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Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic - Moving Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality
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Article Index
Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic
Self-formation and the Ethical Military Professional
Moving Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality
The Soul as Ethical Substance
A Christian Military Ethic
The Cost of Serving
Conclusion: Honoring God by Living Up to His Standards
All Pages

Moving beyond the limits of codified morality

This paper suggests that a professional military ethic can be enhanced by going beyond the limitations of codified morality and exploring in greater depth the creative, self-formative aspects of ethical subjectivity introduced above. An information paper on the West Point website echoes the observations made above and states that the classes in the Honor Education Program ‘are not designed to provide "right answers;" they are designed to challenge the cadets to examine their own value systems and to promote internalization of the West Point value system’.15 There is already a creative, self-reflective dimension to this programme where cadets are encouraged to relate their own value systems to the West Point value system. Questions set out previously break down this self-reflective and self-formative approach further:

What is the ethical substance of the military professional? That is, the beliefs, qualities and characteristics upon which ethical behaviour is constructed (religious faith, social conscience, patriotism etc.). How are individuals incited or encouraged to recognise their moral obligations?  What are the ways in which individuals change themselves in order to become ethical military professionals? And, what is the type of being to which an individual aspires when behaving in a moral way?

These questions throw up some difficulties as well as provide assistance in the process of ethical self-formation. For many people the ethical substance upon which their character and conduct are based is deeply held religious faith: being a good Christian or Muslim or Jew and so on. However, to publicly acknowledge this, and especially to include this aspect of ethical self-formation in any formulation of military policy will be problematic in any polity that is built on the separation of state and religion. For the non-religious person this may seem like a trivial or even irrelevant point, but to the person of faith it runs to the core of their being and any denial or marginalisation of their belief system can be unsettling or destabilising. Contrarily, some of the current fiercest enemies of the US, UK and their other NATO allies use religious faith, as many have over the centuries, to fuel political motivations and justify means and ends. To be clear, this is not to justify or promote any form of religious war, merely to point out that the religious faith of an American or British soldier – if they have one – is of no less significance in his or her ethical formation than the faith of the Muslim who fights for the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. The most obvious difference is the more prominent role played by religion in the motivation of the latter fighters. Jean Bethke Elshtain sums up the dilemma in writing about the training of American soldiers to avoid both intentional and unintentional killing of the innocent: ‘No one is encouraged, or even allowed, to call the killing of civilians “God’s will” or, even worse, an act carried out in God’s name’.16 She contrasts this approach with appeals to Divine authority in the training materials of Islamist radicals, quoting: ‘You have to kill in the name of Allah until you are killed ... Our enemies are fighting in the name of Satan. You are fighting in the name of God.’17

Understandable political sensitivities may encourage military and political leaders to avoid addressing the role of religion in the process of ethical self-forming in a military environment. State constitutions, written or unwritten, may forbid the exploration of what are often seen as private religious matters in a public domain.  A Christian soldier who takes seriously the biblical injunction, ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’18, is allowed to make this kind of self-sacrifice in the line of duty. However, political or military spokespersons are highly unlikely to point to religious motivations within the combatant’s ethical approach when discussing his or her death. Despite the limitations imposed on public declarations or practices of faith in the context of military service, for the individuals involved it can be of paramount importance in the way they conduct themselves both on and off the battlefield. Consequently, the remainder of this article will explore a specifically Christian military ethic and what it might mean for the man or woman of faith today.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 13:17