War and Peace

As every atheist knows, religion exists to glorify the state and motivate the troops: "Many Eurasian states and empires had official religions that contributed to state cohesion, being invoked to legitimize the political leadership and to sanction wars against other peoples." (Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, p. 359). The atheists must have forgotten to send Jesus the memo explaining the purpose of the enterprise. Jesus laid down commands for his followers:

  • "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
  • (Matthew 5:38-48).

Just War

From the earliest days of the gospel proclamation, the Christian response to war has ranged from the total pacifism of some in the early church and the Anabaptists of the radical reformation, to business-as-usual compromise with the war-making world. For most of the church's life, the most popular view was a middle way: the 'just war' theory, which discourages aggression but allows war-making in self-defense.

How you get pacifism from the Lord's teaching is self-explanatory: what Jesus plainly intends His followers to do in their own private life, they are also to do in their public life as citizens or magistrates: as members of a community owing certain obligations to their compatriots, including mutual assistance against external threats. The 'just war' theory, and the more bellicose contemporary idea of 'war for idealism's sake,' separate the individual believer's private life, in which he must not return evil for evil, from his public life, in which he may, if the public interest is served thereby. The 'just war' theory was never intended to be a green light for any and all wars the secular power might wish to undertake, rather, "Thus, if a prince desired to go to war, and his cause was manifestly unrighteous, we should not follow nor help him at all; since God has commanded that we shall not kill our neighbor, nor do him injustice." (Martin Luther, A Treatise on Good Works, Chapter XXI, Second Table, Works of Martin Luther, Volume I, Kindle location 3482).

Under the 'just war' theory, the church succeeded, in some times and places, in making incremental improvements to civilized life, like guaranteeing the security of non-combatant lives and property. But these gains were always fragile and could prove evanescent in practice; where is the security of non-combatant lives and property in the nuclear age? An approach which does not succeed in implementing the main idea cannot be recommended. Even the pagan Romans believed war must proceed from a just cause, and that potential adversaries must be offered the opportunity to capitulate or negotiate. Telling the world to proceed with business as usual is hardly a revolutionary proclamation.

Just War Pre-Emption
Ezekiel 28 Utilitarianism
King David The Centurion
John the Baptist The Sword
Southern Baptists Christian Zionism
Terrorism The Crusades
Adolf Hitler Civilization


The Bush administration's enthusiasm for war as a solution to all the world's ills sadly proved infectious. This called forth some heavy lifting in the Bible reading department, as Jesus' teaching in this area gives little encouragement to war boosters:

Can the sought-for Warrior Ethic be found in the Bible by simply paging back, before all that inconvenient preaching by our Lord? Some think so:

"Why is just soldiering a holy vocation? And why are those who reprove just soldiers guilty of blasphemy? The answers are connected. Just soldiering is holy because those who justly restrain evil are acting in a God-like fashion. Just soldiering, in this view, is consonant with holy Christian living. . . Just soldiering is God-like simply because God does this sort of thing. That's why it is blasphemous to reprove just soldiering: That which is reproved--the use of force to restrain evil--is something God does Himself. To reprove the use of force in the restraint of evil is thus to reprove God." (Darrell Cole, When God Says War is Right, p. 47).

Christ the King, Mosaic, Constantinople

To be sure, "God does this sort of thing," in Noah's flood for example. He has even commissioned men to act as the instrument of His judgment, as against the Canaanites who practiced child sacrifice. And to be sure, men are urged to be like God:

"Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’" (Leviticus 19:2).
"Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48).

But, before we clamber onto God's throne following the principle, 'if God does it, so can we, for thus we will become "God-like,"' caution must be raised. God demands worship:

"All flesh shall come to worship before Me, says the LORD." (Isaiah 66:23).

Certain men have followed suit, seeing it is "God-like" to demand worship. But God does not reward them:

"Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your heart is lifted up, and you say, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, in the midst of the seas,’ Yet you are a man, and not a god,. . . Behold, therefore, I will bring strangers against you, the most terrible of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom, and defile your splendor. They shall throw you down into the Pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the midst of the seas.’" (Ezekiel 28:2-8).

In this case, the ambition to be "God-like" has proven a snare, and a lie just like,

"For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5).

Certain functions God has reserved for Himself, such as vengeance:

  • "Do not devise evil against your neighbor, for he dwells by you for safety’s sake. Do not strive with a man without cause, if he has done you no harm. Do not envy the oppressor, and choose none of his ways;. . ."
  • (Proverbs 3:29-31).

  • "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you."
  • (Proverbs 25:21-22).

  • "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
  • (Romans 12:18-21).

Ezekiel 28

People who think they are being "God-like" when they seize these functions do not understand where they stand. They are not the Potter, they are the clay:

"But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand." (Isaiah 64:8).
"Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?" (Isaiah 29:16).

One clay pot who says to another, 'You are worthless, you do not deserve to live,' has arrogated the Potter's prerogative.

Psalm 68:30

Iraq War



The moral philosophy known as utilitarianism is unavailable to believers, because God reminds them that they do not have the information they need to make their calculations:

"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth." (Proverbs 27:1).
"Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-16).

It is God who holds the outcomes in His hands. Nevertheless, the watchman on the wall who sees Genghis Khan's hordes descending, knowing they are bent on genocidal destruction, has a choice to make. It is a choice between evils, because war, yielding its crop of burnt babies and orphans with an unslakeable thirst for vengeance, is always and ever an evil. It may be the lesser evil. It should never be celebrated and sought after as if it were desirable, as it has been by Mr. Bush and his defenders.

The Moral Landscape
Separation between Church and State

  • "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
  • (Matthew 7:12).

  • "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:. . ."
  • (Hebrews 12:14).

  • "Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
  • (Psalm 34:14).

King David

King David was a man of war. Did his profession enhance his walk with God? To the contrary, the blood on his hands prevented him from building God's temple as he would have liked:

"And David said to Solomon: 'My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the LORD my God; but the word of the LORD came to me, saying, You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.'" (1 Chronicles 22:8).
"But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.’" (1 Chronicles 28:3).

Men are to lift up holy hands to God: "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;. . ." (1 Timothy 2:8). But blood defiles: "Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain by a sword or who has died, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days." (Numbers 19:16). Not only the New Testament teaching of Jesus Christ, but the Old Testament holiness code, encourages us to keep clear of this stain. Still, David was a man after God's own heart, leaving no cause for despair to those who share his profession.

It would be a mistake however to read into the Old Testament unqualified support for any and all wars for any cause whatever undertaken. 'Edom' or 'Esau' is how the Talmud refers to the Roman empire:

"For, as we read in other places, the Holy one, blessed be he, came first to the sons of Esau and offered to them the Torah. These asked, 'What is written in it?' God answered, 'Thou shalt not kill.' 'We cannot acept it,' they rejoined, 'killing being our profession.'" (Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, Solomon Schechter, pp. 131-132).

The Ten Commandments are not a good fit for imperial powers.

The Centurion

Jesus praised a centurion for his faith:

"The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

"When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour."

The centurion, like David, was a man of war. If this is not a proper profession for a man of faith, Jesus omits to say so.

John the Baptist

When asked by soldiers what they should do, John the Baptist does not tell them to abandon their profession, but only,

"And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages."

This is another opportunity passed by, if the Holy Spirit had ever intended to inculcate total pacifism. It is enough to condemn "violence," i.e. aggression.

Christians Against Bush

Liberation of Iraq

The Sword

The Christian defense of war notices that God placed the sword in the magistrate's hand:

  • "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil."
  • (Romans 13:1-4).

Therefore, the argument goes, a Christian magistrate may find his duty calls him to do, in his public capacity, what he is commanded not to do in his private capacity, that is, recompense evil for evil (Romans 12:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Peter 3:9). This argument bears weight while Genghis Khan and his merciless hordes are sweeping across the plain, bent on genocidal destruction. But it evanesces into absurdity as Christian radio personalities howl for war against socialist Iraq on grounds this nation may, conceivably, someday attack us, though they had avoided so doing thus far into the history of the world. More consistent is the perennial Christian witness against war. Every warring nation claims to be acting in self-defense, so at least 50 per cent of the time this claim must be simply false:

David Low Dodge
War Inconsistent with the
Religion of Jesus Christ

Southern Baptists

Whatever happened to the Southern Baptists? Those who overheard their blood-curdling war cries in the aftermath of President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq for no good reason must wonder. How is it that they knew the mind of Christ so well in 1940, then forgot what they knew?:

  • "Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ. Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations. War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no black out of love in time of war. When men and nations are going mad with hate it is the duty of Christ's ministers and His churches to declare by spirit, word, and conduct the love of God in all men. In time of war it is our Christian responsibility to prepare for peace. We would, therefore, urge our churches to think and work toward a Christian social order in which a just and lasting peace can be realized."
  • (Southern Baptist Convention, Resolution Concerning War And Peace, 1940).

Christian Zionism

One group which has emerged in recent years as a vocal advocate for war is the movement known as 'Christian Zionism.' Though the modern-day state of Israel includes a large population of self-identified atheists, and another large group of theists who profess no religion—right off the bat, a very large segment of the population is violating the first commandment—Christian Zionists nonetheless identify this modern-day state with Biblical Israel. Of the current crop of candidates, Michele Bachmann is in thrall to this viewpoint, which is a shame because her positions on the social issues of gay marriage and abortion are very strong and attractive:

Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism
Deuteronomy 28
The Potter and the Clay
Traditional Values
October Surprise
Gods' Helpers
Mother Ship
Red Heifer
Liberation of Iraq
So Shall We Ever Be
Titus 2:13
Second Chance
A Repentent Jihadi


Small-time criminality and war are two different things. Under the classical Christian just war theory, the only war in which Christians may participate is one called by duly constituted authority. At times, as during our Revolutionary War, different entities make competing claims to legitimacy; but an Army of One like Timothy McVeigh or Theodore Kaczynski is not a soldier but a criminal. This distinction is often overlooked by media personalities such as Bill Maher, who cannot see any difference between the Crusades and Anders Behring Breivik's murder spree. Contrary to what some people seem to think, Islam likewise does not generally allow any random individual to declare war. The difficulties of this program ought to be apparent. Ahmad will seize command and order a march to the mountains; Amin will stand up and shout, 'To the sea!' The two armies marching in opposite directions will trample each other, not prevail over the enemy. . .if they can even agree who the enemy is. It is more efficient to define a chain of command. Muslims agree that there is one, though they disagree on what it is:

  Sayyid Qutb

  Killing Non-Combatants

  Democracy and Islam

  Brother Muslim


  War of All Against All

  The Devil's Due

  What Do They Want?


  The Moral Landscape

  Geneva Convention

  A Christian Terrorist?

Yet we see that there are Christian terrorists. What is their story?:

During the twentieth century, the census of how many, or rather how few, boots you could place on the mountain parade grounds of guerilla war before forfeiting the assumption you were acting for the 'people' steadily declined as a courtesy to Marxism, never popular. There is a floor: the number cannot decline below 'one.' When the New York Times sent a reporter to interview Fidel Castro campaigning in the Cuban mountains, Mr. Castro led a handful of followers; yet the gullible readers of the New York Times were assured he was the speaking voice of the Cuban people. If the Cuban people supported him, why did they not send him their sons? But now that we have got down to one-man popular uprisings, even readers of the New York Times must reject the absurdity.

European governments have a long history of caving in to terrorist demands. But Anders Behring Breivik's demands are not achievable without civil war: "Demographical research is necessary in order to explain to people why mass deportation of Muslims is the only viable alternative." (2083 Manifesto, p. 576). If this depraved child-murderer does after all speak for anyone other than himself, then God help the Muslim residents of Europe escape the coming pogrom.

Truth to tell there is a resemblance between private criminality and state-sanctioned violence which did not escape the notice of Augustine:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, 'What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.'” (Augustine, The City of God, Book 4, Chapter 4).

Still there is a meaningful moral difference. Timothy McVeigh could not fathom why he was criticized for doing, in his private capacity, what he had been trained to do in the Army. That the United States of America, through its duly elected Commander-in-Chief, directs the Army does matter. Political theories differ in where to ground legitimacy, whether in the sovereignty of the people, or some other source. A private individual, a Timothy McVeigh or Theodore Kaczynski, who locates popular sovereignty between his own two ears, is a madman.

William Jennings Bryan Home

The Crusades

The Crusades of the Middle Ages are often portrayed as naked Christian aggression, as if the peaceful Muslims were minding their own business at the time, when the Christian West up and decided to invade the Holy Land for no particular reason. The reality is that four hundred years of Muslim aggression had reduced the Christian population of the Near East, formerly the majority, to a weak and pitiful remnant crying out for relief. Certainly no Christian can celebrate the way the Crusades bent and distorted Christian doctrine, nor the fact that the bishop of Rome emerged at that time as a sort of anti-Caliph, nor the atrocities committed during those wars, including the sack of Constantinople, a friendly Christian city, during the fourth Crusade. However any such criticism should be based in reality, not the never-was fantasy of a Muslim community seeking peaceful co-existence.

The unimaginable suffering endured by the conquered Christian peoples of what once was the heartland of the Christian church, under the boot of the Muslim imperialists, cried out for justice; would that the Western response had been less fitful and more effectual. The Muslims wanted only as much peace as the conqueror ever wants: "A conqueror is always a lover of peace (as Buonaparte always asserted of himself); he would like to make his entry into our state unopposed; in order to prevent this, we must choose war. . ." (Karl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VI, Chapter 5).

There was a process of mirroring that went on in those years. Muslims who died in battle were promised paradise; so Christians who died in battle were promised, by the Pope, a special dispensation. But there is no such provision in the Bible! Once the Pope discovered he could invent new salvation plans not known to the apostles, there was no stopping him; it took a Reformation to call a halt to these innovations. Christendom watched the relentless Muslim advance and thought, evidently, 'To beat these people we must become like them.' That was a real shame; but still some unified military response was necessary. It should have been under secular auspices, because no bishop has any calling to declare war; but it was necessary to slow down the tidal wave of aggression that was inundating Christendom, and the Crusades did accomplish that goal.

Adolf Hitler

At this point, readers of best-selling authors like Richard Dawkins are no doubt wondering: 'How have you forgotten to mention Adolf Hitler who, as everyone knows, was a life-long devout Christian, a baptized Catholic in good standing with his church until the day he died. Why, the New Atheists say so, and they are very intelligent people: after all, they must be, because they tell us they are with every other breath, and surely they would not say so if it were not true!' Now that you mention it, Hitler, at least, was a fairly intelligent fellow, and he perfected a technique called 'The Big Lie.' Is this description of a pious, church-going Hitler accurate? Or are his ideas utterly alien to the faith,— can there be any such thing as 'Christian evolution?'


One would like to believe that civilization advances, ever upwards and onwards. Unfortunately there is a counter-trend visible. Genghis Khan's Mongols, a backwards pastoral people devoted to horse-breeding whose only technological boast was the stirrup, rolled over China and other advanced civilizations, whose school primers they could never have understood, leaving pyramidal piles of skulls to show where they had been. The Comanches, savages, who barely even practiced agriculture, displaced far more advanced Indian tribes, taking over the American plains. The Goths, the Huns and the Vandals, warrior tribesmen, dismembered the mighty Roman empire. Need I go on? This happens all the time, often bringing on a dark age as the triumphant savages cannot consolidate their gains or install any governing system remotely comparable to the one they destroyed.

Why does this keep happening? Why is civilization not a one-way street, a ratcheting process which relentlessly advances, and holds the terrain it has conquered? Partly it seems that improvements in societal ethics cannot sustain themselves against invading barbarian warrior tribes. War is barbarism:

"'Live and let live,' writes a clear-headed Austrian officer, 'is no device for an army. Contempt for one's own comrades, for the troops of the enemy, and, above all, fierce contempt for one's own person, are what war demands of every one. Far better is it for an army to be too savage, too cruel, too barbarous, than to possess too much sentimentality and human reasonableness.'" (Quoted in William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Lectures XIV and XV, Kindle location 5029).

It is said that, 'the race is not always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that's the way to bet.' This is generally speaking true; no army would forego advanced technology, even realizing that backwardness can triumph. The French brought more fire power into the field than did the Viet Minh, but the French left; Mohammed ibn Abdallah's Arabian tribesmen were uncivilized savages compared to the Byzantines, but they marched all the way to the Atlantic. Idealistic young men of Basil and John Chrysostom's acquaintance wanted to be monks, not warriors. And that was OK, or so it was thought, because you can hire soldiers; the war-like Goths are eager to fight. Except when it is their brother Goths who stand at the empire's gates; then they lay down their arms and embrace their relatives.

In the present situation, we see semi-civilized peoples from the Middle East who show no comprehension of why civilians are exempted from harm in war by the Geneva Convention, and so attain a tactical advantage. One can hope they do not end up triumphing simply because they are barbarians. If that is the way it goes, then there can be no progress in civilization. Beating them at their own game, racing them to the bottom, is the way to see them prevail, not fail; if we, too, become uncivilized, then who will carry the torch for civilization?

Does non-violence work? Is it ever possible to achieve justice and social change through persuasion rather than at the point of the sword? Abimael Guzman, the leading luminary of Peru's brutal Shining Path guerrillas, thought not:

"There are people who are sick and tired of rotten revisionism who, in such difficult conditions, within the belly of imperialism where the struggle is complex and difficult, are taking up arms to change the world, which is the only way it can be done." (Abimael Guzman, El Diario Interview, at lesmaterialists.com).

Notice that this atheist visionary believes that "taking up arms" is the only way "to change the world." Let's take a case in point. Jesus of Nazareth and his near-contemporaries, the Zealots, both had concerns about social justice in the Roman world. The Zealots took up arms and brought disaster to their compatriots. Jesus, within several centuries of His death on the cross, was acclaimed as Lord by the same people who had killed Him, the Romans. When people take up arms, they do indeed succeed in changing the world, but often in ways they never anticipated and would not want. When the English took up the challenge of beating back Hitler's aggression, did they realize the net result of World War II would be the loss of their empire? War does that, certainly it brings change, but what the change will be is a roll of the dice. And after the Roman empire embraced Christianity, there did not come the beneficial social changes that might have been expected, at least not immediately. Still, one must in the end admit, non-violence will bring no change if it is never even tried.