The Gods of War

Winning the War, Losing the Faith

One of the more interesting conundrums of recent history is the rapid decline of the Christian faith throughout the West.  Our view is that the time frame is roughly equivalent to the decline from true faith in Israel from King David’s reign down to the invasion and destruction of Israel, first by Assyria (722 BC), then subsequently by Babylon (605 through to 586BC). But these were the final acts.  The scripture records a thorough-going, comprehensive rejection of God and His covenant throughout Israel and Judah, preceding these final (military) denouements.  

While the collapse of Christendom in the United Kingdom and its WASP colonies (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) was precipitous, its gradual precursors were not.  From the time of the Enlightenment, the poison of idolatry had been quietly killing off true faithfulness.  Peter Hitchens argues that the final collapse and capitulation was also due to war, as happened in ancient Israel, together with the nationalistic, jingoistic idolatry that mixed the Christian faith with nationalism.  The West won the war, but lost the Faith.  The “state religion” became perverted to the cause of the nation, not Messiah.

. . . the wars in which they were asked to die do not, once examined, seem as noble and pure as they did when I first learned about them.  And the proper remembering of dead warriors, though right and fitting, is a very different thing from the Christian religion.  The Christian church has been powerfully damaged by letting itself be confused with love of country and the making of great wars.  Wars–which can only ever be won by ruthless violence–are seldom fought for good reasons, even if such reasons are invented for them afterward.

Civilized countries become less civilized when they go to war.  And they hardly ever have good outcomes.  In fact, I think it safe to say that the two great victorious wars of the twentieth century did more damage to Christianity in my own country than any other single force.  The churches were full before 1914, half-empty after 1919, and three quarters empty after 1945.  [Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p. 79f.]

We may add in passing the general tendency, so evident in American evangelical circles, to conflate Christian faith (undoubtedly genuine in most cases) with the various, multitudinous military misadventures of the United States.  One thinks, for example of the passion for all things military–and all that the US military attempts–reflected in folk like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party generally.  This, we believe, represents a dangerous idolatry that will eventually bear pernicious, rotten fruit.   We admire folk like Palin on many counts.  This is not one of them.  The position of someone like Rand Paul we suspect, on these matters, is much closer to the Bible’s requirement to avoid idolatry in conformity with the First Commandment–“Thou shalt have no other gods in My presence.”

Hitchen’s words are a sober warning:

I would add that, by all but destroying British Christianity, these wars may come to destroy the spirit of the country.  Those who fought so hard to defend Britain against its material enemies did so at a terrible spiritual cost.  The memory of the great slaughter of 1914-18 was carried back into their daily lives by millions who had set out from quiet homes as gentle, innocent, and kind and returned cynical, brutalized, and used to cruelty.  Then it happened again, except that the second time, the mass-murder was inflicted on–and directed against–women and children in their houses.  [Here, Hitchens is referring to the mass bombing of German cities, not military targets.]

Perhaps worse than the deliberate, scientific killing of civilians was the sad, desperate attempt to pretend to ourselves later that it was right and justified.  In this way, the pain and damage were passed on to new generations who had no hand in the killing.

War does terrible harm to civilization, to morals, to families, and to innocence.  It tramples on patience, gentleness, charity, constancy, and honesty.  How strange that we should make it the heart of a national cult. [Ibid., p.80.]

Hitchens argues that this numbing, blighting of the national conscience, the calling evil good, this glorifying the nation, and justifying of wickedness was responsible for the growing general disregard, and even disgust, with the Christian Church, and, therefore, its Head–Jesus Christ. When the Church and the Nation are inseparable, and when the Nation does terrible things, and the Church claps its support, the Church becomes a superfluous irrelevance, a quaint relic from a bye-gone superstitious age.  It no longer appears to have the Lord of Glory at its Head.  (Which, incidentally, is why having the British monarch as head of the Church is such a wretched idolatry.  It is a position which only our Lord in Heaven is entitled to have and hold.  And He does.  And He will tolerate no pretenders upon earth, no stupid rivals.)

In ancient Israel, tolerating a few idols on the side eventually matured into the most horrendous rejections of God by His people ever seen.  Anyone who doubts this should read the first twenty chapters of Jeremiah.  In the UK (and the West in general) a similar tolerance of a few harmless idols has matured into a similar grotesque narcissistic culture evident today.  The great wars of the twentieth century, and their aftermath, precipitated the capture of the Church by formalism, nominalism, and Unbelief.

Of course we know that this is not the end of the story.  He who sits above the heavens laughs at the attempts of men to cast off God.  The Living God has taken an oath–He will see His Son glorified everywhere upon the earth.  In the meantime, our duty is to learn the lessons of the collapse of  the First Christendom. One of those lessons is to eschew and reject utterly the false god of nationalism and its attendant war-mongering priests and devotees.
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