
Maybe the media hasn’t exactly hidden this information, but they’ve taken no pains to draw attention to it!