Sunday, June 23, 2002
(a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away)
Theological Foray #10: God & America Part Deux
From about March of last year until, well, September 11th, I considered myself a Christian pacifist. I've always opposed abortion, but I also decided that the death penalty was wrong. My reasoning was that since God gave life, it's only his to take away. This even applies to lethal self-defense, and it occurred to me that if some maniac broke into my house and I had a wife and kids, I wouldn't, couldn't use deadly force to stop him. Is this heartless or cowardly? I've changed my mind, but I still don't think so. The way I saw it, anyone could die at any moment (I still believe that, as does pretty much the rest of the world). Thus, who was I to prematurely end the life of this attacker? What if he hadn't had a chance to learn about God and repent of his sins? If he killed my family and went to jail, he'd have time to think and might perhaps be saved. If my family had gone to heaven, then there was no harm done, now was there? Of course, it gets more complicated if my family also needed to come to God. However, I reasoned that my wife and I would've had ample time to come to God, and if we hadn't already then it was our own faults (this sounds exactly like my argument about the attacker, but the difference is that I'm choosing not to take life). I don't believe that God condemns those who are too young to know the gospel, and so I wasn't worried about what might happen to my children's souls.
However, with September 11th, that changed. It's not that I thought America was impenetrably secure, or anything like that. I think it just shocked me back into reality. I'm the sort of person that, while I hate rudeness and cruelty, am generally willing to put up with it so long as it's only directed at me. However, the instant you start going for my friends and family (and country, to a slightly lesser extent), that changes. The attacks didn't really harm me. No one I knew was killed, and the loss of part of New York City doesn't directly affect me here in Virginia (the damage to the Pentagon does to some extent, but not very much). What had happened was that a bunch of ignorant xenophobes, motivated by hatred of my country and my religion, had murdered people. To go in after them and prevent them from killing again fits my criteria for a just war. (Let me digress by saying that I still don't think we should execute convicts, though deadly force in their apprehension is allowable if necessary. In my ideal world, we'd ship them off to some remote prison island where they'd be permanently removed from society, and thus unable to do harm.) I'm not sure if Korea, Vietnam, or the Gulf War fit this description or not (I'd have to examine some of the particulars more closely), but this War against Terror does appear to, at least in principle.
A deeper question is implied, though. I touched on it a little in Theological Foray #9, but only superficially. That problem is that the United States doesn't appear to be a nation fully compatible with Christianity. Christians are not called upon to pursue happiness, though liberty and life should be preserved wherever possible. Christians are called upon to obey those set in authority over them. In reference to governments, there is no mention of whether this authority is legitimate or not, and so it would appear that Christians do not have the right to rebel. The Constitution implicitly does give that right, though, with the Second Amendment. If the populace is armed, the government must respect it, and can't just go tyrannizing. Christians have been called upon to endure tyranny and even martyrdom since Christ, and so there doesn't appear to be Biblical reason to change this. It also changes things that all Americans, by being able to vote, are part of the authority that they are set under.
It also occurs to me that unless every single person lived under a communitarian system such as Christ apparently prescribed, it cannot work. All that would be required is one dissident to claim authority over everyone else, and they'd be obligated to obey him. It seems to me that this is almost similar to how heaven works. In heaven, everyone knows who's in charge and they obey him, not only out of duty, but also out of love. When all your needs are met by one all-powerful dictator, then there's no need for dissent or other authorities. Lucifer and the other fallen angels were cast out of heaven for failing in their duty and not loving God.
What is the moral of this? I don't completely know. If my interpretation of either America or the Bible is off by just a little bit, this whole concern might be rendered moot. That's why these are theological forays, and not authoritative essays. Cheers!