Practicing the Impossibility of Pacifism

Anyone who claims to be a pacifist, or at least to practice an ethic of nonviolence, has been challenged about its application. It’s not practical, people say, it’s not realistic.

The challenge is especially common during times of (imminent or ongoing) war. To combat evil or rescue the powerless non-violently is impossible.

And maybe it’s because we pacifists really are the squishy, idealistic dreamers of our caricatures, but I think there’s something deeply true and promising about the idea of impossibility.

After all, as a Christian, I am marked by a belief in the impossible—the foolishness of Jesus’s life and death and resurrection and the impossibility of meaning in the meaninglessness of life. We reach for the impossible not as a challenge to be grasped, but as a way of embracing existential uncertainty, rejecting fear, and experiencing the kenotic self-sacrifice of Christ in our own lives and communities.

Is the notion of overcoming hate with love and sorrow with joy—really, in our actual world—laughable, impossible even?


But that’s what makes it worth seeking and worth practicing. Because what if?

We practice by loving our neighbors. We practice by subverting capitalism. We practice by feeding the hungry. We practice by welcoming the stranger.

And a funny thing happens when we practice a thing. After a while it becomes habit.