Thoughts on “Freedom” in War Rhetoric

Canada is at war.  Again.

As our leaders discuss why or why not (and where) we should be dropping bombs, I’d like to offer two different definitions of freedom that may help us sort through the rhetoric.

Definition #1Freedom is another word for having the power to kill our enemies.   “It’s a form of power, especially power over and against national enemies.  To come out say it, freedom is the euphemism for lethal power – the power to kill.  When you have power to kill your enemy and the will to do so, you’re free.  When you have the biggest, most well-trained, best-equipped, most lethal military – then you’re “free.””  (Brian Zahnd in Farewell to Mars, pages 117-118).

Definition #1 is the one most used by politicians justifying violence against their enemies.  Conveniently, it’s also used the definition used by their enemies to justify violence against the politicians (or their country, or citizens, etc).    Basically, it’s saying that both sides of an argument want the freedom to kill people who disagree with them.  And when both sides are killing each other to protect their ability to kill each other, well… Yeah.  That’s a bit of a quagmire, isn’t it?

Do you really think the only way

To bring about peace

Is to sacrifice your children

And kill all your enemies?

Larry Norman (Farewell to Mars, p. 131)

Definition #2Freedom is another word for not needing to hate anyone.  When we don’t need to project our hatred against anyone, we’re free (That was either Richard Rohr or Rob Bell, and I think they were quoting Rene Girard.  But they also got it from Jesus).  This is why Jesus speaks about the truth setting us free.  What truth?  That we are to love our enemies.  That we are to pray for those who curse us.  That we are to do good to those who hate us.

Jesus is famously quoted saying “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”  The funny part about Jesus telling us that the truth will set us free is that he’s tells it to a bunch of people trying to find a way to kill him (see definition #1).

Even the Apostle Paul is on board with this.  “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What’s the slavery?  “The desire to arrange the world in such a way that it serves the interest of our own self or our own group.”  (Farewell to Mars, 129).  What’s the freedom?  Liberation so that we’re free to love our enemies.

This definition is not used by many of us, as we tend to paint our enemies as evil and beyond redemption, and thus are able to treat them as such.

Now, I am fully aware that to some people, definition #2 of freedom is quite absurd.  “You mean I’m supposed to be free to love everyone?  Even the ones who violently kill people?”

Ummm… You do know that it’s Easter week, right?  The week where we retell the story of how Jesus was killed by both religion and state power?  Where Jesus was painted an enemy and hung up on a cross?  Where he wasn’t getting in line with the powers in arranging the world how they wanted it arranged, and the result was his death?

And how, even on the cross, the Jesus sought the forgiveness for his killers?  How he loved to the end? And how this Jesus movement was the first movement in the history of the world whose leader was killed and his followers didn’t call for vengeance?

I understand definition #1.  However, I believe in definition #2.

I believe that true freedom doesn’t lie in killing our enemies.

I believe that true freedom is not having anyone to hate at all.

And I believe that it’s along the path of definition #2 that we begin to find our salvation.


For a more in depth look at Jesus and ISIS, check out my sermon from the fall.


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