Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | war peace and the military



Devout spies, cont’d

In your post about the Nicholsons, Heather, I hope you didn’t forget the case of Robert Hanssen, sometimes deemed the very worst Soviet mole ever, who was deep into ultraconservative Catholicism. (Wikipedia: “The Opus Dei priest who heard Robert’s confession told him to give the money to charity as an act of penance. Hanssen told his wife that he gave the money to Mother Teresa, but it is unknown if he actually did so.”) I’ll be the first to admit that none of these cases amount to much as an affirmative argument — there’s no reason to think that of the next 100 enthusiasts for Opus Dei you meet, even one is at risk of becoming a Hanssen-style Kremlin spy — just that the oft-mooted prophylactic effect of religious enthusiasm against world-league personal misbehavior doesn’t seem to work very well.


Commenter Ploni Almoni chides me for describing Northern Ireland’s Troubles in my post yesterday as an instance of “tribal violence based on religion” when in fact (Almoni says) the strife was “based on nationality, or ethnicity if you prefer”, between Irishmen and Orangemen, and sectarian only as an incidental corollary. Perhaps more surprising, Almoni contends a similar analysis would apply to “other national conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian war. You can’t blame these fights on religion.”
One way of looking into this question would be to examine how the various sects and their clergy behaved: did their doctrinal holdings, actions and associations tend to fuel intergroup hatreds and frictions, or overcome them? Commenter Dave offers a few observations along these lines, as does the Daily Telegraph obituary of Conor Cruise O’Brien linked in the original post (penultimate paragraph). I wouldn’t be entirely surprised, though, to hear the argument made either way on the Ulster Troubles.

As to the Middle East, on the other hand, I’m tempted to let it go by linking the funny Onion satire from 2006, “War-Torn Middle East Seeks Solace In Religion“.

By most accounts, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have become drastically more secular in the past couple of decades, even as the South and increasingly the North as well have enjoyed an extraordinarily fruitful period of prosperity, civil peace and dynamism. Interesting posts on this topic can be found at AtlanticBlog (taking up some more problematic aspects of modernity) and at the U.K. Conservative Party Northern Ireland site.

Bradlaugh, in comments, responding to “Panopaea”, who’d invoked the old chestnut assigning collective blame to religious unbelievers for the Twentieth Century rise of totalitarianism:

* * *

Das, was der Mensch von dem Tier voraushat, der veilleicht wunderbarste Beweis für die Überlegenheit des Menschen ist, dass er begriffen hat, dass es eine Schöpferkraft geben muss. (”An advantage humans enjoy over animals, and what may be the best proof of their superiority, is that they have grasped there must be the power of a creator.”) — Tischgespräche, Feb. 1942.

Hitler and Stalin both had excellent religious educations. (Stalin was a seminarian: the frequent occurrence of expressions like “Bog velyel” — “God willing” — in his speeches was the cause of much secret amusement.) Their people remained largely religious: the Germans noted how captured Russian POWs invariably had religious medallions and such secreted under their uniforms. (This is in Nikolai Tolstoy’s book.)

So — it looks as though religious education produced terrorist dictators, and religious populaces are rather easily subdued by those dictators. Doesn’t it? And why was not the most emphatically Christian nation in Europe — Franco’s Spain — emphatically on the Allies’ side in WW2? Etc., etc.

And there either are gods, or there aren’t. If there aren’t, what is your point?

* * *
[end of quote from Bradlaugh]




Religion and War

This is from the HBO show Generation Kill. The scene, which contains some adult language, is about what role, if any, a clergy-man should have among Marines. The last line – “Now Brad has just pissed off God” – follows a series of amusing events.

[Update: it seems to me that the shirtless soldier’s comments are an effective and ideal secular critique of the clergyman’s place in the military].

It reminded me of this editorial and this politician. The editorial is worth quoting:

As we enter the twenty-first century, we are at a crossroads on the issue of military service and Christian service. Can a church that sees itself as a “contrast society” accept the values and activities of the political status quo and its military machinery? Can a church that acknowledges the centrality of nonviolence in the New Testament accept the use of violence to defend or extend an empire that it exists to replace as the world’s guiding light?If we accept this new understanding of the church’s vocation—which is not new at all—then we must be courageous enough to accept the theological and practical consequences of it—divorcing Christian faith and military service. Carrying out this divorce will take creativity and energy, so much so that some will claim that the divorce is impossible even if it is right. After a century of horrific violence and bloodshed, and careful consideration of the New Testament texts, we need finally as a church to recognize that those who seek justification in the New Testament for Christian participation in violence of any kind, including military action, will always seek in vain. Why? Because violence is part of the false gospel of the world’s counterfeit lords and empires—Herod, Pilate, Nero, Domitian, and the like. It is not the way of the true Lord, whose gospel and empire give to us—and demand from us—an alternative allegiance and vocation.

The question this editorial also raises is what connection, if any, do reformers within religion have with secularists.

(Btw: Hi! I’m going to be contributing pseudonymously).

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