Book Review: American Militarism vs the Kingdom of God

Fight To join the discussion about Fight A Christian Case for Nonviolence, or to order a copy, go here

Fight is an ironic name for a book that is a polemic on the Christian call to nonviolence.

The book’s author, Preston Sprinkle, wrote the book in response to and as a conversation with America’s militaristic evangelical community. Even though I have a few problems with some of his interpretations of specific scriptures, I think he’s got a point. In fact, I think he’s dead-on accurate in many of his conclusions.

I remember seeing a video of one of our preachers here in Oklahoma City. This preacher was speaking (I can not regard his speech as a sermon of any sort) to a thoroughly roused-up and enormous congregation. Since the speech was going out over the airwaves, his actual audience was much larger.

This preacher was charging up and down the stage, mike in hand, using all the theatrics at his disposal. He would bend over and lower his voice to make a bottom dropping point at one place, and then straighten up and shout out his next point. It wasn’t a sermon. It was a performance.

And it wasn’t even vaguely Christian.

This man was taking verses out of the Bible to weave a totally fallacious case that somehow or other Jesus supported invading Iraq.

He had his audience in the palm of his hand. After all, most of them came to this particular church because they liked performances for their sermons and because they wanted “christian teaching” that would get them going emotionally while making them feel great about whatever they wanted to do in the first place.

The audience cheered and yelled like they were at a football game.

I haven’t seen many things that disgusted me more than this performance sermon and its clearly heretical mis-use of Holy Scripture to support a war.

I knew, even then, that the whole Iraq invasion was a sham. This was an unnecessary war that we were going into for reasons that had nothing to do with what we were being told. I have never understood why anyone would have had trouble seeing through the excuses for this war.

I also saw that if America’s Christian community did not stop using Christ to justify war, it would eventually destroy itself. People will follow the theological heresy of militarism so long as if feels good. But, as Europe has shown us, bombed out buildings and gas ovens do tend to dim the luster of it.

War is an almost preposterous evil. The Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, the same General Sherman who burned Atlanta and waged war on the civilian population in his infamous march to the sea, said that war is hell.

He was right.

A friend of my husband’s went to view the federal building after the bombing here in Oklahoma City. “That is nothing,” she said as she gazed at the ruins. “Nothing.”

She had lived through war waged on a large scale. She had, in her youth, seen whole cities razed to bombed out hulks, human beings burnt to ash as they hid in their bomb shelters.

We are so soft when horror comes to us. We can not bear our losses, cannot abide our pain. But we treat war itself, which is savagery writ unimaginable, as if it was a computer game. Maybe we do that because we can switch our wars off in the same way that we switch off computer games.

There is very little reportage of what is happening on the perpetual warfront that America has embarked on. We bomb and slay without the rest of us here at home knowing about it. Our best hint of what is happening is when we see our own soldiers, returning to us with shattered bodies and — often — shattered minds.

Something ugly is out there on the other side of the endless rambles of the talking heads debating their endless gaffe reporting about what some politician said to a friend in an elevator or mumbled under his or her breath when he or she thought the mike was off. Something really ugly is out there, but we can’t see it, don’t know about it.

Our only real intimation is that we hear constantly about our national debt. We are told that the cause of this debt is us. It’s Social Security and Medicare. It’s the public schools. The whole debt and economic malaise of this country is the fault of those who pay the bills: The American people. No one mentions, no one even whispers, that we are funding a war colossus that asks for more, more, more ever single year and has been doing so since World War II.

We never talk about that 800 lb gorilla sitting in the middle of the room eating all the bananas. Such talk would be unpatriotic. It would mean that we don’t want to “defend ourselves” against all those people out there “who want to kill us.”

Militarism is a false idol. It is also, according to the author of Fight, anti-Scriptural and anti-Christian.

Fight takes the reader on a survey of the Scriptures from the viewpoint of looking at God’s teachings about war and militarism. Notice that militarism is a category that is distinct from war. One is an action of government-sponsored violence. The other is an outlook, a belief in war itself. It is an idol.

A large part of what Mr Sprinkle writes about the Old Testament necessarily focuses on discerning what God meant, rather than what He said. This is important to all Christians because the Old Testament seems in many ways to challenge the New Testament. Western Civilization is at its best when it is responding to the clear teachings of the New Testament, and at its worst when it looks for excuses for its murderous impulses in the Old Testament.

How are Christians meant to understand the seeming contradictions in attitude between the two covenants?

Mr Sprinkle does a fine job of presenting his answer to this, at least so far as it concerns war and war making. Fight is a well-written, well-researched presentation of his viewpoint concerning violence, war and the call of all Christians to follow Christ, even to the cross.

I don’t honestly know what I think about some of the points he makes. I need to think them through first before I can say. But I do think the book is a good read that opens a debate American Christians need to have.

I do not want to see Christians in this country fall into the trap that Christians fell into in Nazi Germany of supporting militarism right down to the pit of hell.

I am not and never have been a pacifist. I believe in self defense. That would seem to put me outside the ideal Mr Sprinkle is advocating. However, I cannot deny that his presentation is compelling.

My main interest in his book is that it starts a needful conversation. I remember that preacher charging around the stage, preaching what was clearly the heresy of militarism to a cheering crowd. I see this country edging ever closer to economic ruin while we feed our resources into the maw of a war machine. And I know that we must change or die.

 

 

Data Omniscience Hubris and the Bible

Head

I remember reading a few years ago that archeologists had found a shard of pottery with mention of King David on it.

Evidently, this was the first material evidence of King David’s existence. According to the articles I read, lots of learned folk had, up until then, been preaching and teaching that King David never existed, was a myth, a legend, a made-up fictional character from a preliterate era.

I remember reading that, and thinking, Huh? Then shaking my head.

What these so-called learned folk had fallen into was the hubris of believing that what they knew was all there was to know. It happens all the time with learned folk, and much misery for us less learned folks ensues.

Here’s a small example: I have rheumatoid arthritis. It first reared its head when I was 16. I once had a doc tell me that I had the highest ra titer in my blood she’d ever seen. Despite that, it’s well controlled. I know how to handle it, and God has been generous with me about it. I never go a day without aches and pains, but I’m not debilitated and my joints aren’t deformed.

However, one thing I can count on is knowing when bad weather is in the offing. The day of the May 20 tornado, I woke up aching literally from head to toe. The foot I broke last fall, my leg, and every other joint I had including the little ones, ached from the moment I got out of bed with that oh-no-something’s-coming indescribable ache. My husband says he’ll trust my joints over the weather man, every time.

How this applies to the discussion at hand is simply that for years scientists and other learned folk insisted that this aching before a storm stuff was, in their scientific opinion, “all in your head.” They may have changed their pointy little minds about this by now. I haven’t kept up. But that is for sure what I read back in the day when I first noticed that my body was a powerfully accurate weather vane.

My point?

Just this: Learned folk think more of their data than they do reality. In fact, they believe that their data is reality, and that reality is a figment of everybody else’s imagination. To top it off (and this is where King David comes in) they believe that if they can’t prove something, then it doesn’t exist. This is kinda like me deciding that, if I can’t find my car keys, that I just imagined I ever had car keys and they don’t really exist.

I understand that scientists can’t and shouldn’t corroborate claims that they can’t prove. What I don’t understand is this mighty leap off the side of the hubris cliff to bold assertions that everything they can’t prove is either a myth, a confabulation, or some sort of delusion. They carry this, especially in questions of religious faith, to the point that, if you believe them, you’ve also got to believe that everybody on the planet is hallucinating about something.

I used the words “teaching and preaching” advisedly when I said that they had been preaching and teaching that King David never existed, because what they were claiming was not science. It was a matter of faith. The faith was their addlepated and totally unscientific belief that their data was omniscient.

What they should have been saying is We don’t have any proof that King David ever existed. That would have been a fact. But bold assertions that he, in fact, actually never existed, were just — dare I say it? — myth.

I am not writing this to make you doubt science or to encourage you to start believing that everything that cannot be proven must, by derivation, be true. Not at all. What I am saying is that you should look at the claims that learned folk make by asking yourself how solid the basis is for what they are saying. Sometimes people falsify data. But it is far more common for them to come up with bogus applications of the data they have. Data omniscience hubris is a common and widespread learned person error when dealing with anything that appends to matters of faith, in particular and specifically, Christianity.

What I am saying is that they are biased. And they allow their bias to interpret their data for them.

Zaius 1

The good thing — and it is a very good thing — is that when the data changed, they didn’t deny it. They didn’t toss that pottery shard into the sea and pretend they hadn’t seen it. This was not a Doctor Zaius from The Planet of the Apes moment.

They not only acknowledged the pottery shard, they also acknowledged its implications, which were that there probably was a historical King David.

Now, archeologists have uncovered what they think may have been a palace that belonged to King David. And they’re talking about it and filing it away in their data trove.

Davids palace

When they found something material that conflicted with their earlier interpretation of their data, they changed the interpretation. That says one simple thing: They aren’t liars.

So we have a scientific community, some members of which seem to be suffering from data omniscience hubris. But they are essentially honest folk who will change their too far-reaching conclusions when the data changes. They’re arrogant, but they’re not liars.

This is important for us to know when dealing with their conclusions. Unfortunately, it puts us in the position of often having to interpret their data for ourselves, since their interpretations are subject to their biases.

What they are leaving out of their considerations is that while the data may not be human, they are. And they are subject to all the vagaries and venalities of humankind, including, and especially, since they are intelligent, gifted people who get a lot of respect, hubris. Anybody can make a mistake. But data interpretation according to hubris will be mistaken as often as not.

As for me, I’d forgo this dubious gift of being able to predict the weather if it would get me out of the pain that goes with it. However, time has shown that, despite the claims of those suffering from data omniscience hubris, my husband is right: My arthritis is just about as accurate as the weather man.

 

Come Kneel Before Him Now

This is a Eucharistic flash mob. I wonder what the response to this would be in one of our malls; or on the Mall in Washington DC, or any number of public places.

Here in Oklahoma, we have so few Catholics, it might just lead to confused stares and dome scratching from all the Southern Baptists. :-)

 

YouTube Preview Image

The Bible: Topping the Charts Again

I don’t watch tv very often. Too busy.

But when I do, I ignore the network channels altogether. The only exception is when we’re under a tornado alert. Then I watch Gary England on Channel 9 to learn which way to duck. 

Tornado

Other than that, I spend most of my viewing time in the bigger numbers on the viewing chart, far away from the oddball take on the world that the network channels provide. But I do read about television from time to time. (Go figure.) What I’ve read says that “viewers” are attracted to more up-to-date entertainment with lots of cursing, sex and degrading insults to women. 

Uh-huh.

Maybe the reason “viewers” tend to watch these shows is because they are the only shows being offered, and the kind of “viewers” who don’t like this trashy entertainment don’t watch at all. I can’t be the only person who doesn’t watch network programming. In fact, I know I’m not. In my circle — and that includes, family and friends — no one watches network programming.

We do however, all of us, every single one of us, watch Gary England when tornadoes are flying.

Gary england

Some of the rest of us (Not me. Not my girlfriends.) watch football. But that’s really it for our network tv viewing. The reason? There aren’t any shows on that we want to see. We aren’t entertained by what they’ve got. We tend to be insulted and disgusted by it. 

All this is a lead up to the surprising news that the series the Bible scored another hit this week. It came in first, beating out 60 Minutes, and The Walking Dead. 

Now, who, in this “post-Christian” world would have predicted that? After all, isn’t the Bible (the book, not the show) irrelevant, out-of-date and totally embarrassing? 

I remember shortly after Mel Gibson’s smash hit The Passion of the Christ came out, whoever it is that makes these decisions evidently decided that there was gold in that religion stuff. They put on a “Jesus” miniseries, presumably to try to cash in. My family tried to watch it, but we couldn’t make it through the first 15 minutes. Ever since then, “surfer Jesus” has been a joke line around our house to refer to the lame way that the networks approach our faith. 

Now that I’ve typed that line, it all comes clear. No wonder we don’t watch network tv. Except for tornadoes and football, the people who decide what to put on network tv don’t “get” us. I’m sure that they would regard me and mine as a bunch of religious fanatic, unwashed, redneck hill-billies to whom the truth has not yet come. 

The odd part is that we feel kinda the same way about them.

An article from The Baptist Press describing the success of the Bible series says in part: 

NASHVILLE (BP) — History Channel’s “The Bible” miniseries climbed back into the top slot in its third week Sunday (March 17), finishing No. 1 for the night among all broadcast and cable programs thanks to an increase in viewership. 

The episode drew 10.9 million viewers, better than its previous week of 10.8 million. It bested AMC’s “Walking Dead” (10.8 million) and CBS’ “60 Minutes” (10.2 million). 


The series was No. 1 among broadcast and cable shows in its first week but dropped to No. 3 in its second week. 

Unlike most History Channel documentaries — which generally cast a skeptical eye on the truthfulness of Scripture — the five-part, 10-hour miniseries has placed the Bible in a more positive light. The final two episodes will be broadcast over the next two weeks, wrapping up on Easter Sunday.  (Read the rest here.)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X