Lenten Meditation 23 March 2012
“They imagine that they are fearing and hating for something holy and noble like God, religion, truth, morality, their children or love of country. It takes away all guilt, and one can even think of oneself as representing the moral high ground or being responsible and prudent, as a result.” (Page 135)
|POPE URBAN PREACHING THE CRUSADES from gutenberg.org|
I received a note concerning my essay of yesterday, asking if I were un-American or even anti-American. For those of you who do not know, I am a loyal American who votes in almost every election, pays taxes, occasionally writes my congressman, supports the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, and even served this country as a member of the US Marine Corps during the Vietnam War era. I was never sent to Nam, but I was trained to do what Marines do.
From the mid-1960s until about 1975 there was a conflict that raged on the American continent concerning the war in Southeast Asia. Those who were in uniform were not supported generally by US citizens. At best, there was a neutral attitude by most of this country; at worst, active duty soldiers, sailors and Marines in uniform were spit upon and chastised for being murderers and pillagers. Events like Mei Li certainly didn’t help to dispel the mind-set of those who were thoroughly anti-military. There were no welcome home parades or assemblies for those returning from “in country” duty. On the other side, we had folk like the Rev. Carl McIntyre who marched in Washington D.C. with signs that said, “Kill a Commie for Christ”, “My country, right or wrong”, “America. Love it or leave it”. There was no room for those who might question the morality of our action in SE Asia (the war for years included Laos and Cambodia and not just Vietnam) and yet be supportive of the men and women who put their lives on hold and on the line for their country. Many of my friends still have difficulty with their decisions while serving what they thought was the greater good of the country.
“War is hell,” said General Sherman during the American Civil War. It was then, and it is now. Christian theology has striven for centuries to first define and then understand and apply what has come to be known as a “just war theory.” Exactly when and under what circumstances can we justify violence? Is it to protect one’s own life or the life of a family member? One’s property? The property of a neighbor? Whenever I feel threatened in any way? These questions are currently being debated in legislative arenas when discussing “Make my Day” laws, and especially in the press when someone acts violently toward an intruder and then is or is not prosecuted under existing law.
Is retaliation justifiable? If you slap me, may I slap back with my hand? With a hammer? With a .45 semi-automatic pistol? With “shock and awe”? Where do we draw the line? How do we protect the security and safety of our country, our way of life? What is our responsibility to those who cannot protect themselves, or do we have any duty toward them? What do we do with bullies and terrorists? Should we release Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacey, or those who perpetrated 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing? Or someone who preys on children for sexual gratification? Where do we place capital punishment in our list of justifiable actions of violence? Is it even unpatriotic to ask these questions? More questions than answers, for sure, but questions that must be wrestled with before the fact and not after the fact (of violence of any kind).
Unfortunately, there is a growing segment of our culture that looks at religion as being the perpetrators of war, or at least the reason for most wars. It is not always different cultures or races at war, such as Christians and Muslims. The Middle East wars of Sunnis versus Shii’ites provide us with enormous insight into how “might makes right” works. And also unfortunately, Christians have through the last 2000 years battled against one another with the most war-like demeanor, justifying the killing of other Christians with impunity. In recent decades, one need only look at Northern Ireland to see Protestants and Catholics murdering one another in the name of God. Sounds an awfully lot like Cain and Abel to me. Either my God is better than your god, or God loves me more than you because you are a heretic or apostate or infidel. I do not believe this is what our Lord Jesus wants for creation.
I spoke yesterday of the phrase “children of wrath” that we find in Ephesians 2. St. Paul tells his hearers that we have been called out of that state into a life of faith and trust in God. The Apostle’s words are more of a vision statement than reality, a hope for what we can become rather than who we are now. This discussion challenges me to explore how I justify any violence, my own or others. I just might discover that the justification devolves between the lesser of two evils, which leads me to pray for forgiveness for myself and for those against whom I act or justify the acts of others. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to love those who persecute us. That may be the most difficult commandment of all, especially in our culture of violence and abuse. Pray for our country.