Sunday, July 01, 2007

Christians: Too Soft For War?

My last post was rather mysterious what with casting love in doubt. A commenter suggested that I define love and that will most definitely happen.

I couldn't sleep last night and while I lay there thinking about the state of this sad, fallen world, my mind went to how intellectually and spiritually soft Christendom had become. Non-Christians dismiss the Bible's truths and so-called Christians cherry pick their beliefs or are just plain ignorant about God and His teachings. So I meditated on the Christians and love and war and the division within our country, and really, all of the West, between would-be pacifists and the sword-bearers. What will become of us, if we can't agree on the fundamental issue of self-preservation...really of what the self is at all?


Carl Jung named the notion of shared thought the collective unconscious. It seems that no sooner have I thunk a thought than someone smarter and more interesting has written about it. This time, over at Brussels Journal. Seems a debate brews about whether Christianity itself interferes with fighting the war on terror. Baron Bodissey started the conversation at Gates of Vienna with the aptly titled piece "On the Impact of Christianity." Truly, these two posts are absolutely required reading.

It occurred to me, upon reading both that this is a conversation that is not happening in the academy--that perhaps the only place where free thought is free these days is on the internet. Intellectual dogma has constricted to the point that accepted truth is axiomatic and not worthy of debate. Any debates are just decisions on the details.

Why is this philosophical jibber jabber even important? The tip of the sword, the soldier, is but an instrument in the service of an idea. If the idea is wrong, the soldier is doomed to fail (in the long run). If the idea is right, but no one believes or cares enough, the soldier is again doomed. The rightness of the idea and the will to defend it is the strength of the sword. The West has an army of supreme soldiers, but they fight in vain if they fight bereft of righteous purpose. Those who send the sword will lose courage or interest and the sword won't matter.

Back to Christian warriors. Machiavelli's argument, that Christianity has no place in an empire, is a recurring theme. The belief--that a loving, God-fearing Christian wouldn't take the steps necessary to conquer or defend--is held by many, even Christians, even now. Consider how modern athletes have endured questions as to their ability to win. David Robinson, Andy Pettitte, and John Smoltz, dedicated Christians, and in Smoltz's case Catholic and Christian, are asked about the killer instinct. Can Christian professional athletes be winners?

Their [Ohio State's] stunning win brought national attention to the fact that the Buckeyes’ coach, Jim Tressel, and several of his players are professing Christians. For anyone who has ever surveyed the competitive landscape, wondered if faith makes you “soft” and asked, “Can Christians really be winners?” the Buckeyes’ success answers a resounding “yes.” It seems to imply that living by Christian principles isn’t a handicap and may even give the winning edge.
Even if Christians can be winners, there are those who believe God should be kept out of the ball stadium, anyway.

So it goes in Western politics and the battlefield.. Christian thought and belief are incongruous with the survival instinct, some believe, or in any case have no place in the stadium of modern ideas and certainly not war, where science and rational secular thought rule.

Tortured Christian theology has taken people down the pacifism path. Though pacifism hasn't ever completely taken hold--we're not speaking Arabic yet and that possibility existed as far back as Constantine--it has always been a strain within Christianity and it certainly forms a significant part of the foundation of multicultural secularism which, as Bodissey notes, has it's roots in Christianity. This path is destructive, ignorant and relies on those "Christian bromides" I talked about yesterday.

There are a few tenets in the New Testament that are used, out of context, to form the socialist and pacifist rational. More on those in a minute. The context that is missing for proof-texters comes from the Old Testament, the "Jewish" books, the law. When Constantine unified the empire (AD 321) by becoming Christian, he melded Passover observance with pagan holy day observances and Easter and Sunday worship (as opposed to Sabbath worship) resulted. The scriptures that supported many of the "old" observances fell into disuse. This was further cemented at the Council of Laodicea in 364AD. Christians were eager to distance themselves from Jews due to persecution by Jews, and by Romans toward Jews. Sunday worship increased the distance.

The desire to leave behind Jewish ways lead to leaving behind the evidence of thousands of years of Gods direct interaction with a people. He created laws for a just society. Israel was a nation at one time, and rules associated with governance pervade the Old Testament. Christians, and those who would use Christian dogma, often misstep because they dismiss the law as irrelevant. They are "under grace", which is true. This problem became solidified by Martin Luther at the reformation who wanted to abolish the Book of James for being too "works" based. In addition, when Jews rebuffed his attempts to convert them, Luther's antipathy toward them grew. He then attempted to expel all Jews from German public life.

By emphasizing the New Testament to the exclusion of the Old, and by minimizing the actions a Christian should take in deference to grace above all, a softer, gentler, squishy version of God took center stage. Revelation, James, and any scripture implying righteous action or punishment for sin was dismissed as legalism. In one sermon I heard not too long ago, a pastor said from the pulpit, "Under Christ, there is no sin. It is now impossible for me to sin." I bet his wife would differ on that assertion. This pastor tills fertile ground for all sorts of behavior to be excused. And this misrepresentation of Christ's mission is not new. Paul admonished the church at Corinth because of their excusing sin in their midst.

In addition to the trend of divorcing the Old Testament to prove being under the New Covenant, specific scriptures are misapplied to support pacifism, socialism and multiculturalism:
  • Turn the other cheek
  • Live by the sword, die by the sword
  • Give up worldly goods
  • Judge not, lest ye be judged
  • God is love
Almost every cult in Christian history has seized upon one piece of truth and distorted it beyond recognition. Note, that I say truth. Not one of the above paraphrases is untrue, but amplified and distorted does not convey Jesus' whole message. In isolation, many Christian principles can lead people seriously away from a true understanding of God.

Finally, Christianity, just like the West, isn't a borg-like collective. There are gradations along the spectrum. At one end, the infiltration of self-help language into Christian thought has blurred the lines between pop-psychology and salvation. Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church, the mega ministry his father founded, said this on Larry King Live:
KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know ...

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
He goes on in the same interview to say that he doesn't like using the word sin. My point isn't to bash Osteen's ministry. I'm sure he's reached many people and helped them. But it is telling that one of the major voices in the Christian world won't use the word sin, that is, he's selective in how he approaches the gospel. It's a softer sell. It's an easier approach. And it only touches on one aspect of God.

The soft-headedness leads to wobbly places. Recently, the Unite Church of Christ synod changed it's discriminatory stance against Israel. Like many other church groups, they have been hard on Israel for protecting herself in the Palestinian conflict. The moral equivalence between the actions of these two groups displays a gross misjudgment. The post-Christian British (but they are not alone) secular zealotry in academia have gone the other direction by boycotting Israeli academic institutions.

With the Iraq war, here is a common modern Christian leadership elitist view from Jim Wallis:
The tradition of Christian non-violence and pacifism, of course, rules out all war as a way to resolve conflicts. Most remarkable, however, in this instance, is that the majority of American church leaders who have spoken against prospective military action are not pacifists. They are opposing war because they believe it does not meet the standards of a ''just war.''

Church leaders have used the traditional just war criteria dating back to St. Augustine in the 4th century. These criteria start with a presumption against war, then apply a series of judgments to determine whether that presumption can be overridden. And most church leaders have concluded that in the current circumstances, it cannot - a war against Iraq would not be just.

They have asked whether there is a just cause, and concluded that a doctrine of preemptive war to change a regime, however evil or threatening that regime may be, is not acceptable.
Given this criteria, no war would be found acceptable. Wallis' magazine Sojourners is replete with articles about environmentalism, racial justice, global warming, "greening our churches", poorness in the burbs, etc.

This transition from Old Testament to New Covenant to secularism is described thusly by Fjordman at Brussel's Journal:
Some observers are aware of the fact that notions such as human rights are ultimately based in Christianity. I don’t always agree with the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who does have some quirky ideas, but he is right when he says that “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

If we assume that Christian anti-Semitism is partly a reflection of a Christian Oedipus complex vis-à-vis its parent religion, Judaism, which is a plausible hypothesis, this opens up new perspectives on the hatred directed against Christianity by Multicultural, post-Christian Westerners. Since their creeds are secularized versions of Christian ideas, Christianity without Christ, some of them hate their parent religion, this outmoded and abrogated creed that still dares to exist.

According to Vanishing American, “Truly, liberalism in general, even the extreme secular brand of liberalism, is a sort of counterfeit Christianity. This has been pointed out many times. Karl Marx, the son of a Christian convert, was a nonbeliever, but whether consciously or not, the system he fathered was a parody of Christianity. Instead of looking to a kingdom not of this world, Marxism and its offshoots proposed to create a heaven on earth.
With the way Christian leaders have watered Christ's message down, Christianity is becoming a parody of Christianity. If a Christian pastor can't mention sin and salvation in a message, how different is Christianity from a Tony Robbin's seminar? If the focus is on temporal material success, how can one muster the will to fight for tomorrow? Why bother?

Mark Steyn shows the practical consequences of the "why bother?" attitude. Birth rates are down in large part because people pursue perpetual adolescence. They live for today. How do they manage to justify such selfishness? They will stress the environment less, less diapers, less fuel, smaller cars, the list of reasons childlessness is morally superior is endless. It is also, ultimately, slow suicide.

Love, as defined by this lazy thinking, means more than tolerance, it means endorsing everything and everyone. No one can feel bad. No one is bad. Evil doesn't exist so much as people with difficult life experiences need to be rehabilitated.

The healing part of Christianity--the forgiveness of sins and change that comes from the transformative power of the Holy Spirit--is never touched upon. When Jesus freed the adultress, who, under the law could be stoned, many conveniently forget his admonition to "go and sin no more."

Transformation in Christ means stopping self-destructive behaviors. Social institutions like marriage promote health and longevity. A Christian perspective values liberty free of sin and life that comes from it.

Not all Christians adhere to the soft form of feel-goodism. They see the state as a necessary part of having dual citizenship and that the laws promote justice and ultimately peace. It isn't peace and pseudo-love first. In addition, many Christians view it as evil to sit by and do nothing in the face of injustice, murder and mayhem. It is not Christian to walk away from a friend or enemy in need. Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan shows that.

The difference between the ends of Christianity is truly the difference in defining love. Loving one's neighbor as one loves self means protecting our neighbor. It also means laying down one's life and having faith in eternal life. This is not the belief of a softy. This is the belief of someone willing to do the hard work for the future.

Ultimately, love does conquer all, but not the soft love many Christians and almost all secularists so revere.


Anonymous said...

"You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember -- all I am offering is the truth, nothing more."

~Morpheus, "The Matrix"


carol said...

Nice summary, Melissa. I became a Catholic in 1993 (after a totally secular upbringing) and was surprised and disappointed just how watered-down the old Church had become. Every week it's God loves you, be nice and don't judge, set an example, & we don't proselytize! A deacon got in trouble with the wealthy parishioners for hammering on abortion in a homily. That didn't happen again.

And yeah, pastors don't like to talk about sin now, lest (as Garrison Keillor put it) someone in the congregation feels marginalized.

But if we are truly in a civilizational struggle with Islam, it will be the most ardent of Christians who will save us. Moderates begin wars, and extremists finish them.

Anonymous said...

I just printed out the two articles that you said were absolutely required reading. I will try to digest these as I lay in bed tonight.

You've written a lot here. Lots to think about.

David said...

I suspect that a lot of the "peace and love" attitude is reserved for abstract political matters only. I'll bet that if you were in the same law firm--or on the same university facutly--or in the same corporate office--with many of these people, you would find them to be not only aggressive competitors, but knife-in-the back competitors.

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Debra said...

It should be noted that the quote which you have attributed to Jürgen Habermas (Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options… We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter) is not a Habermas quote.

Habermas himself has confirmed that he never said that:

What he said was:
"Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk"

In the above citation, Jürgen Habermas states that we have a legacy: universalistic egalitarianism. He explains that universal egalitarianism is the legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and Christian ethic of love. Finally, he concludes that we continually re-interpret universal egalitarianism, and there are currently no alternative to drawing from universal egalitarianism.

Debra Cloud