Digest of terms

pacifism

commitment to achieving peace by non-violent methods. Even though personal suffering may follow, it refuses to use physical force in defence against attack.

There are different degrees of both scope and expression. For instance, refusal to engage in any act of self-defence may be absolute, but when others are under serious threat, controlled violence may for some pacifists become reluctantly acceptable in their defence (compromise). What counts as permissible non-violence will for some include angry verbal expression (shouting, booing, name-calling), demonstrations (even designed to provoke physical violence on the part of opponents), or strike action and picketing (exercising power in ways that some others may be negatively affected). For others, the passivity must be total.

Strong disapproval and even hatred of those refusing to carry arms in defence of a tribal or national cause is widely documented. Although the right to be a 'conscientious objector' is now affirmed in international law, begrudging acceptance or more openly hostile attitudes towards such individuals may still persist. They are viewed as wrongly disloyal or as self-serving cowards.

Pacifist strands are visible in most religious traditions, though better known in some than others. Ahimsa is the best known version of pacifism, recurrent across Jains, Hindus and Buddhists, but not predominating to the exclusion of licensed violence in each of those same traditions. In the Christian tradition, it takes its lead from the unilateral loving seen in Jesus. Pacifists are found in all the different denominations of the church, but are especially characteristic of the Quakers.

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