I came across a couple of posts this weekend that highlighted how incompatible and incongruous it is to be an American and a Christian at the same time. Learning about the contradictory and completely self-serving nature of American foreign policy--American exceptionalism--has been a major factor in my journey to pacifism.
John Harris at Red Letter Christians shares A Humble Obituary for Osama bin Laden. He does an excellent job of pointing out that American foreign policy is mired in hypocrisy and relativism. Harris notes that bin Laden, with his Saudi wealth, "became a leader and an organizer in the rebellion against the Soviet invasion. He would later work with the US government, receiving economic and military assistance to defend the Afghan people against the Soviets."
Bin Laden began to articulate a worldview and formed a network: "In a similar fashion to the conjecture of the Western nations, Al-Qaeda believed in the use of force to conquer its objectives."
It amazes me that Americans feel justified in the use of force because we are convinced we are right. Guess what - everyone else is convinced they are right too.
Harris points out that, not only has the U.S. provided aid to bin Laden, but we provide $2 billion a year to the Israeli government, mostly in weapons. We are exporters of billions of dollars in aid and weapons, and we continue with our drones and other military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq (and who knows - some top secret SEALS-only efforts elsewhere?) But it's okay, because "these people" need freedom and democracy. Gosh, we might kill a lot of them in the process...but it's justified.
When all sides are convinced that they have the only correct worldview, and it's perfectly acceptable to use force to ensure this worldview is implemented, we all lose. Or, as the old saying goes, an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. So, living in a country that has absolutely no problem with directing billions of dollars, thousands of soldiers' and civilians' lives, and a lot of energy toward using force to spread its view of the world is a challenge to a Christian.
(I say Christian without any qualifiers because, as Michael L. Westmoreland-White points out, “Christian” should automatically mean “pacifist,” but it hasn’t since Constantine’s shotgun marriage of church and empire.)
Of course a nation is going to have a self-serving foreign policy, and of course everyone is going to consider their views the most correct. And every nation will feel they have the right to defend themselves (however, recent U.S. military actions have been much more offensive than defensive).
It would be ridiculous to expect a nation to think otherwise, so the challenge for me comes to a head when I claim to follow Jesus. His words are damning to U.S. policy:
How am I supposed to truly pray the Lord's Prayer and forgive those who trespass against us, when I live in a country that dropped two atomic bombs, which killed around 200,000 civilians (no one knows the exact death toll because the bombs caused sheer annihilation)?
How am I supposed to truly love my neighbor, when I live in a country that has a military budget this year of $708 billion, while at the same time, 16,000 children die each day from hunger-related causes?
How am I supposed to truly turn the other cheek when my government finds it completely acceptable to kill its enemy rather than bring him to trial -- and 86% of my fellow Americans approve of this decision?
I wish I could live in blissful ignorance and wave my American flag every time the news breaks about the latest victory in the war on terror. I wish I could simply interpret Jesus' words to apply only on an individual level (they are just as hard to follow on an individual level, unfortunately). But I can't - I've already taken that red pill. So I struggle to reconcile this incompatibility...somehow.