The following essay was taken from this month's Freethought Today
to which Barbara G. Walker is a frequent contributor. The thesis is pertinent to Bill Mahr's observation that President Bush Jr. would never have sent thousands of American boys to be killed in war if he didn't believe in the afterlife.
RELIGION AND WAR
by Barbara G. Walker
(author of Man Made God, et al.)
A nation that harbors a huge, expensive war machine must employ the machine by creating wars, and must maintain a relatively unthinking public willing to support the military behemoth when fed buzzwords like "God and Country." Hate-the-enemy propaganda is combined with promises of some kind of apotheosis -- medals, adulation of heroes, elaborate honors for the dead, assurances of paradise, or sexy houris (in the Muslim view) -- to make the young willing, or even eager, to throw away their lives for somebody else's economic benefit. It is essential that the young be trained as killing-robots, expendable and replaceable parts of the machine.
The ultimate goal of any war is not World Peace, Freedom, Democracy, Fatherland, or any other energizing buzzword. It is always economic aggrandizement: plain and simple greed. Wars are undertaken because the leaders want to seize an economic advantage from somebody else, and the somebody else doesn't want to give it up.
"Powers that be" are perfectly content to let their constituents become intellectually lazy, naive, ignorant and superstitious. It is not to any government's advantage to have a savvy, thoughtful, rational public. Governments want technological expertise, sure, but they don't want critical thinking to go along with it.
Fundamentalist and anti-intellectual trends in society are regarded with favor by warmakers, since war machines have no place for eggheads. The young and stupid are their fodder: the younger and more stupid, the better. We despise Muslims for putting guns into the hands of thirteen-year-olds and teaching them to kill; but we seem to think it's all right for those who are just five years older. We know any teenager is likely to be thrilled by being able to claim an adult-sized destructive power, and unlikely to be able to form any clear perception of his own physical vulnerability. Do not most of us, before we actually come of age, somehow believe that we can survive even the riskiest of situations?
Religion serves the military establishment in a number of important ways. Religious authorities firmly support their country's wars even if they call their deity "Prince of Peace." (After all, Jesus did say that he brought "not peace, but a sword" [Matthew 10:34] and history has proved it so.) Religion encourages childlike obedience and dependency on the father-figures represented by the chain of command, culminating in generals, national leaders, and ultimately God. Religion evokes the Big Daddy's rage against those who don't worship him correctly, and gives permission to kill them. Religion preaches unquestioning faith in the establishment, in doing what one is told without hesitation, and in the rightness of punishment for going against orders. Religion also encourages belief in an after-life to allay the natural fear of death that makes all other creatures flee from danger. Inexplicably, for many people even the fear of hell is preferable to their fear of permanent nonexistence.
Militaristic societies like the expression "There are no atheists in foxholes," though it is not a statement of fact, but an earnest wish on the part of the leaders. Atheists are not wanted in foxholes. Without Big Daddy's orders to keep them in place, they might even prefer being a live coward to being a dead hero. By all means let the troops pray while the bombs are bursting around them: if they survive, they can thank God, and if they don't, then their families can be comforted by the assurance (sadly) that it was God's will. Too bad. Nobody notices that it was the will of the government more than that of God. Nor do we notice that God professes to find human life so precious as to forbid the destruction even of an unwanted fetus, since that decision would be made by a woman and not by a government. Religion thus condones even the most obvious hypocrisy.
So the dumbing down of America is by no means deplored by all of America's leaders, religious or otherwise. Dumb means malleable. Those who don't think too much are more easily brainwashed, and perhaps more in need of an imaginary parental authority to tell them what is right (our way) and what is wrong (the other way), because it's too much trouble to figure it out for themselves. As long as there are religious differences of opinion, there will be wars; and as long as there are wars, religions will conspire to keep the populace suitably naive, ignorant and superstitious.
What gullible, malleable puppets we all are, when it comes to propaganda! In what many claim is a "Christian" country, most people grow up learning "Thou shalt not kill;" learning empathy, being trained not to injure others -- on pain of risking hell, or at least the displeasure of God. We are taught good manners, thoughtfulness, tolerance. Then along comes a war, and it's all abruptly reversed. God suddenly says thou shalt kill. Those who dare to threaten our economic comfort are all subhumans and deserve killing. What, all of them? The women and children, the innocent ones too? Yes. All of them. And the nation, mindlessly obedient, "supports the troops" that make it so.
It has been asked, what if they gave a war and no one came? But we have a vast propaganda machine standing ready to insure attendance at whatever killing spree our government fancies. We are given a plethora of reasons to reverse all the care-for-other-humans training. God may still insist on the survival of every fetus, but he has no problem with the deliberate destruction of thousands, even millions of fully developed lives. God is ever and always the compliant tool of politicians; it's no wonder that they are usually at pains to claim belief in him.
As a precept, "Thou shalt not kill" didn't even last two chapters' worth in the Bible. The biblical God orders his chosen people to kill huge numbers of their fellow humans: ten thousand here, twenty thousand there, whole cities wiped out, every infant and suckling and animal destroyed, collectively adding up to a matter of millions. If there is any historical truth at all behind Bible mythology, it is this: the God our politicians claim to believe in is a bloodthirsty monster who not only condones war but actually commands it as the primary means of increasing temporal power. Even Hitler said that God was on his side, and so did every other war leader in the long and bloody history of Western civilization.
Apparently we cannot imagine an end to warfare until we can, as John Lennon suggested, "Imagine no religion."