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What’s a Pacifist?


Growing up Quaker, I’ve always thought of myself as a pacifist. But a question posed fairly recently by a friend of mine made me consider what this actually means.

The question: “On a scale of 1-10, how pacifist are you?”

Many of the respondents answered as if pacifism is actually a form of passivism or simple conflict avoidance, considering only how much they support or don’t support forms of violence (as if religious faith is little more than sacred consumerism in which we can boycott ideas we don’t like and lavish attention or money on those that we do).

But I’m convinced that pacifism is really about taking action, putting an end to violence or, even better, working to replace violence as an option with creative and constructive solutions (both socially and politically, privately and publicly, personally and culturally, locally and globally).

Considering my definition of true pacifism, I had to admit that I don’t rate much better than a 5 in spite of what I claim to believe. After all, action (or, as is more often the case, inaction) speaks for itself.

Truthfully, it’s hard to care about anything that isn’t a clear and present danger. I’m ashamed to admit that huge but subtle problems (like global warming) or faraway conflicts (like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) fly right under the radar of my daily life.

After all, action (or, as is more often the case, inaction) speaks for itself.

One Comment

  1. Peter Snow

    When I was a 17 year-old I had to come to the decision of how I would deal with the “draft”, a federal law requiring all fit 18 year old males to join the military. I was convinced that I could not participate morally in war and so had to go before the draft board and plead my opposition to war. My pastor went with me and I explained to the draft board why I believed I couldn’t participate in war. My prayers were answered and I was classified as a “conscientious objector”. I did fulfill the law and worked over 2 years at a non-profit organization.
    I don’t believe that even though I “served/fulfilled” my “duty” that my conviction was satisfied. I have continued to live in ways that I feel continue to be a life of pacifism supported by my wife and others who feel the same conviction to help others to realize the need for peaceful living.

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