There are some articles that one should not have to write. The thesis they defend should be so obvious that setting it forward should be unnecessary. However, there has been a remarkable degree of saber-rattling toward Iran over the last several months. Further, a founding document of so-called neoconservatism claimed that, “Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has” (and we all know how swimmingly our project in Iraq has gone!). So, unfortunately, it does seem necessary to make and defend the obvious claim: Christian faith is inconsistent with the central tenets of neoconservatism. Let me briefly summarize why this is so.
First, perhaps the central goal of neoconservatism is the use of U.S. military force to impose a “pax Americana” around the world. If one reads, for example, the Project for the New American Century, one finds something of an outline of how this it is to be accomplished. It specifically recognizes that we Americans are not likely to buy into such an ambitious foreign policy. Thus, the document indicates that a catalyzing event, “like a new Pearl Harbor,” would be needed to empower the administration to push forward with this agenda. The terrorists’ attack on Sept. 11 became that catalyzing event, and the war in Iraq was to be the initial step toward building the “pax Americana.” Even if things were not going so badly, it is hard to see how Christians could affirm this aspect of the neocon agenda.
Second, for Christians, there are really only two broad frameworks in which to assess the use of military force. Either one embraces Christian pacifism, or one embraces the Just War Theory. Since, as already noted, neoconservatism rests largely on a particular way of utilizing military force, we can see that neocons do not embrace Christian pacifism. So, for neoconservatism to be acceptable to Christian faith, its vision must conform to the Just War criteria. But does it? First, there simply is no basis in the Just War criteria for going to war in attempt to establish a “pax Americana,” nor for “regime change.” Neither of these constitutes a “just cause.” Second, there is no basis for pre-emptive war within the Just War tradition of the sort envisioned by the neo-cons (oh, if an enemy has amassed troops on the border, it hardly matters who shoots first, but we had nothing like that in Iraq nor Iran). Finally, it is likewise difficult to see how the U.S. could be considered as having “legitimate authority” for attempting to establish a “pax Americana.”
Third, while it might sound surprising, neoconservatism simply does not take the concept of human sin and evil seriously enough. It is surprising because it is often the neocons who point out that there is genuine evil in the world that must be confronted. At the end of the day, however, neoconservatives are simply too optimistic about our own goodness. In other words, too much of the neoconservative agenda rests on the belief that while “they” are bad, “we” are good. Note that the issue here is not “moral equivalence,” i.e., no one need think of “us” as bad as “them.” Rather, we only need recognize that no one should be entrusted with the sort of unilateral power implied by the neoconservative dream.
We, as followers of Jesus, should reflect on the differences between our calling to be imitators of Jesus and that to which the neocons would call us. And, most of all, we need to recognize the incommensurability of the two ways of being in the world.
Chuck Gutenson is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and blogs at