On War, Ideologies, and Faith
The current debate over a war with Iraq is a topic in which every American has interest and which will have consequences that affect the whole populace or a substantial portion of it for many years to come.
Believers in limited government and nonintervention fear a permanent despoilment of the Republic and a colossal leap forward in federal power that can never be reversed. They distrust power in the hands of a few sinful and imperfect men. They find repugnant the idea that the United States must export democracy at gunpoint all around the globe.
One thing in the ongoing debate is certain, however. Political action is influenced as much by ideals as by material desires and self-interest. Most people genuinely care about the health of the society in which they live and not just what society can do for them as individuals. All people have a desire for public policy that is “good” by their standards—that is, public policy that gives expression to the public’s general notion of the kind of society in which they want to live, what things are right and wrong, and what values should be nurtured and protected. It is because people have certain ideals about the way society should be structured that they become deeply motivated to preserve their present arrangements or to struggle for change.
The recent opposition to what many perceive as militant triumphalism on the part of the administration may be seen, at least partly, as a clash of values. In political movements, values are both determinates of behavior as well as weapons used by contestants. Values are not held with aloofness; they require commitment, at times even partisanship. Politics also involves the collective effort to protect values from the threat residing in the egoism of human groups and individuals. Therefore, while the goal of politics is power, it is theology that must always give direction to politics. Hence there is a constant need to understand power—its dangers, its checks and balances, and its proper and improper uses.
Today’s debates are about competing ideologies as much as anything. An ideology is a picture of how society should be and how a society is justified. It is a set of ideas and beliefs that articulate how the basic values of a group will apply to the distribution of power in society. The fondest political aspirations are always dependent upon a culture that will sustain them. To nourish their strengths and guard against their proclivities for evil, these visions of society require virtues of love, commonality, self-restraint, justice, and—above all—devotion to truth. Such values, in my view, depend ultimately upon a foundation in religious faith, a foundation found most deeply in a faith in the God made known through Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 2:3). This is a call to be soldiers, and soldiers go forth to wage battle. Too many people feel called only to march in dress parades and wave flags, as it were. These armchair generals discuss political strategy and argue over many things far from the conflict. Their Christian life is only a sham battle. They do not grapple with the hard realities of conflict and opposing ideologies. Clearly, today we have too many generals and too few foot soldiers.
Real progress will take prayer and obedience and right living and love and endurance. Our Lord did not meet the struggles of life with a Pollyanna philosophy, painting the clouds with sunshine. Tribulation is a reality, but we can cheer up for He has overcome all that this world can hurl at us.
To our political leaders who will decide the future of America I say: As you deliberate the vital issues before you, remember that faith makes a difference. Our God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. He will be found when we search for Him with all our hearts. If promotion, organization, policies, programs, and ardor could bring unity, we would be swept by revival. When we look to these things we get what they can give. When we look to God we get what He can give.
We are all just human beings. But we can be more than that if we pray and pray earnestly and pray again.
February 13, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.