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Christianity and the Just War theory

Does the Just War Theory provide sufficient moral justification for Christians’ involvement in war?

The Just War Theory is a set of criteria that are used to judge whether a war is morally justifiable. It was St Augustine in the third century that formulated the Just War theory, and was formalised 10 centuries later by Thomas Aquinas. There are seven criteria by which a war can be judged to be just. Among the rules are Just Cause – there must be a very good reason for going to war, such as protecting your country from invasion. There should be a formal declaration of war by the legal government. It has to be the last resort and all other alternatives must be exhausted. There must be a reasonable chance of success and great care must be taken to avoid injuring civilians.

The Just War Theory is still believed today to be the only way that Christians can morally justify war and is often referred to by leaders of Christian countries when they make claims to be fighting a just war. There is widespread ignorance of the details of Just War but there is also much room for different interpretations of the criteria. I personally feel that it depends on each individual situation as one set of rules are not always applicable to all circumstances. In some situations, the causes may seem to be just but not according to the just war theory. A war can only be judged to be just if the criteria are met – not if those involved try very hard to meet them.

The aim of the just war is to provide a way of showing that fighting a war can be morally superior to overlooking it. The basis of the just war is that justice and fairness are important virtues and that to protect your family, your country, and the weak and innocent from suffering are causes worth fighting for. This however is qualified by stating that war should be fought within certain rules to ensure that it is fought not only for sound moral reasons but also that it is fought in a morally defensible way. Thus they are justly and morally standing up for what they believe to be worth fighting for, in a moral way. The problems of morals are difficult enough when judging traditional warfare, but they are complicated further when applied to modern warfare with its nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Would it be morally right to stand by and watch while our families or the weak suffer?

There is also a confusing aspect in all of this, as Jesus states quite clearly in Matthew 5 that we should love our enemies and there seems to be many examples of God against war and violence. Yet, throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous examples of God supporting acts of extreme violence and destruction, seeming contradictory. Some would say that the Just War Theory is the best way to make sure that the war is as moral as possible and that they can justify this by referring to the Bible where we see that Jesus teaches us that we should fight against evil, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword”. It is our duty to obey the lawful authorities because they have been put there by God. If these authorities say we should fight, then we should fight.

The Just War Theory may not be perfect and Christians may seem immoral for becoming involved but if it can make us stop and think about the reasons for going to war and the way that we fight, then it is better than the alternative – vicious laws with no mercy. Peace should always be the aim of Christians but where this is not possible the Just War Theory is the best way of making sure that the war is as morally justifiable as possible. After all, would it be morally right to stand by and watch while our families or the weak suffer?

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