Brian Zahnd remembers when he, a pastor, threw a huge party for the beginning of the Gulf War—when he, a Christian leader, celebrated the invasion of a country and the use of the sword. Since, he has repented. He even says it was the worst sin he ever committed. A Farewell to Mars is part confession, part instruction, a book about why he left the effective worship of war and chose to worship only God alone.
Zahnd takes us on a “journey” of sorts through the realizations that he came to while reading and studying scripture. His book is not presented as a thesis with a point per chapter, but more like a process of progressive thoughts building to an overarching conclusion: We cannot serve God and warfare.
Our author begins by questioning whether we preach peace in our churches, getting to the root cause of our problem: We do not define freedom as loving, but as vanquishing. We define freedom not as needing sacrifice, but specifically as needing killing. He contrasts Christ vs the Crowd, the Jewish concept of world-repairing with the worldly concept of world-conquering.
Then things get ugly. Zahnd calls out America for her bloodthirsty desire to wage war and disguise it as good morality and religion, part of the campaign for God. “We sequester Jesus to a stained-glass quarantine and appropriate a trillion dollars for the war machine.”
Although Zahnd’s believes it to be a misnomer that Christianity=pacifism (seeing pacifism as a secular philosophy and not motivated by religion), he defends pacifism and all peace-waging against the charge that it is cowardice. He defends Jesus against the common perception among denominations that he is merely a personal savior. Rather, Zahnd argues for a Jesus who matters to the world of geo-politics, a Messiah the church must embody as a witness to the political world. This means refusing to wage physical war.
“Jesus saved us from scapegoating violent sacrifice.” This is the crux of Zahnd’s discovery he chose to share. Turning “swords into pluoughshares,” he learned that Christians must say farewell to warfare if we are to put on and keep on Christ. It is a challenge to American Christians, many of whom fall into the trap of glorifying war in the name of “freedom” and excusing it as necessary for religion.
What I liked best about Zahnd’s book is his use of quotations from famous literary and philosophical sources, from Rene Girard to Walter Bruggerman to Bob Dylan to Ernest Hemingway. I think this helps a secular audience see that such great poets and thinkers echo the peaceful teachings of Christ, and help point the way to a peaceable kingdom.
Because the book is an account of a journey presented with Biblical and secular perspectives, it is persuasive but not exhaustive. It does not make for the best material for a debate, and it does not tackle the wider variety of scriptures that present the Messiah and his new kingdom as pro-peace (and consequently anti-war). But it does give the unique and personal touch of one Christian minister’s testimony.