What does it mean to live gently, really?
I was absolutely staggered yesterday to read that for every one American soldier that dies in battle this year, a further twenty-five veterans will commit suicide. What?
I am stunned. I am horrified. I could actually cry. Scrap that: I should cry. So should you.
Because there seems to be no talking to those who are pro-military. There seems to be no convincing the empire of the United Kingdom and the United States that war is utterly dehumanising; that war and armies and “support our troops” rhetoric and wearing poppies creates space for us to be the exact opposite of that which we were meant to be as human beings. What will it take? Will this be enough? I doubt that one soldier will leave the army as a result of this statistic.
I am an evangelical Christian – an adult convert. Evangelical means “of or according to the teaching of the Gospels or the Christian religion”. The hallmarks of evangelicalism are a commitment to scripture and orthodox Christian tradition. I worship in an Irish Presbyterian church. The vast majority of Presbyterian churches in Ireland are evangelical.
The evangelical church in the United States is at about 26.3%, or almost 83 million people strong. You would be hard pressed to find many communities amongst that number who are anti-war. Pacifist voices are silenced and pacifist theologians are slandered. We are all familiar with the propaganda machine that talks incessantly about wars on terror and fighting for freedom. We have heard the love-songs to the flag. The United States and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom are nations in love with an idea which when lived out results in 25 times more casualties off the battlefield than on, at their own hands, because so mutilated is their humanity that they can no longer live with themselves.
Let’s pretend that the primary purpose of a soldier isn’t to be a state-sponsored killing machine. Let’s forget for a moment about the untold misery inflicted by our western militaries on other nations. And let’s temporarily suspend the arrogance of western democracies. Let’s push under the carpet the atrocities carried out by soldiers in every war in every age. Let’s forget rape as a weapon of war and gas that melts your face off before you die. Let’s set aside the fact that Guantanamo Bay is still alive and kicking, and it’s still holding people without charge, and it’s torturing and starving them and sexually humiliating them and stealing them from their towns in the middle of the night and leaving their communities devastated. Let’s just put that to one side for now.
And let’s examine what it is doing to the American soldiers themselves and their communities. This culture is a trap. If someone you adore is in the army then all of a sudden you find yourself in the position of needing to be in favour of your side being the brute force that wins, because the alternative is that your son or husband is dead. And if fundamentally you view yourself as a good person who works hard and loves his family, then it just Does Not Compute that being a soldier might be morally wrong and arguably completely at odds with the Gospel. It doesn’t matter that you are a Christian. It doesn’t matter that the bible says any of the following:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. - Paul speaking in his letter to the Romans 12:14
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. - Paul speaking in his letter to the Romans 12: 17-18
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Paul speaking in his letter to the Romans 12:20-21 quoting Deut. 32:35
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. - Jesus speaking, as recorded by Matthew 5:43-45
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. - Jesus speaking, as recorded by Luke 6:35
It only matters that our side wins, because that means getting our loved ones back.
The following statements have been said to my face by evangelical Christians regarding violence and war:
“I have the right to feel safe.”
“The army was good for [him]; before he joined the military he just played video games all day.”
“Anyone who does not support the troops hates America.”
“Pacifism is the response of pussies.”
I could go on. I despair.
Your soldiers are dying. They are dying at their own hands because they are subscribing wholesale to an ideology that kills their humanity by being an essentially destructive force that shapes their very being. Please, Christians at least, stop being soldiers. Please end the pro-war rhetoric and take up the cross and follow Jesus. He has shown us what it is to live gently. When one of his closest friends, Peter, tries to defend him with violence, the response of Jesus is to reprimand his friend and heal his enemy. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?
I am angry at the violence in the world. I am angry at the violence in my own heart. Why do you think I love the prisoners so much? Because I am angry about what has been done to them. Because I am angry about what they have done. I am so angry that I am going to pour every bit of love I’ve got into them because the only thing that drives out darkness is light. Hello? Is anybody there? It is time to stop dying. For fuck’s sake. For Christ’s sake. Let’s all just fucking live.