By Jamin Casciato
The militaristic posture of the United States has attained dizzying stature, and the world around us suffers as a result. The chaos within our borders grows season after season, conflict after conflict, war after war. Is it possible that the chaos we supposedly have sought to extinguish outside our borders has bred within the social fabric of our nation as a result of our militant posture as a people? American citizens have been trained into violence, and we have become violent people, both individually and collectively. When a culture glories in military dominance, war heroes, and a media and film industry premised upon the propagation of portraits of brutality, it is natural that those under its tutelage become violent themselves. The United States has nearly always been at war with some supposed foe, whether it be the “restless natives,” communism, fascism, “religious fundamentalism,” terror … the list goes on.
What can be said of a nation that fights a perpetual war against fear itself? Naturally, such a struggle is interminable, as “terror” cannot be so easily targeted. Where is he? Can I kill him with a single bullet? No; yet, ostensibly, he can be vanquished with billions of dollars of weaponry. How is it that we are fighting a war against the reason for war? We fight not because we are brave, but because we are afraid. In warring against terror, are we not supporting terror by giving ourselves over to it? And if terrorism is to be seen as a tactic, are we not utilizing the same methods we claim to be against? But I believe I may have found Terror at last: he has lodged himself within the human heart.
It is estimated that the United States’ armed forces are stationed in nearly 150 nations around the world. How many other empires in history can boast such a global presence? Is the presence of military personnel across the globe truly keeping us more free and secure or, rather, is it actually directly diminishing our freedom and security? After all, what truly liberated society devotes so much of its resources to the bondage of fear? Fear is one of the oldest, most mysterious slave owners of all, as he keeps us on his plantation by convincing us to choose it as our home. If we were truly free, would we have to sacrifice so many of our young men and women to the cause of war? Are we truly more secure as a result of our meddling in the affairs of other nations, or is it more likely that we are actually setting ourselves up for retaliation by inciting the ire of millions across the globe? Is there possibly a reasonable reason why so many of the world’s inhabitants are becoming increasingly antagonistic toward our nation?
In stark contrast to the stated narrative, I would like to submit the idea that, possibly, those outside the United States referred to as our enemies do not hate us because of our “freedoms.” Many of them actually view us as slaves—of fear and blind ambition. And these are cruel taskmasters, for they take up residence on the once-fertile estate of our hearts, and are thus more difficult to flee. Our culture has been trained to fear, and we often have been conditioned to attach that fear to outsiders. Much of this conditioning has come from the state and its media minion, which would like to convince us that Uncle Sam is our only defender from legion phantom enemies. The issue is that, as a result of state-sanctioned violence, these phantoms are becoming increasingly real, for they are the creation of our military misdeeds.
It is the ancient artifice of tyrants to create chaos and then claim a monopoly on its resolution. Unprincipled government historically has used fear to manipulate its populace into blindly following its agendas. It is important for us to realize that the state is essentially a corporation with a monopoly on force masquerading as a commonwealth with a patent on protection. If I am in the business of burning down houses, and these house fires at times spread to your residence, of course it is within my power to keep the fire from your home—I could simply cease burning down other people’s houses. Further, if I can convince you that you need me to protect you from such conflagration, I have the ability control you, for you are now dependent upon me. Of course, this control is premised upon an illusion of protection, which I maintain through pyromania.
And so the chaos continues. For some time now, the American church has been complicit, if not explicit, in its support of state-sanctioned violence, which is confounding considering its ostensible belief in the Prince of Peace. It is time for the American church to establish itself as the commonwealth of Christ, which should appear markedly different from the government of the United States. The harrowing marriage of church and state regarding war and militarism is wreaking havoc on the church’s witness as the purportedly Christ-centered society and the conquest-driven state converge in their social ideologies.
The war ethic is a glaring compromise to truth that the socially visible church has systematically neglected to challenge. The American church does much good throughout the world, to which numerous social solidarity and poverty alleviation efforts can attest. Its stance on the issue of militarism, however, is eroding its relevance and damaging its testimony. There are people living abroad, hearts in hand, undertaking development work, yet their efforts pale in magnitude to the work of war. What they accomplish (at least tangibly) over years can be nullified during a single bombing campaign. Such energies would often be better focused on breaking the winds of war than on building straw houses that will be torn down in a single storm.
What god is the church seeking to worship? The essence of idolatry is to reduce the immutable, inimitable God of the living to a god of the walking dead who seek solutions to transient problems that will perish with their dried bones. It is to mold God in the image of humans, instead of accepting our creation in His image. It is to conform Him to our reality, to bend Him to our will. But He will not be conscripted into our war with death; He will not be relegated to the duties of a god of ephemeral security. After all, He is not Baal, the amalgamation of the various guardian gods of the ethnically constituted human collectives.
We attempt to reduce God to an amulet and wear Him around our necks—like fetters—to ward off sundry evils. In contrast, He seeks to release us from our fear of death by demonstrating that He has power over it. If we truly believe that He is Lord of life, that He can raise the (spiritually, and physically) dead, we will cease to worship our various gods of temporal security. We will let go of our distorted desire to protect ourselves at all costs, and often at the expense of others.
It is notable to mention that we can sum up the entire historical pantheon of false gods as being conscripted for the sake of preserving and propagating life, whether through fertility, fortune, harvest, health, wealth, or war. And the god of true, eternal, unconditional love, who lays down his life for others? In what pantheon does he exist? Of course this god does not exist in shrines of the human mind, for such a God is not constructed in the image of humans who, above all, seek their own proliferation. This God does not arrive at the minds of mortals—who, conscious of their death sentence, live in slavery to temporal concerns—and is therefore clearly not the construction of human beings, for He is in the most fundamental way contrary to the brutal human feud for survival: He lays down His life of His own will. He has power over death and breathes eternity—has life in Himself—and is therefore the only one capable of offering us deliverance from indefinite death. Our guns (which are not manufactured in factories) should be aimed at self, the worship of which results in spiritual death. We are contending not with homicide, but with suicide. Only we can murder ourselves eternally. Our struggle is internal—with the autonomous self within that wages war against communion, striving to annihilate us by sundering us from the Spirit.
We are trying to hold water in our hands. It is impossible. The only way to do so is for the free-flowing life of the element to be frozen into stagnant form. Rushing water fills all, yet it cannot be contained. Such is the life of the Spirit. However, by grasping onto our lives with whitened knuckles, we are quenching the Spirit. Either we lose life as it flows through our fingers, or we solidify the substance of the Spirit into a graven image, harden it to the shape of our fleshly hearts, benumb the light of life, so that we can grasp it, manipulate it, wield it. But a cast can never truly embody the character of the original. After all, who would be satisfied with a mere mold of her beloved?
We have worshiped freedom and security and have therefore lost them both. It is the sport of false gods to plunder their people. It is their hallmark to take from their votaries through sacrifice what they claim to give. The gods and goddesses of harvest take crops as sacrifice, leaving the poor to starve; those of riches are venerated in statues of gold, looting the wealth of their people; those of war lure their nations into protracted military campaigns that collapse their societies, bringing them under the yoke of their enemies. False gods are not doves, but vultures.
Does the security of the believer rest in the iron fist of the state, or in the open hand of the Savior? We have chosen security over trust and fear over faith. We must choose one, for fear and faith are incongruent. If we consider a person our enemy, is it the case that we want him to change, or do we simply want him to cease to exist? If I want someone to change, how could he possibly be changed through the same actions he undertakes to which I am opposed? If I endeavor to slay my enemy, in attempting to win a worldly battle, am I not losing the spiritual battle by serving evil through my participation in its practices? We are called to absorb evil, not to reflect it. Evil breeds because we are unwilling to take it into ourselves and drown it. Instead, we imitate it by using the same methods used against us, thus ensuring its continued existence and propagation, for we ourselves become its agents. One does not put out a fire with gasoline. Likewise, one does not slay evil with violence, which only feeds evil and causes it to breed and replicate. How does one kill evil? By starving it. By refusing to give oneself over to it, and thus declining to be converted to it.
Let us lay down our clubs and take up our crosses. The Christian death is to self, not to supposed external enemies. True freedom is not immunity to external threats, but emancipation from internal tyranny. It is time for a true war on terror to be launched—a struggle against the despair that reigns in our personal lives and the bondage under which we labor as a result of our fear. Our true enemy is within us—the beast image, the person of the flesh, who lives autonomously for transitory security, for temporal comfort, and thus denies dependence upon the eternal Spirit. God offers us freedom—not from our enemies, but from ourselves—from self-sufficiency and the innumerable anxieties that come with it.
Until the enemy within has been vanquished, the temple cleansed, let the war rage within our inner nations, which are at odds with one another, to which our unending witch-hunt for external enemies attests. Who, not yet having claimed mastery over himself has the right to wage war with another person? And once the enemy within is defeated, will we still see others as our enemies, or, rather, will our eye be so cleansed as to see suffering souls as opposed to insufferable trolls? Can we trust enough to lay down our efforts at self-preservation? Will we serve the god of security—the heir of enmity—or the Prince of Peace?
Jamin Casciato has spent years studying sustainable development throughout the non-industrialized world. He has taught economics in Mexico and Iraq, where he traveled extensively among the indigenous communities of the regions, studying local social traditions, music, and traditional medicine. He has also spent time among the nomadic communities of northern India and Egypt, and has done development research in Central America, Africa, and East Asia. He studied economics at the University of Pennsylvania.
 “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, NKJV)
 “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.” (John 5:26, NKJV)
 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NKJV)
 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV)