I followed up a tweet from Carl Zimmer to discover a most bizarre and unsurprising US company, Left Behind Games, who specialize in “faith-based” computer games. Here of course, by faith they mean Christian ( is there any other?). One of their major products, “Left Behind” is a fight against the negative spiritual influence of the Antichrist’s forces on the streets of New York City. I was particularly intrigued by one key feature of the game which was to “Conduct warfare using the power of PRAYER and WORSHIP as more powerful than weapons and guns.” So you play and pray at the same time. Brilliant marketing genius for Christian parents who fear the depravity of modern video gaming.
Today’s modern warfare has often been likened to video games as technology has produced remote weaponry that increasingly removes the operator from direct contact with the target. This is an important psychological chasm to bridge as we know that people’s sense of moral responsibility is significantly altered when they perceive the consequences of their actions as indirect rather than direct. Take the infamous trolley problem. People feel that it is morally wrong to push someone off a bridge to block a runaway trolley that will kill five others whereas they will easily divert a switch on the track to divert the trolley away from five rail workers but in doing so kill one lone worker who would have escaped otherwise.
I suspect it is easier to remotely launch a rocket to kill unknown individuals rather than plunge a bayonet into someone. It is just to visceral (literally), immediate and gory. This notion of proximity fits with the controversial claim made by the military historian S.L.A. Marshall who said that most WWII soldiers did not fire at the enemy in open combat. Marshall’s claim has subsequently been discredited but it is still one reason why soldiers undergo intense training so that they do not have to question their actions.
But prayer and warfare???? I am reminded by General Bill Boykin who was one of the most shocking characters from Bush’s war of terrorism. General Boykin declared in describing one of the Islamic targets they were hunting, “He went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, ‘They’ll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me.’ Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”
I know both these guys are fundamentalists but do we really want to allow such people to reach the dizzy heights of power in a democracy or more importantly control the lives of others? There again, maybe we need fundamentalists to face fundamentalists in a situation were there is no reason. I came from a family of military, father.. grandfather and so on… it is not an easy call. I count my lucky stars and privileged background that I have not been forced into this hell-hole. My forefathers didn’t have the choice.