Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mr. President, will you please count the cost?

I'm glad I'm not the president right now. I can't imagine what it would be like to be the commander and chief of the most powerful military in the world and have to grapple with a question as serious as "Should I use my power to establish a No-Fly zone over Libya?" Answer no to the question and half the world accuses you of indifference. Answer yes to the question and the other half will eventually get around to calling you an imperialist. The question of if or when it's ever appropriate to use violence to rescue the innocent is a troubling one. It's the kind of moral dilemma that doesn't lend itself to easy answers. While I don't think that the Bible should be read as if it were a public policy manual, I do think it contains nuggets of wisdom that can guide us through our moral dilemmas, and sometimes those nuggets can be found in the most unlikely places: places like the Old Testament.

Rewind: Elisha is sick and ready to die. Joash is the king of Israel. The Syrian army is a growing threat to Israel's security. Elisha tells Joash to take a bow and some arrows, open a window, and shoot, the arrows representing Elisha's command to strike the Syrians at Aphek until he destroys them. Elisha then tells Joash to take the arrows and strike the ground. Joash strikes the ground three times...and Elisha is one ticked-off prophet. Why? Because according to Elisha, Joash should have struck five or six times; had he done that, then Joash would have been able to strike Syria until he destroyed it. From Elisha's perspective, if you're going to use force against an enemy, you should go all the way, not part of the way. The same holds true for Moses and Joshua, who at times annihilated their enemies, sparing not even the women and the children, and for Samuel who had a thing or two to say to Saul for sparing King Agag. All of these men operated under the principle that if you're going to use force against an enemy, you have to see it through; otherwise the enemy may come back to bite you.

Back to the present: President Obama and the American people have a decision to make. We can choose the path of violence and fly our fighter jets over Libyan soil, but if we do that, are we prepared to go all the way? What happens if our actions provoke an even more violent response from Gadaffi and he goes on an even greater killing spree than what he's currently doing? Are we prepared to take it to the next level and invade another Muslim nation? Can we afford to do that while we're gutting our social safety net at home to pay for our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan? Even Jesus, the famous rabbi that said "Love your enemies" said if a king decides to go to war against another king, he should consider whether or not he has the resources to win (Luke 14:31). In other words, he (or she) should count the cost.

Mr. President, I wish I had an easy answer for you. I know there are a lot of people pushing you for a more robust response to the situation in Libya. That has to weigh on you. The only thing I can come up with is if you're going to do it, then you have to commit to it...or don't do it at all. Remember that violence almost always has unintended consequences.

Will you please count the cost?


Dan Stringer said...

Thanks Aaron for your thoughtful reflections on the complexity of this delicate situation. I also appreciate how you included other biblical passages beyond the typical 'proof' texts.

The cost of using force, even to restrain evil and protect the vulnerable, always has unintended consequences. There's no easy answer here, especially when you consider the diverse global perceptions of America's proper role in international conflicts.

May we all count the cost as we prayerfully consider how to pursue a just peace.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Dan for visiting my blog. I appreciate your thoughts!

Johan Lindskog said...

I like how you take such a complex issue and uncover it's basic problematics using scripture. It doesn't simplify the issue itself, but does make it easier to understand and relate to.

Thanks for an interesting blog Aaron.

Anonymous said...

Aaron i thought you were an Obama supporter?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

I think that all politicians should be held accountable, whether we vote for them or not. "Trust not in princes."

Anonymous said...

so you voted for him when all the warning signs were there? And now he needs to be held accountable? Maybe you need to be held accountable to?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Yes, but that's with anyone. No candidate matches my views 100%, that's what I don't just vote and forget. Funny that you're making this comment on this particular post because, on this issue, I think the President has been fairly reasonable, as he was with the situation in Cairo, at least as reasonable as can be expected for a U.S. president. Blind allegiance helps no one.

Anonymous said...

Aaron do you support the health bill? If yes why?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Yes, but barely. If Congress doesn't follow through on the cost control measures built into the bill, then it could be a budget buster. In principle though, I think that universal health care is a good thing, as long as it's done in a fiscally responsible way and respects the patient/doctor relationship. Every other industrialized nation has one, and, despite propaganda otherwise, most people are happy with it. I've talked to people all over the world in my travels. I can tell you that it's extremely, extremely rare to meet someone from a place like Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Sweden, or Japan that prefers the U.S. style privatized system over what they have. Trust me, I've talked to A LOT of people about this. I think the idea that universal health care = nazism/stalinism/communism is absurd.

Because individualism is so deeply ingrained into our culture, I can understand why a lot of Americans feel differently.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on this one. The cost does need to be controlled somehow. "Jesus is an advocate for sinners" I saw this written on the back of a car window the other day. Kind of disturbing,but i can see how someone could feel that way. Your thoughts if any on this.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the passage in 1 John that says, "If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." So, Biblically speaking, I'd have to say the bumper sticker is correct. Whether that's the intended meaning of the bumper sticker, I don't know.

The two things in the Bible I find the most shocking are:

1. God became a man

2. God, as a man, was a friend of sinners

Given the human tendency to view God as sitting in heaven with lightning bolts waiting to strike people, I don't think any human being could have made this story up. Jesus, as the Word of God made flesh, defies all human understanding.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about everyday situation where I could go to study in England for three years and my engaged girl is going to stay at home. Shall I go there or stay in home, do some basic job and try to get school in own country?
They both got their own good parts like in England I can get career particularly anywhere in world when I graduate and back home I can be with my Loved people. This is not huge thing that decides how my life goes but for upcoming years it is.
Thank you, let the god be with us!

Anonymous said...

Hi Aaron,

They aired the film "Holy Wars" here in Finland yesterday. For some reason I had to visit your blog and say that you are doing valuable work. Instead of creating new walls between people we should be able to communicate with each others.

Keep up the good work! God bless you!

Anonymous said...

More greetings from Finland to You, Aaron!

I don't consider myself a christian anymore, but as a human being and a humanist, I can see You're doing valuable work.

Nationalism, when taken too far (and it sadly is in most cases), and religious fundamentalism, I believe, are among the main sources of ignorance in this world. When combined, they easily produce a deadly sort of black-and-white mindset. And of course, many popular conceptions of history do a great deal to reinforce suchs views of the world.

I hope You succeed in breaking these chains in people's minds, though, I can imagine it's sometimes easier preaching about this abroad than on Your own soil.
All the best to You!

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you for your comment, my friend from Finland. I think your observations about religion and nationalism are spot on. You might be surprised who would agree with you...Jesus!

One of the things that shocked me when I decided to read the four gospels without my American fundamentalist glasses was that in many ways Jesus was anti-nationalist, anti-fundamentalist, and anti-religious. I think if you and Jesus had lunch, you'd probably enjoy hanging out together. Seeing Jesus in new ways has made life a lot more interesting. I actually believe he has all the answers, even if the answers go against the nationalistic, fundamentalist Christianity I always knew.

So that's pretty much it. I'm trying to follow Jesus the best that I know how, because I believe that if everyone took his teachings more seriously, the world would be a much better place.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you for your candid question. I'd have to say that in my own case, I base my faith on a variety of factors, not just one. But since you asked, here are a few.

1. The unity of the Bible.

2. Fulfilled prophecy (Daniel 9:26-27 is one of the most striking, but there are many more)

3. The resurrection of Jesus, still a historically verifiable fact, Da Vinci Code notwithstanding.

Those are a few. But for me, the issue lately has come down to the life and teachings of Jesus. The more I get to know Jesus as He's revealed in the four gospels, the more I love and trust him. His life, his teachings, his miracles, his death and resurrection (even if you don't believe the miraculous stuff) are so amazing that I'm thoroughly convinced that everyone should follow him, including atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. Jesus seems to have something to say to everyone regardless of their religious affiliations or state of belief (or non-belief for that matter)

So my advice to you (if you're interested in what I have to say) is to get to know Jesus the man. Read about his life and teachings in the four gospels--and forget all your questions about religion, at least temporarily. Take some of the pressure off. Forget about trying to figure out who's right, whether it's the atheists, agnostics, the humanists, the postmodernists, the fundamentalists...and get to know the man Jesus.

I'm convinced that you'll like him, and I'm convinced that he'll have something to say to you wherever you're at in your life, whether you're in a state of faith or not.

He has certainly been speaking to me lately. Just when I think I have him figured out, he throws another curve ball.

I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Thank You for Your answer, Aaron.
For some reason I can no longer see the comment that I posted my question in.

I agree that everybody has a thing or two to learn from the life of Jesus as presented in the gospels. He was preaching for the ideals of love and modesty, he opposed violence and the pursuit of wealth and power at the expense of others. These themes have been acute throughout human history, and the rabbi Jesus has fortunately enough not been the only one to address these issues.

This being said, I'm curious as to how can people put such strong faith into ancient writings of prophecies, divinities and miracles (the resurrection of Jesus, for one). I understand how the texts have come to be, some trough ancient perceptions of the universe, some trough political and social circumstances. The historical context is just too obviously there. This is not to say, of course, that there are no words of wisdom in the texts among other things.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Sorry it's taken me a while to get back to you. I was out of the country. Here's an article written by a friend of mine. It's worth reading.