Richard Ostling: Is military service sinful?


Is killing as a protection of the United States, like going into the Army, a sin?


Adequate treatment of this classic issue would require thousands of words. But start with some venerable quotations: “Do not kill or injure living creatures” (typical wording from Buddhism’s Five Precepts). “You shall not kill” (from the Bible’s Ten Commandments). “Do not kill the living soul which Allah has forbidden you to kill, except for a just cause” (Islam’s Quran 6:151).

Very broad-brush, religions have generally accepted military service alongside those teachings, and the killing it inevitably involves, as justified for self-defense, protection of others, public safety, and other social values, although faiths usually also contain groups that favor total pacifism.

Mark Juergensmeyer, an expert on this history, surveys Asian religions as follows. India’s Jainism is strictly devoted to non-violence, to the extent that followers even avoid killing vermin. Hinduism cherishes ahimsa (Sanskrit for “no harm”) yet its culture has not been pacifist over-all, though it abhors killing animals to eat because people have other food options. Buddhism has been even stronger on ahimsa, yet Buddhist regimes have often considered armies necessary, limiting strict non-violence to monks (and note unpleasant modern ethnic conflicts against Hindus in Sri Lanka and Muslims in Myanmar). Sikhism takes pride in its military heritage. Islam accepts violence considered justifiable, as we see in newspapers every day, though non-violence is preached by some Sufi mystics and the Ahmadiyyas (deemed heretics by the orthodox).

The Jewish Bible countenanced warfare, but with ambiguity. God declared the great King David unfit to build the Temple because he was a warrior with blood on his hands (1 Chronicles 28:2-3). Some say Deuteronomy 17:16 tells Israel not to establish a large standing army.

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