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.

The True Impact of Memorial Day

For many people, Memorial Day functions as a day off work. In fact, many people hardly know why we celebrate Memorial Day. Thankfully though, in recent years, people have slowly become more aware of what Memorial Day stands for. But I do wonder if we recognize the true importance of this day.

There is a line from the movie Amistad, where the character of John Quincy Adams says, “Freedom is not given to us, it is our right at birth, but there are times where it must be taken.” The sentiment of our rights being God-given is not only within the Constitution, but essential to our Constitution. That there exists those who would seek to take away our freedoms shows there are times where such freedoms must be taken or protected by force, and with this force comes a loss of life.

We cannot deny that war is evil, but what makes it completely evil is that it is unnecessarily necessary. What I mean is that were it not for those who seek to control men with an iron fist, were it not for those who desire to eradicate freedom and instead place a certain ideology in charge of the government, there would be no need for war, no need for a loss of life. But because such evil men exist and because freedom is something worth dying for, war remains necessary, but also evil.

It is through such sacrifices that our won freedom has been preserved. We celebrate Memorial Day because, to put it quite bluntly, there are those who gave their lives so that we wouldn’t have to, those who paid a debt to the bank of freedom so that we might enjoy the payout. We remember those who fought bravely in the American War for Independence and the subsequent War of 1812, where our freedom was first won and then secured.

In the Civil War soldiers from the Union fought to preserve our nation and fought to abolish slavery. Young men, boys by today’s standard, stood in a line and took round after round, giving their lives, so that our union might be preserved and an entire race of people might find freedom. Some of them were so young that they wouldn’t even qualify for a driver’s license in many states today. Were many of these soldiers alive today they would be busy playing video games, getting ready for the school dance, or taking a summer job. Instead, so many years ago, these young men gave their lives so that freedom might prevail over the tyranny of slavery.

In WWI American lives were spent attempting to secure peace in Europe and to finally end the wars of expansion. In WWII – the most justified war America has ever entered into – American lives were sacrificed in order to turn back Hitler. Had we not entered the war Hitler still would have lost to the Soviets, but how much of Europe would have fallen under the command of the Soviets? When the young men of America stormed the beaches of Normandy, freedom once again showed that it would always prevail over tyranny, but it came at a cost. Freedom was secured, but it was paid for by the blood of these men and by the tears of the numerous widows, children, mothers and fathers back home.

In the Pacific Americans fought and died in order to prevent the expansion of Imperial Japan, the same empire that tortured and harassed the people under their rule. Many Americans lost their lives in the Pacific so that many Americans today could enjoy the freedom to live without fear, to go where they please, and to enjoy having their own government rather than that of a foreign occupier.

In Korea and Vietnam American lives were given in order to secure freedom for far away lands. Many would argue that these were unjust wars, that we should have simply avoided conflict. Yet, many Americans still answered the call of the government to serve and subsequently gave their lives. We see this happening today both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There have been numerous conflicts where Americans have given their lives. Not all of these conflicts have been just (look at the lives lost in the wars with the Native Americans). As a rule, however, we should be forever thankful for those who have willingly sacrificed their lives for our freedom. That I can sit here and type out a thankful note, or alternatively that I could criticize America, is not a freedom that should be taken for granted; rather we should recognize that someone else paid the price for our right to speak freely, to move about the nation freely, and so on.

Finally, in recognizing the freedoms secured by the loss of life, we should seek to preserve those freedoms rather than throw them away and make the sacrifice of the many in vain. Today we see Americans capitulating to fear and surrendering their freedoms. We see Americans giving up their freedom of speech in order to avoid offending someone. We see Americans giving up their freedom to bear arms in order to “prevent crime.” We see Americans giving up their right to due process in order to board a plane because we’re so afraid of death that we’ve forgotten how to live. Our fear of death and of terrorism has forced us to unwittingly surrender the very freedoms we’re supposedly fighting for.

Aside from remembering those lost in our wars, Memorial Day should also teach us that some freedom is worth dying for. That maybe it is impossible to prevent all terrorist attacks in a free society, but that a free society with a threat of terrorism is better than a totalitarian society that is absent of terrorism; for is a life lived in a police state a life worth living? Is such a lifestyle worth protecting? I would submit that it is not. Rather, having a life of freedom is worth dying over, it is worth protecting, and if we should ever forget that then we should be honest and cease to celebrate Memorial Day. If we are willing to trade our freedoms for a bit of false security or personal peace, then we shouldn’t value those who gave their lives for the very freedoms we are willing to surrender, lest we insult their sacrifice. After all, rather than surrendering their God-given freedoms when someone threatened to take them away, they stood their ground and fought to take back those freedoms. That we should do the same is the ultimate memorial to their sacrifice.

A Few Things to Remember on 9/11

The event and memories of 9/11 leave Christians in a difficult position. On one hand, we are called to respect our government and pray for our leaders, meaning we pray for the security of this nation and all actions that work to secure that security. We should pray for victory in Afghanistan and that the Lord would protect our servicemen. At the same time, we are called to make disciples of all nations and to display love towards our enemies, both of which would include the people of Afghanistan and the Taliban (and Al Queda). Thus, Christians are left praying for the victory of the nation, but also praying that Christ would redeem the Taliban and our opponents. Were the members of the Taliban to come to Christ tomorrow, it would be better than if all of them were to be killed; a friend gained is better than an enemy killed.

I think of the quote from St. Clement of Rome, where he wrote to the Corinthians,

“Love binds us fast to God. Love casts a veil over sins innumerable. There are no limits to love’s endurance, no end to its patience. Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance. Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship.”

When reflecting on 9/11 we shouldn’t have images of revenge or wish for the death of our enemies. Instead, we should seek opportunities to help those who were deeply affected by the events of 9/11. We should find ways to reach out to our enemy and while praying for our military’s victory, pray even more that our enemy should come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is not an attempt to over-spiritualize, but rather a very practical view; how could the Taliban and Al Queda kill our soldiers or bring violence to our shores if they were wrapped up in the love of Christ?

There’s a lot of hurt, a lot of families who were impacted by 9/11. These are people we should be there for and pray for. But let us not lash out at people in our emotion. Rather than burning Qur’ans, why not open them up and read them (and subsequently expose the falsity of Islam)? Instead of condemning Muslims or feeling they are the enemy, why not invite them over for dinner (if they are open) or find a way to befriend them? The most powerful weapon Christians have is that of Trinitarian love, which conquers all. Ultimately, while our nation fights terrorists in far-away lands, at home we must constantly keep in mind that those who are Muslims are not our enemies, but rather slaves to a religious system. They are co-image bearers who are in chains to the Devil, as are all who do not have a relationship with Christ. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

On 9/11, let us remember such a passage. Let us reflect on the tragedy that was brought to our shores. Let us be there for those who lost someone on 9/11. Let us not take out our pain and emotions on Muslims, even if they support the actions of 9/11. Overall, let us be a beacon in the darkness of this world, an oasis of love in tumultuous desert of this loveless world. Let us display the love of Christ to friend and foe so that we might win both to Christ and receive our eternal reward.

Let us reflect and apply the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch in his epistle to the Ephesians:

“Regarding the rest of mankind, you should pray for them unceasingly, for we can always hope that repentance may enable them to find their way to God. Give them a chance to learn from you, or at all events from the way you act. Meet their animosity with mildness, their high words with humility, and their abuse with your prayers. But stand firm against their errors, and if they grow violence, be gentle instead of wanting to pay them back in their own coin…so that in this way non of the devil’s noxious weeds my take root among you, but you may rest in Jesus Christ in all sanctity and discipline of body and soul.”

Random Thoughts: 9/9/2010

* Saying embryonic stem cell research is justifiable because of the medical advances it might bring is equivalent to saying that Dr. Eduard Wirths was justified in his experiments because of the medical advances he brought about.

* I can’t imagine Paul walking into a pagan temple and taking a hammer to the idols placed within; I can’t imagine he would support burning the holy book of another religion, even if the religion is false.

* A church’s success isn’t measured by how controversial they are or by how big their congregation happens to be. True success in a church is found in the following; fidelity to the truth of God and service to the unfortunate. Should a preacher ever utter a word of heresy from the pulpit or a member ever want for life’s necessities, only then can the church truly be called a failure.

* The world wants nothing to do with Christ for one of two reasons. Either they want nothing to do with Christ because His pure light has exposed their sins or the only image of Christ they’ve seen has been from His followers who’s sins have hidden the pure light of Christ. We should never be an excuse for unbelief.

* Would abortion exist if those who went to picket abortion clinics also chose to take in an unwed mother during her pregnancy and handle her medical woes?

* If Christians were to act in pure love towards each other and towards the world starting tomorrow we would all be committed to the hospital for insanity because the world does not know how to handle true love. But we should not placate the world for fear of our insanity, rather we should desire to live more fully in the insanity of God’s love.

* Christ gained nothing out of dying for us and redeeming us. His glory is infinite, so He did not increase His glory or add to it. His act of death was a pure sacrifice, one where He gained nothing in the process. Let us follow His example.

* War is a hell of a thing – it requires men to kill other men. It requires the human nature to be at combat with human nature. To kill a man is in effect to kill oneself, no matter how justified the action may be. Is there anything in this world more unnatural than warfare?

* “Christianity is a crutch to handle the trials of this world” isn’t an argument against Christianity; it’s an argument against the world.

An Open Letter to Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren recently wrote an open letter to President Obama concerning Afghanistan. Here is what he wrote:

I am a loyal supporter of your presidency. I worked hard in the campaign and have never been as proud of my country as I was when we elected you.

I’m writing to ask you to find another way ahead in Afghanistan. I wrote a similar letter to President Bush when he was preparing for war in Iraq.

I believe now, as you and I both did then, that war is not the answer. Violence breeds violence, and as Dr. King said, you can murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. As the apostle Paul said, evil must be overcome with good, which means that violence and hate must be overcome with justice and love, not more of the same.

Obviously, you know things the rest of us don’t know. And you have pressures and responsibilities the rest of us don’t have. But we have based our lives on the moral principles that guided leaders like Dr. King, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela. We share a profound faith in a loving, non-violent God. We share a commitment to live in the way of Jesus the peacemaker. That’s why escalation is not a change we can believe in.

I don’t argue for leaving Afghanistan high and dry as we’ve done too often in the past. Evil can’t be overcome by passivity or abdication, but only by positive good and creative action. In that spirit, I offer this humble proposal:

1. Take the 65 billion we would have spent there in the coming year and turn it into an aid and development fund. If you want to go farther, you could put a value on the cost of American lives that would be lost there (I have no idea how this inestimable cost could be calculated), and add that sum to the fund. 65 billion could build a lot of peace-oriented schools and hospitals in Afghanistan. It could serve as start-up capital for a lot of new businesses and it could pave a lot of roads. It could train a lot of police officers and it could enhance a lot of social infrastructure. It could give hope to a lot of women and girls who currently don’t have much hope, and it could provide a lot of constructive outlets for men and boys who right now don’t have many options besides picking up a machine gun and joining a warlord.

2. Other nations might contribute to this fund as well, and the fund could be extended into the future based on the number of years our military would have been engaged in Afghanistan. The fund could be administered by the US, or better (in the spirit of international cooperation), an IAEC-like agency could be created, subsidiary to the United Nations, to monitor progress in Afghanistan.

3. Then a set of benchmarks could be set, and the money could be released for development in Afghanistan as the nation reached appropriate benchmarks. This fund would be an enticement to mobilize public opinion in the direction of peace and justice, as people would know that their lives could be substantially improved if their factionalized leaders would start collaborating nonviolently for the common good.

4. With this kind of approach, the people of Afghanistan (and Pakistan) would have two clear choices. Al Queda and other extremists offer violence and unrest. But the international community would be offering support for order, rebuilding, collaboration, justice, and peace. This choice is a much clearer and better one than the choice between two groups of leaders who both depend on violence to achieve their aims.

5. Conservatives could support this kind of approach because it emphasizes personal choice and responsibility among the Afghan people. It would come alongside them in their own nation-building efforts at their own best pace, rather than trying to impose our own nation-building on them at a pace we determine. Progressives could support this approach because it changes the role of the US in the global neighborhood – from reactive bully or intentional dominator to responsible neighbor and partner for the common good.

Mr. President, you have my respect and my prayers at this important time. I believe you have the intelligence and insight to find a creative way to use a new kind of force in the world … something far more powerful than bombs, guns, and bullets: the generative force of creativity, of justice, of collaboration, and yes, of hope. Can we find a new and better way to help Afghanistan rise out of chaos and complicity with Al Queda? You know the answer many of us will shout and chant: yes, we can.

With respect and hope,
A citizen

Here, as a reply, is my open letter to McLaren (which he did receive):

Mr. McLaren,

The war in Afghanistan isn’t about a “global American empire.” Unless America plans to legalize the wholesale production and consumption of opium, Afghanistan really doesn’t have a lot to offer the “American Empire.” What worries me about your posts as of late is they have a hint of utopianism, which is generally a deadly philosophy (as it often leads to the exact opposite of Utopia). I agree that peace should be our first pursuit in all conflicts, but when dealing with people who hold to an evil ideology (Germany in WWII, the Taliban today), it is quite impossible to hold peace talks without giving concessions to certain liberties and rights.

Should we seek peace with the Taliban knowing full well they will kill women for showing the slightest bit of skin or place their people under tyranny? Though we should be promoting peace project in Afghanistan in order to win the people over and get them to see that liberty is beneficial, I think it’s a pipe dream to think that the Taliban will willingly go along with such changes. There is evil in this world. There are people dedicated to evil in this world. No matter what we do, those people will promote the cause of evil. Sad as it is, we must sometimes engage in violent acts against those people so as to turn the tide.

Ghandi, MLK, and others were able to succeed because they rose up against ethical people who realized the mass murder of citizens was immoral. MLK could rise up against an unjust system because he knew the system wouldn’t send him and others to a death camp. Ghandi had the same luxury. Bonhoffer didn’t; he rose up against Nazi Germany and was killed for it. No number of pacifist movements could have stopped Nazi Germany (in fact, none came close). What stopped the tyranny in Germany was justifiable war. This is sad, but that is the reality of our world.

Utopianism is what allows tyrannies to continue. Utopianism is allows evil men to rule over the good. Utopianism is what got six million of my people killed because no one would step up to the plate and fight. And if we continue to buy into this utopian effort, a disgusting leftover from modernity, our culture is likewise doomed.

I ask you, Mr. McLaren, to reconsider your philosophy on this matter and to heavily reconsider your theology. Realize the Biblical narrative about the world being fallen and that we have to act within the fallen world is a true narrative – not something to play fast and loose with. Realize that redemption for the world does not come through improving society or doing good things (though we are called to do these), but ultimately comes from the Cross. Realize that your idea of utopia will never occur until every knee has bowed and every tongue has confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord.


Joel Borofsky

Fun With Modern Sayings

Today I was thinking about modern sayings and how they really don’t make a lot of sense. We hear them all the time, either as bumper stickers or responses to common problems, but when put under analysis, these sayings are actually illogical.

1)   “Violence doesn’t solve anything/Violence isn’t the answer.”

Is it true that violence doesn’t solve anything? This attempts to bring up the sentiment that it’s good for people to work out their differences in a civilized manner. Certainly if all parties involved in a dispute are civilized, then violence makes little to no sense; violence between civilized persons would only seek to exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.

If, however, one person is civilized and the other person is uncivilized or unwilling to work out the differences, sometimes violence is the answer. If you witness a man beating up and robbing an old lady and you can’t reason with him, violence is the answer. Violence (physically apprehending the perpetrator would be a minimal use of violence, but violence nonetheless) does actually solve this problem. Violence solves the problem of the man beating up the old lady.

If we didn’t believe violence was ever the answer then we wouldn’t have police. Even the most ardent leftists in our country want police (the same cannot be said for the ardent on the right, who are Anarchists, but they are few and far between). But if violence is “never the answer” or “doesn’t solve anything,” then why have police? They have to use violence in order to apprehend an uncooperative suspect.

A better saying would be, “Violence should be the last resort.” This still shows that violence is never preferable, but is sometimes necessary in order to get the job done.

Continue reading

Christians and War – A very brief reflection

I was thinking today about how American Christians are often too quick to support war with another country. A few years ago Pat Robertson advocated the assassination of Hugo Chavez. Though Chavez is a horrible dictator that has taken away the freedom of his citizens and is quickly turning into a destabilizing feature in northern South America, should a Christian – one called to be a witness of the kingdom to come – be calling for the assassination of a foreign leader? Or what about the overwhelming support for the Iraq war by the evangelical community, which even the most ardent supports must admit has been poorly planned and executed (by the administration, not by the military).

Before proceeding, I must say that I am not a pacifist and do believe there are wars that simply must occur. The Bible shows very clearly that God had no problem using war to aid Israel and also to punish Israel. God did not just guide Israel into war, but also brought foreign nations against her when she sinned greatly against Him. Likewise, Paul states that power has been given over to the governments of this world to wage war. The best example of a justified war is World War II – if ever there was a just war, this was it. Regardless, the Bible does show that God uses war and that governments have the right to defend themselves if attacked. Continue reading