I guess I should thank Father Longenecker for giving me so much material of late, but his recent post about the need to respond to ISIS raises an arresting question for those Christians with global outlooks (both neo-Calvinist and Roman Catholic). Do some sectors of life exist that Christ doesn’t claim as his?
The civilized nations of the world should begin equipping themselves for whatever it takes to overcome the ISIS threat. They should do so purely from a military and political standpoint. From our side religion should be taken out of the equation. This should enable us to make alliances with countries with Muslim majorities who also wish to extirpate the foe.
We should consider the ISIS threat the same way we considered the Nazi threat. Nazism may have been driven by a pseudo religious ideology of racial superiority, but we didn’t go in with an equally absurd ideology. We confronted the evil because it was evil. It was destroying innocent lives. It threatened our own way of life. We saw the evil for what it was, didn’t bother debating the stupid ideologies and simply rolled up our sleeves, put up our dukes and went into battle.
This reminds me of Damon Linker’s reaction (thanks to John Fea) to President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast (why can’t it ever be dinner, or at least a brunch?) which also drew upon morality in hues black and white to justify retaliation:
Broadly speaking, morality is universalistic in scope and implication, whereas politics is about how a particular group of people governs itself. Morality is cosmopolitan; politics is tribal. Morality applies to all people equally. Politics operates according to a narrower logic — a logic of laws, customs, habits, and mores that bind together one community at a specific time and place. Morality dissolves boundaries. Politics is about how this group of people lives here, as distinct from those groups over there.
Now this certainly overstates the difference between the two realms. In the real world, they overlap in all kinds of ways — and it is one of the great achievements of liberal government to have tamed some of the narrow-minded excesses of politics by more strictly applying moral criteria to the political realm than was common for much of human history before the modern period.
If the president truly believes that ISIS poses a dire threat to the United States — one requiring a military response that puts the lives of American soldiers at risk, costs billions of dollars, and leads to the death of hundreds or thousands of people on the other side of the conflict — then it makes no sense at all for him simultaneously to encourage Americans to adopt a stance of moral ambiguity toward that threat.
This appeal to morality is unnerving. It places those who seek to eradicate evil in the position of the righteous. Why can’t some kind of action or policy receive support merely by appealing to the need for international order and a recognition of those sovereign entities capable of trying to recover it?
I am glad to know that Father Longenecker is not going to defend the Crusades just as I am happy to know that when push comes to shove practically every modern Christian is 2k. But I’m not convinced that relying on bloated senses of moral outrage is going to be much of a help. Can’t people fight with a sense of restraint and modesty? Remember the prayer that Luther wrote for soldiers:
Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe first to you and then to my lord for your sake. I thank your grace and mercy that you have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to your will. But because I know and have learned from your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which he shed for me in obedience to your holy will. This is the basis on which I stand before you. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by your Spirit. Amen.