Sunday, October 03, 2004

Faith, Christ and War

As a child growing up in the UK, I was fed a consistent diet of Anglican Christianity. Every day we had an "assembly" where announcements were made, prayers were said and hymns sung. I even had a religion class that taught creationism. To some extent, this force-feeding helped me become the atheist I am today. That's not to say that my atheism is a rebellion against childhood authority per se. It's not just that I was made to feel like a second class citizen. It's that, when you are forced to do something pointless as a child, the more you'll question doing it voluntarily as an adult. Sometimes I wonder whether putting religion in schools might actually do us atheists a favor. Thanks to state-sponsored religion, Europe is refreshingly free of religion these days (though not necessarily atheist).

Anyway, the practical upshot of my English upbringing is that I know a bit about Christianity. I don't believe in the literal truth of the Gospels, and I'm not even convinced that Jesus even existed. What surprises me is that so few Christians are critical of religious dogma. You can sum up the key Christian dilemma as "Who would Jesus bomb?"

Like Christianity, Islam has various sects with different views and degrees of fanaticism. Terrorists who commit suicide attacks clearly have total faith in their fanatical form of Islam. The leaders of their particular brand of religion have cherry-picked the themes and passages from the Koran that will inspire and motivate their campaign of murder and destruction.

I think you can make the argument that this is much harder to do with the Gospels of Jesus Christ. From my perspective, the Gospels are a portrait of Jesus, the man. Jesus would not condone harming anyone. Jesus would not kill anyone for any reason. If he was attacked, he would turn the other cheek. In the end (at least according to the story), he allowed himself to be put to death as a form of civil disobedience. Mystically, there's a lot more to the crucifixion of Jesus, but sticking to reality for the moment, it was civil disobedience.

There's evidence that early Christians followed in the mythical footsteps of Jesus. They fought Roman oppression with civil disobedience, not with military power or terrorist attacks.

When the Roman emperor Constantine became the first sponsor of Roman Christianity, the reasons for his conversion were less than ideal: Constantine was said to have seen a Christian omen of victory on the eve of a great battle in 312 CE. From that day forward, Christianity merged the Roman devotion to war with Jesus's principles of peace and love. Unfortunately, very few Christians have been willing to concede that the two philosophies are diametrically opposed.

If we were a truly Christian nation, we would have no guns, no death penalty, no military and no security forces. Yet Christian fundamentalists are most likely to support the use of military force and the death penalty (and don't even think about taking away their guns). The only lame excuse I've heard from Christians in support these "choose death" policies is a single passage from Matthew 22:21:
They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

Talk about cherry-picking. Instead of seeing the Jesus of the Gospels as a Gandhi-like figure, most Christians (fundamentalist or otherwise) prefer to blindly follow their religious leaders in the opposite direction.

Is Christianity consistent with killing people, even in self-defense? Until Christianity resolves this little dilemma, it won't even be internally consistent, let alone philosophically persuasive to reasonable people. I suspect that most Christians have never given this question a second thought. From here on, I shall refer to those Christians who favor the way of the gun as "Romans".

To me, the answers to the deep questions of philosophy are pre-requisites for life itself. No doubt, if I lived in the Dark Ages, I would probably have been a friar or something. You may have no interest in philosophy. To the extent that your life is brimming over with the business of day-to-day survival, that's excusable. But when someone else offers to do your philosophical thinking for you, please decline.

5 comments:

Doctor Logic said...

Case in point: The Pope has beatified Karl I of Austria.

rob said...

I have said for some twenty years now that I live by my own pilosophy and I felt that most people don't and therefore are lost.So they choose religion to supplant the work they really need to do themselves.Not everyone of course.My philosophy is not static however, and it is actually hard to quantify in terms of words and if pressed would be hard to do just that.

Fortunately my beliefs are of a nonviolent nature (95% anyway) and I am not inflicted with any abnormal outwardly directed dangerous phsycological encumberances to have to deal with.Something I am thankful for as I watch the news these days.Alright I'm a small bit sociopathic but what male isn't these days?It's a survival tactic.

I honestly can't for the life of me figure out how the myths have been perpetuated all this time,Doc.I would like to actually like to believe in a religion and have faith in knowing it was true beyond a shadow of a doubt.Probably because I was raised in a similar fashion as yourself.I can't though and I choose not to hide that fact from myself.

I was thinking that Jesus was just a man and went about trying to see what kind of carpentry he did.Turns out there is not only not much info but he really wasn't a carpenter.Too bad I wanted to introduce some reproduction type stuff as a business venture.Guess I'll have to contrive a line of furniture on my own.Oh well,gives me more leeway.

Peg said...

Doc Logic and Rob,
Have you ever read the Bible page for page? Have you ever studied the Bible?

Lee Strobel has several books out and is a good author...he may interest you, he may not.

Just a thought...

rob said...

No Peg,but I do like chatting with the Jehovah's Witness' but I have a felling they might not be coming around as much anymore.Might have been something I said,who knows.Too bad really just when I thought they were getting something out of it,they stopped coming around.Kinda miss them really.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

There's evidence that early Christians followed in the mythical footsteps of Jesus. They fought Roman oppression with civil disobedience, not with military power or terrorist attacks.

When the Roman emperor Constantine became the first sponsor of Roman Christianity, the reasons for his conversion were less than ideal: Constantine was said to have seen a Christian omen of victory on the eve of a great battle in 312 CE. From that day forward, Christianity merged the Roman devotion to war with Jesus's principles of peace and love. Unfortunately, very few Christians have been willing to concede that the two philosophies are diametrically opposed.

If we were a truly Christian nation, we would have no guns, no death penalty, no military and no security forces. Yet Christian fundamentalists are most likely to support the use of military force and the death penalty (and don't even think about taking away their guns). The only lame excuse I've heard from Christians in support these "choose death" policies is a single passage from Matthew 22:21:


False. Regardless of Constantine's motives for politics, they are not necessarily diametrically opposed.
The early Christians did this, as they had little choice. You hid in the catacombs and lived your best hoping not to become Leo the Lion's chew toy.

But, it is neither a single passage that holds out the promise of death, nor is it considered the estimation of most Church fathers, and certainly not the ones that (considering that Paul was and is canonical teaching) later developed the Just War Ethic.

Scholars have also made it clear that the phrase "not returning evil" and offering the face to another slap is about personal insults (which is how that was done in those days). The right of self-defense for individuals and society was known in those times also. Which is why we also have from Jesus and Paul commentary about the Sword being the arbiter of justice for the legitimate powers of government.

What you said above IS the take of the radical sects like the Mennonites and some others. We do not live in Rome. This is gross and exreme de-contextualization.

....else the PeacenFreakens would ahve to not merely tolerate Leo the Lion, but in today's context disavow all use of police forces to protect people, which other passages in the Bible make clear, we MUST have the criminal see the point to point connection between action and reaction from society.

And the context of the early church was different than what it is today where Caesar is not king. Paul set down in numerous passages this point.

See also Romans 12-13.

I've run this by many theologians to the same result. Tektonics site is a good one on such matters also, as is Peter Kreeft.

I doubt that had he had in mind that the Romans only were to do this to other people, as he labeled the term "government", and as a warning to all wrongdoing, and indicates that government has legitimate powers and are a fear only to the immoral if used properly.

A good precis on all this can be found in Why Government Can't Save You, by John MacArthur, which unlike its title is actually about the powers of government related to Christian life. What he means by the title, I think, is that we are not to expect activism to yield spiritual results VIA government.

It IS quite odd to see athiests used these texts for some ideolgical point. And an odd one at that.

People like to imagine the death penalty, like the dietary laws, or maybe ritual, also went out with the New Testement, but nothing indicates that. And while the dietary and community laws and their applications was altered, if we took the extreme poisition that this was outlawed, then so too prohibitions against lying and adultery. But clearly this is not the case. Nor did Jesus reach over and pull the nails out from the hands of the men on either side of him while on the Cross.

A society that has no retribution for crime to the highest penalty is liable for breakdown.