The King of Kings is no Ordinary King

This Sunday is “Christ the King Sunday,” the last Sunday of what liturgical churches call “Ordinary Time” or the “Season of Pentecost.” It is also the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, these churches will celebrate the beginning of Advent, the annual celebration of the coming of Christ. The year ends with an affirmation that the one whose birth we celebrate about a month from now was, in fact, the king of kings, the king of the universe, the Lord of Lords, the power above all other powers, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The Reformed churches will mostly sing “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” which begins:

Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless king through all eternity.

The hymn takes two passages from Revelation and puts them together. On his throne in heaven sits the Great King, who is worthy of all praise, and Christ, the son of God, having defeated death on the cross, is the king of kings (Rev. 4:2). Not everyone in the modern world believes this is a good or holy text, but it would seem that God is taking the role of the ultimate warrior king. A king that will defeat all the enemies of his people. The imagery of Revelation is often war-like, which can hide that the text is not about an earthly war. John knew better than that. He had seen Christ on the cross. He knew the love of God shown on the cross. He also knew of Rome and its kings and lords.

The King of Kings as Lamb of God

To understand what it means to speak of Christ as the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords,” we must begin with a text from Revelation not quoted in the hymn. The scene is as follows: Christ is on his heavenly throne (v. 2). Around the throne are twenty-four elders sitting on thrones representing the tribes of Israel in the Old Testament and the twelve apostles in the New Testament (v. 4). Before the throne, are seven torches of fire symbolizing the seven spirits of God (v. 5).

This is not any earthly throne. It is a symbolic throne that reveals something about God outside of time and eternity. For as those who stand around the throne sit before it and worship the Lord God Almighty, who was and is, and is to come (v. 8), John, perhaps, troubled by the oppression of the church by the Roman Empire, sees a scroll upon which the history of the world and its future is written (5:1). There is no one worthy to open that scroll and break the ski seal (v. 3).

Then John is told to look again at the throne. There, he sees “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” on the throne (v. 5). He then looks again and sees the lamb of God as though it had been slain (v. 6). This is no ordinary lamb.  It is a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, an eternally powerful and wise lamb (v. 6).

Then, suddenly, all of those gathered around the throne begin to sing, and this is what they sing:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (v. 9-10).

Then John looks and hears the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircle the throne and the living creatures and the elders and are crying out in a loud voice (v. 11):

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (v. 12).

Then John hears every creature in heaven and on saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation v. 13).

What Kind of King is This?

From the beginning, one of the biggest problems the Jewish people had with the Messiah was the fact that the Messiah was supposed to be a certain kind of leader. He was to be the true son of David, the lion of Judah, the liberator of his people, the savior of Israel. He was not supposed to be a traveling rabbi who annoyed the governing class and ended up dying on a cross. Nevertheless, the apostles make just that proclamation almost immediately after the resurrection (Acts 3:14-18).  It had never been the intention of God to give the people of Israel a military Messiah. Instead, the prophets of the Old Testament indicated that he would be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, a person whose life was given for the sins of others (Isaiah 53). They saw in Jesus the fulfillment of those prophecies.

John knew all this. In 1 John, we learn that Jesus the Messiah is a Messiah of love. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16). The love of God is not the love of a particular people or race. It is a love that gives itself to all human beings—even those who reject him. As Paul put it: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8). The love of God is not a love reserved for just a few, for God intended in Christ to save everyone (I Timothy 2:6) The love of God that was revealed in Christ is a special kind of love—it is a love extended in self-giving sacrifice for all people whether or not they are open to that love or accept and appreciate the lover.

Implications of the Love of the King

In the past few weeks, we have been exposed to a return of antisemitism by some and, of course, a renewed fear of Palestinians or Muslims by others. It is worth spending a moment thinking about the love of God that has purchased at great cost “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The nature of the King of kings is such that his followers must also love everyone since the King of kings himself loved everyone.

We can quibble about how exactly this desire of God that all men should be saved from every tribe and nation works. We can spend time debating how predestination plays into this. But, for practical disciples of Jesus, perhaps it is best to think most about the fact that we are called in his name to love everyone and work for the salvation of everyone with the same kind of love Christ showed on the cross. We will find out exactly how predestination works in heaven.

In addition to working for the salvation of everyone, Christians are called to pray for everyone. The reference to God’s universal desire for the salvation of every human being is contained in the following passage:

 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time (I Timothy 2:1-6).

God does not just want people to be “saved” in a vague way. He wants Christ-Followers to pray and intercede for all people, even those in authority with whom we disagree, so that we may become godly and holy, as Christ was godly and holy. There’s a reason for this: God wants all people to come to a knowledge of truth and to receive the same blessing of godliness and holiness he reserved for his church. This means that God has the same desire for Jews, Palestinians, Iranians, and others as he has for us. This means that God has the same desire for Republicans and Democrats. It means he has the same desire for Donald Trump and Joe Biden. God wants everyone to receive the benefits of his salvation. He wants it so much that he died on the cross to make it available to anyone and everyone.


If you were like me, the past few years, months, weeks, and days have been a source of some anxiety. When John had his vision and wrote Revelation, he was in such a time. There were wars and rumors of wars. There was an evil or at least incompetent emperor on the throne. The church was experiencing persecution. John himself was in prison. In the midst of all, John looked beyond current events and saw a vision of the future. This vision was a vision of hope, based upon the fact that the work, the real work of the world’s salvation, had been accomplished on the cross; Christ was indeed the Messiah. Therefore, no earthly ruler who did not embody the character of Christ could ultimately prevail. There might be suffering, persecution, and pain, but it would pass away. For the risen Christ rules in heaven.

Perhaps this Christmas season is enough for us to ponder that simple fact. There are wars and rumors of wars. There are persecutions and rumors of persecution. There are manipulations and rumors of manipulations. All of that is real, but it doesn’t matter in the end. The king of kings and Lord of Lord is on the throne, and the lamb that was slain has paid the price of our release from the worst kind of captivity—our own brokenness and alienation from God.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Matthew Bridges, “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (1852).


Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, and the President sent a copy to the executives of the States.  [1] I will not engage in a detailed comparison of this proclamation with those of today, except to note that many of those signed today focus more on the personal, human side of Thanksgiving. Instead of that focus, I would like to lift up just a few aspects of the First Thanksgiving Proclamation that may be lost in the United States today but which surely were on the mind of the new President.

On April 30, 1789, Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City. [2] Two years earlier, on July 2, 1788, the Constitution was fully ratified. Additionally, Congress met for the first time that year and one of its first actions was establishing a Federal Court system. Thus, in 1789, the fundamental form of government we enjoy today was implemented. 1789 was a year in which many years of suffering, war, and oppression bore the fruit of a new nation with a functioning national government.

Features of the Proclamation

This week is Thanksgiving week. Thanksgiving is a national holiday, so perhaps it is a good time to look at the title “holiday” and its meaning then and now. Just a few comments in hopes that readers will read the text of the proclamation for themselves and mediate on its purpose.

  1. There is a transcendental source of value and power in society. The word “holiday” has, at its root, “holy day.” [3] Washington begins his proclamation: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor,…”. Today, Thanksgiving is often a day away from the usual routine of overeating and watching movies or sports. Perhaps for some, it is the day before Black Friday, a day to go shopping for bargains. Strictly speaking, I am unclear whether America has any “holidays,” for we have lost our sense of the “holy” at the foundation of human life.
  2. Americans are not the sole source of their achievements. In the first “Whereas” clause, Washington acknowledges “the providence of Almighty God.” In the first paragraph of the proclamation, Washington describes God as “the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” If anyone might have claimed a personal responsibility, Washington was one. He had been Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. He was the President of the Continental Congress. Now, he was President of the United States. Nevertheless, he could see the hand of Providence in the events in which he had such an active and vital part.

At the beginning of the proclamation, Washington used the word “humility,” recognizing that imploring God needed to be done in the spirit of humility. Once again, he suggests that prayers be given humbly. The word “humility” comes from a root word meaning dirt, the humus of the earth. Later, he will speak of national sins and shortcomings. Washington does not approach his office or the nation’s future with the arrogant confidence of many today who believe they know the right course of action for the new government. He understands that he and others need help to perform their duties so that the new nation prospers.

  1. Americans are imperfect, and so are our achievements. In the second paragraph of the proclamation, Washington submits the following to the nation:

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, ….

Washington recognizes that the new government is not assured of success because of the wisdom and perfection of its leaders. Instead, he offers a prayer for pardon because he is aware that his achievements and those of the other leaders of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army, the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the various states comprising the United States and its citizens, were not perfect and were not achieved without compromise and failure of moral courage. Therefore, he approaches the National Day of Thanksgiving, recognizing the moral and spiritual limitations of the new nation and its government.

  1. Americans look to the future, hoping that our nation will bless other nations with its example of wise and moral governance. The proclamation is not a document of American exceptionalism or one of “America First.” Instead, Washington desires to see the nation receive the blessing of becoming a blessing to all nations “by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed,…”. Our country is not automatically good or wise in its decision-making. It becomes so only as it seeks a transcendent ideal and is wise, just, and faithful in its government and citizenry.

The Proclamation

Here is the complete text of the proclamation:

City of New York, October 3, 1789.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and

 Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee78 requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

The Senate concurred in the House resolve to this effect, September 26.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.


What is often called “American Civil Religion” is not popular today. Some see in it the danger of a theocracy. Neither Washington nor any of the founding Fathers had any such desire. On the right, it is often noted that many founders were Deists, and some were of dubious faith. In the mind of these folks, the religious language of many of the founders can be translated into real-political language—they were just seeking votes and support. In my mind, what is essential in the “civil religion” of the founders is the recognition that their wisdom and goodness were limited and provisional. Their plans and policies were as frail as their humanity. Therefore, they need a transcendental ideal set before them to achieve the society they hoped to build.

Of course, a “Civil Religion” or “Transcendental Approach” of the 18th Century cannot be the civil religion of America today. Nevertheless, I suggest that there can be a sort of common American faith for the 21st century, one that incorporates those who have a religious faith of whatever kind and those who do not. Its fundamental principles might look something like that assumed by Washington’s proclamation.

  • Metaphysical ideals, such as Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Justice, are important.
  • Americans are not the sole source of their achievements and no one group has a lock on what is best for the nation.
  • Americans are imperfect, and so are our achievements.
  • Americans look to the future, hoping that our nation will bless other nations by its example of wise and moral governance.

This kind of metaphysical approach will not satisfy the doctrinal faith of the adherents of any particular creed. It is not intended to, nor does it satisfy mine. It will not meet the religious longings of those who are faithful Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or the adherents of any particular faith, including secularists.  It is not intended to, nor does it satisfy mine. It is an area of common space, and that is all.

 The approach places us all in that humble position of knowing we need help to be faithful and wise. We are not solely responsible for our successes or failures in life. We are imperfect and flawed, fallible and foolish, and our achievements share these characteristics. We have hope because we seek a better, more just, and more humane future for ourselves and every other citizen of the nation, whether we agree with them or not. With this highly imperfect suggestion, I sign off.

To all my friends, wherever you may be from San Antonio, Texas, to the ends of the earth, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving Day.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation” at October 3, 1789 Thanksgiving, Library Of Congress (downloaded November 21, 2023). Washington was an Anglican. Scholars differ, but I think he was a relatively pious and active member of the church, remembering that he was a farmer, businessman, soldier, and politician, not a religious professional.

[2] The capitol would not be moved to Washington D.C. until 1800, when Congress first me in the new city. The site of the new capital was chosen in 1790.

[3] The word comes from the Old English “haligdæg,” which means “holy day, consecrated day. A holiday is not a vacation day. It is a holy day in which we should remember our blessings and their ultimate source.

“Moral Inversion” (Moral Reductionism) and the Current Gaza War

Like many people, I have been horrified by the images of the recent pro-Hamas demonstrations on college campuses and elsewhere and the resurgence of antisemitism in the West generally and in America in particular. One of the most disturbing images involves those where young people are screaming irrationally at one another, yelling what can only be described as hateful speech. Each day, I read a feed of news that allows commentary, and I am equally appalled by calls to drop unconventional weapons on Gaza and to destroy the nation of Israel by creating a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.” For those who do not understand the phrase, it means that the state of Palestine would run from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, eliminating the State of Israel.

I have traveled to Israel and the West Bank in the past and had the opportunity to see the complexities of the relations between the citizens of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. I have taken some time to study the creation of the State of Israel after the Second World War and the warning to President Truman given by some of his advisors that the course of action proposed would involve the United States in a long and complex conflict. Those advisors have been proven correct.

In the end, the power of the Jewish lobby in Washington and the moral outrage at the situation of the Jewish people in Europe convinced Truman and the United Nations that the State of Israel should be created. Since 1948, the United States and Western Europe have struggled to find some way to make a lasting peace where there is much hate and distrust. This is not to say that the decision was wrong or unjustified or that Truman made an error. It is simply to outline the complexity of the situation.

Recently, the Abraham Accords and the gradual process of normalizing relations have created some hope that progress is being made toward an end to the overarching conflict.  I believe the recent war, in part, reflects the reaction of those who do not wish this to happen, particularly the regime in Iran. The problem Israel and the West face is both complex and challenging, and simplistic jingoistic solutions from either side are not helpful. Indeed, they are harmful. Unfortunately, many intelligentsia in the United States have fed the problem. This leads to a discussion of how contemporary political thought is damaged by a kind of moral reductionism that fails to understand the complexity of many moral quandaries and the need to balance many and sometimes conflicting moral impulses.

The Problem of Moral Inversion

The philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi, famously critiqued what he called the “moral inversion” that often characterizes modern radical political movements. Polanyi saw moral inversion as a perversion resulting from the moral idealism of the Christian faith being cut off from its deeper roots in the process of secularized, materialistic thinking.Polanyi believes the strong demand for moral perfection characteristic of Christianity, combined with the materialist reductionism of modern thought, ends in an objective moral nihilism. This, in turn, results in a destructive form of moral reason. [1] In Logic of Liberty, Polanyi describes the phenomenon (speaking of Russian Marxists and German Nazis) as follows:

“In such men, the traditional forms for holding moral ideals had been shattered and their moral passions diverted into the only channels which a strictly mechanistic conception of man and society left open to them. We may call this the process of moral inversion. The morally inverted person has not merely performed a philosophic substitution of moral aims by material purposes, but is acting with the whole force of his homeless moral passions within a purely materialistic framework of purposes.” [2]

In this statement, Polanyi describes a process by which people who have lost confidence in traditional morality channel their moral energy into a single cause, believing that force and power are the only relevant realities, in the vain attempt to create a better world or right a perceived moral wrong. In the process, they create even greater injustice and human suffering.

Human beings are, by nature, moral. When denied an intellectual ground for their moral passions by education or training, these passions, like a river that has run out of its banks, flow in an uncontrolled flood into whatever channel lies conveniently at hand. In modern, materialistic societies, that channel has been revolutionary action designed to create a “more humane” society along strictly materialistic lines. Communism or some form of national socialism has been the preferred channel. The political disasters of the 20th and now 21st centuries are often powered by moral energy resulting from this destructive rechanneling of moral passions.

Moral Reductionism

What Polanyi calls “moral inversion” might better be called “moral reductionism” or “moral absolutism.” The problem is often not with whether the underlying idea of morality is immoral or moral but with the fact that one moral ideal is sought to exclude other important ethical principles. For example, the willingness of Lenin, Mao, and their followers to destroy human life and engage in great cruelty sought the goal of an economically more just society at the expense of the equally important value of human freedom and human life. This phenomenon involves not so much an inversion as a kind of reductionism or absolutization of one value to the exclusion of others. This same kind of thinking is embodied in the modern slogans of “right to choose” and “right to life.” The attempt to reduce the moral quandary to a single maxim oversimplifies the moral reality.

Dynamo-Objective Coupling, Moral Inversion, and Hypocrisy

According to Polanyi, the false ideal of objectivism, when coupled with the moral urges of humankind, creates a “dynamo-objective coupling,” whereby alleged “scientific assertions” of a group are accepted because they satisfy the moral passions of human beings. [3] In other words, the dynamic power of moral impulses can be perverted by denying conventional morality coupled with an objectivist excuse for unleashing moral energy in service to a particular cause. Paradoxically, this is precisely what Marxist and Nazism and a host of modern “isms” can achieve, particularly among the young.

There is no critique of Christianity more common than the complaint that Christians are hypocrites—that is to say, Christians do not live up to the high moral ideals of Christ, which they profess to admire. This is, of course, true. One only needs to read the Beatitudes to see that Christ upholds a moral standard we may aspire to but can never obtain. In Polanyi’s view, the perfectionistic impulse of Christian faith is responsible for a great deal of the moral progress of Western civilization. Unfortunately, among those afflicted with a loss of belief or no faith at all in any moral or spiritual ideals, the deeply seated moral urge to achieve moral objectives can become a breeding ground for moral inversion powered by a feeling that all traditional morality is hypocritical. [4] This potential for the emergence of a kind of moral inversion is not limited to Western society. The criticism can be and has also been urged against other traditional ethical systems. [5] The postmodern charge makes this more dangerous because of the claim that all moral claims, whatever their source, are merely bids for power.

Beginning with the Enlightenment and its exaltation of critical reason, virtually all forms of faith and morals, including the social ideal of justice, have been placed under the dissolving power of reductionistic, critical thinking. The materialism of the modern world, with its reduction of all reality to material particles and forces acting upon that reality, eventually led to the critique of Nietzsche that God (spirit) is an illusion, that Christianity is a slave religion, and that the Will to Power is the final characteristic and justification of sound moral reasoning. This thinking leads directly to the appalling irrational immorality of contemporary politics, where winning is everything, and any immoral action is justified if it furthers a moral ideal held by a particular group.

The reductionist character of modern thought is seen in the tendency of the left and the right to reduce and constrict moral thinking to personal preferences. It is a short step from this position to a decision for a single moral good to the detriment of other, seemingly less important, ethical goods. [6] In contemporary society, we have seen played out the view that some moral ideal held by one particular group is the supreme moral good. Other ethical duties, such as protecting the rights of the accused to a fair trial, the responsibility of the prosecutors to investigate carefully before bringing charges, the rights of businesspersons to their property and businesses, the rights of the public to safe streets, the need of children and others for secure homes, etc. can and should be abandoned in the search for some single moral good urged by a particular group. [7]   All these are examples of a kind of moral inversion or moral reductionism that seeks a single moral good at the expense of other equally important moral goods.


It should be evident that the extreme views of many contemporary political groups, the violence of rioters and looters, and a media egging them on are incompatible with the freedoms they purport to be advancing. A society built on terror is a terror to everyone: good, evil, rich, poor, powerful, and powerless. I was able to travel to Russia just after the fall of Communism. Communism was physically, morally, and spiritually impoverishing to everyone in Russian society. What we see playing out on the streets of our cities in America is unfortunately too similar to the phenomena that led to millions of deaths under Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pot Pol, all of whom played upon the moral sentiments of their people and created unmitigated horror and suffering.

There is much suffering in the world. Currently, the situations in the Ukraine and Gaza vie for the attention of Western people. Both involve complex problems with long and complex histories. Neither side is entirely right in both cases, and complex moral issues are involved. There is no easy or simple solution—and it is improbable that war alone can create a just and lasting peace.

To focus for a moment on the current Israel-Gaza situation, there is no doubt that the activity of terrorists in attacking and raping and killing innocent civilians is both a moral evil and a just cause for war. On the other hand, the notion that Israel can, by military means, eliminate Hamas and its supporters and create a peaceful neighbor in Gaza is fantastical. The idea that the United States and the West can impose a solution to warring parties engaged in a decades-long conflict is also delusional. In the Middle East, we see a situation where power politics and reliance on violence to achieve political ends reach logically and practically impossible conclusions. The “politics of love,” that is a realization by the parties of themselves that they live in a common land and must recognize their common interest in a lasting peace (while accommodating one another through a process of dialogue and rational adjustment based upon their common need for stability and a flourishing of their citizens) provides a counter-intuitive way out of seven plus decades of war and violence. [8]

In Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love, a Christian restatement of the Tao Te Ching, it is remarked that war is a catastrophe for the victor and defeated alike. When any conflict is over, bad feelings and a desire for revenge remain—often breeding additional conflict. [9] Therefore, the following advice is given—good advice, I think:

The best policy is this: Avoid conflict if at all possible.

If conflict arises, the best policy is this: Avoid unnecessary destruction.

If conflict continues, the best policy is this: Seek a just solution.

If conflict reaches a conclusion, the best policy is this: Show mercy and restore good relations. [10]

Blessings to all my readers, and a prayer for peace-Salam/Shalom.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This blog is partially taken from both prior blogs and a short monograph I am writing on what I call “Sophio-Agapic” political theory. This is not the place to outline the long line of moral reductionism that ends in a Marxist denial of traditional morality. Nor is it the place to discuss the movement of the Enlightenment towards nihilism, first fully exposed by Nietzsche and his concept of the Will to Power. Suffice it to observe that modern Western Society, lacking a transcendent faith in the reality of moral values, has entered a period of moral nihilism that impacts even those who deny that they accept it. The power orientation of our culture is a part of its plausibility structure. Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991).

[2] Michael Polanyi, The Logic of Liberty (Indianapolis Indiana, Liberty Fund, 1998), 131.

[3] PK, 230-233.

[4] Everyman Revisited, 99.

[5] While Polanyi was primarily interested in Western society, it may be observed that the phenomenon of moral inversion can be present in other cultures as well. For example, Mao encouraged the criticism of Confucianism because it had formed the basis of the historic order of China.

[6] The Christian author, C. S. Lewis, speaks of this tendency for contemporary people to discount the vast interlocking web of morality, which he sometimes calls the Tao, to exalt one moral principle to the detriment of ethical thinking. This has led to a preference for public morality and, on the right, a preference for private morality. See David Rozema, Lewis’s Rejection of Nihilism: The Tao and the Problem of Moral Knowledge” in Pursuit of Truth | A Journal of Christian Scholarship (September 28, 2007, downloaded June 4, 2020).

[7] I do not want to minimize the activities of political opportunists and terror groups that may have contributed to the problems we are currently experiencing. These groups use the moral inversion of others for purely selfish purposes.

[8] As an aside, in my view, the so-called “two-state” and “one-state” solutions are inadequate for the complexities involved. The parties must look beyond the nationalism of current national and international politics and consider the creation of smaller independent political units in Gaza and the West Bank that are not fully national and cannot have offensive forces but are fully independent and self-governing. For example, there is no question that Gaza could become the Luxemburg or Monte Carlo of the Middle East, with great freedom and prosperity for its inhabitants.

[9] G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love rev. ed. (Booksurge, 2016), Chapters 31 and 79.

[10] Id, Chapter 68.

Reflections on Violence in a Time of War

During the past four weeks, many of us have been confronted by the images of the terror attacks in Israel and the response by Israel in Gaza. We have seen terrible pictures from the initial attack and subsequent scenes of destruction caused by days and nights of war. In the media, we see and hear accusations and counter-accusations. Unsurprisingly, many people have become confused and weary. Nevertheless, we cannot merely choose not to see and hear. For disciples of Jesus, this and every war present special challenges. In a few weeks, we will celebrate the coming of the “Prince of Peace,”—whose very name implies that war and violence are contrary to his nature and the world God intends.

The term “just war” has an implication sometimes lost on Christians. In the ordinary course of events, war and violence involve injustice. One might say that Just War Theory implies that war is intrinsically evil and causes endless suffering, the limits of which are set by the governments of the world and the nature of their armies.

Interestingly, to say that a war is just or unjust is to imply that there is such a thing as justice, and it can be applied to the kind of state-sponsored violence that war inevitably involves. To say that one embraces just war theory is to believe that combatants have moral and ethical limitations to what can and should be done before and during conflict. This, in turn, implies that there is a moral order to the universe outside of mere human feelings and desires.

Just war theory is often considered significant only in deciding to go to war, but just war theory also constrains what can be done during a war by those engaged in combat. An otherwise just war can be waged by unjust means. Beginning with the American Civil War and the emerging doctrine of total war, some implications of just war theory began to erode. By the end of the Second World War and the Allies’ victory over two enemies who regularly violated the rules of war, the theory had become as much a public relations tool as a valid constraint on war. This has been especially true during the recent Gaza conflict, in which the press and at least one combatant have misinterpreted the laws of war to justify otherwise unjust acts. In a world that worships power and the will to power, restrictions on violence are difficult to maintain.

This blog briefly covers the basic concepts of just war theory and hopefully helps readers determine their views on wars, including those currently dominating the headlines. The blog has two parts: the justification for war and rules that limit what may be done in conducting the war.

A, Deciding to Go to War (Jus ad Bellum)

 Just cause

For a war to be just, it must begin with just cause. A typical example of just cause is self-defense, though coming to the defense of an innocent nation is also a just cause. One result of treaties of mutual defense is that coming to the defense of a country with which one has a treaty of mutual protection renders the reason just if the underlying conflict is just.

In the situations of the Ukraine and Gaza, from the perspective of just war theory, Russia’s attack on the Ukraine cannot be just. As to the current Gaza conflict, the onslaught of Hamas on Israel and the death of many civilians also cannot be cause for war. After September 11, 2001, there was no question that some response to the World Trade Center and other attacks was warranted. Interestingly, the situation was not so clear as to the subsequent decision to invade Iraq. Some think the Afghanistan campaign was just but deny that status to the Iraq campaign.

Just Intention

In deciding to go to war, the parties’ intention is important. Even if a cause might be construed as just, the war cannot be just if the true motive is unjust. For example, if a political leader creates a war to advance their power or cling to power, this would not be a just intention. War-time political leaders are to be motivated, personally, by reasons that make a war just for the nation.

 One argument made against the Second Iraq War was the fear that the President of the United States was perhaps partially motivated by threats made against his father, a former President. One is not entitled to begin a war for merely personal reasons. In the case of Ukraine, if the rationale for the war is simply to reconstruct the Russian Empire, the cause cannot be just. If Hamas intended to draw Israel into a fight in Gaza in hopes of destroying its army and bringing other nations into the conflict, the cause is not just.

Legitimate Authority

A just war can only be declared by leaders of a legitimate political authority in compliance with the political requirements of that community. This means, for example, that a terrorist organization is never entitled to declare war, and any war in which a terrorist group engages is not a just war. Terrorist groups are not governments. (Hamas has recently denied that it has a duty to citizens of Gaza, claiming their safety is the responsibility of the United Nations. This is inconsistent with being a legitimate government.) In the case of Al Qaida, the situation is obvious: Al Qaida was not a government, nor did it have a warrant to conduct a war.

This element of just war theory is important concerning the present conflict in the Middle East. Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. They have no warrant to attack Israel, and as we shall see below, the laws of war prevent the means used—violence against civilian populations. Furthermore, if Hamas attacked Israel not to protect the interest of the citizens of Gaza but on orders of a third party (Iran), there is no question but that the war is unjust. In thinking about just war, it is essential to distinguish between the attack of private agents and organizations and the attack of a legitimate authority.

Just Proportionality

The principle of just proportionality is one of the most complicated to evaluate. Not every action by a state towards another state can be used as a pretext for unlimited war. For example, let us suppose that, instead of invading Israel, killing many people, and taking captives, Hamas had merely fired a missile that landed in the middle of the Sinai desert, killing no one. Such an act would justify some kind of response; however, it would not justify the kind of war now unfolding.

The principle of proportionality also requires state actors to consider the likely results of the war. For example, in the case of the United States invasion of Iraq, just war theory required leaders to consider the possibilities of success or failure. Perhaps more importantly, combatants also must consider whether or not an action would involve costs and suffering beyond what was necessary to accomplish the goals of the United States.

In the specific case of the Second Gulf War, the given purpose of the United States was to prevent Iraq from becoming a source of terrorism, and in particular, terrorism using weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its allies. Many argued that the goals of the United States could be achieved without a war. This is a possibility that our leaders were required to consider in their decision-making.

The same thing is true of the current war in Gaza. One requirement on Hamas, if it is a legitimate authority, is the question, “What will the condition of Gaza be after this war?” If the answer to this question is, “It will be completely destroyed,” then just war theory restrains any government from engaging in such a war. Underlying this idea is a kind of Augustinian notion that the peace a war results in must involve a superior condition of the parties to that condition in which they found themselves before the war. For example, in the case of the Second World War, a world without the violence and tyranny of Hitler was a profound reason for the war.

Last Resort

Just war requires that the participants explore and investigate reasonable alternatives before engaging in war, such as negotiation, diplomacy, economic sanctions, etc. Because war involves inevitable suffering by innocents, the question must always be asked, “Is war really necessary?” if the war is unnecessary, then it cannot be just. Those of us who remember the beginning of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the Second Gulf War remember that our government spent a good deal of time persuading people that the war was a last resort. In the case of Vietnam, it was not until after an alleged attack on US vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin that the war was felt to be legitimate. In the case of the Second Gulf War, it was only after attempts to disarm Iraq peacefully failed that the decision to go to war was felt to be just.

Both of these instances indicate the application of a prior principle to this notion of last resort. It is never a last resort if a particular circumstance is being used as a pretext for going to war. So, for example, the fact that we have been unable to peacefully get a wreck to agree to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction could not be a justification for war if the leaders of the country knew there were no weapons of mass destruction or actual threat from the alleged enemy.

For Christians, the doctrine of last resort is fundamental. For a Christian to believe that any war is just, it must be the case that there is no reasonable alternative but to engage in conflict. If there is any reasonable means by which the peace can be maintained, then, for Christians, that alternative must be taken. Although this is not a part of just war theory, in my view, this particular requirement implies that Christians have to take certain risks to avoid war.

B. Just Conduct of War (Jus in Bello)

In addition to principles that restrain the decision to go to war, ethical principles govern how combatants conduct themselves during combat.


Just because a war is justified, not every means can be used to conduct that war. Just war theory requires that combatants attack legitimate targets. Civilians, medical personnel, religious groups, and aid workers are not legitimate targets of military attacks. Although an army force may attack another enemy force with resulting deaths as a side-effect, they are justified only if necessary and proportionate. Targeting civilians and aid workers is never permissible.

This principle has played an essential role in the current Gaza war. The indiscriminate firing of missiles from and into civilian areas by Hamas cannot be justified. This is not a justifiable means of conducting war. It’s a deliberate attack on innocent civilians. As to Israel, the charge is often made that they are dropping bombs in civilian areas on civilians. Israel responds that they are attacking legitimate military targets. They often give examples of their diligence in determining this was a military target. If this is the case, then just war theory allows the collateral damage to civilians because the targets themselves were targets of military necessity.


Just as the principle of proportionality applies to a decision to go to war, it also applies to how one conducts a war. Justice during war requires that military forces cannot use force or cause harm exceeding any strategic or ethical benefits in any particular military operation during a war. The general idea is that militaries should use the minimum force necessary to achieve legitimate military aims and objectives.

The doctrine of proportionality in the conduct of war is one of the most difficult to embrace. During the late days of the Second World War, President Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of people. When deciding to use the bomb, Truman had to decide against the views of some of his generals and admirals, who believed that it would be possible to simply blockade Japan and avoid the use of the bomb and the killing of innocent civilians. The decision to use the bomb was made to save American lives in the event of an invasion of Japan. Today, scholars of war argue on both sides of this issue.

This is of contemporary importance. In the Ukraine war, the Russians have threatened to use tactical nuclear weapons. At least once during the current Gaza war, an individual (since disciplined by the Israeli government) suggested that the use of atomic weapons would be justified in that conflict. Once again, the use of weapons of mass destruction, which are sure to kill civilians to achieve a military goal that can be achieved by other means, cannot be justified.

Since the end of the Second World War, this principle has become increasingly challenging to implement. During the Second World War, all of the parties engaged in the mass bombing of civilian areas. The idea developed that the use of the V1 and V2 weapons by Hitler was a mere terror technique, unjustified by the laws of war. Yet, the Allies defended the bombing of civilian areas in Germany and Japan on the grounds that it would shorten the war. This is an area in which just war theory must take a turn towards restraining governments in using weapons and tactics that inevitably cause disproportionate damage to the enemy.

Intrinsically Unjust Means of War

There are specific means of conducting war that may be intrinsically unjust. For example, there are conventions against the use of chemical and biological weapons during wartime. The experience of the governments of Europe during the First World War, in which sarin and other gases were used, convinced everyone that these weapons were intrinsically evil. There may be additional elements of warfare, for example, the use of torture, that are inherently unjust.

After the Second World War, the treatment of American prisoners by the Japanese and the subsequent trial of some soldiers who were engaged in that treatment proceeded on the assumption that the laws of war prevented the mistreatment of captured soldiers. During the recent incursion into Israel, it is alleged that Hamas beheaded certain prisoners, including children. The use of beheading by some combatants during the War on Terror was an example of the use of a tactic that is intrinsically unjust.

During the recent gods of war, it is alleged that Hamas has used ambulances and hospitals to shield its fighters and its leadership. If true, this would be an unjust method of conducting war. Because hospitals and ambulances are protected during combat, the use of hospitals and ambulances to shield combatants inevitably requires that the opposing force make complex moral judgments and accept the necessity of civilian casualties. One reason why soldiers must wear uniforms is so that discrimination can be made between legitimate combatants and civilians who are protected. Techniques that blur that distinction are inherently unjust.

C. Conclusion

I am sure that some readers will object to portions of the content of this particular essay. I’ve tried to use various examples, including the United States of America, to clarify that the principles of just war theory are not simply “Western” or designed to give an advantage to the United States and its allies. They are principles of war that stretch back early in Western history. Muslim and other philosophers have notions of just war theory that are similar to those discussed here. Perhaps in a future blog, I can discuss just war theory from the perspective of other cultures.

I hope that this particular blog will help readers evaluate the conduct of their governments, as well as the behavior of the governments mentioned. If all that is real is matter, power, and the wheel to power, then there cannot be universal ethical restraints on governments or their citizens regarding the use of violence. Ultimately, what matters is winning.

If there is an inherent restraint on war, and if war is in some sense a violation of the shalom of the world and there are principles of just war, then the reverse is true: Not every action is justified because it advances our cause.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved