Wednesday, June 06, 2007

THE NATURE OF WAR: The heart is deceitful above all things

One of my very favorite Bible verses is found in Jeremiah 17:9, which reads: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" I think the reason I find it so compelling is because it addresses a core issue that always hits a sore spot with most Christians; the fact that we are so certain of the evil intent of others, but rarely question our own actions or the actions of those on our side of an issue. As the old saying goes, "The easiest person to fool is always yourself." The war in Iraq, one of the fronts for the so-called “War on Terror,” illustrates this point perfectly.

I’m often accused by a few friends as being too liberal, and it catches me off guard every time. I certainly don’t consider myself a liberal, yet neither do I consider myself a conservative. My primary interest on every governmental action or policy boils down to what I feel makes the most sense to the greatest number of people, and my secondary interest is to ask whom these policies will hurt. I have never voted a straight party ticket in my life, and doubt I ever will. I simply don’t see any consistent ethics with either political party, and therefore vote for the candidates who most closely adhere to my spiritual, social and political beliefs.

More than anything else, I try hard to follow a consistent set of ethics in my support for any action or policy. In a nutshell, I believe that we must treat others as we wish to be treated, and not repay evil with evil. I believe that even though I may not agree with others, I have to allow them the freedom to make their own choices on personal matters—even if I feel that they’ll make a blunder, and even while knowing that their choices will very often conflict with my own. But I also believe that to participate in a fair and effective democracy, we all must be willing to take off our blinders, step back a few feet, and examine an issue honestly and fairly.

And that brings us to the problem of Iraq. I’m often amazed at the number of Christians who profess an unbending support for the war in Iraq, and see it as a classic case of “us against them, good versus evil,” all the while choosing to ignore the United States’ complicity in unsettling the region, igniting more Arab hatred against us, and radicalizing a vast Muslim population which previously may have been apprehensive about the US, but now hates us without reserve. We must also be willing to admit that not a single terrorist action anywhere in the world before or after 9/11 has originated in Iraq or been carried out by Iraqis. In short, the United States hosted a trillion dollar war and any Muslim extremist with an axe to grind showed up to crash the party. They weren’t there to begin with...we drew them there with our presence, and now we’re mired in a mess of our own making, and many tens of thousands have died because of it. When you adopt a true Christian perspective of the war, when you step back, take off the blinders of “God and Country,” and just look at the conflict in terms of lives lost and damage done, how can any sane person still point to the different sides and claim one is good and one is evil? The line of demarcation is now far too muddy to make that distinction.

Consider this frightening fact: The so-called “War Against Terror”—supposedly launched to prevent a repeat of an event like 9/11, in which 3,000 innocent lives were violently snuffed out—has now violently snuffed out hundreds of thousands of innocent lives abroad, and the United States in directly complicit in this escalation of violence. We haven’t combated terror...we’ve created more, and yet our current administration continues to claim that our motives are pure while acknowledging no culpability for the death and destruction that’s followed in our wake.

The attacks of 9/11, which left 3,000 dead, were justified by Osama bin Laden as acceptable casualties of war, and yet as a nation we were horrified by his callousness and evil intent. Yet when we invaded Afghanistan in an effort to capture bin Laden and overthrow the repressive Taliban, the United States killed over 3,700 innocent Afghani civilians in the first several weeks of bombing alone...and yes, we called them acceptable casualties of war, or “collateral damage,” as the Pentagon so delicately refers to these deaths. Are the violent deaths of 3,000 people on American soil somehow more important in God’s eyes than the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands more in other parts of the world, deaths that came about as a direct result of our "retaliation" for 9/11? How can we possibly justify this body count? Are the attacks of 9/11 an act of pure evil, while the subsequent deaths of thousands more Iraqi and Afghani civilians somehow acceptable and noble because they died at our hands? Where’s the logic here? In our effort to prevent more deaths at the hands of terrorists, we've accepted the deaths of countless thousands as an acceptable price to pay. There's a word for this lack of logic: madness.

This madness is compounded by the problem that we have an administration—and its loyal supporters—who think that any disagreement with its "noble" mission is somehow horribly disloyal, unAmerican and somewhat heretical, and it attacks any dissenters by calling them clueless liberals who don't understand what's going on. I reject that label, and so should anyone who finds themself on the recieving end of it. I love my country and want to see it move in the right direction, and therefore I reserve the right as an American to cry foul when I see just cause to do so. I think former US President Teddy Roosevelt said it best in this famous quote:

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

It's at this point that we need to ask ourselves as Christians: Are we to believe that Christ—who doesn’t merely suggest, but commands—that we never repay evil with evil, somehow got it all wrong, that He didn't know what he was talking about? Or that God doesn’t really understand how things work in the “real" world—you know, the one that He created?

The fact of the matter is that we’re blinded by our own deceitful hearts, and in all my years of pondering this subject, I’ve never read a better secular comment on the subject than a short passage contained in David Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature, written in 1740 (and also posted at the beginning of this piece). This ageless passage, with the changing of a few names, could easily describe our current administration and military leaders, as well as those of any generation or political affiliation.

It serves to remind me yet again that my first and only allegiance is to my Creator. Yes, I love my country and work to abide by its laws, but I can never support a policy or action (or war) that is so much in conflict with the basic tenets of my faith. The war in Iraq is a deadly and misguided venture that has killed thousands of times the number of people killed in 9/11. Americans, as a nation, have supported the repaying of evil with evil, and we must be willing—particularly those who claim to be followers of Christ—to look the beast in the eye and see our complicity in it. To do any less is to deny the very basis of our Christian faith.