My Year of Peace: The Mindset of War

War has a number of negative effects: lives lost, infrastructures devastated, money wasted, psyches damaged, cultures eliminated - the list continues because the cost of war can never be measured, can never be balanced with its benefits, and since each war only propagates more wars in its wake, our war debts (financial, emotional, physical, political, religious, cultural, and personal) continue to grow.

For my entire life, my country has been at war. Some of those wars were more official, like the two we are currently involved in. Some were more covert, like our wars in Latin America in the 1980s. I have been fortunate though not to have faced any of these war tolls personally. I have not lost family members (though many Americans have). I have not lost my home, my job, my culture, my mind (though many worldwide have). It is easy for America to wage continual war as long as the effects of our warmongering stay mostly isolated in the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, or Africa. When the effects of our warmongering do come home to roost, we just use them as an excuse to wage more wars.

One effect of war that has cost our society very dearly is one that most people do not detect. Our endless wars have turned us all into mini-warmongers. In America, everything is a war, a civil war. I guess it was about two decades ago that we declared war on drugs. We have been fighting the "culture wars" for over two decades (with tensions only escalating). We war over the economy. We even war over providing health care to the needy.

Growing up in America, I was always taught to identify my enemies, taught to be paranoid about the next threat to my security, taught to defend myself. I wasn't really taught how to love, how to respect, how to heal, how to create. By the time I graduated college, my enemies list was pretty substantial (and growing), quite the problem for a professed pacifist. I would also argue that it is quite the problem for a professed Christian too.

Growing up Christian actually exacerbated this problem. I was taught to identify Satan much more easily than I was ever taught to identify Jesus. Satan is everywhere, in the abortion clinics, the gay rights activists, illegal immigrants, other religions, communism, television, R-rated movies, video games, the Internet, just about anywhere but the Bible. Of course, even the Bible isn't safe really because I, and any Christian that doesn't proscribe to a particular theology, could also be deceived and, therefore, misinterpret God's words. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed to be largely absent from much of my Christian upbringing. I don't remember being taught how to identify God's presence in the people I met, the media, politics, or even myself. I was raised in a religion that teaches that God dwells in us and among us, but I was much more aware of the presence of "the Enemy."

I don't blame my Christian upbringing for this problem. I merely wish to illustrate how pervasive the mindset of war is in American life. It is so powerful that it can even corrupt those who worship the Prince of Peace. Certainly Christians need to step back and ask ourselves, how have we contributed to this problem? Still, I don't think that the essential teachings of Christianity - like salvation by grace, really are the problem. The problem is that Christians don't take these teaching seriously enough. We don't extend grace to those we disagree with or even those we do. We don't love our neighbors as ourselves. Hell, we don't even love ourselves. And it is here that we come to the ultimate cost of the war mindset - when everyone is an enemy, the real enemy is ourselves.

In warmongering America, we have become our own worst enemies, which is why it is essential that peace begin internally. Until I can make peace with myself and my situation, how can I really make peace with anyone else? As a Christian, I must hold firm to the fundamental belief that God is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-love. If that is the case, then shouldn't I be seeing Jesus everywhere instead of Satan. I am not looking for anyone to blame for this crisis. It is not the fault of our churches, our government, our schools, our courts, or even our enemies. It is our own. I don't experience peace because my mindset is not a peaceful one. My world is not a peaceful one because I make it into a warring one.

Peace begins here. It begins with having a conversation with a friend and not worrying if he says something I don't agree with. It begins with learning something from a friend who practices another religion. It begins with watching the news without a sense of fear and dread but with a stubborn insistence on hope. It begins with caring about the needs of others. It begins with loving rather than fearing. It begins with extending forgiveness without conditions. It begins with seeing the image of God in myself, my family, my neighbors, and even my enemies.

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Anonymous said...

Nice write up. here is my two cents. Inner peace is only found by doing the right thing when others are doing you worng and then letting GOD handel the rest of life.
Peace will never be found totaly in this world because we all have a never ending hunger for food, power, and others commodities in one form or another. If some is out to take your life it is not the time to lay down and let them take it when your pen still has ink in it.

Anonymous said...

Amazing work Eric. I appreciate your honesty about Christianity and it's contributions to war. Great write!

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