Between Caesar & Mohammed
Love of Enemies & Patriotic Duties
The Lord said, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” This eminently practical precept, if not directly taught in Leviticus 19, may be inferred from it, and the “you have heard it was said” indicates that the inference was commonly made. What, indeed, will happen to people unable to develop sufficient moral leverage to hate their enemies? The interests of the peace which wars are fought to earn do not appear well-served by the teaching that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (The Lord did not say that fighting or killing them was outside the boundaries of love; indeed, the Father whose sons and agents we are, takes every life away in perfect love and justice.) As a practical matter, though, in the life and mind of the secular polis, the generation of lively hatred for the enemy, the hotter the better, is a necessity. That is why one “hears it said.”
This is not, however, the way of Christians. C. S. Lewis, a decorated veteran of trench warfare in France, demonstrated that Way in Mere Christianity:
I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the First World War, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.
It took no little courage for Lewis to say this during yet another terrible war with Germany. Organs of national propaganda have not found propagations like this helpful, especially during wartime: the Hun, the Bosch, the rapers-of-Belgium, and, in our day, fanatical Islamicism in its slavering odium for everything that resists absorption—one must admit these depictions as practical and politically necessary as what the hearers of Jesus had heard about their enemies.
The Christian Way
Love of the enemy, however, demands he be treated justly and fairly, that we do nothing to him that we wouldn’t have done to ourselves. This is the Christian way in the world, as much as it may anger and disturb those responsible for making wars in our name and for our sake—even wars Christians consider just and in which they willingly participate. David Mills recently observed in a private correspondence,
The passions that politics feeds—wrath, envy, resentment, excitement, etc.—drive many Christians far more than theological conviction. One change I’ve noticed lately is that religious conservatives have been shifting in the political issues they pursue from a religious to a secular or worldly viewpoint. They may be very devout, but what raises their heartbeat is not religion but politics.
The epinephrine to which David refers is comprised of very un-Christian passions like “wrath, envy, and resentment,” and we share his observations about the frequent failure of distinctively Christian thinking around political issues—a failure that may be extremely well camouflaged in a political conservatism that is far friendlier to Christianity than modern political liberalism.
Christians & Islam
The issue arose recently among us in a discussion of Christian treatment of Islam, a religion that has been from its beginning, and under the explicit direction of its Prophet, a bloody enemy of Christianity. We would be both naive and foolish to ignore the facts of its history or the consonance of its more radical and warlike teachers with the example of Mohammed and the precepts of the Qu’ran.
S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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