Taking the Prince of Peace Seriously

by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Reprinted from http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods107.html

Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State
by Laurence M. Vance (Vance Publications, 2008); 432 pages.

Several years ago, Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) told parishioners at Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas, something he had said to President George W. Bush: “Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on ’em and I’ll make one pass. We won’t have to worry about Syria anymore.”

Johnson later claimed he’d been joking. But the congregation wasn’t laughing – it was roaring with cheers and applause.

These were all Christians, you understand – you know, people who are supposed to be concerned about the wrongful taking of innocent human life.

It’s not just Protestants; a substantial number of Catholics are guilty of the same cavalier attitude toward war, which is ipso facto just if waged by the U.S. government. They will spend their time tracking down whatever slivers of evidence they can find in support of their leaders’ war propaganda, a practice they would have laughed at if they’d observed it in the Soviet Union. As a Catholic myself I have been mortified to think that a neoconservative death cult is what is being projected to the non-Christian world as Christianity.

This is why the second edition of Laurence Vance’s Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State (which is nearly four times as long as the first edition) is at once both good news and bad news. The good news is the book itself, which eviscerates the self-justifying nonsense that passes for moral reflection among so many Christian supporters of war. The bad news is how rare such a book is these days: a theologically conservative Christian’s powerful, unrelenting case against war, militarism, and an eagerness to believe whatever propaganda will promote war and cast those politicians who support it in a favorable light. And it is to conservative Christians that Vance directs the bulk of his appeal, since it is they, he finds, who most readily adopt the war propaganda that emanates from Washington.

It’s one thing to describe someone as a voice crying in the wilderness, but that doesn’t quite capture Laurence Vance and his work. Vance is a voice crying in a soundproof sarcophagus on the moon.

Vance is no pacifist and would not oppose Christian participation in the armed forces if the U.S. military were actually used for defensive purposes. But that has not been the case for quite some time, which is why two of the essays in this collection are provocatively entitled “Should a Christian Join the Military?” and “Should Anyone Join the Military?”

To those who urge participation in the state’s wars on the grounds that Christians must obey the powers that be – an objection Vance evidently encounters quite a bit – Vance counters with the admonition to obey God rather than men. No one is exempt from moral censure on the grounds that he was just obeying orders. The issue is whether the orders are morally acceptable or not, and that question is not answered by anti-intellectual demands of obedience. Vance demands to know whether, on the grounds that one must obey the powers that be, such critics would kill their own mothers if ordered to do so by the state. I’m not sure I want to hear the answer.

Vance raises another good point: what about the soldiers of the enemy country? Are evangelicals prepared to say that those men are to be honored and respected as well, since they too are obeying the powers that be, namely their own rulers?

Evangelicals cite that verse, incidentally, not because they need to persuade themselves of the need to support the war, but in order to bully other Christians into doing so. Most evangelicals need little biblical encouragement to follow a position on war they have already adopted on other grounds. Apparently determined to live down to the Washington Post’s famous description of evangelicals years ago as “poor, uneducated, and easily led,” they can’t sign on fast enough to whatever immoral, harebrained military intervention their leaders urge them to support. Anyone who reacts otherwise must be a “liberal” who “hates America.”

As for those who appeal to the Old Testament to prove divine sanction for war (for instance, the late Jerry Falwell in a bizarre article called “God Is Pro-War”), Vance joins other anti-war Christians in the obvious reply: “God commanded the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to fight against heathen nations (Judges 6:16), but George Bush is not God, and America is not the nation of Israel.”

Blind faith in Caesar

Not just among Christians but among conservatives more generally, all critical thinking and curiosity cease when the subject turns to war. Moral relativism and utilitarianism, which Christians supposedly oppose, take the place of serious moral argument. Vance describes the position simply: “Killing someone you don’t know, and have never seen, in his own territory, who was no threat to anyone until the United States invaded his country, is not murder if the U.S. government says he should be killed.” Behavior that Christians would never support in any other context suddenly becomes perfectly acceptable, even praiseworthy, simply because the state has declared that a war is under way. (That’s what Voltaire meant when he said, “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”) Many even seem to suspect the Christian orthodoxy of those who raise the subject of war as a moral question.

It was not always so. Vance includes an essay on the evolution of the Southern Baptists, who in the past have issued compelling statements about the moral and material catastrophes of war. These beautiful statements in behalf of peace weren’t merely the perfunctory preambles that good taste demands before bringing out the war drums, as is so often the case today. Consider this single paragraph from a 1940 statement:

Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ. Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations. War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no blackout of love in time of war. When men and nations are going mad with hate it is the duty of Christ’s ministers and His churches to declare by spirit, word, and conduct the love of God in all men. In time of war it is our Christian responsibility to prepare for peace. We would, therefore, urge our churches to think and work toward a Christian social order in which a just and lasting peace can be realized.

A commitment to principle

Now to be sure, Vance’s is not the most elegant English prose you will ever read; there is little subtlety in his sledgehammer style. But there is nothing subtle about the subject matter, either, and if anyone can be excused some understandable exasperation, it is Vance, who has so often been shunned and condemned in Christian circles for his rational thinking and aversion to propaganda. (The typographical errors, which I’m sure will be corrected in the next printing, are less excusable; the United States is described as a “rouge” nation twice on the same page, for instance.)

The foreword to the second edition of Christianity and War is written by Mike Reith, a retired major in the U.S. Air Force. Reith was resistant upon reading Vance’s work for the first time, but he finally had to admit to himself that Vance had the better of the argument.

Most describe it as a “loss of innocence” – that moment of enlightenment when we discover a painful truth of life. My loss of innocence is still ongoing. Vance has caused me to open my eyes. The result has been a discovery of the wonderful truths and economics of libertarianism, and a correction and deepening of my faith in and understanding of Christianity, and most importantly, the orthodox, historical, and biblical views of war.

“This book,” Reith concludes, “is a clarion call that challenges the modern American church, the military member, and all citizens as to their beliefs concerning the historical and moral aspects of warfare. For me, it was literally life changing.”

Few authors ever receive an endorsement like that. Fewer still actually deserve it. Vance’s book is refreshingly – at times even shockingly – radical, but I am unable to identify any flaws in his unrelenting exposition. He says what all Christians, especially those who boast of their fidelity to the Bible, should be saying. I am not just delighted with Christianity and War. I am grateful for it.

April 4, 2009

Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of nine books, including two New York Times bestsellers: The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and the just-released Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse. Visit his new website.


Posted on January 11, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. D-Man ,
    Hope you dont mind Differences of opinions on this Blog….
    this is a paragraph of an article i liked wanted to share it …..please read the whole article if you like

    “But the question is: how will we treat people who disagree with us — with dignity and respect or as enemies? Disagreement can co-exist with respect. I myself attended a Muslim mosque for two years, and I was blessed to meet many wonderful Muslims and to eat in their homes. Tolerance doesn’t mean accepting all views as true (which is impossible, since we don’t truly “tolerate” those who don’t agree with our pluralism); it means putting up with what we take to be erroneous or false in another person’s thinking but respecting the person’s right to think and choose differently since he has been made in the image of God too.”

    Jesus, Religions, and Just War
    Is there such thing as a just war? Discussion on religion,
    religious wars, and just war doctrine…

    by Paul Copan

    Who of us hasn’t heard the claim that “religion leads to warfare?” We’re familiar with sweeping military campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa in the name of Islam. In the name of Christ, Crusaders marched to take land back that was previously under Christendom. In 16th and 17th century Europe (1550-1650), wars between Protestant and Catholic rulers brought much bloodshed. There have been czarist pogroms against the Jews — often with religious justification. Mohandas K. Gandhi was killed by a militant Hindu in 1948; Sri Lanka’s prime minister was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959.1 In our day, we’ve seen Catholics and Protestants clashing in Northern Ireland. In India, we’ve seen Hindus and Muslims fighting one another. Buddhists and Hindus have been fighting in Sri Lanka. We’ve seen the Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the death of Salman Rushdie because of his Satanic Verses.

    Does religion lead to violence and religious wars?
    Several observations are in order:

    1) It’s overly simplistic, against what author Regina Schwartz has claimed,2 to say that “monotheism” has brought “violent legacy” to Western societies and that non-Western religions have no association with violence.

    2) Much of the blood shed in the 20th century was the result of atheist ideologues. It’s ironic that religion gets the blame for violence, but critics of religion are silent when a secular or atheistic faith — such as that of Stalin or Mao Tse-tung — wreaks utter destruction on millions upon millions of lives.

    3) Thus what we must look to is the essential teaching of what a religion says, not merely at its abuse, and judge it from that perspective. Is taking up the sword in the name of Jesus to promote Christianity consistent with what Jesus affirmed? We could ask the same of Islam or Hinduism.

    4) Thus it is not religion per se that perpetrates violence, but a certain mindset that seeks to use an ideology or a religious justification to control people’s thinking and restrain the most fundamental freedoms.

    5) Where freedom of conscience or religious freedom or women’s rights are being abused, all of us must reject this as wrong. Sometimes this may mean calling on the carpet those who claim the same religious affiliation as we do, but they utilize violent ends to promote their religious system. For example, where were the people to condemn the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death wish (fatwah) upon Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses?

    Religious wars within the same religion.
    I’m so glad we have a Muslim represented here; it is precisely such persons of influence whose voice can contribute to bringing about necessary changes in Islamic-based societies around the world so that it will fit into the global village in which we find ourselves.3 For example, Muqtedar Khan (a Muslim from India, now living in Michigan) of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy boldly wrote after 9/11, decrying intolerance in the name of Islam:

    The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps central to Muslim grievance against the West. While acknowledging that, I must remind you that Israel treats its one million Arab citizens with greater respect and dignity than most Arab nations treat their citizens.Today Palestinian refugees can settle and become citizens of the United States but in spite of all the tall rhetoric of the Arab world and Quranic injunctions (24:22) no Muslim country except Jordan extends this support to them. While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam and his use of chemical weapons against Muslims (Kurds)?. Remember Pakistani army’s excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)?. Remember the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them? Do you know how the Saudis treat their minority Shi’as? Have we protested the violation of their rights? But we all are eager to condemn Israel; not because we care for rights and lives of the Palestinians, we don’t. We condemn Israel because we hate “them.”

    These are bold words, but they are utterly necessary for changes within Islam to take place. The same sorts of measured and firm denunciations are in order when abuses against humanity take place in the name of any religious traditions — including my own.

    Religious tolerance without religious wars.
    6) Thus, truth-claims regarding religious uniqueness in themselves do not perpetuate violence — hence, a word about religious pluralism:4 Although the Dalai Lama rejects the existence of a Creator God, I still appreciate what he does for promoting peace. He claims that Tibetan Buddhism is “the highest and complete form of Buddhism.”5 Furthermore, full salvation or even the practice of compassion is impossible to achieve unless you accept the doctrine of emptiness (sunyata) — the absence of inherent or independent existence. Everything is emptiness. In an interview in the early 1980s, he claimed that the state of liberation is one which “only Buddhists can accomplish.”6 I would disagree, but our differing views needn’t perpetuate violence or militancy. They needn’t keep us from fighting for human rights, religious freedom, the right to life and liberty for the most vulnerable of human beings.

    In fact, people who call themselves religious pluralists believe they have a virtue that the Dalai Lama or I do not have — they believe that their viewpoint is the correct one, and that our views are erroneous. So try as we might, we can’t escape truth-claims in religion. But the question is: how will we treat people who disagree with us — with dignity and respect or as enemies? Disagreement can co-exist with respect. I myself attended a Muslim mosque for two years, and I was blessed to meet many wonderful Muslims and to eat in their homes. Tolerance doesn’t mean accepting all views as true (which is impossible, since we don’t truly “tolerate” those who don’t agree with our pluralism); it means putting up with what we take to be erroneous or false in another person’s thinking but respecting the person’s right to think and choose differently since he has been made in the image of God too.

    Just war – does Jesus oppose war?
    7) The Christian church is not a theocratic nation (Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world; otherwise, my servants would fight”), but Christians ideally should live within national boundaries to seek the well-being of that nation. Sometimes, they may be called upon to defend that nation’s existence (or that of another vulnerable nation) against an aggressor’s attack.

    Contrary to what many believe, Jesus’ words about “turning the other cheek” after someone hits you on the right cheek are dealing with personal insults, not with acts of violence or force. Rather, Jesus said, “When insulted, be willing to take another insult.” Assuming that persons in Jesus’ time were generally right-handed, a hit on the right cheek is a back-handed slap, which even today in the Middle East expresses a gross insult. This idea of a slap as an insult is seen in Lamentations 3:30: “Let him give his cheek to the smiter and be filled with insults.” This slap would be roughly equivalent to spitting in someone’s face in our society.

    Jesus is not saying, “Don’t defend yourself when you are attacked” or “Don’t help a woman who is being raped” or “Don’t defend your country when it is being attacked.” He is not negating the judicial principle of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”; he speaks against the abuse of that judicial principle to justify personal retaliation or vengeance.7

    Just war – when is war just?
    Although there are some pacifistic Christian groups which I respect, I believe good biblical reasons can be given for advocating a just war as a last resort to bring about lasting peace: Governments, when operating as they should, must bring order and punish evildoers. God approves of this arrangement, as Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Pet. 2:14 indicate. Even though war is never neat and innocent civilians will be killed, the Judeo-Christian tradition is realistic in recognizing human self-centeredness and sinfulness which may necessitate force to keep evil from spreading its tentacles further, to restrain violence.

    If a war is ever to be fought, its principles should be just, keeping in mind both human beings as made in God’s image and the reality of human sinfulness:8

    1) JUST CAUSE: The only morally legitimate reason to go to war is for self-defense (or for defending a nation in moral need of defense) — or if there is very strong reason for a pre-emptive strike (e.g., a “rogue nation” with “dirty bombs”): “If this rule were universally followed there would be no aggressors and no wars.”

    2) JUST INTENT: The only morally legitimate goal in war is the restoration of peace, with justice for both friend and foe: “Vengeance, subjugation, and conquest are unjustifiable purposes.” Sometimes there may be “unintentional effects” (killing civilians) which accompany the intended effect of restraining violence.

    3) LAST RESORT: “war should be entered upon only when negotiation, arbitration, and compromise, and all other paths fail; for as a rational being man should, if at all possible, settle his disputes by reason and law, not by force.”

    4) LAWFUL DECLARATION: Only a lawful government has the right to initiate war. Only the state — not individuals or parties within the state — can legitimately exercise this authority.

    5) IMMUNITY OF NON-COMBATANTS: “those not officially serving as agents of the government in its use of force, including POW’s and medical personnel and services, should not be permitted to fight and are not to be subject to violence.”

    6) LIMITED OBJECTIVES: Since the goal of war is peace — not the destruction of the enemy nation’s economy or the destruction of its political institutions.

    7) LIMITED MEANS: “only sufficient force should be used to resist violence and restore peace.” “Sufficient” does not necessarily mean decisive victory.

    C.S. Lewis, writing during WWII, said that “war is very disagreeable.”9 Be that as it may, evil and aggression are a reality, and we may be doing more harm by ignoring or not stopping evil. He said that a society of pacifists won’t remain pacifistic long!

    Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists. In the liberal society, the number of Pacifists will either be large enough to cripple the state as a belligerent, or not. If not, you have done nothing. If it is large enough, then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbor who does not. Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists.10

    Jesus said that those who are peacemakers are blessed — not just peacekeepers, but those who actively seek to unite parties at odds with one another. In the Christian faith, this is best exemplified by Jesus, in whose death we see, in the words of St. Paul, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.”

    © Paul Copan, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

    Reprinted by permission from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (www.gospelcom.net/rzim).

    This article on religious wars is an excerpt from a panel discussion, used by permission. Dr. Paul Copan is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, traveling speaker, and author of True for You, But Not for Me and That’s Just Your Interpretation.

  2. D,

    This took a lot of courage to post and I am thankful that you found that courage.

    I found this other tidbit of information that really spoke to the whole issue:

    “But most importantly, conservative Christianity in the U.S. has succumbed to that which it has, in decades past, most rigorously warned against: moral relativism. By restricting any discussion of morality to sexual behavior, right-wing politicians have obliterated the once-central Christian teaching that the way we treat others is of paramount importance to God. Cleverly ‘working the room,’ pro-war politicians have infiltrated churches to such a degree that killings and torture are no longer within the province of morality. When morality is only about sex, no aspect of war – even the killing of entire families – can arouse criticism, much less condemnation.

    “In short, everything that happens in the execution of war, even that which is flagrantly in violation of the moral values that Jesus taught regarding violence and revenge, prayer for enemies and peacemaking, becomes acceptable when Jesus’ teachings are compartmentalized as relevant only in our personal lives. When Jesus is sidelined, those parts of the Bible that support authority, no matter what it does to innocent people, will take precedence. This is what has happened (often with the prodding, political influence and financial support of right-wing political organizations) in many of our churches today. Unless Christians begin to speak up publicly for the teachings of Christ – the cornerstone of our faith – we will continue to slide into the kind of moral relativism that causes others to wonder why we are so bloodthirsty.”

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