Why is War So Easy for American Christians?

Why is War So Easy for American Christians? May 24, 2012

This post is by Patrick Mitchel, an Irish theologian teaching in Dublin at Irish Bible Institute.

Being from Europe and writing a post for Jesus Creed, I thought it would be appropriate and interesting to explore European and American attitudes to nationalism and violence. No more feisty conversation partner than Stanley Hauerwas will be found in this one:

In an article called ‘War and the American Difference’ Hauerwas engages with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age.

Europeans generally are quite reticent about national identity. That they are so Taylor attributes to the experience and memory of the First and Second World Wars that devastated Europe. He observes that war, even wars that seem “righteous,” now make most Europeans uneasy. But that is not the case with Americans. Americans’ lack of unease with war may be, Taylor suggests, because they wrongly think there are fewer skeletons in the American closet when compared to the European closet. Yet Taylor thinks the reason for the American support of war is simpler. “It is easier,” Taylor observes, “to be unreservedly confident in your own righteousness when you are the hegemonic power.”

What do you make of Hauerwas’ call for all Christians to active non-violence?  And his case that America, and many Christians within America, have a troubling lack of unease about going to war?

To Taylor Hauerwas adds this,

I think Taylor does not make articulate — to use one of Taylor’s favorite words — the relationship between American civil religion, our assumption that we are a “religious nation,” and why war for most Americans is unproblematic. War is a moral necessity for America because it provides the experience of the “Unum” that makes the “pluribus” possible. War is America’s central liturgical act necessary to renew our sense that we are a nation unlike other nations.

In other words, ‘the war on terror’ means that Americans have a common enemy that unites them nationally. War is a moral good. It is the pursuit and defence of ‘freedom’.

And further down Hauerwas says

If I am close to being right about the place of war for sustaining the American difference I find that as a Christian I wish America as a nation was more “secular” and the Christianity of America was less American. Put differently I wish America was more like Europe. For I fear the Christianity of America, a Christianity that from a European perspective seems vital, is not capable of being a political challenge to what is done in the name of the American difference. In short, the great difficulty is how to keep America, in the proper sense, secular. (my emphasis)

His point here is that Christianity in America (as I was arguing in my first post has been the case in Ireland) has been co-opted as a support act for the state. He concludes that in America, a central task for the church therefore is offer that prophetic critique to nationalism, war and violence.  For the church to offer an authentic Christian political theology will require

a recovery of the church as a polity capable of challenging the presumptions that the state is the agency of peace. In short, if the analysis I have tried to develop concerning the American difference is close to being right, it should make clear that a commitment to Christian nonviolence is the presumption necessary for the church to reassert its political significance. (my emphasis)

Such a position is deeply radical within a culture which exalts and celebrates the military power of the nation-state, one nation under God. It calls all Christians to active non-violence as followers of the Prince of Peace who explicitly rejected the sword. It is, I think fair to say, calling on all Christians to view violence as a morally illegitimate option for a disciple of Jesus, the Prince of Peace rather than swallowing the myth that violence can be a redemptive good.

What do you make of Hauerwas’ call for all Christians to active non-violence?  And his case that America, and many Christians within America, have a troubling lack of unease about going to war?

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