Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'Cause the Bible Tells Me So

One thing my rock-ribbed agnosticism has always helped me with is soldiering.

Knowing that I don't have to agonize over how an omniscient, omnipotent, loving Father God can sit on his holy ass in the sky whilst humans inflict all sorts of horrors on each other has made doing whatever fucked-up military thing I was told to turn my hand to so much simpler.

But I did get a certain amount of unholy (as it were) amusement out of watching my Christian comrades try and work through the notion that the Christ that called them to love one another as he had loved them - and died for them - could also ask them to rip apart tiny children and helpless civilians as part of their mission.And - just my opinion, mind you - "nuclear war" has always seemed like the LEAST defensible of the "just war" notions. There's not really any sort of "defense" argument there, is there? Seeing as how you're either cold-bloodedly first-striking a helpless population, or, with missiles already inbound and your own civilization doomed, merely scourging that helpless population in a vengeful reflex, a reptile tail-whip of dying fury.

So I got a cynical chuckle our of Chaplain (Capt) Soh's little Powerpoint for missile officers that lead (naturally) to the conclusion that a good Chrstian CAN, indeed, incinerate millions of innocents and still go to church - whatever's left of it - the next day with the stainless heart of a child.

How about this?

How about just accepting that warfare in ALL its aspects is the Devil's Work and, like most things we do in our lives, there are times when the Devil sings loud and sweet, and we gleefully jump up and dance antic hay on the ruins of others' lives......and always will?


  1. My perspective is different. One of the most sublime religious experiences I've ever had was an outdoor mass in the field during Mountain Warfare training in Bridgeport California when I was a Marine Reservist. Later on active duty in the Marine Corps one of the most impressive officers I met was a Franciscan priest/chaplain for our regiment. But then I never went to war.

    In Berlin, as an interrogator/ops officer I knew that the information I/we were gathering was targeting data. That if the balloon went up (and not only in Germany, but the ME and elsewhere) people would die as a result of my/our actions. It was part of the deal and I took it seriously, did my best, trained others to do theirs. I was also a practicing Catholic, a regular churchgoer the whole time. My agnosticism came rather late.

    I never questioned the politics. I never questioned the country making war. Rather, that only came later . . .

  2. seydlitz-

    IIRC, every experience at Pickle Meadows was sublime. Was there in 1965. And you?

    Any "Christian" chaplain who claims that military service will not be a moral dilemma for a "believer" is a fraud. It has to be a moral dilemma for any ethical human being. It is such a dilemma that the Orthodox Church has encouraged "Prayers for my Enemy" by those serving, and they are not prayers asking the enemy to be a stable target. Saying these centuries old prayers helped me deal with the moral dilemma of war while serving in combat. Didn't minimize or eliminate the moral dilemma, but kept me keenly aware of it. Having to defend one's country by force of arms is a result of serious human failure, and no PowerPoint presentation is going to elevate it to anything noble. That launch officer package is horse-puckey, twisting religion to support politics.

  3. Al-

    It was 1976, in the high Sierras if memory serves me correctly. There were rusted M-1 Garand clips all over the place, which I collected since I had an M-1 at home. I also learned a good bit about racism in the military at that point in time.

    The chaplain I speak of said quite the opposite, rather it was "hunttime" and he was referring to the rigors of serving as staff officers in early 1980s Marine Corps infantry battalions which had nothing to do with combat, rather "career survival" . . .

  4. I had a run in with a very fundamentalist Protestant who was the chaplain of my USAR unit back in the 1990s. He was an odd duck, never actively proselytizing but with the odd habit of sneaking up on GIs chatting, waiting for profanity and then laying a fortune-cookie paper on them with some quote from Geo. Washington about profanity.

    This really irked the shit out of me, so I waited until he did it once while waiting for some range time and ostentatiously blew my nose with it.

    He went ballistic, calling me a blasphemer and a godless heretic, and I laid right into him. I was fortunate I had good friends in that unit because I almost forgot myself so completely that I laid impious hands on a commissioned officer.

    But the thing I remember most about that was his shouting that I was disgracing an honorable uniform with my heathen ways. I held out my rifle and shook it at him, and asked;

    "What is this, padre? A #$!%! holy water sprinkler? Thou shalt not kill, padre? Why the hell do you think this honorable uniform looks like a tree, padre, so we can sneak up on the collection plate?"

    I think the problem comes when people try to shoe-horn every aspect of their lives into the confines of their religion. Some things - like the force we use in service of nation-states - just can't be easily and painlessly reconciled with that religion, especially if the religion firmly proclaims that one is supposed to love one's enemies and do good to them that hate you.

    I have more respect for a religious person who admits that fighting and killing are a moral problem than one that glibly reels off the justifications of "Just Wars". The latter just reminds me of reading somewhere that the Roman Catholic Church is a physical reminder that the early Christian Church fought the Roman Empire and the Romans won...

    It seems to me a very tenuous faith that insists that even the most horrible acts imaginable are actually acceptable to a faith that is supposed to be based on love and sacrifice.

  5. And I should add that one of the best men, and best officers, I ever knew was Father Jack Edwards, Third Brigade chaplain at FBNC in the Eighties. Hell of a good priest, and a man who knew the value of a letter from home and a canteen cup of hot coffee instead of an uplifting moral lecture...or along with the moral.

  6. Chief-

    The best chaplains in my 35 years grousing around the pea patch were those that tended to the general well being of ALL the troops and their families, pushing no religious doctrine, except at denominational services where attendance was voluntary. And even at services, they did not glorify nor justify war.

    One Catholic Bde chaplain, now a highly respect bishop, would have a Mass at 9:00 AM in the hangar, coffee and donuts following and then a "General Christian Worship" service following coffee and donuts. Coffee and donuts time was for people attending both services, so he drew Bde members and families together around the coffee time without regard to religious persuasion. The non-Catholic troops said his non-denominational services were the most uplifting they had ever attended. At all other times, he was ubiquitous, keeping in touch with the emotional and spiritual needs of the command.

    One or two young, denominational chaplains actually tried to "complain" that he was drawing attendees away from their very denominational services at post chapels. Fortunately, the senior post chaplain (Lutheran, IIRC) was an "old school" type, and told them to pound sand.

  7. Rude Pundit is taking a vacation and has some "guest bloggers" filling in.

    This one may be of interest:


  8. I had a run in with a protestant chaplain as well. His driver during a 29 Palms field exercise was one of my Marines and had unfortunately lost some of his stuff out in the desert. "He just drove away and left it behind" to which I asked, "Sir (he was a Navy LT and I was a MC 1LT) you were in the jeep with him, right?" He got very upset and demanded I bring charges against my man. Nothing happened.

  9. I'm oppose to killing another man, woman, or child...not because I'm moral, or a good man, nope. I choose was one of those choices laid out to me...war, or peace, which is it?

    So, I made my choice.

    But I learned the hard way that each person must make their own choice because it's a personal choice, one that cannot be coerced by G-d, or government...but the individual.

    So for me...and me only, I could never be a chaplain for the military...ever.

    The whole concept of military chaplain would be incongruent with me being a follower of G-d. I think I would be the biggest hypocrite, and it would show.

  10. Chief,
    On a personal basis this topic is my main concern, but i cannot ever deny the violence , and lizard response in my daily life.How do we ever stop that at any higher level?
    Sometimes i think all words on this topic are pure sophism. .
    Either you work for God or for DOD, and the 2 ain't the same regardless of what we hear.Chaplains should be like the Red Cross-outside the rating chain.

  11. I think the big problem is having just one God.

    That throws the Problem of Evil right in a guy's face. If there's only one God, and he's...well...GOD, then the only way for there to be fucked-up shit like war is if He lets it happen.

    Start out with more than one? You can blame it on the OTHER guy. Shit, any good NCO knows that you ALWAYS have a plausible idiot picked out to blame fuckups on. Just goes to show (to me) that the whole religion dodge was invented by officer-type people. WAY too optimistic; sign of having your stuff on your collar instead of your sleeve.

  12. It's hypocritical to pledge one's faith to a loving God and then kill for one's (fill in the blank). Humans like to externalize their gods and devils, but all impulses reside in our brain case (or cells).

    Like INXS sang, "Devil inside". It seems absurd to contort one's religion to justify killing those whom we believe to be "infidel"; the illogic is mind-numbing.

  13. The "classic" purpose of the US chaplaincy was to provide "spiritual" (emotional, psychological)comfort to troops. In short, the burden of military service would not be made more burdensome by denial of religious support as well.

    To me, the hypocrisy is when "Christians" conduct war in the deity's name rather than man's name, and that is a significant distinction.

    Just as there has been a growth in "independent" Christian denominations and sects in the general population over the past 30 years, there has been a growth of same in uniform, to include the chaplaincy, resulting in a form of "politicization". Since many of these denominations are "missionary" in nature, their chaplain candidates bring that same sales pitch with them. Thus, the PowerPoint presentation initiating this thread, which seeks to justify one of man's most morally questionable choices - war.

    I was raised to believe that in the end, I, not some PowerPoint presentation, will answer for my actions. One need only look at the underlying philosophy of modern American neo-Christianity to see that they preach a notion whereby once a professed member, individual responsibility for individual actions disappears, and "being saved" covers all bases. Thus the trivialization of the absolute moral dilemma of war.

  14. Lisa: But that's the whole point!

    God means that if I'm a certain type of person I can push the cruise-control button in my brain.

    Don't get me wrong; I've known a tiny handful of people whose religion is a challenge and a demand, and who wrestle with the conflict between what that faith demands and what their reptile hind-brain desires.

    But the vast majority of people I know use their religion as a combination security blanket, crying towel, and blindfold. It helps them when they would have to face the otherwise scary Dark with nothing but their own guts and brains.

    The result usually is - as Al notes - the reduction of those horrific moral dilemmas to a Sunday School triviality.

    Sad, but that's people for ya...

  15. Religion sloughs off when confronted with ultimate choices. By ultimate choices, I mean the kind of choice that one is confronted with when a loved one is in terminal pain. Or the kind of choice those whose fingers are on the triggers of our 8000 nuclear weapons will face on the day these weapons are again used. Such choices, IMHO, are made on a level far deeper than the strictures imposed by religion and other forms of social conditioning.

  16. TO ALL,
    I say again- we should provide chaplains but they SHOULD NOT be DOD assets.
    They should be like Donut Dollies as they serve a similar function. They provide donuts for the soul.
    1 can serve God/spirituality or 1 can serve the king , but 1 can't serve both.
    Chaplains are not in the military to help the men but rather to help the institution. This statement is true for mental health professionals also. All we care about is keeping an asset in the firing line.Who gives a shit what god wants when we need trigger pullers or bullet magnets??!!
    If you don't believe this then Catch 22 is all wrong.

  17. FDC,

    Agreed, life is "scary Dark" without even the most ignominious of affiliations. We try so hard to believe -- life as a game of Chinese chequers, with the goal being to accrue as many marbles as possible, indicating you played well.

    I just saw the film Saving Private Ryan for the 1st time, and gagged at Ryan's final plea, "Tell me I'm a good man!" Gaaaa! First he's ordered to "Earn this (life)", then he hopes he's ticked off enough of the the "good guy" marks.

    If only we had an internal compass with a true North ...

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