State Sanctified Murder

I was recently told that the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), does not apply to killing in war. I was not told that it did not apply to killing in a just war. And neither was I told that it did not apply to killing in a defensive war. There were no qualifications on the nature of the war. Confirmation that this is indeed the case soon followed: although the war in Iraq is stupid, unnecessary, and unconstitutional, Christians can in good conscience join the military, not only knowing that they might have to go to Iraq and bomb, maim, 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.”

Christians who volunteer for the military and their pastors who encourage them are basically saying that killing someone you don’t know and may never have seen, in his own territory, is not murder (and therefore is not prohibited by the sixth commandment) if the U.S. government says that he should be killed.

State sanctified murder.

As a Bible-believing Christian, I reject this ghastly statolatry, and for two reasons:

  • “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
  • “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in theology or even a Bible-college education to see that killing someone for the state in an aggressive, unconstitutional, non-defensive, foreign war is immoral. Killing someone for the state can be murder for the simple reason that the state can sanctify nothing. It is the state itself that needs sanctification. The state is the greatest killing machine in history. The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in human history precisely because of state aggression.

It is incredible that Christians would even think of using the “obeying orders” defense. Rudolf Hoess, Hermann Goering, and Alfred Jodl used it at the Nuremberg Trials:

  • “I thought I was doing the right thing. I was obeying orders.”
  • “We had orders to obey the head of state.”
  • “I don’t see how they can fail to recognize a soldier’s obligation to obey orders. That’s the code I’ve live by all my life.”

It didn’t work. Jodl was hanged in Nuremberg in 1946 and Hoess was hanged in Poland in 1947. Goering committed suicide by taking a cyanide pill on the day before his scheduled hanging.

Lieutenant William Calley used it after the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968: “I felt then and I still do that I acted as I was directed, and I carried out the orders that I was given, and I do not feel wrong in doing so.”

Lawyers for some of the defendants in the Abu Ghraib Prison abuse scandal also say “their clients were only following orders when they took part in alleged abusive acts at the prison.”

If no one in the military obeyed orders, then, it is argued, the military would not function very well. Good. That is exactly what we need, and for two reasons. One, if our soldiers are given orders to bomb, torture, maim, kill, and destroy people (and property) half way around the world that have never lifted a finger against the United States then those are the types of orders that we don’t want soldiers in any country obeying. And second, since the military has very little to do with actually defending the country, the fact that it was not able to function very well doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Just think, if the military was dysfunctional enough then there would be no more bases built overseas, there would be no more U.S. troops stationed on foreign soil, there would be no more bombs dropped, there would be no more land mines buried, there would be no more torture disguised as interrogation, there would be no more “regime changes,” there would be no more invasions, there would be no more creating terrorists because of our reckless foreign policy, there would be no wasting of billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money, and finally, the root would be destroyed — the insidious policy of interventionism.

Maybe, just maybe, the military could actually patrol our coasts and guard our borders. In that case a Christian could in good conscience “join up.”

It is a sad day when conservative Christian pastors preach that Christians in the military should not commit treason by refusing to drop a nuclear bomb on a city when ordered by the state to do so instead of preaching that it would be immoral to incinerate tens of thousands of people by using such a weapon.

What are these pastors going to say when U.S. troops are directed to attack American citizens in the name of fighting terrorism? Will they still encourage their young men to join the military? Is it going to take an assault by the military on their own family before they preach the Scripture that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) instead of repeating the mantra “obey the powers that be”?

If the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) never applies in wartime then what about the prohibition against adultery? What about the commandments against stealing, lying, swearing, and coveting? If killing in war is never murder then is torture permitted? It is certainly better to just torture someone for a few days than to kill him.

The great mystery here is why the subjects of war and the military turn some Christians into apologists for the state. This includes many Christians who otherwise denounce Bush and the U.S. global empire.

State sanctified murder — will it abide the judgment? I am not taking my chances.