Published 7:09 PM EST Feb 21, 2019
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Religions preach harmony, forgiveness, love, peace, etc., and denounce killing. War undoubtedly brings destruction, but we still have wars.
Consider this: Usually all the parties in war claim that their war efforts are “just” and for a holy cause, and will quote from scriptures to prove their point. When a ruler wants to go to war, the priest will find something from the scriptures to justify it, and the scriptwriter will write the final script to make it appear righteous, legitimate and the only path forward for the broader good of the society. And all the involved warring parties want God on their side during war.
Many ask: If war is evil, why can’t an all-powerful God just end all wars permanently and foreve?
Lord Krishna tells the warrior Arjuna in the ancient Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord): “Arise with a brave heart and destroy the enemy;” and later adds, ”Fulfill all your duties; action is better than inaction.”
We asked our panel of religious leaders of the region the following question: Should people of faith denounce all wars?
Here is what they have to say:
Conscience has the last word
Anthony Shafton, author and atheist thinker
If a devout person’s religion proscribes all wars, that person might well denounce all wars, unless her conscience won’t allow in a given circumstance. If a devout person’s religion does not proscribe all wars but its authorities take a stand against a given war, that person should probably weigh the alternatives, then be governed by conscience, and should likewise be so governed if the authorities stand in favor of a war.
Atheists as well as the devout may entertain today’s question, for we atheists are people of faith, too, whether or not critics realize it who dismiss us as shallow rationalists, or whether we ourselves have thought our atheism through. So, let’s ask: Should people of good will denounce all wars? If conscience demands, then yes, but circumstances alter cases, even with war. I’d have volunteered for World War II, never for Vietnam.
Choosing a third way, as equals
Mikayla S. Dunfee, canon for education, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
When it comes to war, Episcopalians run the gamut. Cumulatively, we are proponents of “just war theory,” pacifists, and everywhere in between — so to answer for all of us is unfair.
However, it does give us cause to consider afresh Matthew 5:39 (“I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other side also …”). In this teaching, Jesus is not telling his disciples to be a doormat, but rather to choose a third way — a subversive way. To be struck on the right cheek means you’ve been backhanded and disrespected. Jesus says, “No.” If one must take abuse, one will make their adversary face them as an equal. Don’t let them dehumanize you. To turn the other cheek means to be cunning — not violent, not passive, but defiant.
ElizaBeth Webb Beyer, rabbi, Temple Beth Or
In halacha (Jewish law), when someone faces a deadly threat from an attacker, then one must take steps to preserve his or her own life, including killing the attacker. Killing in self-defense is ethically permitted and may be required to preserve one’s own life.
The same is true in war. Generally, deadly force must be met with deadly force. Is a preemptive strike permitted? Yes, if there is a “clear and present danger” then war is sometimes unfortunately unavoidable. Halacha mandates working towards peace before commencing hostilities, allowing civilians to flee, avoiding needless destruction during battle, and even addresses the appropriate treatment of prisoners of war. When all other options fail, war sadly may be necessary. The emotional and financial cost of war is enormous. All people and especially people of faith would logically work to avoid the horrors of war for ourselves, as well as our enemies too.
War is an icon of human brokenness
Stephen R. Karcher, presiding priest, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church
War is always evil, even if sometimes the lesser evil, and it always has damaging spiritual effects. In contrast, the rejection of violence in self-defense signals growth in holiness, because selfless love and forgiveness have more eternal value than warfare.
Our Lord’s example of offering Himself on the Cross for the life of the world is the model of selfless love. It’s this divine love that every human being can be born into as we come to share the life of the Triune God. So then, the Christlike response of “turning the other cheek” is the ideal.
However, Orthodoxy doesn’t prescribe pacifism or nonviolence as an absolute requirement for Christians. Strict pacifism is required only for the clergy. Ultimately, however, the renunciation of war will be normal because in the Kingdom of Heaven all will be pacifists, and in that age all violence and wars will cease to exist.
There may be ‘just’ wars
Nancy Lee Cecil, Baha’i teacher
All religions require us to manifest kindness; the violence of war seems to contradict the fundamental desires of the Creator! But while all religions are essentially advocates of peace, it is impossible to denounce all wars. When we consider the requirements of an ever-changing world, our inter-dependent society must sometimes prescribe drastic means when all peaceful avenues have been exhausted.
This is the position of the Baha’i Faith as one of the heralds of world governance. The Baha’i view is compatible with a “just war” theory. What is desperately needed is a new world order focused on the quest of world unity; but when that world has chosen peace and the nations have united to defend that peace, some wars will inevitably need to be fought to protect and maintain a lasting peace.
Baha’u’llah tells us, when ”minds have developed, perceptions have become keener … it will be impossible for wars to continue.”
No one right answer
Steve Bond, co-lead pastor, Summit Christian Church, Sparks
Christians have different convictions about war. Some are pacifists and do not believe that violence is justified for any reason. However, other Christians believe that, under certain circumstances, war may be justified. Both groups use various scriptures from the Bible to support their positions.
To denounce all wars implies that one answer must fit all circumstances. This is both unwise and naïve. In recent history, world-class thugs have occasionally seized power who are universally regarded as evil. For example, when a despicably evil man such as Pol Pot wreaked genocide throughout Cambodia, the entire world clamored for military intervention to protect the innocent citizens who were dying by the millions.
However, that being said, throughout history military force has many, many times been used wantonly and without justification. This, once again, illustrates how broken we are as human beings and how desperately we need Jesus to change our hearts.
Defending against aggression
Kenneth G. Lucey, philosophy/religion professor emeritus, University of Nevada
The very idea of denouncing all wars is absurd. When a war, large or small, involves an act of aggression against an innocent nation, then self-defense is a reasonable and moral response. On a small scale, consider a family whose children are being violently attacked by home invaders. The “war” in such a case consists of self-defense, using whatever violence might be required to fend off the attack. Denouncing the original attack is certainly appropriate, but that does not signify allowing it to continue to occur without defense or retaliation.
Being a conscientious objector means refusing to take part in violence altogether, even in self-defense. Denouncing war in general is fine in the sense of abhorring violence in general, but that surely does not mean there is no obligation for defending the innocent. Groups large or small may require such a defense against violence.
Only illegitimate wars
Sherif A. Elfass, president, Northern Nevada Muslim Community
Muslims should denounce all illegitimate wars. Allah (SWT) declared in the Quran that killing one innocent human being is like killing the entire human race (5:32, 6:151, 17:33).
However, legitimate wars should not be denounced. Allah (SWT) allowed Muslims to launch wars for legitimate self-defense, to support and aid other Muslims especially the oppressed, and after a violation of a treaty. It should be noted though that these legitimate wars become illegitimate and should be denounced if the circumstances changed and the reasons behind their launching ceased to exist.
For legitimate wars, combatants should observe strict conduct. Muslim rulers usually instructed their commanding chiefs saying: “Do not betray or be vindictive. Do not mutilate. Do not kill children, women or elderly people. Do not cut palm or fruitful trees. And you will come across people who confined themselves to worship in hermitages, leave them alone to what they devoted themselves for.”
Some wars need to be fought
Lauri Anne Reinhart, director of lay ministry formation leadership, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno
No, not all wars. If you’re a prisoner of Germans or Japanese in 1944, it is through war that you will be freed. Some wars, sadly, need to be fought.
Christians were asking about war by the fourth century: Do we have the right to defend ourselves and others? Are some wars just and others unjust?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists conditions for a “just war,” the result of centuries of thought. These include: How serious is the damage by the aggressor? Have all other solutions been tried? Will this war cause greater evils than those to be eliminated? Will this war be successful?
After the war is over, what can the “winners” do to help avoid these situations in the future? Why did the aggressors go to war? Were needs not being met that the rest of the world can rectify? These questions, too, must be answered.
Peace is the only option
Matthew T. Fisher, resident priest, Reno Buddhist Center
The Buddha taught “ahimsa,” or nonviolence. Ahimsa literally means “not striking,” but broadly refers to all forms of nonharmful thoughts and actions. All aggressive violent conflict as inherently unsound. But we all live in the middle of mental storms that rage all the time. Following the Eightfold Path is the way to inner and outer peace.
People of faith should denounce all war. Buddha taught that, “Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is the ancient law.” (Dhammapada, verse 5).
Gautama Buddha once intervened in the “water war.” Neighboring kingdoms experiencing a drought began to posture for war over water in the Narangara River. The Buddha intervened and mediated the conflict, stressing the value of all life over material resources. “Do what helps others. Refrain from harming others. Transcend your own ignorance, clinging, hate, fear and delusion. So teach of all Buddhas.”
Sharla S. Hales, area public affairs director, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
My husband and I stood on the beaches of Normandy, with tears streaming down our faces, overwhelmed with awe, reverence and gratitude for the soldiers who fought and died for the life and liberty of others. It was a noble cause and a righteous use of force.
To denounce means to publicly and strongly declare something to be wrong. Unarguably war is horrible and inevitably based on evil acts. To denounce all perpetrators of wars is appropriate. But to denounce all war efforts is not. There are times when people of faith appropriately support the defense against war. It may be immoral to look the other way.
The Book of Mormon provides justification for protecting homes, liberties, and families: “Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies” (Alma 43:46).
Next week’s topic: What do’s and don’ts will you tell a congregant?
Faith Forum is a weekly dialogue on religion produced by religious statesman Rajan Zed. Send questions or comments to [email protected] or on Twitter at @rajanzed.
More: What happens when we die? | Faith Forum by Rajan Zed
More: What are the attributes of the ‘true’ God? | Faith Forum by Rajan Zed
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