Working back into a rhythm


[Originally a reflection on a film for class, this ended up better than I thought it would. Enjoy, and thanks for being patient with me! –b.]

Revolutions are dangerous things.

When a group of people are (or perceive themselves to be) oppressed to the point where they throw off the shackles of government, one of three things historically tends to happen: 1) they can lose; 2) they win and institute a new form of government; or 3) they win and vengefully choose to obliterate their former oppressors. What is dangerous about revolution is far more than bloodshed, violence and strife: it is the demonstrable and terrible power of ideas. The French Revolution rallied behind ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, all while slaughtering the aristocracy and imposing a reign of terror that took Napoleonic despotism to finally upend. The American Revolution rallied behind principles of consitutionally-limited government in the wake of an oppressive and draconian British system of taxation, while the American Civil War less than a century later was on the grounds of states’ rights and economic imbalance via a system of tariffs that favored the northern states, amongst other things. (Slavery, contrary to popular belief, did not become a factor in the war until the war had already started.)

What should be clear from these and other examples is that violence is a contingency to necessary perceptions of disunion and injustice: sometimes it is a last resort, sometimes a kneejerk response to mitigating factors. What fuels drastic action is the power of an idea.

When we are dropped into the plot of Star Wars, we are dropped into the fray of a rebel alliance fighting against a hapless imperial senate and forces that threaten to oppress the galaxy. The first scenes of the film depict a small space corvette being chased by a star destroyer, a small band of rebels fighting off hordes of stormtroopers, a member of the unraveling senate taken prisoner (in white, no less) by the dark lord of the empire (naturally, clad in black.) Why the empire is so bad, and why the rebel cause is automatically righteous in its cause is left unsaid, and generally left unexamined throughout the entire franchise of films. One can only presume the fact that the empire is run by a despot who is thoroughly corrupted by the dark side of the force. The major hero of the franchise is drawn to action only because he has nothing left for him on his home planet: Luke Skywalker only chooses to go with Ben Kenobi when his aunt and uncle are found on their torched farm, burned alive, and even then, they were killed because two droids ended up in their possession! Only long after that fact does Luke realize the politics and principle (if there is one to be found) of his choosing a side.

In an era when media dissonance, political posturing and myriad distractions blur the lines of reason and propaganda, it is or at least should be understandably difficult for a Christian to weigh out matters of war and peace. Christians have been historically divided on this matter: of course, Christendom Europe saw its fair share of warfare, when not with each other, then against the Islamic rule of the Middle East. Manifest Destiny fueled the exploration of the new world as well as the westward expansion of antebellum America. Charismatic Christianity in America was decidedly pacifist from the 1890s until World War II. And, of course, World War II changed everything.

WWII is the great example: peaceful coexistence became impossible when an oppressive regime fueled by a dangerous blend of Marxism, Hegellian superiority and a victim mentality leftover from the ‘Great War’ began to literally run over other nations’ sovereignty and liberty. Even the Soviet Union, itself a Marxist state, was forced to dissociate from their once ally when it became clear that the only thing Germany was interested in was expanding its power throughout the world. Liberalism came under threat by fascism and oppressive rule: the power of an idea thrust the world into ten years of chaos and bloodshed, and it had to be done. Even the conscientious objectors in classical Pentecostalism yielded their stance because something greater than their pacifism was at stake.

Disregarding the prooftexts of one side or another in the debate of whether or not it is proper for a Christian to be involved in the military—after all, the Bible is decidedly ambiguous in this regard—it should be clear that, sometimes, it is necessary to fight corruption and injustice, be it in an x-wing fighter, a foxhole or in a courtroom, since bringing someone to justice in a courtroom is, by any standard, an act of violence against another person. Some ideas need to be eliminated, and those who corrupt themselves by internalizing such ideas need to be brought to justice, whether with lethal force (hitting an exhaust port with a proton torpedo) or, for lack of better term, re-education (how else did we gain Jurgen Moltmann?) In the absence of clear guidance, we are, in my estimation, best served by heeding the wisdom of the preacher of Ecclesiastes: for everything, there is a season.

How is it that the Jedi and their Campbellian creator seem to understand this better than modern, American Christians? Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice in Star Wars, but they recognized that there was a time to be a justice of the peace and a time to act as sheriff and enforce or uphold the law. Americans today, especially Christians, seem to be suffering from Friedman’s failure of nerve over the necessity to put away the plowshare and take up a sword, whether it is with faulty doctrine, economic malfeasance or the spectre of a worldview that is utterly disinterested in the principles of Western civilization, much less the gospel of Christ. We ought to take this with great and terrible pause, as the thought of violence ought to rightly offend us; nevertheless, if we are to lay down our lives, sometimes it means letting go of the pride that comes with being certain of our point of view and rising up to defend something greater, whether it is in Christian mission or the clash of ideology in the halls of power or in the trenches.

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