Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Iraq War and Apostasy

It is not out of the ordinary for people in the church to abandon the faith and go their own way. What interests me, anecdotally speaking, is that it seems to be happening to personal acquaintances of mine in an increasing number. The question I keep trying to answer for myself is why it is happening so much and during such a compact space of time. It could just be that since I'm in my twenties and this is a time of great change and transition for so many that I'm just in that season when this kind of thing happens. This probably has some validity, but it doesn't account for the facts these people have in common.

There is one factor that all but one of the people I know who have abandoned Christianity had in common: skepticism about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by interest and dabbling in Emergent theology. While the decision to abandon faith in God is surely complex and rife with propositional considerations, I am coming to believe more and more that the personal implications of opposing the war have been of some importance.

Ready or not, here comes my sloppy psychoanalysis of what the Iraq war could possibly have to do with my friends' decisions. Evangelical Christianity tended to support the Iraq war en mas; so much so as to create the illusion of a consensus. Initially, though these friends of mine (none of whom know each other) had some misgivings about going to war to one degree or another, they all eventually came to a unanimous rejection of the Iraq war (and for that matter, the Republican party).

While I can't say that this was the sole factor (that would be naive!), it was the moment for these people to allow their thought to break from the majority of evangelicalism. Essentially, I believe, they asked themselves, "If the Evangelical church can be so ignorant on something as obvious as the morality of a pre-emptive war, they are probably wrong in a lot more areas." I can also say, anecdotally (with the exception, once again, of one of them), that this skepticism about the American church's position on the war led them toward the Emergent brand of thinking, a rejection of the inerrancy of the Bible, and acceptance of other heterodox ideas (I also noticed that among many of them the writings of Brian Maclaren became admired). This was the last stage I was able to observe before these friends declared themselves to be either simply non-Christians, or in some cases agnostics.

One thing that can be said is that in none of these cases did my friends abandon Christianity in favor of a positive worldview. In all of these cases, my friends have not chosen to positively defend another worldview or religion. This chain of events created skeptics with nothing to defend, but (in their opinions) plenty to reject. Now, of course they have come to believe something but they will not come to acknowledge this.

Some may argue that the Emergents were mostly to blame; after all, they were the ones who told my friends that Hell and the Bible and Jesus weren't the central or most important things in life. My response to that is, I believe the Emergents found so much traction during the 2001-2008 season precisely because they spearheaded the American church's rejection of war. Their popularity was a symptom of a generation who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and yet could not find a voice, because all their parents in the evangelical churches, by and large, thought that these wars were both necessary and good. Voiceless, they turned to leaders who would tell them the things they already secretly suspected ("We think the war in Iraq is immoral. Oh, and also, we believe that the Bible isn't inerrant, Jesus is not the only way to God, Hell is horrible and to be rejected on those grounds, etc.").

Others might say that I've over-simplified things. And on that note, I'll just end by saying I have no doubt that I have over-simplified things. All I'm trying to do is understand the connection between the opposition to the Iraq war and eventually leaving the church altogether. Maybe some of you have similar stories/chastisements/insight for me.


  1. I am sure I can outdo you in oversimplification:

    They went out from us, because they were never one of us...

  2. My earlier comment seems to have disappeared. What I said was:

    Perhaps a more interesting question is - why are the evangelical churches in the US so keen to approve wars? and what would need to change for them to become more discerning?

  3. Kevin, at least you have an authority to appeal to! LOL

  4. The evangelical church was doing a lot of things wrong for a very long time.

    Praise be to God that my faith and salvation never rest in the Church but the Bridegroom.

    It is posts like this one which always reinforces Augustine's factual quote:

    The church is a whore and my mom.

  5. I think Kevin said it best but if you want to do more research you should see if the same thing happened when we declared war on Germany in 1941.

  6. Adam-

    I realise that i am a bit late here, but I wanted to add that am not sure that you have oversimplified much. I think we are moving into a period that could ably be called "Post-Christian" for some of the reasons you signify.

    Nevertheless, I think it overtly simplistic to surmise, as Kevin has, that they were never one of us. Nor do we know they will not be brought back to repentance from their rejection of the Truth.

    Most of what you have signified regarding the evangelical church's wholesale support of Bushian conservatism as it relates to the wars can be seen to draw from Mark Noll's critique in "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," which I am sure you have read. These casualties I see stemming from larger theological problems with evangelicalism and its implicit dualism, following Noll.

    But I think you haven't considered the strong possibility that these people have left the faith for another religious tradition: Liberal Skepticism (a critique that I hopes bring into view some of my other assertions on this blog about the philosophical liberalism implicit in much of evangelical theology).

    So in the final analysis, I am not sure that it is Emergent theology itself that is the problem; rather, it is a symptom of a larger theological quagmire.

  7. I think that may be a very fair critique, Jared. Unfortunately, I actually haven't read Noll's book, though your reference has certainly piqued my interest.

  8. You're right, Jared. The Apostle John oversimplified apostasy. How silly of me to quote him.


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