Christian Compassion Versus Christian Warmongering

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How do you react when you see images of the suffering caused by war? Perhaps more to the point, how do you react when those images depict the suffering of non-Americans, especially Muslims, in a war being prosecuted by the United States government? Do you react with anger that the evil, left-wing, anti-American media just has to show this stuff because they’re out to get "our president"? Do you shrug your shoulders and say, "Oh, well, that’s just the way war is"? Or do you, as the late father of Dr. Teresa Whitehurst did, feel compassion and grief for the suffering, recognizing that aggressive war is a "bad idea"?

Dr. Whitehurst has written a moving and thoughtful Father’s Day tribute to her dad, whom she describes as "a Christian" and an "old-fashioned fiscal Republican," explaining why he turned against the Iraq war after having voted for both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. The short of it is that her dad, when confronted with the images of grieving fathers in Afghanistan and Iraq, felt compassion for those fathers and came to recognize that the policies of his own government — indeed, of the very man for whom he had pulled the lever on Election Day — were the direct and undeniable cause of this suffering.

Dr. Whitehurst, however, concludes on this sad note:

Remarkably, for many prowar Christians, the sight of suffering doesn’t help them to empathize with the sufferer — it just makes them angry . . . . They don’t want to know how others are hurting. They want to enjoy Father’s Day with their families with not a care in the world about all those fathers in this country, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan who’ve lost children and will continue to lose children to this sinful war. And Friend, that’s not Christian. [All emphasis in original.]

Preach it, Sister!

As if to bear out everything Dr. Whitehurst wrote, another blogger under the name of "livebreathanddie" posted two replies (here and here), one quite lengthy, to this essay. Both replies combine to provide a nearly perfect snapshot of the mindset of the average pro-war, pro-Bush evangelical Christian: a dangerous mixture of navet; shallow, conventional thinking; and near idolatry of both Bush and the U.S. government, especially when it comes to foreign policy.

I herewith attempt to respond to some of livebreathanddie’s comments (shown in italics below, interspersed with my replies) with facts and reason, which I highly doubt will carry the day with livebreathanddie despite his characterization of himself as a "facts freak." Nevertheless, I think the exercise will be instructive for other readers, both those of livebreathanddie’s persuasion and those who wish to explain to their Christian friends why Christians who support the Iraq war are seriously mistaken.

"Christians find no happiness from war . . ."

If that is so, then why do so many Christians seem bound and determined to stick up for this particular war long after every reason that was given for its initiation has been shown to be false? Why have they all along been among its most fervent proponents, with one prominent evangelical leader going so far as to declare that God is pro-war? Why do they become angry, as Dr. Whitehurst noted, when confronted with the truth about what their beloved war is doing to other people?

" . . . but they understand its harsh realities also."

Fortunately, they are prepared to accept these "harsh realities" and even defend them as one of the unfortunate by-products of war as long as the "harsh realities" are happening primarily to swarthy, turban-sporting people who speak in strange tongues and worship a false god. Let those same foreigners turn around and knock off a couple thousand Americans in an act of war against our country, though, and suddenly those "harsh realities" are not so understandable or acceptable. In fact, they demand an overwhelmingly destructive military response against a country that wasn’t even involved in the attack.

"President Bush is one of the first truly devout Christian President’s [sic] we have had in the oval office."

Is this the same President Bush who, as Laurence Vance has so amply documented, frequently employs foul language, has gone out of his way to hold Muslim ceremonies at the White House, and has on multiple occasions denied the exclusivity of Christianity as the means to salvation?

Furthermore, even if Bush is a devout Christian — and, as Vance also stated, I have no way of judging his heart — does that make him infallible? Heck, even the pope doesn’t claim that kind of perfection!

"He is deeply troubled by the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan . . ."

He ought to be. After all, he’s responsible for them. He can’t even share the blame with Congress because he never bothered to obtain the constitutionally required declaration of war. If he’s so "deeply troubled" by the loss of life, all he has to do is order the troops home, and the problem is solved.

"Christ was asked once if the people should pay taxes. His response was u2018Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ While this response related to taxation and a citizen of Rome’s obligation, it is widely believed that the message is to obey government in areas where government has authority. Christians believe that government has the authority to call citizens to the battlefield."

First of all, Jesus’ famous reply was a deliberate and very clever attempt to avoid getting involved in a political battle that he had not come to earth to fight. Second, he never actually specified "what is Caesar’s" and "what is God’s." It could very well be that he believed, quite accurately, that everything belongs to God and that therefore nothing belongs to Caesar. It seems unlikely that the same God who warned the Israelites in I Samuel 8 about the heavy burden that the king they had demanded would place upon them would then turn around and say, "Well, Caesar’s in charge now, so pony up."

Perhaps Jesus was making a narrower point, to wit: Caesar’s picture is on the money, so it belongs to him. In that case, all we now have is an excellent argument against the government’s being in charge of the production and distribution of money.

It is quite a stretch to say that this passage, in which Jesus dealt with a very specific subject in a rather ambiguous manner, thus obligates Christians to "obey government in areas where government has authority," including war. If that is the case, were German Christians obligated to support Hitler’s invasions of Europe? Were Russian Christians obligated to support Stalin’s takeover of Eastern Europe? Were American Christians obligated to support Bill Clinton’s bombing of the Balkans? No, of course Christians are not obligated blindly to obey government when it comes to war or anything else. God gave us his Word and the power of reason so that we could determine for ourselves when the government is doing the right thing and when it is not.

"Your comment u2018the GOP’s new strategy of pushing "fanatical" religion into political life,’ is not wholly accurate since American Christians are not u2018fanatical.’"

This is partially true, just as Dr. Whitehurst’s original statement was partially true. Most American Christians are far from "fanatical"; in fact, judging from the results of many Barna Group surveys, they aren’t much different from their non-Christian neighbors. However, there are a significant number of influential Christians with very strong opinions on, in particular, the role of the current state of Israel and the U.S. government’s relationship with Israel that their views cannot be discounted. Many are premillenial dispensationalists who believe that our government ought to support Israel at all costs so as to hasten the Rapture and the return of Christ. Some of these people even hold positions not just of influence but of true power, as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay did until recently. Nearly all of them are committed to war against Iraq and other countries they view as enemies of Israel.

"While much in urban myth is made of the connection of oil in Iraq and this administration, ignoring the arrangement at the start of the war between the World Bank and the UN and the United States, which guaranteed that the U.S. (including the administration) would not profit from the oil . . ."

Where do I begin with this one?

There are the maps of Iraq’s oil fields and a list of foreign firms vying for oil contracts in Iraq, drawn up by Vice President Dick Cheney’s (secret) Energy Task Force in March 2001, at which point we know, based on the testimony of former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, among others, the administration already had Iraq in its missile sights.

Then there are the dozens of no-bid contracts awarded to Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, for work in Iraq. Halliburton is still paying Cheney, and he retains stock and stock options in the company. Clearly Cheney benefits when Halliburton benefits.

Oil revenues were supposed to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq (after America had first destroyed it), according to former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz, by the way, is now heading the World Bank under appointment from Bush, so we can be sure (cough, cough) that there will be strict adherence to any arrangement involving the U.N., the World Bank, and the U.S.

Let us not forget the scandal-ridden U.N. Oil-for-Food Program, which enriched Saddam Hussein, various U.N. functionaries, and other government figures at the expense of the ordinary Iraqis it was supposed to be helping. Can anyone seriously believe that the U.N. can be trusted to keep the "wrong" people from profiting from Iraq’s oil in the wake of the U.S. invasion?

"The fact of the matter is that no two democratic nations have ever waged war against each other."

This is so obviously false as almost to deserve no comment. The War of 1812, the War Between the States, and World War I all qualify as wars between or among democracies. World War II could even be thrown into the mix given that Hitler was democratically elected. Then there’s the problem that, while democracies may just possibly be less likely to go to war against other democracies, they certainly have no problem making war on non-democracies — and any enemy du jour can be defined as less than a democracy (see Iran) if the need arises.

"The Middle East has been the epicenter for war and turmoil since time began."

Whether or not this is true, if the poster believes it, then does he also genuinely believe that the situation can be suddenly stopped by more war and turmoil from abroad?

"Do we sit back and let wars continue and thousands of lives perish for centuries to come?"

No, we now participate in the wars and the destruction of lives! If an individual wishes to intervene in hopes of preventing further wars, let him go right ahead. Just don’t make the rest of us pay for it or participate in it.

"Or, do we build a democracy right in the center? Do we then allow the other nations in the region to watch the virtues of a democratic nation with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and a government elected by the people? . . . [A]nd then you have democratic nations living side by side and not waging war today or in the future."

Democracies are not "built." They arise naturally through historical processes. Where democracy is imposed, it very quickly degenerates into the tyranny of the majority and, usually, dictatorship. Iraq today is not a paragon of freedom, and owing to its constitution that enshrines Islamic law and the fact that the Shiites make up the majority of voters, it is not likely to be one in the future. Plus, as pointed out above, democracy does not equal peace.

"And a century from now, historians conclude that George Bush was one of the greatest U.S. Presidents."

Most historians also seem to consider Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be great presidents, yet both have absolutely atrocious records as far as liberty and human rights are concerned.

"And he happens to be a person of faith."

So does Osama bin Laden.

"I can also tell you that George Bush does not like war . . ."

Then why did he instigate two wars, and why does he continue them long after their failure has become manifest?

" . . . and a democratic Iraq will speak volumes to the compassion he has for the people of the Mideast . . ."

Pray tell, how is it compassionate to undertake and persist in an endeavor that has cost over 2,500 American lives and who knows how many tens of thousands of Iraqi lives?

"The readers and commentators in this blog have a visceral hatred for Christians . . ."

This is evidenced by the fact that many of us are concerned about the fact that Iraqi Christians, who were largely protected and allowed to worship freely under Saddam Hussein, are now being driven from Iraq under George Bush.

"This is just more of the Bush-hating, Christian-hating leftist extremists, who are intellectually challenged when it comes to American, world and military history."

After all, no one to the right of Ted Kennedy could object to an unprovoked war of aggression that has taken thousands of innocent lives. Only a communist could oppose any war launched by the U.S. government under a Christian Republican president. As James Madison once said, "Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other," and we know that "Bush-bashing, Christian-hating leftist extremists" are, of course, the biggest opponents of the very big government about which Madison was warning us.

Only the "intellectually challenged" and "leftist extremists" could possibly believe that the lessons of history are that peace is preferable to war and that America’s best times were those in which our government was not engaged in foreign intervention. It was then that America stood as a "shining city on a hill," in the words of that noted leftist extremist, Ronald Reagan, who also said, "A people free to choose will always choose peace."

Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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