Faith Forum: With Veterans Day in mind, how do war and conflict shape religion?

Robert Minor, professor emeritus in Kansas University’s religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave:

The relationships between religions and wars have been varying and complex. Religious people have both condoned and condemned every war fought on the planet.

When a tribe, clan, community, nation or empire goes to war against another, its dominant religious viewpoint is caught up in hallowing the cause. Religions in pluralistic societies that object are likely to be marginalized, even persecuted, until they fall in line.

As societies become war-based with military-industrial complexes permeating their economies, geographies and institutions, religious institutions are also affected. Their members work for the military suppliers and die in the battles that build the society’s historical self-definition.

The longer the commitment of lives and treasure to war, the harder it is to be a critic. The Hebrew prophets who did so were a minority, and usually, as a result, died at the hands of the king.

Nationalism has historically been a persistent influence on religion with state churches, Buddhist orders, shahs, sheiks and other state-supported religious leaders. In return those leaders and institutions were expected to sanctify the activities of the State.

Defined as patriotism, nationalism vies for precedence over other possible religious rivals for ultimate concern. What one is willing to give one’s life for is evidence of what really matters to them, after all.

And each side of any war is convinced that the Sacred is on their side. Roman armies destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem while believing that their gods sanctified their deaths.

Protestants have fought with Catholics, Buddhists against Buddhists, Hindus vs. Muslims, Muslims vs. Muslims, and on and on. All believed their religions supported them.

America’s theologian-president, Abraham Lincoln at least hoped for better during the Civil War: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

— Send e-mail to Robert Minor at

The Rev. Shannah M. McAleer, senior minister, Unity Church of Lawrence, 900 Madeline Lane:

I feel that this question lends itself to a two-fold response.

Indeed war and conflict have a strong influence and effect on religion thereby shaping its development or practices. An example of this was the persecution of certain religious sects in Europe, leading to them seeking a “new land” now known as America. These individuals were in major conflict with the dominant paradigms of their time and many lost their lives because of it. As we honor our veterans, we acknowledge many recent examples, one of the greatest of these being the Holocaust during World War II. Our brave soldiers, united with those from other lands, were able to save many people of the Jewish faith but not until after a genocide — certainly an example of war and conflict shaping the lives and practices of a faith tradition.

The other side of this question is “How has religion shaped war & conflict?” Many of the wars and conflicts in our world have been related to zealous and self-serving religious ideologies; for example, the Crusades — one of the cruelest and most deadly persecutions funded and promoted by a religious faith against others. Today in the Middle East we see constant war and strife, much of which is based on a religion or religious sect attempting to force their beliefs on others even if doing so requires mass murder. A quote attributed to a great man of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, states: “There will never be peace on earth until there is peace among the world religions.”

I offer a final thought: Until we truly have peace in our own individual hearts we will not have peace on earth. A world of hearts at peace is a world of peace where war and conflict could no longer exist.

— Send e-mail to Shannah McAleer at