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Posts Tagged ‘just war’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  172                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 157

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1144

As I climb on the bike today my thoughts are with my family, friends, students and fellow pilgrims who have shared words of encouragement with me as I experienced the mixed emotions associated with sending my eldest son off to his active duty station and most likely war.

Yin-Yang: Symbol for the Chinese concepts of harmony and complementary opposites. Acceptance of apparent contradictions as each phenomena is seen as containing some element of it’s opposite.  The universe is seen as moving in cycles that contain underlying harmony, this understanding is essential to understanding life and change.

I realize that any discussion about the military and armed conflict always draws mixed and sometime strongly held reactions from people.  This is even more the case when I consider that I am part of a very liberal and pluralistic faith and have reached out to a wide circle of open caring people who value compassionate relationships.  I realize that questions of the use and existence of the military raise deep concerns for many people.   

I find within myself an ongoing struggle between my positive memories of the military and my knowledge of the destructiveness that military service can visit on soldiers (I have worked with many PTSD survivors from WW2, Korea and Vietnam), and the innocent civilians who get caught up in the conflict (I heard horror stories of collateral damage from Vets).  I have received several strongly negative comments about my recent Facebook and Blog postings.  Many of them expressed the belief that the world would all be better off without a military and conflict/war. 

I whole heartedly agree that humankind and our planet would be better off if we could extinguish this incessant drum beat that has appeared throughout human history, leading our young men (and now young women) off to war.  Ideally I dream of a world where there is no anger, no bullying, no hatred, no racism, no killing, no conflict.  However, I am a realist and while I sometimes let myself dream of idyllic times, where we all coexist in peace, I realize that there are reasons why we need a social institution called the military. 

I believe we sometimes need to grab our shield and spears and man the ramparts in defense of our ideals and of higher good.  I recognize the danger that arm conflict can get wrapped up in ideology, the whole argument about a “just war” troubles me when it is tied to religious principles.  Far too many people have died in the name of God, as each side hurls the label of “heretic” at the other. 

As a Psychologist I ask myself what motivates this apparent “need” for a military.  I believe the military can serve two different but valid functions, one within the individual members (intrapersonal needs) and the other within a culture or society (interpersonal needs).  There  is a great deal of variations in how these needs manifest themselves, also they may differ across time (as evidenced by the fact that the US attack on Iraq represented the first time our nation attacked someone who had not first provoked us… now what was that all about?)

Some of the Intrapersonal needs comes about because of inner conflict, between parts of ourselves, or because we find our “world” under apparent attack (our idea of right and wrong challenged by gay marriage, abortion, growing numbers of minorities).  These frustrations can lead to a “lashing out” at others who are different from ourselves.  I tell my students that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what a “jihad” represents.  It is my understanding that we are to undertake a jihad against those forces within ourselves that block us from achieving a connection with the divine.  As often happens in religious and political undertakings (crusades, liberation movements, cults) the enlightened purpose behind a movement is lost when egotistical and self-serving motives take over. 

We all struggle with conflicting inner forces, we all have a dark side! I believe the critical thing is to find a balance between our inner forces.  Until we can find this balance inside ourselves we will not find it in our exterior world and our relationship with others.  My son struggles, as I have struggled, in a constant yin and yang balance between desires and ideals.  The military with its multitude if new experiences and new views helped me find my balance, I hope that it might do the same for my son.

Another dynamic that comes into play are Interpersonal needs.  I have repeatedly lamented the dichotomous thinking that we see so prevalent in our society.  This form of thinking manifests itself in the “win – lose” and “us versus them” arguments spewed forth by “hot heads” on both sides of the political and religious spectrum.  What is particularly problematic about this form of thinking is that when one group (political party, race, culture or church) chooses to take this perspective, seeing everything as warfare or a win or lose game, it puts great pressure on other groups to assume the same stance.

 Peace and harmony between people only works if both sides decide that this is the overriding goal.  True peace and harmony is not imposed on vanquished by a victor it is a choice made by both sides to compromise and find common ground.  When one side amasses an arsenal the other side has to respond in like.  I do not believe that the response must always be in the direction of a stronger force, if you have leaders with foresight and a greater understanding, the response can be one of compassion and a measured strike at those directly responsible (the actual terrorist or the individual despot leader) you do not have to destroy a whole country.  If you mean to counter a radical ideology you do not need to demonize a whole religion or ethnic group.

Examples of the “Yin and Yang” of life abound all about us.  You see it in nature, in the lives of animals, in our inner self, in our community and our nations. Let us never cease striving for balance for a healthy perspective, for a lessening of conflict and an acceptance of differences.  Let us never cease the struggle to be loving caring compassionate beings!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  160                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 145

Today’s Mileage: 10                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1090

Evil is NOT Alien... it is potentially found within ALL Faiths!

As I ride the bike this morning I pondered several potential themes for our posting.  We are traveling north towards Jacksonville leaving St. Augustine.  I decided to discuss an always sensitive topic: the potential “evil” outcomes of religious communities and movements.  I have on numerous occasions had discussions with my student concerning this topic.  Sometimes students will note that they believe humanity would be better off “without religion.”  I could not disagree more!  I point out to them that the social institution of Religion serves numerous functions for both individuals and society at large.  I often note that, like many things, it is how an individual or group uses their religious beliefs that can be problematic or have an “evil” outcome.  If your belief system acts to keep you from growing and exploring new experiences then that system might be problematic.  If a belief system subjugates or alienates a portion of society (e.g., women, minorities, gays, youth) then that system may be problematic.

You might be asking yourself: Why is he bringing up this topic?  My friends and students know that I tend to be very optimistic and upbeat and choose to not dwell on topics that drive wedges between people.   However, two things elevated this topic in my mind.  They have to do with a set of historical events, and a recent event in the news.

Several days ago we explored the history of St. Augustine and three “Forts” in this area.  Fort Matanzas has the tragic history of being the site of a massacre of 250 defenseless French Huguenot soldiers by a Spanish Catholic force.  They were killed when they refused to denounce their faith and were labeled as “heretics.”  This tragic story did not end there!  For the French had in 1564 established a settlement near present day Jacksonville named Fort Caroline.  When a Spanish force arrived the next year and established St. Augustine the ill fated French force had travelled south to “deal with” the new arrivals.  A storm was the down fall of the French, destroying their ships and casting them on the beach where they were discovered and massacred by the Spanish force.  Don Pedro Menendez, the Spanish commander took advantage of this development to conduct a counter attack upon Fort Caroline.  The defenders fought valiantly but in the end, surrendered.  What remained was a hand full of soldiers and 50 women and children.  The decision was made to once again kill the survivors as heretics.  It was reported that the women and children were all burned at the stake.  With this event the French presence in Florida came to an end.  The Spanish converted Fort Caroline into their settlement in an effort to extend their control further north along the coast.  However, in 1568 a French military force attack the Spanish settlement destroying it and massacring all of its inhabitants in revenge for the earlier kills of French settlers.

I know that some people would simply attribute these events to “an earlier time” when such conflicts were common place.  However, all one has to do is listen to recent news out of Nigeria, where Christian and Muslims are taking turns killing each other, or remember back a couple decades to Northern Ireland, where Christians were again killing each other, to know that such sad episodes are by no means a “thing of the past.”

How can we explain these tragic outcomes when the same religious groups and movement have given the world some its greatest artwork, music and inspiring leaders?  Dr. Charles Kimball, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and academic scholar in Islam wrote a book entitled:  When Religion Becomes Evil.  Dr. Kimball notes in his book that there are five warning signs (characteristics) of possible corruption of a Religion.  The more of these characteristics that are present in a belief system the greater the danger that this faith might produce “evil behaviors” in its followers.  Recent examples would include: flying planes into buildings full of people; gunning down abortion doctors; leaving threatening phone messages toward individuals holding opposing views.

Just War or Evil Crusade?

What are these characteristics?  Dr. Kimball lists them as: 1) Absolute Truth Claims – all faiths have truth claims, however when they are treated as rigid doctrines anyone holding other views become “heretics.” 2) Blind Obedience – beware any movement that seeks to limit the intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents (maybe associated with Charismatic Authority Figures; enslavement to doctrine and/or withdrawal from society).  3) Establishing the “Ideal” Time – Often involve concrete ‘divinely ordained” plans, especially dangerous when religion is joined with the goals of the state.  4) The Ends Justify the Means – Beware when a particular goal or end is articulated as essential or paramount, in defense of this goal all calls for compassion and constructive relationships are ignored or attacked as “joining with the enemy.”  5) Declaring Holy War – the lines separating the forces of good and evil become blurred, represented by the crusades, jihad, and “just war.”  Especially problematic when combined with Ends Justify the Means characteristic.

It would appear that the presence of several of these characteristics in the 1600-1700 European churches might account for the tit-for-tat massacres surrounding the St. Augustine area.  In particular, Absolute Truth Claims; the Ends Justify the Means; and Declaring Holy War.  Of course conflicts like that taking place in Nigeria involve not just religious conflict but also economic and tribal conflict and feelings of revenge.

Beware combining politics and religion!

In closing I would like to highlight a news story I came across the other day.  It seems that a popular Lebanese TV personality, who conducted a call-in TV program broadcast across the Middle East, travelled to Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage and was arrested by the Saudi religious police.  He was charged with “sorcery” charges after confessing (after interrogation) “that he consulted spirits to predict the future.”  The Saudi religious courts have now handed down a death sentence in his case!

While I believe people have a right to their religious beliefs and a right to their governance system of choice, I do feel that such behavior on the part of the Saudi government and their religious leadership represents an “evil outcome.”  They may feel self-righteous in their claims of absolute truth (for Sharia law) and their demands of blind obedience to this law, that does not give them the right to execute an individual whose beliefs would be tolerated if not embraced  by the rest of the world (including much of the Islamic world).

Not Options for religious moderates!

I always end this discussion with a “call to arms” directed toward moderate and liberal elements of the world faiths.  I believe that it is the responsibility of the moderate elements in Islam, the Jewish Faith, Christianity and Hinduism to rise up and take control of the “message” being expressed to the world.  These “evil influences and forces” can only be counteracted and lessened by a wave of moderate voices from “within!”

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