World Scripture


When sovereignty belongs to ruthless tyrants, when neither the force of example nor words of instruction are heeded, those who would maintain a righteous stand may have to fight. The battle against evil is waged sometimes as a spiritual struggle and sometimes as a physical war. Islam recommends the Jihad, or Holy War, to suppress evil and advance the cause of God. Roman Catholic tradition speaks of a Just War, which may be undertaken only as a last resort, when all the milder forms of persuasion and struggle have been exhausted. Buddhist and Hindu scriptures praise the struggle against enemies of the Dharma. On the other hand, many scriptures recognize that in a war against evil, the sacrifice of one's own blood see Persecution and Martyrdom, pp. 878-90, is far more precious than shedding the blood of an enemy on the battlefield. Thus Christianity defeated the might of the Roman Empire by the blood of its martyrs. Regardless, the struggle against tyranny demands that we expose ourselves to suffering and torment. In this sense it is said to be superior to a sheltered life of seclusion and contemplation.

A righteous person does not go to war in search of glory or spoils. Neither does he fight from a spirit of vindictiveness, revenge, or to satisfy national honor. The only possible justification for such war is when believers are confronted with manifest tyranny. Unfortunately, religious passions have often been exploited by those who would invoke the name of religion to promote wars for political or economic ends. Such misuse of religion makes the doctrine of Just War or Jihad quite hazardous. It is always better to find peaceful means to reconcile disputes, and the religions of the world have the resources for such reconciliation in almost all cases, if people would only use them.

The foundation for the struggle against tyranny begins with the victory of the individual soul--what in Islam is called the Greater Jihad. The individual struggles to reach the point of absolute faith where he or she has completely vanquished the body and its selfish desires and can purely and absolutely will what is good. A number of well-known passages on the interior life use martial imagery to describe this inner struggle with the lower self. We include a few of them here because of the similarity of theme. However, a spiritualized understanding of warfare threatens to omit the essential social dimension of struggle.

It is a religious duty to fight for justice in the world, all the while continuing also to fight the interior war. The soldier for right arms himself with the virtues of self-control, humility, and willingness to suffer. Through faith, the soldier for God recognizes that God is fighting on his side and is his Help and Deliverance, pp. 557-68. He can go forward with absolute firmness, though he knows he may very well be killed. Such warfare is a supreme act of self-sacrifice: to risk one's life for a noble cause.

The first passages in this section define the righteous fight against evil--whether it be a war with weapons or a peaceful struggle against the spiritual forces of the devil. We learn that death is of no account in the battle for right; the soldier should fight expecting to die and looking forward to his reward in the next life. The next group of passages qualify and caution against readiness to fight a physical war; if a good objective can be gained by peaceful means, that is preferred. Bloodshed in war is an evil to be avoided if possible, for all life is sacred. A third group of passages uses martial imagery to describe the interior warfare against evil spiritual forces and the power of sin within onself. The last group of passages give historical examples of battles between good and evil.

nd if God had not repelled some men by others, the earth would have been corrupted.

1. Islam. Qur'an 2.251

e is the true hero who fights to protect the helpless; Though cut limb from limb, flees not the field.

2. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Shalok, Kabir, p. 1412

o not think that I have come to bring peace on earth: I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

3. Christianity. Matthew 10.34

come to the relief of the distressed and to help the oppressed, act as amends and expiation of many sins.

4. Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Saying 22

hen the Lord said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, 'Thus says the Lord, "Let my people go, that they may serve me."'"

5. Judaism and Christianity. Exodus 8.1

hare in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him.

6. Christianity. 2 Timothy 2.3-4

hoever of you sees something of which God dispproves, then let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart; and that is faith of the weakest kind.

7. Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 34

Matthew 10.34: The sword is usually interpreted spiritually as the sword of truth or the sword of divine judgment. Jesus tells his disciples to put away their swords in Matthew 26.51-52, p. 859. Nahjul Balagha, Saying 22: Cf. Hadith of Muslim, p. 759. Exodus 8.1: The slavery and oppression which the Israelites suffered in Egypt was suffering of such magnitude that it called for nothing less than a rebellion, led by Moses, to free the slaves. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always regarded enslavement as intolerable and a proper justification for revolution. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 34: Cf. Hadith of Tirmidhi, p. 877; Hadith of Ibn Majah, p. 756.

Those are the future saviors of the peoples Who through Good Mind strive in their deeds To carry out the judgment which thou has decreed, O Wise One, as righteousness. For they were created the foes of Fury.

8. Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 48.12

he goddess of the sea says goodbye, She-who-carries-loads-and-never-looks-back. Since this is how we find the world, We must fight. The world has no peace; This is war. We must fight to the last man So that the 1world may have peace.

9. African Traditional Religions. Yoruba War Song (Nigeria)

ing Hsan of Ch'i asked, "Is it true that T'ang banished Chieh, and King Wu marched against Chou?" "According to the histories," Mencius replied, "they are true." "Well," said the king, "then it's alright for a minister to assassinate his ruler?" "When a man practices violence against the natural human affections, we call him a bandit. When a man practices violence against the common good, we call him a criminal. When a man [in power] practices crime and banditry, we call him a tyrant. I heard that a tyrant named Chou was executed. I didn't hear anything about a ruler being assassinated."

10. Confucianism. Mencius I.B.8

n Ko, "Revolution", water and fire extinguish each other, behaving as two women who live together but whose wills conflict--such is the nature of revolution. That "faith is not reposed in it until the day of its completion" means that revolution must come first, whereafter public faith in it will be established. A civilized and enlightened attitude brings joy; great success makes it possible to put all things to rights. Upon the achievement of a necessary revolution, regret vanishes. The renovating activities of the celestial and terrestrial forces produce the progress of the four seasons. T'ang and Wu rebelled in accordance with Heaven's decree and the people responded to them.

11. Confucianism. I Ching 49: Revolution

Mencius I.B.8: Mencius' unwillingness to call Chieh and Chou 'rulers' is based upon the Confucian doctrine of Rectification of Names. A person only has the right to be called 'king' if his behavior is proper for that office and he fulfills the duties of kingship. See Analects 12.11, p. 614; Mencius I.A.4, p. 879.

For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil. The warrior confronted with such a war should be pleased, Arjuna, for it comes as an open gate to heaven. But if you do not participate in this battle against evil, you will incur sin, violating your dharma and your honor....

Death means the attainment of heaven; victory means the enjoyment of the earth.

Therefore rise up, Arjuna, resolved to fight! Having made yourself alike in pain and pleasure, profit and loss, victory and defeat, engage in this great battle and you will be freed from sin.

12. Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 2.31-38

ood Men! In order to uphold the true dharma, you must arm yourselves with swords and bows and arrows even if you cannot observe the Five Commandments and maintain your dignity. No matter how hard a man preaches, unless he aggressively defeats the evil opponents of Buddhism, he would not be able to save himself and others. You should know that such a person is an idle man. Even if he observes commandments and practices pure conduct, you should know, he will not attain Buddhahood. Should a monk upholding the true dharma aggressively defeat violators of the Buddhist commandments, probably they all would become angry and try to harm him. Even if he were killed, he is worth being called an observer of the commandments and a savior of himself and others.

13. Buddhism. Mahaparinirvana Sutra

n the warpath it is good to die. If you die in war your soul will not become unconscious but pass directly into the next life. You will then be able to decide for yourself the destination of your soul. Your soul will always remain in a happy condition. If you choose to go back to earth as a human being and live again you can do so; you can live a second life on earth or live in the form of those who walk on the light, or in the form of an animal, as you choose. All these benefits will you obtain if you die in battle.

14. Native American Religions. A Winnebago Father's Precepts

Bhagavad Gita 2.31-38: Vv. 31-33, 37-38. Mahatma Gandhi drew upon the Bhagavad Gita as inspiration for his non-violent struggle for Indian independence. While many traditional interpreters regarded the war of the Kurus as symbolic of the war within the individual soul--see Bhagavad Gita 6.5-6, p. 341--Gandhi recognized in these verses a call to a spiritual struggle to build a just society. The spiritual weapon is satyagraha, the struggle for truth. According to the Bhagavad Gita 3.10-26, pp. 832f., it is waged by selfless action in the service of others. Satyagraha is the power of the soul purified by selflessness, willing to endure suffering, and always giving love to the enemy. It is the active application of Jesus' principle to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5.38-41, p. 858), mobilized as a weapon in the struggle for freedom, peace, and justice. Mahaparinirvana Sutra: This passage was quoted by Nichiren, who was so aggressive in his propagation of the Lotus Sutra that many Buddhists of the other schools were incited against him, and some even plotted against his life.

Let those fight in the way of God who sell the life of this world for the next. Whoso fights in the way of God, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.

How should you not fight for the cause of God, and of the feeble among men and women and children who are crying, "Our Lord! Bring us forth from out of this town whose people are oppressors! Oh, give us from Thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!"

Those who believe do battle for the cause of God; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil. Lo! the devil's strategy is ever weak.

15. Islam. Qur'an 4.74-76

reaker of hurdles, finder of light, thunder-armed, he triumphs in battle, crushing the foe with his might. Follow him, brothers! Quit yourselves like heroes! Emulate Indra in prowess, my comrades!

Ours be Indra when our banners are gathered! May the arrows that are ours be victorious, and our heroes rise superior to all! Protect us, ye gods! in battle.

Go forward, warriors! and conquer. May Indra give you protection! Valiant be your arms, that you become invincible.

16. Hinduism. Rig Veda 10.103

ow do you pray that sinners die? Rather pray that they should repent, and thus there will be no more wickedness.

17. Judaism. Talmud, Berakot 10a

he force of arms cannot do what peace does. If you can gain your desired end with sugar, why use poison?

18. Jainism. Somadeva, Nitivaktyamrita 344

hough we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

19. Christianity. 2 Corinthians 10.3-5

Rig Veda 10.103: Vv. 6, 11, 13. Cf. Bhagavad Gita 11.26-34, pp. 883f. Berakot 10a: Cf. Jonah 3.3-10, pp. 777f.

In wars to gain land, the dead fill the plains; in wars to gain cities, the dead fill the cities. This is known as showing the land the way to devour human flesh. Death is too light a punishment for such men who wage war. Hence those skilled in war should suffer the most severe punishments.

20. Confucianism. Mencius IV.A.14

ine weapons are instruments of evil. They are hated by men. Therefore those who possess Tao turn away from them... Weapons are instruments of evil, not the instruments of a good ruler. When he uses them unavoidably, he regards calm restraint as the best principle. Even when he is victorious, he does not regard it as praiseworthy, For to praise victory is to delight in the slaughter of men. He who delights in the slaughter of men will not succeed in the empire.... For the slaughter of the multitude, let us weep with sorrow and grief. For a victory, let us observe the occasion with funeral ceremonies.

21. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 31

hoever, our hostile kin or an outsider, wants to destroy us, may all the gods discomfit him! Prayer is my inner coat of mail.

22. Hinduism. Rig Veda 6.75.19

umility is my mace; To become the dust under everyone's feet is my dagger. These weapons no evildoer dare withstand.

23. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sorath, M.5, p. 628

he Prophet declared, "We have returned from the lesser holy war (al jihad al-asghar) to the greater holy war (al jihad al-akbar)." They asked, "O Prophet of God, which is the greater war?" He replied, "Struggle against the lower self."

24. Islam. Hadith

Mencius IV.A.14: See Analects 12.19, p. 860; Matthew 26.51-52, p. 415; Dhammapada 201, p. 414; Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 32, p. 858; and similar passages. Hadith: This is an important Sufi tradition. Muhammad is said to have uttered it at the end of his life, after defeating the pagans and marching victoriously into Mecca. The 'lesser jihad' being finished, the Muslims could reorient their struggle inwardly against the lower self

They that are desirous of victory do not conquer by might and energy so much as by truth, compassion, righteousness, and spiritual discipline. Discriminating then between righteousness and unrighteousness, and understanding what is meant by covetousness, when there is recourse to exertion fight without arrogance, for victory is there where righteousness is. Under these conditions know, O king, that to us victory is certain in this battle. Indeed, where Krishna is, there is victory.

25. Hinduism. Mahabharata, Bhishma Parva 21

e strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

26. Christianity. Ephesians 6.10-17

aving seized the bow whose stick is fortitude and whose string is asceticism, having struck down also with the arrow, which consists of freedom from egotism, the first guardian of the door of Brahman--(for if a man looks at the world egotistically, then, taking the diadem of passion, the earrings of greed and envy, and the staff of sloth, sleep, and sin, and having seized the bow whose string is anger and whose stick is lust, he destroys with the arrow which consists of desires, all beings)--having thereby killed that guardian, he crosses by means of the boat Om to the other side of the ether within the heart, and when the ether becomes revealed as Brahman, he enters slowly, as a miner seeking minerals in a mine, into the Hall of Brahman. After that let him, by means of the doctrine of his teacher, break through the four nets before the shrine of Brahman, until at last he reaches the shrine, that of blessedness and identity with Brahman.

27. Hinduism. Maitri Upanishad 6.28

Mahabharata, Bhishma Parva 21: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 11.26-34, pp. 883f. Ephesians 6.10-17: Cf. Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom 431, p. 385. Here the scripture is describing spiritual warfare against the devil and spiritual evil of the heart; it does not refer to physical warfare against tyrants. Maitri Upanishad 6.28: Again, martial imagery is used to describe the spiritual quest, followed by imagery of a traveller seeking buried treasure or a miner seeking gems to describe progress in meditation. The 'four nets' may correspond to the four meditations in the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, p. 157, and the four selves of Katha Upanishad 3.13, pp. 725f., and 2.3.7-8, p. 88. The phrase in parentheses, describing the equipment of the worldly person who, with such weapons as desire, lust, and hatred, destroys all beings, may be compared to James 4.1-3, p. 361; Asa-ki-Var, M.1, p. 395.

Invincible is the army of the Saints. Great warriors are they; humility is their breastplate; The songs of the Lord's glory are their weapons; The word of the Guru is their buckler. They ride the horses, chariots, and elephants Of the understanding of the Divine Path. Without fear, they advance towards the enemy. They ride into battle singing the Lord's praise. By conquering those five robber chiefs, the vices, They find that they have also conquered the whole world.

28. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Slok Sehskriti, M.5, p. 1356

Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be a hundred steadfast they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they [the disbelievers] are a people without intelligence.

29. Islam. Qur'an 8.65

esus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."

30. Christianity. John 2.13-16

Slok Sehskriti, M.5: The symbol of Sikhism contains a vertical sword, and Sikh men are required to wear a dagger. Yet these symbols are understood to represent the interior struggle against the 'five robbers' within: lust, wrath, avarice, attachment, and egoism. Cf. Sorath, M.3, p. 341. Qur'an 8.65: This verse was uttered shortly after the battle of Badr, at which Muhammad and his followers defeated the forces of the Quraysh, although they were outnumbered two-to-one. It speaks of more battles to come. See more of this passage on p. 489. John 2.13-16: The cleansing of the temple was the only instance recorded in the gospels when Jesus lifted his hand against others. But in addition, this cleansing of the temple and the triumphal entry were two public demonstrations of Jesus' claim to lordship, which certainly offended the Jewish and Roman authorities and spurred them to have Jesus apprehended. Given the demonstrative nature of this act, many exegetes do not regard it as a sanction for the use of violence.

The Lord said to Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses' minister, "Moses my servant is now dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.... No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and of good courage; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

31. Judaism and Christianity. Joshua 1.1-9

Joshua 1.1-9: Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land and made war on the Canaanites. The Bible depicts him as the ideal leader, victorious wherever he went, because his mind was always fixed on the Law of God.

The king said, "Come, you multitudes of the people, listen all to my words. It is not I, the Little Child, who dare to undertake a rebellious enterprise; Heaven has given the charge to destroy the sovereign of Hsia for his many crimes. "Now, you multitudes, you are saying, 'Our prince does not compassionate us but is calling us away from our husbandry to attack and punish Hsia.' I have indeed heard these words of you all. But the sovereign of Hsia is guilty and, as I fear God, I dare not but punish him. "Now you are saying, 'What are the crimes of Hsia to us?' The king of Hsia in every way exhausts the strength of his people and exercises oppression in the cities of Hsia. His people have all become idle and will not assist him. They are saying, 'When wilt thou, O sun, expire? We will all perish with thee.' "Such is the course of the sovereign of Hsia. And now I must go punish him. I pray you assist me, the One Man, to carry out the punishment appointed by Heaven."

32. Confucianism. Book of History 4.1

nd there came out of the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had greaves of bronze upon his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." And the Philistine said, "I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.... And David said to the men who stood by him, "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?"... When the words which David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, "Let no man's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth." But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him and killed him. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God." And David said, "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the Lord be with you!" Then Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and clothed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword over his armor, and he tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, "I cannot go with these; for I am not used to them." and David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in his shepherd's bag or wallet; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. When the Philistine looked, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field." Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into our hand." When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.... Then David ran and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath, and killed him, and cut off his head with it.

33. Judaism and Christianity. 1 Samuel 17.4-51