As I said in my previous post, I’ve been negligent about posting and maintaining my blog over the past year. This is mostly because I’ve been investing a lot of my time and energy in my graduate studies, but that isn’t to say that I’m short on ideas for topics to write about now that said studies are wrapping up. Which brings me to the content and topic of this post.
I began what I’ll refer to as my “political awakening” during my sophomore year of college, and thanks to a lot of reading, thinking, and fantastic conversations with roommates, I found myself settling in the realm of Libertarianism. Initially my landing there was due to a resonation with the thoughts and words of others, but now I’m beginning to articulate those tenets of Libertarianism for myself and pick the meat from the bones as I assess what Libertarianism means for me civically, and more importantly, theologically. Nothing I say in this post is anything that hasn’t already been said. I’m merely voicing these thoughts for myself as I begin to contextualize them.
To that end, I had a moment of revelation as I was having a discussion recently with an older individual about an article from the May 2015 issue of The Messenger, a Brethren magazine (Brethren are Anabaptists along the lines of Mennonites). Written by a man named, Guy Wampler, the article is titled Where is the Prince of Peace? and is difficult to find online, so I made a .pdf of it. Anyway, the discussion of the article led into talk of foreign policy and justification for the War on Terror. In the moment it struck me that as I was making a concerted effort to keep a level head and speak in calm tones, this person was getting increasingly agitated and confrontational in light of my opposing opinions. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but it was the key that unlocked the thoughts that follow.
My first revelation was that American foreign policy of the latter 20th Century is fueled by fear and misinformation. I was a kid when 9/11 went down and the War on Terror started, but in looking back I can see how America’s response to the 9/11 attacks was a knee jerk reaction to our fear and anger against something and someone I don’t think we fully understood. That lack of understanding on the part of both the public as well as government officials is crucial to the State’s ability to effectively “sell” a war to the general populus. Our inability and/or unwillingness to understand another people group or religion is essential to the dehumanization process necessary for a war to be fought—If They aren’t Us, then They must be dangerous. We’d better kill Them all and let God sort Them out. I submit this clip from the film, The Iron Giant as example of this. It’s easier for us to wish harm or death upon those who we don’t see as neighbors or fathers or mothers or children or siblings or husbands or wives.
The person I was talking with played right into this mindset. They never read the Quran, but they “knew” that it directly states that it’s the mission of all Muslims to kill all non-Muslims, and that’s reason enough to be afraid and fight them at all costs. When this person posed a hypothetical scenario in which Islamic armies invaded America to burn, pillage, and execute us all, I responded by stating that it was immaterial to my theology and mission to preach the gospel. Such an event would be so far out of my control that I couldn’t see any point in fretting about it.
To my point, I recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34 as well as the words of the Apostle Paul in 1st Timothy 1. Jesus says it’s not worth worrying about things we can’t control, and Paul says that the Holy Spirit should embolden us and not let us be subject to the wanton whims of our emotionalism, or more specifically the Spirit of God does not provide us with “a spirit of fear.” No supreme court decision, no executive order, no instance of police brutality, no terror attack changes my mission to preach the Gospel of grace of Jesus Christ or love God and others (including my “enemy”). Nor do they change anything about the nature of God’s perfection, omnipotence, or providence. The problem here is that something other than Scripture is informing an individual’s faith. It is elevating the futility and brevity of the kingdoms of man above the eternal and perfect Kingdom of God. Being subject to the governing authorities does not mean we should turn them into idols. So, why should I worry and fret? And why should I so callously endorse an institution that provides such little tangible good to my fellow men?
Now, that isn’t to say that I shouldn’t care for or empathize with the plights of those who do suffer at the hands of various tragedies or shake my head and do nothing. This was part of the point of the Brethren article I mentioned earlier: How can Christians practically and intentionally resist or fight violence or the effects of violence with benevolence, love, and non-violent means?
The natural flow of the conversation with this person led to them hyperbolically suggesting that maybe we should have left Hitler to his own devices and not gotten involved. I responded by stating that this argument was low-hanging fruit for a few reasons. First, is that I think anyone would be hard pressed to say that Hitler and his “final solution” should not have been put to a stop. Second, such a war had a goal. Now, in psychotherapy, when we make goals with our clients they have to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For all intents and purposes, WWII met these qualifiers: Stop Hitler and the Nazis, stop Japan, put them on trial if they aren’t killed first, and then we can all go home. I don’t think even WWI or any war after WWII met these criteria, and therein lies a huge difference in how we justify the conflicts that the United States has engaged in, especially the War on Terror. I think that’s part of the absurdity of the War on Terror, we want to fight something that’s ideologic and decentralized in nature, and because of our fear and misinformation, we don’t have any SMART goals, which effectively allows the State to wage perpetual war at home and abroad carte blanche in the name of national security. It’s the very definition of “Orwellian” and I find it more disturbing than inspiring.
Justifying war, especially among Christians, naturally leads to pointing out how Old Testament Israel waged war even to the point of killing women, children, and livestock leaving no stone unturned, and so too, as Christians, exercising our civic duty involves actively participating in or supporting warfare (Deuteronomy 20, Joshua 6, 1st Samuel 15, etc). I think the logic behind this argument goes something like this: The Bible is inerrant, thus anything in it can be used to justify or denounce something in modernity. But the trouble with this is that the inerrancy of the Bible means that the Bible is true in all that it affirms, which is to say that the lessons and values and truths within the Biblical narrative will never contradict the nature of God or lead us astray of how God wishes us to conduct ourselves.
The Bible is a story made up of smaller stories spanning hundreds and thousands of years, and many of the stories that it relates teaches us about God, His nature, and how it relates to our fallen human condition. Sometimes these stories stand as examples of the paragon of faithfulness and righteousness, and sometimes (a lot of times) they stand as examples of what not to do. So, yes, there are tales of rape and murder and horrific warfare in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible or God is espousing those things or instructing Christians to do them. Far from it, those stories are showing us the consequences of those actions and why we should avoid them, as well as instructing us how to care for victims of those tragedies.
It’s with this sketchy logic that American Christians forget one of the golden rules of reading and interpreting the Bible (or any other literary work): CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT. A simple, yet tricky rule of thumb, this helps us to remember that the Bible wasn’t written yesterday, and that there are cultural differences and time differences between ourselves and the biblical authors. It wasn’t written by a 21st Century American for 21st Century Americans. It was written by scholars and priests and prophets and laymen for the people in their time and place in history. Understanding this is important because it is the basis for my response to Christians who point to the Old Testament as reasons why we should go to war and endorse a war effort. The reason I don’t think that this argument has much ground to stand on is because of the context rule of thumb. When Old Testament Israel went to war, the Bible seems to indicate that there was a kind of due process. Usually it went from God to a judge or prophet or priest to the people or the king and army. The context here is a theocratic state that took its marching orders from the Almighty; something vastly different than our socio-cultural context and style of governing that we find ourselves under. Moreover, God’s reasons for sending Israel off to war was usually for self-defense or as judgement when a nation refused to repent of their sins, such as is the case in Deuteronomy 9. Here, Israel is told that they are receiving the Promised Land because of the sins of the nations already living there, but it’s also conditional. They’re told that just as the wickedness of the nations is the cause of their displacement, so too, the Israelites would be displaced for falling away from God (Which ultimately happens when they’re exiled to Babylon).
I know that these last few paragraphs leave a lot of holes and questions, but addressing those issues requires more time and attention than I can provide at the moment, and would ultimately detract from the focus of this post. I simply want to point out where I believe arguments for a Christian’s support of war and contemporary U.S. foreign policy fall flat.
While I’m at it, let me take this a step further to put this into perspective. One of my biggest reasons for rejecting American foreign policy and war on the whole, is because it breaks down society. How? Well, as many conservatives are fond of pointing out, the biggest issue that we face is the degradation of society via the breakdown of the family unit. While there are a myriad of factors that go into this breakdown, such as divorce, murder, crime, drugs, socio-economic status, systemic abuses, etc., I would count war as one of those factors. I mentioned earlier that the War on Terror is war waged carte blanche, and that means that there is a never-ending line of mothers, fathers, siblings, and children who are being taken out of the family unit never to be returned. They either never return at all, or they come back broken beyond functional repair, and I’m not talking about just physical injuries here; I’m talking about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a counselor, this issue and everything else that it brings with it hits very close to home for me, because I and other mental health professionals are the one’s who have to help undo the damage done not just by the “enemies” that soldiers fought, but by those who sent them into such a situation in the first place. And it’s not just a matter of helping them deal with their traumatic war zone experiences, but it’s helping them deal with family issues, job issues, substance use and abuse, and suicide ideation. Please, someone explain to me how this is noble, loving, and gracious. Tell me how, as a Christian, supporting the destruction of families and lives builds the Kingdom of God and exemplifies the gospel? And it’s not even a matter of dealing with things domestically, either. What are we leaving behind abroad? What messages are we sending to the world as a nation, or as Christians? How we caring for “the widow and the orphan in their distress” when we’re actively creating widows and orphans and are the source of their distress?
When I consider all of these things, both separately and collectively, I cannot in any good conscience condone such a policy or mentality. I can’t justify it in my mind, my heart, or even the Scriptures. Words cannot express how incomprehensible it is to me. It’s irresponsible and selfish.
So, what’s my ideal foreign policy? I’m going to go with something akin to what Star Trek calls the Prime Directive. I told the person I was talking with that I don’t think it’s our place to infringe upon the sovereignty of another nation, and that our role as a nation shouldn’t be to police the world; let them figure things out for themselves.
I know this is long, and it’s dense. I know that the topic is a complicated discussion. I know that more people will disagree with me than not. I think that goes back to what I said before, we’re raised up in the doctrines of the state before we’re raised up in the doctrines of Christ and Scripture. I feel the way you feel after you throw up a bad meal that didn’t sit right. I feel better, confident, but still vaguely ill. I’ll leave off with the link to the song that inspired this post, and a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, Beyond Vietnam (Links to Audio and Transcript):
“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”