Is killing for religious purposes always wrong? Or does it depend on the religion? The person? And what about God?

What does God think?

It was so sad to see the US Service members return home yesterday – Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee in Kabul just days before the attack | Photo – New York Times

Although some say they have a pipeline to God, I remain skeptical. Skeptical means unsure. Perhaps in some instances, religious officials may connect with and mediate God’s will. But most other times, I would argue, they don’t—even if they want us to think they do.

The Just War doctrine relates to the belief that, in certain circumstances, war may be ethically justified for reasons of personal, national, or religious self-defense.

This has nothing to do with a disturbed individual taking on the role of “savior” of humanity through horrific and irrational acts of violence, as saw a decade ago in Norway.

With no direct New Testament scriptural support for the idea of a Just War, Catholic Tradition endorses it anyhow.

Saint Augustine was the principal advocate of the just-war theory – Wikipedia

St. Augustine supports the Just War on the basis of so many holy wars portrayed in the Old Testament. The Middle Ages endorsed it with the Crusades and, one could argue, the Inquisitions (as pogroms against Jews).

A recent Catholic Catechism cites St. Thomas Aquinas, who condones killing as a legitimate form of personal or national self-defense (1995: p. 604).

What does it mean today?

The contemporary understanding of the Just War speaks to the organized killing, when absolutely necessary, of other human beings on the wrong side of the religious or political fence. All peaceful solutions have failed, the enemy poses some kind of grand-scale threat and there is a reasonable expectation of victory.

Most theologians, for instance, would agree that Hitler and the Nazis simply had to be stopped.

Similarities and Differences in non-Christian Religions

In Islam, the notion of Jihad might point to a uniquely Islamic understanding of a kind of ‘Just War’ doctrine, although it would not be called a Just War because that is a uniquely Christian concept. And in Hinduism, the Baghavad-Gita endorses killing in keeping with one’s moral duty to uphold the (apparently) sacred dharma.

Is this God talking or human bias?

Meanwhile, Buddhist scriptures speak of peace and non-violence, and Buddhism is often hailed as a non-violent path. However, this is a Western fantasy perpetuated by people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Put simply, scriptural, philosophical and folkloric justifications for violence exist in the Buddhist tradition (Moojan Momen, The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach, Oxford: Oneworld, 1999, p. 410).

Bernard Faure also points out that Buddhist doctrine is often adapted to justify war (Bernard Faure, “Buddhism and Violence.”) Furthermore, John Ferguson draws on scripture, legend, and history to outline five justifications for war in the Buddhist tradition (War and Peace in the World’s Religions, 1977, pp. 55-57).

Buddhist Monks on Violent Paths. How Come? An Essay in Mid-2013 – thuppahis.com

Bottom line?

Most religions believe that war can be justified, one way or another.* In contemporary society, one marked by corruption and different layers of violence, we can imagine some demented individuals rationalizing their organized acts of killing by saying “it’s just history…” “it’s always been this way…”

What people like this overlook is the notion that peaceful, non-violent folk have also always existed. They may not have statues, myths and legends to keep them visible for untold generations. But their quiet, “soft parade” has not been forgotten.

For Doors fans, an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the apparent discord that went into the amazing The Soft Parade LP

* See also “Collisions of Religion and Violence: Redux” at Crosscurrents.org, Summer 2001.