Today one of the “the joys” we have is that of facebook and people dumping bumper sticker theology by the tons in an average week (I am FULLY guilty BTW). With national holidays – civil religion bumper sticker theology also goes nuts.
As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, a follower and worshiper of Jesus Christ, who claims Lordship over all nations, peoples, and kingdoms with my secondary citizenship in the United States of America (and I would not want to live anywhere else!) I have to remind myself not to be too sucked in by my national holidays. I am quite conservative on many issues and yet realize following Jesus does not fit into our political labels in America very well.
As one who believes the church is an embassy of the Kingdom of God – started in Jesus first coming and to be fully realized in His second coming some day – I am troubled by blind affirmations of wars and our human actions in them. Jesus laid down his life for my ultimate freedom – a soldier has killed/been killed for and/or defending my political freedom/values.
This is not the same thing nor are they equal.
I am thankful for both – but they are totally different in quantity and quality - as is my level of thanks.
I realize this will challenge most of our ingrained assumptions because we are emersed in the Civil Religion version of Christianity in our nation- and cause a little heat in your mind – but press through that for a second.
First of all Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross should never be reduced to a comparison with anyone who kills for their cause – no matter how wonderful a cause we think it is.
(1) Jesus gave his life – he did not kill others – he did not give his life while shooting the enemy – he GAVE AS A SACRIFICE. If you are engaged in combat it is not a sacrifice in the sense of willingly laying down your life. IT IS a sacrifice for those that would loose you if you die – THEY experience sacrifice.
But you are not “being a sacrifice” – if your intention is to kill or be killed for the cause you are mortally fighting for or against.
Sacrifice is a word that should be saved for those who truly, freely and without killing others in the process giving something up to/including their life, or in the theological sense for Christians – someone who lays it down to break a cycle of violence – instead of perpetuating the exact same old song and dance of death. Martyrs are giving their lives sacrificially.
NOW yes we can speak of “spritual sacrifices” BUT again if you are not actually doing something different than the enemy you face, it’s not much of a sacrifice.
YES it may indeed be brave and courageous – as such worthy of limited, but real honor by those who benefit in some from your service.
Yes we can remember and celebrate the loss of life for the cause and the sacrifices those had to give to make the warfare possible.
Yes we can and should honor as part of our non-christian civil religion those who serve. But also those who serve alternatively.
Just be more balanced when using sacrifice for one who dies while AT THE SAME TIME HOPING TO “kill THE ENEMY”.
(2) Freedom is not free – but this is NOT a justification for all wars, state violence and killing.
Many freedoms have been also gained by those who really have laid down their lives for the cause of freedom – without killing the lives of those who threaten that freedom.
Yes it’s more dramatic in the short term to elevate those who kill and are killed for freedom. But remember in every conflict of violence – simply doing the same thing the “enemy” is and calling our version “holy” is highly questionable for Christians.
(3) At best war and killing is a sinful response to a sin-filled situation. Therefore let’s resist the “saint making” impluse in the American Civil Religion Psuedo Christianity.
All nations have a political/civil religion that uses the images of the dominant spiritual practices of it’s people – and hijacks it in times of conflict, war or other needs of national unity. All nations civil religions demand the blood sacrifices of other nations and killing by their citizens. All these are named ”high and holy causes” as defined by their nations.
Rome did this with the Cult of Caesar - they would take over a place and assimilate the religions and idols around the local area and add Caesar to it. You simply did half-hearted worship of Caesar with your local gods. This is what all nations do including the US. Noteably this is why Jews and the Early Church were harshly persecuted and killed by the Roman Empire! Christians were considered ATHEISTS by Rome because they refused to participate in the Roman Civil Religion – would not offer worship to Caesar – and would not kill for him.
Times have changed in Western world.
Civil religion is used to demonize whoever is “the other” in time of war. To make them less human. So killing them and dying in the process makes you a “religious sacrifice on the altar of the national civil religion.” IN our case it often blurs authentic christianry and is a state-language-knock off of real Christianity.
So let’s stop the American Civil Religion “saint-making” and instead simply affirm that my uncle 0r grandpa served their country the best they knew how and honor that instead of making them more or less than they were and we are -Sinners in process in a world that is covered in blood.
There is only one judge of all who is worthy of highest honor. And He laid down His life – and rose again to show us there is a way out of the endless human cycle of violence – Jesus Christ.
Honoring vets and all who serve others.
Worshipping the only one who laid down His life for my freedom – Jesus Christ the Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sins of the World!