I wrote this article in 2005. George W. Bush’s second term as President had just begun and Barry Soetoro’s two terms had not yet been dreamed of, except by him. In 2005 I stated: “A long war has only just begun… I am persuaded that we are in it for a very long, long time.” The eleven years that have passed since this was first published have only borne that out. As for what-would-Jesus-do, I stand by what I originally wrote in 2005. -DAW, October 2016
With the “war on terror” AKA the “war in Iraq” I have wrestled with the question: WWJD? I have to admit recently being challenged by the question on a bumper sticker.
Politics aside, (because anyone else’s fury at or approval of G.W. Bush does not inform my thinking), it would seem that what I’m trying to resolve is a question of religion. And yet, while political rigidity does not inform my thinking, neither do dogma or mysticism.
Even atheists who oppose the war must admit that they are oddly in league with those Christians who similarly insist upon peace at any cost, who argue that killing is wrong no matter what the provocation, and that the enemy, whoever it is, needs to be approached sternly but with both logic and limits. Atheists-for-Peace-in-Iraq, if that describes them adequately, stop short of like-minded Christians-for-Peace, for the latter can be relied upon to add prayer to their solution.
I have some politically liberal friends (liberal in the modern, government-hugging sense) whom I love and respect — and struggle to understand. We avoid arguing, probably because to do so would persuade neither of us but would drive us apart, which would be stupid because turning ourselves against each other will not affect the course of this war.
I have supported it, in general, since the USA began cleaning up first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Yes, I trust President G.W. Bush and his political cohort a lot more than I trusted his opponents and his predecessor. But I’m willing to ask myself whether this is right. Am I supporting the destruction of the world? Am I, out of ignorance, in collusion with Satan, as my Christians-for-Peace friends might hope I come to realize? What does Satan want? Does this war serve Satan, or would our avoidance of this war serve Satan better? What does Jesus want? What would Jesus do? What is the difference between this and all other threats?
I have sensed, since it began, that it is different. I have accepted that, because it is different, in a way that I could not until now describe, then our response to it has been appropriate. Not because I was told so in a speech or by a newspaper editorial. For me to form an opinion I need information and evidence. And if these don’t point to a clear path of thinking, then I need inspiration.
I don’t subscribe to the opinions of people who demand that I believe because they told me so or because they have the more worthy emotions or because they are justified by their superior intellect, connections, or purity of motive. I don’t subscribe to an opinion because it is widely held, supported by polls, or for the “common good.“
So in searching for the answer to this deepening ethical dilemma – How does my support of a war confute the teaching of Jesus? – I have drawn upon the inspiration of my own faith. For instruction, I have read the Bible. And what follows is what I see.
When Jesus came right out and said Do this and Don’t do that, he confused his followers, including us, more than when he taught by example and parable. I don’t struggle with the counsel to walk another mile and turn the other cheek. That’s illogical because it is elegant and noble and just might do more to confound an individual member of the enemy’s forces than resisting. When he invited the holier-than-thous to cast the first stone, he really was inviting them to compare themselves with their intended victim.
When he asked whose picture was on the conqueror’s coin, he was pointing out that money is of the earth (Has it ever been different?) and is controlled by whomever is in power, while people are not Cæsar’s but belong to God. Resisting Cæsar would amount to wasting energy fighting Romans. By their faith in his illogical pronouncement, his followers were able to create something that eventually would rule Rome, not submit to it.
But the enemies everyone could identify with in that era, for all their power and arrogance, were predictable people. One could even describe would-be conquerors as “civil,” disciplined people. Throughout history, there have been many organized forces which descended upon the innocent and conquered without mercy, but their objective was to control and subjugate a nation, a region, or the known world, not to annihilate, and especially not to annihilate out of apoplectic hatred for their chosen enemy. In present time, apoplectic hatred of all Americans is the motive of those who started this.
Attempts at conquest involve nation rising against nation, either to settle a grievance or to satisfy a charismatic if arrogant, self-appointed, self-worshipping ruler. Even though Hitler and Stalin were perhaps the most sinister and duplicitous of them all, they still made a pretense of civility and honor. They needed to be glorified and, even though they made mockery of it, they pretended at diplomacy. Kim Jung-Il does the same today, and will probably not rest until he has attempted to bring more of the world into his fold of worshippers. Not that anyone actually worships him, but he doesn’t know it, such is his delusion like that of Hitler and Stalin, a few Roman emperors, and others.
The Enemy’s Tools
Islam suffers from the same sort of self-destructive leadership in the person of a few ruling do-no-wrong clerics. But Islam is not a country or an ethnic group. Nor is it a unified religious body such as the Roman Catholic Church. Islam is a body of ideas, some of them religious, some even grounded in faith (as opposed to religion or dogma), but Islam is bedlam in that it is not the property of any single, orderly, clerical hierarchy. The high priests of Islam don’t even appear to be interested in finding their own common ground or representing their teaching to the world. (Something like that could also be said about the intolerant, hate-motivated splinter groups of so-called Christians, up to a point.)
The high priests of Islam’s most self-destructive splinter groups aren’t interested in civility amongst themselves or representing their teaching to the world because it is not their objective to win converts. They are preaching hatred for anything and anyone who is not themselves. They don’t want slaves. There is no place in their world for converted followers or repentant non-Muslims. It is ironic that they now have a few tools that they did not have a century or even a quarter century ago, and all are the products of civilized societies: broadcast media to spread their message, money from oil or plunder (whatever the difference might be), the armaments that their money can now buy, and most diabolical of all, the open borders that tolerant societies have permitted in the name of humanity. Ironically, too, they (the high priests of Islam’s most self-destructive splinter groups) have the complicity of a fawning American communications media, motivated not by love for radical Islam but by the media’s collective hatred for a common enemy, George Bush.
It is with the tools made possible by our prosperity and generosity that we are being attacked. This time in history, though, the enemy is anywhere and everywhere. There is no leader who, by our taking him out, leaves the movement stalled or stopped. Since it is not a nationalist movement, there is no single country to overpower to stall or stop the movement.
And since the movement is not interested in our subservience, our gold, our conversion, or our appeasement, there may be no stopping it. It was easier to wipe out smallpox than it will be to put down radical militant Islam.
Whichever way we react, with guns or with olive branches, we face one choice and that is to wait it out. Turning the other cheek will have no influence on their loathing for all things American or Jewish or Christian. So what do we do while their fury runs its course?
…Duck every time there is a bombing in a civilized part of the world such as Spain or Indonesia or England or the USA, then carry on as if it was another hurricane that can’t be prevented or diverted.
…Send money and suicidal volunteers to the mountains of the Middle East to set up schools for teaching the peaceable tenets of Islam, and hope to have more influence than the radical militants.
…Appeal to the good will and spirit of cooperation of desperately poor and uncooperative nations such as Russia and China and ask them to intervene to persuade the radical militant rabble-rousers to look more kindly on the USA, so we can resume exporting Barbie dolls and Coca-Cola to the Middle East.
No, these aren’t options, and I won’t go on.
OK, What Else is There?
War is a great waste of resources and lives, but Jesus did not suggest how to deal with this enemy. Rather, I’m somewhat persuaded that he warned of this enemy and this time. I am not a student of The Revelation of John, nor do I expect to be. It accomplishes nothing if I spend the next ten years of my life becoming yet another expert on the end times; (experts on Revelation have come and gone by the thousands). But I could be persuaded that we are there or nearly so.
I’ve tried to discover the rational, productive, and inspired response to the attacks on the free world by this newly-empowered force which, as I admit, we have helped to create. If a military response is appropriate, then it must be everything we can do or nothing at all. Anything in between will be like Vietnam. And damn the so-called United Nations; half the nations involved are state sponsors of terrorism, so it’s no wonder the UN isn’t united on this problem.
If the response is heightened security, then let it rise to a level that will truly thwart homeland terrorism. Anything less will be a waste of resources and an acceptance of random attacks. No security at all is, to me, not an option, especially when the earliest victims of a casual attitude will be slaughtered or poisoned innocents, including more children, and letting our lives ever more be controlled by the fear of another attack now and then. I may be uncomfortable in the summertime wearing long clothes against the insects, but if I want to reduce the bites and stings I live with the extra heat.
Whether we submit to the attacks of those who hate us and regard it as a fact of life in the modern world, or respond with decisive force and intrusive scrutiny, as we have begun to do, I am persuaded that we are in it for a very long, long time. Those whose anger at the USA is so profound that they will commit suicide in order to express it do not represent a passing fad. They represent a still-growing movement. Ignore them and they won’t go away. They will not be satisfied until they have annihilated us.
What does Jesus want me to do? Well, there is frankly little that I can do, personally. I wish there were effective channels for me to do something beyond the borders of my own country, but at least I can look after those in need in my own country. I can and do vote. But I vote with different things in mind than a single issue that has most affected my “consciousness.” I vote based on my understanding of government and how I believe candidates will uphold the Constitution, not based on contrived issues such as abortion-as-birth-control or campaign finance “reform” or fake immigration reform. Candidates dangle their positions on issues before us to attract our votes when they know full well they have little chance of delivering on their promises. We are fools to let their stands on issues influence us. It’s their position on government that matters to me – the less of it the better and the less intrusion and money poured into other countries the better.
If I have the opportunity to come face to face with an open-minded Muslim who has yet to form an opinion of Americans, I hope I as an individual will have contributed to a favorable impression. But what are the chances that such an opportunity will fall to me? And what are the chances that the impression I make will represent Americans as a nation?
Where That Leaves Us
America has been attacked by these indistinct forces somewhat due to our own indifference toward the nations that they come from, but moreso due to their envy, the misinformation fed to them by their own leaders, and the machinations of their own minds, steeped in ignorance of us. When mosquitoes swarm, I swat. I don’t kill them all or chase them all away, but fewer get to poke me. I don’t try to talk them out of it. They want my blood. I am definitely less efficient in whatever I’m doing if I’m flailing at them, but the alternative – simply letting them all stick me – is unthinkable. Let that be an analogy.
I wish I could regard those who choose to make themselves enemy combatants as redeemable individual humans. They won’t let me. Jesus submitted to his crucifixion without flailing or fighting back or calling upon his followers to attack his captors and free him. But I argue that he knew that his individual death, so inscrutably accepted by him, would affect the entire world. If I submit to death by a mindless enemy, it will not affect the world as his death did, and so I am motivated to resist, on an individual level.
If a man or woman or representative of a self-appointed group stands before me and punches me in the face, (shoots at me, tries to lay waste to my property without regard for human life, and so on), I will do all in my power to prevent a second punch or a continuing attack. If he punches my child, I cannot predict the fury with which I will prevent a second punch.
Perhaps we humans have reached the limit of our ability to civilize ourselves, the limit of our ability to cooperate to any greater extent. Perhaps this is as good as it gets. Nearly half the world’s people still live in conditions no better than a thousand years ago. It’s America’s delusion that there is a bright future ahead for humanity with disease-free planned communities and sanitary food and free cellular phones and high-speed internet for everyone. We tried to show the world that it can be done: With free markets and some political will to preserve personal liberty, individuals can enjoy modest comfort and self-determination; and left to choose whether to be selfish or charitable, people will mostly chose to give to those in need. Supply will meet demand when commerce is left to take care of distribution and cost. People freed from tyranny will invent and invest. Information will flow.
Well, we have demonstrated all of that. But the rest of the world only stares at us in wonder, then envy, then suspicion, then hatred. They don’t perceive that they, too, can chose what we have chosen. Even those within our own country who have been persuaded that they are oppressed and those who do the persuading also behave as though they hate this country. They have been made to believe, instead, that they cannot have what freedom would make possible, and they would deny the rest of us the same. When our enemies from the outside can lash out at us in the name of God and our enemies from within can undermine us in ignorance of or denial of God, they all behave as if they are justified.
A long war has only just begun. It may cost the USA all that we have left in lives and resources, not to mention money and the destruction that will be wrought wherever we meet the battle. But I can see no alternative. Not to engage them is to invite an equal waste of lives and resources and destruction in a place of their choosing, not ours. It matters not to them who dies, as long as the maximum number of Americans (or Brits or Spaniards, etc.) are destroyed. In a war, however peculiarly it is fought, the individual foot soldiers of the enemy cannot be indicted and “brought to justice.” In a war, they get picked off before they pick you off. They disguise themselves as or hide behind “civilians” and so the innocent in their own countries are victims. So are the innocent in this country. I have no influence on those who hold political power, but if I did, I would exhort them to get the hell out of other people’s countries and concentrate on defending our own country. I understand, though, that defending ourselves is only a secondary motive here, and control of the world and conferring political favors are more what they have on their minds.
I find only one clear answer in the Bible. I find no evidence that Jesus dealt with or told anyone else how to deal with humans who turn themselves into suicide bombers. I am not persuaded that the enemy we now face is even fully human except in DNA. I do not purport to be an expert on evil, so I will refrain from declaring those who would destroy me as evil, in the sense that would make them literally agents of Satan. (I’m not fully convinced that such a quasi-diety exists. I know only that some evil force beyond myself does tempt me from time to time.) Those humans-in-DNA-only who in their apoplectic hatred would destroy us are evil in the sense that they are fiercely dedicated to opposing the will of God, inasmuch as we, as a society, have constructed our world on the premise that God is love and that the two great commandments should guide our thoughts and our actions.
In the Bible, the answer is in the words of Jesus. Yes, all of his teaching points to faith in God and love of oneself and others, but there is one more dimension to it: You improve humanity by improving the one human unit over which you have control – yourself. He does not preach collective action, the joining of movements or armies or political parties or even churches. He preaches to each individual the responsibility to get oneself right with God. That’s what Jesus would do. Improve your one human unit. Get yourself right with God and let those who have eyes see your plain example and those who have ears hear your humble words. Jesus does not call upon us to create or join a tumult.
Armies and parties and mass movements do not improve me, as a unit, and they do not help me by showing up on my doorstep, whether with aid or demands. Likewise, I cannot presume to improve any other human being by showing up, as part of a group, on someone else’s doorstep with a demand or with unrequested aid. Those who have joined the armies of this country to defend it are doing me a favor, just as I did by joining up during the Vietnam non-war/police action/treaty-fulfillment, and it is a favor rather than a curse only because the motives of the individual recruits in this country’s armed forces are benevolent and defensive. Note that I say the motives of the individuals. The intentions of those in command may not be so innocent.
I will carry on with my life as best I can. I will think globally and act locally. In thinking globally, I will not regard the hate-motivated, random-destruction-of-anything-that-can-be-a-target as an acceptable norm, therefore I will not oppose reasonable efforts to stop it. I will vote to reduce the reach of government both within this country and the reach of this government abroad. Locally, I will act as I have been inspired to do by my God. Locally, too, I will defend, with adequate force, if an enemy such as this appears personally on my doorstep.
What God has in mind to resolve this conflict and repair this mess I don’t presume to discern, and I will be skeptical of anyone who confidently tells me he has discerned God’s mind on this. I think we will be shown, in the fullness of time. As I await, I will attempt to do what only I can do: Make myself one person who the rest of the world does not have to carry in its back owing to my own irresponsibility and does not have to avoid because I have become a threat.