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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15 Responses to Religion and War

  1. beb says:

    OK, now I have a challenge for you. How many of the posts, in this blog that is all about secularism, are going to mention God?

    This is like having a he-man-manly-man’s club that does nothing but talk about girls. Are your sure this isn’t just a place to let off steam about religion?

    Just wondering?

  2. Nietzsche says:

    There are two things about the post.

    1 – Don’t you think the shirtless soldier articulates an ideal secular critique against the Clergyman.

    2 – What connection, if any, do religious reformers like the guy writing the editorial, have with secularists.

  3. A-Bax says:

    Beb: There is alot of steam to be let off, given that the Bush Admin virtually became an arm of the Evangelical Church over the last few years. I’m hoping that as the newness and excitement of this awesome site wears off, there will be less “venting”. But, for now, I don’t see it as inappriporiate, rather as necessary.

    I wish Christian warriors would recognize that their lord specifically rejected a plan to attack the Romans militarily. That their lord suffered death rather than fight back against his enemies. If Christian attack-dogs want a militarized religion, there’s one that sprung up a few hundred years later which might fit their tempermant better.

    Also – for all those Christian warriors who though that W was “for-ordained” to be President during 9/11, and that it was our “calling” to launch Iraq Attaq: will you treat the GOP’s awful political failures in 06 and 08 as also being willed by God? If not, why not? How do you distinguish between mundane occurances and divinly inspiried ones? (In a way that not obviously self-serving, please.) If so, what does that tell you about God’s plan for our role in the Middle East?

  4. Scott says:

    I find it hard to believe that there are still those that feel that violence of any kind is immoral. This is not just a religious issue as I’ve discussions with secularists that espouse the same view. While it’s a nice concept, it is simply a naive worldview.

    That’s why the church has always held the concept of a “just war”. There will always be times when it is simply necessary to go to war to protect those who can’t protect themselves. It’s why the church can never divorce itself from the military. As long as there are believers there, they need the support of the church, particularly in a time of war. As long as they respect everyone’s views and not force atheists and other religions into their services, I’m fine with it. In fact, given the large percentage of christians in this country, I’d ask for it.

  5. Grant Canyon says:

    beb :OK, now I have a challenge for you. How many of the posts, in this blog that is all about secularism, are going to mention God?
    This is like having a he-man-manly-man’s club that does nothing but talk about girls. Are your sure this isn’t just a place to let off steam about religion?
    Just wondering?

    Beb, of course it will discuss religion in great detail. The threat to the functioning of a proper secular government is the intrusion by religion. If there was no such intrusion, there would be little to talk about. (And, as A-Bax notes, the last 8 or more years has shown much intrusion to vent about.)

  6. Scott says:

    As for the follow-up question on the connection, the only one I see is between the reformers who want complete separation and the secularists who want all traces of religion purged from anything connected to the government. Those that are willing to accept there are religious people in the military and they need religious support, shouldn’t have an issue with the clergy in the military as long as, again, they don’t infringe on others.

    In fact, I think they are at odds with most secularists who don’t want religion to have an undue influence over the government. Should all christian sects decide all violence and war is wrong, where are we going to find support for those wars that are necessary? Where are we going to find people to fight those wars?

  7. Nietzsche says:

    Hi Scott:

    Do you want that before Christians in our military engage in war they be asked to evaluate the three Augustinian conditions for whether or not it is a “Just War.”

  8. Scott says:

    Not at all. What I was getting at is even the church recognizes the need for war at times and so can’t tell their followers that they can’t join the military. They also realize that they can’t expect soldiers to be a given an option to participate in any given war. As such, they need to continue to support the military. That doesn’t mean they need to support every campaign – as with the Iraq War they can lobby against. But they’ll need to continue to provide support those soldiers who depend on it.

    I would be entirely against given them that option. Both the church and the soldiers need to realize upon signing up, that the government will decide when and where they need to act – for purely practical purposes.

  9. Ivan Karamazov says:

    And didn’t someone [Burke] say “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”?

  10. The editorial – Good, that will leave orthodox clergy as the only ones in the military. No more wimps. A just war does not violate Christian commandments.

    The Politician – As you well know since you can read, Sarah was expressing hope that the actions of our military conform to God’s plan. She wasn’t being presumptive about any Divine desires. That might well constitute blasphemy.

  11. Vorpal says:

    Christ did not resist the Roman Empire. That is not an instruction to all Christians everywhere to become pacifists. It was part of His specific purpose to maintain focus on His impending sacrifice. “My kingdom is not of this world, etc.” It was also part of His purpose of keeping His followers focused. They were all expecting Him to follow the ‘normal’ revolutionary route of armed insurrection.

    St. Paul also affirmed the role and, to an extent, the amorality of the civil government. Paul said, “the state does not bear the sword in vain.” Of course that state gets off-track about 100% of the time, but the state *is* delegated a certain authority from God.

  12. Chris Ackerman says:

    Nietzsche: Yes, a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist should evaluate whether a war is just according to his or her beliefs before going off and killing people. And no, a shirtless actor mouthpiece for liberal Hollywood complaining about bureaucratic and non-gun carrying clergy is not an ideal secular critique of religion.

  13. Travis says:

    That entire scene felt contrived. It didn’t gibe at all with my experiences over 11 years in the military, which is odd, since Hollywood is always so careful to treat military subjects with authenticity and respect, trying to ensure their own biases don’t slip into the narrative. Oh, wait…

    Setting that aside, no, it didn’t strike me as a particularly compelling indictment of the presence of clergy on the front lines. Another mouth to feed that doesn’t carry a gun might be balanced out by the added troop morale and a religious commonality that binds your men together more closely and keeps them fighting longer and harder in the eyes of a commander. Maybe if you stated why you thought it was such a brilliant indictment, it would be easier for people to respond.

    As far as the editorial goes, it strikes me as a pretty fringe view. I don’t really see a role for such people, except in such cases where whatever they’re railing against coincides with some goal of yours or the secular right’s. I’m not sure rooting for all Christians to suddenly stop serving in the military would be particularly wise, from a practical, we need people to serve in the military, point of view.

  14. beb says:



    I’m a little confused with this reply system so if this is formatted wrong, sorry.


    two issues for me. One. I would think that secularists would spend their time discussing secular issues. Two, with all due respect, are you of the political right? If so, you seem to have a very distorted image of religious people.

    I’m not religious but I have plenty of friends and family that are and none of them match your description.

  15. Gerry Shuller says:

    Is there a point to this post? If you believe that an army of 100% secular soldiers can defend this nation, why?

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