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.

 

 

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Data Omniscience Hubris and the Bible

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.

 

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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. :-)

 

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Lent in the Legislature

Next week and the week after, I will become less and less accessible, more and more grumpy, and if you push me, downright mean.

These next two weeks are “deadline” weeks in the Oklahoma legislature, or, as we affectionately think of them, living hell.

We have to vote on every bill that every House member managed to author, get out of the various committees and onto the House agenda. That means long days, longer nights, endless debate and mind-numbing exhaustion. I finish deadline weeks feeling like I’ve been drug by a runaway horse. So does everybody else. By the end of this two weeks we’ll hate our jobs and we’ll probably all hate each other, as well.

That’s how legislators do Lent in Oklahoma.

Once, years ago, I tried to give up swearing for Lent. If Lent happened when the legislature wasn’t in session I would have had a fighting chance. But after the third or fourth time I had to go to confession because I’d broken my penance, my pastor got exasperated and told me, “I want you to forget this and pick something you can do.”

I jokingly said, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody. Can I count that as giving up something for Lent?”

He was not amused.

Ever since then, I’ve tried to come up with Lenten practices that fit into my job. You know; things I can do while driving my car to work or when I’m standing in an elevator. That sort of idle time activity. I literally do not have time to pray during deadline week. When I try to pray before I go to bed, I fall asleep. When I try to pray in the mornings, I’m late for work. If I try to pray while I’m driving … well, I’m already tired and distracted, so that’s not the best plan.

 

One prayer I’ve found that I can actually do is called the Jesus Prayer. It goes: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner. 

That’s an excellent prayer for deadline week. If you reflect on it, it’s sort of a mini Gospel in a few words. Anytime you’re in a pinch for time, or at a loss for words, I recommend the Jesus Prayer. It says everything you have to say in one profound sentence.

Another one sentence prayer I pray a lot during deadline week comes from Scripture: May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, my God and my Redeemer.

I pray that a lot before debate.

Then, there’s the Hail Mary: Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for me, a sinner, now and at the hour of my death.

The Hail Mary is a cry for help and an act of worship, both at once. It, like the other short prayers I use during deadline week, covers all the ground you have to cover to talk to God.

These quick prayers save my soul (literally) during times like deadline week. But there is another prayer that I’ve learned through the years. This one doesn’t have words, and yet it is perhaps the most eloquent. There are many days when my work is my prayer. I know that sounds odd, but I’ve learned that this can be the most profound prayer and act of worship any of us can do.

What I mean by that is that I am convinced that the most profound act of worship is simply doing what God tells you to do. If I can do my work in a manner that follows what God wants, then I am giving Him obedience, which is profound worship and prayer with feet.

I learned this during a time when I was getting blasted and battered in an ugly and personal way for passing pro life bills. (This was the time when I tried to convince my pastor that the simple fact that I hadn’t killed anybody should count as giving up something for Lent.) It was tough for me as a person and as a woman. But with God’s grace I was able to persevere, and in the persevering I experienced the Lord’s presence in a way that taught me an enormous amount about what prayer and worship truly are.

The best worship is doing what God tells you to do. The most profound prayer is obedience to God from the heart. 

All the other worship we do — the retreats, meditations, hymn-singing, scripture reading, long reflective silences — are simply exercises to get us to that state where we can do what He tells us to do with willing obedience from the heart.

I am looking forward to a real Lent one day. I think it would be most edifying to have time for prayer, reflection and long hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

But this week is deadline week, and my Lenten practice may very well be once again, not killing any of my colleagues. I think that’s a fine goal for a pro life legislator.

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Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 6. Preach Christ = Preach Christ Crucified

Where there is no vision, the people perish.    Proverbs 29: 18

 … and he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.     Mark 6: 34

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.   Luke 12: 48

 

Demagoguery is not preaching Christ.

Protecting priestly privilege is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your parishioners is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your brother and sister clergy is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to political parties and secular powers is not preaching Christ.

Protecting your career and advancement in the Church is not preaching Christ.

We are like sheep without a shepherd. In fact, we are more than like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. Telling us how to vote is not telling us how to live. It does not equip us to be the salt and light that bring the Kingdom. It does not grow our faith in Christ. What it does is gather political power to the person who is telling us how to vote.

We are lied to, manipulated, whipped up into hatred and degraded with cheap slogans instead of intelligent dialogue by the media, the two political parties and the various candidates. We don’t need more of the same coming at us from the pulpits in our churches.

We need Christ and Him crucified. We need clergy who will preach the revolutionary, civilization-building, soul-saving Gospel of Christ in all its fullness.

When clergy panders to politicians, no matter where they begin, they end by whittling the Gospels down to the parts that they can twist to support the political agenda of the party or politician they are following. They usually leave the cross over their altars, but they might as well not. Your god is who you obey. Your god is who you follow. If these failed shepherds were being honest, they would remove the cross from their churches and replace it with the Republican elephant or the Democrat Donkey.

Right-wing preachers, who toady to the Republicans, either ignore or belittle the calls for social justice that pertain to the poor in particular and everyone who is in need in general. They basically dropkick the Sermon on the Mount off the front step of their churches. They pull verses and even parts of verses out of context to justify and support blatant corporatism and the economic destruction of the people in order to enrich those who control the political party they follow.

Left-wing preachers, who toady to the Democrats, carry this a step further. Rather then using proof texts pulled out of odd places in Scripture to justify themselves, they tend to obliterate the whole book.

These folks are big on applying literary criticism to the Bible. This method of scriptural analysis is the systematic application of fantasy involving a confabulated “Q Document” and weighty-sounding but baseless judgements based on authorial style and voice. It’s a kind of web-spinning that produces wordy exegesis that is simply a theoretical construct erroneously presented as hard fact.

This convenient acceptance of literary criticism calls the entire Bible into question. It provides the intellectual gloss for what is simply cherry-picking the Gospels for the parts you find consistent with your secular values. Scripture that demands justice and sets limits on our sexual and social behavior is expunged.

Left-wing preachers drop-kick the law. Their right-wing mirror images drop-kick the prophets.

Between these two sets of bogus shepherds, there is nothing of the Scriptures left. They have successfully edited and challenged the entire Bible out of relevance to today’s society. They have obviated everything that gives them the right to hold their jobs.

Is it any wonder that everyone from atheists to zealot pro-abortionists flings proof texts at Christians? They take these verses out of context and apply them ignorantly, true. They have zero knowledge of how the whole of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation fits together to tell a single, albeit convoluted, story. They certainly don’t see that the Bible is always, no matter how far afield it may seem to go, about Jesus Christ.  They’re ignorant, and they can be almost comically bombastic, but it’s hard to get really mad at them. After all, they learned to do this from our own clergy.

We are not like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. We’ve got lots of preachers. We’ve got them on television, making millions and preaching a heretical political gospel of greed. We’ve got feel-good preachers, giving us a Hallmark card Jesus made of cotton candy and sticky glue. We’ve got others reviling, slandering and attacking those on the other side of whatever political spectrum the preacher in question supports. We’ve got them hanging out in their rectories, living cozy lives and getting by without ruffling feathers.

Pick your flavor. There’s a preacher out there who will give you a phony jesus to match.

Today’s church has reduced Calvary to an Easter egg hunt and a pretty pageant. It has sanitized the scandal of our God Who was subjected to the most shameful disregard society could mete out; Who was left weak and piteous, Who appeared helpless; a criminal.

The cross was shameful then and it’s shameful now. Jesus was not only wrongly convicted, he was beaten nearly to death; tortured, mocked, reviled and when He hung on the cross in agony, His tormenters stood at its foot and made fun of Him, mocked Him the more.

The cross is shameful, embarrassing, hard. Christ and Him crucified is the whole message of the Bible. If you don’t preach that, you are not preaching at all.

I think it’s pertinent to our discussion that Calvary was an actual event in history. The blood was real. The pain, humiliation, helplessness, degradation were all real. They happened. Jesus was flesh and bone, just like any of us. He felt every single bit of it. He endured both the physical pain and the psychological death of the aloneness of being weak and helpless in the hands of human monsters.

The people who did this were a bunch of lying priests and a cowardly politician, all of whom put their careers, their power, their vaunting self-importance, ahead of doing what was right.

We live in a world where it’s getting harder to follow Jesus with each passing day. Christians are slaughtered in a genocidal fury in many places, subjected to overt discrimination, harassment and constant fear of worse in many others.

Here in America elected officials are scolded if they mention Christ in public. The name of Jesus is subjected to public ridicule and mockery.  Rank and file Christians of every denomination feel compelled to self-censor their speech concerning their belief in Christ to avoid being belittled, shunned and perhaps endangering their employment.

This is our cross. We have been running away from it and we’ve got to stop. We must, in the name of Jesus, take up these challenges, which are the challenges of our time in history. It is not shameful to be attacked and belittled for following Jesus. it is an honor and a privilege. It is a blessing.

We need shepherds who will tell us this. We need shepherds who do not pander, are not demagogues, who are indifferent to both of the two political parties. We need shepherds who do not care about their privilege and self-importance, who are willing to put ambitions for their careers aside. We need shepherds who follow Christ, even if it is to the cross. We need shepherds who will preach Christ and Him crucified.

I give you a promise. I promise that if you stand up for Jesus, you will pay a price. I promise that if you preach Christ and Him Crucified, some of the people in your congregation will get mad at you. Your advancement in the Church may be limited due to your “fanaticism.”

For those of us who are not clergy, I promise the same. True discipleship of Jesus is, has been, and always will be about the cross. It is never a way to get rich or do well in this world.

We follow a King. But His crown was not a crown of gold and jewels. His crown was of thorns.

Today’s equation goes to the heart of the only solution that will lead our society out of its death spiral.

Preach Christ = Preach Christ crucified.

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