The Elijah Song: American Marines Mix Religion and War

I’m conflicted about the below video. On the one hand, it’s great to see the free exercise of religion. These American Marines are obviously wonderful human beings, and the world is fortunate to have them. And it’s crucial to democracy that the religious and irreligious are free to live their lives exactly as they please, and according to their own sensibilities.

And this is obviously not a military sponsored event, so there’s no mixing of church and state. On the other hand, history has taught us that wedding religion with war is highly problematic; it can generate vast suffering and destruction.

Ideally, just as there is a separation of church and state, there should also be a separation of religion and war, for being pro-social and protective of one’s religious group can lead to the demonizing of outsiders. (Who would Jesus or Mohammad bomb? etc.)

Lastly, the Elijah song calls to mind a rather ugly biblical passage, in which Elijah is in a contest with the priests of Baal. The story ends with cultural extermination (hundreds of priests from a non-Israelite culture destroyed by fire from heaven). So too often, eliminationist mentalities accompany religious enthusiasm. And with regard to the war on terror, the United States is not (and should not consider itself to be) at war with Islamic civilization as such, but the video can leave one with that impression.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to The Elijah Song: American Marines Mix Religion and War

  1. colinhutton says:

    Well, Santi. Nice sentiments, nicely put. Remarkable, however, is it not, how seldom, if ever, corresponding sentiments are convincingly enunciated by leaders from within the Islamic civilisation of which you speak .

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Two wrongs don’t make a right. And (in my view) Islamic civilization is on the decline and therefore in crisis. The Middle East, for example, is a shambles. It breeds fundamentalism and terrorism. The West can do what it did with the Soviet Union. It can wait it out without matching craziness with craziness.

      Islam will never go away, but it will adjust to The Enlightenment and be a generally calmer Islam than it has been since 1979 (the Iranian revolution). And in spite of everything, the majority of Muslims, in their day to day lives, are peaceful contributors to the global economy (or are trying to be), and therefore they already have adjusted to The Enlightenment.

      And temperament is important here: violent people practice religion violently, nonviolent people practice religion nonviolently. Regardless of what this or that holy book says about infidels and war, people will find ways to make use of them in accord with their circumstances and temperaments. Gandhi, for example, read the Gita–a book in which Krishna teaches Arjuna to accept war–as a nonviolent call to inner struggle.

      And the global economy will simply bypass Islamic civilization if it doesn’t adjust, and most Muslims recognize this. The milk of modernism has already been spilled. Nobody is going to successfully role back the clock to circa 1200. There will be (and is already) a hybrid/syncretic Islam that melds with the modern world in a stable and tolerable fashion.

      We’re all on our way to becoming urban and hybrid cyborgs. (90% of humanity will live in cities by the end of the century.) There are children born within the past decade who will still be alive 200 years from now. They’ll see the sunrise on Jan. 1, 2215. It’s not just Muslims who will have to run fast psychologically to keep up.

      • colinhutton says:

        The first sentence of your reply seems to me to be tantamount to an admission of what seems self-evident to me. Islamic civilisation is waging war against the West. It follows that we in the West (and that obviously includes the US) are at war with that civilisation. If as you also contend, the majority of Muslims ‘already have adjusted to The Enlightenment’ then it is a singularly silent majority. I think your contention is wrong.

        I allow that your big-picture view of the outcome of that war is likely correct. But I also think though, if you don’t mind my saying so,that your apparently rather relaxed view of the immediate and near future is influenced by your own geographic and strategic situation. A significant part of ‘the West’ has vastly higher proportions of largely immigrant Muslims within their populations and are right in the frontline of this war.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Hmm, well, I’m not interested in downplaying the tension between Islamic civilization and the West. It’s part of the contemporary Zeitgeist.

        But my thought is that there is nothing–absolutely nothing–that would draw the West toward Islamic civilization. It’s not attractive. It’s like the old Soviet Union. All the energy of attraction is in one direction. Muslims are trying to adjust to Western civilizational energies because those energies are attractive. Most Muslims want to have a peaceful relationship with science, globalization, and feminism. They’re not at war with the West. They may want to retain certain cultural forms, but they’re not ISIS enthusiasts.

        And elephants are not at war with fleas. We’re the elephant. Islamic civilization is a flea. I’m speaking metaphorically of the long game here. The Enlightenment milk is spilled. The global hegemony of science, democracy, free markets, women’s equality etc. is not going away.

        The only thing that I fear long-term is the Singularity. It may be that cyborgs, conscious computers, and biotechnology could uproot a democratic and basically human Enlightenment future. Leaving vast swaths of humanity behind is a potentially serious problem, and the Singularity could turn into that. But unless Islamic terrorists get nuclear weapons or Pakistan and India start lobbing nukes at each other, it won’t be Islam that seriously disrupts the advance of democratic and humanist Western civilization.

        Islam’s only power is destructive at this point. It can’t compete scientifically or culturally. It can set off bombs and make babies. That’s about it. But those babies will largely look to the West for global cultural signals, not Islam. Most won’t be radicalized in any meaningful sense. But the broken wheel squeaks loudest.

        Even near term, think of what a Muslim baby born in Britain means (for example). It means that child will be 21 years old in 2035. That young man will speak English. He will be living in a world where medievalism looks even more ridiculous than it does today. He’s likely to be far more attracted to British secular culture than Islamic culture. Statistically, at his birth, he might have looked like a demographic threat to Western culture. At his 21st birthday, he looks like just another Western citizen. He is probably in college. He has probably got access to technologies that are so attractive that religion will play only a marginal role in his day-to-day life. I just don’t see medieval forms of Islam reproducing themselves efficiently even over the next 20 years (let alone the next 50). Every year, medievalism looks less and less attractive.

        Islam as a religion is not going away. But it will be different 20 years from now. Think Cairo in the early 1970s, but this time it will be trying to Westernize again after the fever and failure of fundamentalism and radical Islam. Just as China Westernized after the fever of Mao, Islamic countries 20 years from now will be in their post-Mao era. People will still show some loyalty to the old time religion, but it will be essentially a capitulation to the inevitable.

        And think of the anti-terrorism technologies of 20 years from now. What are terrorists going to do? They can barely hide from drones and satellites now. Even if you want to be violent in 2035, how are you going to escape the surveillance apparatus? You aren’t. It’s called checkmate.

  2. Santi Tafarella says:

    I’ll make a prediction: a Disneyland will be built somewhere in the belly of Islamic civilization sometime over the next 30 years, and it will be a popular tourist destination. Tehran Disney opens circa 2045? Who needs Mohammad on a flying carpet when you’ve got Disney’s version of Prometheus?

    • colinhutton says:

      “It can set off bombs and make babies”. Which is what it is currently doing. Nuclear/dirty/suicidal if it can creep in under the radar. A possibility not to be discounted.

      Nevertheless, I hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that your overall optimistic view eventuates. We head off for a – (dictated by age and inclination; final) – visit to London in a couple of hours. I will return from that trip, no doubt, either more or less sanguine than I feel today.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If it weren’t religious, sadly, it’d be for another reason…

    “It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.” McCarthy – Blood Meridian

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