Beyond the limits of codified morality: A Christian military ethic

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This article will explore the question: What are the means by which the ethical Christian military professional is formed? The parameters of this exploration will be set out in the first section, using a conception of ethical subjectivity as being simultaneously constituted through conformity to codes as well as through creative ethical self-formation that goes beyond the limits of those codes.This study assumes a minimum ‘thin’ conception of identity whereby the self-reflective individual is capable of constituting herself or himself in relation to both social situations and religious and ethical discourses as a work of self upon self. The first section of the paper will highlight how the development and enforcement of a professional military ethic prioritises codes, both written and unwritten, through conformity to military law, law of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, Just War, honor codes, regimental traditions, and so on. These codes, both written and unwritten, are enforced by proscriptions, interdictions and punishments, and examples will be used to demonstrate that the mere existence of such codes is insufficient to ensure conformity to them. Consequently, the focus of the second section will shift to what will be called creative, ethical self-formation: an ever-present yet frequently overlooked dimension of the military professional. Aspects of ethical self-formation will be explored in response to the following questions: 1) What is the ethical substance of the military professional? That is, the essence upon which beliefs, qualities and characteristics of ethical behaviour is constructed. 2) How are individuals incited or encouraged to recognise their moral obligations? 3) What are the ways in which individuals change themselves in order to become ethical military professionals? 4) What is the type of being or existence to which an individual aspires when behaving in a moral way? The final section of the paper will frame a specifically Christian military ethic in response to the four aspects of ethical self formation set out above. Given the importance of his place in the pantheon of Christian just war proponents, as well as his wrestling with issues of faith and morality in the domains of war and power politics, this paper will draw upon the writings of Augustine in addressing some of the challenges facing the Christian military professional in forming himself, or herself, as ethical today. The paper will conclude that as well as conforming to ever more detailed military codes of behaviour, for the Christian military professional creative ethical self-formation should not only be acknowledged but encouraged and nurtured.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Faith and War
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2012


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