Wars are fought over values. When value beliefs cannot peacefully coexist, violence breaks out, and war begins. The current war or terrorism is a perfect example of this.
Before I came to Afghanistan, I had the belief (a naïve one, perhaps) that all people were the same, deep down inside. From my experience here, I no longer believe this.
I have come to see that the values of most Afghans are different than the values of most Americans. I will not say that this makes Americans better than Afghans, because God creates each person, and that gives every person equal value. However, I believe our values are better, for both ourselves and for the world, than the values I often see here.
I have written of this before, so I won’t go into how our values are different, or what makes them better. But as I read an article quoting Tony Blair, Prime Minister of England, say this very thing, I had to conclude as he did that our present war is being fought over the values we hold dear, versus the values our enemies hold dear.
I am reminded that I am part of a fighting force which is fighting to uphold and defend certain values: life, liberty, respect and tolerance, and a law-abiding society. This of course isn’t to say that every American lives up to those values, or even that every Soldier in US uniform lives up to them, either. But inside our hearts, we share these values and hold them in common. It’s what makes us American, and it makes us different from a lot of other people in the world.
Other Americans cannot appreciate this difference, but those who have ventured outside the United States tell me the same thing. When I was home on leave, I spoke with a member of my church who had lived in Pakistan many years ago. As we compared notes, we both agreed that the values held in the area were much different than our own. Before I left, he spoke to me of this, but I didn’t understand. Now I do.
Before this conflict can be ended, there must be a way to reconcile the values of our two very different societies. As it stands, their values cannot tolerate ours, and ours cannot tolerate theirs. They are mutually exclusive.
I’m not sure about the best course to resolve this values conflict. Right now, it involves active warfare here in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq. No one wins as long as open warfare exists, but neither side can retreat from their held beliefs, so we continue down a deadly path until one side prevails and the loser adjusts to a new version of reality, one that can accommodate the views of the victor.
I understand a little better now how the Communists felt they could not fully implement their ideology until the whole world was under their command – as long as opposition exists, a source of dissention remains, and the values they are trying to enforce are met with resistance. Without resistance, a population can be compelled to follow an ideology, be it Communist, Fascist or Muslim.
This should be a lesson on the value of tolerance, both to them and to us. Hopefully, tolerance will win out in the end and bring peace and reason.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.