Memorial Day: American Malaise & Christian Skepticism


Update: Shortly after writing this, I ran across this amazing quote in Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion and posted it on the blog.

In America, today is Memorial Day. This is the day Americans pay tribute to the soldiers that have served in our nation’s military and in our various wars. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, ostensibly (as you can see to the right) the most Patriotic state in the Union (Hmm… I can hear cries of “damn right!” ringing through the air from the South….). Of the Unquestionable Cultural Orthodoxy I was raised with, the glorification of the military sat right there next to Jesus, George W. Bush, and any anti-abortion and anti-evolution efforts there may have been.

And indeed this was the pattern I observed in this nation in this past one score and one year I have been around. No matter how anti-war some “crazy wack-job” liberal was (because who could possibly be against any war we–The Great Good–were fighting), they were quick to say “but I support the troops!”

Reading the various blogs and articles throughout the interwebs, though, it seems the past year has seen a shift. As our disenchantment with every other American institution has grown, the military does not look to be exempt from this.

Charlie Pierce, a new favorite blogger of mine, over at Esquire, perfectly captures our American military guilt-complex/exhaustion in his post today, “Loving the Warrior, Hating the Wars: Our Memorial Daze“. He writes about the hollow overtures we offer to our service-men to seemingly “pay them back”, but to what end? He wonders: what might substantive support look like in the complicated world we live? He writes:

By its public displays, the country is gripped by an immense, endless, and apparently unpayable debt to the men and women who have fought our wars for us, and this is true no matter how popular or unpopular those wars were at the time, or have become recently…. The sins of the country that had abandoned many of the veterans of those two wars — a defeat [Vietnam] and a bloody draw [Korea]— were subconsciously expiated by the garish tribute [the WWII Memorial in D.C.]  paid 50 years later to the people who’d fought the last war America actually won. And, then, suddenly, there were two more wars, one of them unpopular and based on lies, and the other one seemingly oblique and endless. And there were The Troops. And, it seemed, for the rest of us, the twain did not meet….

Now, for the veterans of the two wars of the past decade, we’re giving them all kinds of favors and goodies and public applause, and maybe even a parade or two, overcompensating our brains out, but, ultimately, what does all the applause mean at the end of the day? We are apparently fine with two more years of vets coming home from Afghanistan, from a war that 60 percent of us say we oppose. But we support The Troops. Will we become a more skeptical nation the next time a bunch of messianic fantasts concoct a war out of lies? Perhaps, but we support The Troops. Will we tax ourselves sufficiently to pay for what it costs to care for the people we send to one endless war and one war based on lies? Well, geez, we’ll have to think about that, but we support The Troops.

Anyone that has followed this blog has probably observed my own flirtation with a more pacifistic approach to conflict. It’s not there’s not a fighter in me, mind you; part of me really wants some action to be taken in Syria, for example. The problem is, as a Christian, I can’t really seem to find any biblical warrant for this impulse beyond some pretty strange twisting and application of Old Testament events.

At least in theory, I’ve already thrown my theological and ideological lot with the pacifists. In practice, I have no idea what it’s to look like, especially for a Christian in politics (although I’m certain it doesn’t look like this). Either way, I really feel like our military-Christian complex has to be tempered with some realistic pessimism about the world we live in, the corruption of power, and just how mythological the Utopias (both right and left) are that we often try to “progress” to or bemoan the loss of.

No, not every war America fights is just. No, it is not automatically noble for someone to join the military. No, a Christian does not have an automatic God-approved responsibility (or even freedom) to participate in these conflicts nor support them.

Why? Because that is not our story.

This is so beautifully captured by the other post I want send you to. Perhaps my favorite theologian-blogger, J.R.D. Kirk,writes today in his post on Memorial Day:

As Christians in the United States, we should be careful not to take for granted our share in this freedom. None of us worries about being killed on Sunday morning for joining in public worship.

But this gratitude has its own danger.

We might begin to believe that true freedom is gained by the shedding of the blood of our fallen soldiers. We might forget that no, the freedom we enjoy has been gained by us making the other guy shed more of his blood than we have shed of our own.

“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.
He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
–General George S. Patton

This is the story of America. This is the story of Memorial Day.

And it is, at heart, the antithesis to the Christian story. And that’s the danger.

Between the American story of freedom through our fallen (simply because they could not make the other person fall first!) and the Christian story of salvation through the self-giving love of Jesus, there could not be a wider gulf.

Our Memorial Day is celebrated every time we take the bread and pass the cup.

Amen. So, Christians, please remember, you have an allegiance far higher than Caesar; and no nation is God’s primary instrument in the world. The Church is. Would that we gave our love to Her as much as we did to America.

God bless the Church. Lord, be merciful.

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5 thoughts on “Memorial Day: American Malaise & Christian Skepticism

  1. Pingback: “God & Country” vs. “God & Church” [QUOTE] | the long way home

  2. Most excellent, Paul.
    For the wounded (emotional—most to differing extent, and physical—some 50,000) we’d do much better to provide substantial help for their healing, reacclimation, and return to the citizenry. That would be more the essence of our Christianity than any parade and superfluous speech.
    How shameful that our politicians and President don’t look well to their needs while they make pompous speech and look well to their own.
    Alexandria

  3. Have you read “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis? He makes a strong argument against pacifism in one of the chapters.

  4. Pingback: The Heretical Liturgy of American Nationalism [QUOTE] | the long way home

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