For millennia people have disagreed strongly on these and related issues after substantial study and contemplation, so I don’t presume to settle the issue here (especially since I’ve met few everyday Christians who seem to have done much real study in the complexities; in my experience few people, however sincere or genuinely devout, know even a few scriptures and basic arguments.) Acknowledging these limits, I aim to address only one very limited point here as related to President Bush’s implicit distortion of Jesus’ message, which Mr. Bush has evidently twisted to bolster his own political, military, and perhaps commercial ambitions.
Qualifying statements: Does any valid and practical argument support war as an extension of self-defense? I believe that a secular materialist position can affirm it (here I acknowledge only the viability of the position, on those premises). Further, my concern here lies in a different place: many good, honest, sincere Christians, representing many sects and denominations, struggle to blend a literalist reading of scripture with a secular military agenda. I find that this effort fails, but that question calls for much more discussion elsewhere. For now, let's just accept the fact that many devout people do try to integrate the two. Many such persons may find Bush’s rhetoric appealing, regardless of its intellectual merits, or lack thereof.
Still too much of what calls itself "conservative Christianity" in the sense of taking the Bible literally, as an historically and divinely perfect document, operates in practical terms on a schizophrenic pick-and-choose mentality. George W. Bush presents himself as a Christian, in a style that the more conservative factions tend to admire. Does he actually subscribe to these core teachings of Y'shua the anointed, and the same principle of nonviolence as taught by Paul a few decades later, and actually practiced by the early church when their tormentors and executioners came for them? Maybe he does; maybe he doesn't. His acts and attitude indicate that no, he does not. I've found that many sincere Christians today neither take literally nor try to promote what this itinerant rabbi taught and practiced regarding peace in our world.
Remember, any problems arise according to one's interpretive stance. As long as one affirms the Bible, especially in its supernatural accounts, as a largely metaphorical and symbolic text, more legend than fact, not centrally an historic document, the secular military stance poses little problem; this broader hermeneutic allows room for rational discussion and divergence of opinion. To the extent that one takes the Bible in general, and especially the traditional supernatural Jesus story, literally or as largely historic fact, the secular military stance creates substantial problems for any semblance of logical and theological consistency.
In this very limited context—accepting the traditional gospels at face value—I stress only that such responses in favor of President Bush's aggressive military mode blatantly contradict what Jesus plainly teaches and demonstrates in the New Testament, which he evidently expected his followers to take seriously, to live it out, as he did. By late morning on September 11, 2001, many American Christians who otherwise profess love for Jesus and claim to venerate his words were vehemently saying things that absolutely contradicted these principles, the tenets most indispensable to Jesus’ message and mission.
George Bush’s personal and rhetorical style evidently appeals to sincere Christians who for whatever reason disconnect the core gospel message of peace and nonresistance from their mortal grief, who set aside those hallmark principles of Jesus' self-sacrificial life and teachings and unjust execution.
(As these things tend to evoke emotional responses that tend to override rational processing, I offer one final reminder: the most serious potential problems here lie rooted deeply in one's interpretive stance.)
all images and text © chuck bryant