The Middle East is erupting. There are politicians running around and promoting going to war. Again. To not go to war is being painted by some as a cowardly move, to appear weak. To be strong, we have to kill. We have to blow things up. It doesn’t even matter that we acknowledge how terrible war is, it kind of makes it worse, at least in my mind. We know that war is hell, and yet we still encourage it.
I absolutely hate going to church services that revolve around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. I hate that the American flag is placed in front of the church alongside the Cross. Why is being loyal to your country so synonymous with being willing to go to war for it? Why isn’t avoiding war, negotiating with hostile nations, and doing everything that can be done to save lives, something that is seen as admirable? And I’m not talking about just American lives. We are responsible for the deaths of so many because we are literally sending out robots to do the killing for us. As if by washing our hands of it, much like Pilate did when he handed Jesus over to the crowd, we are somehow avoiding the damned spot of guilt?
America loves to compare itself to other nations in terms of how “merciful” or “noble” we are. At least we haven’t killed as many as (insert other nation here). Sure, we go to war, but it’s for (insert reason here), which is a good reason. And then we have the audacity to get upset about gay marriage because America is a “Christian nation,” and letting gay people get married isn’t “Christian.” Because the internship of Japanese-Americans, nuking two Japanese cities, and participating in any war that results in the deaths of innocents is Christian. We haven’t been a Christian nation for a long time. Were we ever? America was born from war.
I’m not saying that I wish America never existed. I’m saying we’re not a Christian nation. It’s kind of impossible to be “Christian” and a “nation” in the same sense that all other nations have existed. America has literally been described as an empire. Rome was an empire, too. Maybe we’re like Rome not because “debauchery” exists, but because we wage war to spread our message of democracy. Alexander the Great did it. Genghis Khan did it. Jesus…did not. People expected him to do it, but He didn’t.
I’m also not saying that I don’t respect soldiers. They do what I could never do. I do believe that as a nation, we are grossly unequipped to help returning men and women, because we don’t fully explain to them what war really is. Commercials show strong, sturdy units, and the military is based on the principle that there are no individuals, there is only the group. You work together. But that’s not how the world really works. You can’t ignore your individuality and your own responses to the absolute horror that war is. When you come back, how are you going to deal with it? With continuing your life as an individual, in a nation that is obsessed with individual rights and individual happiness? We’ve seen what happens when soldiers return and they aren’t treated like heroes. The aftermath of Vietnam is notorious for its lack of parades and celebration of victory that WWI and WWII produced. Vietnam vets were bitter and angry. They didn’t know how to handle what they had gone through in a society blissfully unaware of the realities of war. Are parades necessary to somehow justify what soldiers have done in order to survive? That they’ve killed, but it’s different than murder? But what if a soldier doesn’t really believe that? Soldiers are part of a system that is inherently violent and inherently based upon not loving your enemies, but killing them, so how do we deal with this fact?
I don’t know. But as Christians we have to stop treating war like it’s something God would approve of. I know, I know, in the Old Testament, God sent His people into war, and I know it’s risky to draw a line between the Old Testament and the New, but the fact of the matter is, it’s called the NEW Testament for a reason. When Jesus died and resurrected, everything changed. Including the idea that war was something we would be commanded to participate in. Jesus did not go to war with those who wanted to kill him. He did not raise his whip against the people in the temple who were selling and buying. He overturned their tables, he overturned the system, and when He willingly went to His death, he overturned the entire system of blood-for-blood that the world has completely bought into.
I credit my thoughts on this to the book “A Farewell to Mars,” by Brian Zahnd. It’s pretty much blowing my mind.