Religion and violence

“God is a concept, by which we measure our pain”.

John Lennon had it nailed all those years ago. In such times as ours, we must see this lyric in perspective, because recently many different religious “extremists” are using their divine relationship with a ineffable and infallible deity to justify causing pain to others. I have ‘extremists’ in quotation marks because I cannot quite fathom why violent religious people would be called ‘extremists’. Surely an ‘extremist’ is doing it right, one so devout to their religion that they follow every detail meticulously. The fact they are violent because of this devotion surely says more about the religion that than the alleged ‘extremist’. In which case, because a priest or even the pope are not considered to be extremist, surely they are not qualified enough and well studied to the extent that they can be high enough in the hierarchy of Catholicism to instruct others. By virtue of their degrees of infallibility and stature, both supposedly devout theological figures must paper over cracks when confronted with the validation of violence in religion. Examples of said validation of violence in holy texts comes in the form, in genesis, in which the great prime mover himself says “I will destroy … both man and beast.” This quote was extracted from the story of Noah’s ark, a story of Gods distaste of the current batch of humans and animals that he had created and his desire to destroy them all. And the religious say we could not have morality without religion! This previously mentioned story is one that many primary school students have been subjected to the reciting of, several times during their non religiously tailored primary education. Even as a 6 year old I remember pondering on how a tiny little man called Noah managed to build a ship that successfully housed both cold and warm blooded animals, who all had extremely contrasting diets and sleeping patterns.

Religious war has never been particularly opaque, it has been raging in some form ever since the crusades (various military campaigns validated by apparently infallible popes.) Warfare has included aspects of religion ever since the Mesopotamia city states conflict. The Mesopotamia states being Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, and sections of the Turkish and Iranian borders. A note being that all aforementioned states have become a battleground of religious war as recently as the turn of the century. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but clearly God does, he is seemingly the exact metaphorical antonym. I think the most stellar exemplification of God’s omnipotence is his ability to be on both sides in a religious war, as well as being classed successful no matter the outcome. After all why would our designer only orchestrate one war when he could orchestrate so many more and prevail in them all! Religious war has indeed begun to be re branded as simply war, a testament to the fundamental teachings of peace outstanding contribution to violence over the years, reminiscent of a sports legend having a stadium erect in his honor.

Thomas Aquinas, the catholic priest, hailed by many as one of the greatest Christian and Scholastic thinkers of all time, most well known for being the initiator of the causation argument, conjured seven ways a war could be justified for a good Christian to fight. These dogma have perhaps, unconsciously, been followed ever since. I attribute this to the fact it is so hard to find a war or even any assailant behavior that you could not justify with one of his seven methods.

Aquinas first rule is the least debatable, its premise being that if the cause of war is to resist aggression to remove injustice then that would be the lesser of two evils for all mankind. Reasonable. One would suggest communication but for the barbarianism of Aquinas’ time this rule was relatively morale. Next is the idea of legitimate authority, the notion that war can be justified if a government is initiating conflict instead of a specific military group. Flawed in the fact it looks past context and simply declares a war instigated by a national government, democratic or dictatorship to be just, however some saving grace is that this rule disallows non governmental groups to go to war so surely banishes the idea of civil war. The resulting dilemma is that only one of these seven rules need to be fulfilled for a war to be considered somehow just.

The proceeding statements are where Aquinas’ argument crumbles; by just intention, the reasoning and purpose must be for the ‘greater good’ and a probability of success. Two incredibly subjective statements that tend to be the hiding places for all war. The greater good cannot be defined and is different for all sides of a conflict, therefore fundamentally cannot justify war. The probability of success undermines all vaguely sensical rules in Aquinas’ menagerie of justification for religious and non religious violence, because no state enters war that they do not think they could win. The probability of success therefore allows all war to take place. The remaining three are once again subjective but not on quite the same level as the former: A just proportion of force used, a last resort, and the discriminate warfare ideology. All three cannot be measured however they do convey some basic morality that has been lacking from this quota of death and destruction. Thank God.