Among my statements that were included in the film "Soldiers of Conscience," my thought experiment about the Good Samaritan has evoked the most passionate feedback.
Some people have found it very helpful as a metaphor that expresses their moral sense that even good Christians must sometimes engage in violent acts in defense of themselves or others.
Conversely, some have taken offense. A person I'll refer to as TJ, a Methodist pastor, expressed his reaction in an email to me:
"First, please do not continue insult the story of the good samaritan by your interpretation. ...You are as ill-equipped to discuss theology, and especially in such a repulsive way, as I am to discuss military combat strategy...Your profile lists your interests to include faith and ethics. That, sir, may look good on your profile, but you and I both know that ethics and morals go out the window in war. To say otherwise... is insulting to the intelligence of all people who have ethics and morals in their lives...You should be ashamed. I will assume you are not."
For the record, all my work is based on my conviction that ethics and morals do NOT "go out the window in war." They are challenged by war's difficult circumstances, of course, but we must not respond to that challenge by quitting and giving in to evil; rather, we should redouble our efforts to prepare ourselves and create systems that empower moral behavior in combat. But I digress.
My insight on the Good Samaritan emerged from a conversation with a pacifist who was arguing that Jesus calls us to love, not to fight; that He calls us "to be like the Good Samaritan." The pacifist was assuming that someone who would kill someone who was attemping to kill the innocent is not someone who would help a beaten victim along the street, as it it were an either/or proposition.
I responded, "If I found a person left for dead along the road, I like to think that I would stop and render aid, just like the Good Samaritan. But if I found someone being beaten by robbers, I like to think that I would protect him by stopping the attack, even if I had to beat the hell out of the robbers. And I think the Good Samaritan would have done the same."
So, here's the thought experiment. What would the Good Samaritan--an exemplar given to us by Christ of a person who loves his neighbor--do if he had arrived at the scene earlier, while the robbers were assaulting the man?
1. Would the Good Samaritan walk on by?
2. Would the Good Samaritan stop and wait, allowing the beating to continue, and hope that the victim survived?
3. Would the Good Samaritan rush to find someone else to stop the beating?
4. Or, would the Good Samaritan risk his own safety to stop the attack and protect the victim, using violence as necessary?
When we look at it this way, I think it's pretty clear that the loving, decent, honorable, courageous, and Christian thing to do is to stop the attack.
After all, Jesus calls on us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I know that if I were ever being beaten mercilessly, I would fight back, and I would want any passerby to join in my defense. So, I will do the same for others.
I welcome and invite any feedback that focuses on the merits of the argument.
I am a retired Army officer who believes in the moral standing of the profession of arms, yet recognizes its shortcomings. I served in the Army from 1984-2017, mostly in the infantry and on the faculty at West Point. As a researcher of combat leadership and ethics, I interviewed hundreds of Army leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003-2011. Welcome to this online space for thinking about war, morality, and the profession of arms. Follow me @combat_ethics
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