ON GOD AND WAR

Christopher Hitchens has some amusing observations on the mix of Christianity and war politics. A couple of choice lines:

In one way, the church’s “peace at any price” policy is a historical improvement. The last instance I can find of Rome supporting a war was when it blessed Gen. Franco’s invasion of Spain, at the head of an army of Muslim mercenaries who were armed and trained by Hitler and Mussolini. And everybody knows of the crusades, which were launched against Christian heretics as well as against Muslims and (invariably) the Jews. But one wonders how the theory of “just war,” largely evolved by Catholic intellectuals such as Augustine and Aquinas, ever managed to endorse the use of force. As applied these days, it appears to commit everybody but Saddam Hussein to an absolute renunciation of violence.

Indeed. The Catholic Church’s moral authority on this issue is rather dubious.

As a member of Atheists for Regime Change, a small but resilient outfit, I can’t say that any of this pious euphemism, illogic, and moral cowardice distresses me. It shows yet again that there is a fixed gulf between religion and ethics. I hope it’s borne in mind by the president, next time he wants to make a speech implying that God is on the side of the United States (and its godless Constitution).

While I find this passage amusing, I have mixed reaction to it. As to the “fixed gulf between religion and ethics,” he’s right as far as it goes. Clearly, there are immoral religious people and moral irreligious people (Hitchens and this pundit, to name two). The two aren’t inextricably linked. Still, religion generally and Christianity in particular have served as tools for teaching universal moral values. As to the link between politics, especially war politics, and religion, Hitchens is indeed correct. In most wars, both sides claim to have Divine backing. To say that “God is on our side” is essentially meaningless. Bush fully believes that he is doing Good Works in going after the evildoers, but he is opposed in that view by the leaders of the Methodist church to whose views he subscribes. This isn’t irreconcilable within the context of Protestantism, with its Priesthood of All Believers, but it does show the futility of invoking Divine Providence for one’s actions. Simply making the moral and practical case strikes me as more useful.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Religion
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.