Vowing on Books of War

Ancient Books of War
(photo by Sabio Lantz)

Vowing on Books of War

“Arjuna, fight the battle!”
Cried Krishna, thousands to slay.
Family and friends destroyed each other,
Yet duty was honored and obeyed

Yahweh’s call for genocide
was an answer to Israeli prayer:
“Slay both man and woman,
“infant and suckling”, no one spare!

Islam’s Holy hadith
is also very grim:
“Whoever changes his Islamic faith,”
“then [surely you shall] kill him.”

Allusions to great ancient poems,
religion put to verse,
can stir men to horrible actions
and serve as an abiding curse.

How long shall we make promises –
our hands on books of war?
When shall we seek understanding
and strangers no longer abhor?

— by Sabio Lantz, 11/16/12


Notes:   I am double posting this.  I posted it first over at my new Poetry blog at “Fields of Yuan.” were a prompt from d’Verse Poets Pub, asked us to write a poem which alludes to an existing literary work. The following recent news items inspired my allusions:

  • Hamas Muslims and Israeli Jews slam each other with missiles.
  • Mumbai comes to standstill as, right-wing Hindu nationalist, Bal Thackeray‘s health deteriorated.
  • An American congress woman, Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, chose to swear in to office on a Hindu Holy Text — the Bhagavad Gita [“Song of the Lord”].


  • Islamic Hadith: Sahih al-Buhkari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 260, also see Qur’an 4:91; 3:151
  • Hindu Bhagavad Gita: Chptr 2: 17-18, note: “Arjuna” is the descendant of Bharata.
  • Christian and Jewish Bible: 1 Samuel 15:3



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

21 responses to “Vowing on Books of War

  1. Omg! Sabio! (hugs tight)

    You added me to your blog roll. lol…thanks so much. I’m honored.
    Btw.. I’m not a “conservative” Christian anymore. I’m leaning way more left. I think the best way to label me is simply “moderate.” I’ve been learning so much! How are you, my friend?

    I do agree with you about books of war and find that when Jesus came, war is not as often a necessity for those who love the Lord. If we have to defend another or ourselves, we must war, but if it’s not for purposes of self defense, why? It seems to occur because of greed and love of money, more than anything else. It’s quite sad.

  2. TWF

    You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

    Good poem. I wish we could just edit the books, but that’s a blasphemous idea.

  3. Your poetry is very apropos, Sabio, and beautiful.
    I neglected to add another reason for war…
    Greed, love of money, and love of power. For these reasons and human nature, I don’t think we’ll ever see an end to it in the lifetime of planet Earth as it is now in this dimension. Perhaps when Christ returns and remakes everything.

  4. Great..You have lumped the Gita with the monotheistic madnesses which call for crusades and religous warfare. The Kurukshetra war was sparked by the usurpation of the Pandavas rightful share of the kingdom by foul means. After every attempt at peacemaking had failed,and Krishna himself had undertaken an effort for rapprochement, the war sworn by the Pandavas was to take place. When the warrior Arjuna suffered quite an uncharacteristic breakdown, Krishna had to make him see the writing on the wall. To represent Krishna’s call as an invitation to a religious bloodbath is completely wrong. Have you ever read the Gita in full…Has anything of the spirit of the book really gotten into you? Not even a handful of verses in the 18 chapters and 700 verses speak of war. Arjuna was only asked to do his duty against great odds. Do you know that the Gita was the spiritual book of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace? Do you believe that the man who swore by non-violence and practised it would have a violent book as his guide?

  5. @ the warrioress:
    Hello (hugs back). “Conservative”, of course, can have many meanings. It looks like you may still be a “Conservative” in your understanding of the nature of scriptures — your hermeneutics. Maybe not. But I am glad to hear you are open to change, for “conservatives” typically are not open to change — they are locked down tight.

    Of course you know, I don’t think any god coming back will make things all right. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians all have stories about their god or prophet returning to bring justice and peace (well, their justice). And these stories all contradict each other (of course), and thus should illustrate this common foible in human thinking.

    @ TWF:
    Thanx. Yeah, treating books as sacred is the crime. It say — these were not written by men. A dangerous lie.

    @ vamanan81:
    Mother Teressa carried around the Bible too. My point here is that these books should not be treated as holy — they are the writings of people. Nor reason to swear on them or valorize their Iron Age battle mentalities.

  6. The Gita need not be treated as holy. But it has to be looked at wholly. You have painted it as making a call for murder and war. It isn’t that. To take its message as a call to butchery would be the crudest and crassest interpretation one could make. The Gita doesn’t call for religious warfare. It does not divide the world into those who believe the true god and those who worship pagan gods. And nobody ever took it literally as a call to warfare. Most of its readers were and are wise enough to understand that.

  7. @vamanan81,
    If it is not taken as a “holy book” or divine insight of the Rishis, I think that is a step in the right direction.
    I see one of the dangerous uses of Gita rhetoric is that dharma matters more than particular ethics since our bodies and souls are illusions. (the implication of the passage I quoted and linked). I have seen lots of misuse of reincarnation rhetoric in India and among New Agers in the USA.

    But you are right, there is a lot of other stuff in the Gita, of course.

  8. You have misunderstood the passage you have quoted. The body and (individual) soul are not taken to be illusory even by the monistic (Advaitic) philosophers. They are true in the relative world (vyavahaarika). When it comes to the Absolute (Paaramaarthika), only ‘Brahman’ is the truth. Krishna is setting a very high pitch for Arjuna by asking him to think of the highest truth. Hindus believe in the law of karma and in reincarnation, and what they look forward to is not salvation through belief but to liberation through knowledge (illumination) gained through a number of births. And Gandhi’s love for the Gita was not like Theresa’s for the Bible. He did not have to believe in the Gita as the gospel truth. He experimented with it and compared it with his own spiritual experiences. Despite the fact that the Hindus do have revelatory texts (the Vedas), spiritual seekers give so much importance to direct individual experience (anubhoothi), that it offsets any tyranny of the scriptural word.

  9. Thank you for the wonderful poem, Sabio! While some more educated, reasonable fans of “Holy” books argue that the warlike stories and settings are allegories for everything from the struggle for enlightenment to movements of the stars and planets, it is clear that many people over the ages have interpreted them more literally.
    “Holy” books of war are often so full of contradictory messages that fans can cherry-pick whatever perspective they wish. The Bhagavad Gita is no exception, here is a revealing synopsis by a published Gita critic: http://www.penguin.ca/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781616141837,00.html

    “Considering the popularity of this historical epic and the reverent feelings toward it, intellectuals in India have been reluctant to examine the text from a critical standpoint, as scholars in the West have done in regard to the sacred texts of Christianity and Judaism. A glaring exception to this kid-gloves attitude is this iconoclastic examination of the Gita, by journalist and humanist advocate V. R. Narla.

    Taking a rationalist, skeptical approach, Narla critiques the Gita on many levels. Among other things, he points out the improbability of the historical events recounted, the logical inconsistencies in the work, and, above all, the retrograde moral perspective represented by the characters. He emphasizes that the long dialogue between the warrior Arjuna and Lord Krishna (an incarnation of the god Vishnu) ends up by condoning violence, even wholesale slaughter. Furthermore, the work extols the Hindu caste system as noble and reinforces superstitions about reincarnation and karma. All of this was anathema to Narla, who spent much of his career working for human rights and critical thinking.”

    Personally, I find most uses of “karma” theory to be repugnant social control methods from a priestly class which thrives on promoting superstitions. Perhaps the term “blamewashing” is useful for the way karma theory works. “You are poor and suffering because you did something bad in a past life, but if you obey me this lifetime, you’ll be better off in your next one.” The Gita doesn’t appear to break from this tradition, but is an important historical documentation of a sectarian struggle for social dominance.

    The fact that India has named many of its missiles after Hindu gods and goddesses shows that the warlike allegories of the old myths are indeed accepted at face value by many of India’s current political elite.

  10. Wow, Kevin, superbly stated.
    I expected folks to defend their favorite holy book. It is pleasantly surprising when you here believers critically examining their own favorite “my-tribe” Texts — but they are rare.

  11. I cease from saying another word about ‘my tribe’ book, though the truth is that I don’t believe in any particular book and its stranglehold. But how can ‘people of the book’ be convinced! They are more than welcome to their oddities.

  12. Your tossed gauntlet provoked some interesting responses, Sabio–hoping for more.

  13. @vamanan81:
    Neither I, nor Kevin are “people of the book”. All books can be used in various ways. I am glad the Gita serves you. I just don’t want people swearing on it in my government.

    @ vb holmes:
    And please do feel free to jump in and add content anytime you wish!

  14. I agree that politicians shouldn’t vow on holy books; maybe a book of Law, that’s what they’re elected to uphold. John Adams did this and I think it’s a smart move.

    As for being books of war… yeah, there’s war in them. But there’s also lots of peace and lamenting over war too.. at least in the Bible, that’s the collection i’m most familiar with. Complex books with beautiful things and vile things. That fact alone should prohibit peeps from vowing on them (that and the prohibition on vowing in Matthew 5:33-37) cause what are you vowing: to go to war or to use it as a last resort or to be nonviolent?

    I recently posted in a Facebook debate with Driscoll loving Christians: ‎”A pacifist has a lot of difficulty reconciling pacifism with scripture.” — Mark Driscoll

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” — Matthew 5:43-44

    It seems as though Matt lines up with your “When shall we seek understanding
    and strangers no longer abhor?”

    Love that line! Good poem despite my nit-pickings.

  15. Earnest

    With each posting of Sabio
    My christianity bleaches away
    To an empty page.

  16. Amazing verse, Earnest! 🙂

  17. Earnest

    Thank you Sabio! Too bad I couldn’t construct that haiku with appropriate kanji!

  18. rautakyy

    Nice post Sabio!

    I have found a lot of moral insight from The Lord of the Rings. It has appealed to me much more than any of the “holy books”. It is a complex book wiht beautifull things in it. It also has war, of wich the writer makes no mistake of stating, that the war is unavoidably necessary because of the absolute evil of the enemy. Yet, I would find it absurd, that anyone would want to make official vows on this book.

    I am not a pacifist, because I can follow this logic:

    Sometimes freedom and justice need to be defended by violence against violence. But no injustice, or crime gives justification to the kind of extreme violence introduced in the “holy books”.

    The holy books all have both historical and fictional elements in them and though the Lord of the Rings is a fictional story it also deals with some very real issues, so the main difference of it and these older books lies in cultural history. I see why cultural history should be recognized, but what kind of culture are we producing today, if we continue the unethical traditions of ancient times?

    Happy new year!

  19. Hey Rautakky,
    I largely agree. Except armies are never purely evil. Policy intents may be evil and certainly some people. But entire nations are not.

  20. PS, Rautakky: Happy New Year to you too. You made great points!

  21. rautakyy

    I totally agree with you, that no entire army, or nation could be defined as evil. That is a fairytale element. A bit like when the god of the Bible demands the ancient Hebrews to destroy entire nations. But people take such fairytales seriously, and when they do, they justify to themselves all kinds of horrific deeds they them selves are about to engage in.

    Happy new year to you too.

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s