The Stupidity of War: On the Pursuit of Love or Power

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Currently our congressional branch is discussing the merits of a treaty with Iran, one that would aid (with hope) in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms. There are man opposed to the treaty, believing that it gives too much ground to Iran. Their approach is more along the lines of, “Iran should do everything we want and if they don’t, we should bomb them.” Mind you that we’re now facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII from Iran’s neighbors, a crisis brought about directly by US armed conflict in the region. Of course, it is not as though the United States invented war or even perfected it, but rather follows a tragic line, one that dates back before humans.

Is there anything as stupid as violence? As the taking of another’s blood? We’ve overcome living in caves, mastered the seas, left the bonds of our planet, found cures for deadly disease, and extended the human lifespan to greater limits. Yet we’ve never overcome our thirst for blood. We’ve heard the cries of the orphans, seen the tears of the widowed, watched mothers and fathers bury sons and daughters, and still we’ve never satisfied out appetite for destruction. Violence, even when used to prevent further violence, is surely the most disgusting thing we can do to each other.

Yet, we continue. We watch a little child wash ashore in Turkey, a casualty of war. We wish to blame one side or the other – as though one can easily dictate sides in this newest conflict – but stall to find a solution. We watch refugees escape the violence of their homeland only to find violence in a desperate attempt to find peace. While Europe copes with taking in refugees, my greatest fear is that today’s cheering crowds will be tomorrow’s mob. European history is rife with schizophrenic nations taking in oppressed people only to kill them a few years later (Germany is a great offender in this regard, dating back to the Holy Roman Empire and its many Germanic states).

We are constantly at war, unable to live at peace with our neighbor. Almost all wars begin with one person or a group of people desiring power, often at the cost of all others. Even religious wars begin with a narcissistic quest for power, that perhaps one’s god (or gods) might smile upon the bloodshed of another human being and grant more authority to the valiant warrior. One doesn’t need religion to start a war, one merely needs be greedy and selfish, and such traits are not unique to any creed or belief. Today our wars are hardly religious unless one considers the worship of money a religion. But money is used only to gain power, and the pursuit of power reigns supreme in the modern world.

In life you can seek after power or you can seek after love, but the pursuit of one requires the denial of the other. One cannot seek after both love and power because the two are mutually exclusive. To become powerful one must become inward focused, look to one’s own goals before anyone else. This is not to say the powerful cannot love in some way, or have a marriage, or a family, but such things are tertiary to the main goal, which is power. Love, alternatively, requires a self-denial. Almost every major religion teaches that true love is self-denying, that to be in love is to deny the self. That job you want, the influence you desire, the power you wish to yield must sometimes (almost always) diminish in the presence of love because love requires you to live for others.

The problem with humanity and why we continue to dive headfirst into war is too often men seek power rather than love. In the quest for power hatred is justified, tribalism is king, and the deaths of brothers is viewed as “necessary” and “collateral damage.” What a dehumanizing thing that we place both destroyed buildings and destroyed lives within the same category. However, power is weak against love and cannot overcome it. While the quest and thirst for power is older than man, it is still younger than love.

The quest for love will always conquer power and overcome it. If we learn to live with our neighbors, regardless of where they live, then we can curb the violence which results from the thirst for power. It is only in seeking after the good of others that we can finally have peace. Or, to quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, “If more of us valued good food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” Only a life of love can cure us from the sickness of seeking power, and only such a cure can hold our hands from violence.


There is no “Us or Them”

“We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them”

– Gungor

Last year Gungor released a delightfully dark, lyrically deep, and musically sophisticated album entitled I Am Mountain. Michael Gungor, the band’s founder and front man, also wrote an honest and insightful blog exploring his doubts about biblical literalism and fundamentalism. As a result, they were heavily criticized and even anathematized by many conservative evangelicals (Cf. Ken Ham, Q90 FM Radio, & Al Mohler).

On a personal note, I was living in Wake Forest at the time the controversy broke out and very disappointed when, at the last minute, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary canceled a Gungor concert I had been planning to attend for six months.

Gungor recently released a new song entitled “Us for Them” (which is embedded above). I find the song both moving and inspiring; especially in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston and the backlash regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. Nevertheless, I suspect, it will only embroil Gungor in even more controversy.

The reason for this is simple: it calls for us to love unconditionally. 

Rejecting the Either/Or

Gungor’s song decries our fallen tendency to divid people into categories (e.g., white/black, cool/uncool, rich/poor, educated/ignorant, gay/straight, etc.), to stigmatize and judge, and to segregate and hate. This is the either/or that Gungor rejects and which fuels their declamation against those who would “define us”. Many, however, will misunderstand the message. They will, instead, interpret it as an attack on objective truth.

After all, one might argue that, to reject the either/or distinction is to violate the law of non-contradiction; literally to say that A is both A and Not-A at the same time and in the same sense. If this is true,”Us for Them” advocates the logically absurd and is, ultimately, a misguided call for us to embrace moral relativism.

To interpret the song in this way, however, would be misguided. For Gungor is not attacking the laws of logic, nor are they denying the possibility of objective truth. They are, in fact, doing the exact opposite. They are affirming the objective existence of the God who is love and who loves all men unconditionally; and calling for us to follow His example. 

Two Ways of Viewing Humanity

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of viewing humanity. The first way denies that human beings have an essential nature–i.e., a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is merely a random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is contingent upon the vacillating whims of society and individuals.

The second way affirms human beings have an essential nature–i.e., that there is a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is more than a mere random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is an objective feature of reality. This means that what it is to be human does not depend upon accidental features of individual human beings (e.g., the color of your skin, your social status, your sexual orientation, etc.).

Christianity views humanity in the second way.  It maintains people are essentially good, in as much as they are made in the image and likeness of God. For the Christian, all human beings are intrinsically valuable and worthy of love in spite of their accidental properties. This means that you are valuable, you have dignity and worth, and are lovable, in spite of the way you look, the level of your IQ, or the things you’ve done.

It is the second way of viewing humanity, through the eyes of Christ, that Gungor’s new song champions. As such it stands squarely against those who define and judge other human beings in terms of some accidental feature of their existence. It is, thus, opposed to any worldview that would cause us to hate another human being due to their race, age, religion, or sexual orientation.

“Our Only War is Love”

To reject the either/or–i.e. humanities fallen tendency to divid, categorize, and judge others based upon accidental features of their existence–is to call for us to love one anther as Jesus does: unconditionally.

To embrace the way of love is literally to wage war on our fallen dispositions and against the fallen world system. It is to stare in the face of ISIS with open arms, as Jesus did on the cross: praying for the very people who murdered him.  It is to look at all of humanity, regardless of their sins, and to see the very image of God; to see that there is no “us or them.”

It seems appropriate to close with these words from St. Maximus the Confessor:

“For him who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between his own or another’s, or between Christians and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because he has risen above the tyranny of the passions and has fixed his attention on the single nature of man, he looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who ‘is all, and in all”

50 Shades of Decay: On the Scandal of Love

If Christian Grey were poor and ugly then 50 Shades of Grey would be about an abusive and controlling man. But since his abuse is wrapped in a nice suit, wealth, and good looks, it’s “sexy” and “erotic.” Beyond the erotic bondage that both the book and the movie celebrates, we see a man that does all he can to control another woman. Within 50 Shades the nightmare that millions of women endure on a daily basis is morphed into some romanticized version of torture.

If we remove the glitz and glamor, remove the good looks, remove the wealth, remove the style, then is Christian Grey still a romantic figure with a dark past who needs fixing? The story plays on the ultimate trope, which is women love jerks because they believe they can fix them. Such an approach doesn’t dignify women nor does it liberate their sexuality, rather it treats them as objects, as curing pills to a psychological diagnosis. Without all those toys, Christian Grey is no longer a fantasy character, but a person appearing on a day time talk show or the guy in the back of a police car for a domestic violence dispute. He’s a stalker, but with money and good looks he’s “romantic.”

Our culture is in many ways pornographic, and I don’t mean that in the typical sense. Porn creates a false reality and sets false expectations; what is upsetting or disturbing in real life is normal in porn. Porn, then, distorts reality in favor of a fantasy, which means porn doesn’t have to be that overtly sexual video. Fox News (or MSNBC if you prefer) is a type of porn, creating a false image of what America and the world ought to be. Reality TV is a type of porn, creating a false reality, but acting as though it is real. In the same way, 50 Shades is pornographic, not just for the explicit sexuality, but because it creates a fantasy of love without facing reality.

The books and movie creates this image of the “ultimate alpha male,” the guy that every guy wants to be like and every woman wants to be with. But such a man is a fantasy and doesn’t exist. Such an image leaves guys attempting to act like the alpha male (which is nothing more than a glorified ass) and it leaves women searching for this elusive alpha male. Of course they’ll find someone who is similar, but he’s attempting to live up to a false presentation of reality, meaning the charade will eventually collapse and the woman will end up trying to find another man, or living a life of disappointment. Society questions where all the real mean have gone; but if you pursue a fantasy and make it your ideal, don’t be shocked when you can’t find it in reality. Men and women are trained to follow roles, not to become humans; they are given a cookie-cutter image of what the ideal man looks like, or the ideal woman looks like, and we then find ourselves shocked when people can’t live up to these fake and false images.

True love, the real thing, is scary and hard to find. We live in a culture obsessed with power, where even love is treated as an old mythology and relegated to the classics. We chastise the classics as being anti-female and treating men as gods. We are too quick to condemn the classics though, for though they treated women as lesser than men, they at least acknowledge women as human. In the modern age we’ve sought liberation and equality and have only succeeded in treating women a little higher than animals and objects. No, while the ancients were wrong about a lot of things, they were at least correct in their pursuit of love. To put it another way, today we “pick up” women, whereas at one point we “wooed” women: To “pick up” applies to an object (e.g. I pick up trash, I pick up food, I am the actor imposing my will upon an object). To woo means to gain, to acknowledge that you are dealing with another free will being who is capable of thought and choice. You pick up an object, but you woo a human.

While we seek after power – being the dominant male, a woman using her sexuality to gain an advantage over a man, sharing “authority” in a relationship, refusing to give up individualism even in the face of marriage – we’ve long forgotten about love. The idea of there being rules to love, of it occurring within a marriage, of it existing solely between man and wife (at least in a sensual way) was at one point ridiculed for being “Victorian” and outdated. Now such a viewpoint is hardly considered and even its whisper elicits scandal. One can almost imagine that in a few decades the real rush for teenagers wanting to go against the flow of society’s mores will involve them refusing to have sex with each other or anyone else and waiting until marriage, and then remaining faithful thereafter. Continue reading

Hypocrisy, Stupidity, Dishonesty, Ignorance, and Evil in the Bible

Truth is a Man

noah-drunk One reason I find Christianity believable is the hypocrisy, stupidity, dishonesty, ignorance, and evil in the Bible.

Take, for instance, those remarkable individuals who made it into the spiritual “hall-of-fame” in Hebrews 11:4-38.  A list of some of the most important saints who ever lived; individuals God worked through to accomplish incredible things; individuals whose lives were built on faith.  Yet, every one of them were hypocrites–that is, their lives did not always match up to the values they cherished most.

Consider Noah, one of the only men to remain faithful to God in his lifetime–“humanities last hope”.  After the flood, whilst in the primordial stages of building a new civilization, he gets wasted and exposes himself to his sons (Genesis 9:20-23).  Or take Abraham, for example, who, out of fear, led a king to believe his wife was actually his sister; thus allowing the king to take his wife into his harem (see Genesis…

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In the Wake of Love, Hopelessness Disappears

IMG_0813The vast rat race of modern life

Have we all bought into the lie

Money makes you happy, so find success

Acquire all the money you want, then die


Death is the great equalizer of us all

Something that transcends race and class

We cannot escape its omnipresent grasp

We cannot overcome, nor can we surpass


What then do we live for

Why continue if the edge is our end

What is the glory of wealth

If hope it cannot land


And what of happiness on a September day

If tomorrow it shall rain

Life is more than the moment

For it all culminates to be vain


Do we pass on forever in our children

But they too succumb to eternal rest

Our children’s children will one day cease

The hope of life a cruel jest


And of the bond between lovers

A tale more fiction than fact

For all lovers end through choice or death

If two become one eventually one will subtract


Live for the moment I hear you say

But what of when the moment passes

In the quiet dark when reality appears

When the fear of our end amasses


Or do you ignore such questions

Do you push forward deaf to silence

Are you a mindless animal

To reason you must recompense


To ask these questions I ask

To face the world with fear

Not about survival, but about life

This differentiates us from animals, it’s clear


O stupefied and simple man

How easily you are led astray

Distracted by things of decay and rust

You ignore the night and no longer appreciate the day


We fill ourselves with drugs

To push away well-founded anxiety

For what are we in a sea of atoms

What more are we if not concentrated energy


What does it matter if I die today

What is gained if death awaits ’till tomorrow

I am but one life in an existence of billions

In my death or yours the universe does not sorrow


But what of beauty in this world

Of sunsets, lovers, and manmade art

Surely this is what we live for

This is found at the center of the heart


To this I emphatically say no

For what is beautiful shall not persist

The young vixen, the Rembrandt, the cathedral

All will fail and nothing now shall subsist


What of the form of beauty

Is this not eternal, for what we strive

What worth of an empty, mindless form

Why, for this, should I survive


Why, then, do we continue to avoid death

This all-too-natural unnatural reality

For what purpose do we live

Lest all actions be mere vanity


Perhaps we continue on in the name of love

Not mere romance, but something grander

But should the universe collapse on itself

Would not also love capitulate and surrender


Or is love beyond the realm of the seen

Could it be that love is the true reality

All now merely shadows, a simulacrum

And love directs us toward an eternity


If what we see is all we have

Then there is no point to this life

But if there is more, an unseen extravagance

Perhaps there is meaning to this strife


This love cannot be a mindless force

For then it could not be love, no intention

It must be intelligible and full of vivacity

Yet so vast a mystery, one without definition


This love must be our object of desire

Our Penelope on the odyssey of being

To run from this love the beginning of misery

Avoiding a contentment that sex and money cannot bring


We shall die and decay, but love live on

This love will rescue us from the grave

It will descend to any depths

For there is no soul it will not save


Our moments suddenly matter enveloped in love

For they shall continue forever and ever

Love will keep us and protect us

And seek us, to the end’s, wherever


Though my soul shall crumble to the abyss

And life collapse and tumble down the slope

I shall no more fear the darkness

In the arms of love I find hope


To the abyss love will find me

Love will break open the gates of death

The end of all shall be reversed

As love breathes a life-giving breath


Let meaninglessness win the day now

But let not death control history

There is more to life than our senses

Let love reign today, for love has eternal victory

The Impossibility of Love or, the Either/Or of our crisis

IMG_1007Christians are reluctant to give into the pondering of the pessimist, to allow that love is impossible for humans. The unromantic and nihilistic notion of the materialist is that love is an emotional state of being, nothing more and nothing less. There is, to put it bluntly, nothing substantive to “being in love” or “loving a wife.” Such sad materialistic notions have somehow become a new view of romance, such as believing that we “fall in love” rather than choose to love. There are those who say, “You can’t help who you love,” as though love is no different than a passing whim or an uncontrollable biological reflex. Pop Christianity, however, desperately clings to the idea that love is a permanent state, something that we cannot alter, and they fight desperately against the claims of the materialist or secular idealist.

Yet, I tend to side with those who argue that love is an impossibility for humans. Certainly love does exist independent of human interaction; it is much more than an emotional state of being. Love, like breathing underwater or flying unaided throughout the air, exists, but it is impossible for humans to engage in it, at least successfully. See, love between us, no matter what, will always fail. The divorcée and the widower both have in common that they once loved, but the object of that love is no longer around. The experience of love is one that will inevitably end, either through a fight, drifting apart, or death. Love is like a firework; a beautiful explosion of passion, leaving those involved in awe of its beauty and power, but still dissipating rapidly into the night.

Much to the chagrin of the Christian, such experiences tend to put a negative view on the possibility of love. When over half of marriages end in divorce and infidelity is so high that it’s almost expected to occur within a marriage, where does idealism lead us? We can preach on the absolute nature of love, but we find ourselves waking every morning to an ever loveless world. We see death, wars, starvation, human rights abuses, oppression and the like occurring all over the world. We speak of love, but we might as well speak of unicorns or dragons. Yet, deep down every human knows love exists; after all, while the empirical case for love might be on par with unicorns, we instinctively continue our search for love while only the crazy and insane seek out unicorns. If love did not exist, we would not seek it out on an impulse. Why, then, does it seem like an impossibility? After all, either love exists and our seeking it is the definition of sanity, or it doesn’t exist and we are all insane.

What about the act of self-sacrifice, the core of love? What about when someone gives everything? Wouldn’t this show that love is a possibility for us mere mortals? In such an instance, we do not create this act of self-sacrifice, that is, we do not create love. We do not even originate that love. The object of our affection has always been loved and love has always been directed to him or her, we merely become the conduit in that time and place for the love that has always existed. In choosing to love someone, to perform sacrifice for someone, we manifest a love that is already there and partake in what already exists. Such an act forces us to transcend ourselves, to move beyond who we are, even to appease Nietzsche and to move beyond good and evil, and engage in a raw act of unification.

When we do engage in an act of true love, even then it only lasts for a moment. We see the impossibility of love, because if we give up our food so that one might eat, if we willingly die for a person so that she might live, inevitably that person will perish. Inevitably, that person will undergo further difficulties. That moment of love will not last forever, thus displaying its impossibility. The love itself, the not-always-actualized but always extant love, will remain long after our participation. And we, the conduits of this love, are equally loved whenever we act within love. Like Moses, we must leave the mountaintop, we must walk away from such heights and once again enter the sweltering valley, but we are still forever changed by this event.

Perhaps it is better to recognize that we do not craft love, we do not make love, it is not something crafted from our own hands. If it were then it would be the ultimate absurdity, to seek after something we can simply create. No, love must exist beyond our control, but still tangible enough for us to experience. That we can experience love and not create it makes all the difference on the impossibility of love, it deals directly with the crisis of love: Either love is something we create and therefore means nothing, or love exists independent of us and therefore means everything. We do not make love, but we find ourselves experiencing love, wrapped up in the arms of the Lover. Thus, when our experience of love towards the other inevitably arrives, that experience still lives on in the eternal memory of the ultimate Lover. And so long as we pursue him, that experience lives on within us as well. Love only becomes a possibility when we realize we are not the source, but the participant. It is then that we invite others into this experience with us, knowing that while the experience may end in the here and now, it will continue on forever with the Lover.

Valentine’s Day Array

We at The Christian Watershed would like to wish you a happy Valentine’s Day! As a token of our love we offer you this post from our new contributing author Jameson Cockerelle . . .

Five-Cent Synthesis

St. Valentine St. Valentine

Here is a post for you on this lovely Valentines’ Friday. It seems we’re thawing here in Texas (sorry southeast USA) and naturally my fingers have followed suit. This post is a few quick hits that have recently been on my mind.

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