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A guide to restoring compassion
Militarism is the refusal to bring the force of love to bare upon the world.
I am deeply troubled by Christianity’s embrace of militarism. Using my philosophical map, I find differences between my own religious thoughts and state religion. My role as a Christian is to love my neighbor my military role represents aggression against outside forces. In each case the cross has two opposing meanings. As an individual the cross represents alleviation from suffering, as a state religion the cross represents the shield of the empire. I was faced with holding two seemingly contradictory ideas at once.
I was told not to resist evil, but to turn the other cheek. The military assumes evil must be resisted by preemptive war and aggression. I was told to love my enemies and bless those who curse me. The military says enemies are to be hated and to trust no one. I was told the Sun rises on the just and unjust alike. The military mind enjoys seeing our enemies suffer and are offended when they go unpunished. I was told to be as carefree as the birds and friend to the stranger. The military assumes everyone is a potential enemy even our supposed allies. Jesus’s extraordinary admonitions showed me how I ought to live and I discovered militarism was an impediment to compassion.
I’ve often felt God as a direction rather than an object and this article is an intentional effort to move in a direction of restoring hope and independence of mind allowing me to see beyond my institutional role. Separating my true North from the magnetic pull of military ascension was a discovery that revealed unnoticed and forgotten terrain. I’ve heard the bible described as a map to the greatest party in the universe.
I don’t want to be irrational or estranged from reality but there is nothing wrong with believing in a higher power. I can be as scientific in my thinking as the next guy but examining my innermost thoughts, sorting out my manifold biases, desires and urges is not nearly as easy as solving mathematical equations. I try to be open-minded and criticize my views where needed and ask the reader to accept whatever it is that excites their soul toward freedom as the only justification needed for spiritual reality. If we can speak of God without worrying about scientism then let’s see why so many Christians are bent on embracing militarism.
There are many elements of Christian thought that connect with moral principles and others that have little to do with virtue. For example: The belief that God’s will is represented in the social order of world events calls up images of people holding the Holy book while exterminating Native Americans. Separating the positive from the negative aspects of religion shows how belief in a higher power can be a positive source of personal growth, how to act and comport oneself. Overall, the evidence shows that religion has been mostly negative.
I’ve reached out to Christian pastors for justification, and as one would expect, there is a great deal of diversity and discomfort. It’s not something people like to talk about. Although we may disagree, we must not devalue anyone personally and I must be careful not to cause anyone pain. That one can have positive faith and still serve in the military we all readily agree but this is a far cry from embracing it.
Some pastors I know support militarism and openly embrace it. Questioning military perceptions of reality can make debating unproductive when the questions are seen as an affront personally to the adherent. They are my friends and councilors and I respect them. I discussed a wide range of alibis with a young Brethren pastor who was deeply opposed and curiously troubled. Like me he saw the danger of double mindedness. The conflict between principled thought and military reality is unavoidable and can either be ignored through passive obedience or examined through free inquiry.
Militarism and racism produce double minded thoughts and establishes two sets of morals one for those on the inside and another for those, outside. Jesus does not use His power to strong arm people he invites us to see the world differently. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and came away rejecting all individual honor and glory. I believe this is an invitation to reject prestige and honor that comes from serving aggressive war.
I saw how militarism was the easy way, loving God and my neighbor as myself was much harder. The liberation of the individual offers hope to the suffering, but once the cross goes from being a religion of the poor, to the shield of the empire, it becomes an institution of violence and racism that allows the faithful to join in the killing.
Militarism is expressed as fear, force and suspicion while Christianity is expressed as peace, love and forgiveness. Mapping our Christian and secular thoughts we discover when at Church our thoughts are of peace and forgiveness and when we gather in political groupings our thoughts are of fear and aggression. At the end of a sermon pastors are fond of saying “Go out and be the Church.” What does that mean? To me it means go out and be humble, charitable and truthful. Here lies the conflict of glorifying military prestige. Being truthful is not a virtue of military intelligence. One can see how participating in the military can destroy the soul while serving in a more loving and creative environment enlivens it.
I wonder if installing security cameras and placing armed guards in Church suggests fear and aggression has infiltrated Christian terrain of thought.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore. Isaiah 2:4
Militarism runs contrary to compassion and douses the flame of charity. Pilgrims of the Earth, tolerance does not equate to consent! Compassion toward those with which you disagree creates conflict only with those who desire to create division and conflict. The conflict that stood Jesus against the religious authorities was his insistence on compassion even if it broke the law. He dined with sinners, healed on the Sabbath, and called out the divisiveness between clean and unclean, sinner and saint.
I believe in God because I want to and like the way the world looks with God in it. I identify with Christianity because I was born and raised that way, but I also seek fellowship with all people and resist religious tribalism. Although I find many secular and religious beliefs to be in error, I am able to tolerate my neighbor. After all we share a common humanity and we have given each other so much pain. Some would argue that I should be afraid, but I find that difficult to believe pausing to calculate someone’s worth before loving them is inauthentic and belongs to institutional thinking. My goal is to expand empathy beyond friends and family, community, country toward all people and beyond.
Pilgrims of Earth! Do not give in to fear and sinful pleasure.
There is a growing Christian movement that is able to tolerate their neighbor and practice the applied psychology that resides in Christian principles. Most everything Jesus says in the gospels directs our attention inward and meditation and prayer are ways of controlling thoughts and emotions. Loving God and your neighbor as yourself, is an extraordinary concept to meditate on. Gaining freedom to express principled thought will NOT earn you a place in Heaven but it may help bring about the Kingdom in you.
I’ve listened to military chaplains and civilian pastors distort the practice of spiritual warfare when they describe it as a battle with an external evil. The Prince of Peace shows us how to overcome evil of this world. The conflict exists but the foe has already been defeated, Halleluiah. Spiritual warfare is the battle against the enemy within and it is the battle we must fight against racism and militarism.
The battle against materialism offers us another way to restore compassion and tolerance.
How much of my identity is tied to acquiring material wealth and status? Using my mental map, I examine my thoughts; see my desire to show off my new truck, hear how I talk about myself. We all want to be liked but our identities are infinite and capable of so much joy and delight than what can be attained from the material.
As our world burns with war and industrial pollution, the problem of moral truth moves into central position. Materialism, as the single-minded pursuit of wealth and power does not fit into the world of limited resources, it equates to a collapse of intelligence because human needs are infinite and infinitude can only be achieved through the spiritual realm.
To my mind, turning wants into needs destroys wellbeing. I grew up among a generation where most people were handy and capable. The object in life was not the acquisition of wealth rather, it was the acquisition of skill along with a transmission of values. Learning a skill teaches one to see the world differently. Our virtue is what allows us to keep our word and have relationships with others. The human person is sacred and there can be nothing sacred that has a price.
It is my hope that my transformation offers faith in people to create and act from an inner unity of strength and freedom rather than being acted upon from outside forces. This inner strength is what allows us to maintain dignity and a failure to reach for it is a descent into hell. There must be a systematic effort to keep in contact with our higher selves. If all of this sounds disconcerting that’s because it is. Try as I might, all I have managed to achieve is brief periods of gratitude and self-awareness but even so, this is an improvement from what I was before.