Lesson 2: Our militarized lives

Friday, June 19, 2015

Objective

To understand that all of us, soldiers and civilians alike, are caught in a web of militarism that has permeated our culture and the structures in which we live, and to explore together what faithfulness to Christ means in our context.

Download Returning Veterans curriculum pdf.

Preparation

1. Take the quiz on militarism posted as a PowerPoint presentation. If technology is not available, simply print out the "Quiz Questions" as a Word document and ask the questions verbally.

2. Do the exercise titled "Corporate Military Complex." 

Scripture

1 Samuel 8:10-22 (NRSV)

"So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, 'These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.' 

"But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, 'No! We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.' When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, 'Listen to their voice and set a king over them.' Samuel then said to the people of Israel, 'Each of you return home.'" 

Hosea 10:12-15 (NRSV)

"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. 

"You have ploughed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors,  therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.  Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off." 

Commentary 

It's been many millennia since the ancient prophet Samuel stood between God and the people of Israel who were making their case for a king to lead them into battle. Samuel's depiction of life under a warrior-king is striking in its no-holds-barred review of the harsh realities the people of Israel will face. Six times Samuel uses the word take to press home the oppressive impact of a king, his war-making and economic greed. Yet even after Samuel likens their fate to that of slavery, the people insist on a king who will "go out before us and fight our battles." 

Like the people of ancient Israel, many in our nation promote military dominance as the ultimate path to security. Militarism is what assures us that unprecedented military power, wed to a strong faith in the universality of American values, will lead to peace, prosperity and security.1 From video games to Hollywood films and our perpetual wars around the globe, the promise of redemption through violence is in the very air we breathe. In the words of Hosea, we have come to "trust in our power and the power of our warriors." We also place great trust in our superior war technology.

Preachers and politicians alike routinely invoke the name of God and the cause of freedom to send our sons and daughters across the globe, armed with our most advanced instruments of death. On Memorial Day 2013, President Obama stated: 

Today we pay tribute to those patriots who never came back—who fought for a home to which they never returned, and died for a country whose gratitude they will always have … Scripture teaches us that "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."2

In this statement military force takes on a spiritual quality, comparing the selflessness of individual soldiers in battle, to the sacrificial love that Jesus spoke of shortly before his crucifixion. We can certainly honor the courage and commitment of soldiers willing to die for one another in battle. In fact, we might well examine whether this kind of loyalty and solidarity with one another can be found in any of our churches. Yet we must also acknowledge that the President's words paper over a deep divide. Jesus' love embraces the enemy. The love that soldiers heroically demonstrate for their comrades in battle unites them to kill the enemy.

Killing the enemy is done, of course, in the name of peace. As noted by Dr. Jonathan Tran, "We go to war not because we love violence, but because we love peace, and violence is how we imagine peace … For Americans, "peace" is not the absence of war, but rather war for
certain ends."3 That is why, in the United States, peace looks an awful lot like war.

For this reason, many U.S. citizens do not see militarism when viewing our nation's history or role in the world. When blood is spilled and we experience deep and painful losses, we search for meaning, and so we self-identify as a force for good in a world of evil forces, thereby obscuring the evil of war itself. Former Army Chaplain William P. Mahedy describes it this way:

Evil on the scale of war is, to a great extent, denied by the general population. Society constructs overarching rationales and myths to hide from the reality of evil. Sin, this kind of moral pain, cannot be allowed to exist. Therefore, society denies it. War must be mythologized, for society cannot confront it.4

Our leaders speak readily and explicitly about the evils of the enemy, yet rarely while in office lament the evils and failures of war. The vast complex of political, military and industrial interests has convinced many that evil resides in our enemies, and can be killed with hi-tech weaponry. 

Yet the more our nation projects military power onto enemies beyond our borders, the deeper it also sinks into the soil of our collective life. We often find ourselves giving up our freedom in order to preserve it, spending vast resources on weaponry, war, and domestic surveillance while struggling to find resources for education, health, and basic human needs. Our warriors return wounded in body and soul while the resources to help them restore their health and well-being are lacking. In our setting, we find Samuel's words eerily relevant.

Before the prophet Samuel appeared on the scene, God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. As harsh as the conditions were, God taught them how to relate to themselves, to their neighbors, and to God. Upon establishing themselves in the new land, the community life was governed by judges, prophets and priests. There was violence and warfare, but there was no king or standing army. Israel was to trust God for security. 

Over time, the faith in Yahweh that was forged in the wilderness was traded for the worship of idols and a
desire to function like other nations. They wanted a king to lead them into battle instead of relying on the Lord,
institutionalizing the violence and warfare that was already present among them. The idea of a "kingdom of priests and a holy people" (Exodus 19:6) was lost for a time as Israel's desire for military security led to generations of turmoil, violence and war.

Prophets such as Hosea critiqued the ideologies of violence, offering a vision of peace and security that had the God of justice at its root. In the words of Old Testament professor Bruce C. Birch, the danger of introducing the violent ideology of kingship to the Israelites "is the potential for introducing a social system that is antithetical to the very notion of community to which they were called by God's deliverance."5

Ultimately, the promise to David (e.g., Psalm 132) of a kingdom of righteousness is revealed in the person and teachings of Jesus, who rejects the ideology of violent
authority, telling Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, then my servants would fight …" (John 18:36).

Dr. Tran notes that Jesus, in response to his betrayal and impending crucifixion, offers an alternative: bread.6 In the real world of Palestine where state-sanctioned torture and violence were commonplace, Jesus becomes bread, Jesus becomes wine, Jesus becomes an act of humble service. This is a very different modeling of power in the face of impending violence than that offered by militarism. In the heart of an empire that equates violence, power and peace, we must examine ourselves. To which model do our lives give witness?

Questions

1. Many in our country view our vast military/security structure as our only hope for safety and well-being in a violent world. Read The Prophet Samuel and President Eisenhower aloud. How does Samuel's critique apply in our setting? What do you think of Samuel's imagery of "slavery," or President Eisenhower's imagery of "hanging from a cross of iron?"

2. How has your congregation, either through its voice or its silence, contributed to our society's tendency to hide from the immense evil of war … to portray war as noble and righteous?

3. What examples of resistance to an ideology of security through violence do you see or long to see in your community?

4. How might veterans and non-veterans work together to better understand the systems of violence? How might we work together to promote peace in the midst of a militarized society?

5. What differences/similarities do you see between participating in war as a soldier, and the routine of paying taxes for war and regularly doing business with companies that sell products to the military?

Footnotes

1 The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, by Andrew J. Bacevich, Oxford University Press, 2005.

2 President Barack Obama, Memorial Day 2013, http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2013/0518_memorialday/.

3 The Audacity of Hope and the Violence of Peace: Obama, War and Christianity, by Jonathan Tran, January 31, 2012. See http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/184801.pdf.

4 A Theology and Methodology of Treating PTSD Patients, by William P. Mahedy, 1996.

5 One excellent source of Old Testament analysis is Bruce C. Birch's Let Justice Roll Down (1991), which does an in-depth treatment of the issues facing Saul, Samuel, David and Solomon, and makes the case for a God of mercy and justice. This quote is found on page 208.

6 The Audacity of Hope and the Violence of Peace: Obama, War and Christianity, Jonathan Tran.

 

 

 

 

https://www.pjsn.org/resources/the-military/returning-veterans/lesson-2/Lesson-2-our-militarized-lives

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