Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Taking the Fifth on the War

I have a little, teensy problem with the Religious Right. And like a pebble in one’s shoe, the irritation compounds over time.

While talking to my Latin students about the movie, 300, about the Trojan war, one youngster wanted to make sure I knew that the Spartans were burning for their sinfulness, which included leaving weak babies out in the elements to die and teaching children skills needed by soldiers, like deception, stealth, and thievery.

Spartan society was wholly directed toward attaining military might, and it was successful. The Spartans were feared in battle and were victorious over forces many times their size. Regardless of their moral fiber or lack thereof, the Spartans were good at what they did: war.

But go back to Sunday school for a minute, and review the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. “Kill” is generally accepted to mean the taking of another human being’s life. It has been rendered as “Thou shalt do no murder.”

Here comes the tricky part. If taking a human life is forbidden, war, which is predicated on taking human life is also forbidden. However, confronted with this inconvenient truth, our evangelical brethren quickly point to something called “just war.” A scenario for a “just war” can be envisioned easily. Pearl Harbor comes to mind as an attack that might provoke such a war.

Some Christians, among them the Quakers, the Mennonites, and a couple of other sects believe the commandment was unequivocal; these took God at His word while taking him at his word. They will not participate in war, and will not kill even in self defense. These folks are what I aspire to be: true to their beliefs.

Unfortunately, the “just war” argument is used to cover situations in which following the Fifth Commandment is inconvenient. Maybe there is some much more innocent explanation about why the Commandment is only a Suggestion, but I don’t see it.

If the Bible is to be considered the literal word of God, how can we simply toss out the Fifth Commandment?

The explanations bend logic not merely into pretzels, but into Gordian knots from which no one has ever returned unconfused. The sad truth is that at least on the surface, the Righteous Wrong (AKA the religious right) have a blind spot when it comes to war. It is not acceptable to kill someone because one wishes to rob him, but it is okay to kill if:

1. A bunch of people are sent to do it. Corporate murder is okay.
2. Many people, who first have been labeled “enemies” die.
3. The “enemies” are a different color, practice a different religion, speak a different language, or support a different kind of government.
4. The “enemies” have something you want, like oil, especially if they can be said to be practicing some kind of immoral behavior themselves, such as keeping women at home and out of sight, or killing other people who are a different color, practice a different religion, speak a different language, or support a different kind of government.. Is there an echo in here?

A government of the people need not follow the same rules as the people, and as everyone knows, if a soldier is sent into battle to protect his or her country, he or she does not commit murder when he or she kills because someone else told him or her to do it.

A child who tried to use this kind of logic on an adult as justification for some crime would never get the whole bogus explanation out before the grounding or flogging began, at least not at our house.

If killing a human being is against the rules, it is against the rules. There are not a second set of rules that say it’s okay if someone else told the killer to do it. If there were, then mafia hit men who carry out executions would be innocent. The whole argument is slippery in the extreme, inconsistent with itself, and reeks of “It’s okay because it’s us.” Personally, I hold myself to a little higher standard of conduct, and I’d like to see MY government doing the same.


  1. Anonymous7:11 PM

    I would add one more reasons its "okay to kill":

    5. Its okay to kill when you weren't in "your mom's plans" or "came at an inconvenient time" or "are too young". Even though God knew you in your womb and to take that literally, would mean that he knew you existed, and therefore you were alive. :)

  2. If I understand your comment, and the reason for making it, because some poor, uneducated woman can have an abortion, that is, because liberal society allows this killing, the right wingnuts get to prosecute a war to get Iraqi oil. Is that a fair assessment?

  3. Anonymous8:30 AM

    Are you righteous wrongers alowed to think about supper when you are eating it, or must you chant your mantra, "Abortion is murder, abortion is murder, abortion is. . ." the whole time?

    Your one-track mind is derailed, my friend.

  4. Anonymous12:02 PM

    I wasn't trying to chant "Abortion is murder". I also wan't trying to make the right/left wing distinction. There are many things I don't like about the current president, but I am not going to chant "Bush is the devil" either. I was just adding to the other 4 reasons mentioned, that killing the unborn has become "okay" as well. If we are talking about covering the 5th Commandment, we might as well cover ALL of it. Not just one side, right?

    And to Mr. Anonymous with the hate comments, just because I think differently than you, doesn't, make me one-track minded. What happened to being open minded aboout other people's beliefs?


About Me

I love my country, that is why I criticize its absurdities; I love my freedom, that is why I do it publicly.