Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Religious Reasons and Military Justifications

If you are in the US military today, one of your jobs is to help restore Israel to its borders as described in the Bible - in order to bring about (or because success will be evidence that the time is near for) the second coming of Christ.

This is not to say that this is an explicit part of our national foreign policy - which the military is charged with helping to enforce. It would be more accurate to say that this is in the back of the national mind in designing that policy. Those policies that have been made explicit have all been examined under the light of its effects on making it more likely or less likely that Israel will return to its original borders. This concern gets weighed against other matters - such as peace and justice - and can sometimes outweigh those other "secular" concerns.

A part of the reason why Israel can get away with some of the things it gets away with is because of the political influence of this religious faction that holds peace and justice to sometimes subordinate to religious prophesy.

However, let's not deny that this policy of "killing and injustice in the name of a god" is one-sided. On the other side, we also have a "killing and injustice in the name of a god" on the other side.

Unfortunately, when you have two groups of people, each of whom think their god grants them permission to do violence to the other, there is no hope for peace or justice.

This is why wise and civilized societies adopt the principle that religion is a poor reason to do violence. Either they re-interpret their religion as one that condemns such violence, or they abandon that religion. If they do not choose one of these two options, they are condemned to live in a society of violence, poverty, disease, with its resulting death and suffering.

Another way to state this, in a way that is relevant to this series of posts, is that religions reasons shall not color our military decisions at home or abroad. We will not condone, let alone commit, violence and injustice in the name of any god. Each person has a liberty to engage in their own religious practices, up to the point where that practice makes them advocates of violence against others.

I have been spending my time recently looking at Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists. Specifically, I have just started looking at his first policy objective:

Our military shall serve and include all Americans, religious and non-religious, with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.

I am proposing a slight modification - a stricter rule than Faircloth provides. It calls for "no hint of religious rationalization coloring our military decisions at home or abroad". This principle translates into a prohibition that says that our soldiers do not kill in the name of any god."

Last week I wrote about the first part if this policy objective. I argued that it is absurd to "include all Americans" and that some standards are needed to determine who is acceptable and who is unacceptable. In place of Faircloth's policy above, I suggested that all people are to be accepted for inclusion unless good reason can be provided to the contrary. Religion does not provide a good reason to the contrary. They do not justify blacklisting any person or group. In the absence of religious reasons, there is no justification for blacklisting atheists or gays - which is why they should be included.

In this post, I am looking at the second half of this policy. I am claiming that, in the same way that religion provides a poor reason for blacklisting any person or group, it provides a poor foundation for military decisions. The separation of church and state finds its greatest value in the call for the separation of religion and violence it implies. Killing in the name of a god is prohibited.

Imagine two groups, squabbling over some piece of land because "God gave it to us. It is ours by right."

God did not give that land to anybody. What has happened is that some tribe liked the idea of taking some plot of land from some other tribe. In order to neutralize any guilt they may feel over the fact they are about to become murderers and thieves they assure themselves that their god said it was okay. They will likely pray and perform some religious rituals, after which they will come to the surprising (not!) conclusion, "God says we can have that land." Then the stealing and murdering can commence without all that guilt and shame getting in the way.

You have heard it said that religion is the source of morality. Yet, it is all too common to find people rationalize immorality by saying, "God gave us permission. In fact, He insisted!" The very fact that god is an invention makes this easy.

It is no different than a young child asking imaginary parents if he can stay up late or have cookies for supper. Imaginary authority figures are as strict or as lenient as those who do the imagining want them to be. Usually, these imaginary authority figures are very lenient towards the one doing the asking, but gives the asker all sorts of rules and commandments to impose on others. Typically, the person talking to god will discover that god wants others to obey him (without question and without reason - as a matter of faith) - again, not surprisingly.

There is no defense against this "god said I could" argument. Anybody can assign to their god any attitudes they want their god to have. Nobody can prove that god did or did not say what the speaker said. There is no evidence available to determine the attitudes and actions of an imaginary being.

Try to demonstrate that I have not talked to god and learned that god has granted me and my followers all of the islands of the Hawaii chain, and granted us permission to use all means necessary to acquire that which is our god given us. You have no proof against it. The only tool you have are the instruments of violence - the military and courts - to use against me and my followers.

Do you want peace? Then you agree to the principle that religious reasons are not to be taken as justification for violence and injustice. Religious reasons will not color our military decisions at home or abroad. Those who do not accept this principle - are those who favor killing and injustice in the name of some god. Those prone to kill, maim, and inflict harms in the name of some god are a threat to the public.


Anonymous said...

Thank you.
A worthwhile piece to think about. It is always amazing how "God's will" seems to reflect and match the desires of the preacher or politician at the time.

Kristopher said...

"Those who do not accept this principle - are those who favor killing and injustice in the name of some god."

that is false.
you are equating all religions with the subset of religions that believe in an active god that grants property rights. in other words christianity, judaism, islam, and perhaps others of which i am less familiar.

a religion that did not believe in property ownership and were devout pacifists, who based their military strategy on religion would not lead to violence (assuming they follow the pacifism better than christians follow their "pacifism"... think Jains). obviously they too shouldn't base real world military strategy on make believe nonsense. but to say that it necasarily leads to violence is plainly false.

your usual argument against acting on false premises is better suited to why we shouldn't use religion to make military (or any) strategy, because it assumes many false premises, making it more likely that we make mistakes... not because it will inevitably lead to violence.

you had the correct conclusion but i think you used the wrong argument.

if you were specifically talking about christianity, islam, and judaism then you point probably still stands but even then their sub groups of those relgions that preach pacifism, (and adhere to it) though they are by no means large. so you might have to say making military decisions based on "mainstream judaic religions" leads to violence.

Emu Sam said...

Kristopher, I think you read too fast. Alonzo said: "Then you agree to the principle that religious reasons are not to be taken as justification for violence and injustice. Religious reasons will not color our military decisions at home or abroad. Those who do not accept this principle - are those who favor killing and injustice in the name of some god."

You write as though the principle were the second sentence in the quote, when the word principle is used in the first sentence. That principle can apply to followers of pacifistic religions. The exception would be followers of a pacifistic religion who are willing to become violent as soon as they think their god says otherwise.

Kristopher said...

i think your right... my mistake. sorry all