What has changed in our nation since the battle of Antietam? A great deal, but what specifically has changed in our nation to where we were willing to sustain 23,000 casualties in a single battle and 620,000 deaths overall? Obviously the cause of defending the union in the North and state’s rights in the South, while eliminating/defending slavery at the same time were lofty aspirations. Many will lay down their lives for a good cause, but why over the 145 years since Antietam has that sacrifice become increasingly difficult to make. With each war that follows, the tolerance of Americans, as well as other western nations, as diminished for losing life in battle. In Somalia, for example, the tragic loss of 18 soldiers was enough of a rallying cry to pull out. In Antietam, a single cannon blast could wipe out 18 soldiers. Afghanistan is now becoming a more and more desperate situation. Desperate from the standpoint that more and more lives are being lost on a weekly basis. Our tolerance is very low for death.
My attempt at contrast is not to try to compare the worth of fighting the civil war or the war on terror. I believe that the diminished tolerance of losing life in combat is a reflection of our spiritual values in a very ironic way. You would think that the more you pursue faith, the less likely you are to want to commit to war. I don’t believe history holds this to be true. You only have to look at the fanaticism of Jihadist blowing themselves up in the name of faith to see this. The contrast between a jihadist and our own reluctance to be dogmatic in our pursuit of the war on terror is the clearest evidence to date that increased faith and increased peace may not be a true equation.
What is the end result of faith? In a practical sense, faith tells us that our actions here on earth have an eternal impact. That our choices will determine how we face our eternal judge, God. In a faith perspective, life is the trial you go through to determine your eternity. Remove faith, and your life takes on new meaning. There is no eternity, except maybe the legacy of deeds or family. There are no consequences after you die. You simply return back to earth. This prospect is very bleak, yet embraced more and more by the west. In the time of the Civil War, mothers and fathers sent their sons to perish in mass numbers, but they took comfort in knowing that their child had an eternity.
Now, without any hope for eternity, the desire to allow one to live as long of a life here on earth is the goal. People do everything they can to preserve their own life and that of others for as long of a time as possible. It is a strange twist, the less concerned you are about eternity, the more you value your life. Jesus did say that if you want life, you must lose it first. If we do not view this life as the opportunity to lose it, we want to hang on to it. A jihadist see his sacrifice as the doorway to his skewed eternity. The Islamic world sees all events as the will of Allah. If they lose masses of people in a war against the great satan, it is the will of Allah.
Now, to bring it all full circle, how did we get to the point of diminished faith? I have heard a myriad of reasons, from separation of church and state to socialism. Our reluctance to lose life in combat has led me to a new theory on why our faith has diminished. I believe that as our life expectancy increases, meaning the increased probability of a delivered child to reach a full age of 78 or higher, we have become less dependent on hope of eternity. When families used to lose several children before the age of ten, they had the hope of eternity. Now, it is a rare and tragic loss. When young adults lost their lives to infections or war, they had a hope for eternity. Now, it is a rare and tragic loss. When older people succumbed to all cancers, there was a hope for eternity. Now, even at an age where death is expected, it is a tragic life. We mourn the perceived finality of the event and do not celebrate the passing into eternity. This is not to say that there are not those that still believe in eternity, such as myself. This is a statement on the diminished role of faith in the Western culture as a whole. This theory has to be the most ironic of all.