The Myth of Holy War

By Logan Isaac 05-29-2009

I, like Aaron Taylor before me, noticed the GQ expose of the Worldwide Intelligence Update that the former administration had circulated. I came across the story by way of Stephen Colbert, but when I looked more deeply into the article, I found it entirely and irrefutably contrary to a Christian ethic, bordering on a willful usurpation of scripture to achieve such an anti-Christ end as organized violence.

Looking at the photos in the magazine article, I realized that the atrocities of the Iraq War continue to this day. While memos in which scriptures are juxtaposed with photos of warfare are no longer used by our government, it is important to remember that young men and women continue to fight and die on both sides of the conflict, and to relegate it to mere past tense comes dangerously close to pushing it away from what it is (a pressing and urgent moral imperative) and risk unwittingly estranging the members of our military fighting there. What I mean is that we must not forget that far too many men and women today, this very hour, are continuing to be hurt, maimed, and killed in this conflict. The most damning silence will meet them upon their return if we do not consider this worthy of our attention and thought. There is never any more ethically taxing issue in a society than when it is at war. Our warriors know exactly how much (or how little) attention we are willing to devote to such a task, and that consequentially indicates how much (or how little) we devote to their recovery upon their return.

The war in and on Iraq neither was, nor is, nor may ever be a "holy war." There is no discernable difference or uniqueness about this particular conflict, and I see nothing the war itself offers us distinct and apart ("holy") from the wars throughout history. To articulate more clearly, for a war to be holy is an obscenity of modern grammar (or should be to the Christian ear); no war has been 'set apart' in any coherent sense of the word. Where we find this term used most often (and recklessly) is in describing the violence of the Hebrew Bible, our "Old" Testament. The word most often used is charam, which is closer to proscription, not qadash which is used for "holy." We must not confuse the theory of "just" wars with the conflicts described (as wholly distinct from being prescribed) in books such as Exodus, Joshua, Judges, etc. John Howard Yoder many years ago suggested the very urgent need to take the just war theory seriously, and I encourage Sojourners readers to do exactly that. But please, for the sake of our witness to the world and for the sake of the very lives that such a thought risks (both of our own citizens and our neighbors), do not confuse the idea of wars being just with the morally offensive proposal that wars may be holy. It is a horrific practice that I hope President Obama will not carry over from the last administration.

Logan Laituri

Logan Laituri is an Army veteran with combatant service in Iraq during OIF II and experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. He is also co-founder of a faith-based veterans assistance initiative called Centurion's Purse, which seeks to provide financial and spiritual relief to fellow service members in need. He blogs at

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