Monday, March 11, 2013

Can Immoral Acts be Moral?


The fictional character called Colonel Kurtz in the movie Apocalypse Now is disillusioned about how the American military is fighting the Vietnam War. He suggests that there is no such thing as morality, and since men have different moral codes it costs lives. He has left the military and now operates within Vietnam with his own men and with his own set of rules, or lack thereof. He shares this with another soldier:

I've seen the horror. Horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me . It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.
I remember when I was with Special Forces--it seems a thousand centuries ago--we went into a camp to inoculate it. The children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile--a pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it, I never want to forget. And then I realized--like I was I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, "My God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that." Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they could stand that--these were not monsters, these were men, trained cadres, these men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled with love--that they had this strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time were able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment--without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.

(Apocolypse Now 1979)

This dialogue from that movie states in logical and clear terms how to win wars. The character, a maniacal colonel, has left the official American forces and now carries on his own war without traditional “rules”. The word “rules” is so self serving and it provides a buffer from being seen as monsters; however that word is a transparent and a feeble attempt to ameliorate the concept of war itself. Because some desire to engage in barbarism while still retaining a veneer of morality they present parameters which when crossed are unacceptable in a “civilized” culture. Dropping bombs on cites when necessary is acceptable, but cutting off heads is out of bounds.

The entire principle of morality as it pertains to war is most curious and presents a myriad of conundrums. But if you have no absolute resource to consult, then opinions are law. But we as believers have the teachings of Jesus, the account of the life of Jesus, and the New Testament as a whole. And if we are constrained to follow and obey those teachings, than how can we incorporate the horrors of war? In order to accommodate war we must modify those teachings in order to have them be compliant when circumstances seem to be extraordinary and in need of actions that normally would be forbidden by those teachings. In essence, those teachings are not to be viewed as absolutes and applicable truth in all circumstances and cultures.

Now once we employ that kind of Scriptural application we have kicked open the door to all sorts of Scriptural mischief. In fact, once that thread is pulled it threatens to unravel the entire garment called “truth”. Truth, Scriptural truth, now becomes malleable and is now a servant to circumstances. And many so called “orthodox” believers suggest that movements like the emergent church have done just that. They rebuke the way liberals approach the interpretation and the application of Scripture. The orthodox crowd rejects the way liberals gut the Scriptures and make them bow to their cultural necessities. They suggest that emergent and liberal teachers do not treat the Scriptures as inerrant and absolute.

And they are correct. However they are blind to the fact that they themselves practice the same form of Scriptural reshaping as it pertains to violence and war. If you preach that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies, then what kind of detour must you take to suggest Jesus desires us to kill people including women and children when necessary? In fact, Jesus supports us in that kind of violent horror even when some country just presents a threat? But you cannot preach Scriptural truth as applicable to your next door neighbor but not as it pertains to the world.

This hedonistic culture has come to embrace the church as part of the culture because we are so unremarkable and we so often walk in lockstep with unbelievers. When unsaved men and women (the majority of them) decide the country must go to war, the church flexes its patriot muscles and wholeheartedly supports the violence and even prays for God’s blessings on “our” war effort. Now in order for the church to take such a stance Scripture must be sliced and diced into moveable parts. Things that Jesus said must be rendered impractical and suspended when it comes to war.

The question must be asked, “Is it moral to use acts of immorality in order to prevent other acts of immorality?” Almost all professing believers would answer “No!” So war must be assigned a new definition where the horrors and killings can be seen as given divine approval for a limited time which will be determined by human reasoning. So God approves of the Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as 535 members of congress and the President and Vice President decide. In fact, they also decide when and where and how to go to war. What if they had decided to drop a small nuclear bomb on Baghdad? Would that have met with the church’s approval? Why not? Too much? What if that had ended the war right then and no American lives would have been lost? Over 100,000 Iraqi lives were lost in the war, so what if that nuclear bomb had killed only 75,000 Iraqis and no allied lives were lost?

So just what kind of moral slicing and dicing is that? So thousands upon thousands more lives must be lost just so we can maintain a civilized kind of war that can blow people heads off but does not use unacceptable weapons? Go ahead and piece that kind of morality together even in the natural. More killings are more moral than less killings? Ok, we have now entered an alternative universe. Do you believe the first century believers, even if they believed in self defense violence, would have seen our conventional bombs as "weapons of mass destruction"? But since then we have embraced those weapons and now have a new definition of mass destruction. I am still not sure when the body count crosses the "mass destruction" threshold.
But we as believers do not have the luxury to construct our moral scaffolding with our own reasoning and weighted by the given circumstance. We must bow and obey the teachings of the New Testament. If we can compromise that truth because of circumstances and logic and necessity, than all Scripture can be compromised and be made to accommodate circumstances which we believe need to be addressed outside of absolute truth. In essence, then all of us are part of the emergent church. Truth vacillates, and Scripture is remolded to perform various tasks which fit neatly inside our nationalistic necessities. Our allegiance is compromised and our view of Scripture is qualified rather than absolute.
Prehaps it is necessary to lie in some circumstances, The sin of adultery may have a caveat as well. Perhaps every sin can be allowed for a season given the right circumstances. Yes, when you deal in absolutes you must deal in absolutes. And when obeying the Scriptures presents a conundrum, then we must bear the consequences of the conumdrum rather than the consequences of disobedience.

Yes, I believe most of this is directly connected to our view of earthly citizenship. And because we have love and loyalty and allegiance even to the point of death concerning our earthly citizenship, we also by definition dilute our allegiance to Christ and His teachings. When the national interests conflict with His teachings it has become evident that His teachings must have a caveat.

When national interests are at stake:

You do not have to love your enemies.

You can return evil for evil.

You do not have to turn the other cheek.

You do not have to do good to your enemies.

You can pick up the sword.

You do not have to deny yourself.

You do not have to go the extra mile.

You do not have to pick up your cross.

You do not have to die to self.

You can be unequally yoked.

In short, when national interests are at stake you do not have to follow Jesus until the war is over, and then you return to believing the Scriptures. Nothing is at stake anymore and the “all clear” has been sounded. It will cost you just what it cost you before…nothing. Since the war has ended all these teachings and principles can be taught once again as if God spoke them and as if they were absolute and completely transcultural and without any caveats. But we all know that cannot possibly be true.


Anonymous said...

The garden of Eden was a place of ultimate beauty, where God had intimate fellowship with His creation. In that place of ultimate perfection, Adam and Eve took the liberty of ignoring and twisting God's clear and concise instructions. Your article today Pastor Rick is a reminder that we are still following that pattern of evil behavior.

Anonymous said...


It's almost impossible to live by the gospel and be a citizen of a nation and not compromise the gospel anymore. It doesn't matter where we live. If christians live in a democracy, the majority rule. And, if we choose to remain in that country, even though the majority implement anti-gospel rules, we, the church are just as guilty as those we charge as guilty; and our hypocrisy shows when we accuse non-christians of breaking the 10 Commandments, or performing abominations, when we ourselves enjoy the fruit of a materially-wealthy nation that was bought with the blood of other humans. And it doesn't bother christians to reap from the sacrifices of those who serve in the military. Those who serve may not have all understanding yet on God's opinion on the things of war, but it's a christian's duty to pray for them that they find the Lord on their path. However, they do believe they do it for their country. And we all benefit from their sacrifices.
If we want to stay where it's comfortable and fairly safe and secure, we 'compromise' our bibical principles everyday by consenting to contribute through our taxes and citizenships and by closing our eyes to how western industrialized nations got so rich in the first place. It is not all achieved by hard work and a strong work ethic. It's usually done by rich men exploiting, accumulating more and more off the backs of hard workers. Christians should know this, yet would support those who love war, hate the poor, love the wealthy, defend the corrupt, the hard-hearted, attention-seeking carnival barkers who earn their keep by verbally attacking, having no conscience about the struggling class. If what we read and hear is true, the church has become so blind and deaf, white is black and black is white, offensive wars and water-boarding is good. Good men are mocked, evil men are praised.

I don't have an answer to this dilemna. I, just like the millions of others, can't tear myself away and go live somewhere else. Oh, miserable men that we are, like Paul said. There is no uncompromised place in the world. I just pray we find peace through the turmoil and come out of the compromised church. The attitudes in the compromised church today are making a mockery of the Lord Jesus Christ and doing everything opposite to what He is.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 11:05: I appreciate your heartfelt anguish over the evils and injustices. However, I would say to you that as Christians, we CAN and SHOULD tear away and go live somwhere else! Not physically necessarily, but we live now in the spiritual holy nation of which Jesus is King. This Kingdom of God is opposed by and contrary to all earthly kingdoms. He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. The whole world lies in the power of the wicked one, but we are redeemed OUT OF the world. Meantime, we are pilgrims and sojourners in this world's nations. Jesus tells us to pay our taxes, so we do not compromise when we do. It is not geographical separation we must find, but spiritual separation, coming out indeed from the compromised church institutions and understanding that we do not pledge allegiance to any earthly nation since we are bought with a Price and belong to Him alone. You can see, I have rejected the concept of "dual citisenship" as did the early christians and the anabaptists.
You are right that we should be humbled and contrite to realize that our "wealth" and "comfort" in this world is not our own doing, but the fruit of some very wicked history. Not to boast in riches not rust in chariots and horses!
Good to have you here.