Humpty Dumpty Religion
by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."
Some Christian warmongers seek to get around the plain truth of the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13), by taking the Humpty Dumpty approach.
But first, a word about the term "Christian warmonger." Yes, it is spoken in derision. And yes, it is a pejorative term that is meant to agitate and incite Christians who continue to support, what is becoming more and more evident everyday, an unnecessary, unscriptural, immoral, and unjust war that is needlessly killing and injuring American soldiers, creating terrorists faster than we can kill them, increasing the hatred many foreigners around the world have for the United States, and dividing churches and families across the country. In light of what Christian peace advocates are called by Christian war supporters (liberal, communist, anti-war weenie, traitor, coward, America-hater), I think the term "Christian warmonger" is justified. The term does not mean, as one of my critics recently said, that a Christian warmonger "cherishes the thought of any war." It is merely a short way of saying:
defender of Bush's war in Iraq because Republicans and conservatives support the war, Bush is a Christian, "The LORD is a man of war," Iraq was responsible for September 11th, Islam is a false religion, U.S. intervention in the Middle East is necessary to protect Israel, dead Muslims are just collateral damage, U.S. soldiers are fighting for our freedoms, the military is a great institution, and we should "obey the powers that be."
But the term is also meant to provoke Christians to reexamine their support for Bush, his war in Iraq, the interventionist foreign policy of the United States, and war in general.
Here are two examples of the Humpty Dumpty mentality.
In the opening chapter of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, we read of three slogans of the Party emblazoned "in elegant lettering" on the "glittering white concrete" of The Ministry of Truth building:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) says to Sergeant Horvath (played by Tom Sizemore):
You see, when you end up killing one of your men you tell yourself it happened so you could save the lives of two or three or ten others. Maybe a hundred others. You know how many men I've lost under my command? Ninety-four. But that means I've saved the lives of ten times that many, doesn't it? Maybe even twenty, right, twenty times as many? And that's how simple it is. That's how you rationalize making the choice between the mission and the men.
This Humpty Dumpty attitude cannot be dismissed because it is just found in a novel or a movie and is therefore not representative of the real world. An "Intelligence Analyst," in his one-sentence response to an article of mine that he did not name, made this statement:
It didn't change my belief in the thought that when I pull the trigger it is to save a life, not take a life.
Killing is saving? This is Humpty Dumpty religion. Evil is good; malevolence is benevolence; torture is hazing; destruction is nation building; invasion is deliverance.
Christianity has always been plagued by advocates of Humpty Dumpty religion:
- The Bible is not really the word of God.
- The creation account in Genesis is just an allegory.
- Hell is just separation from God.
- The Second Coming was the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century.
The difference between these things and the subject of war is that it is conservative Christians who are manifesting Humpty Dumpty religion, not those viewed as unorthodox, liberals, modernists, or heretics.
A variation of this attitude is that the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," does not apply to killing in war. Thus, killing someone you don't know, and have never seen, in his own territory, who was no threat to anyone until the United States invaded his country, is not murder if the U.S. government says that he should be killed. Therefore, Christians can in good conscience join the military, not only knowing that they might have to go to Iraq and bomb, maim, "interrogate," and kill for the state, but can actually do these things without any fear of negative consequences by God at the judgment because they "obeyed orders" and "obeyed the powers that be." This attitude I have written about elsewhere.
Still another variety of Humpty Dumpty religion is the approach that reasons: Since the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" obviously doesn't mean "the taking of any life," one cannot apply it to killing in war. Every Christian I have ever talked to or read who took that position was trying to justify Christians killing for the state in Iraq.
This was the approach taken by a critic of my quiz: "Are You a Christian Warmonger." This is a twenty-question, true/false test designed for Christians of any stripe to determine to what degree, if any, that they are a Christian warmonger. I was informed by my critic that "the questions are rife with logical fallacies." He specifically mentioned the following: non sequiturs, red herrings, straw man arguments, sweeping generalizations, appeals to pity, complex questions, and false dichotomies. My quiz "is a logically fallacious quiz which appears to be deliberately designed to mislead those taking it into agreeing with your position — not out of genuine moral concern and logical reasoning, but rather out of trickery."
I was impressed with my critic's knowledge of logical fallacies and Latin; however, I was not impressed with my critic's ability to read simple English.
First, he defined a Christian warmonger as a Christian who "cherishes the thought of any war" — something that I never said or implied in that article or any article I have ever written. See above on what I mean by Christian warmonger.
Second, I was told that I should "repair the flaws" in my argument if I wish my quiz "to be a part of a genuine scholarly debate on the subject." But I never intended the quiz "to be part of a genuine scholarly debate on the subject." It was deliberately meant to be pithy, humorous, and thought provoking. It was definitely not intended to be a serious quiz along the lines of the "Are You an Austrian?" quiz offered by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Third, as to my quiz questions being or containing logical fallacies, I clearly stated in the introduction to the quiz: "These statements are based on things I have read or been told by Christians seeking to excuse or justify the war in Iraq in order to defend President Bush." If any of my statements contain logical fallacies then it is those Christians who seek to defend Bush and his war that are responsible.
My first question was: "The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill' (Exodus 20:13) never applies to killing in war." My critic first terms this a "complex question." Incredibly, he equates it with the question: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" He maintains that the question "presupposes that the Scripture, ‘Thou shalt not kill,' refers to the taking of any life — a fact which has not yet been established."
But not only does the question presuppose nothing of the kind, this is not a fact that anyone with any sense would attempt to establish. When my critic informs me that "for generations, Hebrews have interpreted that passage as non-contradictory to God's required destruction of evil cultures in battle," he is preaching to the choir. Before God gave this commandment in Exodus chapter twenty, he allowed for the killing of animals for clothing (Genesis 3:21), food (Genesis 9:3), and sacrifices (Genesis 8:20), as well as the killing of men via capital punishment (Genesis 9:6). And after God gave this commandment, he instructed the Jews to destroy the Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deuteronomy 20:17). Why would anyone ever presuppose that the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," referred to the absolute "taking of any life."
My critic continues: "In fact, the literal Hebrew translation of the word for ‘kill' (ratsach) is ‘to murder,' and is otherwise used in the Bible only in phrases which refer to taking lives without just cause." Is that so? Well, I taught basic biblical Hebrew for a number of years and even wrote a basic Hebrew grammar, so let's see if this is true. The word ratsach occurs fifty times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is often used to refer to murder (e.g., Job 24:14, Psalm 94:6, Jeremiah 7:9); however, not always. As for instance:
Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die (Numbers 35:30).
The word "murderer" in this verse is from the word ratsach, but so is the phrase "shall be put to death." The ones carrying out capital punishment are obviously not committing murder. So, the word ratsach is not "otherwise used in the Bible only in phrases which refer to taking lives without just cause."
My critic next terms my first question a "false dichotomy." Here is the question again: "The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill' (Exodus 20:13) never applies to killing in war." He reasons: "By asking if the commandment ‘never' applies, you are stating that there are only two positions regarding this verse: if you answer ‘True' then you must claim that there are never unjustified killings in war; if answering ‘False' then you are claiming that there are never justified killings in war."
I stand by my first question; it is exactly what Christian defenders of Christians killing for the state in Iraq have told me. These Christians would answer "True" because they actually believe that the state can sanctify killing — even in an unjust war. I have even heard Christians defend the My Lai Massacre. And furthermore, it is simply not true that you believe that "there are never justified killings in war" if you answer "False." It depends on the war and the circumstances.
Since I do not intend to issue a separate reply answering every charge against my "Christian warmonger" quiz raised by my critic, I would like to address the criticism of another question from my "Christian Warmonger" quiz even though it is not related to the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." My seventh true/false question was: "A preemptive war against Iraq is nothing to be concerned about because the Bible says there is ‘a time of war' (Ecclesiastes 3:8)."
My critic comments:
This is a straw man fallacy, whereby you set up an unfairly simplistic opponent simply to provide easy attack. Few Christians who support the war in Iraq do so for the sole purpose that Ecclesiastes says there is a "time of war." To do so would be a logical flaw on their fault — Ecclesiastes never mentions Iraq or 2005 or Hussein or the War on Terror, so one cannot assume that the verse indicates that the "time of war" is now and against Iraq. And, for that reason, I have never heard a Christian claim this as their argument. Some may use it as proof that God is not opposed to war at certain times if the need is great, but no one argues in defense of the war solely based on this verse. Thus, it is an unfairly simplistic opponent which you have set up here to attack.
My critic is suffering from something far worse than committing a logical fallacy: he can't read. I never said that any Christian supported the war in Iraq "for the sole purpose that Ecclesiastes says there is a ‘time of war.'" And yes, Christians, such as Jerry Falwell, have used this verse to justify the war in Iraq. The fact that my critic "never heard a Christian claim this as their argument" means absolutely nothing. I have, and that's why I included it in my quiz.
With all the Bush administration lies that have been exposed, the only way a Christian can continue to justify the invasion, destruction, and occupation of Iraq, as well as Christians participating in the bombing, maiming, torturing, and killing of Iraqis at the behest of the state, is by adopting the "killing is saving" Humpty Dumpty approach.
God deliver us from Humpty Dumpty religion!
December 12, 2005
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] is a freelance writer and an adjunct instructor in accounting and economics at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, FL. He is also the director of the Francis Wayland Institute. His new book is Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. Visit his website.
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