By Michael Berry
The following, written by new to “The Edge” blogger, Michael Berry, is part one of a two-part essay that examines the roots and modern out-workings of religious liberty in the United States military. Part 2 will be published on Thursday, October 10.
The notion that men go off to war for causes they believe greater than themselves is as old as war itself. History is replete with examples of armies that fought for something beyond personal glory or bounty. Whether they were the conquering (World War II Imperial Japan), the condemned (the Spartans at Thermopylae), or the rebellious (the Continental Army), it was their belief in their cause that spurred them to action during the toughest of times.
Among western civilizations, this phenomenon is noticeably pronounced in societies with Judeo-Christian roots. Christians can trace these roots as far back as the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, when Augustine of Hippo first posited the “Just War” doctrine. The Just War doctrine described the circumstances when it is permissible for Christians to wage war. Central to Just War doctrine is the notion that the warrior must only fight for a noble and just purpose, not mere self-gain.
And while Just War doctrine made it theologically permissible to wage war with a clean conscience, the practical effect, at least in theory, was that it made better warriors. Faced with the atrocities of war, a man without a greater cause would lose his appetite for battle. Or so went the theory.
Such was the influence of the Just War doctrine that it not only survived the dark and middle ages, but it heavily influenced America’s founding fathers. Five days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, General Washington, then the commander of the Continental Army, issued the following order:
The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberty of his country.
In other words, General Washington believed that those who take up arms must appeal to God for blessing and protection. Moreover, it was not enough to merely fight and win. The General understood the Augustinian principle of fighting for the greater cause of liberty.
This legacy continues to influence America’s modern military. Data produced by the Defense Manpower Data Center in 2011 reveal that nearly 70% of U.S. military personnel ascribe to a religion of some kind. If the vast majority of America’s military continues to believe in the divine, then it may be reasonable to conclude that our military prowess is attributable in part to the fact that most of our troops serve while believing in something greater than themselves.
But what may be surprising is that, while American troops valiantly and selflessly fight for our liberty, theirs is in jeopardy.
. . . Part 2 continues on Thursday, October 10 . . .
Michael Berry is an attorney for Liberty Institute, a nationwide religious liberty law firm dedicated to restoring religious liberty in America. Michael joined Liberty Institute in 2013 after seven years serving as a JAG officer in the United States Marine Corps. He is a 1999 graduate of Texas A&M University and a 2005 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Law.
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