Faith as a strategic factor


Ralph Peters has written an interesting article in the Armed Forces Journal on faith as a motive force in politics and war:

Suppose that Darwin was right conceptually, but failed to grasp that religion is a highly evolved survival strategy for human collectives? . . . .
No organizing principle, not even nationalism (a secular, debased religion), has proven so reliable and galvanizing as religious faith. Religion not only unites, it unites exclusively. Throughout history, religious wars have proved the cruelest in their execution and the most difficult to end satisfactorily (toss in racial differences and you have a formula for permanent struggle). The paradox is that, in pursuit of a "more godly" way of life, human beings have justified the slaughter of millions of other human beings down the centuries.

An interesting idea, that religious faith is a Darwinian adaptation that enhances species survivability. Peters argues that we need to take the faith of our Islamist opponents seriously, in order to understand them and, if necessary, destroy them. His counsel is gloomy.

If we are serious about understanding our present — and future — enemies, we will have to rid ourselves of both the plague of political correctness (a bipartisan disease so insidious its victims may not recognize the infection debilitating them) and the failed cult of rationalism as the only permissible analytical tool for understanding human affairs. We will need to shift our focus from the individual to the collective and ask forbidden questions, from inquiring about the deeper nature of humankind (which appears to have little to do with our obsession with the individual) to the biological purpose of religion.
The latter issue demands that we set aside our personal beliefs — a very tall order — and attempt to grasp three things: why human beings appear to be hard-wired for faith; the circumstances under which faiths inevitably turn violent; and the functions of religion in a Darwinian system of human ecology.

Compare this with Ross Douthat's article on the Civil War as a religious struggle on both sides. Douthat emphasizes that both Yankees and Confederates had a stake in seeing their cause as a religiously sanctioned and indeed religious one—and that the fight was all the bloodier for that reason. Abraham Lincoln spoke to this with terrifying force in his second inaugural:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."