War is hell. War is never a good thing. A person may comport himself honorably in a war; he may even behave heroically. And that person, through his determination and his deeds, will become and honorable person or a hero. But war is not honorable or heroic.
It’s been this way from the beginning. The angels didn’t wage war in Heaven because God likes war. They did it because Lucifer rebelled and became the Accuser. Michael became the prince of the Heavenly Hosts, not because waging war is good, but because Michael was good in the war in Heaven. I didn’t see that happen myself, but our faith says it happened. I suppose that’s how there came to be a Hell in the first place. Hell is the opposite of God; it’s what happens when you refuse every good thing. The Accuser and his followers refused all good things, war broke out in Heaven, and they found themselves in hell. War is hell.
Human wars aren’t good either. In this fallen world there come times where we have to kill, to defend ourselves or the helpless. There are even times when nations have to wage war on nations because the results of surrender would have been worse. War is tragedy; a war, however just, means that Man has failed. We ought to have solved our conflict through peaceful means, but someone failed to do that. That’s how wars begin. And so, because of that failure, we have violence; we have tragedy and bloodshed. Through the grace of God, these things can become the theater of heroism and even sainthood. We would never know who Joan of Arc was, if it weren’t for a war. But the war she fought in wasn’t God’s will. God would have preferred to sanctify her by other means. Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta were born into Heaven from Auschwitz, but Auschwitz was not a good place. Auschwitz was Hell’s idea. Maximilian and Teresa descended into Hell with Christ, and became saints. But Christ would rather there weren’t an Auschwitz.
I understand that “war” is often used as a metaphor for spiritual struggle, and that there are Bible passages that use that imagery. I know there are several venerable old hymns that employ it; they’re the sort of thing that gets sung at Bible school, to convince little boys that religion isn’t for sissies. But I think, perhaps, that imagery gets out of hand. In the Bible, God also refers to us through images of sheep, birds, a beautiful young virgin, a loincloth, a prostitute and even a worm, but you don’t often get Bible schools singing hymns about worms or prostitutes. I think that we’ve gotten caught up in the imagery of war in a way God didn’t intend. I think we’ve begun to think that war is a good thing.
There are over a billion Muslims in this world. I’ve met a few of them. None of the ones I knew wanted to hurt me, rape me or force me to convert. I’ve been informed that they were only trying to trick me; that their religion requires them to lie and seem harmless in order to ensnare victims. But I’ve seen no evidence of this. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I have no evidence that my friends who took writing courses with me in undergraduate– friends who wrote beautiful poems, essays and plays about being American while also being Somali or Saudi and what it meant to them– are all in a secret conspiracy against me.
But even if they were, what would my faith require of me? If Muslims were every bit as vile as the most suspicious culture warrior thinks that they are, what would I be required to do?