“Never before has human life, its statecraft, its economics, its education, its religion, on so large a scale been organized on a nationalistic basis, and the issue is obvious. The supreme object of devotion for multitudes is the nation. In practical action they know no higher God. ... What once was said of the king is said now of the nation: it can do no wrong.”
Christianity and War. Harry Emerson Fosdick. Park Avenue Baptist Church, NYC. 1926.
The Thanksgiving feast is over for the year. Tummies are full. Christmas is weeks away. We'll fuss over “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” We'll struggle with just what to buy for whom — for how much — and how big it should be around the waist.
Ours is and always has been a Christian nation, the “greatest in the world and the greatest in history.” At least, that's the standard hymn. If kids could recite prayers in public school, if church attendance went up, the world would be even better. If we are in battle somewhere or have troops there, God is always on our side. At least, in our version of the Almighty.
Fosdick's sermon (quote above) opened with Matthew 26:52, attributed to Jesus Christ: “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Fosdick had this to say: “When the Master said that, it could not possibly have seemed to be true. Then it seemed evident that those who took the sword and knew how to use it could rule the world. Reliance on violence did not seem suicidal but necessary, salutary and rich in its rewards.”
Of course, we could debate that scripture. Maybe Matthew made it up. Maybe Jesus was talking only about sword fights, not rifles, land mines, cluster bombs, napalm or nukes. Maybe Jesus changed his mind later. Maybe the translator screwed up, and Jesus really said, “Get over it, Wimps. Swords solve problems.”
The issue is old but never dead. You've surely heard that most, if not all, wars are fought over whose religion is not just better, not just the best — but the only true religion. And if we have to kill lots of you to prove the point, then … God is always on our side. Whether or not He agrees.
I'm reading (for the second time) “Fields of Blood” by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong's main point is that — while religion is routinely used to justify warfare — the underlying and larger purpose is to acquire or defend territory, resources, wealth, to maintain or expand political and social authority.
Armstrong spent seven years in a Roman Catholic convent before becoming discouraged and disillusioned with authoritarian doctrine. Today, she calls herself not a Christian but “a person of faith.” She has spent decades studying organized military violence routinely justified by religion, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Her book is worth your time to read.
Armstrong preaches (if that's the word) that it's not what you believe, not what detailed creeds you recite — it's what you do, that counts.
And what we all should do — on behalf of God, the human race and presumably the earth we live on — is follow and promote the golden rule: “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31.)
Christianity can't claim to be the only (or the first) religion to promote the golden rule. The maxim occurs in at least 14 other faiths, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Confucianism (tinyurl.com/399m99n). The problem is that while it's routinely preached, it's rarely practiced — at least on any significant scale for any significant time.
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes saw ruling authority as necessary to control human behavior. That's because humans had inherited the original sin and could be expected to behave badly. Hobbes remedy was to have an absolute monarch who served God — to reward or punish (God was presumably too busy.)
St. Paul, centuries earlier, had said something supportive: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.“ Romans 13:1. (If God didn't want them there, they wouldn't be.)
Whatever the case, human government always has enjoyed its own interpretation of Divine approval of do unto others, even if that means doing them in. I don't see that changing soon.
Bob Hooper, a fourth-generation western Kansan, writes from his home in Bogue.