The god of war

Territorial Army troops from 205 Battery based in Northfield Gardens, South Shields are going to be taking bibles into combat with them, kindly provided by the Gideons.  The battle bibles are being issued to troops with the full support of their officers.

Captain James Foster, said:

“Our intent here at 205 battery is to present each soldier going on an operational tour with the new pocket-sized Gideon’s bible.”

Does that include Muslim, Hindu and atheist soldiers?  Contrary to cliche, there are atheists in foxholes and troops of all denominations serving.  It is worrying though, that rather than take a secular approach ensuring everyone is treated with equal respect, officers are using their rank to proselytize to troops about to go into a  dangerous and stressful environment, and cheerily publicising it in the press too.  You couldn’t get a better way of confirming the worries of religious colonialism felt by many Afghans, and feed the propaganda of insurgents who insist that coalition troops are fighting a religious war.

Foster continued:

“I feel it’s a little book that can bring an awful lot of comfort.”

The Bible is also a book featuring God-sanctioned slavery, rape, incest, war, conquest and ethnic cleansing.

If you want to look for further suggestions that the British and American occupation of Afghanistan has a religious facet you need look no further than the biblical Gideon himself. The bible organisation’s Gideon didn’t mind a scrap, for territory and for his god.  In the Bible, Gideon and his three hundred men were able to defeat enemies with faith in, and help from, God.  The message is simple: obey orders like good soldiers and your god will deliver you victory.

And if you had any doubt, for good measure, Gideon’s name can translate as “Destroyer” or “Mighty warrior”.  That’s mighty comforting.

But don’t just take it from me, David Hoskins on behalf of Gideon’s International said:

“We just hope they will give some comfort to those who receive them.”

There’s that comfort word again. I’m sure many Christian soldiers in war zones will find comfort in their holy book, however if I was on the front line, I would prefer the Gideons giving me extra body armour, or even better, campaign to bring the troops home. Instead though, they’d prefer to try to gain new Christian converts amongst soldiers in stressful conditions, all with the enthusiastic support of their officers.

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5 responses to “The god of war”

  1. Dan Stork Banks says :

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the post. I partially agreed with your point about the Gideons bibles on the front line. Its a similar to the issue when we bought gun sights from an American company that placed a bible verse on them. It gives fuel to the Taliban that this is a Holy War and that the Allied forces are Christian Crusaders. However I think you are being somewhat disingenuous to the Gideons, the intentions are indeed comfort. many people facing down death every day do get a great deal of comfort from the ideas of eternity present in the New Testament and Psalms. No where do the Gideons offer your interpretation, nor does the British Army so I would be surprised if anyone takes away your particular teaching. In fact Jesus does not sanction “God-sanctioned slavery, rape, incest, war, conquest and ethnic cleansing” but quite the opposite – he was a radical peacemaker – if anything it might persuade our soldiers to “beat their guns into plowshares” and refuse to fight.

    I agree that there are some distasteful passages in the Old Testament but I don’t have a great deal of space to discuss those. I really wanted to in fact agree with you on the point you made about the dangerous message that the bible might make in a war zone.

    Thanks again for the posts

    • brianpaget says :

      Hi Dan, thanks for popping by.

      You say:

      “However I think you are being somewhat disingenuous to the Gideons, the intentions are indeed comfort.”

      As I mentioned in my post, I’m sure that some Christian troops will benefit from the Gideon bibles if they don’t already own a bible. However that raises a question – those with a strong belief will already have a bible so it’s reasonable to ask why the army and the Gideons want to distribute more. I think it’s a valid interpretation that converting non-religious soldiers to Christianity meets with the objectives of the army command structure and the Gideons.

      Don’t take the Gideons’ main motivation from me though, the Gideons’ mission is unambiguous: to introduce people to the bible, so they can “discover God in a personal way”. That’s proselytising, and it’s being reinforced by the command authority of superior officers.

      To put such pressure on soldiers entering a violent environment and facing an extremely uncertain future is in my view cynical and highly unethical.

  2. Dan Stork Banks says :

    “I think it’s a valid interpretation that converting non-religious soldiers to Christianity meets with the objectives of the army command structure and the Gideons.”

    – I agree with you Paul, but I disagree however that there is pressure to do so from the army high command. That is actually illegal under the human rights act as case law ruled against it is actually human rights case law against doing this (I forget the case but I can dig it out). Most soldiers I have met (i’m a police officer but I work with a lot of ex-soldiers) are not sold anything that easily. Offering your faith to people is not sinister, and giving out bibles isn’t either.

    Nevertheless, I think we are disagreeing on details.Your main point about the legitimacy of the Gideons offering the bibles to soldiers as being somehow giving a privileged position of Christianity is entirely valid. What if a moderate Islamic group wanted to offer the Koran (and I am sure it won’t be long until they do) or the Mormons want to offer the book of Mormon. The argument that will be raised is that Britain is a Christian country, but that is decreasing in validity as we diversify our national belief systems. I was once asked by the Gideons to put bibles in police cells and I said no. They were shocked, but i felt we as a police service could not favor one group over another or we might loose trust of some vulnerable community who will misunderstand our intentions (we provide all manner of religious literature to prisoners should they ask for it but that is different). It’s not that I do not believe the bible – I do – but I also have a professional duty to uphold.

    I touch on this subject on my own blog (www.sacredpolitics.com) in a post: “who owns the national conscience” http://bit.ly/eE2z82

    Thanks for responding to me

    Dan

    • brianpaget says :

      Dan,

      It’s difficult to say whether the high command supports this initiative, but technically the captain who wants to give bibles to all of his troops going into combat represents the high command structure. In a soldier’s eyes it’s a moot point.

      When it comes to human rights legislation I admit I don’t have any legal knowledge in this area, but I suspect it would take a courageous soldier to take this into court, especially as it may just come down to a concatenation of poor decisions. And, as you imply, many non-religious soldiers would probably ignore the bibles and leave them behind. Knowing people who have served and are serving abroad, weight is very important and if it comes to a choice between a small bible or a bar of chocolate or personal toiletries you can guess which will end up in the pack.

      Whilst it looks like in principle we agree on many points here, I think you slightly misrepresent my position as considering the Gideons’ motivations as ‘sinister’. I don’t have any reason to feel that way, but I do think it is highly unethical given the specific circumstances of soldiers going into battle, but it looks to me like an ethical issue they didn’t consider and should have.

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