Thoughts on Christianity, Nationalism, War, and Loving Your Neighbor

I’m in the middle of reading two books - Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and The Myth Of A Christian Religion by Greg Boyd. Both books are well-written and thought-provoking, and differ on a point on which I want to fully flesh out my ideas. Boyd is adamantly against nationalism and, particularly, the militant religious nationalism behind such movements as the manifest destiny and other displacing movements waged behind the mantra of “God gave us this nation” or “We are a holy, chosen people group.” Boyd feels that in this sense religion is a tool used to bolster man’s pride; an illegitimate way of validating one’s (most of the time) not-so-holy desires. I think that Boyd is correct here. In this way I think, also, that Boyd is very supportive of the separation of church and state, because the church should not use the state as a crutch to perpetuate its causes.

Boyd is also clear that he believes that allegiance should be pledged to God and God alone, not to some man-made nation or nation-state governed by men. It seems here that Boyd would not be supportive of Christian men and women in the military. Protecting our freedoms is all well and good, but protecting them at the cost of killing our enemies when Christ calls us to love our enemies seems to him to be disobeying God. Here Lewis disagrees. To quote from his book in chapter 17 on forgiveness (p.106-107)

“Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment - even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace. It is no good quoting 'Thou shaft not kill.' There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder. And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And I am told there is the same distinction in Hebrew. All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major- what they called a centurion. The idea of the knight - the Christian in arms for the defense of a good cause is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken. (Bolding is mine, italics are his.)

I have no issue with Christian judges, though I think life in prison a better alternative to a death penalty. But should they feel the need for a death sentence, I think, and this might be a stretch, that they are simply obeying the law and, in a way, “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s .” You might disagree with me on this. I understand. As far as Christians being in the military, I think that there is a place for army chaplains and every other Christian should refrain (in America, at least) as a conscientious objector. All killing may not be murder, but I believe that all killing is probably not in your enemies’ best interest and in saying so I disagree with Lewis quite strongly.

But going back now to the separation of church and state, I believe that allegiance to a nation especially if it is a Christian nation, is misguided. Christ didn’t come to earth to make a super awesome political nation state - he came to love people and save them by dying for them. Making a Christian nation just creates an “us and them” mentality that can only get in the way of loving our neighbor. Therefore I am not supportive of Christians in the military, nor am I supportive (at all) of flagpoles on church properties. I don’t see how a church aligning itself with a symbol that, at best, will only foster warm fuzzy feelings of patriotism and, at worst, will turn away people who have had bad experiences with Americans can further the spreading of Christ’s love. Because, really, spreading Christ’s love and proclaiming God’s glory and worth is what Christianity is all about.


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