Eisenhower Was Right: The Military-Industrial Complex Has Deformed American Christianity


However much people may debate the history and nature of Christianity, no serious student concludes that it’s a war-based religion. Jesus talked endlessly of things like “having life,” “bearing fruit,” “forgiving,” and even “turning the other cheek.” Never did he talk about joining the army and killing national enemies. Never did he seek political solutions to problems. Never did he seek foreign policy solutions. And never did he tell people that soldiers purchased freedom for them.

Whether any of us like it or not, those things are simply not among Jesus’ teachings. About the best pro-war fact you can point to is that he didn’t tell soldiers to quit. But then again, neither did he tell slave owners to quit. Jesus very seldom, if ever, did a “thou shalt not.” He was interested in planting good seeds, not creating rules.

I bring all of this up because I have watched the churches of America spin in a very “un-Jesus” direction over the past decade or two. Granted, there have always been un-Jesus things in Christian churches, but this movement has been quick, broad, and propelled by state influence. To me, that makes it worthy of comment.

Eisenhower Warned of Precisely This

As Dwight Eisenhower left office in January of 1961, he warned America against a military-industrial complex spinning out of control. This warning was almost completely ignored, of course, as the best warnings usually are.

Nonetheless, Eisenhower told us that the military-industrial complex would bankrupt the nation and subvert education in America. And then he did something that very few people remember: he expressed his concern that America’s spiritual life would be undermined by the military-industrial complex:

(Its) total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government… we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.

I’m almost tempted to call that speech prophetic. But prophetic or not, Ike nailed it. What he warned us about has happened. And perhaps nowhere have his “grave implications” been more apparent over recent years than in America’s spiritual life.

Regardless of our many and varied beliefs, it is clear that the churches of America have always mattered a great deal. Tocqueville was struck by that fact back in the 1830s and it remains true in our time.

Churches are where the vast majority of Americans get their philosophical thought. Lord knows they can’t get much of it from TV or from politicians. If the average American is going to sit still and listen to someone talk about things that matter, it will more than likely be in a church.

So, when a majority of American churches all pivot at once, it’s an important event.

What Has Happened

Let me be blunt in defining this change: The US military joined with the church in promoting a joint righteousness, and the church became a cheerleader for the military.

I understand that this is a very stark statement, but it’s something that I think all of us have noticed. We may use different words to describe it, but we all see it.

And what we have seen is church and state joining together in a type of partnership. This partnership filled churches and gave the US military a plentiful supply of recruits. Most importantly, it created a populace that reflexively supported the American war machine.

I view this as turning military service into a new type of sacrament, or at least a new standard of righteousness. Here are the specific things I see:

  • American sporting events now begin with what are, essentially, worship services. God blessing America and the honor of the US military are mixed together, with swelling music, the singing of anthems, hands held over hearts, roaring airplanes, and more.
  • The wounded soldier has become a new type of martyr.
  • Soldiers in general have become the new missionaries, going to far-away, dangerous lands to spread “freedom,” which has become a compliment or replacement for the gospel.
  • Church services are now filled with state imagery. Flags are proudly displayed and politicians are prayed for.
  • Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and the 4th of July and have become holy days, complete with military guest speakers and ceremonies to praise soldiers.
  • Local boys and girls who enlist in the military are praised from the pulpit.
  • “Christ died for our sins and soldiers die for our freedoms” is now a widely accepted belief… the kind of thing people say “amen” to and feel righteous about.

Again, none of these are “Jesus things.” Changes like this have occurred in the past, but not in any periods we’d want to emulate.

The Grave Consequences

War is not our friend. It is not uplifting. It is not enlightening. And while most of us will maintain our right to self-defense, no one with any experience believes that killing other humans makes us better.

So, let me begin at home, with the Americans who bear the most acute consequences: the soldiers.

There are reasons why a thousand vets per month attempt suicide, and the endless adulation they receive is not helping. These soldiers know that they’re not saints. Many of them are horribly damaged from their “service.” A large number of them have nightmares about the people they killed.

The ideology that swirls around this is simply false: Killing people is not uplifting; it is damaging. American boys and girls are not coming home better than they were; they’re coming home worse. And they, most of all, know this about themselves.

The partnership uses these young people as props, to glorify the partnership.

Furthermore, are we really to believe that there is virtue in sending machines to rain death upon foreign people… at weddings? Are Christians really supposed to pretend that this is God’s will? Are they also to pretend that turning our children into torturers is a holy thing? Would Jesus send his disciples to a torture school?

I’m not pulling out red herrings here; I could have made a quite lengthy list of such incidents. This is what war is.

Overseas, the situation is worse. I’m not sure how many hundreds of thousands of innocents were killed or maimed in Iraq, yet Christians inside the partnership pass it all off with trite little phrases like, “It was bad there anyway.” Would Jesus so little value their lives? Is God “a respecter of persons”?

Furthermore, this new religious ideology trickles down to our local, civic lives. Since no one dares question “our protectors,” police departments have been turned into military forces, and a long list of abuses have followed. (See here and here.)

Nor have churches been immune. This new church/state partnership has filled the pews and the collection plates, but the resulting influx of money has not made those churches any better. (See this and this and this and… I could go on. In fact, my editor removed over ¾ of the links I originally had here.)

Waiting for Generation Josiah

I had originally planned on explaining how people were drawn in to this new partnership, but I decided that it wasn’t worth your time. The people who give this serious thought will be capable of figuring those things out for themselves, and the people who are emotionally bound to the partnership won’t be persuaded in any case.

The core of the issue is this: The new War Church ideology bears no actual relationship to Jesus. You only have to read the gospels to see that fact.

Right now, however, millions of people are held to the partnership by emotional pressures: They know that if they question the righteousness of war, they’ll be branded a traitor and lose their friends. That’s precisely the wrong base for a set of beliefs, of course, but it takes a lot of guts for a churchgoer to defy his or her pastor, several big-name evangelists, and a couple of dozen friends.

But eventually, some Christians—most of them young, if patterns hold—will gather the courage to hold to the gospels and reject what contradicts them, even when preached by “authorities.” And when that starts to happen, we may see a “Generation Josiah.”

Josiah was a boy king back in the Old Testament. Once he became old enough to understand the spiritual corruption of his time, he went out to break idols and republish the true holy books.

So, I am waiting for young Christians to pull their act together and do better than the state-partnered Christians that preceded them. War and Christianity don’t belong together; church and state don’t belong together. They never have and they never will.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.