Who Lost Iraq?
posted on 11.30.2006 at 10:41 PM
Here's a perspective on the Iraq disaster from Richard A. Shweder, writing in the New York Times:
In Iraq, the "West is best" default (and its discourse about universal human rights) has provided a foundation for chaos.
By "West is best" here we are supposed to read "Enlightenment," whose alleged failings mean a lot to Mr. Shweder. So the point is that the war in Iraq represents a failure of secularism. This despite the fact that the war was launched by an intensely religious American president who admitted to consulting his heavenly "Father" on the matter and to basing his foreign policy on his religious beliefs. This despite the fact that support for the war came overwhelming from the religious right. This despite the fact that much of the indigenous bloodshed in the country can now be traced to a more than thirteen-hundred-year-old religious dispute having to do with the ousting of Mohammed's son-in-law, Ali, as caliph.
And, certainly, neither the Bush administration, which started the war, nor the Shia and Sunni fighters who help continue it, are known for their weakness for the "discourse about universal human rights."
Atheists and Foxholes
posted on 11.08.2006 at 9:28 AM
The argument that periods of mortal peril end our silly questioning of the existence of God has been so persistent that Charles Bradlaugh's daughter had to arrange for witnesses to confirm that the great atheist had not found religion on his deathbed. War, it is often argued, straightens out disbelievers. The New York Times invokes that discredited argument once again, albeit with a question mark, in the headline atop an opinion piece:
No Atheists in a Foxhole? No Idiots, Either
The piece is about the intelligence of military recruits and says nothing about atheism, so this is a gratuitous and unsupported fallacy (and, the journalism professor in me adds, a lousy headlines).
For the record, the best known of the soldiers killed in America's current wars, former football player Pat Tillman, seems to have been an example of a consistent nonbeliever.
posted on 07.28.2006 at 1:16 AM
The temple in Jerusalem was being renovated during the reign of Josiah (639-609 BCE) -- who is treated with as much respect as any king in the Hebrew Bible -- and during the renovations the high priest "discovered" a "lost" text. That, most scholars agree, was an early version of Deuteronomy, which settled as the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible -- the last in the Torah or the books of Moses.
It is not hard to read this text as a justification for Josiah's attempt to consolidate the religion and the kingdom by cracking down on any forms of worship -- foreign, idolatrous, pantheistic, even Jewish -- besides those in the temple in Jerusalem. Monotheism was sharpened, if not invented, in the process:
The Lord alone is God; there is none beside Him.
Weren't too many religions in the 7th century BCE devoting themselves to morality. But Deuteronomy takes some significant steps beyond "thou shall not kill":
I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.
Still, the intolerance for other religions in this text is total:
Tear down their alters, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from the site.
And the treatment the Lord orders for local conquered nations is, even by contemporary standards, extreme:
You shall not let a soul remain alive.
Maybe we shouldn't be that surprised by what currently goes on in this area between peoples who profess to revere such texts.
Religion and Soldiers in Iraq
posted on 05.29.2006 at 11:21 PM
For those who cling to the belief that when faced with life at its most intense atheists inevitably will waver, here's the Iraq veteran and American military chaplain Major John Morris, interviewed on the public radio program, Speaking of Faith (thanks to Robert Schwartz):
"It's not true. There are atheists in foxholes."
Indeed, war, as the thoughtful Major Morris acknowledges, can intensify disbelief::
What I saw in Iraq....on the battlefield: a third of the soldiers were men and women of faith, growing in their faith or coming to a new understanding of their faith; a third of the soldiers were indifferent or fatalistic...; the other third were either indifferent or jettisoning their faith..
War does what life can do, only faster:
Many would say to me very bluntly, "I've lost my faith. I saw my buddy get blown away," or "I was involved in a firefight that killed innocent people. And if there's a good God, he would not have let that happen, so I do not want to believe anymore."
This is, of course, the classic "problem of evil" -- one of the more compelling arguments against the existence of God. Major Morris attributes another related argument to some of the soldiers in the irreligious third -- the often unavoidable apprehension that "the center cannot hold":
...War is chaos. You can do everything right and still die.... That chaos seems to...harden people into saying, "I can't think about transcendent things. Nobody's in control. ...Whatever is, is. And whatever will be, will be. ...So don't bother me with anything transcendent or eternal."
And this particular war -- unlike the two World Wars or Korea or Vietnam -- adds one more reason to reject religion, as Major Morris reports:
Now the thing that really throws a wrench into all of this is being shot at by people who were praying a few minutes earlier in a sacred place... That really hardens people to say, "I don't know what kind of God you all are talking about, but I don't want to have anything to do with any kind of God that uses the sacred to condone this. So I don't want to deal with any of you people who have anything to do with religion, cause you guys are causing the wars of the world."