Written by Nate Wieland.
It seems that much of the theological discourse around the morality of war centers around the biblical posture towards violence. If the Bible blesses violence, then Christian participation in the military is a necessary, albeit crude means to achieve our ends. If not, then Christians have no business participating in state-sanctioned killing. The problem in centering the discussion this way is that for two-thousand years there’s been no consensus. Our scriptures allow for such a variety of interpretations that it’s hard to say that there’s “a biblical answer.” So by what other criteria can we evaluate the Christian posture towards war? I think there can be greater agreement that the Christian tradition has long condemned (though on many occasions participated in) a class system that unduly privileges the wealthy ruling class over the poor working class. So if a nation’s engagement in war can be seen as symptomatic of an unfair class system, the Christian argument against participation in the military can only be bolstered.
The lynchpin of this argument is first that humans aren’t naturally wired to kill each other. Instead, the social elite who are invested in protecting their status, wealth, and power condition working class men towards violence and aggression so as to uphold their structures of dominance. The rich and powerful impose militaristic mindsets on lower class men through various methods of social conditioning. There’s an invisible manipulation happening behind the scenes of our gendered formation that designates poor, working class men as dispensable cannon fodder, valuable only in their ability to give their lives to maintain structures of oppression that keep the rich getting richer.
If we take a look at the dominant themes of traditional American masculinity, what do we find that lends itself to militarism? The primary myth that men are taught from a young age is that central to performing masculinity is “defending what’s yours.” Men are taught territoriality towards their possessions, families, and women; an inability to provide protection for any of these means complete emasculation. “You aren’t really a man.” Perhaps that’s why gun culture has soared in America, even physically weak men can “defend what’s theirs” from enemies that would seek to dominate them. Right along with this, men are conditioned to have selective empathy; feelings of oneness and compassion towards only those in their tribe, however
When men respond to the deafening cacophony of cultural propaganda that depicts military service as the greatest form of self-sacrifice (often co-opting the language of the Church,) they’re ushered into the military where their transformation from “human” to “soldier” takes a fast track. Their hair is shaved, clothes are standardized, rights and autonomy are taken, and their individuality is completely stripped. Then they are carted off to war by the boatload, sent to die for the values that have been pounded into their heads since their upbringing. Of course, no CEO, lobbyist or politician is going off to fight the wars that they profit off of, it’s only the poor, small town high school kids that were taught to worship the flag, support the troops, root for the home team, shoot guns for fun, and hate middle easterners. They enter the military, are stripped of their individuality and are sent off to die for the sake of the rich, ruling class.
These manipulative gendered class dynamics stand in opposition to the Christian body that values mutuality, equality, gentleness, and peace. Christian participation in state-sanctioned killing is nothing less than complicity in the social elite’s conditioning of lower class men to go off and work, kill, and die for the lie that their family’s safety depends on it, all so that the rich can make a profit off of bomb shells, bullet casings, and 18 year old corpses.
This small article doesn’t presume to address the complexities of military chaplaincy or ministry to soldiers, nor does it seek to devalue soldiers themselves. It instead wrestles with the conviction that state-sanctioned killing does not equate to God-sanctioned killing, and that our militarized society and indeed our military itself is the product of unjust, sinful human structures that privilege some lives over others.
Media by Joseph Smith.