Saturday, July 9, 2011

What is Worth Living For is Worth Fighting and Dying For

In his poem "On Seeing the Reformation Monument, Geneva," the Hungarian poet Gyula Illyes, writes (What You Have Almost Forgotten, p. 67) in connection with religious wars, such as the Thirty Years' War, of a famous Hungarian riddle:

The net result, written upon the blackboard --
-- the continent you wiped clean with your armies --
was the mere answer to a foolish riddle,
and that only possible in Hungarian,
where Protestants call themselves 'keresztyen'
and Catholics call themselves 'keresztyeny'
both meaning 'Christian'. And so the riddle runs:
'Why is a keresztyen more than a kereszteny?'
Did you really require the blood
of so many millions dead, before
you could distill this particle of sense,
this little 'y', and when, forgetful of
your duty, you took up the sword and hacked
the Gordian knot of Christian brotherhood,

Many look at history, with its religious wars, crusades, Irish Troubles, and all the spilled blood in the name of Jesus, and ask, Why should anyone fight for religion? In nomine Domini incipit omne malum—In the name of the Lord begins all evil; or so the saying goes. The spectre of the Catholic Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Islamic Taliban, and most especially, an "old Testament God," are all often invoked whenever the concept of fighting for religious liberty is addressed in modern discourse.

The image of conversion by the sword, though it has no historical connection to Calvin's Geneva, Knox's Scotland or Winthrop's Massachusetts, is a powerful lens through which myopic moderns view all religious wars of the past. Forgotten is the defensive nature of the Dutch and Puritan Declarations of Independence, forgotten is the tyranny which the Huguenots resisted with their lives for the sake of conscience, forgotten is the fact that Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, wished to impose Catholic uniformity of worship upon his Protestant subjects, which provoked the Thirty Year's War.

There are those who believe that it is unlawful for any Christians to take up the sword in defense of anything. There are also those who question whether it is worth fighting for or dying for anything.

Albert Camus:

There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.

I would contend, however, that whatsoever is worth living for is worth fighting for (lawfully) and, if need be, dying for. Life, liberty, true religion, these all matter enough to fight for and die for.

Aragorn (The Fellowship of the Ring):

If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword.

A good man will give his life for his friends, John 15.13; Rom. 5.7. According to the Scriptures, a man, even an unbeliever, who gives his life for his friends, family or country, or even a stranger, has done something noble, a civil good, and is therefore a hero.

William Wallace (Braveheart):

Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!

On a personal as well as a national level, there are many reasons to take up arms. It is a matter of wisdom, and certainly many foolish reasons, often rooted in pride or the love of money, have been the basis for many bloody conflicts throughout human history, often with a veneer of religious justification attached to them. The Anglo-Dutch trade wars of the 17th century, between two ostensibly Protestant nations were a disgrace and a grief to the godly of that age. In our day, the spectacle of wars in the Middle East over oil is repugnant to most of us, and rightly so (I speak in general not necessarily of the current conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq). National pride is a terrible reason to sacrifice the precious blood of its heroic men.

Chariots of Fire:

Lord Cadogan: Hear, hear. In my day it was King first and God after.
Duke of Sutherland: Yes, and the War To End Wars bitterly proved your point!

Duke of Sutherland: A sticky moment, George.
Lord Birkenhead: Thank God for Lindsay. I thought the lad had us beaten.
Duke of Sutherland: He did have us beaten, and thank God he did.
Lord Birkenhead: I don't quite follow you.
Duke of Sutherland: The "lad", as you call him, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.
Lord Birkenhead: For his country's sake, yes.
Lord Birkenhead: No sake is worth that, least of all a guilty national pride.

The use of Jesus' name to justify the unlawful taking of human life is a matter of grief to all who count his name precious. It should be remembered that just because his name is put forth as justification for the taking of life -- which is not even the case with the Taliban -- does not mean that it is done according to the mind of Christ (ie., with respect to the sixth commandment). Yet, where he has called us by his Word and Providence to protect that which is good and precious, we have a duty to fight and, if need be, to die in defense of the good.

J.W. Campbell:

I think it is true to say that religious truth, being the greatest thing in the world, is worth fighting for, and if attacked should be defended at all costs.

The kingdom of God, though spiritual, is not at odds with civil liberty, but rather it alone provides the true basis for it. And those charged with upholding civil liberty -- magistrates, and the soldiers and law enforcement officers under them, in the lawful exercise of their just duties -- bear the sword not in vain to protect the good and punish the evil, Rom. 13.4 (hence we pray for kings and all those in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness [first table of the law] and honesty [second table of the law], 1 Tim. 2.2).

John Kennedy of Dingwall:

[The Establishment Principle is not only] worth living for, but a principle worth dying for.

Of all the causes to fight and die for, those of life and civil liberty and, most especially, true religious freedom, are most excellent. To fight and die for the life and freedom of others, when called upon by Providence, is noble and virtuous; to fight and die in defense of the Lord's cause, when the circumstances are just and appropriate, is truly "precious in the Lord's sight" (Ps. 116.15).

Patrick Henry:

What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

The Scottish Covenanters who fought -- defensively -- for Christ's Crown & Covenant were also heroes. They took up arms not for personal gain, nor for economic profit or clannish pride, but for the prerogatives of the true head and king of the Church. True religion is the most precious of causes for which to fight and die, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16.25; see also Matt. 10.39; 16.26; Mark. 8.35; Luke 9.24; John 12.25; etc.)

Robert Burns, The Solemn League and Covenant:

The Solemn League and Covenant
Now brings a smile, now brings a tear;
But sacred Freedom, too, was theirs:
If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneer.

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