Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Christian Soldiers

I was listening to a testimony of a Catholic Christian who had survived 5 years in a North Vietnamese POW camp. He made a remark about Christians making the best soldiers. I was thinking about that. Is that true? If so, why is that? Certainly in recent wars Christians nations have had better technology. That has allowed them to fight effectively. But is there more to it then that? Are Christians better able to fight in a life and death situation? When they are pushed to the limits of human suffering do they persevere better? It think they should. I can't think of any really hard data that proves they do.

I did see an article on Catholic Exchange today which talked about 2 decades of Muslims using threats of violence to make westerners very careful when they talk about Islam. What struck me is that if nobody is willing to risk their life for free speech then it disappears pretty easily. All that has to happen is for people to become afraid of a possible violent reaction and the exchange of ideas pretty much comes to a screeching halt. Fear can be based on quite a remote possibility. If nobody is willing to face the fear then free speech ends.

There seems to be something there. When we believe in human principles we can feel strongly about them but why would we choose to suffer and possibly die in order to defend them? In order to do that we need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. If we believe in God as a form of self-help then there is going to be very little fight in us. When it comes right down to who is going to take the risks and suffer the hardship we will want it to be someone else.

Muslims do have some explicit incentives built into their theology. That if you die for the faith good things will happen in the afterlife. The trouble is you don't want your soldiers to die for the cause. To paraphrase Gen Patton, you want soldiers to make the other guy die for his cause. Rewarding death is not quite what you are looking for. Catholicism rewards all forms of suffering. They need to be united with the suffering of Christ. That is what you need to persevere under the stress of combat.

This soldier giving his testimony talked about going to mass every day and confession very frequently. He wanted to know he was in a state of grace. Then he could be absolutely fearless in battle. Can a secular person get into that frame of mind or will the fear of death paralyze him? Hard to say. When the moment comes some men find their inner warrior even if their world and life view has no room for that. Even the least religious people have inner impulses that are from God.

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