Saturday, June 10, 2006

God and war

This image was sent to me by a friend via email. I could be mistaken, but I think this is a group of American soldiers in Iraq, having a prayer meeting. It is a powerful image and it got me thinking about the relationship between religion and war.

If God exists, I wonder what he thinks about this picture. Would he respond to this group by saying:

“I have heard your prayers. I will protect you and help you in your cause”.

Is God on the side of the Americans? We know that the Americans invaded a sovereign nation that posed no threat. We continuously hear of all the innocent civilians that have lost their lives and how Iraqi prisoners of war have been tortured. I feel great sorrow for the American soldier who has been sent to this country to die for a meaningless war that should not have taken place, for an ideal built on faulty premises. Is God supporting this mess?

I can’t understand how leaders of a government, who are responsible for so much suffering and death, can believe that the loving God of the universe condones their actions.

If God is the God that Christians truly believe in, I think his response to this group of soldiers would be:

“Haven’t you learnt that I am loving? Haven’t you been taught to follow the example of my son, Jesus, who preached that you should love your neighbour? Why do you pray to me at one moment, and then kill in the next? Why do you follow your earthly leaders so blindly?”



Shmanky said...

Interestings thoughts. I think their motivation is more about comradery than practicality.

wflooter480 said...

I remember when I was a xian and the subject of war came up. The ones that said that war was not necessarily bad or evil was because it was more like glorified defense. They said that if they felt like their families were being threatened, and they did after 9/11, they would protect their families, with force and violence if necessary. So in essence that was what war kind of meant to them. Defense. At the time I thought that thinking was somewhat logical, but what this Iraq business is now, is not like that at all in my opinion.

Other people defended the war because they said that the hundreds of wars in the bible were "righteous" and condoned I guess you could say, by god. They also said that god puts our leaders in their positions for a reason; god knew all this would happen, so we should all be surrendered to god's will, and this must be it, so let's support it.

Ofcourse, I think that's hogwash now. You could easily say then that Roe v Wade must be god's will and that abortion should be legal and practiced because god's pawns in government made it happen. Religies love to pick and choose what god's plan is and what is not constantly. Even looking at the historical accounts of jesus in the xian bible that is just simply not true if they want biblical evidence. He was constantly telling the Pharisees that they were idiots, did not know god and were white-washed tombs. And they were the GOOD law obeying fundies of the time!!

And if anyone ever questioned god's will, esspecially if it seemed sketchy, they would simply say that it takes faith and only faith to know god and his will. So that basically helped them sleep better at night that all this mess in the world is going to be ok, except ofcourse the homos and the babykillers. They ofcourse should be bombed. hehe ;)

marc said...

That's an oversimplification of Christians and War.

I dont really think there is enough room here to discuss it at length.

Roger Saner said...

Yes, that's a huge topic. My own perspective is what Isaac Asimov has one of his characters repeatedly say in the "Foundation" trilogy (written in the 50's): "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." I think pre-emptive strikes are a load of rubbish (and Bush has unluckily proved me right) etc etc. That said, I would support a war to defend my own freedom if someone else was trying to take that freedom away.

And yes, it's never as simple as that (real motives, oil profits etc - will we ever know the truth?).

As for the picture, I hope the soldiers aren't praying for God to smite their enemies, but for their families back home, and for their own protection - both for themselves and the Iraqi people, and if not, for the courage to die well.

Kyaroko said...

It helps you go on and do the job that you have no choice about when you feel like it has a higher purpose and that if you start off every day/shift commiting your actions to an unseen God, they will then be justified.

That being said, I do think it's more about comraderie than actual belief that god is on their side. Though in George Bush's case, he really does believe that god is on his side.

What I will never understand is the post-touchdown, pre-celebration dance prayer in the endzone. "Thank you god for this touchdown", like an omnipotent god would really waste his time with gladiator sports.

marc said...

oh and another thing...George bush is bonkers!!

Anonymous said...

You should read Mark Twain's "The War Prayer". It is very short and very powerful.

Kevin Parry said...

Very good comments all round! For me, there are two main issues arising from the comments made so far:

1) The soldiers in the picture might actually be praying for their families (as Roger suggests) or they might be, as Shmanky suggested, using prayer as to strengthen camaraderie. I accept this. Prayer has many uses other that wishing ill upon one’s enemies. For me, the problem is not necessarily that they might be praying for God to smite their enemies (I doubt that few would actually pray this). For me, the problem lies in the fact that they could be praying for at least God’s assistance, which implies that God is specifically on their side.

2) I agree with comments, specifically from Roger (wflooter480 also mentioned this) that war can be justified if our freedoms are under threat. I agree with this, but with some reservations. The ‘our freedoms are at stake’ reason is a good one, but again, it can be manipulated by those in power who have other reasons for going to war. But I believe, in principle, that one can go to war if they are under threat. The problem here is that Iraq posed no threat to the USA, so the premise of that war is morally ambiguous, to say the least. As marc says, war is a very complex issue, and a single blog post cannot untangle all the debates surrounding this topic.

By the way, I second the statement by Marc about Bush ;-)

And thanks for the reference to Mark Twain, anon, I will definitely look it up.

All the best


Cori said...

I have a problem with the idea that war can ever be justified Biblically or within the context of the Christian faith. Augustine was the first, as far as I know, to coin the term 'just war' and outlined some pointers as to when war would be justified.

But a thorough reading of the Bible has brought me to believe pacficism is the only position I can take. In the Living Bible edition it states in Matt 6:39, But I (Jesus) say, "Do not resist violence! If you are slapped on one cheek, give the other too!" Throughout the Old Testament it speaks of how weapons of war will be turned into tools for farming - that is the picture of the kingdom of heaven the Bible paints - one of peace, and a passive response to violence.

When we speak of defence, what are we defending? As Christians, what is truly ours? Our freedom? What freedom? Have we not given up all rights for the kingdom? Kieth Green writes powerfully about this in No Compromise where he records his very difficult struggle of letting go his loved ones, letting go his rights, letting go even the idea of rights within the kingdom mentality.

The obvious counter argument is what about Nazism; would we not today be under Hitlers regime had we not fought. There are countless incidences of successful passive resistance in WWII on a small scale. Had more people refused to pick up weapons, refused to obey what they were ordered to do by the Nazi's, refused to leave their homes, refused to spread the Nazi propoganda, the Nazi system would have been rendered useless.

In the Rwandan genocide, the former leader of African Enterprise describes how people with machetes entered his home threatening to rape his wife and murder his children. His natural human inclination was to protect them, to defend what was 'his'. But his spiritual response was to resist that and submit himself to the violence of his killers. In amazement they left him alone.

Stories like this are countless. Others who passively resist die. But rather to die in peace than to die wielding a weapon! How can it ever be justified to inflict consciously pain, even death, onto another human being?

How much more courageous it is to do nothing in return to violence, than to fight back. Fighting back isn't courageous. It's what we're taught to do from the first day on the school playing field! It's not fighting back, it's turning the other cheek, it's being silent before one's accusers, it's responding with love to whatever the world throws us that takes real courage.

Sorry, this is a long comment but it is something I feel so strongly about! The more I study the topic, and the Bible, the more convinced I am of the danger of ever justifying any act of violence. If your enemies persecute you, rejoice! Love them - those who do violence unto you, those who threaten your nation, your family, your way of life, your ideals, your freedom. Love them!

Note: for more on passive resistance, Martin Luther King Jr and Ghandi are great examples!