British journalist G.K. Chesterton once wittily pointed out, “My country, right or wrong” is tantamount to saying, “My mother, drunk or sober”. Critical thinking is a skill we must not turn off when evaluating the actions of our government. It was Israel’s prophets, who denounced the nation when it was sinking in self-destructive behavior, who loved Israel the most. Similarly, Americans who love their country must, of necessity, want the country to live up to its own ideals and must be disgusted when it doesn’t.
Historically, Christians have believed in “just war”. As Joy Davidman explained, “There are many who feel that the only way to abolish murder, public or private, is to abolish violence altogether—rather like reasoning that the only way to abolish indigestion is to do away with food. The use of force, after all, is a natural and necessary function of man in this dangerous world.”
In believing that it is possible for wars to be just, it is crucial for us to be very careful about uncritically accepting America’s wars, as if everything America did was inherently just. Mistrust of government, not taking the government at its word without looking into matters ourselves—these are principles that shaped the founding of this country. That’s why the founders fought for free press being a basic right—a free press is necessary to keep the public informed and hold the government accountable.
As Christians, we believe our basic human rights are derived, not from the government, but from God. This was another core principle shared by practically all the founders. Remember, Jefferson said people are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”. Endowed, not by politicians, but by the Creator. Christianity, therefore, provides the philosophical framework for civil disobedience when government goes awry. Secular humanism, which leads some to regard our rights as being derived from the government, provides no comparable framework. If the government literally determines what is good and bad, what right do we, as citizens, have to say that anything it does is bad?
Christians can’t turn their consciences off. If America is engaged in a war it considers just, it is up to us to not merely take the government at its word, but to find out for ourselves if it really is, in fact, just. It is no disrespect to soldiers, who are understandably admired for their courage and self-sacrifice, to call into question the unjust actions waged by governments. “Support our troops”, if it means pray for men and women in harm’s way, is well and good; it doesn’t mean stamp with approval any military action the government takes. This is a crucial distinction to keep in mind on Veterans Day. Modern southerners make this distinction all the time when they laud the bravery of their Confederate ancestors (Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, etc.), while also affirming the South was emphatically wrong about the question of slavery.
U.S. veterans are sometimes put on a pedestal, and treated as if they are the great defenders of the cherished values of faith, freedom, and family. There may have been a time when this was true, before America itself became a nation where “Big Brother” tramples people’s privacy in the noble sounding name of protecting people from terrorism. It may have been true before America became a state where citizens are routinely denied basic freedoms and justice in court is often available only to the ultra rich. It may have been true before America became a nation where 4,000 unborn children are murdered everyday, and where the nation’s largest abortion provider, the tax-payer funded Planned Parenthood, can be exposed for selling the body parts of aborted babies and this can be virtually ignored by mainstream media.
It may have been true before America became a nation where military chaplains could get fired and/or reprimanded for expressing historic Christianity to their colleagues. It may have been true before America became a nation with tax penalties incentivizing co-habiting outside of marriage, where the highest court in the land has unilaterally defined marriage in a way that is antithetical to how it has been defined by all world religions throughout history, and where innocent families can have their children kidnapped from them by the government’s hypocritically noble sounding “Child Protective Services”.
The Universal Human Rights Declaration, published by the United Nations in December of 1948, spells out 30 articles of basic human rights that all nations ought to seek to protect for their citizens. Article 12 says, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
The Patriot Act, implemented during the George W. Bush Administration, unjustifiably violated people’s privacy. The same can be said of standard TSA procedures at airports throughout America today. “Arbitrary interference” with people’s family and home is what characterizes the routine, Monday through Friday, operations of government agencies such as the Department of Human Services. In regularly leveling absurd and unfounded accusations against parents, with the aim being to take children into custody and make money by adopting them out, DHS by their very existence makes parents suffer attacks upon their “honor and reputation”.
What is the point? The U.S. is not what it used to be. Examples abound to illustrate that the U.S. government is anti-family, anti-faith, and anti-freedom. Military men and women today are not fighting to preserve the ideals our country was founded upon because those ideals have been discarded. This isn’t the fault of brave soldiers, but it is a fact we must come to terms with.
State-sanctioned violations of the United Nation’s 1948 Human Rights Declaration are so routine as to hardly be newsworthy anymore. If we do not fully own up to this reality, we’re likely to honor Veterans Day by idealizing the U.S. military and the wars it carries out, forgetting that, contrary to Superman comic books, the American way is not necessarily synonymous with “truth” or “justice”. A just war can only be waged by a nation that is, at least compared to its opponent, just. “Just” doesn’t describe our government, and hasn’t for some time.
We must think critically. Patriotism doesn’t mean deference to authority that suspends the need to evaluate the moral decisions being made by those in authority. Whatever it means, it doesn’t mean mindless support of your country, right or wrong.