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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When Countries Clash, Should Christians Rush To War?

American Conservative Christians have a strange romantic attachment to war.  For war not only proves our manhood, it demonstrates our goodness and our goodwill to both the free world and the oppressed as we sacrifice ourselves to defend or free them from demons, or so we think. At the same time, there seems to be a contradiction; for our nation whose religion is based on the free forgiveness of sins is quickly angered by those who even suggest that we could have our own demons. Chris Hedges has said that war giving us meaning. And it seems that, for America, we have become a war machine for global good. But another part of that meaning is that we can use the next fight to hide from the present and past.

Jean Laserre pointed out to Dietrich Bonhoeffer during their Union Seminary days that everything one does in war is a contradiction to the Gospel. That in the name of country, we excuse ourselves from our duties to the Gospel even when we slaughter and maim  fellow believers. This has been a predominant part of Western history.

America has a protection from the flood of guilt and shame that comes from its part of those past wars; it is the pedestal on which we put ourselves. Our self-made stand has so far been high enough to keep us safe from the waters that swirl around us. That pedestal has another function. It has also functioned as our permission slip allowing us to participate in the next war. But if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit to having forged our parent's signature on most of those slips from the past.

Our nation's pedestal is just a bit short of the one on which God resides and so we think it is honorable to give ourselves for our country. However, if we would look in a real mirror, we would admit that the pedestal on which we have placed our country was built on the reflection we saw in a magic mirror. This mirror blocks out most of the history of the world as well as providing us with a filtered narrative of ourselves.  For if we were real students of history, we would have already realized that claiming to be special, as we have continuously done since the days of our Founding Fathers, is normal.

Thus, with a very questionable duty and honor being our primary motivation, we might want to consider what Augustine wrote in the 4th chapter of his 4th book in The City Of God. One can paraphrase that chapter as saying that without justice, the only difference between a nation and a gang is size. In fact, he makes a point of saying that any gang that grows large enough becomes a nation. When we add Galations 3:28 which says that in Christ, there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks, and the numerous places where it says God is no respecter of person to Augustine's declaration, we get the idea that national identity is not necessarily something to be proud of and thus it must play second fiddle to morals and principles. Thus national identity does not excuse us from the duties that the Gospel calls us to as in the Sermon On The Mount during a time of war.

Even though God and His principles as described by His laws and His Son trumps national identity,  that doesn't mean that we must forget everything about the country in which we are citizens. It does mean, however, that our first allegiance must be to the right principles and values. To place God's morals second to anything is idolatry.

If we place our highest priority on principles and values, then it would seem that we Christians are first called to be honest brokers rather than partisan participants of war. This should be regardless of whether the enemy of one's nation has a significant Christian population or not. For in war, there will be too many times when we will called to be merciless to those made in the image of God. And we should note that the motivation for starting or joining in on a war has usually been the greed and/or ambition of the leaders.

At this point, some Christians reason that though the motivations of one's country in a war may not be pure, we are still obligated to join the fray because we are to honor our civil authorities. Thus, one cannot be held responsible for the atrocities one participates in when fighting for one's country. In essence, this is like playing a game of tag with personal accountability. For you can be caught and punished for any sin you commit as an individual, but if you are in one of the right groups, you are on base regardless of how brutal you are towards others.

If we imitate God by refusing to become a respecter of persons, then we will be free to point out the virtues and wickedness of all sides involved in a conflict. The same cannot be said for participants of war. For if a participant shines a light on the moral acts of one's enemy and/or passes judgment on the iniquities of his or her own country, he or she can be charged with treason. Yet, God fears no such charge and does hold all accountable for violating His law.

Should we rush off to war when our own country enters a conflict with another country? Under no circumstances can we say yes. But that is not the same as saying that we can never participate in war. There have been just wars to participate in, even though such wars are few and far between. Also, no one who enters a war leaves as a saint. We simply can never afford to rush into battle before determining whether our nation is acting justly. For if it is not and we agree to fight, then we are doing nothing different from what any gang member would do who fights to defend or advance the interests of his or her own group.

This gang warfare mentality is what we used when entering both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Though we could cite a just reason for invading Afghanistan, we in no way can justify how it was carried out. We went into Afghanistan claiming to fight terrorism while using terrorists, the Northern Alliance, as our primary ally. In addition, questions regarding the importance of building pipelines through the country for the transportation of resources as well as the resource findings found a few years ago puts the integrity of our military intervention in serious doubt.

In contrast to Afghanistan, the Iraq invasion was, from the beginning, unjustified. Certainly Saddam Hussein was a monster, but that didn't stop us from supporting him in the 80's. In addition, the sanctions we forced on Iraq were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Some who oversaw the sanctions quit in protest. And the rumored WMDs, the initial justification for the war, were never found. And though they are now free of Saddam, the Iraqi people have suffered tragic losses with no discernible progress towards recovery. But worse than that, we used the elimination of Saddam to justify an invasion that killed or expelled millions of Iraqis from their homes as a possible precedent for future incursions.

In the end, we are all accountable before God. But accountability is a word cut out of the dictionary of U.S. foreign policy makers regardless of the political party in power. And this should disturb any Christian participating in our current wars. Our leaders flee from accountability as Superman does from Kryptonite. Thus, any initial idea that we are acting justly is assumed rather than proved. When we consider the degree of violence we use when prosecuting any war, we are not just when assumptions permit us to rush to enlist and fight.




15 comments:

TheCapitalist said...

Just War has two conditions.
First, there must be a just reason for going to war,
and attempts at negotiation etc. must have been sincerely tried.
Second, what you do during the war must be just.
This includes protecting civilians,
treating POWs properly, and the like.
Augustine addressed this.
The American War for Independence
is a great example of the first part.
We tried many times to negotiate and settle,
but King George III simply increased oppression.
Atrocities did occur during the war (on a small scale anyway),
but were not the central theme; compare to the French Revolution.

Curt Day said...

To the Capitalist,
But what makes a cause just? Just war theory leaves a lot of blanks to fill in. In addition, with one of the reasons for going to war against england being the right to expand westward, and thus take more land from the Indians, how was the cause just?

And how did Canada earn their independence from England?

We really did try to negotiate with the King. And as a result, an American aristocracy replaced the defeated British one. This gave rise to the Constitution and, because of protest, the Bill of rights. For those who wrote the Constitution were interested in maintaining the landed interests' control over the colonies.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
Please read the Declaration of Independence! It lists many atrocities committed against us, a few of which would have been cause for serious complaint. Also, did not western expansion start decades after Independence was declared? 'Manifest Destiny' was in the 1840's or 50's, wasn't it?

I think the main difference between us and Canada had to do with our heritage. Many, if not most, Canadians were French Catholics. Up to the War for Independence, the intellectual heart of America was New England, which was dominated by the Calvinist Puritans. You could call them Fundamentalists!

I disagree with your term 'American Aristocracy'. The people from Virgina could be described this way, as perhaps those from other Southern states. But what about those from the middle states and New England? John Adams started out as, and wanted to be throughout his career, a farmer.

Curt Day said...

The concept of Manifest Destiny started with the Founding Fathers. George Washington called the colonies a little empire and everybody looked west for expansion. And one of the restrictions that the British imposed was a prohibition on Westward expansion. Check how long it took after the Revolutionary War until we restarted that expansion.

And yes, there was an American Aristocracy. This is more than apparent in the Constitutional debates where the Constitution was framed to maintain the power of the Landed Interests--the moneyed class back then.

Finally, if you wish to point to British atrocities, which was economic as the colonies were viewed as a way of making money to pay for and maintain the British Empire, please consider the following words from a son of a slave but was born free:

See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language? Hear your language, proclaimed to the world, July 4th, 1776--

"We hold these truths to be self-evident--that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL!! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!!"

Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us--men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation!!!!!!...Now, Americans! I ask you candidly, was your sufferings under Great Britain, one hundredth part as cruel and tyrannical as you have rendered ours under you?

Curt Day said...

Capitalist,
I forgot to mention the Puritans in my last note. The Puritans quoted the Bible as they ethnically cleansed the land of America's indigenous people. They saw themselves as the new Israel which was commanded to expel the Indian Canaanites.

In addition, the Puritans did not practice the Golden Rule when seeking religious freedoms. They persecuted the Quakers, for example, and martyred 4 of them.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
Have you read the Declaration? Is suspending legislatures, burning towns, and inciting ruthless Indian attacks merely of economic concern? A Democrat (one who supports rule by the people, not the party) should feel indignation at acts like interrupting the elected legislature, and bypassing due process of law.

Concerning slavery, I certainly consider it a great evil and wish it had never happened. However, look at it this way: England herself did not outlaw slavery until the 1820's, more than 40 years after the War for Independence. Until then, England was shipping slaves to places like the West Indies in droves. My point is that America cannot be viewed as unusually or particularly evil because it participated in slavery.

I think your accusation of the Puritans is unjust. The Puritans arrived in New England in 1620; until 1662, they existed in great harmony with the Native Americans and their chiefs, Massasoit and his son. In 1662, King Philip (or Metacomet) became chief of the Wampanoag and initiated a bloody war, resulting in the annihilation of many Puritan families and the murder of Native American missionaries. This caused the Puritans to rightfully distrust the natives.

Curt Day said...

Your rendition of who started the Indian wars reminds me of the American Genesis account of the War on Terror. It goes this way:

In the beginning was 9-11, or
In the beginning was the bombing of the World Trade Center, or
In the beginning was the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon.

Unfortunately, each of those attacks was preceded by American aggression that was either direct or through a proxy. And all of this goes back to my other note that you place a higher priority on group allegiance and defending the groups you favor. And the history you read comes only from approved sources.

My assessment of the Puritans erred on the side generosity rather than harshness.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
I DO NOT support the modern American government. We are way too involved with everything everywhere. The attacks on the World Trade Center killed civilians on American soil, and I believe it was a just reason to go to war. I do not agree with the mess we've made of things before or since. Also, though I think it possible that we have aggravated the Muslim world more than need be, I hope you understand that it is who we are and what we stand for that the Muslims hate as much as anything else. We are the Infidels, who, if we will not be converted, must be killed ruthlessly in order to please Allah. They understand our Christan roots. An interesting historical side note: there were two 9-11's. The first was September 11, 1547, when the Muslim invaders reached the peak of their invasion of Europe.

What do you mean by 'approved sources'? I have seen claims like you make about the Puritans and the Founders in other places as well, often in writing talking about the rewritten history taught in American public schools.

Curt Day said...

To my Capitalist friend,
What you write what you do about Muslims, it reminds me of a lady who stopped by a peace protest to tell me that the Muslims want to kill us. I told her that I have friends who are Muslims and that that hasn't been my experience.

You seem to view Muslims as a monolith based on such scant evidence. And you are repeating a theme I mentioned before. You are constantly referring to the atrocities of others while minimizing, if even mentioning, the atrocities committed by the West. You view your group as innocent, though not imperfect, victims while others are the perpetrators. Likewise, you have concluded that the history taught in American public schools, by sources not on your approved list, as being rewritten. There are two problems with that statement. First, what was the original history of the Puritans and the founders? Second, if it was rewritten, what would that imply?

BTW, you forgot another 9-11. On 9-11-73, we participated in a military coup that overthrew a democratically elected government and installed a brutal thug, Pinochet, who gave free reign to big business.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
Please do not misunderstand me! Just as there are conservative Christians and liberal Christians (or people who call themselves Christians), so there are radical Muslims and non-radical, peaceful Muslims. I mean 'Liberal Christians' as in people who deny the Trinity and the Virgin Birth, not people who hold liberal political views. My description of Muslims refers to those who caused and directed the attacks on 9-11. Also, just as I believe conservative Christians follow traditional Christianity far better than Liberals, so I think that those who flew the planes on 9-11 were closer to true Islam than the Muslims you describe. Think about it; it was the Muslims who conquered Constantinople, it was the Muslims who conquered Spain, and it has been the Muslims who have perpetrated so many terrorist attacks against the West.

Just as Islam commands its followers to attack Christianity and the West, so the secular, mixed-up ideas of our leaders drive them to do crazy things around the world.

I think your question "If it was rewritten, what would that imply?" represents the strongest evidence for my viewpoint. It has been rewritten because those who have been rewriting it hate our Christian heritage and want to hide it, in order to keep us from rediscovering it. I did not conclude that it was rewritten on my own. I read that too.

Curt Day said...

I understand you well. You are characterizing Islam by the worst events, which are also isolated. That means a whole mess of the history of Islam was left out as well as the history of the imperial West

BTW, rewritten history implies nothing, and that is important. Because it says nothing of who wrote the first version and why.

In addition, I think many of my fellow believers are projecting a Christian heritage that wasn't there in order to claim a special position over others rather than to fit in as an equal.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
In the first hundred years of its life, Islam conquered North Africa. That is what it did for those hundred years, and it has been trying to do the same to the rest of the world ever since. Now once again, not all those who claim to be Muslims are trying to take the world for Allah, just as not all who claim to be Christians are fighting abortion. Look at the news: Boko Haram kills many people in Africa, Al Qaeda and the Taliban perform terrorist attacks in the Middle East. How do you explain the history of Islam without the jihad? What historical instances can you give of Muslims rebelling against this?

Rewritten history implies nothing? Why would someone rewrite history without a reason for doing so? The people who wrote the 'first version', in recent history anyway, were eyewitnesses of the events or had communicated with the eyewitnesses in some way. Do you not think that this would be reliable?

I do not claim that our heritage was Christian for egotistical reasons. I claim that because I see evidence for it. Study the ideas present in the Declaration: the idea of self-evident truths, a clarification of the original "sacred truths"; "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions". These, and more, are all biblical ideas. Our entire government is based on the total depravity of man, which the Founders learned studying Calvinism at universities such as Princeton and Harvard.

Curt Day said...

Suppose you are right about Islam, how would Islam be different from Western Civilization? Did they not go out and conquer the world several times over, raping one nation after another of their natural resources and claiming their rule over those they thought were inferior to be for the good of those they ruled?

But if you do not want to answer that question, test your assertion about Islam. First what was the beginning of Islam and what was it trying to correct? Next, taking this and the 20th centuries alone, is Islam trying to conquer the world in which it was never provoked, if it is trying to conquer the world in the first place?

Finally, the person who wrote the Declaration was not even close to a Christian. Appealing to a supreme judge implies nothing about the Christian faith. Deists did that as well as Jews and Muslims. In addition, what does rewriting history imply? Or should I ask what kind of change is implied? And what is the context of the times where we have seen history rewritten?

BTW, our entire government is based on the total depravity of man? Did that include the leaders who, even back then, believed in class rule rather than equality?

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
Here is a mistake way too many people make when they approach documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They assume that, since these documents contain little or no 'religious language', and what there is is compatible with other religions such as Deism, these documents are not Christian. What is way more important than the quotations I gave above is the underlying ideas, assumptions, and worldviews present in these documents. Trace ideas such as self-evident truths, unalienable rights, and consent of the governed to their source, and you will find they all have root in Christianity.

Here is a simple one: the idea of "unalienable rights" is based on the fact that God creates all human beings. When He creates a person, He gives them these rights. These rights are part of being a person; they are not granted by society, much less by government, but are simply there, by definition. This is why the Founders appealed to them; since they were rebelling against the established order and law, it was necessary for them to justify their actions based on something above of and independent of the law. They justified their actions based on these rights, which the King of England violated.

I don't know who, but someone in the Founding Era said something along these lines: "Government is the greatest discourse on human nature." The reason the Founders did not simply set up another kingship or dictatorship is because they believed in the total depravity of man, and understood the concept "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." They went to the effort of our complicated system of checks and balances in order to rein in man's usurping and power-hungry nature.

Curt Day said...

You will also find that those ideas have roots in other theistic religions as well. In fact, the writers of the two documents you mentioned were not Christian. Jefferson admired the moral ethics taught in Christianity but he also admired the same ethics when he saw them cited in the documents of other religions. He had no love for true Christianity. THen you can check Madison and the writing of the Constitution.

So the mention of unalienable rights, especially from the pen of a nonChristian, implies nothing Christian about the document. In fact, the Christians of that time were often involved in revoking the unalienable rights of those of different faiths. And that revoking had a rich tradition in Christianity.

And you seem to overlook that the Founding Fathers were also eying westward expansion, which the British prohibited. And they neither granted unalienable rights to America's indigenous population nor to Blacks. And don't forget that women were also left out of the mix.

The whole point is that you are not advocating rights unless it is unconditional for those outside of your own group. Rather, you are advocating privilege with rights language.

Also, you cannot talk about the Founding Fathers beliefs as a monolith. Only those who are Calvinist believe in total depravity. Besides the Deists, you had unitarians and others who did not believe in the total depravity of man.

I believe that out of idealizing the Founding Fathers, you are giving them more authority than they deserve by reading into what they wrote. Since how power can corrupt is a shared belief with other philosophies, and since the Constitutional debates show the desire to retain a power that was invulnerable to popular demand, it is more than difficult for me to believe your assertion about the Founding Fathers.