God & war

There’s a lengthy history of linking God and war—or gods, if you want to go back far enough. The ancient Greek king Agamemnon, stymied in his attempt to invade Troy, was so certain he needed the assistance of the gods that he sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, for favorable winds to make the assault on the gateway to the east. In the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the ancient Israelites were commanded to kill everyone as they conquered the lands their god had “given” them—never mind that those lands already were occupied. The Romans regularly examined the innards of sacrificed animals to see what battle plans their gods preferred.

So modern in every way, with “smart” bombs and high-tech laser sights, still we pray for our soldiers’ safe return from war, just as has been done throughout history. And some pray for victory, as President Abraham Lincoln so famously said in his second inaugural address, often to the same god to that the enemy addresses prayers for victory.

The intertwining of god and war got us to wondering what local religious leaders say to their flocks about the current conflict in Iraq. We reached out to a cross section of Sacramento clergy, and it’s interesting how many pastors, ministers, lay ministers and rabbis refused to participate on grounds they don’t discuss the war with their flocks, that it’s not part of their spiritual conversation, that they leave matters of war to the individual conscience.

Oh, well, it could be worse: We could have heard from preachers advocating a repeat of the Crusades, fought under the sign of the cross. Sacramento’s descendants of the people who fought with Saladin are no doubt most relieved.

Fortunately, there were spiritual leaders (and one atheist) who did respond, and their words follow.

Compiled and edited by Kel Munger, with contributions from Scott Thomas Anderson, Chrisanne Beckner, Matt Coker, Keleigh Friedrich, Luke Gianni and R.V. Scheide. Photography by Anne Stokes.