That none may impose either upon himself or others by the pretences
of loyalty …
— John Locke
In a file found on his computer after his death, John Rawls tells how he lost his Christian faith. “I don’t profess to understand at all why my beliefs changed, or believe it is possible fully to comprehend such changes. We can record what happened, tell stories and make guesses, but they must be taken as such. There may be something in them, but probably not.”1 He then movingly tells three stories, and the telling is unlike anything else he wrote. When the piece was finally published in 2009 (together with his undergraduate thesis, also on religion), the Jewish journal Tikkun praised his “religious passion and wisdom” with a clever, if backhanded, compliment: By comparison, all his other works “are as pareve … as could be.”2Pareve refers to a type of kosher but is also the Yiddish word for neutral. The three stories, all set during World War II, are anything but pareve.
The first incident was a sermon Rawls heard at the end of the Battle of Leyte, a turning point in the Allied campaign for the Philippines. The army chaplain offered the predictable, but theologically suspect, platitudes that army chaplains probably feel bound to offer in wartime: God helped us defeat the Japanese, kept our bullets on target, redirected our enemies’ bullets, and so on. Rawls says, “I don’t know why this made me so angry, but it certainly