Not against Flesh and Blood – Part III: Democracy in Afghanistan and the Human Heart

Democracy and Afghanistan

In my two previous posts in this series, here and here, I wrote indirectly about the idea of just action during war (Jus in bello) and just cause leading up to war (Jus ad bellum). First, I implied that as a Christian soldier, prayer for our enemies is one means to acting justly within the context of war. Prayer for our enemies allows us to distance the person, who is made in the image of God, from the false beliefs or immoral behavior they might hold or display, even if those beliefs are seriously disparate from Christian ones, or if the behavior is especially malevolent.

Then I argued that the Iraq war was a just war, even if it was handled poorly. It is important to make the distinction between the intent of the Bush and Blair administrations (which was good) from the execution of that intent (which was, in some crucial ways, poor). Thus, soldiers who have fought in Iraq can and should feel at peace about the war they fought in, regardless of certain strategic-level attitudes and decisions that spawned overly optimistic narratives which never came to fruition, and that may have contributed to a sense of the war as appearing “meaningless.” Regardless of failures to establish western-style democracy, it is still important to know that Saddam Hussein very likely would have continued to cause great amounts of human suffering had he not been stopped through the use of force.

In this post, however, I want to turn back to Afghanistan and take a microscopic look at that kind of overly optimistic attitude of the West that might have contributed to the sense of us (the United States) being able to somehow convert the culture and people of Afghanistan to our way of thinking, and that through military and political intervention. When I say “our way of thinking” I am referencing the kind of post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment view of personal freedom and individual liberty that is most clearly formulated in the Constitution of the United States and The Bill of Rights.

For, while I do think the Constitution enshrines for us a unique view of liberty, I do not think that the exceptionality of the Constitution as a founding document is sufficient to compel anyone or any culture to embrace Western democracy or values. Rather, the only way to get to a true appreciation of the Constitution and the freedoms it enshrines, is through the biblical worldview, and the Judeo-Christian theological traditions that ground it. Thus, an individual, or a nation, must first embrace the Bible and the Judeo-Christian worldview, if it is to embrace something like the US Constitution and the values it endorses. Obviously, Afghanistan was not in a historical position to do this.

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Afghan Democracy: The Shura of Elders

A Personal Illustration: Changing The Human Heart

Dom, a fellow believer, was sent to our part of Afghanistan to work with local government officials and police chiefs to try and train them in the basics (and I mean the very basics) of Democracy. His role was to teach simple strategies of interpersonal communication, project planning, and problem solving. In other words he was trying to teach western-style managerial methods to men, who were accustomed to a lifestyle where literally “the strongman rules” and when he rules, he does so with an authoritative fist. Not only that, but a culture where deception and guile are valued as legitimate means to ends, and where blood is far thicker than any degree of individual merit or aptitude.1Please note, I am not saying that deception and guile are not practiced in our own democratic process, I am just arguing that they are not considered values to be treasured or promoted. So, the managerial, communication, and problem-solving methods of Western democracy that Dom was trying to train local Afghan leaders in, presupposed certain evaluations about human nature and governance that are not necessarily shared by Afghans. This much should be obvious.

Safe to say, Dom became frustrated rather quickly with the lack of progress being made. He was, after all, there to do this job, and to do it well. And he was a good government worker, bright and diligent. At some point I felt the need to encourage Dom in his vocation. I made an almost simplistic point, saying, “You’re not called to change these people’s hearts, your job is just to given them what has been given you. What they do with it, that’s ultimately up to them. Do your job well, but don’t count on results.” Perhaps it is also worth saying I was not totally convinced that what Dom was required to train these men in is what they really needed anyway. But, I didn’t want to discourage the man from his task (and neither did I have any authority to do so).

Two things stuck with me from this interaction with Dom, our expert from the State Department. First, you cannot get someone to really appreciate certain Western democratic norms, to really believe they are better than any other particular set of cultural norms, if they do not know about or to some degree appreciate the biblical worldview that anchors them. That is not to say there isn’t some overlap between the Afghan worldview (well, this particular version of it) and the biblical one. Certainly there is commonality to be found between those two world views, and certainly there are areas of overlap between Afghan Islam and Christianity, areas where perhaps Western Secularism and Christianity are at odds. But, where there is difference, and I mean theological difference, it is stark. Those theological differences are the seedbed for the kind of political ideology that many thought could simply take root in Afghanistan. They erred.

The second thing that stuck with me was this: that the only thing that can really change what an individual human being appreciates, what he truly loves, is a change of heart. But, the only thing that really changes human hearts is the God who created the heart, and the God who came into the world to rescue it. Therefore, I came to believe, that no number of soldiers in the world, nor all the military might, nor all the political machinations, nor all the good intentions, nor any amount of technology or any degree of scholarly analysis, no diplomatic sophistication or any threat of overwhelming violence can change the heart of one, single human being. That job is reserved for Christ alone, and alone through Christ can we be changed.

In this series of posts I have tried to show that all war, even physical combat, is not a war against flesh and blood as the Apostle Paul tell us, but a war against spiritual darkness: a darkness that manifests itself in false beliefs and evil actions. People are and will remain forever sacred, but falsehood and evil must be eliminated if justice is to reign.

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