Change and Confusion
I recently watched a movie from 1945 — the year I was born — which had a scene of a father spanking his daughter. The little girl acknowledged that her father was spanking her because he loved her. That movie was made when American culture still held on to what Christian philosopher, Francis A. Schaeffer called the “Christian consensus”. Though not everyone believed in the Bible, society by and large accepted Biblical values as the norm, including “Spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24). But now, the popular notion is that spanking is bad. This change in popular attitudes toward spanking is a microcosm of the reordering of our social values across the board.
The problem, as I see it, isn’t so much the idea of changed values, as it is to whom those changes are addressed and the selective manner by which they are applied. Christians are called bigots. The Bible is called hate literature. Practitioners of the so-called religion of peace slaughter people in the most ungodly ways. The death penalty is wrong but abortion is right. All fighting is wrong. You aren’t supposed to fight for what you believe in, unless you are on the politically correct list of the approved “oppressed”. Americans are supposed to feel a never-ending guilt for the racist slavery our nation engaged in, despite the fact that we long ago put an end to it. And yet, the slavery in Africa and Asia today — still practiced by Muslims — is hardly considered newsworthy.
The confused times we now live in are times of division and polarization. Christians are being painted as something they are not. Accusations are made that leave the normal believer stunned. They are taught to love their fellow-man but their fellow-man points the finger of blame at them. They are told they shouldn’t practice their faith in public; keep it in the churches. In popular culture, Christians are painted as odd, ignorant, unloving, unforgiving — even criminal — the opposite of all the qualities they have been taught to demonstrate.
Most Christians are just regular folks. They don’t want to fight anybody. Their agenda is to be loving. They try their best to be good neighbors and citizens, to live at peace with their fellow man. And often, they will back down when confronted, either because they feel it’s wrong to be caught up in controversies or because they should leave that up to the “experts” or “authorities”. When social friction occurs, some Christians even begin to think that their religion is the problem, so they stop attending church, or worse, they reject their faith. How are Christians to make any sense of these confusing times?
Peace or Pacifism?
In Isaiah 9:6, one of the titles of the Messiah is Prince of Peace, just one of the names Christians ascribe to Jesus. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you…” (John 14:27). Christians understand this peace “that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) as the inner peace that comes from a restored relationship to God through Christ. The Christian view of “Peace on Earth” is spiritual, not political. But the traditional Jewish view of the Messiah is that he’ll be a powerful political leader who will bring about a universal civil order and tranquility, called peace. Other eastern religions see peace as the cessation of conflict, but that is not the peace Jesus offers.
While Jesus said, “my peace I give to you,” he wasn’t talking about a social peace. In Matthew 10:34 Jesus actually said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” In the passage beginning at Matthew 10:5, Jesus was preparing his twelve apostles to spread the gospel and minister to the Jews. He was encouraging them to not be afraid, and stand firm against the hate they would encounter (10:22). One interesting verse is 10:13, where he said, “If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.” In other words his apostles were not to spread their peace indiscriminately. This principle is confirmed in Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
The point is that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, offers a peace that is different from that of pacifists or teachers of non-violence. Pacifism has done more to confuse people about the definition of violence than anything else. The so-called morality of “non-violence” has eroded the morality of fighting for what is right. The principle of being so committed to your beliefs that you are willing to fight for your convictions is actually looked down on now (unless you are Muslim or a communist “freedom fighter”). On a personal level, the importance of having the courage of your convictions seems to be giving way to the idea that it’s never right to fight. The same trend has developed on the national and international levels, where war is seen as the real evil, rather than the actual threats or causes of war. In the past, the causes of war were seen as the evils, while war itself was seen as the remedy.
Edwin Starr’s lyrics preach, “War. Huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”, ignoring little details like the defeat of the Nazis, the ending of slavery, the establishment of the United States of America and the signing of the Magna Carta, to name a few. Yet the anti-war movement has successfully planted its seed in the American psyche. War, itself, is seen as the greatest evil, not the actual reasons for going to war. Self-defense or the preservation of liberty are given a low priority.
The anti-war position is that dialogue and diplomacy should be used in stead of military action, which would be fine, if they meant it. But the anti-war sentiment of the left is based on hypocrisy. Che Guevara, a hero of socialism, whose likeness is seen on college campuses across the nation, said, “To establish Socialism rivers of blood must flow”. The anti-war crowd is only opposed to war when it’s in the hands of conservatives. When their political friends take military action, the so-called anti-war movement is conveniently silent. Their so-called moral high ground principles are no more meaningful than the Frankenstein monster saying, “Democrat good! Republican bad!”
During the Viet Nam War, “peace negotiations” were effectively used by the North Vietnamese to establish “cease fires” which allowed them to strategically move their military units without interference from the U.S. military. I know this for a fact because I was there and witnessed them doing just that. Our enemy used “peace negotiations” as part of their military strategy. Diplomacy and negotiation aren’t alternatives to military action, they are adjuncts to military action.
The biggest lie the anti-war people would have you believe is that they are the only ones against war, while everyone else (mainly conservatives) sees war like a sporting event. The truth is that no normal, regular person wants war. Most of us want to avoid it. But, once our nation is committed to war, most people want our side to win. That’s not the same as being for war. This is one reason we should not enter into wars that have not been legally declared by Congress. Answerable to the voters, the Congress would not make such a declaration lightly, and would only do so if the overwhelming majority of Americans were in favor of war.
After World War Two, with the advent of the United Nations, wars became an integral part of international policy, as opposed to fighting nations that were directly threatening us. Presidential administrations began using wars as political footballs on the field of international politics, resulting in Congress abandoning its constitutional role in declaring war. No longer were the dire consequences of war weighed in advance by those who represent us and are accountable to us. The practice of a President directly engaging us in war not only violates the constitution, but it’s party politics and internationalism at its ugliest.
In reference to our NATO involvement in Libya, Hillary Clinton giggled after saying, “We came. We saw. He died.” Aside from the fact that this was totally inappropriate, coming from the Secretary of State, it is hard to understand how she could be so cavalier and callous. Regardless of what one thinks about Gaddafi, his murder was a criminal act, not a laughing matter, and nothing Americans should be proud of.
But Clinton’s might-makes-right attitude demonstrates the power of international politics. Her statement evokes the famous quotation, “I came. I saw. I conquered,” made by a Caesar, an emperor with god-like power. Though the government of Rome began as a representative form, the Senate became nothing more than yes men for Caesar, as his authority grew. That’s the kind of attitude our ruling elite have, regardless of party. Edwin Starr should have written, “Politics. Huh, yeah. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing!”
Abortion and the Death Penalty
Comparing views on abortion and the death penalty reveals another strange inconsistency in society’s attitudes toward violence. Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, etc. found guilty of committing the most heinous of crimes are often sentenced to death. Those who oppose the death penalty argue that the act of killing a criminal is tantamount to State-sponsored murder. On the other hand, the idea of ending the life of an unborn human being is perfectly acceptable to some. That’s not murder, to them, despite the fact that the unborn haven’t done anything to deserve being killed, and should have every right to be allowed to be born. Somehow, the violence of abortion is completely overlooked, while the death penalty for individuals who deserve it is seen as cruel and unusual.
We often hear the anti-death penalty folks (like the anti-war crowd) appeal to Christians (sometimes successfully) by pointing out the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” They cherry-pick this verse from the laws of Moses, yet refuse to look at all the other verses that prescribed the death penalty for many sins. It is an invalid argument to refer to a verse of Scripture without any sense of its context to the whole of Scripture. It’s also interesting they never cite that verse when talking about abortion.
In any case, the sixth commandment, correctly translated means, “You shall not murder.” It isn’t a blanket indictment against all killing. It doesn’t mean war is wrong. It doesn’t mean the death penalty is wrong. The idea that all killing is wrong is from Buddhism. But the Bible differentiates between different kinds of killing and different types of violence.
Understand me, I am not advocating that we reinstate Old Testament laws. I’m not saying we should return to the social mores of a culture that existed thousands of years ago. But the principle that some criminals should die for their crimes is still sound. Bible believers are put into a double bind by those who cite the sixth commandment as a reason to end the death penalty. First, they (incorrectly) tell us the Bible teaches that all killing is wrong. Then, when we point out that the Bible supports the death penalty, they mischaracterize our faith, our Scripture and our God as hateful, violent, and intolerant. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What death penalty opponents are missing is an understanding of the principles of responsibility, consequences, and justice — concepts well-developed in the Bible. They don’t see that the difference between right and wrong is as absolute as the difference between life and death, light and dark. But Biblical morality is not relativistic.
The Bible teaches do what is right and live; do what is wrong and die. God commands we do right. When we don’t, there are consequences that we are responsible for — not someone else, not our parents, not society, not the devil. We have the free will to do either right or wrong.
Ultimately, God will leave no sin unpunished, but that is only half the equation. We are to promote doing what is right, not just punish wrong doing. God expects us to reflect his righteousness in our moral, social and legal systems. Basically, that’s what Natural Law is all about. It is our responsibility as a society to express God’s justice as best as we can by establishing legal systems that reflect his standards.
Another area of changed cultural attitudes about what constitutes violence is spanking. Some see spanking children as a means of discipline (corporal punishment) as violent child abuse. I do not agree. It has been my observation that children who are appropriately (and lovingly) disciplined with spanking grow up into well-adapted, happy and productive adults. Spanking isn’t whipping or pummeling or beating a child in anger. It is controlled swatting that stings momentarily, without actually injuring the Child. It is a clear and instant consequence for doing something they were told not to. If the parent isn’t mean about it, but lets the child know he’s being punished because his parents love him and expect him to obey them and do the right thing, spanking can be extremely beneficial.
Compare that to the flood of kids today who are never told “no”, never learn behavioral boundaries and end up being put on drugs to control them. I believe tragedies like Columbine wouldn’t have happened if the parents had just spanked their spoiled brats, instead of drugging them. Children need to be taught at an early age that there are limits to what they are allowed to do. But today, parents, urged by educators and doctors, give their kids drugs instead of disciplining them or teaching them boundaries.
Drugs are just an avoidance technique. They only postpone children’s developmental problems, and sadly sometimes create additional problems later on. I’m not saying psychotropic drugs never help kids. I’m saying there’s no excuse for the current over-diagnosing of children with behavioral disorders, such as ADHD, and over-medicating them with psychotropic drugs. There are child psychiatrists who agree.
I don’t think spousal abuse was ever really “accepted” in western civilization. I just think most people looked the other way, thinking it was none of their business. It now has been brought out into the open, and women have been educated that they don’t have to stay in an abusive relationship. The unique problem in spousal abuse is that a woman whose husband beats her must overcome both the love that she has for her husband and her fear of him, before she decides to seek help. In the past, she often would keep it a secret, because if she told her friends or family, chances are the husband would become a victim of retribution.
But what bothers me about spousal abuse attitudes is that there is a presumption that men who beat their wives are tolerated because of the tradition that the husband was in charge and the wife had to obey him. The Christian concept of the husband being the “head” of the wife (Ephesians 5:23) is sometimes blamed for this soft attitude toward wife-beating, but that association is made in ignorance (as is usual for most criticisms of Christianity). If you read the whole passage, being the “head” means loving your wife as Christ loves the church and is our savior. (Remember, he gave his life for us?) There’s nothing in there about wife-beating. The Christian faith does not encourage or defend spousal abuse.
Yet, it is an indisputable fact that Sharia law specifically permits Muslim men to beat their wives. Why aren’t the women’s rights groups making a big deal about that? Answer: Just like all the other hypocrites on the left, they pick and choose which violence is acceptable and which violence isn’t. It’s not a matter of principle with them; it’s just an issue to use as a political football. In international politics, Islam isn’t the political foe that Christianity or Judaism is. When was the last time you saw gays on the news attacking Islam? (Homosexuality is punishable by death under Sharia law.) But they’ll bad mouth Christians because they know Christians don’t fight back, like Muslims do.
We Christians seem to have this built-in response mechanism whereby we assume the lamb-being-led-to-slaughter position. Christians mistakenly see Isaiah 53:7 (“Though mistreated, he was submissive — he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to be slaughtered, like a sheep silent before its shearers, he did not open his mouth.” CJB) as a model for Christian behavior. But this passage is specifically Messianic, prophesying the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
But Jesus gave his life. It was not taken from him (John 10:18). Does “being like Jesus” mean Christians aren’t supposed to fight back when attacked? Are we supposed to act like lambs led to the slaughter? I think of the millions of innocent Jews slaughtered in Nazi death camps. I simply cannot accept that was God’s will, that God wanted them to sheepishly, submissively go to their own deaths.
Read 1 Peter 2:13-23. Peter was telling believers to submit to their government authorities. Almost two thousand years later we live under a very different governmental structure. Under kings or governors, authorities had much more discretion than today’s comparable authorities in America. In our nation, authority derives from the people. In essence, we are the authorities. We have certain inalienable rights, which our authorities cannot arbitrarily abrogate. We must still obey the law. But if we don’t like our authorities, we can always vote them out and vote someone else in. People holding positions of authority over us are not autocrats, as they often were in Biblical times.
One point that connects this 1 Peter 2 passage to the present day is the idea from verse 14 that authorities are sent “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right”. I believe it is the duty of Christians to influence their government officials to do just that. “Submission” doesn’t mean letting unprincipled rascals get away with abusing their positions of authority. This passage says that slaves should submit to masters, even in the face of harsh or unjust treatment (“suffer for doing good”). But though slavery no longer exists in our nation, the same principle still applies to employees submitting to supervisors who are jerks. Some things in life never change. However, learning to submit to authority is not the same as being taught not to fight back in self-defense when one is attacked or threatened.
When I was a kid I was told it was wrong to hit girls. Yet, it was expected that most boys would get into fights. That was how they were expected to learn how to be men. The 1950s marked the end of that old culture, in which the men protected the women. America changed in the 1960s and the women’s movement was part of that change. Girls began to be taught they were “equal” to boys, that they could do anything a boy could do. The women’s movement called the old culture “male dominated” and sought to destroy the so-called “male chauvinism” that perpetuated gender roles and stereotypes.
[Note: Prior to that time, the word chauvinism meant fanatical nationalism or extreme patriotism. But its definition was revised to suit the purposes of those who changed our culture, not unlike how the definition of violence has been changed.]
At about the same time in our history, “violence” per se, was being given a makeover. Now it wasn’t just wrong to hit a girl, it was wrong to hit, period. The time-honored manner in which boys had learned their limits, developed self-control, self-respect and respect for one another was no longer considered acceptable. In our morally upside-down world, the no hitting at all rule has actually produced more violence from pent up rage that has no acceptable outlet — even gangs of girls, beating up girls — something I never heard of in the old days.
There have always been bullies, mean people, abrasive louts and other misfits whose aggressive, out-of-control treatment of others has created problems for society. Such behaviors have always been wrong, and those responsible should be corrected and face consequences for their acts. But, there have always been appropriate times for the use of force, even “a time to kill” (Ecclesiastes 3:3). Knocking down a thief who is stealing a woman’s purse was never seen as wrong. Also, there is a kind of “fighting” that has been wholly acceptable for as long as civilization has existed. “Fair” fighting, fighting with rules, is practiced not only as an athletic competition but a civilized way to settle disputes. “Let’s put the gloves on,” didn’t mean you wanted to hurt the other guy. It meant just the opposite. And rules like, “Don’t hit a guy with glasses,” meant you wanted to avoid the cost of property damage. You were taught to respect your opponent, not hate him. This kind of “fighting” taught generations of boys self-control, self-respect and confidence.
Now, granted, not all juvenile altercations were conducted in this manner. But fair fights should be differentiated from mean-spirited, violent beatings. Not all fighting is the same and not all “fighting” is bad. The word “Violence” doesn’t differentiate between gang warfare and a boxing match, yet there is a world of difference between them. Critics of boxing have called it brutal, citing injuries and deaths that have occurred as a result of some bouts. But the same can be said of any athletic activity. Hang gliding, mountain climbing and swimming aren’t violent activities, yet many injuries and deaths are attributed to them. There are major risks associated with most physical activities. That does not mean they are inherently wrong.
When I studied Tae Kwon Do, beside the demanding physical training, I learned three principles of fighting: Never fight unless you have to, respect your opponent, and control your striking force. When you have control, you only strike your opponent with enough force to defeat him. You don’t want to destroy him. The idea of using lethal force is very serious and very rare. It’s taught to very few students, because of the judgement, responsibility and morality required to make such a decision. Most martial arts are not designed to kill. They are primarily a form of self-defense. “Fighting” doesn’t have to be “violent”.
Does Jesus want us to stick up for ourselves? Or are Christians destined to be victims — door mats for the boots of anyone who chooses to walk all over us. Yes, we are to love our enemies , but we still must acknowledge that they are our enemies, and at times we still must fight them. When Jesus sent his apostles out as sheep among wolves, he didn’t just tell them to be as innocent as doves. He also told them to be as shrewd as snakes (Matthew 10:16). There is nothing shrewd about a lamb being led to slaughter. The peace of Jesus includes a practical engagement with the world around us, not a reality-denying attitude that leads to nothingness.
(Part 2, Turn The Other Cheek, will follow.)