A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Friday, October 07, 2005

Crusade or Introspection?

For me, the only thing more interesting than a conversation about politics or religion is a conversation about politics and religion. Well, thanks to President Bush's haphazard speaking style and the far left's eagerness to label him a crusader, I've got myself a good one here.

An acquaintance from the EverQuest II forums e-mailed me this morning, asking what I thought of this "God told me to invade Iraq" business. Below is my response:

[Opening social plesantries omitted]

As for the recent "quote" by the President, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach. To me, it seems likely that he was misinterpreted by a non-native English speaker (former Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas). President Bush's actual words were "God would tell me ...", which to me indicates he is extrapolating what he believes God would tell him to do, based on his understanding of his own faith. It's a semantic argument, but I think it's an important one (I can firmly say that Carl Sagan would tell me to support the space program, but that doesn't mean I actually hear Dr. Sagan whispering supernatural messages to me). I think it's also important to understand that when a born-again Christian says something along the lines of "God is speaking to me", he probably doesn't mean a literal voice in his head. He most likely means he has prayed about his problem - as a Buddhist might meditate on it, or a scientist apply Occam's Razor - and subsequently come to a decision.

But beyond the "crazy man talking to God" question, there is the idea that, regardless of semantics, the decision to go to war was at least partly based on religion. My first response to this is, of course, that religious wars are an unmitigated evil ... and in this case, precisely antithetical to what we're actually trying to accomplish (establish secular democracy in the Middle East). I once said that I would withdraw my support for the war in Iraq - and for the larger war on terror - if I came to believe it was a religious crusade instead of the strategic, secular reformation of the Muslim world. I stand by that assessment.

However, all of us listen to that little "inner voice" we have, [name omitted]. As agnostics, you and I would probably refer to it as our conscience, or our subconscious. Theists usually call it the voice of God. Either way, it is the same thing: The clear, quiet, thoughtful part of ourselves that we consult when vexed by a troubling moral question. It's the part that knows right from wrong in an absolute sense. It doesn't matter so much what one calls it, only that we dutifully listen to it on occasion. The people who worry me most are those who lack such an inner voice, for what they actually lack is the ability to introspect. That way lies arrogance at best (and sociopathy at worst).

So my position here is this: If President Bush meant that he prayed about going to war, and introspected deeply on the question, then I have no problem with it. I don't care if he calls it "God speaking to him" (on the contrary, that's exactly what I would expect a Christian to call it). However, if he means that he literally believes that God is giving him direct orders to go to war, then I exaggerate not at all when I say the man should be impeached. Personally, I'm pretty sure it's the former, but I guess it could be the latter ... as I said, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach at this point.

[Closing social plesantries omitted]

Now some of you are certainly wondering if I, a pretty darned adamant supporter of the War on Terror since day one, would really do an about-face if I believed it was a religious crusade. The answer is yes, absolutely. It doesn't matter that I believe the cause is just; the ends cannot justify the means, especially not in something as deadly as war. In fact, if this war is a crusade then President Bush and I are not looking for the same ends at all; I have no desire to convert the Middle East. On the contrary, my goal is to see secular democracy do to Islam what it did to Christianity during the 18th and 19th Centuries: Strip it of its temporal power and remove its influence on government.

As I stated in my response, I'm waiting to see how this one develops. My suspicion is that the President's statements were 1) misunderstood by the Palestinian envoys, and 2) seized upon for political gain by the leftist media. I'm keeping an open mind here ... the liberals will jump to enough conclusions for all of us.

More to come, almost certainly.