The Lethal Traps of Small Talk

I had the experience tonight of meeting someone for the first time and the conversation turned towards war. I did not turn it that way. It is surprising, when you pay attention, how often conversations turn to war.

In the course of this conversation it became known to all involved that I was a pacifist. As is usual, I was the only one. And as is usual, a man proceeded to assail me with a line of conversation predicated on the assumption that my conviction is:

a) irrational
b) impractical
c) ill-considered

We will leave aside the inherent irrationality of destroying things, including life, with the hope of gain, the impracticality of blowing things up as a political method and the questionable wisdom of putting fellow citizens’ lives at risk to defend the integrity/pride/borders/honour of a nation state. Instead, we will consider the fact that once this person’s laser eyes turned on me, I realised what I was in for.

New ‘Friend’: “You say you are a pacifist, but what would you do if it was YOUR children?”

Kevin: “Ha ha ha. Good question. I don’t have children. So how’s about that local sports team?”

New ‘Friend’: “But if you had someone who was pointing a gun at your wife, would you just let them shoot?”

Kevin: “I’ll tell you who I wouldn’t let shoot! Clint Eastwood. He is a good film man, ain’t he, buddy??”

New ‘Friend’: “Imagine this. My wife is tied up, my children are at the mercy of an intruder. You would say I don’t have a right to defend them?”

Kevin: “I would prefer not to imagine this. Do you know how weird it is that you are asking me to think about such horrendous things. And for what it is worth, as a Christian, I don’t do quandary ethics. I think ethics is about living a rich, flourishing life, not about solving problems. I can’t tell you what you can do, but I know how my wife and I want to live our lives, informed by Jesus.”

New ‘Friend’: “You see! You see! This is why you pacifists are so irrational. No! More! You are immoral! I consider it my moral obligation in that situation to defend my people, even violently. Even LETHALLY!”

As he rants, Kevin leaves, thinking that Stanley Hauerwas is right when he says that for Christians there are things worse than death. For example, having to listen to just war folk try to convert you to the Good News of people dying.

Your Correspondent, He is a stabbing robot

9 Replies to “The Lethal Traps of Small Talk”

  1. In these kinds of conversations I’ve begun trying to think of more absurd hilarious scenarios like, what if my baby pointed a gun at your wife, what would you do then mmmm?!

  2. Isn’t the statistically accurate version of this scenario: “Suppose your wife is point a gun at you? What would you do?”

    I remember reading a piece on John Milbank among some Mennonites. Milbank is not a pacifist. Indeed he says that no one is a pacifist.

    An unnamed questioner made the comment that, ontologically speaking, Milbank is right: no one *is* a pacifist. But pacifism, this questioner said, is a practice. It is the discipline of living peaceably.

    What would you do? You would do what a peaceable person would do.

  3. Also, curiously enough, David Hart’s The Beauty of the Infintie is, in one sense, an argument for an ontology of peace, such that we might say of Jesus that he *is* a pacifist. And yet Hart, like Milbank, has little sympathy for pacifism.

  4. Deco: Milbank’s pontificating is one of those immovable proofs that no one *is* a pacifist, since his blowhard opinionating induces even the most peaceable persons to dream of grenades.

    I am going to take your advice Lorraine. What if someone trained a team of dolphins to wrestle and then they built and extension in your house and then they put a big massive bath in the extension and then they filled up the bath with salt water and threw your dog in with the dolphins. WHAT THEN JESUS FREAK?!?

  5. What if Man City got back to 2-0 at the Nou Camp. James Milner has been brought on instead of Silva to keep things tight. The game moves to extra time. On a breakaway in the 119th minute, Milner skirts past Mascherano and into the box, Pique has no choice but to bring him down. Penalty! Aguero steps up to take it, but Milner insists that since he earned, he’ll do the honours. Only he fails to hit the target, ballooning the ball into row z. In the penalty shootout Milner tries to atone for the earlier miss, but this time hits a weak effort straight towards Valdes. Man City crash out on penalties.

    The next day, you see James Milner walking around Aberdeen. He is arguing with a local, saying that Scotland should definitely vote No.

    What would you do?

  6. Sounds like you’re describing an 80’s computer game. I’d stand at the edge of the bath, hold my arm up in the air and yell “free willy”! THAT’S what I’D do.

  7. I’m interested in learning more about your thinking on this. Have you any recommendations for further pacifist perspective theology reading?

  8. Hey Peter,

    I think The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder is an excellent place to start []. A more “But what about…?” book is A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, edited by Tripp York. I’d encourage you to chase down the theology of Stanley Hauerwas. He is much featured on YouTube (such as here:

    Alternatively, there are many fine preachers who have unpacked these ideas for churches who live them out. An example of this is the Canadian church The Meeting House. This sermon series is worth a listen:

    Finally, Christopher Walken’s character in Seven Psychpaths is a more comedic approach:

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