Hero of War: “Rise Against” Violence or Lose Your Humanity

© 2006 | “We Could Be Heroes” | TheGiantVermin | Flikr

Many of us dream of becoming a hero. To be the one who saves the day. To know what it is to find victory for the sake of the distressed. This quest leads people in all sorts of interesting directions.

As a husband, I want to be the man who rescues my wife. I want to save the day.

As a pastor, I want to be a man who leads people to the only Source that truly saves.

As a friend, I want to help my friends see the potential in their situations and to thereby discover their dreams are becoming reality.

I want to be a hero. And I would guess, so do you.

In our culture, the narrative of heroism, the “hero impulse,” gets manipulated into propaganda such as: “be all that you can be,” “an Army of one,” “the few. the proud,” “honor. courage. commitment,” “Army strong,” and the list goes on.

To be an American hero one commits to military service. The intentions of many to enlist are indeed good motivations. But I often wonder if those who become part of the military system of America are in fact trying to make meaning out of their own “hero impulse?” And if so, what if they are misapplying the reason that God gives us that desire?

Recently, a song by the band Rise Against, powerfully spoke to my own personal reflections on heroism and violence. The music video does a good job of telling the story visually that the song tells through its lyrics. I invite you to watch this video…

A young man leaves home to become a “hero,” but in the process becomes less than the man he was before he enlisted. He engages in killing, bullying, torture, and ultimately murders an innocent child waving a white flag of peace. All dreams of glory become his shame.

Most of the time we focus on how violence injures another person who bears the “image of God.” In other words, the conversation often centers around the victim and not the offender. I invite us to focus our attention on those who commit the acts of violence, even those who we deem “heroes of war.”

Jesus teaches us the pathway of peace. He shows us through the cross that the way of non-retaliation, upside-down enemy love, is the path through which God’s kingdom comes to earth. As 1 Peter 2 reminds us:

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“Jesus… “suffered on your behalf…” leaving “you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps…. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed.”

Jesus invites us into a life that looks like crucifixion, a life modeled by enemy love and peace. Christ believed that every human being bears God’s own image. To inflict violence against a human is like inflicting violence against God’s own self.

So what about the offender? When we send people into brutal situations, what does it do to them when they commit acts of violence? I’m speaking to all acts of violence, even ones portrayed as “heroic.”

It seems that one of the greatest risks of committing bloodshed towards another person is that in violence the person becomes less and less like the “image of God.” In other words, violence dehumanizes us. We see this clearly illustrated in this music video by Rise Against.

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Let’s think about this. If Jesus is (according to Colossians) “the visible image of the invisible God,” and therefore the fully human one, then Jesus shows us what it means to become restored as the image-bearers that we were meant to be in the first place. A life of this sort requires that we forsake violence in all its forms or else we run the risk of self-dehumanization. We run the risk of not being sanctified into the life of Jesus Christ as fully as we are as New Testament Christians.

Jesus modeled the way beyond dehumanization when we are threatened with violence. In Matthew 5, Jesus invites us to turn the other cheek as a way of asserting our equality with our oppressor. When enemies backhand us like slaves, we turn the other cheek and invite them to punch us in the face as equals. This gives them an opportunity to experience the destructive nature of their own aggression and helps the victimized to be more fully humanized as they endure just like Jesus.

Violence doesn’t simply injure the victim. Such actions destroy the offender’s humanity, be it a private in the Army fighting for homeland security or a drunken man cowardly striking a woman. When someone executes violence something changes within that person. Subtly but surely, violence stifles the movement of the Spirit to transform us into the likeness of the full image-bearer of God, Jesus the crucified and resurrected Messiah.

As Christians, we’ve done a horrendous job following the biblical teachings on nonviolence. From the days of Constantine to the “War on Terror,” well-meaning Christians applauded fellow believers who choose to take up arms against enemies of the state. Many of these folks return from battle with physical wounds and emotional scars (often PTSD).

“Heroes of war” become victims to their own dehumanizing violence, and if they are Christians, they become less like the Christ to whose image they are called to conform. It’s time to stop this cycle amongst the people of God by waving the white flag of surrender, “the only flag I trust.”

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Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting next year by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.  He writes at: the Pangea Blog and is also on Twitter and Facebook

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About the Author

Kurt Willems

Kurt WillemsKurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is the founding pastor of Pangea Communities - a movement of peace, justice, & hope. The church plant, in partnership with the Brethren in Christ and Urban Expression, is based in Seattle, Wa. Kurt writes at The Pangea Blog and is also on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.View all posts by Kurt Willems →

  • Matt

    This is just getting hilarious. The contributors on this site need to get together and figure out what their message is. Yesterday, Morf told us all that violence is ok as long as you’re not an American, but, for instnace, if you happen to be a Sioux Indian, its totally cool to kill your enemies.

    I can at least say that you own personal posts about war have been consistent. I can at least respect that.

    I still completely disagree with your notion of nonviolence. Whatever, its a difference, but you are wrong about the US military. The military is not about slogans and recruiting campaigns. Take the Army for starters. The Army is one of the only value based organizations that I can think of and when those values are compromised, there are actual consequences. Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage. Those are the values of the Army. Not heroism. Would anyone disagree that those values are bad?

    Now lets address the painfully obvious and distorted caricature of the American service member that this site absolutely loves to put out. The bloodthirsty killer who will always eventually kill a child or slaughter a village. I mean, seriously, you used a Rise Against video as the centerpiece of your arguement?

    Did this site actually cheer the massacre in Afghanistan where 17 civilians got killed? I just see a whole bunch of the contributors sitting somewhere and saying, “See, I told you. They are all terrible people. Bunch of killers.” Your caricature is childish and reeks of leftist bitterness.

    To the other readers of this post, please rest easy. Your country won’t entrust its defense to the writers of this blog post. The brave soldiers that I have the honor of working and living beside will move out when the goths are the gate. They really are heroes, aren’t they?

    • Rbhamilt

      Matt, I am not American but I have a great deal of respect for your country. After all if it was not for the US intervention in WWII, then my country, New Zealand would have been overrun by the Japanese. Resistance reasons seemed clearer then, though the principles cited in this article are still the same. Jesus said, as a principle, that those who live by the sword, die by it. He said that LOVING your enemies is no soft thing, in fact it is the hardest thing to do. And if we in the world, in the long run don’t do it, we will all ‘be blind’ one day (An eye for an eye, etc) Being a hero in the US military and following honor, duty, loyalty and all the other values you note,  isn’t ‘bad’ of itself. It is just depends on the context in which they are applied, and this is where the use of military force in conflicts comes unstuck too often.And that is what this video/song and article is about.  

    • Guest

       My first question, looking over your history of posts on here, is if this site pisses you off so much then why do you keep reading and commenting? You know you’re not going to change any minds, so the only thing I can think of is that you’re simply blathering on at the keyboard to gain hi-fives from the nine or ten other right-wingers who probably just visit to see what you’ve written. If your whole purpose for waking up and logging on the the ol’ interwebs is just to come be snarky at the “hippies,” then your life, and likely your faith, is pretty shallow to say the least.

      • Doug

        Reddd Nick,
        Are you being guilty of judgementalism there which is a major no-no-no on RLC ?

    • http://mikesnow.org/ Michael Snow

       Matt, I don’t see Kurt or anyone else saying that the military does not have those values. The critical question is how do we apply them. I tried the military way.  Then I found m wamy.  You can read the story with the free “look inside” feature here:
      http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Pacifism-Fruit-Narrow-ebook/dp/B005RIKH62/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1333199217&sr=1-1

      I had a dear friend in seminary, a fellow Marine, who died of alcoholism a few years ago.  He was never able to shake his demons from those years as a sniper. I have another friend whose son is now out of the Marines and has lost his faith and is struggling with alcoholism after three combat tours. It is stories like this that these that the article speaks to.

      • Mike

        Something changed in the posting, supposed to read, “…military way. Then I found Christ’s way….”

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    If someone will rise against the violence done to  the hundreds of thousands of unborn babies needlessly killed each year, I’d be up for that. 

    • Kel

       They do. That’s why abortion providers now have to wear bulletproof vests.

  • mike

    I guess we should never have used violence to free the Jews from Hitler.

    • Kel

      The US only liberated one concentration camp. The rest of them were liberated by Soviet and British troops. There goes that theory. Not only that, but America didn’t care about the Jews, it cared about retribution after Pearl Harbor. So do you care to rephrase that?

      • Doug

        Kel, I dont believe the poor inmates were particularly bothered by the nationality of their rescuers rather just the fact that there were those who had the moral and physical courage ( and dare I say love) to rescue them. That my friend reinforces the theory instead of negating it.

        During WW2 the pacifists ( mainly ) just finger wagged those who liberated both the camps and Europe/Asia from evil.

        How evil we Christians must have been to stop Dr Mengele and Adolf Eichmann’s horrific experiments. That must have been so unworthy of us to thwart the SS plans.

        • Kel

           You miss the point. Nobody went to war to free the Jews, they went to war for unrelated reasons. Think of it this way: Let’s say you buy a suit jacket second-hand, only to find a $100 bill in the pocket later on. Would you then say “I bought this jacket so I could get that $100 bill?” No. That was an unintended side effect. So was liberating the concentration camps. As a matter of fact, wasn’t worldwide opinion kind of slanted against the Jews at the time? Nobody but a few scattered activists (you know, those “pacifists” who harbored them in secret rooms and helped establish new identities and aided in making sure they found safety across borders) actually cared until they saw the mass graves and the living conditions in the concentration camps. The people fighting in the armies could have cared less. The non-violent spoke volumes more.

          • Doug

            Didn’t miss any point Kel. They never hit the beaches of Normandy with a compass direction to Auschwitz, noone claimed they did. Your accusation that noone cared until they saw the mass graves is historically false. The Jewish community had urged allied commanders to bomb the camps ( yes bomb them ) on the grounds that yes sure the inmates would die and civilians nearby too but that loss would be lesser in the long term. Allied commanders refused for various reasons but the knowledge of the camps was there before the war’s end.
             
            You say ‘The people fighting in the armies couldn’t have cared less.’ That’s hugely inductive and many fought knowing that Nazi tyranny had to be stopped. As G.K. Chesterton stated “The tue soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Many did not wish to see a similar fate befall their fellow countrymen nor leave their fellow human beings to the tyrants.
             
            To claim that the activities of the death camps and the Rape of Nanking was unknown is inaccurate.
             
            And the original still stands – The pacifists did not liberate the camps, if the pacifists had had their way the camps could still be there and an even greater number of ‘untermensch’ could have experienced their horrors. Not that some pacifists cared enough to do anything about it, preferring instead to finger wag those who had the love and courage to stop the tyrants. Do you ever stop to contemplate what could have happened should the Nazis and Japanese had won ? No probably not. Instead you just finger wag about how unChristian the liberators of Europe and the Pacific were deluding yourself you’re morally superior to the ‘militarists’.

          • Kel

             ”Instead you just finger wag about how unChristian the liberators of
            Europe and the Pacific were deluding yourself you’re morally superior to
            the ‘militarists’.”

            You want to talk about presumptions, here’s the mother of them. Go back over what I wrote and show me exactly where I said anything remotely like this.

          • Doug

            Actually Kel, you have a point and I apologise you have not stated such yourself. My point was directed against a good many of RLC’ers who display such a propensity. However I have in fact misrepresented you and thus regret any offense.

          • Kel

            Looking back on all that myself and trying to think how that must have looked through someone else’s eyes, what I in reality wrote looks pretty snarky and prideful.

            The long and the short of it is that both of the World Wars were incredibly hideous times, and in World War 2 in particular it took the well-intentioned actions of both the allied world’s armies and several heroic non-combatants to face down such a great evil. As a result, 60 million people were lost. You are absolutely right to say that those fighting men from all nations were needed to stamp out such a great evil. The sadness in the short term of those men who sacrificed themselves pales in comparison to the misery that would have been felt around the world had the Axis not been met with resistance.

            That Chesterton quote you offered is wonderful.

            Brother, have a great Easter. I’ll try to keep a cooler head in the future. :)

    • Kel

       Oh, and most importantly, neither the USA nor the rest of Europe that wasn’t a part of the Axis nations even knew about the concentration camps until troops had found and began liberating them.

    • Michael Snow

       Christians crossed a line that should never have been crossed when they went to war in 1914. And they condoned a merciless ‘peace’ in 1919 which prepared the way for the rise of Hitler and The Great War, Part II.
      We reap what we sow.
      http://www.amazon.com/dp/1616230800?tag=mikesnoworg-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=1616230800&adid=0AZ6XF8M7K5VH8W75ZY5&&ref-refURL=http%3A%2F%2Fsdcougar.startlogic.com%2Fblog%2F%3Fp%3D155

      • Kathy

        I have a question. It seems to me that Jesus words about turning the other cheek are regarding personal issues. If there are situations such as WWII or the Civil War when, though the war is violent and people die, the Nazis were stopped and slaves were freed…Would you propose simply letting those things run their course? What alternative method of turning the tide of evil would you propose? 

        • Michael Snow

          Reaping what we sow also characterized the Civil War which was not to free the slave but to preserve the Union. Read Lincoln’s words. Slavery was the major cause of the division, but as Sen. Fulbright once wrote, slavery would not have lasted another twenty years.
          We might have been spared all the deep hate and prejudice that the war engendered.  What a slaughter it was. No Christian should have taken up arms to shoot fellow Christians.

  • Drew

    It appears none of the band members have served and they are all Liberal Arts majors that are vegan, PETA activists.  I wonder what authority they have to speak on matters of war.

    • Redd Nick

       A hur hur, look Cleetus, I jus’ lawgged in o’er thar at thuh lib’ral site and called ‘em lib’rals and PETA vegans. That’s funny stuff rite thar, ‘speshully since I bet they ain’t had vegan since vegan had them.

      • Drew

        A thoughtful, Christian response sir – I appreciate it.

        • Redd Nick

           Much obliged thar, bud. Whut wif such a well thinked out Christian thang you had ta say, how could I be resistin’ the urge ta translate it fer mah neighbors.

          • Drew

            “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?”  – Proverbs 1:22

            I’m actually a college-educated (conservative) Democrat; we probably have more in common than you think.  I’ve agreed with as many posts on this website as I have criticized.  However, feel free to keep on mocking me if you would like… it really does not bother me.

  • Doug

    The pacifists never liberated the Nazi death camps. the former just finger wagged those who did.

    So what is the author saying here? -
    That a rape victim shouldn’t resist her attacker, rather help him with her bra strap?
    The wife being beaten shouldnt try to protect herself rather ‘ turn the other cheek’ to her drunken husband?

  • Doug

    “Violence doesn’t simply injure the victim. Such actions destroy the offender’s humanity, be it ……”  oh puhleez.
     

    How are you meant to respect nonsense like this ? So if cops respond to a 911 call of a rape in progress and forcibly pull a rapist of his victim, restrain him against his attempts to escape and cuff him then such violence ‘destroys the offender’s humanity ?’
     

    Look I dont mean to be rude but such bland platitudes of destroying the offender’s humanity are, to be honest, ill conceived and ill considered nonsense.

    Kurt tell me. You say you ‘ A life of this sort requires that we forsake violence in all its forms or else we run the risk of self-dehumanization.’

    So tell me if you find someone raping your wife and/or trying to kill her or your kids are you going to ‘forsake violence’ to rescue them ? Do you think Jesus would want you to abandon your wife or kids to some rapist/killer ?

  • Drew

    Although pacifism is a Buddhist philosophy and a wet dream of extremist liberals, it is not a Christian belief.  Yes, there should be an aversion to violence, but to say “a life of this sort requires that we forsake violence in all its forms…” is absurd.  Before you plant any churches, please do us a favor and learn good theology first and abandon your Buddhist/extremist liberal beliefs.

  • Doug

    Surely Kel, Red Flag Christians would encourage the abortion providers to turn the other cheek and not resist their murderers?
     
     
    The abortion providers shouldn’t carry guns for self defense after all doesnt that dehumanize them and makes them greater murderers? As the article says violence against anti abortion activists would not just harm the gunman but dehumanize the defender.
     

    “When someone executes violence something changes within that person. Subtly but surely, violence stifles the movement of the Spirit to transform us into the likeness of the full image-bearer of God, Jesus the crucified and resurrected Messiah” The abortion provider should remember that, so should the resisting rape victim and the battered wife. Right ?

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