War is no place for the deluded

A good column by James Carroll in the Boston Globe criticizes the absurd piety being peddled in the military, especially the discovery of Iraq war briefings laced with militant Christianity. He lists 7 reasons why it is a bad idea that the military has become wrapped up in religious jingo.

  • Single-minded religious zealotry bedevils critical thinking, and not just about religion. Military and political thinking suffers when the righteousness of born-again faith leads to self-righteousness. Critical thinking includes a self-criticism of which the “saved” know little.

  • Military proselytizers use Jesus to build up “unit cohesion” by eradicating doubt about the mission, the command, and the self. But doubt – the capacity for second thought – is a military leader’s best friend. Commanders, especially, need the skill of skepticism – the opposite of true belief.

  • Otherworldly religion defining the afterlife as ultimate can undervalue the present life. Religion that looks forward to apocalypse, God’s kingdom established by cosmic violence, can help ignite such violence. Armageddon, no mere metaphor now, is the nuclear arsenal.

  • Religious fundamentalism affirms ideas apart from the context that produced them, reading the Bible literally or dogma ahistorically. Such a mindset can sponsor military fundamentalism, denying the context from which threats arise – refusing to ask, for example, what prompts so many insurgents to become willing suicides? Missing this, we keep producing more.

  • A military that sees itself as divinely commissioned can all too readily act like God in battle – using mortal force from afar, without personal involvement. An Olympian aloofness makes America’s new drone weapon the perfect slayer of civilians.

  • A bifurcated religious imagination, dividing the world between good and evil, can misread the real character of an “enemy” population, many of whom want no part of war with us.

  • The Middle East is the worst place in which to set loose a military force even partly informed by Christian Zionism, seeing the state of Israel as God’s instrument for ushering in the Messianic Age – damning Muslims, while defending Jews for the sake of their eventual destruction.

I read that and agreed with it all…except for one thing. Those criticisms don’t just apply to the military, they also apply to our civilian population. Maybe #5 is a bit of a stretch — most of us don’t have military drones at our disposal — but scale it down a bit, and picture a religious fanatic with a rifle aimed at an abortion doctor. It’s the same principle.

Strip away the specific references to the US military, and that whole thing is an argument that could have come straight from the keyboard of a New Atheist criticizing American culture in general.