Archive for militarism
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→
Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of several books, most recently A Farewell to Mars (review here), where he recounts his journey to the gospel of peace after many years of marching to the drumbeats of war. His journey will resonate with libertarians who are disenchanted with the state of political affairs in the United States, as well as with many Christians who hunger for a gospel that speaks to human social needs.
Zahnd agreed to discuss the themes of his new book with somebody who has a libertarian Christian audience in mind. My questions were shaped in part by my desire to connect the core issues that matter to me as a libertarian – primarily violence and peace – with my belief that the gospel of Jesus will change human society. I do not assume or expect Zahnd to agree with libertarians on politics, but I do believe our views overlap enough to have a unique conversation. I have also tried to avoid questions he has already answered in the book.
Thank you for being willing to discuss with me the themes in your new book. As I was reading it, I knew it would resonate with my fellow libertarians. We have a reputation of being contrarians, especially in politics! Many of us are strongly anti-war. The non-aggression principle is foundational to our political beliefs. We strongly affirm Lord Acton’s famous quote on the corruption of absolute power. It is no surprise that anyone who teaches that Jesus spoke against empire ends up on our radar!
DS: On this issue of peace and violence, what criticisms have you experienced? What do you believe your critics are missing most about the message of Jesus? How has their critique affected the way you understand and communicate this message?
BZ: First of all, Doug, thank you for the opportunity to engage with your audience.
We tend to divide the subject of violence into two categories: individual/criminal violence and corporate/civil violence. If I speak of the problem of violence on the level of the individual — street violence, domestic violence, criminal violence — I receive no criticism at all. But if I call into question the organized mass violence of war, I have to brace myself for withering criticism. The violence of war is sacred violence. It’s hallowed in anthem, memorial, monument, and myth. The massive violence of war is sacred because it has been the organizing principle of civilization. This is the story that history (and the Bible) tells us. This is the foundational story of Cain and Abel. Cain re-imagined his brother as a rival and enemy. So Cain killed Abel. Then Cain lied to God and himself about what he had done, moved east of Eden, and founded the first city. This is how the Bible tells the story of the rise of human civilization as we build upon a foundation of collective murder. Over the course of six millennia human civilization has clung to power enforced by violence as our organizing principle, and most people find it nearly impossible to imagine the world any other way. Read More→
I cannot overstate my excitement to promote Brian Zahnd’s latest book, A Farewell to Mars. I am passionate about the message of Jesus as it addresses all of life, including politics. I believe the message of Jesus was intensely political. The puzzle for us today is how to work it out in our unique socio-historical context. This is where Zahnd’s book is relevant to a part of the church that is blinded to its addiction to and endorsement of violence. Many others have made the case for peace, and many have done so by appealing to Jesus. Zahnd shares his journey, and in so doing, he subtly exposes the church’s infatuation with a power that is truly impotent to save the world.
As libertarians we embrace a politics of peace. Non-aggression is our one non-negotiable. We believe that free trade creates mutually beneficial transactions that promote prosperity for all parties involved. As Christians we believe that true individual freedom comes from faith in Jesus. Our commitment to peace is highly personal for us. A Farewell to Mars is about how the message of Jesus applies to human society. Jesus’ world was radically different from ours. He did not address the specific issues that preoccupy us today. Yet everyone who heard the claim “Jesus is Lord” understood that it meant emphatically that Caesar is not! As the saying goes, “Them’s fightin’ words!”
Zahnd expected to write this book when he was 70 years old. It arrived 15 years early when he had three grandchildren (to whom the book is dedicated). His reluctance to write it is evident on its first pages, where in a brief letter to the book itself, he writes, “I had to write you. You wouldn’t let me sleep until you were written.” Every page thereafter is simply thick with passion for the world-changing message of Jesus. Read More→