What do George Orwell, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway all have in common? All three of them participated in the Spanish Civil War, a war which was won by the fascists and installed Francisco Franco as dictator for life in that country. The Spanish Civil War is viewed as a pre-cursor to WW2, particularly given that Franco had help from both Mussolini and Hitler[1]. I recently returned from two and a half weeks in Spain. We stayed in a hotel overlooking a gorge that some citizens threw their neighbors into less than a hundred years ago over a political disagreement about who should rule the country (after a democratic election). While the reasons for the war were complex, the extremists on the right whose interests aligned with the nobility, the wealthy landowners, the Church, and (of course) the military, eventually defeated those on the left who were a loosely formed coalition of populists, intellectuals, socialists, Marxists, and Leninists. The left had fairly won an election before the uprising and was in power. The fascist right refused to honor this loss, and instead staged an uprising.

Leading up to the 2016 election, I was shocked to see a former ward member’s Facebook post stating that if Hillary Clinton won the election, he would literally join his fellow Republicans, take their guns to the streets, and commit violence to prevent her from becoming President. I didn’t know whether this was a valid threat or hyperbole, and since she lost the election, I’ll never know. The idea of citizens committing violence for politics in the US, at least at the time, felt too foreign an idea. With the increasing polarization, the constant propaganda and lies that culminated in the January 6th insurrection, and even the violence on airplanes caused by fighting between maskers and anti-maskers over individuals either following or refusing to follow the masking requirements on flights, the idea of an actual civil war feels closer than ever before in my own lifetime. Both groups want to be able to have a say in how we are governed, to have access to power and control over their lives, and for their worldview to prevail.

There was an Evangelical woman identified as a white Christian nationalist being interviewed on a Vox podcast before the election who was asked “Would you support democracy even if your candidate or party lost as a result?” She would not say yes. She said she would have to think about that. Protip: if you resort to violence when you lose the debate, that’s not a democracy; that’s not freedom.

When we returned from Spain, we went to see Black Widow [2] which prompted a re-watch of Avengers’ Civil War. In the film, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers face off ideologically. Tony has become convinced that they need a check on their power, and possibly even that the collateral damage that they inflict needs the cover of having been sanctioned by world governments. He doesn’t want to continue to make mistakes that others question that result in loss of life and other dire consequences without ensuring that those sacrifices couldn’t have been avoided. Steve, on the other hand, is skeptical that leaders always have it right, and he’s convinced that governments are often motivated by personal power, politics, and sometimes dark actors with hidden agendas who will turn them into puppets for bad causes, like Hydra did to his pal Bucky. What makes this particular Civil War interesting is that we expect these arguments to be reversed; Stark is the anti-authoritarian outside-the-box thinker and Steve Rogers is the good soldier, but in having them argue the opposite points from what we expect, we can see the appeal of these arguments, that they aren’t just black and white ways to look at things, that they may have merits to discuss and understand more deeply, that neither approach is without casualties.

I’ve recently listened to the Mormon Civil War podcast that refers to what podcaster Peter Bleakley calls “Pharisees” (those who seek to control behaviors and thoughts of individuals and create programs and policies that prevent diversity of thought, leader feedback and accountability and common consent, and who set up high level leaders’ ideas as a substitute for the gospel) vs. those who want more freedom of thought, more diversity in the membership, more ability to disagree with leaders’ ideas, and more allowance for individuality (a Church with more agency, free discussion, open debate, scientific inquiry, open-mindedness, fewer ticky-tack rules and enforcement, and more member involvement in decision-making and program-creation). The term Civil War feels a little over-the-top, but then again, maybe not. After all, Bleakley was just excommunicated for his observations.

This ideological difference is also the same war that we are taught happened before the world was, the war between Satan and the third of heaven who followed him who didn’t want to have to make choices and take risks and have personal growth and were willing to give the glory to the one controlling them, the one making the rules to prevent any of them from being lost, and Jesus Christ who agreed that not all would be saved because individual agency was more important and that individuals needed to be able to have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them to become gods.

The Garden of Eden is another example of this ideological war: Adam believes in following directions, even when they don’t make any sense and are contradictory, so that he can retain God’s approval. He’d rather remain in ignorance and have plausible deniability about wrong decisions. Eve, by contrast, listens to the opposing argument and makes her own choice, causing the fall from Eden, but intentionally. She owns the choice when confronted by Adam, explaining her rationale, and allows him to make his own choice, to come with her or to stay alone in the garden. Adam is, initially, anti-choice, wishing to be protected and controlled by obedience, doing what he’s been told. Eve wants to gain knowledge and make her own choices, even if God disapproves and punishes her, and she also recognizes that God has given them contradictory instructions, that either way it’s a choice–a passive one or taking action. This is the same argument as so many of these “civil wars”: personal accountability, mistakes included, or living under the protection of an authority with plausible deniability and no personal accountability for mistakes. Even if a leader is wrong, you’ll be blessed for following them. Unquestioningly. Do people really believe that?

  • When do you think violence or civil war is justified?
  • How do you see the ideological divide in the Church currently? How do you think it will resolve?
  • How much of these differences are about power and how much about ideology?
  • Do you see the War in Heaven and the Adam & Eve story this way? Why or why not?


[1] In true fascist fashion, he denied that he had this assistance, instead lying to make himself look tougher. We stood in the square behind Gaudi’s church, the facade of which is pockmarked from violence. Franco claimed he shot dissidents there, but the “bullet holes” go up to the second story, disproving his lie. The truth from eye-witnesses and contemporaries is that Mussolini dropped a bomb in that square to help Franco win.

[2] Love, love, love Florence Pugh!