Do me a favor. Make sure no one’s around you, and then say the word “warfare” out loud. What did you hear? You said one word, but you heard two: “war” and “fair.”
Now say “worship.” Again, you said one word—but heard two. The act of reverence toward a god is identified as “worship,” a homonym for “warship.” When spoken aloud and out of reasonable context, these words are undistinguishable from each other.
The examples above bring to light startling ironies about war. Since when has war ever truly been fair? Since when has participation in battle been a basic tenet of religion?
Kids on the playground know that a game is unfair as soon as a player starts to change the rules to fit how he believes the game should be played.
Religious combat is not so advanced.
The fundamental problem with wars waged over religion is that everyone believes that God is on their side, and that this alone is enough to justify senseless fighting and an absence of rules. If God (by “God” I mean whatever higher power to which you may subscribe) calls for war, then who are we as humans to deny His wishes? Who are we to demand peace against the demands of an all-powerful deity? As long as religion has prevailed, so has religious warfare. In the medieval ages, the church lorded (pun intended) over human society with an iron hand, using the threat of God’s wrath as incentive for all to cooperate with the church’s law. While our material world has changed, the foundation of religious power remains in many parts of the world today the same as it was when the bloody Crusades raged: if God is on our side, we have a reason to fight. If God is on our side, we can do no wrong.
Unfortunately, God is not sitting in Vegas placing bets on the victor and pulling for that side to come out victorious. If He was, the world would likely be a much more peaceful place. Thucydides’ transcript of the Melian dialogue captures perfectly the hubris of each state as war grows nearer on the horizon. The Athenians state, “When you speak of the favour of the gods, we may as fairly hope for that as yourselves… Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can.” The Athenian sentiment towards involvement of the gods was expressed in 431 BC. But if we study history so that we may avoid mistakes of the past, why do we keep making this same mistake over and over again? Why, in 2014, are wars still fought under the guidance of God’s favor and will?
Why, in 2001, was New York City brutally attacked by terrorist group al-Qaeda? The United States’ support of Israel, an enemy of the attackers’ Islamic state, is one reason; opposition to the involvement of American troops in the Middle East is another. Following the attacks, Americans from all walks of life came together to honor our heroes, regardless of religious creed or preference as a poignant show of solidarity. Why must religious vendettas be carried out through means of violence? The prolonged existence of religious conflicts worldwide tells us that there is no solution to these questions and that no one nation is immune to the dangers of religiously fueled animosity.
Nothing about this is fair. Perhaps if we all examined our own religious ideals with a sense of introspection, and we may realize as a global community that we are not so different after all. Since the days of the Crusades, the fine line between “worship” and “warship” has only been blurred, and will likely stay that way forever (or until God starts making his bets public in Vegas, whichever happens first). Religious warfare is the undisputed author of its own rulebook, one where, as the saying goes, all is fair in love and war.