Monday, May 02, 2005

Pray, Aim, Fire!

In his New York Times column, Bob Herbert relays the experience of Army private Aidan Delgado in Iraq. Mr. Delgado witnessed so much gratuitous violence by American troops that it led him to seek conscientious objector status, with which he was honorably discharged.

A scene he witnessed in the Abu Ghraib prison, where four detainees throwing rocks at the guards were shot to death, illustrates how religion can have detrimental effect on ethical behavior:

Mr. Delgado confronted a sergeant who, he said, had fired on the detainees. "I asked him," said Mr. Delgado, "if he was proud that he had shot unarmed men behind barbed wire for throwing stones. He didn't get mad at all. He was, like, 'Well, I saw them bloody my buddy's nose, so I knelt down. I said a prayer. I stood up, and I shot them down.' "

The article does not explain what the prayer's purpose was, but it is hard to imagine it was anything other than clearing the sergeant's conscience, making him feel his sins were absolved. I wonder if he would have been able to shoot at those people had he lacked religious faith.

In all fairness to religion, Mr. Delgado is a college student majoring in Religion, so one can fairly infer that this brave young man, who stood up against such unethical acts, is also religious, and probably feels that faith guides his ethical behavior. It can also be argued that the sergeant, although he probably considers himself Christian, practices a grotesque travesty of Christianity. Nevertheless, I see no reason to believe that Mr. Delgado would be any less ethical without religion, while, sadly, the perverted Christianity of the sergeant is probably the most common version practiced in the real world.

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