Religions and the Theory of "Just War"

October 27, 2002

Source: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

On October 27, 2002 The Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported that "many followers of the three faiths descended from the patriarch Abraham --- a vast majority of Americans --- accept war as inevitable. If it can't be avoided, their goal becomes to conduct war with integrity. Perhaps the best-known rules of warfare are the "just war" principles, conceived by St. Augustine in the late fourth century and refined by St. Thomas Aquinas and a chain of other Christian thinkers through the years... other religious traditions descended from Abraham also have rules of war. Islam formally sanctions violence only 'in official punishment for crime, strict private self-defense or against combatants in formally declared legitimate war as regulated by law,' according to Professor An-Na'im. However, he points out, there is room for interpretation and ambiguity in exactly how those conditions must be met. Jewish tradition recognizes the right of a nation to defend itself or an innocent third party after first pursuing peace, said Michael Broyde, associate law professor and academic director of the Law and Religion program at Emory. 'It is crucial to realize,' Broyde noted, 'that there are situations where war, in the Jewish tradition, is simply illegal. The killings that take place in such a war . . . are murder.' Broyde sees no paradox in a nation or a religion adopting a code of conduct of war, and many adopt the view espoused by An-Naim: that war is sometimes inevitable."