Monday, December 29, 2014

Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Hardly a day passes without a news story on how religion motivates hate, violence and barbaric acts of terrorism.  In her latest book, Fields of Blood, Karen Armstrong seeks to absolve religion of blame for the violence of war, indicting instead the secular forces of modernism and progress to which she also attributes the rise of religious fundamentalism in The Battle for God.  In truth, religion is not the sole cause of the world’s violence, and it can be a motivating force for peace when it supports a rule of law that protects fundamental human rights.

            War is orchestrated violence that is considered an extension of politics by other means.  Not all peacetime military operations are violent, but they all require public support to sustain their legitimacy, and the standards of legitimacy are different in war and peace.  In wars that threaten national survival, might makes right.  In peacetime operations, might must be rightbased on standards of legitimacy in both the U.S. and the area of operations, and those standards may conflict.  Because of painful lessons in legitimacy learned in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, contemporary U.S. military operations to counter insurgency and terrorism are considered peacetime operations and avoid direct combat “boots on the ground.”    

            Religion is a primary source of the standards of legitimacy, and U.S. standards can be in conflict with those in hostile cultural environments in which U.S. forces are deployed.  That can create daunting challenges for U.S. military operations in cultures where Islamic law conflicts with the fundamental freedoms so prevalent in Western concepts of justice.  It is a conflict between concepts of faith and freedom that can deny public support for the political objectives of U.S. military operations in Islamic cultures and jeopardize U.S. national security interests.

            Conflicts in legitimacy originate with the way religions and culture shape behavioral norms.  Religions in the West have long embraced the secular libertarian standards of the Enlightenment that emphasize individual freedom, while Eastern Islamic cultures continue to embrace the authoritarian norms of the Qur’an that emphasize communal obligations.  Whenever religious fundamentalism embraces an immutable code of laws in a holy book, whether it is the Hebrew Bible or the Qur’an, it conflicts with more modern and progressive religious views that accept changes in standards of legitimacy based on new knowledge, reason and critical thinking.
            A common word of faith can help us resolve conflicting standards of legitimacy.  The greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (see  Protecting the human rights of our neighbors is an act of sacrificial love that requires defending those rights against those who would violate them, and how we do that creates complex issues of faith and military legitimacy.    

            Moses and Muhammad taught and exemplified that lethal force could be used to deter threats and to punish those who were a threat to others, but unlike Moses and Muhammad Jesus never addressed the use of force and taught his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies.  But while Jesus discouraged violence, he never prohibited the use of force for self-defense or the defense of others.  His central teaching was that we love one another (John 13:34-35), and that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for another (John 15:12-14).

            Self-defense and the defense of others is a universal standard for the use of lethal force.  It is based on having a reasonable belief that lethal force is necessary to defend one’s life or the lives of others.  The same principle applies to nations that are attacked or threatened with an imminent attack, but the standards for the use of military force are more complex. 

            The Just War Tradition evolved as the Christian standard of legitimacy for going to war (jus ad bellum) and for the conduct of war (jus in bello).  Going to war requires a just cause and right intention, and the conduct of war is based on the principles of discrimination (choosing legitimate targets) and proportionality (using no more force than necessary).  These principles of Just War are not just moral standards, but obligatory legal standards of the Law of War.    

            The Just War Tradition and the Law of War illustrate how religion and the rule of law address the violence of war, but neither apply to peacetime military operations.  Human rights are a primary standard of military legitimacy in peacetime, and they include the freedoms of religion and expression and equal protection of the law for women and religious minorities.  This presents challenging issues of military legitimacy in fields of faith as well as in fields of blood wherever Islamic law rejects fundamental human rights. 

References to Website Resources:

On war as an extension of politics by other means, see Military Legitimacy at p. 53, note 1; on the requirements and principles of military legitimacy, see Military Legitimacy at chapter 3; on Just War, see MilitaryLegitimacy at pp 54-55 and pp 66-68.

On conflicting concepts of human rights in Western and Eastern Islamic nations, see Religion, Legitimacy andthe Law at pp 7-8 and end notes 17 and 18.  Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ratified by the U.S. in 1992 and by Israel in 1991) protect the freedoms of religion and free expression, but the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights of 1990 has no comparable provisions, and Articles 24 and 25 of that treaty condition all human rights on Shari’ah “…as the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification to any of the articles of this Declaration.”     

On how conflicting concepts of human rights can jeopardize the legitimacy of contemporary U.S. training and advisory missions and national security objectives, see Back to the Future.

On turning the other cheek and love for enemies, see the J&M Book topics, Submission, retribution and giving to all who ask at pp 102-103, and Love for enemies at p 104; see also A new command: love one another at pp 325-329, which is the greatest commandment of John’s Gospel and considers giving one’s life for another as the highest form of love (John 15:12-14); on Islamic laws on belief and rewards and punishment for Jews and Christians that support laws on apostasy and blasphemy that conflict with the fundamental freedoms of religion and expression, see Appendices to the J&M Book at pp 476-485; and on Islamic laws of war and the morality of violence, see Appendices to the J&MBook at pp 498-502.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Power of Peace

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr., December 22, 2014

            Christmas is about the coming of peace in a troubled world.  It is more than a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whose birthdate is unknown.  It comes after the winter solstice to welcome the coming of light after the shortest day of the year.  For believers it celebrates the coming of the light of God’s love that can dispel the darkness within us and around us.  Christmas is about the power of God’s peace, and it belongs to people of all faiths.

            At Christmas, we joyfully celebrate the coming of peace on earth and good will to all people (Luke 2:14).  It is about a peace that comes to each of us with our reconciliation with God and that then enables us to be reconciled with others.  The power of God’s peace, like God’s love, is both mystical and moral.  It is mystical in our relationship with God and moral in our relationship with other people.

            How we relate to each other is determined by our standards of legitimacy—our norms of morality and law—and the heart of legitimacy for Jews, Christians and Muslims is the word of God.  For Jews, the word of God came through Moses and the prophets; for Christians it came through Jesus, and for Muslims it is set forth in the Qur’an.  For all of these believers, the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor combines both the mystical and moral imperatives of their faith.

            We love God and share the power of God’s peace by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.  In fact, we cannot love God without loving our neighbors, and that includes those we would rather avoid, even our unbelieving neighbors.  To spread God’s peace we must learn to share the love of God with all of our neighbors without condemning them or even trying to convert them. 

            Religious fundamentalists who condemn those of other faiths are working against the power of God’s peace, which seeks to reconcile rather than divide people of different faiths.  It is the will of Satan to divide and conquer, and Satan has often used exclusivist religions to bring the darkness of suspicion, hate and violence among different believers.

            Let us experience the power of God’s peace this Christmas season and allow the light of God’s reconciling love dispel the darkness of hate and violence around us.  Even as we celebrate the special days of our different religions, let us remember that God is bigger than any one religion, and that God’s will is that we all be reconciled and redeemed as children of God and learn to live together in peace.

            May the power of God’s peace be with you.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Faith and Freedom

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Recently a Muslim woman in North Sudan was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man and converting to his faith.  She was also sentenced to 100 lashes before her execution for adultery because she had a child from her unlawful marriage.  The sentence was not carried out due to a public outcry from around the world, but this abomination of justice is not unique.  Apostasy laws exist in 22 countries according to the Pew Research Center (Ishaan Tharoor, MAP: Where offending a religion could get you executed.

            Whenever religions have been wed with political power they have restricted individual freedoms.  That includes Christianity as well as Islam, but the last execution for heresy by the Church was in Spain in 1826, and blasphemy laws in Puritan New England were eliminated in the 19thcentury.  In the U.S. today faith and freedom are celebrated in the lyrics of the patriotic hymn, America the Beautiful: “Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”  But liberty in law does not exist for religious minorities in Islamist regimes today—even in democracies—when apostasy and blasphemy laws are enforced to protect the sanctity of Islam.
            In the West the libertarian political theories of the Enlightenment motivated reformers like Thomas Jefferson to make the freedoms of religion and speech first among the civil (human) rights protected in the constitutions of their new democracies.  While these human rights originated from natural law and reason, they have a theological foundation in God’s love for all people in the teachings of Jesus on love over law and the greatest commandment, and Paul took it a step further when he wrote to the Romans that all Jewish law was summed up in the one rule to love your neighbor as yourself and that love is the fulfillment of the Law. (Romans 13:9-10)      

            Today the freedoms of religion and speech are recognized as universal human rights in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which the U.S., Israel and most Islamic nations are parties; but Islamic nations are also parties to the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam which conditions all human rights on a Shari’ah that prohibits any criticism of Islam or the Prophet Muhammad.  That condition and the prevalence of apostasy and blasphemy laws in Islamic nations make the freedoms of religion and speech problematic.*

            Pope Francis has confirmed that human rights are matters of faith as well as secular law.  On a recent trip to Turkey he condemned the barbaric violence of the Islamic State Group, or ISIS, and told religious leaders “…we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights.”  And when Pope Francis met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he said: “Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears, which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers.  This solidarity must rest on … respect for human life and for religious freedom, that is, the freedom to worship and to live according to the moral teachings of one’s religion….” See
            The  2013 International Religious Freedom Reportof the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. Department of State reported increased violations of religious freedom around the world (see  Of the nine countries identified as engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom, five are Islamic nations: Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, with Burma, Eritrea, China and North Korea the exceptions.  Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh and Indonesia were also mentioned in the report as having serious violations of religious freedom.

            The relationship between faith and freedom is at the heart of legitimacy, and where a nation uses its rule of law to prohibit or regulate religious beliefs and expression, there can be no real freedom.  While the first requirement of any government is to prevent anarchy and protect its people and their property from those who would do them harm, the next most important function is to provide its people with fundamental civil (human) rights, beginning with the freedoms of religion and expression.  In states such as Syria, Libya, Somalia, Nigeria and the Central African Republic, religious violence can be attributed to the failure of the governments to prevent it, but in Islamic nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, apostasy and blasphemy laws deny religious minorities the freedoms of religion and speech.

            All people of faith who share the belief that we love God by loving our neighbors as ourselves—and that includes our unbelieving neighbors—should join Pope Francis in promoting the freedoms of religion and expression as fundamental matters of faith as well as good politics.  And that should begin with our promoting the elimination of all apostasy and blasphemy laws.

* Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ratified by the U.S. in 1992 and by Israel in 1991) protect the freedoms of religion and free expression, but the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights of 1990 has no comparable provisions, and Articles 24 and 25 of that treaty condition all human rights on Shari’ah “…as the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification to any of the articles of this Declaration.”  See Religion, Legitimacy and the Law at pp 7-8 and end notes 17 and 18.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Religion and Reason

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr

  Is religion reasonable or ridiculous?   Consider this aphorism that is attributed to either St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas: Seek not to understand so that you might believe, but believe so that you might understand.

     Belief and understanding correspond to religion and reason.  While there is little place for reason in understanding the mystical nature of God, it is unreasonable—even ridiculous—to believe that God intended for ancient holy laws to deny fundamental human rights today.  But apostasy and blasphemy remain crimes in many Islamic nations, just as they existed in Puritan (Christian) New England until the 19th century.  They illustrate how religious fundamentalism can reject reason to preserve traditional religious doctrines and dogmas against change.

  Religious fundamentalism is a belief system based on deductive reasoning that derives all truth or understanding from God’s immutable word as revealed in ancient scriptures.  Such reasoning was used in medieval Scholasticism to understand and teach all truths until advances in knowledge ushered in the Enlightenment of the 18th century.  Today inductive reasoning defines new truths based on advances in knowledge and understanding, and progressive believers inform their understanding of truth with such knowledge, reason and critical thinking, but they do not abandon deductive reasoning for those mystical matters of faith that remain beyond human knowledge and reason.
  The inductive reasoning of the Enlightenment was exemplified by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, who derived their libertarian concepts of democracy and human rights from natural law, not holy law.  As mentioned in the previous topic, those libertarian concepts are consistent with the greatest commandment and putting love over law1, but they were absent from the Mosaic Law of the Jews and the Shari’a of Muslims.  Both ancient codes of holy law emphasized the sovereignty of God over man in all matters of law and politics, and both were intended to be a complete and immutable code of God’s laws that could not be amended.  While those ancient holy laws may have been reasonable and relevant for their time and place, as a comprehensive code of laws today they are ridiculous and irrelevant since they are incompatible with modern concepts of justice, including democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.2

  In modern democracies religion can be expected to influence politics, but in politics government should never seek to influence or promote religion, much less enforce holy law.  For there to be free will in religion and freedom in politics, religious standards of legitimacy must be entirely voluntary and never coerced.  Government power must be limited to the enforcement of the secular rule of law and human rights, but that is not possible in Islamist regimes where God is considered the only legislator and laws protect the integrity of Islam at the expense of the freedoms of religion and expression and the equal protection of women and religious minorities.

     But change is a certainty.  There are differing views among Islamic scholars on matters of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law, and just as the Enlightenment transformed Western cultures and religions with those libertarian concepts, over time similar changes can be expected in Islamic cultures.3  While most Muslims in the Middle East and Africa may reject libertarian democracy, most Muslims in Western democracies now embrace the freedoms of religion and expression and the equal rights of women and religious minorities.  And fundamentalist believers who represent a vocal and sometimes violent majority in Islamic cultures are a decreasing minority in libertarian democracies.

  Despite—or perhaps because of—the vast diversity in religious beliefs around the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam can share a common word of faith that is both reasonable and relevant and that promotes religious reconciliation.  The commandments to love God and neighbor were taken from the Hebrew Bible and taught by Jesus as the greatest commandment, and many Islamic scholars have embraced this great commandment of altruistic love as being at the heart of Islam.  If and when most Jews, Christians and Muslims understand that they love God by loving their neighbors, including those of other faiths, then those religions will cease to be ridiculous and religious reconciliation can make the world a safer place.4

1. See the greatest commandment at pp 25-30 and love over law in the J&M Book at pp 31-42.

2. See the role of religion in democracy, human rights and the rule of law and God’s law or man’s law? A question of sovereignty in Religion, Legitimacy and the Law at pp 2-4.   For selected provisions from the Qur’an and Mosaic Law see the Appendices to the J&M Book at pp 469-651; on love over law, see note 1, supra.

3. On the different perspectives of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, see where East meets West at pp 7-8; and on differing scholarly views of reason, freedom and justice under Shari’a, see Religion, Legitimacy and the Law at pp 10-17.

4. See Moses, Jesus and Muhammad and a common word of faith in Religion, Legitimacy and the Law at pp 5-7.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jesus Meets Muhammad, Then and Now

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

     When it comes to defining standards of legitimacy (what is right and wrong), half the world’s population looks to either the teachings of Jesus or Muhammad for answers and asks, What would Jesus do? or What would Muhammad do?  Their teachings provide sacred standards of legitimacy for Christians and Muslims, and while those standards were relevant to their ancient time and place, they do not address contemporary issues such as those of sovereignty, just war, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  Advances in knowledge and reason have reshaped culture and religions in the Western world with libertarian concepts such as the freedoms of religion and speech, while many Islamic nations deny those fundamental freedoms with apostasy and blasphemy laws taken from ancient scriptures.
     The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy (the J&M Book) compares the moral teachings of Jesus with comparable teachings of Muhammad on morality and law, revealing similarities and differences.  Muhammad, like Moses, emphasized divine laws, while Jesus emphasized the moral primacy of love over law, as stated in the greatest commandment.  Muhammad, unlike Jesus, exercised political power and used force to vanquish his enemies, and neither Jesus nor Muhammad addressed the freedoms of libertarian democracy since they were not relevant to their time and place.

     The J&M Book begins with the moral teachings of Jesus selected by Thomas Jefferson, who considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man” even though Jefferson was a harsh critic of the Christian religion.  While the teachings of Jesus did not specifically address the inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence or the freedoms of religion and expression in the Bill of Rights, his teachings provide a moral foundation for the libertarian concepts of democratic governance.  Both Jesus and Muhammad taught the moral imperative of altruistic love, and its timeless relevance has been vindicated by history, while the holy laws of Moses and Muhammad have not withstood the test of time.

     This website is a forum to consider the way religion shapes our standards of legitimacy, beginning with the relationships between religion and reason and between faith and freedom.  The J&M Book is offered as a resource for those seeking to find common ground on conflicting issues of legitimacy in an increasingly pluralistic world.  It will be noted that the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad are closely related to those of Moses and other Jewish prophets, and selected laws from both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an are included in the J&M Book.

     The greatest obstacle to finding common ground among Jews, Christians and Muslims today is religious fundamentalism.  It is any religion that asserts that it is the one true faith and condemns all others, that seeks to impose its standards of legitimacy upon others, and that rejects any new knowledge and reason that conflicts with its exclusivist doctrines.  Such fundamentalist religions are a continuing cause of religious conflict, hate and violence in the name of God.

     In resolving issues of legitimacy related to libertarian democracy and the rule of law, Christians and Muslims must be able to apply moral imperatives from the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad to modern issues not mentioned in their teachings.  That requires the use of knowledge and reason to interpret and relate their ancient teachings to our time and place, and it is a premise of this website that both Jesus and Muhammad would expect their followers to do just that.  To that end Jesus Meets Muhammad presents topics on controversial issues and welcomes your comments in the hope that they will lead to religious reconciliation and peace.