Isn't this really what "patriotic" Christians are doing?

This piece from Mark Twain says it all for me:

It is well worth the read – even if you disagree.

In it he is critical of some of the Christians who pray for victory over our enemy. Mark Twain can cut the the heart of things like no one else.

I thought about putting this in Cafe Society but felt that it might end up belonging here.

I put patriotic in quotes to indicate those Christians who say that a patriot would support this war. I am aware that you can be Christian and patriotic and anti-war too.

Zoe, no one appreciates the works of Mr. Clemens more than myself. I have posted The War Prayer myself on these boards of at least one occasion. Permit me to recommend to you his essays against Imperialism, most written in denunciation of the American war against Phillipine independence, surely one of the top ten most shameful episodes in American history. In particular, you might enjoy In Defense of General Funston.

No, this is not what patriotic Christians are doing. One of our primary goals is to minimize civilian casualties in the Iraq war, which apparently never occurred to Twain as a possibility.

War is terrible. Some things are worse.

Yes, you can be Christian and patriotic and anti-war. You can also be Christian and patriotic and pro-war, at least this war.

If Twain was implying that both sides are always morally equivalent in every war, I would suggest he was wrong. His essay would seem to imply that it was wrong to ask God for victory against Nazi Germany, for instance, in WWII or Iraq in the first Gulf War.

You might want to read what Mr. Clemens had to say about the French Revolution before you classed him as an ardent pacifist.


If asking God for victory was moral, why would it be necessary to do so?

Do you worship an arbitrary God, an eternal Dungeonmaster, who makes no moral judgements? Or a God that demands that you slay the Midianites, smite them hip and thigh, and exterminate thier women and children (you can keep the virgin girls as a bonus).

I would never be so foolish as to categorize Mr. Clemens as an “ardent pacifist”, having read every word he ever wrote, so far as I know. I dare to suggest my expertise in that regard compares favorably with your own.

Mr. Clemens loathed jingoism, imperialism and hypocrisy, and was fond of cats. I do not share his opinion as regards cats.

You might as well ask why people pray for anything at all.

How the hell do you get any of this from what Shodan posted? I like to think of myself as a fairly moderate guy, but I got the exact opposite impression from Shodan’s comments.

On the other hand, this pastoral letter from the four Episcopalian bishops in North Carolina seems unobjectionable to me, if read on the presumption that it’s addressed to Episcopalian Christians and therefore presumes that we who are its target audience will be praying to (the Christian) God with reference to the war in Iraq.

Steady on, there, Linty. I don’t get any of that from Shodans post, in fact, the God of the first instance is, at least to my mind, entirely distinct from the rather tribal and primitive Yahweh of the second. A passive Diety as compared to an avowedly meddlesome one.

PRAY, v.
To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

Ambrose Bierce,* The Devil’s Dictionary*

Whoops. I’m sorry about that, then.

Still, it seems to me that there’s plenty of moral room for prayer to one’s god in times of war. There’s quite a bit of daylight between ‘no moral judgements’ and ‘you can keep the virgins’, and you can wish for a victory without wishing for total annihilation of your enemy.

I’m a big fan of Twain and especially love his commentary on Christianity’s concepts of good vs. evil, but he missed the boat on this one.

Well, if it is moral, it is required. Are you talking about the asking, or the victory itself? Or were you looking for a general defense of prayer?

I believe that prayers for victory in some just cause are moral. It would have been moral, in other words, to pray for the victory of the Northern forces in the American Civil War, or of the Allied forces in WWII, or in the first Gulf War. As well for the victory of the US/UK/allied forces in the current war.

If we are wrong in pursuing some war or other, we certainly need to seek the counsel of God. If we are right in pursuing it, we are justified in asking for His blessing. This is especially so if we pray for a swift end to a conflict, with minimal damage to both sides, as has been the case in the Episcopal prayer to which Polycarp linked. Of course, being the war-hawk that I am, I would have liked to see more intercession on behalf of those tortured and abused by the Saddam regime, but at least the bishops gritted their teeth to the point where they could pray for Bush and the troops.

As to the question why we pray if God will do what is right anyway, I don’t think God guarantees that things will always go well without any action on our part. Just the opposite, in many cases.

We pray both as an expression of our own free will, as well as to submit to God’s will and to receive all things from His hand. Some things God will not do unless we ask Him, IMO. I think it was Carlyle who said that God does this to allow his creatures “the dignity of causation”.

Probably better, as I have not read everything Twain wrote.

My point was that in the linked piece from Twain, he (IMO) falls prey to the pacifist flaw. There is no moral distinction drawn between the sides in the hypothetical war that gives the backdrop for his satirical piece. Absent such a distinction, where both sides are equally wrong in waging war (or equally right), of course we cannot ask God to bless such an enterprise. But I do not think this applies to the current war in Iraq. One side is, in this instance, clearly in the wrong and the other in the right.

Obviously I could be wrong about this. Given this, it would be highly appropriate for me to pray that God grant me wisdom to see my own mistakes and moral mis-reasonings. In my faith tradition, this usually comes from prayer, the study of Scripture, and what Luther called “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren”.

I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. If I am wrong, may God grant me the wisdom to change my mind. If I am not, God grant me the strength not to.

Lord have mercy on us all, I have found something on which I agree with elucidator. One of us is in serious trouble.


This is true, but I would still feel very odd praying for in Iraqi victory.

And before I get kicked by a buncha jerking knees–I do know that Saddam is evil and loathesome. But the US is the country that is violating the UN charter by starting a war when we are not under attack. We are also being stupid by having a war that will get us more enemies and Bin Laden more recruits than if we had not rushed in to show how tough we were.

Please read over UN Resolution 1441, which we are enforcing. Accusations of the war being a way to show “how tough we are” is more indicative of a jerking knee than to support the enforcement of the UN-approved cease fire.

That having been said, the fact that you agree that Saddam is evil and loathsome, yet still identify the US as being in the wrong, shows your moral reasoning is a bit short. About here to Chicago short.


Why, because it is logically impossible for two sides in a conflict to be wrong for different reasons at the same time?