Thursday, February 22, 2007

Christian First or American First?

Sir Paul has written an interesting and provocative series called "Christian First or American First?" on his blog Beside the Point. While considering his wider topic of earthly versus heavenly loyalty, it brought back to mind an excellent commentary by Sir Jason a couple of short months ago in one of our earlier postings "Sectarian Violence, 21st-Century Style." I re-post it here for your re-consideration relative to Sir Paul's challenging stance.

...some people feel a psychological need to be loyal to something, which isn't quite satisfied unless "something" needs their loyalty. Which means in practice that a lot of people are fighting over something because it is being fought over.

This feeling can be channeled into harmless or constructive things. Military and civil emergency services (which are controllable and therefore better than terrorists), political lobbying or charity work. Or simply sports and hobbies. But some people don't feel quite "fulfilled" with that and are drawn to destructive activities out of restlessness.

It is a factor that hasn't been taken account of. It is an intangible and most negotiation theories think of intangibles as a nuisance instead of the most important part of it. Britain and Argentina were not really fighting for a forgotten patch of ice in the South Atlantic - they were fighting for their honor. Of course the British government may have been thinking of honor in the sense of "maintaining a deterrent". That was hardly how the British people were thinking of it.

Add to that revenge. Many times offenses cannot be revenged against an individual and are by default avenged against a group. This is the infamous "cycle of violence". It is most exaggerated because there are plenty of factors that cause violence besides that.

Political theorists, as I said fear and distrust intangibles. But they won't go away. They are the hidden flaw in all schemes to mathematically solve problems "rationally" - that people are not rational. That is they desire more than wealth, power and security.

A classic example is the War of 1812. None of the issues that caused it were solved. The British yielded nothing at the negotiations, and in fact there was no need to. Historians don't understand this, that America had made it's point, Britain had made it's and requiring official concessions was an unneeded complication. Or in other words it was tacitly acknowledged that there was in a peculiar way, enough glory for everyone to share. Thus America and Britain never fought each other again.

While calculated on a cost benefit the risks of war tend to outweigh the profit of spoiling one's neighbors, this mercantile approach to analyzing conflict is incomplete. Even merchants don't really think this way all the time as the Turks found when they met the Venetians at Lepanto.

Or take Palestine. Everybody knows the easiest way is for the Jews to have the portion they already have, and the Palestinians to have the portion they already have. The problem is that everybody is wrong. The Palestinians are not fighting simply because of religion, and certainly not for real estate. They are fighting so that they won't have to admit they lost.


Sir Paul challenges our loyalty to the red, white, and blue. And Sir Jason posits that we really just fight to claim an earthly loyalty and to have something to do in the meantime.

So, given their logic, what is the bottom line? Is there really any reason to stand up and defend our nation, our way of life, according to the direction of our earthly leaders? Or, should we just all go home and wait for it to blow over, Revelation-style?

Sir Chuck, the challenged patriot

6 comments:

  1. Sir Paul challenges our loyalty to the red, white, and blue. And Sir Jason posits that we really just fight to claim an earthly loyalty and to have something to do in the meantime.

    So, given their logic, what is the bottom line? Is there really any reason to stand up and defend our nation, our way of life, according to the direction of our earthly leaders? Or, should we just all go home and wait for it to blow over, Revelation-style?

    __________________________
    Actually I didn't say that. I said that is a large part of what we fight over. People fight over a lot of things and that is one.
    Also there are good reasons to defend our way of life. One is that it is ours and we owe it a loyalty. That loyalty is like that owed to a reliative-it is not based on whether you actually like America but on the fact that it is America. "Honor thy Father and Mother".
    Moreover you owe a gratitude to America that goes beyond that basic loyalty. How many advantages do you have that you wouldn't have in another country? Not just political freedoms but things that you take for granted like-Civilization. Which is another way of describing drinking fountains, plentiful food, honest if overweening government, and efficiant protection. Even the ability to build a house is an indication of the things to be grateful for. On the Scottish border in time gone by nobody built a decent house because they knew there was a good chance of it being burnt down.
    The fact is what is being posited is an either/or. It is possible to be loyal to both God and your country. Obviously God comes first. But there is no reason to assume that country must be eliminated.

    Sir Jason

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  2. Sir Jas -

    Sorry for at least partially misrepresenting your text. I know from your participation in the Round Table that you've consistently been a defender of the good fight, whether in heaven or on earth.

    In the context of Sir Paul's thesis, your text (wisely, I think) demonstrates that all too often the good fight on earth is not as easy to identify as the good fight in heaven. (Recall our RT discussions on Just War Theory prior to the Iraq invasion.) Sir Paul in his latest posting on the topic seems to imply that we as individuals in Christ have at least some responsibility to make individual judgments on each impending war and to resist participation in those we believe to be "not just". And he uses the examples of German soldiers in WWII.

    That is a concept that I'm troubled by, because it charges us to discern "justness" over the God-given authority of our national leaders. Hitler was a madman, but by God's grace he had authority over the people of his country. His soldiers were bound to their duty, especially given the "knowledge" they were provided by the government. A few like Bonhoefffer were granted special spiritual insight to resist, most were not.

    Did those who obeyed the call of their government lose their salvation by picking up arms and fighting other Christians? I prefer to think not, that Jesus was with soldiers in foxholes on both sides of the line of battle.

    Sir C

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  3. Sir Paul in his latest posting on the topic seems to imply that we as individuals in Christ have at least some responsibility to make individual judgments on each impending war and to resist participation in those we believe to be "not just". And he uses the examples of German soldiers in WWII.

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    We do have some responsibility; the question is what? The complications are often so great that there is no way for society to function unless some things are assumed to be within the authority of the state.
    I think the decision of whether to wage war is usually analogical to the decision to arrest a person. Suppose the government sent a party of cops to pick up an individual. Would it be within an individual policeman's responsibility to ask if he is innocent? No, he would assume that that responsibility had been given to others. But if the policeman actually knew he was innocent? That would be a different story.
    Now the old thing about the German soldier is the same. They could not know-exactly-that they were fighting unjustly. So there responsibility was to act according to what they did know. If a German soldier was ordered to shoot an innocent child in the course of his duty it was his job to refuse. Few did but some did, and died miserably in a penal battalion for it.
    It might also be remembered that the greatest evils in the world have come as much from the breakdown of discipline as it's misuse. The classic example is the Partition riots in India, but there are also the typical Balkan feuds and so on. Even the Nazis which are the classic example of the misuse of the state are also the classic example of negligance by the state-it was the Weimar regime's job to repress them when they were a petty gang of ruffians, and because it didn't they could intimidate voters. Even atrocities done by soldiers are usually when their restraint breaks down. This used to be known instinctivly. For instance it was an old military custom to acknowledge that the commander of a fortress could surrender with no stain on his reputation once a decent hole was knocked in his wall-because every one knew there would be no way to control the besiegers if they had to storm it.
    All this warns us that there are perils both ways. The danger of not defering to authority is just as great.
    In any case we must beware of the danger of over dramatisation if you will pardon the word. The Nazis were as extreme an example as can be found, and hard cases make bad laws as the saying goes.
    Another comparison with a soldiers duty is that of a lawyer. A lawyer assumes the default position that his client(in a prosecutors case, his client is the state)is right. Now if he finds proof that his client is wrong what does he do? Good question. He probably should resign(though many lawyers wouldn't see it that way). But to go further, if there is no proof he must stick with the "default" because otherwise the court cannot function.

    Sir Jason

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  4. Now the old thing about the German soldier is the same. They could not know-exactly-that they were fighting unjustly. So there responsibility was to act according to what they did know. If a German soldier was ordered to shoot an innocent child in the course of his duty it was his job to refuse. Few did but some did, and died miserably in a penal battalion for it.
    ----------------------------------
    One memorable example of this sort of thing was when the government sent orders to the German commanders that the customs of war were to be suspended on the Russian front as Slavs and Bolsheviks were "subhuman".
    The famous general Heinz Gudurian contrived to "misplace" the orders. He got away with it because he was simply to good a general to lose.

    Sir Jason

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  5. One memorable example of this sort of thing was when the government sent orders to the German commanders that the customs of war were to be suspended on the Russian front as Slavs and Bolsheviks were "subhuman".
    The famous general Heinz Gudurian contrived to "misplace" the orders. He got away with it because he was simply to good a general to lose.
    ------------------

    Another example was Rommel who made a point of treating Jewish prisoners just like any other. While much has been made of the favor shown him by Hitler, and his support for the regime he was really fighting for the Warrior's Code rather then Naziism.
    This is an example of how to go to far the other way from the way I mentioned. German generals tended to have a curious weakness for assuming that they had no responsibility at all outside their duties. They were sometimes honorable warriors but ignored what they were fighting for-and they had more knowlege then a common soldier.
    I think the more likly peril for American's today is the opposite-of presuming responsibility one does not have. As is so often the case both ways have perils.

    Sir Jason

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  6. I think the more likely peril for Americans today is the opposite - of presuming responsibility one does not have.

    It sure seems that way, sometimes. No shortage of experts with opinions these days, on any topic. But you're right, there are perils in both extremes.

    While I've been defending a position of deference and obeisance to governmental authority in the larger arena of world affairs over on Sir Paul's blog, I am concerned that many of us are shirking our responsibilities in the smaller arenas that God gives us more influence in. It's hard to get out there, day after day, and make a Christly difference in the lives we touch. Easier to blog and hope someone reads, than to go knock on the neighbors door...

    Sir C

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