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Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

I would say Christian attitudes (and those of the West generally) are devolving. Or maybe just plain collapsing.

The URL to download the whole paper is below the abstract.


Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

David B. Kopel

Independence Institute; Denver University – Sturm College of Law

February 1, 2013

Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2013


This Article analyzes the changes in orthodox Christian attitudes towards defensive violence.

While the article begins in the 19th century and ends in the 21st, most of the Article is about the 20th century. The article focuses on American Catholicism and on the Vatican, although there is some discussion of American Protestantism.

In the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, the traditional Christian concepts of Just War and of the individual’s duty to use force to defend himself and his family remained uncontroversial, as they had been for centuries. Disillusionment over World War One turned many Catholics and Protestants towards pacifism. Without necessarily adopting pacifism as a theory, they adopted pacifism as a practice. World War Two and the early Cold War ended the pacifist interlude for all but a few radical pacifists.

Beginning in the 1960s, much of the American Catholic leadership, like the leadership of mainline Protestant churches, turned sharply Left. Although churches did not repudiate their teachings on Just War, many Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders seemed unable to find any circumstances under which American or Western force actually was legitimate. Pacifism and anti-Americanism marched hand in hand. Today, pacifism now has greater respectability within orthodox Christianity than any time in the past 1700 years.

Among the influential thinkers profiled in this Article are all Popes from World War II to the present, Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement, and the Berrigan Brothers. The article suggests that some recent trends in pacifist or quasi-pacifist approaches have been unduly influenced by hostility to the United States, and by the use of narrowly-focused emotion rather than the rigorous analysis that has characterized Catholic philosophy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 43


  1. Mr Ed says:

    I note that the paper glosses over the Irish Civil War post-independence, and simply regards the pre-independence IRA as ‘Catholics’, whereas the Civil War showed a fissure in their ranks.

    The reference to the ‘Wehrmacht’ in Weimar Germany is anachronistic, it was then the Reichswehr.

    My problem with the Catholic Church is that I fail to see why anyone would take its teachings at face value without examining what is being asserted for fallacies and statism, and I have one Catholic-raised parent, so I have been closer to the beast than many in England.

  2. Julie near Chicago says:

    For what it’s worth–I found the reference to the article at, the highly-regarded “libertarian” U.S. law weblog. Perhaps I should have posted the explanation of the article from there. See it below.

    The piece at Volokh is followed by many comments, some of which I think address your first issue, directly or indirectly. (Note–Volokh uses the dreadful Disqus system for comments, and it’s a bit slow in loading them. Be patient. :()


    David Kopel • February 5, 2013 3:18 pm

    A forthcoming issue of the Connecticut Law Review will feature a symposium on an article by Prof. Nicholas Johnson (Fordham) about the changing attitudes of the Black leadership towards firearms. In brief, Black leadership was historically very supportive the right to keep and bear arms, and particularly concerned that Blacks be able to have firearms for defense against white racists. The leadership’s attitude changed quite strongly in the late 1960s, and has remained anti-gun ever since. Johnson suggests that among the explanations for the change is that civil rights successes turned that leadership into powerful participants in the government, rather than outsiders. Thus, the leadership adopted a more establishmentarian approach.

    The symposium will have a variety of articles responding to Johnson. My own article observes that the change in attitude of the Black leadership parallels a change in much of the American Christian leadership about the legitimacy of defensive violence–at both the personal and the national level. For the Christian leadership, opposition to the Vietnam War was the proximate cause, but the change persisted long after the war had ended. Here’s the abstract:

    This Article analyzes the changes in orthodox Christian attitudes towards defensive violence.

  3. Paul Marks says:

    In the Catholic Church there has been some move back away from the fads and fallacies of the left.

    And such Catholic thinkers as Thomas Wood have shown that the Social Teaching of the Church (which started to become problematic from 1891) does not have to be interpreted in a statist way.

    However, Obamacare was endorsed by the Catholic Bishops of America – even though it was bound to crush religious freedom (indeed that was part of the point of it).

    And the contined treatment (by priests) of such creatures as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden as Catholics (giving them communion and so on) makes a mockery of Church teaching on abortion (and much else).

    There are many brave Christians within the Catholic Church – people not afraid to stand up (to fight) for their faith.

    However, the sickly stench of compromise and cover up continues to hang in the air. The first reaction to any major problem being to pretend it is not there (as with child abuse).

    I fear that (for example) a pacifist response to the growing power of Islam can only lead to enslavement and death.

  4. Paul Marks says:

    Of course the “main line” (read “establishment”) Protestant Churches are more worm eaten in the United States that the Catholic Church ever was – but the “mainline” Protestant Churches have shrunk to such a point where they are no longer important.

    Only what were once called “fundementalist” (clue to the ignorant “fundementalist” need not mean anti evolution – indeed many of the authors of the Prostestant 1900s essays on “the fundementals” were scientists) Protestant Churches any longer have non empty Churches.

  5. Paul Marks says:

    Just heard a Catholic spokesman (not a priest – where did these British spokespeople spring from?) being asked a question on contracteption.

    His reply was that the Pope had written an “insightful critique of world capitalism”.

    What “capitalism”? This is statist world -full of vile “social justice” policies.

    And what did the answer have to do with the question?

    Is as if someone had asked “what is 1+1?” and got the answer “pink”.

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