Talking about values

Germania--War and PeaceIn 2007, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey about “Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes.” It’s a topic they regularly research.

There are encouraging findings, like:

About eight- in-ten Americans say they have no doubt that God exists, that prayer is an important part of their lives, and that “we will all be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.”

And I’m encouraged by the growing realization in this country that war does not create peace:

In the summer of 2002, less than a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 62% agreed with this statement: “The best way to ensure peace is through military strength.” But a year later, that number had fallen by nine points, to 53%. In the current survey, 49% say they think that maintaining military strength is the best way to ensure peace – the lowest percentage in the 20- year history of Pew values surveys.

Vengeance is also becoming less popular:

In 2002, with memories of 9/11 still fresh, 61% of Americans agreed with the statement: “It is my belief that we should get even with any country that tries to take advantage of the United States.” That marked a 19-point increase from 1999, and was the highest percentage agreeing with this sentiment in the 20-year history of the values survey.
But this proved to be a temporary rise in the public’s desire to “get even” with countries that have taken advantage of the U.S. Just a year later, 48% supported the idea of getting revenge against adversaries, and in the current survey it has declined to 40% – the lowest number in favor of getting even against other countries in 20 years.

Here’s the one that really worries me:

Overall, 50% agree with the statement: “We should all be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong”; 45% disagree with this statement. In values surveys since 1994, roughly half of the public has expressed agreement that one has an obligation to fight for his or her country whether it is right or wrong.
Republicans and Democrats differ in their views about whether a person has an obligation to fight for the U.S., even when it is wrong: Most Republicans (63%) believe people have such an obligation while most Democrats (52%) disagree. Independents are fairly evenly divided, with half agreeing that people have a duty to fight for the U.S. whether it is right or wrong.

If I could somehow believe that these were non-Christians holding that attitude, I could feel more at ease. But these values held true in large numbers with whites (53%); the white Republican base at that time was strongly Evangelical. Despite that fact, country took precedence over justice. You fight for your country, right or wrong.

Or am I reading that wrong? I haven’t yet found the complete data that might have that info broken down according to religious views. But don’t you agree that, if that really does reflect the outlook of many churchgoers across the country, we have a serious problem in our pews?

Survey results can be found here

Addendum: Found the 2012 results on the same issue:

About half of the public (51%) says that “we all should be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong,” 43% disagree. Opinions on this measure have fluctuated only modestly over the past 25 years. In the first political values survey in 1987, 54% said people should be willing to fight for this country, right or wrong, while 40% disagreed.
Republicans (58%) are more likely than Democrats or independents (49% each) to say that everyone should be willing to fight for the U.S., regardless of the circumstances. Among Democrats, a majority of conservatives and moderates (55%) say everyone should be willing to fight for this country, right or wrong. A majority of liberal Democrats disagree (56%).

A non-militarist Veteran’s Day

As someone with pacifistic beliefs, Veteran’s Day presents a challenge, one that I haven’t always met gracefully. Let me try and offer some thoughts, hoping to hear your thoughts as well:

 

  • Veterans who have served honorably have earned honor from the rest of us. Some of the best men I know have served as veterans. Even if I have questions about the correctness of what they did, I have no problem honoring the motives behind what they did. And I’m also well aware that it would be foolish for me to judge from another time and place the decisions people have felt forced to make.
  • The honoring of veterans should be done by the country they served, not by the church. Veterans should be honored in church as other servants are, like teachers, first responders, medical workers, sanitation crews, etc. Celebrations beyond that belong in another arena. Let’s not dishonor the Prince of Peace by honoring war on the Lord’s Day.
  • Let’s recognize the aims of a militarized society on days such as this. Patriotic days are used to promote militarism. What’s called the American civic religion is a serious threat to the church; let’s not give it more of a foothold in our midst.
  • I distrust the use of religious language for such days. Let’s be careful with the use of the word sacrifice, for example; it carries a weight that many words do not. Another troublesome trend is the language of dying for another’s freedom; don’t let the world steal the glory from Jesus’ death on the cross. Hallowed ground… sacred… let’s remember the real meaning behind such terms and not use them in common speech.
  • Some veterans are worthy of honor; some are not. Some served honorably; some did not. Every veteran you ask will tell you the same thing. I won’t give a blanket endorsement to any group of human beings, not even church members. Let’s not confuse things by claiming that all who have served are heroes.
  • Let’s honor veterans, without glorifying them nor what they’ve done. Again, I think every veteran would say that he served in the hopes that his grandchildren wouldn’t have to. The church’s role at times like these is to be a voice for peace, not war.

OK, those are some basic thoughts. Probably made people mad on both sides. So be it. Such is my struggle with patriotic holidays. How do you resolve the struggle?

photo by Andrea Church

A country of peace

Costa Rica proclaims itself to be a country of peace. They abolished their army in 1948 and never looked back.

Costa Ricans will quickly tell you that their citizens are considered among the happiest in the world. This is backed up by a study by the New Economics Foundation from England, which put Costa Rica at the top of 151 nations based on progress and well-being. The Dutch-based World Database of Happiness has also put Costa Rica at the top.

With the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, Costa Rica has chosen to invest in health care and education, rather than militarization. They have also focused on environmental responsibility, seeking to have a net zero carbon footprint by 2021 (that is, focusing on renewable fuels so that no more carbon is produced than is “sequestered,” be it by plants or by other means).

It’s a beautiful country, with national parks making up over 30% of the country. They have access to oceans to the east and to the west. All of that makes it a prime tourist destination. In fact, many people from the States are choosing to retire in Costa Rica.

The country is far from perfect. Still, it’s interesting to see what can happen when a country dedicates itself to being a country of peace.

In the words of Nicholas Kristof:

Cross-country comparisons of happiness are controversial and uncertain. But what does seem quite clear is that Costa Rica’s national decision to invest in education rather than arms has paid rich dividends. Maybe the lesson for the United States is that we should devote fewer resources to shoring up foreign armies and more to bolstering schools both at home and abroad.


Photo by Pura Vida (who is obviously Costa Rican, since that is one of their traditional greetings: “Pure life!”)

Good men doing something

We’re taking time this week with a much-repeated phrase: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

In the context of conservative churches, this saying has become a dangerous inducement to abandon Christian principles in the name of “doing something” about evil. All of that love your enemy, don’t seek revenge, wait on the Lord stuff just doesn’t cut it. Christian men need to do something about evil. With their tongues. With their fists. With their guns. Otherwise… well, you know what the quote says.

And yes, the Bible says we are here to serve and not to lord it over others. Says that we are citizens of heaven and not of this world. But we have to do something about evil! With our tongues. With our e-mails. With our vote. Otherwise… well, you know what the quote says.

What about things like non-violent resistance? What about denouncing injustice from outside the system? What about overcoming evil with good rather than answering it with evil? What about prayer? Nope. Sorry. Not good enough.

What about having the patience to let the Lord act? What about fighting evil empires with the same weapons the early Christians did? No way! If you haven’t noticed, they got thrown to the lions.

When we lay aside the fruit of the Spirit and embrace the works of the flesh, what do we think is really going on? Does that somehow become spiritual when done for a “good reason”?

When good men are induced to fight evil with evil, the result is still evil, no matter the initial justification. When we throw away the Kingdom’s armor and take up the world’s weapons, the triumph belongs to the world and not the Kingdom.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to use evil’s tools to try and defeat it.

Photo by Konrad Baranski

Good men doing nothing

I’m wanting to spend some time this week with a much-repeated phrase: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I mentioned yesterday that the quote has been used ad nauseum to promote this action or that one (often conflicting actions, with both sides claiming to be the “good” side). I say that not in condemnation of the quote, but as justification for spending several days looking at it.

While I’m still unconvinced of the worth of the saying itself, I will admit what others have said: much of my angst in this situation comes from the misuse of this quote, particularly by Christians. Vern commented yesterday: “It’s probably better to limit the quote to the political/social arena and not apply it at all to the living of Christians.” Much of my distress comes from the fact that the “all that is necessary” saying is frequently used to move Christians into the political/social arena! The quote is used to say, “If you aren’t active in this arena, you aren’t doing anything.”

And, in the midst of our prolonged back and forth, Nick made a couple of key statements:

However, (and I’m certain Tim will talk about this later in the week), the quote is rarely used to criticize people who are, in fact, doing *nothing*. Literally, truly, nothing.

It is used to criticize people who aren’t following the quoter’s recommended course of action. Ask any pacifist how often they’ve been rhetorically bludgeoned with this quote. Anyone who thinks that pacifism (or even QUIETISM, for crying out loud) is doing nothing has a painfully shallow view of spiritual warfare.

Sometimes, doing nothing is precisely what is necessary for one person. But that’s completely different from the idea that all men and women made good by the blood of the cross and the power of the Spirit should choose to do nothing against the forces of evil.


What I look forward to in the coming days is the shredding of the assumptions typically driving its use. Not a call to ACTION, but a call to a specific – typically nationalist – course of action. Actually, I find that is isn’t typically used as a call to action at all, but as a pejorative against indirect action, compassionate responses, and non-violence.

Nick could see where I was headed with some of this. Tying in with yesterday’s post, I want to talk about the idea that “merely” praying is “doing nothing.” (Just typing the phrase “merely praying” makes me gag a bit) That’s definitely our culture talking. Dan Bouchelle posted something the other day, quoting an African Christian who said, “You Americans sure can sing, but you don’t know much about how to pray.”

In general, we don’t believe in the power of prayer. I saw an extreme of this a few years ago. I was participating in a Church of Christ Internet group, and one member wrote something like: “We pray because God commanded us to. We know that it’s not going to change anything.” Wow! How sad.

Those who don’t believe in the power of prayer will often use phrases like “sit around singing Kum Ba Yah.” Don’t know why that poor song carries the brunt of their wrath, but it’s come to characterize someone who believes that God can and will intervene in this world… even if it’s not in the way we would want.

Maybe that’s why I’m troubled by the lack of God in this quote. It feeds that worldly mindset that says, “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. God certainly isn’t going to do anything.”

Prayer is doing something. It is action. The problem is, relying on prayer takes more courage than most of us have. It requires a loss of control. It requires patience… some prayers in the Bible weren’t answered for decades. Decades! It requires us to accept God’s plans, rather than stepping forward and shaping our own story.

Prayer is not the only action Christians should take against evil. But it is by far the most significant. When someone says, “All we can do is pray,” it doesn’t mean all hope is gone. It means that we still have our greatest weapon.

All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to stop relying on God’s power.