It’s Veterans Day and prayer makes the headlines. The old adage about no atheists in foxholes comes to mind as those who fought for the values we hold reminisce about the not-so-happy days before the 1950s when the last semblance of normalcy in American life apparently died. The New Jersey Star-Ledger quotes a World War II veteran who participated at the Battle of Normandy saying “I might have prayed more than I ever prayed before.” No atheists in foxholes. As a lifelong pacifist, I have always believed that war is a terrible waste. 3.5 billion years of evolution and the best we can come up with is to hurl supersonic lead slugs at each other over who gets what and who deserves more than who else. I don’t deny that veterans should be honored – my father was a veteran – but war should not.
A sad truth is that many wars, probably in the history of the modern world, most wars, have been fought for religious reasons. The idea that God demands certain things ultimately leads to fighting over what it is God wants. Both sides often claiming the silent deity is on their side. Millions of mere mortals have had to pay the price. Hey, can’t we just talk about this?
War may very well have evolutionary roots. Studies of chimpanzees suggest that homo sapiens are not the only overly aggressive primates. If we deny our cousins religion, however, only homo sapiens fight for mythological causes. One of the great ironies of life is that the most advanced technology trickles down to civilian life from military applications. If something is new, it must have a tactical use against the enemy. Once the enemy is subdued, we can share the wealth. I grew up hearing about “godless Communists.” I watched in dismay as Bush declared a new crusade. I shudder when I read that Iran is developing long-range missile facilities. God is the midst of all this. Veterans protected us from the human-level wars of a bygone era. In our own homemade Armageddon, however, our own technology will doubtless become the weapons in the hands of an angry God.