Evangelical Problems: Hated by the World

“You will be hated by all because of My name…you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
–Jesus of Nazareth

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…”
–James, the Lord’s brother

It’s no secret among evangelical Christians in America that we are hated more and more every day, and given the warnings that Jesus gave us about this, most of us aren’t really surprised. We have a unique status in the spiritual realm that is at odds with the spirit of the world and its ruler, Satan, and this often plays out in the physical world as us drawing criticism, animosity, and ultimately persecution for our religious views. In America, in particular, our views have been labelled “intolerant” and “bigoted”, two categories which have come to be the antithesis of America, a country which to most other Americans stands for “tolerance”, a seemingly lofty concept which is in reality a code word for acceptance and approbation of practically everything. The hypocrisy of course is that this tolerance doesn’t extend to Christian values—it only really extends to everything at odds with Christian values.

I’m sure none of this is news to an evangelical reader. The real irony of all this, though, is that America used to be an almost exclusively Christian nation. Of course not everyone was a Christian, and we have had some influx of non-Christian immigrants, but we have still traditionally had a super-super-majority. So what went wrong? Doesn’t it seem that a nation of Christians would stay that way if the Christians were actually doing their job as witnesses of Christ? The problem, it seems, is that most of us and our Christian ancestors haven’t been faithfully following Christ—we’ve actually brought this on ourselves by refusing to walk according to the Spirit and make disciples of our families and neighbors.

I think the fact that we’ve been labelled as “intolerant bigots” is actually a very telling sign of this. Has it ever occurred to any of us that those who accuse us of bigotry may actually have a point? There is nothing wrong with pointing out, for example, that homosexual relations are sinful, although that perhaps is enough to get some people riled up into hatred of us, but do we ever stop there? Don’t we normally push it much further, ranting angrily about evil homosexuals and how they’re all going to Hell unless they stop ruining society, supporting discriminatory laws that single them out and exclude them, and always finding ways to punish them on God’s behalf for what feels to them like just the way they were born? Given how hatefully most of us act towards sinners in general, I can’t blame them at all for hating us back! I would hate us too! Jesus certainly didn’t say that the embezzlement of the tax collectors or the sexual immorality of the prostitutes was righteous, but He certainly never ranted hatefully about their sin or targeted them for derision or ostracism. He simply pointed out the sin for what it was—often not even verbally—and then loved them all the same.

We, however, don’t set a good example of Christ, and we angrily condemn sinners to their faces and show them no love or mercy. Then, when we discover that everyone hates us for it, we go around quoting those verses above as confirmation that we’ve done the right thing! “Well, Jesus said we’d be hated, so I guess we need to keep fighting the gays!” I’ve also often heard it said, “I’m just speaking the Truth in love,” but are we really speaking it in love? When we angrily decry sin and bully sinners, aren’t we really speaking the Truth in judgement or in hate? No, these verses may be true, but more often than not they’re just used as excuses for our bad behavior.

Somehow, people always find a way to cause to happen whatever they focus on—it’s self-fulfilling prophecy. When we focus on being hated for being Christian, we are guaranteed to start acting in a way that will invite that hatred. Instead, why don’t we focus on doing to others as we’d have them do to us or loving others as Christ has loved us? If we treat people lovingly and with mercy, overlooking their sin without condoning it, we are likely to find that we’ve invited the same love and mercy back upon ourselves. If we love homosexuals despite their sin, they’re far more likely to love us back despite our “sin” (in the world’s eyes) of believing homosexual relations are wrong. They’re also far more likely to come to salvation if we love them. Yes, there are spiritual forces at work, and loving our sinful neighbor as ourselves is no sure-fire way to keep from ever being hated—we may eventually end up being hated anyway—but at least Christlike love and mercy minimize it and delay it as much as possible, and we will reap a far more fruitful harvest of souls that way. Just because we may be hated one day simply for being Christians doesn’t mean we should be hateful and egg it on.

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Evangelical Problems: Church-splitting

“…and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
–Paul the Apostle

“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions… Cast away from you all your transgressions…and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! …For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone…therefore, repent and live.”
–the Lord GOD

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
–Jesus of Nazareth

The church my wife and I had been attending last year and in which we had been considering placing our membership began a struggle all too common in Baptist churches. The senior pastor of the past two decades announced his retirement, and the formation of a search committee for a new pastor revealed that many in the church’s leadership are strict Calvinists, while many others are strict non-Calvinists (even anti-Calvinists). As a result of this discovery, animosity between the two sides built up to the point that the church split in two over this issue, or more specifically, over a single point in Calvinist doctrine: predestination.

On the one hand, those adhering to the Calvinist interpretation of scripture latch onto the multitude of verses which use the word προορίζω, meaning “foreordain” or “mark out beforehand” or “predestine”, and take them to their extreme conclusion that God did not endow man with any free will at all—that whoever is saved is saved solely because God decided before they were born that they would be saved, and whoever is not saved is not saved solely because God decided before they were born that they would be condemned to Hell. This is not a very rosy picture of God at all, and Calvinists often seem hesitant to discuss it in such terms (understandably so), but that really is what their conception of predestination necessary implies.

On the other hand, those opposing the Calvinist interpretation latch onto the multitude of verses containing the word μετανοέω, meaning “repent” or “change my mind”, in which sinners are invited to choose God. This side often has to squirm through twisty interpretations of the “predestination” verses, often landing at the conclusion that “God knew beforehand which way we would choose, because he knows everything, but it was still our choice.” This side also contends that a strict adherence to Calvinism undermines ministry—one of the primary rallying points for Baptist churches—because there seems little point in trying to reach the lost when God has already decided that the predestined will be saved one way or another, regardless of our help.

My problem with all of this is the level of importance placed on secondary doctrine. What makes us all Christians is not whether or not we believe in predestination or any of a number of other finer points of theology; what makes us all Christians is our saving faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. God will not deny salvation to someone who believes that Christ died so that their sins could be forgiven simply because that person also believes (or doesn’t also believe) that they had any say in the matter—God grants salvation through the faith alone. There is no laundry list of beliefs one must have or works one must perform in order to be saved, but a single turning of the mind towards a repentant attitude through faith that God has it all taken care of through the sacrifice of His Son. It doesn’t matter whether that faith or turning of the mind was caused by God alone or by the person’s free will. This should provide such unity! Sadly, we are often too busy trying to be right about the mysteries of the spiritual universe to remember that we are all one in Christ.

Is it possible that the Calvinists are right? Certainly. Is it possible that they’re wrong? Certainly. Is it possible that both sides are right, that God predestined us before we were born to freely make the choice to repent? That’s a bit of a paradox and difficult to comprehend, but all things are possible with God. It’s no more difficult to accept, however, than the physics of light (the first thing God created), which is a wave yet somehow at the same time also a particle—two completely disparate and seemingly mutually exclusive physical constructs. God is infinite and perfectly capable of also designing the spiritual universe in such a seemingly paradoxical way as to allow us free will even though he predestined us to salvation or condemnation beforehand.

I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure which one it is, but I also don’t think it matters. By grace we are saved through faith, and that should be enough to unite us. If this church can’t make up its mind whether or not it wants to be Calvinist, that’s fine. Teach both sides and let each member of the congregation choose (see what I did there?) for themselves, but don’t forget to continue preaching what truly saves us—faith in Christ—and don’t forget that, predestined or not, Jesus commanded us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

Evangelical Problems: Pharisaism

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
–Jesus of Nazareth

“The Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British [or American] people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.”
–C. S. Lewis

In my last post, I mentioned that evangelical Christians these days are much more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than like Jesus himself. I used to be just as guilty of this until I was convicted by a sermon I heard that pointed out this very fact. I thought I was so special because I didn’t lie or steal or cuss, because I wasn’t a homosexual or a deranged Democrat voter, and I looked down pompously on people who did and were. I had lost sight of that fact that all have sinned, including myself, and fall short of the glory of God, that the wages of that sin is death, and that the eternal life I possessed was nothing I had earned – it was a gracious gift given to me by the God whom I had wronged. I had lost sight of the fact that my disrespectful attitude towards my parents, my heavy drinking, and my “artistic” Playboy centerfold screensaver were violations of God’s law which made me just as worthy of death and condemnation as the vilest of pedophiles and serial killers.

Sadly, I am far from the only Christian who has ever done this. Evangelical Christians in particular, with our peculiar devotion to scripture and to our belief in its inerrancy and supremacy, seem prone to quickly develop an attitude that, as we are more enlightened than those who either don’t have the scripture or reject it either in part or in whole, we are then somehow also holier and better than everyone else. Forgetting that all transgressions against the Spirit of God, including our own, have made us just as culpable as any other sinner, we develop a hypocritically judgmental attitude against other sinners and, like the Pharisees, are quick to point out the specks in their eyes without noticing the logs in our own. God has called us to be holy as He is holy; He has not called us to be holier-than-thou. We are to set ourselves apart from the world and live righteously, not set the world apart from ourselves and judge it, yet that’s what we almost always do. We forget that all the sins we have committed, no matter how “small”, are just as great to God as those of the sinners around us, and instead condemn them to their faces and abuse them with all sorts of laws and regulations, expecting them somehow to live a sinless life that even we are unable to live despite our advantage of being indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, of Whom we are supposed to be imitators, routinely rebuked the Pharisees for such behavior, and I have no doubt He would rebuke us as sternly. Note that the Pharisees weren’t some hated, unpopular group, reviled by everyone around them for their pride and hypocrisy, but rather they were quite the opposite: teachers of Old Testament scripture and the Law of Moses to whom everyone looked for instruction. Note also, however, that Jesus didn’t spend time rubbing elbows with these “righteous” men but instead spent time with sinners, with embezzlers and prostitutes – no doubt if He came today, He would not waste His time on Southern Baptist preachers or hypocrites like me but would instead spend time with the lost. He would more likely call as His twelve disciples men coming out of a gay bar at 2:00am or a young woman on her way to Planned Parenthood than He would a clergyman or member of the worship team at church.

This is certainly not to say that we shouldn’t strive for righteousness, but we should follow His example and, rather than condemning the world (which He told us He did not come to do), shower mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love upon the sinners who surround us. We will never be able to lead the lost to repentance if we constantly chastise them and legislate against them and make them feel unworthy, especially if we have glaring sins in our own lives to which we have not attended; this will only alienate and lead to hopelessness. Our only hope for leading the lost to repentance is to treat them as Christ did, coming alongside them right where they are, showing them righteousness by example, not by stern lecturing, and making it clear that they are valued and loved by God and by ourselves regardless of what they’ve done, just as we are loved regardless of what we’ve done.

I know this is a tall order for most of us, myself included – I don’t even have that many sinners in my immediate vicinity towards whom I can even show the love of Christ, as I’m sure is the case for many others, and this is something on which I personally need to work. In the mean time, we can, however, stop sending a message of condemnation to those we don’t know personally through our public actions. We can stop using Twitter and Facebook as a means of promulgating hatred. We can stop supporting legislation to punish sinners on God’s behalf. We can stop picketing with angry, closed-minded slogans on our signs and on our lips. We can stop being angry at sinners altogether, for that matter. Each one of us was worthy of eternal damnation but has been shown tremendous love and mercy and forgiveness; we must learn to live a life of love and mercy and forgiveness towards others, even if it hurts or makes us uncomfortable. Jesus loved and forgave us to the point of being crucified; surely we can endure the heartache of showing love and mercy to members of a stubborn, unrepentant culture.

Evangelical Problems: “Progressivism”

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

— Frédéric Bastiat

The worst legacy of the “progressive” movement, in my opinion, is the socialist confusion of terms Bastiat observed as far back as the 1840s. Although America is not openly socialist, the multitude of socialist victories in the last century have so thoroughly changed the political dialogue in this country that it is impossible to discuss the ills of society without immediately jumping to conclusions about what the government must do to fix it. People are poor — we need the government to redistribute the wealth; people are on drugs — we need the government to imprison all drug users; children have been shot in schools — we need the government to ban guns near schools, if not confiscate them altogether; prostitution is unsavory — we need the government to ban it; and so on.

This affects all of us down to even the tiniest level — how many of us have encountered a pet peeve, like a loud muffler or children running around the apartment upstairs, and grumbled “that should be illegal”? The real problem is selfishness — both on our part for insisting to never be annoyed by anything and on the annoyers’ part for having it never even occur to them to consider others — but we are so accustomed to the socialist mindset of “a law for every problem” that even those of us who aren’t socialists can conceive of no other solution than to clamor to our government for stricter noise ordinances or a ban on children living above the first floor.

The group whose entanglement in this mindset disappoints me the most are evangelical Christians, of whom I am one. One of the reasons the tax collectors of Jesus’ day were so reviled was that they regularly collected much more tax than was required and pocketed the leftovers, but there was never one time when Jesus approached one of the Roman centurions and said, “You know, these tax collectors are seriously defrauding the people — you really need to start auditing their books.” No, instead Jesus treated them lovingly, befriending them, eating with them in their own homes, and being an example of non-judgmental righteousness to them. This method was far more effective — Matthew left tax collecting immediately upon Jesus’ request to follow Him, and Zacchaeus, tax collector of tax collectors, was so transformed by Jesus’ love and grace that he gave half of everything he had to the poor and repaid everyone he defrauded four times over! The best the righteous leaders of the day (the Pharisees) were ever able to accomplish was to alienate these men from their own people to the point that collecting taxes was all they had, but Jesus radically transformed the culture around him without passing a single government law.

Unfortunately, evangelical Christians today are much more like these Pharisees than like Jesus. When we see a problem in the culture, we can conceive no solution other than government mandates. Same-sex marriage is a great example of this. Homosexual relations are almost certainly sinful (the Bible seems to be fairly straightforward on that one), but pouring all our energies into same-sex marriage bans is hardly a productive or Christlike solution to this social problem. Such a ban will not prevent homosexual relations, nor will it encourage any homosexuals to be transformed by the love of Christ. All it will really accomplish is to further alienate them from Christ, increasing the likelihood of their souls being lost forever, and by forcing our religious mores upon them (a violation of their religious liberty), we invite them to seize control of the government and violate our religious liberty — a problem we are beginning to see in some areas where ministers are being threatened with fines and imprisonment if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

No doubt our socialist programming will encourage many to now say that I condone and support homosexuality because I object to government enforcement against it, but that is not at all the case — remember our quote from Bastiat: Just because I object to state-enforced sexual morality does not mean I am opposed to sexual morality altogether. It just means I would like to see it upheld by engaging with the culture directly, as Christ did, causing actual transformation in the hearts of the people, rather than by simple government force, which will not change anyone’s heart or lead to salvation at all. As ambassadors for Christ, we should bypass the government — let same-sex marriage be legalized if that’s what they want — and instead meet the lost where they are, loving them and befriending them one-on-one, being an example of the righteousness which redemption in Christ can bring. If we use all our energy to do that, we will win far, far more souls than with the force of legislation, and if God wants to call people out of the homosexual lifestyle, in the end it won’t matter that same-sex marriage is legal — there won’t be any unredeemed same-sex couples left to get married.

Why Does God Allow Evil?

Several weeks ago I wrapped up some musings on the definitions of good and evil and how poor definitions have led to some pretty disastrous results. In the process, I alluded to, but refrained from answering, a common question: “If God is so good and only wills that which is good, why does He allow evil to exist?” Granted, this question is often stated rhetorically and triumphantly as smug justification for not believing in God, as if asking it somehow proves that He doesn’t exist, but I do think it is a good question and deserves an answer for those who legitimately would want to know.

Andy Stanley did a great job with this question in a sermon he preached a while ago (although for the life of me I can’t remember the series of which it was a part), in which he effectively turned it back on those who ask it by asking, roughly, “If you had a button by which you could completely eliminate all evil from the world, would you push it without hesitation?” Sure, we could be selective and say, “Well, I just want to eliminate the warlords and starvation of children and oppression of women,” but then we would have to answer why we allowed other evil to persist, like petty theft or rude driving. If we would truly want God to eliminate evil from the world, He’d have to include every single one of us. Have any of us ever lied or embezzled? Have any of us ever cheated on our spouses or lusted after another woman or man? Have any of us ever downloaded music or movies for which we didn’t pay? Held a grudge against someone? Uttered profanity, even softly to ourselves? Although not typically on the order of genocide, every one of us commits evil acts and would likely stop short of pushing the get-rid-of-all-evil button for reasons of varying merit, not the least of which would be saving our own skin. Is it so hard to believe, then, that God might have a good reason for not wiping out all evil from the world, at least for the time being?

Let’s take it further, though: What is God’s good reason for allowing evil to persist, at least for now? Frédéric Bastiat and Herbert Spencer, although not exactly theologians, arrive at some interesting conclusions in their studies of economics and law that strike me as surprisingly good reasons God might allow evil to exist. I mentioned in a previous post that self-interest was the cause of Adam and Eve’s original sin (they chose to put their interests ahead of God’s). In the chapter on competition in his Economic Harmonies, Bastiat discusses that while self-interest can give rise to evils such as monopoly and inequality (or Original Sin), it also gives rise to the competitive instinct, as in “if such-and-such a service is so profitable, I’m going to do it too and make myself a fortune”, and this competition in services provides a benefit to all of humanity by lowering costs, improving services, and constantly bringing into availability for the common man what were previously considered luxuries. The evil or potential for evil that surrounds us, like starvation and homelessness, actually motivates our self-interest to do something purely selfish, but has the astounding side effect of improving the lot of mankind in general, when all competition and its results are taken as a whole. “Evil,” Bastiat concludes, “constitutes a necessary part of the machinery designed [by God] to conquer error, ignorance, and injustice.”

Similarly, Spencer, in his Social Statics, while discussing the adaption of plants and animals to their environments and the similar adaption of man to his social environment, asserts that “all evil results from non-adaptation of constitution to conditions.” He points as examples to the death and decay of plants placed in unsuitable climates, to the pain and disease of animals exposed to harsher conditions than those to which they would naturally tend, and to the injury even of people when encountering situations to which the body’s powers are inappropriate (such as burns or falls). He further asserts, however, that “this non-adaptation of an organism to its conditions is ever being rectified”; in other words, that “evil perpetually tends to disappear.” He points again as examples to “the acclimatization of plants”, “the altered habits of domesticated animals”, and variations in skin color, dietary needs, physical fitness, etc. of humans based on the environments to which we daily subject ourselves. Essentially, Spencer is proving out that old adage that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

In this, then, we see a very good reason why God hasn’t yet chosen to eradicate evil once and for all. Although God certainly never willed for evil to exist or for us to experience its horrors, it is something our fallen, sinful state makes necessary in order for God to mold us into the perfected beings He wants us to be. God has actually designed a system whereby humanity’s own faults and failures are used to remedy themselves — evil circumstances caused by one person are used by God to draw others closer to Himself, to draw humanity closer to the embodiment of ultimate goodness. As Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” and as Paul points out, “We know that all things [including the evil ones] work together for good to them that love God.” Like so many other of God’s Truths, the answer is a paradox: God allows evil for our own good.

Christians and the Surveillance State

Since Edward Snowden’s revelations of domestic spying two years ago, I have given a lot of time to reflection on how a Christian should view such a government policy. This is an issue that doesn’t really divide across party lines — at least not any more — with most Republicans and Democrats being in support of a strong surveillance state ostensibly for our own protection, and it seems that most evangelical Christians are as usual eager to go along with the mainstream Republicans on this one. There are a few dissenters who point to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, who complain that our government’s surveillance of its own citizens is a violation of their right to privacy, and who point out that such surveillance has never actually stopped a single terrorist attack, but these dissenting viewpoints have definitely received the minority of attention in the media, possibly (but not necessarily) meaning that it is by far the less popular opinion. “After all,” it is always smugly claimed, “I have nothing fear because I have nothing to hide.” This may be true, at least today, but thought is seldom given to tomorrow or next year or next generation.

I’ll spare the reader the details of the debate as I’m sure s/he is well aware of the points given the recent to-do over the inappropriately-named USA FREEDOM Act. What I want to think about is how should Christians react to all this? It’s true, Christians have nothing to hide — we’re not murderers or drug dealers or terrorists. But will we have something to hide tomorrow? Jesus warned that we will be hated by the world because of the very fact that we are Christians, and indeed we have recently seen a sharp turn in popular sentiment against us. More and more frequently the traditional Christian stance is vilified, we are often accused of hate speech, we are sued for refusing to participate in celebrations of sinful lifestyles, etc. Evangelical Christians and Catholics are already classified by the military as “religious extremists” right alongside al-Qaeda, the KKK, and Hamas! Sure, supposedly the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion in America, but is it really so hard to believe that one day it will go the way of the Second and Fourth Amendments and be diminished to the point of mere powerless words on a page in favor of safety or that ever-nebulous “common good”? We have the right to bear arms, but our government has severely restricted that in the name of keeping the public safe from mass shooters. We have the right to privacy, but our government has severely restricted that in the name of keeping the public safe from terrorists. We have the right to free speech, but the government has severely restricted that in the name of keeping the public safe from slander, defamation, and pandemonium (e.g. if someone yells “Fire!” in a crowded auditorium). Is it that far-fetched to suspect that the government, bowing to popular sentiment, might someday soon severely restrict our right to practice our faith in the name of keeping the public safe from evangelism and hurt feelings?

And when this happens, how long before they start using their widely-accepted domestic spying programs to enforce it? Right now, they claim to just be using it against terrorism suspects. How long before they use it against gun owners, possible drug users, those with discrepancies on tax returns, criticizers of government officials, or believers in banned religious viewpoints? It seems to me that, of all people, Christians should be the least supportive of domestic spying programs, not the most supportive as they sometimes appear to be.

Now, I have heard it said, to my surprise, that when that time comes, it will simply be doing the Lord’s work to be oppressed in that manner and to stand firm regardless, but I find that shockingly short-sighted and ignorant — how can it possibly be “the Lord’s work” to hamstring our ability to share the gospel by allowing and even encouraging our faith to become a banned and spied-upon practice, lumped into the same category as terrorism?! No, it seems far more prudent to preserve our liberty, not out of fear for the future, but because that way we preserve our right to openly evangelize and minister to the lost. How many more souls will we be able to win while we’re free to worship and reach them openly than if we have to do everything in secret, not even discussing it in email or on the phone lest the NSA find out what we are?

This does leave us with the uncomfortable prospect of terrorists plotting out there somewhere undiscovered, but I am confident that we can find some other way to stop them that honors both liberty and our faith. This is the subject for another conversation, but it might behoove us to figure out what really causes terrorism (as opposed to just accepting to what is spoon-fed to us by the media and power-hungry politicians) and see if there’s a way to fix that, rather than just accepting that terrorism is going to happen and implementing reactionary programs in an effort to keep it under control.

Memorial Day Reflections

Before the memories of this weekend’s celebrations completely fade as we get back into the routine of work, I have some questions about Memorial Day that I think we all need to answer. Every year we hear the same catchphrases thrown around, like “freedom ain’t free” or “they died protecting our freedoms” or “thank our heroes in uniform” or “support the troops” or “thank you for your service” and so on, but there are assumptions underlying these that are seldom questioned. If they ever are questioned, they are always shouted down (usually by Christian conservatives, whose un-Christlike pro-war bent always surprises me) as being unpatriotic, un-American, treasonous, etc., just as I’m sure I’ll likely get shouted down for the remainder of this post. Please don’t get me wrong — I’m no Jane Fonda and do not support misdirecting anger over a corrupt government’s unjust war by spitting on or jeering at soldiers returning home. That sort of behavior is abhorrent, but it is a far cry from questioning the motivation for war or the validity of such slogans as those above.

So what I want to know is exactly which of my freedoms have our heroes in uniform died to protect recently? Did Afghanistan or Iraq invade Texas and try to conquer portions of American territory or enslave the Americans who lived there? In what way did Serbia or North Vietnam threaten our ability to speak or worship or assemble freely, to keep and bear arms, or to have privacy in our own homes and personal communications? If we had refrained from meddling in these foreign conflicts, would we really be less free than we are now?

For that matter, exactly how free are we, really? I am not free to get gay-married or eat pot brownies or own a fully-automatic machine gun, even though not one of these is inherently harmful to others. I have no privacy whatsoever from a snoopy NSA, and Christian conservatives of all people should know that we can’t say anything we want or worship however we want in deference to the doctrine of tolerance (which has morphed into more of a doctrine of acceptance and approbation than plain tolerance). No one can get married or start a business or buy a car or carry a pistol for self-defense without being forced to wait in long lines to buy permission from the government to do these things — permission that necessarily implies the government’s authority to refuse that permission for any reason it sees fit. Every moment of every one of our days is burdened with books upon books of regulations and numerous taxes severely curbing our economic freedom. We incarcerate by far a larger percentage of our population than any other country in the world — even “Communist China” or “Terrorist Iran” — and our police officers are generally permitted to kill us with impunity during a routine traffic stop (with some recent exceptions thanks to the proliferation of cell phone videos).

Does any of this sound like freedom worth dying for or worth losing our loved ones for? It is hard to accept that one’s son or husband or brother died a meaningless death defending freedoms that don’t exist from threats that don’t exist. It is easier to justify his death with some flippant platitude like “freedom isn’t free” and to label him a hero for “dying for his country”, but dying for one’s country isn’t the same as dying for freedom. More likely it means dying for the politician who made the decision to start the war, which in turn means dying to benefit the special interests who paid to get that politician elected. After all, if “making the world safe for democracy” is so important, why haven’t we invaded and obliterated North Korea? Surely Kim Jong-Un is no match for the largest military force in the world. Why are nation-building and instituting democracy and freeing oppressed peoples only important to do for oil-producing nations? Is it really a coincidence that 4,491 of our children were killed “freeing” a nation with some of the largest untapped oil reserves in a war started by a President who just happened to have significant connections to the oil industry, particularly in oil exploration?

Yes, it is hard to accept that our loved ones died pointless deaths solely for the financial benefit of oil tycoons, but until we accept it, we cannot change it. Our boys will continue to die by the thousands for equally meaningless causes as long as we praise them as heroes fighting for freedom and never question what freedoms they’ve actually preserved for us. Painful as it may be, if we want to save future American children from the same fate, we must acknowledge that our boys who have gone before them are not heroes and have not fought for noble causes — some of them may have truly believed they were fighting and dying for justice, and that perhaps is commendable, but in reality they are at best pawns manipulated by villainous politicians and special interests for financial gain, just as we are pawns when we unquestioningly weep and salute and cheer at the sight of a soldier on Memorial Day.