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Religion has always supported war

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edb3fdfa 385b 8b9a e35f be292b434066 Religion has always supported war
There has seldom been a war that religion did not support.

Scholars say that before the rise of patriarchal religions, human beings lived fairly peaceably in kinship-based communities under matriarchs who established a more tolerant morality than the later, father-worshiping kind.

Pre-patriarchal cultures were very indulgent of their children, giving them much physical affection and little punishment. They also tended to be permissive about physical pleasures and sexuality. There were no homosexuality taboos, no concubinage, no prostitution. The sexes had equal status although the families were matrilocal and matrilineal. Most property was owned by the women, whose life-giving magic was considered essential to fertility in general. Descent was reckoned only through mothers, among people who had not yet understood biological fatherhood. There was no caste system and no full-time military. Religion was some variant of nature worship with no strict codes, a Mother Goddess being primary and her consorts secondary. Such cultures were generally nonviolent and valued spontaneity, humor, and sensual enjoyments.

Even in our own culture, where violence is presented to us every day in sports, movies, television and even children’s games, there are both men and women whose nature fends it off. Nevertheless, we do have organized and institutionalized violence that can sweep up even those who are naturally peaceable, and that can destroy huge numbers of our fellow humans. We call it war.

As a rule, religious authorities on both sides assure their followers that God is on their side and the other side is motivated by the powers of evil. Whatever sacrifices one has to make will be welcomed by the Almighty and redound to one’s postmortem credit. People are usually forbidden to doubt this. And the troops who are actively engaged in killing the enemy are always accompanied by supportive clergy, even when the clergy claim to be dedicated to a God who says: “Thou shalt not kill.” It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. But there can be no Christians or Jews in foxholes either, if they truly believe in this particular word of God.

The clergy are supposed to minister to the spiritual needs of the troops, which frequently means absolution from any guilt they may feel about killing. God’s pacifistic command is ignored — indeed, he ignored it himself just a few biblical chapters later, ordering the slaughter of many thousands of men, women, children, and animals, the total destruction of many cities, incessant rape, looting, and other violence.

Those who are to be destroyed are always viewed as enemies of God, and “his” people are told that they must go to war and exterminate these enemies. It is never mentioned what it is exactly that God fears these enemies will do to him. And somehow, despite being supposedly almighty, God is powerless to do it for himself, and so his human minions have to do it for him.

Charles Kimball, a Baptist minister and university professor of religious studies, writes: “More wars have been waged, more people killed, and more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history. The sad truth continues in our present day … [Christianity and Islam] have a long and checkered history in which their respective adherents fought for causes declared holy … they head the list of those who have corrupted the heart of their religion by linking it confidently to war.”

Centuries ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” One reason why religious improbabilities continue to be taught as truths is that, through the ages, rulers have preferred to make useful alliances with clergy as advocates of blind faith and unquestioning obedience. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty; he is always in alliance with the despot.” Actually, religious authorities have realized in their ever-practical way that the true aim of war is profit, in which they will partake. According to Gen. Smedley Butler, “War is a racket; possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

In recent times, we have seen the triumph of despotism within Western culture as the Holocaust, and history’s most extensive war so far, which ruined or destroyed millions of lives. Contributing hatreds and aggressions for this were built up through European religion with centuries of crusades, pogroms and persecutions, institutionalized by the Inquisition and many so-called “holy wars.” Martin Luther wrote: “Set fire to their synagogues, destroy their houses, drive them from the country, kill them … the civil sword must be red and bloody.” Hitler carried on the tradition by saying, “I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord’s work.” Gott mit uns, Hitler said: “God is with us.” Pope Pius XII was wholeheartedly behind the Axis powers. He referred to Mussolini as “a gift from Providence.” Europe’s persecution of Jews was encouraged for many centuries on the specious ground that they (or their ancestors) were the killers of Christ. Somehow, religious authorities failed to notice that Christ’s death sentence was originally pronounced not by the Jews but by God, as part of his peculiar filicidal plan of salvation.

Atrocities can always be excused by religion. Mark Twain said, “Man is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, but cuts his neighbor’s throat if his theology isn’t straight.” As Blaise Pascal remarked, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

There is an undisguised sadism in Christianity’s visions of hell, which serve the faithful as imaginary punishment for those who don’t share their beliefs. We may talk of tolerance and goodwill toward those of other faiths, but it’s merely lip service if we enjoy picturing their eternal agony for the crime of disagreeing with us. Historian Arthur Schlesinger has written: “Those who are convinced that they have a monopoly on the truth always feel they are saving the world when they slaughter the heretics.” Why is this? Perhaps there is a secret doubt in the mind of the believer, which can only be exorcized by violence, real or imagined.

The 5th-century Pope Leo the Great endorsed the death penalty for what he called “erroneous beliefs.” The 10th-century Pope Urban II said all heretics must be tortured and killed. In colonial America, the Capital Laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the death penalty for “worshiping any god other than the Lord God.” Such violence may be latent in a country like the United States, whose laws protect “freedom of religion.” But fundamentalist rhetoric still threatens violence.

American politicians have invented many patriotic euphemisms to encourage willing participation in the violence of war, by calling it something else: police action, armed incursion, protective reaction strikes, pacification (!) safeguarding American interests, and many “operations,” such as Operation Just Cause. Nearly always, it is described as defense rather than aggression, an example of reinventions of language for political purposes.

It is hard to get much more absolute than the slogan “My country right or wrong,” which commits you to kill whomever the politicians might choose to call enemies. Once war is declared, patriotism takes on the same power as religion, and justifies any violence, without limit. As Voltaire put it, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Even if religion never did any other harm (which is by no means evident), its carefully nurtured divisiveness has caused more human misery than anything else in all the world’s cultures.

Most of us are friendly, tolerant, good citizens, kindly neighbors. So are most people in other religious traditions. But all over the world, rulers continue to use religion to support killing and destruction, to extend their own power over their fellow humans. Will this ever change? Could we become agents of that change?

A nation that harbors a huge, expensive war machine must employ the machine by creating wars, and must maintain a relatively unthinking public willing to support the military behemoth when fed buzzwords like “God and Country.” Religion serves the military establishment in a number of important ways. Religious authorities firmly support their country’s wars even if they call their deity “Prince of Peace.” Religion encourages childlike obedience and dependency on the father figures represented by the chain of command, culminating in generals, national leaders, and ultimately God. Religion evokes the Big Daddy’s rage against those who don’t worship him correctly, and gives permission to kill them. Religion preaches unquestioning faith in the establishment, in doing what one is told without hesitation, and in the rightness of punishment for going against orders. Religion also encourages belief in an after-life to allay the natural fear of death that makes all other creatures flee from danger. Inexplicably, for many people even the fear of hell is preferable to their fear of permanent nonexistence.

Militaristic societies like the expression “There are no atheists in foxholes,” though it is not a statement of fact, but an earnest wish on the part of the leaders. Atheists are not wanted in foxholes. Without Big Daddy’s orders to keep them in place, they might even prefer being a live coward to being a dead hero. By all means let the troops pray while the bombs are bursting around them: If they survive, they can thank God, and if they don’t, then their families can be comforted by the assurance (with appropriate crocodile tears) that it was God’s will, and that is always a mystery. Nobody notices that it was the will of the government more than that of God. Nor do we notice that God professes to find human life so precious as to forbid the destruction even of an unwanted fetus, since that decision would be made by a woman and not by a government. Religion thus condones even the most obvious hypocrisy.

It has been asked: What if they gave a war and no one came? But we have a vast propaganda machine standing ready to insure attendance at whatever killing spree our government fancies. We are given a plethora of reasons to reverse all the care-for-other-humans training. God may still insist on the survival of every fetus, but he has no problem with the deliberate destruction of thousands, even millions of fully developed lives. God is ever and always the compliant tool of politicians; it’s no wonder that they are usually at pains to claim belief in him.

Male religious authorities have always talked peace but waged war, for reasons that may be concealed in the very essence of patriarchal religions. As Lewis Mumford has said, “If anything were needed to make the magical origins of war plausible, it is the fact that war, even when disguised by seemingly hardheaded economic demands, uniformly turns into a religious performance; nothing less than a wholesale ritual sacrifice.”And Thomas Jefferson put it in no uncertain terms: “On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.”

Apparently, we cannot imagine an end to warfare until we can, as John Lennon suggested, “Imagine no religion.”

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One Response

  1. Religion also supports wars by encouraging their followers to multiply and prosper. Thereby supplying the military with personal for fighting, and financing for weaponry.

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