I have just finished the ninth book in the Terry Goodkind "Sword of Truth" series. If you read the reviews on Amazon it seems that readers have got tired of the plot not moving on very much while being subjected to Goodkind's right-wing propaganda. I disagree. I think that in this book Goodkind tackles an important issue, that of pacifism.
I long ago decided that I was not a pacifist. As a teenager I flirted with the idea, declaring that although prepared to die for my country I was not prepared to kill for it. I grew to like my life too much for that. I am happy to live to benefit my country, and prepared to risk death if the cause is right, but rather than let an oppressor kill me in the hope that he would have it on his conscience, I would kill him first if I got the chance.
Goodkind propounds the view that the greatest danger to a community is the failure to recognize evil. To call evil misguidedness or lack of parental discipline or a deprived childhood or the consequence of poverty suggests that it is an illness that can be cured. Alas it is not so.
The Christian gospel offers redemption for sinners. Some liberal Christians believe that all will be saved and that Hell will be unpopulated (except perhaps for Hitler, Stalin and Menachem Begin). They believe that, even after death, unbelievers will be given a second chance. Some believe that good Jews or Moslems or Humanists are a sort of honorary Christians, and that the blood of Jesus was sufficient to redeem them even though they didn't know it and indeed had rejected the claims of Christ in their lifetimes. Some believe that there is always hope of a deathbed conversion and that no matter how wicked has a man been during his lifetime, we cannot know what interchange with God took place during the final moments of life.
From this premise they oppose the death penalty, they oppose war, and they oppose violence.
This view has elements of truth within it, but the end result is destructively wrong.
Jesus' blood is certainly sufficient to cover every sin, but it is not applied unless it is accepted. "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Presumably those who do not believe in him will perish. Of course, because a couple of verses later we read, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only son."
We have so few of the actual words of Jesus that people are apt to make up their own Christianity, but here we have the actual words of Christ, and not some obscurantist words with alternative interpretations; these are words quoted now, always and everywhere as being Christianity in a nutshell. They are from John's Gospel Ch 3 verses 16 and 18.
The chapter continues, "Light has come into the world, but men liked darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."
Jesus certainly recognized evil.
Would Jesus have opposed the death penalty?
He was himself subjected to the death penalty, and he confronted it when others were punished in the same way. It is interesting to view his response to the death penalty inflicted on two thieves who were crucified alongside him. Had he wished, he could have come down from the cross; he had that power. He could certainly have saved the two thieves. One of the thieves recognized this, "Aren't you the Christ? save yourself and us!" But when the second thief spoke to him like this, "Don't you fear God? (rebuking the first thief) We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve, But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into yours kingdom."
How did Jesus respond? "I forgive you, come down from the cross"? "This is the sort of injustice that you get with the death penalty"? "You have had a deathbed conversion, you don't need to be executed"? No. He says, "This day you will be with me in paradise."
Trying to make allowances for evil leads to appeasement rather than war. Appeasement is very popular at the time. Chamberlain was a popular man when he came home from Munich waving a piece of paper. True leadership requires toughing it out when life gets difficult. Churchill knew this. The foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, (he was the one who argued against bombing German munitions factories because they were private property) wanted an easy peace with Hitler. Churchill stood alone resisting the evil Hitler while everyone else had capitulated.
Margaret Thatcher knew this. After losing destroyers and her helicopters to the Exocet missiles sold to the Argentineans by the French and seeing soldiers burn to death on Sir Galahad, there were many advisors, not least the American Secretary of State, Al Haig, urging her to make peace with the evil oligarchy. She resisted the temptation and some rather tough soldiers marched, where they could not fly, across the frozen hills of the Falklands to take Port Stanley.
There is a lot of evil still out there.
In Goodkind's story the pacifists survived for many hundreds of years because of their remote location, but when finally invaded by brutal conquerors, they send for a hero to free them. But they view the hero as a savage; necessary to defeat the invader, but beneath their level of civilization, just someone to do the dirty work.
The hero refuses the task, recognizing that you can't defeat evil without the whole community steeling itself to resistance. It's like a viral infection in a CLL patient, get rid of this one and another will be along in a moment. Without stiffening the resistance there is no point to it.
An allegory for our time? You might think so, I could not possibly comment.