What is the effect of disbelief on war?

Thank you as always for your insightful and thoughtful comments.  I always love throwing out topics and seeing the wonderful places you take them. 

Today, I’d like to ask another question that relates to faith.  One thing that cannot be denied about the Islamists is that they have a deep faith.  It is hardly surprising that young men who truly believe they have 70 virgins waiting for them in heaven can’t wait to blow themselves up and take as many innocents with them as possible.  I suspect, though, that a person who does not believe in the afterlife, who believe that life is a one-shot deal, will be a lot less ready to sacrifice that life for any cause.

This difference might also account for some of the strangeness of the liberal viewpoint.  By and large, liberals do not have an abiding faith in God and an afterlife and they simply do not understand (and are a bit suspicious of) those who have a deep faith, be they Chriatian, Jewish or Islamic.   They can’t imagine sacrificing their lives for anything, and they act as if they can’t imagine anyone else doing so either.  How can they possibly have anything intelligent to say about the war against Islamists if they have no understanding of their foes?

So what effects do Bookwormroom readers think the loss of faith of so many in the West will have on the battle against the Islamists?  Also, those of you who don’t believe in an afterlife, who believe this life is a one-shot deal — what do you believe is worth dying for?  What would you give your life for, if you thought you were giving up everything for all eternity?


32 Responses

  1. Writers on war place emphasis on the loyatly that men have to each other in combat, as opposed to their seeing their efforts as vindicating some cosmic principle or earning points in the hereafter.

    I think most Americans would go to war if they were convinced of the threat and they would fall easily into that dynamic. Regardless of faith.

    I think even the jihadis are more motivated by this than by the promise of the afterlife. Islam might get the boys to associate with each other but the “buy in” is, I think, “I have to help my buddies?”

  2. “How can I help my buddies?”


  3. Your comment:

    “By and large, liberals do not have an abiding faith in God and an afterlife and they simply do not understand (and are a bit suspicious of) those who have a deep faith, be they Chriatian, Jewish or Islamic.”

    seems to reduce “liberals” to nothing more than a cultural cliche, while neglecting the reality that it is often a sincere faith that causes the left-leaning slant of these “liberals.” I know many, from both within my personal brand of Christianity and without, who believe that the example of Christ necessarily compels them to align politically with the democratic rather than the republican party. Those of faith occupy both sides of the isle. And, of course, those without faith do as well.

    But to answer your query, there are many things worth dying for, but the maligned interests of a crumbling administration just isn’t it. Godspeed to our troops. May God bring them home safely.

  4. After identifying a strawman fallacy of ‘liberals’ being reduced to ‘nothing more than a cultural cliche,’ spdmnmiata broke down to his or her own strawman fallacy of saying troops die for ‘the maligned interests of a crumbling administration.’
    It is genuinely offensive to oversimplify an opposing point of view and reduce the men and women of the all-volunteer Service to nothing more than political props. Regardless of the ability of troops to accomplish larger strategic goals, may God steady them in their daily struggles. May God bring strength and hope to their families and loved ones. May they bring hope and some good to the communities in which they serve. May they not be forgotten as good men and women in the difficult tasks against which they’re set, and may God guide them with courage and honor.
    And when men and women demand that more respect be shown to them, may they do so by setting themselves as the example and showing equal respect to others.

  5. I believe the primary effect of loss of faith in the West is the inability to distinguish exactly how dangerous our situation is. The non-faithful lump all religions together, or say they are all paths to God or enlightenment, blah, blah. However, a Christian can better discern how alien and destructive the Islamists are. Their beliefs are simply not compatible with our culture.

    I do not think our war fighting ability is terribly handicapped. Our technical superiority and organization outweigh their motivation to die for their faith. If we were combating them hand to hand it would be a different story. Supposedly the Catholic church started granting dispensations, etc. to give crusaders the same level of motivation as their Muslim opponents.

    I can’t see the buddy factor being significant to a suicide bomber. I can’t believe anything other than anticipation of the afterlife would be a motivation.

    On second thought, I guess an Islamist could want to help his buddies into paradise. Perhaps that is the motivation of the bomb maker; what a selfless guy he is! Its hard to even begin this line of reasoning without recognizing how alien they are to us.

  6. Also, those of you who don’t believe in an afterlife, who believe this life is a one-shot deal — what do you believe is worth dying for?

    The Good and the Virtuous are worth dying for, killing for.

    People often are good or evil if their actions are the way they are regardless of the personal rewards or benefits. Evil would still be evil, if killing had no personal benefit to them in the material world, since they will always revel in the slaughter of men and women. Materialistic considerations or promises of rewards are just icing. That’s why I find it troublesome for people to say that evil folks will be punished in hell by god or that good people will be rewarded in heaven by god. Whatever consequence to a person’s actions should be as a result of his actions, not the arbitrary decisions made by a god concerning what was good or not. In that sense, often gods have your own morality structure, in a way. Most people’s morality system is not adopted through much of their free will, rather it is instilled through experience, teachings, or even indoctrination. A fear of hell should not be part of the motivation in avoiding evil or doing good. I’m not sure how much it matters whether a person goes to hell or heaven, since their life is over on this world; we will never see them again unless reincarnation works, eternal souls exist, or we develop Resurrection technologies.

    Everyone has a responsibility to make the best of him or herself in this one shot at life. That we know of. Perhaps we go on to better things, but then this means our mortal life is a testing ground. It tests our strengths, our weaknesses, our vulnerability to temptation. It tests us because we are newly fired from the kiln, and are thus brittle and weak. We need fortifying agents and experiences, to become all that we may become.

    There are many powerful binds that tie our souls together to each other, past prejudices or national/cultural boundaries set by the UN. The after-life is unknownable, but the ties made in this life bind and we know it binds.

    You don’t need Judeo-Christian beliefs to believe that there is something greater than all of us or that together we can perform Good works that will outlast our mortal life. Thus the West’s problem is not lack of religion, it is the lack of strength. Strength in faith, in God, in family, in our brothers and sisters, fellow compatriots and comrades, as well as faith in our enemies and Honor amongst our Foes. The will that binds the spirit, the mind, and the body is an entity that needs cultivation or else it atrophies. As it has atrophied on the Left.

    They, the Left, do not have even the force of will of a Stalin, a Hitler, a Mao, or even a Castro. Compared to good men and women, Hitler’s will was a weak thing indeed. Hitler and his ilk were powerful because he had other people to do his dirty work and because he would ambush and kill all those that were stronger than he. He showed his true colors at the end. A cowardly act for a cowardly man.

    seems to reduce “liberals” to nothing more than a cultural cliche, while neglecting the reality that it is often a sincere faith that causes the left-leaning slant of these “liberals.”

    I wouldn’t be too sure of that given the Leftist belief in nihilism, which is sort of a contradiction in terms since nihilism believes that nothing is worth believing in since the world will all come to red ruin and nothing will ever get better. The Left both believes in utopia as well as nihilism, but those two are just two faces of the same coin. It’s hard to analyze such compartamentalized thinking in a way.

    Here’s a simple example. Why do nihilists not kill themselves and end their own misery if they believe nothing can ever get better? Because they believe it can get better if you arrive at Utopia, i.e. perfection, aka their perfection and law. Why do utopian believers produce so much misery on this world in their cruelty to mankind and our children? Because they believe the world is a bad place and getting worse, and thus anything is justified for utopia since utopia is their salvation and god. It is not like they are making things worse, in the mind of a utopian believer, things will always get worse, they are doing bad and evil things for a “good” cause.

    It is true, as Bunny said, that sociological and behavioral variables are just as important as religious motivation. There is a basic set of human conditioning principles that can potentially cause a person to do all kinds of things he would never have dreamed of. As with all of human nature, you can use it and make it into Good or you can use it and make it into Evil.

    People want to belong to something greater than themselves, it is a direct result of our social evolution and conditioning. There must be heirarchies, those that are leaders and those that are followers. The military is no democracy nor even a republic, and for a very good reason. You have seen what the United States has done with their military system, an achievement unsurpassed in the history of our world.

    The sociological triggers, such as the basic need for love, approval, recognition, respect, self-esteem, etc, are often the factors most utilized and manipulated by utopian followers and nihilists. Because we are human, we are hurt through human vulnerabilities, and that is often concerning our heart rather than our body or minds. In a sense, what this means to me is that I believe the Left sees religious folks as weak in that they need to believe in an afterlife and what not to motivate themselves. The Left themselves as the Anointed, the ones with the One True Faith, thus superior over other faiths. Although, they also have the duality nature as well, in that they believe in their compartamentalized minds that they don’t believe in such things as god or faiths or things that can’t be proven. The Left believes themselves wise and cosmopolitan in their nihilistic pursuit of perpetual misery and perfect social revolution (or even evolution).

    This is another sociological factor in that people feel better about their own beliefs and systems if they believe that their beliefs are superior to those of another. This is true for every human, regardless of whether they are self-proclaimed atheists or not.

  7. As a student of history, I’ve often witnessed historical events through the eyes of fictional avatars and studied the consequences of the actions of kings, movers and shakers, throughout history.

    Human fallibility seems to plague us regardless of whence time’s eye flies. Yet, there is something of goodness in the human heart, something of the Perfect yet unattainable goal that we as a whole strive for. It is hard to grasp or even describe, because in a way it was never meant to be achieved. If humanity is to grow and become stronger than it is, then it cannot become stuck on “perfect”, for perfect means that there is no change is good. So what will become of us, when we stop changing and improving?

    Often I see good in the teamwork of an army, in the discipline that binds them, and in the ability of men to control their basic natures of death, destruction, and hate. They channel these energies into something positive and ever lasting, such as love, creation, and protection. The hate of a soldier should thus not thus be directed against those he is tasked to protect, but rather those that seek to destroy his loved ones and his wards. Historically though, these moments are ephemeral. They happen once or twice and then disappear. Minor and isolated heroics, crushed by the bootheel of cruelty, tyranny, death, and sadism.

    I would not call the United States the last, best hope for mankind (Babylon 5 reference), but I would say that I believe the US is the best hope for humanity ascending to something higher and better than it is currently. We do not need genetic recombination or false indoctrination to act better, believe better, and be better. (Although DNA improvements always help in the body category of mind and spirit) Nor is the good of humanity something that requires a parasitic relationship with each individual human. As the individual grows in power, so should the entirety of humanity. Tyranny is an injustice and a blight on the face of Goodness because tyranny exists to destroy individual power, repress it and control it for the use of one man or a small group of men. This always weakens the whole of humanity; one way or another.

    My beliefs, then, combine individual strength with what is good for everyone. But all beliefs are challenged by reality. For example, look at Iraq. How can you justify the loss of the best human beings on this world for something like Iraq? Is not the United States important to humanity as a whole, so why should the US sacrifice so much for the whole given that it weakens us all for no purpose? If humanity is supposed to become stronger as a whole, as I believe, then how does it do so by going to war, killing, murdering, destroying, blowing wedding parties up, etc?

    Because power is acquired through struggle. Through power we acquire security. Through security we acquire liberty, and through liberty humanity is freed of its chains to pursue the things that make existence worth living.

    Nobody ever got stronger by sitting on his or her arse contemplating their navel and basing their decisions upon fear, risk, or loss. Fear of loss, fear of risk, etc.

    Human resources are the only ever eternally renewable resource we have. Human ingenuity never stops, humanity procreation will continue until we all die off, and human progress will continue so long as the first two go on. Even the United States cannot hold the darkness at bay in our world and time, without help. The tens of millions in Iraq and Afghanistan are a beginning given that most of humanity is still under the chains of death, cruelty, corruption, and ignorance. Humanity’s power is a weak and fickle thing because most of humanity’s 6 billion members are functioning below their maximum capacity. Below even the poverty line as a percentage. Their wills are repressed, their spirits are broken, their minds are weakened, and their bodies decayed with disease and malnutrition.

    Status is not eternal, you must fight for it, maintain it, water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots to give life to the Good.

    People have to believe in something. We don’t have a choice about that anymore than we have a choice between dying or living forever. Our free will is present in which beliefs we choose to believe. Do we believe in the Good? Or the Evil? The selfish or the eternal? The philosophy of virtue and strength or the philosophy of demagoguery and cynicism?

    The Japanese have always produced some of the best warrior-philosophers around. They were able to combine, as did some other Eastern areas and philosophies, the strength of philosophy, martial prowess, and theology (ancestor worship) into a dedicated and integral whole. Such phrases as,

    “Death is lighter than a feather; duty heavier than mountains”

    The samurai obeys the way of the warrior and thus has surpassed the fear of death in all his actions. The benefits and virtues are easy to recognize. Did the soldier who fell on the grenade to save his buddies think of his own life, needs, and desires before he made that choice? Would he have had the time to do so? No, he wouldn’t have, because only warriors who have sublimated their own instinctual need for self-preservation can ascend beyond human limitations in reaction and action. The fear that ensures self-preservation is a necessary thing, but then so is government. One must be wary that you control it and not the other way around.

    We all know that fear of many things hold us back, both as a people and as individuals. It ensures our survival but humanity has progressed beyond the need for simple survival. We want to live, we want to thrive, we want more than simple existence.

    In point of fact, if you look at Terror Management Theory (please google for more) you will see that many of humanity’s worst sins and actions came from the simple fact that we as sentient individuals recognize that we will eventually die. That all our actions and beliefs will be a moment in the eyeblink of time and an uncaring universe. Much of that motivates religion but also much of that motivates lynch mobs, doomsday cults, and nihilists. It only takes one man that wants to become a god and immortal to crap on everyone’s day in that century. Yet, we need our leaders, good ones as well as powerful ones, to face our enemies, who often tend to be god wannabes or followers of another god wannabe.

    The Left often has problems dealing with their inner desires and motivations. They call themselves pacifists and their enemies war mongers. Yet the Left are often the most aggressive if not cruel, faction in the argument. They repress violence and call the military war mongers, and thus become violent themselves because they have openly rejected a portion of their humanity. Human potential was always designed and meant to be utilized in parallel. Hate to go with love, anger to go with peace, tranquility to go with stress. A human that can only hate is not a human at all. Same for love. Everyone has their dark side and if you repress it and deny it, then what happens is termed Multiple Personality Disorder, given that it is a field that covers a lot of personalities that have fragmented into more than one entity.

    Compartamentalized thinking is very similar to MPD, except compartamentalized thinking is a logical decision made by an individual to split his mind into more than 1 piece. MPD exists because it is the way the mind protects itself against threats and pressures. Compartamentalized thinking is similar in that it protects the mind’s identity from what the conscious or subconscious mind would wish to deny.

  8. Hi spdmnmiata,

    As a non-believing Republican I fully understand that there are believers and non-believers on both sides of the aisle. That’s why I started the sentence “By and large.” But be real here. Mainstream liberal Democratic thought gives lip service to belief (to pacify the believers in their fold who, like you, come for other reasons) but is otherwise aggressively hostile to religion. And, for reasons that escape me, the American liberal mainstream is even more hostile to Christians and Jews than to the Islamists who have sworn to destroy its society. I don’t claim to understand this hostility (perhaps the readers can help enlighten me), but there is no question it exists.

  9. Christians and Jews are inside the US and thus have voting power. Like with ROTC military, the Left tries to kick them out because they want a monopoly on belief, power, and control.

    Simple domestic power grabs, Don.

    They don’t believe Islam can ever invade the US because of the mighty US bullying power that the Left wants for themselves. So what’s the point in attacking the Islamic Jihad? It is not a threat to their power structure. The military, Christians, and Jews are however.

  10. The question is easily answered: my family, my children, and by extension, my larger family, the society I live in.
    The US will not soon suffer a breakdown of faith; the europeans are in flux and will certainly find strength in their history or land, or they will find faith again as the threat grows.

  11. I watched a remarkable documentary the other night, about soldiers and their reflections on the war in Iraq. I’d wager that the cost to their souls is great, and that none of us, from pro-war cheeleaders to anti-war activists, can possibly know what they’re going through or what they’ve been through.

    They’re the ones living with war. Not you or I.

    When I hear people talking about having convictions and knowing what’s worth fighting for, and then using that same argument to pigeonhole wide swaths of the population, I wonder if they’ve read about the startling number of soldiers coming home with PTSD.

    Do American soldiers have less “faith,” too? Or could it be that the war in Iraq doesn’t fit into St Augustine’s “just war criteria?” And that there are repercussions from fighting an unjust war?

    Most religious leaders, including the Pope and the leadership of the National Council of churches, were opposed to this war before it began, save Evangelicals, Southern Baptists and others who embrace End Times theology.

    Or here’s an idea. What if the Buddhists are correct? What if reincarnation exists and we bring into the next life what we reap in this one? There will be plenty of suprised souls, methinks, most of whom thought they, along with their religions, were right and true and good.

  12. The loss of faith goes hand in hand with an ability to distinguish between good and evil — because those who have joined the purely secular world refuse to admit to a belief in evil’s existence. In fact, they do still believe in evil, but it’s turned into a “we’ve met the enemy and it is us” self-loathing, that has as its central focus the Bush administration. If you are allowed only to hate yourself, you cannot admit that there is anything wrong about the Islamists, no matter how horrible their practices. And if the Islamists are not evil and we are, how dare we fight them? So yes, loss of faith for many on the secular Left has paired itself with self-loathing and disabled their self-defense mechanisms.

  13. And if the Islamists are not evil and we are, how dare we fight them? – Bookworm

    Those who understand that Iraq was a secular nation, and saw U.S statistics on Al Qeada’s strongholds prior to the U.S invasion (Al Qeada didnt exist in Iraq until afer March, 2003), and read report after report disputing WMD claims — as well as reports debunking Saddam Hussein’s links to al Qeada — see this in a different light.

    Why did the Pope and the National Council of Churches take a stand AGAINST the war in Iraq? Is the Pope daft? Are the church leaders stupid? What will it take to make them SEE?
    (Maybe all those silly mainstream Christians need to get on the same page as the End Timers, whom Lee Atwater famously referred to as the “extra chromosone Republicans.”)

    Dress this any way you like, but to address the war in terms of faith is an insult to most religious leaders.

  14. Hi T.S.

    I’m not talking about the war in Iraq. I’m talking about the war of the Islamists against the rest of the world, usually refered to as “jihad” or Holy War, and, for Americans, brought forcibly home on 9/11, before the invasion of Iraq. The Islamists view this war in terms of faith. I’d suggest we do likewise.

  15. Whether Iraq was a secular nation or not matters nothing in the grand scheme of things. The only thing that matters is empowering individuals, allowing them to create real security that is not based upon the word of Saddam and his death squads, ensuring real liberty when there are no threats requiring harsh measures, and making sure we get more and more liberty for it will give us more and more human progress.

    Other people, however, do not care about the progress of humanity; all they care about is whether things are secular or not.

    Individuals have always mattered more than beliefs and causes. False slogans and banners.

    Why did the Pope and the National Council of Churches take a stand AGAINST the war in Iraq?

    Why did the Un take a stance against unity and national sovereignty?

    Answer your own questions, since they only matter to you and your allies.

  16. I’m not talking about the war in Iraq. I’m talking about the war of the Islamists against the rest of the world, usually refered to as “jihad” or Holy War, and, for Americans, brought forcibly home on 9/11, before the invasion of Iraq. The Islamists view this war in terms of faith. I’d suggest we do likewise.- Don Q

    I think the war in Iraq did a great deal to harm the credibility of the U.S government, among U.S citizens and the rest of the world. Would things be different if we hadn’t gone into Iraq and had captured Osama bin Laden “dead or alive”? I think so.

    Our faith has been betrayed.

    Maybe another terror attatck will bring about the unification you’re looking for? Fear is the only thing that will do it.

    But don’t look for the rest of the world to say, “We’re all Americans now.” Iraq pretty much changed that sentiment, too.

  17. Fear has never unified humanity. That is the place of courage, honor, and duty.

  18. Even some Americans aren’t Americans. It is unfair to expect worldlings to want to become Americans when even Americans don’t want to be American.

  19. Iraq was a secular nation under Sadaam? Dang! Could have fooled me. Wasn’t it Sadaam that had the words “God is Great” written on the Iraqi flag in his own blood (according to him, anyway). These Shia and Sunni certainly got their faith pretty quickly, wouldn’t you say?

  20. Danny, yes, but Saddam was talking about himself as God ; )

    Dictators usually become paranoid and what not unstable in their olden years. Saddam was getting religious cause… I don’t know, maybe he was getting old and wanted immortality.

  21. I know many, from both within my personal brand of Christianity and without, who believe that the example of Christ necessarily compels them to align politically with the democratic rather than the republican party. spdmnmiata

    And where exactly does abortion fit in with Jesus’ beliefs?

  22. There are a fair number of nonbelievers (agnostics, atheists, secular humanists, et cetera) who do believe that there are a number of things worth dying for, as well as a much larger category of things worth risking your life for. Around here, most of the ones I know are pretty ticked off at Bush (not always rationally) but not overly pleased with any of the main parties.

    Something people of faith occasionally forget is that a person who does not believe in an afterlife has no reason to neglect the here-and-now. Some of them find it very easy to dedicate themselves to a here-and-now cause worth fighting for.

    What is worth dying for? I will take an action that is guaranteed to cause my own death under only certain circumstances. If my family, my country, any other large group of innocent people, or my friends were in danger, and the only way to prevent their deaths was my own, then I would consider it a fair trade. I die, they live – equitable, as far as I can see. Admittedly, I’m not as likely to throw myself in front of an assassin’s bullet to save a stranger (chance of death: 100%) as I am to attempt to tackle the assassin and beat him senseless before he can shoot (chance of death: variable).

    This is probably true for most people. I’m much more willing to risk my life than to take an action guaranteeing my death. So, what is worth fighting for when the consequences of fighting include pain, humiliation, and death for myself and my companions?

    Freedom, western-style – after a certain age, I, a young American woman, can choose who I want to marry, where I will work (assuming myself capable of doing the work), where I will live, what I will do with my own money, where I will travel, what I will say and write, what I will believe (religiously and politically). There are other benefits – a working economy. Public libraries. I don’t require a male relative to accompany me everywhere. Shall Issue gun laws.

    For this, I will fight, and fight hard, with the understanding that I risk my life doing so. Most of my friends feel similarly. What else?

    Personal freedom. I believe strongly in the U.S. system of codified laws; the government cannot have me locked up on a whim. I’ll fight to preserve that, for myself and for others.

    The memes of gender equity, constitutional republic form of government, responsibility. Yes, I will risk death in support of an idea. I will also fight destructive memes – hate-mongering, gender/racial superiority, “inherited shame”, abdication of responsibility, anything advocating class warfare, Communism, mass-scale censorship.

    Memes will carry on long after I am gone. So, to me, it is worth fighting or dying to ensure that the beneficial ones are preserved, including the stewpot of memes that encompasses modern American and European culture.

  23. Elwing,

    Your comments are the most intelligent on this topic, but you are I believe missing an essential point. Your robust defense of the possibility of the necessary virtues for survival (which you demonstrate that you have) are not to be found very often on your side of the aisle, meaning the divide between believers and agostics/atheists. To the extent that belief obtains in the Western, and more specifically American, values you mention, they are a residual effect of the strange mix of Christian and Enlightenment modernity that forms the nexus of American freedom. The logic internal to Enlightenment rationality however has shown it to run to the postmodern nihilism that dominates not only the Academy but all of the upper tiers of all Western societies. Proclaiming that there are no “foundations”, no ground for truth about anything, there remains no basis for belief in any claim to truth, which of course rules out any religious belief, but more important for this discussion, any cultural or political values as well. This is why the loss of belief is especially worrisome in Europe–most people no longer believe in the superiority of their western values over any other values, and are not willing to fight for them. Just listen to what is taught about America and the West in high school and colleges–what is there to love or fight for in these presentations? I appreciate your convictions and the intelligence that stand back of them, but I think if you analyze it, you will find your convictions resting on nothing but an assetion of will, the other outcome of nihilism as handed to us by Nietzche. But it is an expression of will toward some open ended, non-specified end, since there are no metaphysical or moral absolutes or truths. If this is all the West an muster against a fanatical enemy, we will lose.

  24. Elwing & pacificus,

    You both make valuable contributions here and I deeply appreciate your intelligent and measured responses. Elwing, your standards are very well thought out and I believe you completely. But I wonder whether you think that most non-believers would share you view or the view the pacificus ascribes to them? I tend to agree with pacificus, especially about what is taught in American high schools and colleges, but I’d be very interested in your point of view. Thanks, DQ

  25. Your robust defense of the possibility of the necessary virtues for survival (which you demonstrate that you have) are not to be found very often on your side of the aisle, meaning the divide between believers and agostics/atheists.

    That’s because non-believers are divided between the Humane and the Left.

  26. I’m actually genuinely surprised that nobody has brought up the Crusades, yet.
    I acknowledge that invocation of the Crusades is sometimes a fallacy of oversimplification for all anti-American arguments, but there is a genuine congruity that can be explored:
    Abuse of faith to rally popular passions for political goals.
    Faith is one of the ingredients of the primordial stew that makes these types of conflicts possible, but as with any war, the end goals are all political and personal buy-in is largely economic. For example, Crusaders wanted Christian ownership of the Holy Land and they were pretty hot on the looting potential (going kind of overboard along the way in the Byzantine lands). Now, suicide bombers want the end of Western influence on their culture and are mostly at stages in their lives where they’re not invested in improving their social status (in countries with high unemployment which in turn means difficulty competing for wives in polygamous societies). Faith is the means by which this population is inflamed, but we have other means of reducing our own risk. As such, it might not be totally necessary to understand their faith, itself

  27. Oh, and Americans don’t die for *Iraq* nor *Afghanistan*, per se. Death to assert another country’s sovereignty is actually the subject of an Onion article.
    When Servicemen say they’re serving for the American ideals, and people wonder, “How the heck is ‘freedom’ about triving tractor-trailers through a foreign desert?” that question is totally legitimate. Since the military is part of the Executive Branch of government, we serve (and sacrifice) so that when America’s elected officials determine that foreign policy necessitates physical presence and commitment, we make it possible for the will of the American people (as interpreted by those officials) to be executed by boots on the ground. America can put action behind her ideals because men and women make the commitment unto their lives that they will undertake the burden of pursuing her stated intent.
    And so, we sacrifice and serve for America, although we often state the ideals we individually see as best about America (and which motivate us personally).
    Me? I serve for hope.

  28. Your take on the Crusades may be politically correct but it is faulty in this respect, Keiki – the Crusades were not about Christians “owning” the Holy Land but about repelling invaders (the Arab and Turkish Muslims) from Christian lands. That’s not to deny that many Crusaders behaved very badly during the Crusades, by today’s standards, but the fact remains that they were defensive wars, not wars of conquest.

  29. Kieki, quoting you:

    “Faith is the means by which this population is inflamed, but we have other means of reducing our own risk. As such, it might not be totally necessary to understand their faith, itself”

    I think you’re wrong on this assertion; I think the total misunderstnading by policy makers, including GW Bush and his circle, of the actual anture of Islam is at the root of our precarious situation at present–we are far from out of danger. We are facing a pincer movement of sorts; the threat of actual terror makes us expend enormous amounts of money, attention, and political capital–it amounts to an opportunity cost, in the sense economists mean. But the other pincer, far more insidous and dangerous I believe, is the legal assault–termed by someone as “lawfare”, whereby these well funded Islamist front groups sue in our courts, using our freedoms, to place themselves at the head of the table.

    Failure to understand the faith–its utterly totalist claims to rule for the prime example–allows this camel’s head under the tent. Given the state of our federal judiciary, the hard left tilt of the legal bar and associated groups (ACLU, NAACP,CAIR, PAW) and the incestuous relation between them all, the misunderstanding of Islam as the religion of peace will be its main instrument in facilitating their charge to the head of the line in the West. They intend to make us submit to their law an their prophet; it is not a matter of them wanting peaceful coexistence, unless you understand as they do that peaceful coexistence means utter submission.

    Maybe those Crusaders knew some things we are overlooking.

  30. Historically, the Pope didn’t like how pilgrims to the birthplace of Christ and all that were denied access. Their religion was very important to them, and therefore anyone stopping them from going to their most holy places would have eventually caused a war.

    Politically, it was never as simple as that however.

  31. I concede that my understanding of the Crusades is nebulous, but I still hold that it was a time of some very corrupt Popes, with an interest in material wealth and power that could be a distraction from providing spiritual guidance to the flock. As such, I believe there’s an unhealthy portion of greed and desire for self-maintenance in Church encouragement of the crusades, although it may have been tempered by more legitimate goals, such as defense (thank you, Mr. Lemieux) and worship (thank you, ymarsakar).
    And pacifus, you’ve hit on the other great threat to us posed by the current situation: overcommitment. Just as the arms race forced the Soviets into untenable defense spending, I worry about our assumption of inefficient, bloated beauracratic overhead with little payoff: the pattern of demanding resource-draining exhaustive measures such as the passport fiasco and just about anything touching DHS.

  32. I’m not convinced that the Jihadist or the suicidal terrorist has anything that can be called faith. Willingness to die and murder is not proof of faith in Allah anymore than attendance at church every Sunday is proof that one lives a Christian life. Is faith synonymous with belief? ‘Belief’ bespeaks a kind of surety–one believes a thing to be true. Perhaps one can only have faith in what one has reason to doubt. I believe the terrorists are motivated and strengthened by a collective hate, not faith. Collective hate may be what their religion has become to them. A collective emotion, one shared among a group in which the individual is subsumed, is powerful indeed–it is the surrender of identity and volition.
    Is it possible to have faith outside of religion? Belief in some sort of life after death is not a proper criterion for faith, I think, but perhaps the idea that our life serves a purpose, has an importance that is beyond our grasp, may be. I think that to feel life is purposeful is the essence of faith, and I think that to value life, one’s own and others’, is its inevitable consequence. This is a gossamer faith, of course, and perhaps easily lost, but perhaps it’s loss is telling.
    Loss of faith among American liberals is manifested in their cynical views of American history and the country’s original political heritage, but it is not clear that this has anything directly to do with religion. I was surprised once by a friend’s wholely negative defense of capitalism: “…capitalism’s virtue is that it exploits man’s selfish (also known as ‘survival’) instincts in a way that can, at least, be broadly beneficial to the collectivity.” This at first seems mild and reasonable, but then one sees that it bespeaks a dark evaluation of humankind—that human self-interest is in some way wrong. And, as it turned out, my friend did believe that people are motivated purely by greed, but that their greed can be turned to good by taxing its product to fund the goals of the welfare state. He was unhappily resigned to the notion that, because of their general lack of intelligence, people are thoughtlessly self-serving and can never be harnessed to a truly socialist state and still be productive. He told me that this is the enlightened view of higher-class Europeans, and therefore the American idea that Europeans are still of a socialist bent is merely benighted prejudice. He was claimed his views were evidence that he was not a knee-jerk liberal but rather a member of the intellectual “citizenship of the world.”
    It is possible that liberals’ loss of faith lies in their deprecation of people’s lives instead of in a rejection of religious belief. An effect of this loss of faith might be collective cowardice. Where life cannot be valued for its own sake, it cannot be worth fighting for. It is common for liberals to denounce all violence and to rail against those who advocate a military response (or even the threat of one) as brainless war mongers. In support of this outlook they claim that violence is always the fault of every party concerned—those attacked as well as those attacking. They see violence as a sign of failure to reason, to converse as human beings, to negotiate. They sometimes add to this the assertion that no one’s way of life can ever actually be better than another’s, and that if America is hated, America must figure out what it has done to deserve being hated. From here it is but a half-step to belief in the moral equivalence of America and its enemies—-something one hears openly in leftwing blogs and can intuit in the Democratic Party’s and the New York Times’ pronouncements about America’s war in Iraq.
    Liberals are not unusually reasonable people, but they are passionate in their belief in reason. They believe profound religious belief, in an American, to be irrational. They believe that if society were reasonably organized all injustice and inequity would dissolve away. They believe that if our enemies were spoken to politely, reasonably, and at length, they would accept our tribute in exchange for peace. But, ultimately liberals have no faith that America is worth fighting for. I think they have no faith in the individual American’s judgement or his capacity for decency or generosity toward his fellow man. I think, in the end, they will not fight for America–or allow America to fight for itself.

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