June 5, 2014

War, Conscience, and the Conservative Christian

By In Articles, Politics

I was quite struck by the words of Jacob Hornberger in his daily column yesterday as he wrote on “Conscience and the Soldier.”  At one point he writes that,

…many young people don’t appreciate the profound, life-changing ramifications of joining the military, especially with respect to the exercise of their conscience. They only discover how serious the ramifications are after it is too late—that is, after they have signed the contract and are placed in a position of kill or be killed.

I’m personally convinced that this is the predominant reason that so many soldiers have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq all screwed up in the head. It has much more to do with guilt than it does with post-traumatic stress syndrome. They know that they have been participating in a brutal killing machine, most of whose victims had no role in the 9/11 attacks, and that shows no remorse whatsoever over the people it is exterminating.

Before the wars, these soldiers were normally functioning persons, spouses, and parents. But look at how many have returned as violent, abusive, alcoholic, ill-functioning human beings, spouses, or parents.

That’s what guilt does. It eats away at a person’s soul like acid.

The war issue is difficult for many evangelical Christians in this country. Unlike many other Christian libertarians, I seem to have an abnormal patience for my brothers and sisters in Christ who still support the United States military throughout its unconstitutional, immoral, and altogether unjustified warmongering around the world.  Perhaps I should be a bit more blunt and straightforward toward those who still support these wars and the United States military.  I have been challenged to do so by more than one reader.  After all, is it not just as sinful to kill innocent women and children as it is to steal from some and give to others (socialized medicine)?  I am critical of America’s rampant welfarism, and I am utterly against the Government’s despicable wars as well.  And yet, perhaps because I lived most of my life in the pro-military-no-exceptions camp, I am far more expressive against welfarism than warfarism.

Let me be clear: this is not an issue of whether or not I am against the military machine. For surely I am.  My anti-warfarism matches my anti-welfarism.  This is a personal issue of having the courage to speak out against an evil and corrupt military power to an audience, a readership, that is, by virtue of its cultural background, supportive of the troops.  This is a challenge for me to refuse to consider the general acceptance of the message over the truth of the content.  The United States’ armed forces bring great evil to the world, they do not defend our freedoms, and they are one great example of a republic-turned-empire.

Lord, give me the strength to speak according to my conscience, not according to what is acceptable to the audience.

Ron Paul says it well when he notes that if we are to support the troops let us demonstrate this by refusing to send them off to die. Are we pro-life or aren’t we?  One does not have to be a liberal, as pro-war conservative Christians see the antiwar proponents, to oppose the terrible existence of war!  In fact, in the mid-twentieth century, it was the conservative coalition led by Sen. Robert Taft, who opposed the Progressives and the desires for world war interventionism!  The conservative position on war is one of hesitancy, skepticism, and caution.

Hornberger later states:

One of the most profound articles ever written on the individual responsibility of the soldier is “Conscience on the Battlefield” by Leonard E. Read, founder of The Foundation for Economic Education. The article revolves around a conversation that a dying soldier has with his conscience, especially on the point “Don’t blame me. I was just following orders.”

Unfortunately, this phenomenon of choosing obedience to orders above conscience does not only afflict the members of the military. It is also a pervasive force across society. You see it especially at sporting events, when people stand and praise the troops for “defending our freedoms.”

Do the people who do that ever stop to ask themselves whether the troops really are doing that? Do they ask themselves whether the Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, or Yemeni people are really trying to take away the freedom of the American people? Do they ever wonder why the troops can’t just be here at home defending our freedoms?

No, they don’t. They just blindly defer to authority. They support the troops regardless of what the troops are doing and why they are doing it. They automatically assume that the people the troops are killing deserve to die. They place their support of the troops above their individual conscience and their moral duty to support the laws of God.

The conservative Christian in this country generally opposes socialized medicine and expansionary welfare.  For he believes that a) it is theft, b) it does not and cannot produce positive results, and c) our liberties will be eliminated as socialism expands.  And he believes well! But the conservative Christian must oppose war for the same reasons! Economically and politically, war is actually more harmful to the economy and more of a threat to our freedoms.  “War,” as Randolph Bourne once declared, “is the health of the State.”  The State needs war, for war is its most powerful tool for control.

If the Christian is to believe in the goodness of freedom, and he is right to do so, let him oppose the wars of the State.  The libertarian antiwar position is not the pacifist position wherein defense of life and property is not permitted.  The libertarian antiwar position is that the initiation of war against individuals or groups of individuals who have not first attacked is unjust.  Moreover, the libertarian antiwar position is that war is terrible for the economy, necessarily expands the power of the State (see Higgs’ Crisis and Leviathan), and that war is socialistic in nature.  We ought to be slow to accept war, not only as Christians, but also as those aware of the terrible nature of the State.

The Bible calls us Christians to submit to the higher authorities.  It does not claim that our submission is based on the just actions of the State.  The Bible calls us Christians to turn the other cheek.  It does not claim that our turning the other cheek justifies the actions of the man striking us.

We are to submit to the State in spite of its immoral activities, not because of them.

But this does in no way infer that the State’s acts are justified.

It in no way infers that we ought to be silent as the individuals running the State commit sin.

It in no way infers that we should refrain from challenging the morality of State activity.

It in no way infers that we should approve of its wars or unjust militarism.

The State is not above God’s moral law.

The foundation of freedom is that all men are under the moral law of God, the government not excepted, and will be judged by God in his due time.  For those of us in Christ Jesus, praise be to the Lord God who has saved us from His wrath by pouring it out on The Lamb who stood in our place. 

Now, there is an exception to submitting to earthly authorities: when the God’s commands and the State’s commands contradict each other.  For as Peter stated: “We must obey God rather than men.”

What happens to our consciences when we obey men rather than God?

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com