Has religious militantism ever accomplished anything good? I suppose one could turn back to the Old Testament and find the children of Israel destroying cities, especially as they entered Israel. One could certainly argue that that militantism was good–at least as a base line, good in the sense that God was clearly at the head. But outside of the OT, has religious militantism ever accomplished anything good. Mormonism, of course, went through its stage of militantism, though it was muted as compared to some other religious, militant phases through history.
Still, even our brief flirtation with militantism has been an embarrassment. I suppose the best example would be Mountain Meadows. However, I think to properly frame events like Mountain Meadows one must place it in the frontier context. Militantism was not just a religious phenomenon on the frontier, it was a way of life. Many felt they were in hostile territory, and they were. Mormons especially felt this hostility. Some of their reactions were measured and appropriate, even if forceful. Other reactions were fed by paranoia and exaggeration. By and large though, we survived our militantism buried in the the rough and tumble west.
What is more shocking to me is the resurgence of religious militantism among Americans generally starting, in my view, in the 50s with the Cold War and a newly reborn religious militantism after 9/11 (obviously the KKK movement was fed by Christian militantism but it was mostly a small subset and not, I think, a general feeling among Americans). If we take the Cold War as an example, we can see that much of the reactions were well founded and appropriate. We needed to protect ourselves against an advancing enemy–communism. However, we also see exaggeration and paranoia. If you haven’t read Skousen’s The Naked Communist, you really should for a good view of some Mormons’ paranoia during the era. It was the paranoia that sent innocent people to jail and destroyed several careers unnecessarily. Much of this was collateral damage in the war against communism, and much was very regrettable but probably worth the price. While much of it, in hind sight, was pure tragedy conducted by those willing to take advantage of our fears.
However, as a nation and as Mormons, we don’t seem to have learned our lesson. The lesson is: mixing religious themes with militant goals leads to serious problems. The more we turn our current conflict into a holy war, the more we will justify ends that we will later regret. Certainly there is a dangerous war going on. And clearly we hold the moral high ground to terrorists willing to kill innocent people with wanton abandon. However, these facts do not support a theological grounding for all American military policy. These facts must be separated out from political decisions because moral high-ground brings its own danger: excessive and brutal force in the name of a religion (Christianity) that would never support such actions.