Archive for militarism
This guest article is by Joel Poindexter. Joel is a Christian libertarian, OIF veteran, and part-time writer focusing on economics and foreign policy. His work has been featured at Mises.org and Antiwar.com, among others. Follow him on Twitter.
With the savage violence being reported daily from the Middle East, and with news of the recent Christian martyrs in Libya, what to do and how to respond has been a hotly debated topic. In most conversations, the only points of debate are how much military power needs to be exerted and how swiftly these powers should act. While this is expected of mainstream political players which are essentially characterized by their use of force, such attitudes are becoming increasingly more common in Christian circles.
How Christians ought to respond to persecution is clearly outlined in scripture, see Matthew 5:38-40, 1 Peter 3:14, and 1 John 3:13 for examples. Nevertheless, even devout believers are tempted to eschew these teachings and give in to militaristic tendencies for a variety of reasons, among them pragmatism and expediency. This ungodly mentality is not only dangerous in the short run due to the often unexpected and brutal consequences of militarism, but it also brings trouble for the church in the long run.
Take for example the Crusades, which have long been used as a cudgel against Christianity. President Barack Obama recently mentioned them at a prayer breakfast. As one might expect, he was quickly criticized for bringing them up.
Some Christians were offended he would reach so far back into history to dredge up stains on the church. They said that, after all, the Crusades in no way represent their faith, and clearly run counter to the gospel. They resented being lumped into one group, indistinguishable from the murderers and plunderers of Medieval Europe.
Still, if Christians resent this characterization, how can they turn around and conflate crucifiers and cannibals with everyday Muslims who neither engage in, nor condone, the practices of the Islamic State? Whatever the Koran tells followers must be done with infidels, it’s telling that of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, so few actually engage in terrorism.
Other Christians were indignant because such statements about the Crusades seemed to draw a moral equivalence between Islamic terrorists and Christians repelling invaders and retaking the Holy Land. They argue that such a comparison ignores key distinctions between the groups and their motives. Sure, the Crusaders sinned, but it was not as bad as what Islamic terrorists do and thus the Crusaders are justified. We know from scripture, however, that any such distinction is irrelevant in God’s eyes, that none are blameless, and indeed there is a moral equivalence regarding sin. See Romans 3:9-20 and Romans 3:23. This is why His grace is extended to all who accept it, regardless of their past life. Can a Crusader repent and be saved? Yes, and so can a terrorist.
A third group of Christians was outraged because they see nothing wrong with the Crusades, and in fact consider them something to be celebrated and repeated. This is reprehensible. There can be no reconciling the Crusades with any part of Jesus’ teachings. Endorsing such brutality against innocents denies the Lordship of Christ and overturns the whole of the New Testament’s witness to Jesus.
A misconception pervades these debates regarding so-called “religious violence” wherein only “The Other Religion” engages in atrocities. Islamic terror groups such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Islamic State come easily to mind. But so too should certain Irish militias, and undoubtedly the groups now marauding through the Central African Republic are considered “Christian” terrorists.
Worse still, most methods of combating terror groups are in fact indistinguishable from terrorism. This is especially evident when innocent civilians are targeted – wittingly or unwittingly – by military forces. In the past six years, more civilians have died in drone bombings than died on 9/11, not to mention the estimated one hundred fifty thousand Iraqis killed during the last war. Commonly referred to as collateral damage, this euphemistic term devalues the lives of those it affects, in direct contradiction to scripture.
Millions live in horror of US weapons. Adults are paralyzed by the stress, and children long for cloudy days when the drones do not fly. Many Christians describe the United States as being a Christian nation, founded upon Christian values. If this is true, how should the US be perceived by those who are targeted, other than state-sponsored Christian terrorism?
Such violence does not reflect true Christianity, but that fact does not negate the perception others might have, and promoting more conflict only reinforces the idea that it is acceptable and desirable for Christians to wage war.
Supposing the Islamic State’s armies are bent on exterminating all Christians everywhere, we can be confident in scripture this will not happen. Still, the attempted genocide of early Christians quite literally built the church. Persecuted Christians introduced the gospel across Europe and Asia, and persecution reinforced how Christ’s death and resurrection was to be the Church’s one foundation.
This does not mean things will be easy, far from it. Nevertheless, Brian Zahnd explains that “as Christians we persuade by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, martyrdom, but never by force. Christ followers are called to embody the peaceable kingdom of the Lamb.” Christ did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17), and neither should Christians.
There came out of the woodwork after George W. Bush’s immoral, unjust, and unnecessary invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq certain groups of Christians—many of whom wear cross and flag lapel pins or American flag lapel pins in the shape of a cross.
I have identified them as Christian armchair warriors, Christian Coalition moralists, evangelical warvangelicals, Catholic just war theorists, reich-wing Christian nationalists, theocon Values Voters, imperial Christians, Red-State Christian fascists, bloodthirsty Christian conservatives, nuclear Christians, and God and country Christian bumpkins.
With the advent of the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History in 2012 and the movie American Sniper in 2014 — both about Chris Kyle, “deadliest sniper in American history” — there has arisen another class of Christians that many in the previous groups have joined as well: sniper theologians.
In this guest post LCC welcomes Matthew Gilliland, libertarian writer and speaker. He holds a J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law.
Jesus presents a considerable challenge to every believer in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt. 5:29-30, NRSV)
On its face, Jesus seems to be suggesting self-mutilation, but that is easily dismissed. Hands and eyes do not choose. They have no agency. They cannot cause you to stumble. Rather, these evils arise from the depths of the human soul, which the Bible calls the heart (Matt. 15:19). Thankfully, through grace we are saved from the duty of cutting out our hearts; Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection to new life has atoned for our sin, so instead we may repent and turn away from our sin and be forgiven. We are not permanently broken, and can be fixed through His grace and favor.
This realization, however, leads us to implications for this passage that can potentially be far more uncomfortable for our daily lives. We are not broken systems. Some systems, however, are broken. Some systems cannot be redeemed – their evil is inherent to them and cannot be excised.
As an example, take prostitution. The job requires fornication, which is sinful. One cannot go about the task of prostitution in a way that is consistent with Christianity, and so if a prostitute is or becomes a Christian, the Biblical prescription would be for him or her to tear that out of their life and throw it away. This is fairly uncontroversial.
But what of the soldier? Most Christians think of the military as an honorable job, and yet there has been no war in history in which a side did not do things that were both sanctioned or sinful. The funding mechanism for war, even in cases of defense against aggressors, is theft. “Collateral damage” is commonplace, and the Christian Right has been quick to justify killing – at least the killing of God’s Own U.S. Military – broadly and with little exception.
The clear conclusion is that this is a broken system. There is no cleansing available to something that involves sin as part of its design. There is no reform available to such institutions. Repentance requires a turning away from the sinful behavior, and in an institution that is built on the sin, that is not possible. This is the sense in which outside influences can “cause” one to stumble. One is still responsible for the choice of engaging with those influences, and turning away from them means cutting them out of one’s life. If your job necessarily causes you to stumble – even a high-paying, comfortable job, or a job others respect you for and think is honorable – tear it away from you.
This also applies to the State as a whole. As Nietzsche said, “The state lies in all the tongues of good and evil; and whatever it says it lies; and whatever it has it has stolen. Everything in it is false; it bites with stolen teeth, and bites often. It is false down to its bowels.” Christians can only serve one master, and in a choice between the State and Christ, one hopes the decision should be easy.
Many early Christians seem to have taken this view. Laurence Vance, in an excellent discussion of The Early Christian Attitude Towards War by C. John Cadoux, notes that the Didascalia (a collection of instructions for church leaders) cautioned against accepting money for the church from executioners, some politicians, killers, and “soldiers who behave unrightously.” Cadoux also cites, among others, the early theologians Tertullian and Origen, who believed military service to be incompatible with Christianity.
If we zoom out for a moment to get some perspective, we can see that this viewpoint is a more consistent application of Scripture to a world marred by sin. All Christians know that murder and theft are wrong. Libertarian Christians simply understand that this also applies to what others excuse as “preventive war” or “progressive taxation.”
That can be a hard truth to swallow.
Take a look at your life. Is any job, habit, or hobby you engage in something that you cannot do without sinning? Are you able to go to the bar without drinking to excess? Can you serve God while fulfilling your contract with your boss? If the answer is no, then cut that thing away from you. It doesn’t matter if it is a “normal” thing, like having a few extra drinks, or even something admired and glorified by society, such as being a cop, Marine, or politician. Look at it. Can you do that without sin?
Here is where the rubber meets the road. As Christians, we are responsible for what we know to be right and wrong. When we receive revelation that something you once thought was right is actually sinful (and this happens to the best of us!), we will have to choose. Will we go with what is easy, normal, and traditional, or will we follow Christ?
This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is preaching something radical; he is taking the commands of the Torah, and reading into it something beyond a mere adherence to rules. Turning one’s cheek, loving one’s neighbor, and returning blessing for insult are not natural behaviors for sinful people. They require a true change of heart and a firm commitment to cling to Christ even when it isn’t comfortable.
If we heed this admonition, then we may be mocked by the world. Where evil is normal, a righteous man is really, really weird. We could even be accused of evil ourselves — those who have stood for peace have often been targets of those promoting war. If that happens, remember Jesus’ promise earlier in the chapter: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
Since the United States launched the unnecessary, immoral, unjust, and senseless war in Iraq in 2003, the Christian blasphemy occurring in churches has increased ten-fold. Even as the many lies of George W. Bush have been exposed over the years, so the blasphemy has continued unabated.
Although many have e-mailed me (and especially after attending church on the Sunday before a national holiday) with reports of the blasphemy that they have witnessed in their churches, I have seen most of it personally.
What blasphemy am I talking about? Not the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance during church services, which makes me nauseated. Not churches letting their county governments use their facilities as polling places, which is even worse than churches encouraging Christians to vote Republican, as bad as that is. Not the placing of hundreds of small American flags around the church property, of which purchasing these flags is the biggest waste of the offerings of church members I have ever seen. Not the putting of an image of the American flag on the cover of the church bulletin, which is a colossal waste of expensive red and blue toner. Not the adding of more flags inside the church building than are normally on display (believe it or not, some churches always display more than one flag), as if having one flag wasn’t bad enough. Not the flying of a foreign flag in church, a flag that represents the denial of Christianity. Not the wearing of an American flag lapel pin, or even worse, a cross and flag lapel pin. Not the singing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, although that is certainly about the most blasphemous thing that could be sung in a church. And not the singing of hymns of worship to the state, although that is blasphemous enough.
I am referring to the military blasphemy that takes place, not just on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July, Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Patriots Day (Sept. 11), but also on special “military appreciation” days that some churches designate, as if Americans don’t already appreciate the military enough.
Here is some of the military blasphemy that I have personally witnessed, and/or received on good authority, on the Sunday of, the Sunday before, or the Sunday after one of the above days, which are all really just “military appreciation days”:
- Active duty military or veterans wearing their uniforms to church
- Special prayers for “the troops” (but never for their victims) over and above the usual nonsense
- Recognizing active duty military personnel and veterans
- Having active duty military personnel and veterans stand
- Thunderous applause after active duty military personnel and veterans stand
- The pianist playing the song of each branch of the military during the offering
- Military chaplains speaking
- Special military guest speakers who aren’t chaplains
- Military color guard walking down the main aisle at the beginning of the church service
- Church bulletins with a list of all the veterans in the church
- Church signs with statements about U.S. troops dying for our freedoms like Christ died for our sins
- Church signs enjoining us to pray for the troops
- Recognition of some young person who has announced his (or her) intention to join the military
- Thunderous applause after the recognition of some young person who is going to join the military
- Video presentations about World War II played during the Sunday morning worship service
- Video tributes to the troops played during the Sunday morning worship service
Once, on just an ordinary, regular Sunday, I saw a pastor recognize and have stand some visiting Marine who wore his uniform to church. And it still makes me nauseated when I think of the Marine Corps recruiting posters that a reader of mine saw on the walls of a boys Sunday School classroom.
“My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10).
These things are blasphemous. They are a disgrace to the Lord. They drive non-believers from Christianity. They are an assault on the Blessed Trinity. They are a blight on Christianity. They are an affront to the Saviour. They are anti-scriptural. They are indicative of the sorry state of many evangelical churches today. They are the most heinous examples of the world taking over the church. They break down the wall of separation of church and state. They make a mockery of New Testament Christianity.
Why do these things happen? I put most of the blame on pastors (or bishops, priests, elders, ministers, or church leaders) who have failed to discern the truth themselves so they can educate their congregations. There are, of course, some exceptions, but broadly stated, there are two classes of pastors.
First there is the armchair warrior, evangelical warvangelical, bloodthirsty warmonger, reich-wing nationalist, American exceptionalist, red-state fascist, imperial Christian, pro-lifer for mass murder who moonlights as an apologist for the Republican Party.
Then there is the Christian Coalition moralist, just war theorist, values voter, religious rightist, God and country bumpkin, Pledge reciting, patriotic hymn singing, cross and flag lapel wearer who is just an ignorant blind leader of the blind.
Those in the first group might be ignorant as well, but the main problem they have is that they are evil. This second group makes up the majority. Their ignorance might be colossal, it might be simple, it might even be willful, but their main problem is that they are just ignorant. They are ignorant of history, primitive Christianity, U.S. foreign policy, the true nature of the Republican Party, the U.S. government, the U.S. military, and of course, their own Bible.
This is why they—
- Thought that the war in Iraq was in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.
- Believed that Saddam Hussein was another Hitler.
- Supposed that Iraq was a threat to the United States.
- Saw the war in Iraq as a modern-day crusade against Islam.
- Assumed that the United States needed to protect Israel from Iraq.
- Viewed Bush as a messiah figure.
And perhaps some of them still think, believe, suppose, see, assume, and view these things. Most of them are certainly still guilty of:
- Equating the Republican Party with the party of God.
- Blindly following the conservative movement.
- Deeming the state to be a divine institution instead of a lying, stealing, and killing machine.
- Holding a “my country right or wrong” attitude.
- Failing to separate the divine sanction of war against the enemies of God in the Old Testament from the New Testament ethic that taught otherwise.
- Reading too much into the mention of soldiers in the New Testament.
And of course, being in love with the military.
What contributes to such sustained, profound, and widespread ignorance?
- Believing government propaganda.
- Believing military propaganda.
- Believing Republican Party propaganda.
- Watching Fox News.
- Listening to conservative pundits like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Bill O’Reilly.
What is the antidote for all of this? The simplest one I know of is this: My book War, Christianity, and the State and a daily dose of LewRockwell.com.
The pastors in the first group need to be criticized, derided, and castigated. They are hopeless. Those in the second group need to be instructed, exposed to the truth, and educated. There is hope for them.
This military blasphemy must cease. Our churches must be demilitarized. I will keep writing. You do what you can to educate the leaders of your church.
Originally posted on LewRockwell.com on October 14, 2014.
DS: Most libertarian Christians are highly suspicious of centralized power. We contend that when power becomes increasingly concentrated, it becomes increasingly corrupt and more harmful to society. You strongly oppose the idea of empire in your book, especially when the empire claims to have God on its side. Few Christians (even Christian anarchists) would deny that governance is needed, but at what point does government become empire? Are local governments less likely to become satanic than federal governments?
BZ: I loosely define empires as rich, powerful nations who seek to rule other nations and claim a manifest destiny to direct history. As a Christian I am opposed to empire for the simple reason that what empires claim for themselves, God has given to Christ. God loves nations, but is opposed to empire. So, yes, smaller is better. This is where I think we should all listen to Wendell Berry. If there is a prophet in America today it’s Wendell Berry. Read More→