Voting forces you to take a stand. All the arguments, no matter how nuanced, come down to a Yes or a No. You can’t pick Yes with certain exceptions or No with personal provisos. You can’t vote for one candidate with a little of another candidate thrown in. You have to make your choices and live with them. Voting also forces you to trust the political process, even when it seems that the issue at hand does not have a political solution. You cast your ballot and hope that most of your fellow voters think as you do. If they don’t, then you hope things will work out anyway, since you’re in the minority.
In a sense, every vote cast, regardless of the candidate or the issue, is a vote against violence. The act of voting says, “Change can occur without bloodshed.”
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The New York Times carried an article today about the arrest of nine members of a so-called Christian militia in Clayton, Michigan. They are charged with plotting murder and sedition. The Times uncritically labels them “Christian” apparently because that was how they described themselves. Calling themselves the Hutaree, they “saw the local police as ‘foot soldiers’ for the federal government, which the group viewed as its enemy, along with other participants in what the group’s members deemed to be a ‘New World Order’ working on behalf of the Antichrist.”
To the secular world, religion or every kind is without meaningful content, so it should come as no surprise that a group espousing murder and hatred should be able to call itself Christian. To those who follow Jesus Christ, however, it is an offense. Jesus laid down his own life and taught his followers to lay down theirs. Search the New Testament for any passage that justifies murder, sedition, or even forming a citizen militia, and you will search in vain. Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus to arm themselves for battle but makes it clear that the struggle is against spiritual, not physical, enemies. Likewise, he tells believers in Corinth that the gospel has powerful arguments capable of demolishing strongholds, but it is minds and hearts he wants to capture, not people. Even the apocalyptic passages depict a ruler making war on the saints, not saints making war on anyone.
Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies, do good to them, and pray for them. Those who claim to follow him must at least try to do what he said. But anyone who claims to follow him and continues to do evil is a liar. Such a person does not deserve to be called a Christian. If the charges against this militia in Michigan are true, then they are not Christian; they are domestic terrorists masquerading as Christians.
The news coming out of Fort Hood is shocking. Soldiers killed and wounded by one of their own. My heart goes out to the families and friends of those killed and wounded. No words can console them; they are bereft.
Tomorrow the pundits and analysts will start in. We will hear again about the need for gun control legislation and about our Constitutional rights. Major Hasan’s motives will be examined, and some will wonder why no one saw him as a threat. There will be proposals to beef up security at our military bases. Some of the proposals might even do some good. Some will seize on Maj. Hasan’s evident Muslim faith as a probable factor. Others will point to the majority of Muslims throughout the world who just want to live and let live.
No matter what comes out, however, about Maj Hasan’s motives, we should keep two facts in mind: We cannot guarantee anyone’s safety, and we don’t want a society that values safety above freedom.
We certainly ought to take all reasonable precautions to protect our service members. If we can prevent a recurrence of what happened at Fort Hood, let’s do it. We need to realize, however, that an open society will always also be dangerous. We could (theoretically) have a benevolent totalitarian society where the government provides protection for everyone. No one has guns except the government. No one can move from place to place without official permission. We give up every privacy and all our self-determination in exchange for safety and control. As individuals, we face these same choices all the time. We can accept responsibility for our actions and remain a danger to ourselves and others, or we can cede control to others who declare that they have our best interests at heart and let them tell us what to do.
One of the reasons why we still like hero stories—movies about tough good guys and rule-breaking bad-asses with hearts of gold—is that we value freedom above safety. I think all humans are like this, though there are differences in degree from culture to culture. What we seldom realize is that in opting for freedom over safety, we are also choosing hardship and suffering over comfort and ease. Even those of us who lead lives of relative ease, do so by offering our sons and daughters, our friends and companions, those among us who are willing to fight and risk death in order to preserve our freedoms. They buy our right to safety and comfort. Usually the price is low: a few years of service with good pay and benefits and moderate risk. Sometimes it is high: traumatic injury, mental disorder, physical and emotional scars. Occasionally it is exorbitant: death.
Freedom isn’t free. It’s not free in the political world, and it’s not free in the spiritual world. Some of us must suffer and even die to maintain our freedoms. We don’t get to choose who among us will be the ones to pay. So everyone must be ready.