On War, Religion, and the Science of Non-violence

The United States President’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, has publicly stated, “To say no to President Trump would be saying no to God.” Believing in a god that has planned for your country to go to war, to conquer others, that makes you believe that your country is “divine” allows for war to seem righteous. The belief that war is a “necessary evil,” or that war is patriotic needs to be abolished. Apotheosizing soldiers, battles, and violence has created a world strife with misery. If non-violence were exalted and heroes of science and thought were celebrated and revered to the same extent heroes of war are, it would create a much healthier world and the need for people to volunteer to enact violence and death on our behalf would be far less. In the words of writer and social activist, Alice Walker, “We must, I believe, start teaching our children the sanity of nonviolence much earlier.”

Political figures and other historical leaders have routinely capitalized on theological pronouncements of the divine nature of their rule and actions. This type of rhetoric plays on the majority public’s belief system and creates a spiritual bond between the leader and their subjects. The public’s collective opinions are highly influenced by those in power manipulating their firmly held religious beliefs. These tactics have been brandished relentlessly throughout history and now the seemingly sacrosanct marriage between nation, politics, and religion are engrained in society to a debilitating degree. Humans venerate “war heroes” and collectively pay respects to soldiers during national holidays. We play at being soldiers in video games, watch them in movies, and sing about them in national anthems. Famous battles are depicted in art and famous soldiers have everything from parks, bridges, and streets named after them. War is everywhere. Having such violence normalized in human culture has many psychological effects. While scientific studies on the link between violent video games and violent behavior in children are inconsistent, the fact that toy soldiers, war games, and other media depicting similar scenarios are targeted at young boys is no mistake. Just like baby dolls were intended to train girls for motherhood, toy soldiers were meant to train boys for the military. Celebrating and idolizing all aspects of war in a sense militarizes our minds. Militarization is defined as the process by which a society organizes itself for military conflict and violence. While the United States does not experience literal war within its borders daily like many other countries do, an article in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems states, it “has become a country that is constantly at war.” According to the Department of Defense, for fiscal year 2019, the budget authority for the military is $693,058,000,000, which is more than what China, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan spend on defense combined. The gun culture that grasps the country is another indication of its militarization. The ease in which firearms can be purchased in many states and the vigilance with which the “right to bear arms” is defended indicates how many citizens’ minds are militarized. There is a somewhat warped notion that peace needs to be violently defended and that war ensures our freedom. This idea can be seen everywhere from bumper stickers and t-shirts declaring “Freedom is not Free” to the scholastic doctrine of “Just War Theory.” This war/peace hypocrisy is most glaring during the month of November throughout North America. Some even call it “the month of gratitude.” Canada celebrates Remembrance Day, which is like America’s Veterans Day, both celebrated around the same time during this month. These days are meant to acknowledge and give thanks to military veterans for their service. Mexico has Revolution Day that celebrates when the Mexican Revolution started. And of course, there’s Thanksgiving. A day supposedly celebrating gratitude and purportedly modeled after a feast attended by both pilgrims and Indigenous peoples but historically ignores the actual genocide, rape, and pilfering of land from the Native Americans.

The roles the military and its soldiers play are indeed important ones and they do deserve gratitude and respect. They volunteer their lives to protect others. The act is noble and brave, and many lives have benefited from certain military action. Unfortunately, those who join the armed services in a sense enter into a machine that has an established set of norms which include hyper violence. These norms go beyond the call of duty but are still within the environ of the military. They theoretically join a club of toxic masculinity, a club that centers around violence and power. The constant threat of battle, the repetitive training for war, among other stresses of military service has a definite impact on the psyche. Research conducted by Washington University published in Psychological Science, indicates that even without active combat, military service has lingering negative effects on the mind. The fact that violent criminal behavior is rampant among the ranks is also something we cannot ignore. Important steps have begun recently to address the flagrant sexual violence within the US military of both women and men, as well as acknowledgement of rape and forced prostitution perpetrated by other militaries such as the Imperial Japanese Army’s history of “comfort women and girls.” Elizabeth Hillman of the University of California Hastings College of Law stated that military sexual violence “occurs with astonishing frequency … because it is so central to military legal precedent that it has both shaped the substance of military law and strengthened through repetition the image of some men as sexually violent predators and women as sexual victims.” Domestic violence is also a prominent outcome of military service. According to the September 2019 issue of Military Times, “Domestic violence has only been a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for a few months, after lawmakers added it as part of last year’s defense authorization bill. Before that, offenses were prosecuted under a patchwork of other regulations, which advocates said severely restricted the services’ ability to track and monitor the problem.” The article goes on to say, “Outside advocates said more must also be done to work on prevention strategies, not just abuse response issues.” Many studies have uncovered psychological reasons that increase the levels of domestic violence among those who work in highly stressful and violent environments. Those in military service face a multitude of physical dangers, emotional and mental strain, and long periods of time away from loved ones. Psychological studies indicate that people experiencing these intense forms of workplace pressures undergo “emotional dissonance” and become “desensitized” to the violence they are forced to commit and see during their service.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another serious condition that consumes veterans. PTSD was once thought of as a condition faced solely by veterans often called “shell-shock,” or “war fatigue.” A 2017 article in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems claims, “that mental health disparities are often a leading factor to the high suicide rates among veterans who experience depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” A study released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found a “substantial unmet need for mental health services…Roughly half of those veterans surveyed who showed a need for mental health care said they do not currently receive any such care, either through VA or private physicians.” Once discharged it’s very difficult for many service-members to reacclimate to civilian life and homelessness becomes a very real issue. Research from the Clinical Psychology Review, “found that veterans’ transition stress can include challenges such as confusion over their new role — ‘loss of the military self’ — in civilian life, unexpected isolation or grief, and anger over military stereotypes from new civilian co-workers.” The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness estimate that just over 9% of all homeless adults in the United States are veterans of the US Military.

While the country outwardly expresses all the pomp and circumstance for its veterans, it fails them in other more critical arenas. They are used and victimized by the cycle of war for other’s gains. The brave, strong, virile soldier is a proud sight marching into battle. But people cringe at the broken, wounded, traumatized human upon their return. They are stepped over in the street as they’re asking for help. They are pitied. Society is both obsessed with and revolted by war. Patriotism, nationalism, and religious ideologies brainwash people into thinking war is honorable. Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.” Evangelical blogger, Brad Archer writes,

 All nations are set up by God for the purposes of God. While it

 can be a source of pride to live in a nation “by the people, for

 the people,” we must always remember that every country, nation,

 or government on earth is first and foremost by God and for God.

 He brings them into being, uses them for his divine plan, and then

 replaces them.There are many examples of this in the Old Testament.

 God used Assyria to punish Israel for its disobedience; then God used

 Babylon to destroy Assyria for its sin. God had Babylon invade Judah

 as a punishment for Judah’s sin; then God raised up Persia to punish

 Babylon. It is God who orders these things. Nations only exist and act

 to further the sovereign will of God.

We must now shed the religious doctrine of violence and embrace the science of nonviolence. The Metta Center for Nonviolence is doing just this. They report that “neuroscientists like to say today that we are ‘wired for empathy… deep in our evolution are the capacities for empathy and other dimensions of nonviolence.” Physicist, Sir James Jeans, has said, “The universe is much more like a great thought than a great machine.” The Metta Center explains “this means that we are deeply interconnected and can influence each other in ways much more subtle than physical force (for example, ‘appeal to the heart’ of an opponent).” Our lives are not preordained by a fictitious and war-hungry god who instructs our behavior. We have the capacity hard-wired within ourselves of shaping our own destiny and doing so with compassion and empathy.

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