A few months ago, the movie “Wonder Woman” had as the main villain, or villain behind the villains, Ares, the Greek god of war. Some were surprised or disappointed by the choice of actor to play that role. They felt that the character did not fit the larger than life image of what they pictured as a God of War. Yet, in Greek Mythology, Ares was looked down upon by most Greek storytellers. Outside of at Sparta and a few cities in Northern Greece, he was rarely worshiped. Most of his stories were ones involving his humiliation. He, siding with Troy, lost in the Trojan War against Athena, who sided with the Greeks. Athena was linked to the “glorious” side of war, while Ares was linked to the thuggish side— always linked with his relatives– Fear, Terror, and Discord. The Greeks normally did not see Ares as larger than life. Rather, he was smaller than life.
I feel the movie was successful in its image. It was nice to have a seemingly pleasant, somewhat unassuming man, be Ares– evil secreted within the mundane. Likewise, the fact that Ares showed up hiding in the public arena on the side of the “Good Guys” should give one a reason for pause. Further, Ares is not portrayed as the master controller of mankind, but a rather petty manipulator of already flawed, violent, sinful humans. Of course, all of these characteristics can be applied to Satan. The devil doesn’t make us do much of anything… we ultimately do it to ourselves. The devil may not look as we expect, and may even not be working with the people we think of as the bad guys.
Christians have struggled with war as well as fascination with it. Jesus told soldiers that they should behave in a just manner, but did not say they can’t be soldiers. On the other hand, the early church often felt that military service was incompatible with being a Christian. Today, a lot of American Christians really seem to get into military and war.
From my own denomination, the following is a line from the latest version of their articles of faith (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000). It is not meant to be creedal… although some treat it as such.
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace
The wording is a bit vague, but still generally commendable, I suppose. But among the Baptists, and many other Evangelicals, I have seen the other side. There are a lot of Hawks among Conservative Evangelicals. Back in 1984, I attended a big conference in Washington DC, “Baptist Fundamentalism ’84.” Definitely not my scene but I played saxophone for Cedarville College Symphonic Band that performed one of the days of the conference. We were not performing the day of President Reagan’s speech, but were in the audience. During his speech, several people stood up on the left side of the hall raising a banner yelling “Bread, not Bombs!!” “Bread, not Bombs!!”
Quickly, they were grabbed and ushered out of the hall. A couple of my fellow bandmembers were sitting in the vicinity of the protesters. They said that as the protesters were manhandled roughly, some Baptist Fundamentalists spat on them.
It kind of makes you think— or at least it should. Why would Christians behave in a manner that was so inconsistent with Christ’s call to love everyone… including enemies? And, why would these Christians be so angry about a slogan that seems so obviously commendable. I served in the military for a few years, but even I can see the good sense in identifying food as a greater human priority than military armament. Even in the closing chapters of the Cold War, that really should have been obvious. Of course, maybe the crowd was incensed that a speech was interrupted. Frankly though, the protesters did much to make the conference much more interesting.
I feel that many in the crowd were part of the cult of Ares. More recently, many Christians on FB seemed to be so angry that some players are not standing up for the US National Anthem in NFL and NBA games. I can’t really connect to the concern much. I live in the Philippines, so we don’t do the US National Anthem– rather we do the Philippine National Anthem. Even though I am a foreigner, I would never consider sitting down for the “Lupang Hinirang.” My goal is that “whatever state I am, therein to be content”… and respectful. But why would Christians be getting disturbed about whether one stands or sits (or anything else) during the National Anthem… or whether they say or don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. As a Baptist, the Anabaptists are my spiritual siblings. Many of them refuse to participate with these rituals on the belief that they are idolatrous, or violate the call of Christ not to make vows. Why would so many Christians become so angry about things that would put us in conflict with fellow Christians? One might say that it is about Patriotism or Nationalism. But really it is not about that, but conforming to societal norms… or actually conforming to a very specific vision of what some wish to be a societal norm. That, of course, begs the question of what that vision is.
The US is interesting because Patriotism is often linked so much with war. I read a little article recently (I hope it is true… there is so much opinions reported as actual news). It showed the history of having the national anthem played at games goes back to World War II, and the having players be seen to respond to the National Anthem goes back to Department of Defense military recruiting. (You can read the article and decide for your self HERE.) Of the four major patriotic holidays for the US are Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day, three of those are dominated with war themes.
I am not a pacifist, but things seem a bit out of control. In recent years I have had a number of people say to me “Thank you for your service to our country” when they found out I served in the Navy. I never had that happen during my time of military service, or for many years after that. Frankly, I did it as a job and as a duty. I feel good about my time in the Navy, but I believe that through my role in Christian ministry I have been much more involved with real service to my country, and many other countries than I ever did through my time in the Navy. Maybe as Christians we can try to find a balance between the extremes of the Vietnam War period (people spitting on War veterans) and this time of jingoism.
I remember sitting in a church in the US when the pastor suggested that the right to bear arms be considered by Christians to be a non-negotiable viewpoint along with the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and salvation by faith. That view certainly is some weird sort of syncretism, and “The Cult of Ares” seems as good as a term to describe this loose mixture of Christian virtues with a weaponized Americanism.
I feel like this blogpost is a bit rambly… but it is still an area that I am thinking about. Ultimately, however, any view of Christianity that follows a Jesus who is anything other than the “Prince of Peace,” does need some soul-searching. The gods of war (note: the gods of war, not those who serve) are more deserving of ridicule and humiliation, than of adulation— much like Ares.