Churches and War

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So there I
was on a Sunday morning. Peacefully sitting in church, mentally
dissecting the Pastor’s message and making no trouble for anyone.
Then at 11am, he was passed a message and paused in his scriptural
musings. We need to remember those who gave their lives for
us, he said. To preserve our way of life, that we might
be free.

I really lost
my train of thought at this point. Now I was thinking of the standing
armies of Governments and the number of people killed, maimed, and
emotionally crippled by its wars.

Maybe I should
take up this discussion with the pastor, but I hesitate, knowing
that some in the church already think I have strange ideas. And
I’m aware that churches routinely encourage adherents to support
the state-run military, police forces and lines of authority. Churches
want to be seen as good corporate citizens. "Approved"
churches can set up arrangements for tax concessions from Governments.
But should churches cosy up to the state? Might that not produce
a conflict of interest?

In endorsing
the military as a legitimate career choice, and joining the "celebrations"
of Armistice Day, Churches and their leadership bow the knee to
Leviathan and its standing armies. But the military serves to reinforce
the legitimacy of the state. It is the military that is used to
intrude upon national sovereignties, enforce interventionist foreign
policies and create new enemies. These sustain the war machine's
purpose and fuel its voracious appetite for life.

For at its
basest, war results in deaths. Soldiers are required to kill. Yet
every bible at my home tells me not to kill. No exceptions. It does
not say it’s okay if you wear a uniform, carry a state-issued weapon
or are just carrying out orders.

In our churches
we fail to make this distinction. By our endorsement of military
service, the church joins the veneration of those who have been
killed in the state's wars in the past. In so doing, we implicitly
tell each other that it’s okay to join up, go to new places, meet
new people and kill them. Provided you have the sanction of your
government, the church will bless your unholy pursuits.

I have a problem
with this. My bible tells me I will be accountable for everything
I do. It does not matter whether I did it wearing a uniform, or
carrying a badge. With the possible exception of self-defence (which
participation in most wars is certainly not), killing at the state’s
direction cannot be justified. This is especially applicable to
those who claim Christian beliefs.

In recent years
I have become painfully aware of these contradictions. How can the
Gospel of Peace co-exist with state-legitimised killing and death?
I used to think that Christians could “serve their countries” through
joining the military. But having re-assessed the role of government
in causing and prolonging wars, I can no longer support fellow believers
who express a wish to wear a uniform.

Having held
rank, many with whom I converse are very surprised (and sometimes
unhappy) with my views. Many seem unable to contemplate the realistic
alternatives to engaging in costly and casualty-ridden wars. The
concepts of peaceful trade and mutual cooperation for increased
prosperity seem unknowable and foreign. Shamefully, even our churches
parrot the government line that Remembrance day is somehow noble.

Around this
date, we are assailed by nauseating "documentaries" aimed
at indoctrinating the ignorant. History books are written by the
victors. Instead of shame and regret at the loss of life, we are
encouraged to applaud "heroes,"
the brave
souls such as those who killed tens of thousands of civilians by
dropping atomic bombs on them.

We have a forthcoming
national election already producing gale-force promises and propaganda.
With the Remembrance day lies added, it does all get a bit much.

War is a measure
of the health of the state, goes the old saying. So by any measure
our states are in robust health, having managed to orchestrate wars
past and present that have left tens of millions dead. War kills
through direct combat, but also through sickness, starvation, “civilian
casualties” and other evasive and misleading descriptors.

Movie makers
and television scriptwriters also support a wrong view of war and
the military. Historical truth is often twisted to suit the jingoistic
xenophobia that passes for contemporary patriotism. Killing and
death has become a form of entertainment best viewed on our big
screens. We revel in it and sympathise with “our boys.” Provided
the story is told “right," audiences will clap and cheer the
most appalling and dehumanising acts including espionage, betrayal,
foreign interventionism, preemptive bombing, torture and death.

But hang on:
all these acts take place in real life, not just at the movies.

Perhaps churches
need to encourage Christians to repent. Supporting state-sponsored
war machines that kill and maim our fellow creations should not
be the imperative of believers. Only then can we begin to assess
who the real enemies are.

15, 2007

Tulk [send him mail]
has worn a uniform in the past, but now chooses not to.

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