Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fighting the War...Within

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves...It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consiously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.
Thomas Merton

It was just over 50 years ago that Martin Luther King prophesied that the United States' addiction to war was making her "approaching spiritual death." He ended that sermon in New York's historic Riverside Church with the triumphant "I ain’t gonna study war no more!" and he was fatally shot exactly one year later. He penetrated the uniquely American unquestioned "patriotism" and unflinching "duty" to Vietnam before it was considered chic (and safe) to do so...and it was costly. But Vietnam was a war with a huge price tag and a military draft that made human costs widely (but not equally) distributed among social classes. No doubt King's voice continues to ring into our latest imperial adventures of which Christians (and all "people of conscience") simply cannot remain silent.

Today the United States has found itself cemented in an unwinnable war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond with a price-tag now exceeding $1 trillion. In addition, the inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the American government has shamefully included a withholding of habeas corpus, torture and, yes, even human experimentation. And this week's Wikileaks extravaganza revealed the overwhelming secrecy of the US government, trying to hide facts that are embarrassing, but certainly not a danger to national security: a plethora of civilian deaths, corruption in the US-back Afgan government and Pakistan's support of the Taliban. These themes make the Afghan front an even less likely region for success (no matter how it is measured). Yet with social and economic issues (unemployment, abortion, national debt, immigration, tax policy, same-sex marriage) a priority, the voice for peace is either seldom used or rarely heard.

Perhaps we can listen to the voice of another prophetic Christian leader who suffered an untimely death in 1968, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton who called for followers of Jesus (and, yes, all "people of conscience") to look not to the Dept of Defense nor to the killing overseas, but within our own hearts and minds. Merton posited that fear is at the root of all violence and that our own self-hatred, buried deep within us, is conveniently and deceptively masked by what we project on our enemies.

The temptation is, then, to account for my fault by seeing an equivalent amount of evil in someone else. Hence I minimize my own sins and compensate for doing so by exaggerating the faults of others.

Merton's monastic brand of self-reflective faith was rare in the 50s and 60s, and even more rare in a 21st century of non-stop entertainment and distraction. He knew that true world peace must start with each and every individual commitment to unearth the ugly hateful, judgmental bitterness lurking in us all, as well as our own counterfeit definition of "peace:"

To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace menas the freedom to rob others without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure.

Ultimately, we can only pursue that the Dream of a "peace that transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) by intentionally journeying towards a love of God and others while we seek and destroy the shit in our own souls.

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed--but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

When we read the statistics and studies about this war on terror, we can really only conclude that it is a joke--one where no one is laughing at the implications or even taking the alleged justifications for war remotely seriously. But if we are really going to "transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood" (MLK) then we'll have to start...with ourselves.

--Theological Autopilot


  1. We certainly must look within ourselves first.

    In light of your comments here, though, how ought we to look on the Scriptures that command us to hate evil?

    "Let those who love the LORD hate evil"
    "To fear the LORD is to hate evil"
    "Hate what is evil, cling to what is good"

    What does hating evil look like?

    Can we hate something and not take action against it?

    "If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed--but hate these things in yourself, not in another."

    What does this mean? Logically it seems to be inconsistent. How can I hate greed within myself and not within another?

    It seems quite clear that war can certainly be justified, so what about this particular war makes it qualitatively different from a war that is justified?

    There is a great deal more that could be said and asked, but this is a start...


  2. Taylor, this post struck a chord in you! :) There's no question that something must be done about evil in our world (besides looking within ourselves to uproot it), but Merton is calling for us to start there because war/violence is a result of not uprooting all our hatred/bitterness/etc. It inevitably leads to scape-goating. North American Christians often embrace the moralism (self-righteousness) of their causes without self-reflecting. He was a monk who spent hours/days/years on his hands and knees, silently meditating on God's Word and in the silence of the abbey, but he was also a prophetic voice against systemic injustice in our world. We all have our unique roles in the Body of Christ. Amen?

    EasyYolk consistently calls for both personal responsiblity and structural accountability (just like Jesus in the Gospels). We believe that Christian communities and individuals rarely combine the two, usually emphasizing one or the other.

    As far as the injustice of these particular wars, I would start with these indisputable three: a lot of civilian casualties, humanitarian concerns (torture, etc) and the large number of Christians (so likely a strong majority) around the world who rebuke the presence of the American military in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (so important to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ in other locales). Richard Hays lists the 8 or so components of the just war tradition in his amazing ethical treatise The Moral Vision of the New Testament (1996). I won't get into all those here but just google "just war theory and the war on terror" and see what you come up with. It isn't pretty. The president of Fuller, Richard Mouw, is a "just war theory" adherent who has been outspoken about the war "effort."

  3. I'm fairly familiar with just war theory. In particular, I've read Rawls and Niebuhr on the matter.

    I'm not suggesting, however, that I agree with the war. But a few things to consider - just to play devil's advocate.

    Civilian casualties are not a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a war to be unjust. God commanded Israel to slay women and children. We are not judges of just behavior. Willful murder of noncombatants is different, but I think that ties into the second point...

    Humanitarian concerns have very little to do with the reason for going to war. If, for example, we went to war that you considered just - (for the sake of argument, assume God commanded the US to go to war) - if some of the soldiers decided to torture POWs, does that make the war unjust? Clearly not. It just means there are some immoral soldiers.

    The strong majority argument isn't a logically sound one. I understand your point, but let's not travel down the path of arguing from the majority. If we stick to Scripture and the desire to do God's will, we won't need to make arguments from the majority.

    While you may, in fact, be correct about this current war, I don't think your arguments are particularly forceful as currently laid out (though I'm assuming you could have expounded further on each of those points)

    Getting away from the war, because that's not what struck me most about your post...

    What gets me most is that many, many people (Christians and non-believers alike) seek peace as the ultimate state of society.

    While we are called as followers to not cause strife where possible, we must know that there will never be peace, and in fact, there will only be GROWING conflicts in the world until the end times. In fact, we are called specifically into the fight. We are to take up the armor AND our sword. We are to be sober, vigilant and courageous. Why are we called to these things? I think first and foremost because if we are living lives for Christ, we will be hated, we will be persecuted, and we will suffer. Surely that does not mean we fight back with violence (though in some cases it is justified), but I think it does mean that pacifism, or the desire for world peace, or the insanely ludicrous "coexist" movement, is a misplaced desire at best, and at worst, a deception that clouds vision of the truth. The truth that we are in a fight every minute of every day.

    My questions about what hating evil looks like are geared more to the practical daily life of a follower as opposed to the big picture scale of nations fighting nations.

    While I certainly have opinions on what our government does, I am far more concerned with what my daily life needs to look like. The reasons for going to war halfway across the world have little to do with that.

  4. Taylor, thanks again for sharing your heart/mind. You and I seem to be coming from two different "interpretive traditions" and, therefore, we view these Christian themes quite differently (as sincere Christians have for millenia): (1) OT holy war passages; (2) end times; (3) the nature of "truth claims" and (4) the pursuit of world peace as a Christian vocation. These are all "contested concepts" within the Body of Christ and they would be great topics to talk over a cold beverage together. :)

  5. Sure, would love to. I'm an IPA guy. The bitterer the better.

  6. I had a feeling you loved your hops. Let's make it a priority at the end of August/early-Sept!!!! I want to ride one of your scooters afterwards...

  7. Dude, God's Holy Word and a swear word in the same sentence...upsetting.

    At one time I swore a lot and then I read "Can fresh water and salt water both flow from the same spring?" It helped.