Monday, March 07, 2005

"It's Fun to Shoot People..." says soldier. "Indeed...!' responds Lutheran theologian

Sightings 3/7/05

Fun for Christian Soldiers?
-- Martin E. Marty

"It's fun to shoot some people." "You got guys who ... ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." Speaking out was Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis of the U.S. Marine Corps. Chastened by his superior and inspiring reactions such as "How terrible! How insensitive!" Lieutenant General Mattis found a defender in the conservative Christian magazine World (February 26, 2005). Columnist Gene Edward Veith derides those who were shocked by the lieutenant general's call to have fun shooting and killing. Veith reminds readers that "there is a pleasure in battle .... Excitement, exhilaration, and a fierce joy ... go along with combat." Some soldiers testify to this pleasure; others offer different reports.

Dr. Veith wants readers to appraise Mattis's call to killing-fun "from a Christian point of view." The question: "Should a Christian soldier take pleasure in killing people?" His answer: war-making is precisely the work of killing people, and "there is nothing wrong with enjoying one's work."

Those who are not fully convinced might ask some questions, samples of which follow:

If a Christian believes that humans are made in the image of God, should it be "a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them"?

World Wars I and II, and many other wars, had Christian fighting Christian, sometimes because they were drafted to do so against their will. If a Christian believes that another Christian is a child of God, should it be a "hell of a lot of fun to shoot" and kill him?

If a Christian is an evangelical -- like those to whom World magazine is directed -- and he must kill someone who is as yet unevangelized, thus cutting short his potential for salvation, should it be a "hell of a lot of fun" to shoot him?

If a Christian is a grandson, son, father, husband, brother who knows that survivors of his killed counterpart will suffer all their lives because of his necessary act of killing, should it still be a "hell of a lot of fun" to shoot him?

If a Christian is to pay special attention to the weak, and he decides that someone "ain't got no manhood left anyway," should he do Darwin's work and eliminate the unworthy, taking a "hell of a lot of fun" in doing it?

Can the unconvinced -- and I don't mean just the "What Would Jesus Do"-types -- at least ask how finding it a "hell of a lot of fun to shoot" those who "ain't got no manhood" squares in any way with "love your enemies"?

Veith, a fellow Lutheran, cites Luther to the effect that while soldiers can abuse their license to kill (I wonder if having a "hell of a lot of fun" is doing just that) and should never fight in an unjust war, soldiers can fight "in good conscience," be "confident" and "untroubled," and go "forward with joy." He translates this into a defense of Mattis. Should he?

I have spent much time with chaplains of the Christian genus and Lutheran species, and agree with them that some people are called to the military and will have to kill. Every one of these chaplains has argued that this should be done as a tragic necessity, with consciences shaped by repentance. Is having a "hell of a lot of fun" killing compatible with this?

Martin Marty's Website can be found here.

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