Thursday, August 25, 2005

War and Wisdom

There’s still something left to say on wisdom (perhaps much more, but I’ll limit myself to this for now). Another way to express the distinction between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the “world” is the difference between the “wisdom from above” and the earthly wisdom from below (see James 3:13-18).

I pray often for the wisdom from above. The wisdom of the world is inadequate for life in Christ, and even worse, it is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish,” according to St James. That is because he says it is based on selfish ambition and falsehood. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.” Each of these aspects of the wisdom from above is worth meditating upon. We ought to refer to them as a standard for measuring whatever passes for wisdom in this world—and for measuring our own perspectives, decisions, and general way of living. Pure, peaceable, gentle, merciful—it reads like the beatitudes.

I noticed something interesting as I continued reading this passage on wisdom. The Apostle immediately goes into a discussion on war and peace (notice that wisdom from above is “peaceable”). He says: “The harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have, so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war” (James 3:18 – 4:2).

This is not really the forum for an essay on the morality (or lack thereof) of the war in Iraq, which has been getting more attention lately because of the protests in Texas—which have become quite an embarrassment to the present administration. But I would put the question as to which wisdom is behind this war—that which is earthly, unspiritual, and devilish, or that which is pure, peaceable, gentle, merciful, and open to reason? It doesn’t seem like a harvest of righteousness is being sown in peace in that land which daily echoes with exploding bombs and the groans of the maimed and bereaved.

Is there something that we desired and did not have, that we coveted and could not obtain (like oil or international hegemony), so we killed, fought and waged war? It has been made clear over time that there was in fact no compelling reason for us to go to war. It turns out that it was simply a matter of our foreign policy, regardless of WMDs or potential terrorist threats. So I guess St James is right: selfish ambition and falsehood are at the source of that “wisdom” from below. I think we have to ask the question that mothers of dead soldiers are asking: for what “noble cause” did they die? I agree that it was right to take out Saddam. But he's been out for quite a while now; why aren't we out? Is anyone really foolish enough to think that we can go halfway around the world and impose democracy upon a country of warring Islamic factions, who are united only by a common hatred of the western world? Meanwhile, new statistics are daily and routinely reported by the media: blast kills 24, more GIs die in attack, etc. I must admit I’ve been getting desensitized to it. If I had a son or daughter who was one of those statistics, I think my sensitivity would increase. I pray for our troops in Iraq, who are risking their lives in the belief that they are defending their country. They ought to receive our support. Outside of the few “bad apples,” they are not the ones who deserve criticism. It is those who risk others’ lives for political or economic reasons that will have to stand trembling before the Judge.

There are many arguments about whether or not this is a “just” war, and none of them that I’ve seen is wholly without merit. But I think we’ve been deceived about this war, and that the wisdom to begin it (and even more so to prolong it) was not from above. Most of us have little influence on the policy-making of our country. What we have first to do, however, is to examine ourselves and “the passions that are at war” within us, and see if we are contributing to the spirit of aggression, selfishness, greed, and hatred that fuels all wars. We must see if we, in our own limited spheres of influence, practice the unspiritual and devilish wisdom—that of the world and its rulers—instead of the pure, peaceable, and merciful wisdom. Really, we must have another King besides Caesar.