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Friday, December 18, 2009

Barack Obama's Nobel speech, what did we expect?


I didn’t get a chance to watch Barack Obama’s Nobel speech live, but I’ve read the transcript and found very little in the speech that couldn’t have been given by any number of past presidents—including George W. Bush. Granted, absent from the speech is the grandiose rhetoric of “Bring it on”, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists” and “Ridding the world of evil”, but should being less arrogant than Bush qualify someone for the Nobel Peace Prize? Probably not. On the other hand, Barack Obama’s rejection of unilateralism, his willingness to dialogue with enemies, and his understanding of the limits of power—howbeit nuanced—make him about as good of a president as we can expect on the foreign policy front given the current state of American culture and, more specifically, the American Church.

According to the CIA world fact book, roughly 77% of the American people are self-identified as Christians. From its inception, America has been a nation of people that name the name of Christ on the one hand and trust in the power of their military might on the other hand. The American civil religion of God, guns, and country has been around for a long time and it’s the height of naivety to think that a few good speeches and a teleprompter are going to change that. If Obama’s escalation of the Afghan conflict has taught us anything, it’s that liberals can be just as susceptible to the value system of might equals right as conservatives can be. Those of us that oppose the escalation can chastise the president all we want, but the fact is there was very little political wiggle room for the president to make any other decision than the one that he made. Even the “liberal” networks of NBC, CBS, and CNN are steeped in the tradition of glorifying military heroes and showing off the Pentagon’s latest weapons technology.

As much as I would love to flatter myself, I know that Barack Obama is never going to read this article, and neither is he going to read the tens of thousands of editorials and blogs calling on him to change his mind. With all of the attention going towards one man, and whether or not he deserves a peace prize, I fear that a larger point is getting lost; and that is that history is defined less by people on top and more by people on bottom. Wars are fought because cultural, religious, media, and economic establishments support them. Wars are ended when the groundswell of the population refuse to support the institutions that make them possible. Until the words “fighting for freedom” become more associated in the average American mind with strikes, boycotts, and voter registrations than with ground invasions and bombing raids, no president is going to be able to deliver on a “change we can believe in” slogan.

To borrow from Jared McKenna’s What if scenario, what if out of the 77% of the American population that self-identify as Christians, the vast majority of them became convinced that following Christ and renouncing the sword go hand in hand? What if John Howard Yoder replaced Augustine as the intellectual giant of the Western Church? For that to happen, a lot more Bible- believing Christians are going to have to be convinced that Romans 13 is not a carte blanche for Christians participating in state-sanctioned violence, that the Old Testament is a poor pretext for just war theory, and that John the Baptist wasn’t condoning violence when he didn’t tell the Roman soldiers of their day to give up their occupations. If there’s one thing to be learned from Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, it’s that Biblical paradigm shifts can have vast political consequences. It can happen again, but it’s going to take all hands on board. Any volunteers?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm on board. -Dan Sidey

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Dan, and you're doing a great job at it too I might add. Keep up the good work.

Adam said...

Well written, Aaron, and good food for thought. I'm also on board.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Adam. I got your message. We should talk over the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Pres. Obama stated, "Right makes might" in his Afghan plus-up speech; not the traditional "might makes right". Based on your writing, is there no longer any clear distinction between right and wrong? Are we not ambassador's of Christ, in that we can recognize evil when we see it, label it as such and work to remove it, even if it means a declaration of war? Are to not declare war on sin, beit metaphorical, spiritual or physical?

What will you do when you are confronted with evil on a personal and physical level? What do you do when every attempt to forgive those who commit evil is met with a lack of sorrow on evil's part and a continued desire to commit more evil? Did Jesus not show righteous anger when he tossed the money changers out of the temple?

You stated, "Wars are ended when the groundswell of the population refuse to support the institutions that make them possible." Not all wars have been ended this way. In fact, the wars which have ended in victory have brought about the most peace: WWI & WWII, the Civil War (was this war not justified, in that it brought an end to slavery in the U.S.?), the Revolutionary War?

The truth is that wars and rumors of wars will increase until the return of the Prince of Peace - according to the Word. What is happening today is a fore-shadowing of Revelation, and is part of that shaking of the earth told with regards to the signs of the end times.

What about Revelation 19:11-21? Who is the rider on the White Horse? Does he not wage a righteous war (v.11)? In verse 19, "Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army." - Who are the members of the kings' of the world armies? Who are the members of the army on the side of the one sitting on the horse?

If we were to leave Al-qaida and the Taliban alone today, turn our backs on them - How long would it be before we would suffer the consequences through another attack on our soil?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you anonymous for your comment. Through your quoting of Scripture, I take it you are a Christian. Every single one of your arguments are exactly what I would have said a few years ago, until I probed the Scriptures deeper and the case for Christians participating in war fell apart like a house of cards.

Adam or Dan, you've both read my book. What are your responses to Anonymous's arguments?

Anonymous said...

If you won't answer those questions, then I suppose I could ask a few others, or in another way?

Is abortion evil?

Does Pres. Obama support abortion?

If so, does your support of Pres. Obama (thinly-veiled endorsement) create second-hand support of abortion, or at least the program of having it federally subsidized?

My read of the Bible is that it's a mix of both what you are proposing and what I am currently defending. I support peace, but at what cost?

If in order to gain peace, we must always refuse to take up arms against evil, then who will be left to teach peace and Christianity after we are all destroyed?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Anonymous. It's not that I won't answer your questions because I'm not up to par for the challenge. It's that the substance of your questions can't be answered with a few snippets in a comment box. It's pointless to try to do so. To really deal with your questions, I have to have the space to build my case. Line upon line. Precept upon precept. That's why I wrote the book.

In the interest of space, I will address one thing though. You wrote:

"If in order to gain peace, we must always refuse to take up arms against evil, then who will be left to teach peace and Christianity after we are all destroyed?"

This paragraph assumes two things.

1. Christians who practice non-violence do so to affect an earthly outcome, the outcome of "in order to gain peace"

2. If Christians refuse to take up arms to defeat evil, they will be destroyed and, hence,no one left to teach peace and Christianity.

As to the first assumption, my belief in non-violence is based on my understanding of what it means to be faithful to Christ's teachings, not on a cost-benefit analysis on what the outcome of a non-violent lifestyle will mean for me or for the world.

As to the second assumption, can you think of a period of history when the vast majority of Christians did practice non-violence? If you can, then my second question is, were they destroyed? If not, then who should get the credit for defending them?

My last line of questioning is where does faith fit into the equation of how Christians are to respond to evil?

Is it really an either/or equation that you've proposed? Either one supports taking up arms or they don't believe that evil exists?

Did Jesus assume this?

Dan Sidey said...

Anonymous, excellent thoughts and questions. They are all questions I've asked. I still ask them when ever I'm challenged by violence.

Recently a dear friend of mine was assualted by his landlord. When I discovered this I was nearly irrate! How could anyone do this to someone I love and care about so dearly? I immediately told him to call me if he EVER felt threated again. What would I do if I was called to stand between my beloved friend and this angry lost landlord? I hope I'd take his blows and endure his wrath until he is through and maybe I'd have the courage to not hate him after it all. I know there is serious work to be done and I'd question God and ask "How is this possibly Your way?" But I know so many who have gone this route and along the path the answers come. The answers, the kinds that really stick, only come along the journey. My friend has decided to send a Christmas card to his landlord. He asked that all those who know the story to sign the card with him. He also got him a gift card. The gift card at first seemed over the top, but he may prove me wrong in the end. Yesterday he reported to the Police what happened. We both agreed that jail time wasn't the best thing for his landlord, but he does need help. I suggested that my friend press charges and then in court plead his landlord's case for couseling and anger management. I'd plead with him, and I know many other's who would, if he needed it. This I believe is a good case of grace and accountability. Reconciliation at work.

The truth is that I haven't found the answers in wrestling with the responses to terrorism. They seem too hypothetical and full of things we really don't understand. We can certainly point to the fact that violence seems to breed and justify further violence. Which only confirms Jesus' words "Those who live by the sword die by it."

We can also look to history. Jesus and the disciples never used violence to squelch violence. The bible doesn't say Jesus ever hit anyone with his whip. It is, in fact, safer to assume he didn't because of his words from
the sermon on the mount. The early fathers instructed believers, as Paul, to endure suffering with joy. It isn't until Constantine converted, three centuries after Jesus, we see an alternative to "enduring with joy" arise. If you listen to today's persecuted church and missionaries among Muslims you get the seem response: either flee the area as the early Christians did at times or endure persecution with joy.

Of course history is no substitute to trying on peaceful living for size. Nor will any amount of discussion replace practice. I believe more then ever it is in peaceful living that I see its perfect connection with Jesus. In fact, it demands connection like nothing else. In contrast, violence begins to seem more and like practical atheism.

Anonymous, thanks for your thoughts. These are things I'm still wrestling with so talking about it is really helpful for bothof us I hope.

-Dan Sidey

Joe Santin said...

You state: "the fact is there was very little political wiggle room for the president to make any other decision than the one that he made."

Don't you think the president created this lack of wiggle room when as a candidate for the office he stated that Iraq was the wrong war, and Afghanistan was the right war? I don't believe that can be blamed on the American people or the media, do you?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

That's a good point Joe. I think the larger point is still true though. I don't think that candidate Obama would have ever become president Obama had he not taken that position. I don't think any candidate would get into office on a position of slashing the Pentagon budget and withdrawing troops. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't think so. I appreciate you joining the discussion.

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Anonymous said...

The man campaigned on escalating the war in Afghanistan. Why do you need to look for an alternative force that 'made him do it?'