A Restless Patriotism

I'm a mess when it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Sometimes I say it. Sometimes I don't. Social context generally determines what I do, with the main criterion being not wanting to embarrass anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable.

I also struggle with not saying the Pledge as I don't want to be taken as being ungrateful or dismissive of those who have made sacrifices for everything I enjoy in America.

So I'm trying to walk this line between being socially appropriate, respectful to others (particularly to those who have lost loved ones in war), deeply grateful, and yet holding onto the belief that the Pledge of Allegiance is inherently idolatrous. That's a tough line to walk and I don't walk it well or very consistently.

The problem is that it's a pledge of allegiance. If were a pledge of respect, love, or gratitude there wouldn't be a problem. I feel all those things. And I feel those things for our military personnel. I respect them. I love them. I want to express my gratitude to them. But as a Christian I can't pledge allegiance to a nation state. But by and large the only way are asked to show these feelings of respect, love and gratitude is through the Pledge. So it sticks a bit. I have a certain set of feelings I want to express but I'm being asked to express those feelings through a Pledge of Allegiance. Hence all the mixed feelings.

Can't I just say Love and Thank You without pledging allegiance?

You might be able to identify with all this or you might not. I suspect that my Christian anarchist friends won't like my ambivalence here very much. But nor will my conservative friends. I'm going to get dinged on both sides here.

But that's not really why I'm writing this.

I was thinking the other day about just war theory. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there is such a thing as a just war. That there are times when going to war is the lesser of two evils. Evil, yes, always evil, but the lesser evil given the choices before the nation.

If this is granted then it must also be granted that the nation could engage in an unjust war. That is, there are just wars and unjust wars and Christians should support the former, albeit reluctantly, and object and refuse to participate in the latter.

And it's this last bit that I'd like to talk about. That is, it must be granted by all Christians--pacifist and just war proponent alike--that Christians should refuse to participate in unjust wars. There are wars where pacifists and just war Christians are on the same side of the picket lines and in the same jail cells as contentious objectors. This, it seems, must be universally admitted as a theoretical possibility.

But the trouble isn't with the theory. The trouble is in the practice and implementation. Because it seems to me, if we look at history, that this theoretical possibility rarely, if ever, comes about in practice. If there is a war, any war, the just war Christians tend to go off to war and the pacifists conscientiously object. Just war Christians and pacifist Christians rarely move in concert, despite everyone recognizing that this should happen from time to time. And it might ought to happen most of the time.

So what's the problem?

Well, it could be one of two problems.

First, it could be the case that every war declared (and undeclared) by the American government has been a just war. That would explain why every American war has been supported by the majority of Christians, particularly politically conservative Christians.

The second possibility is that American Christians aren't spiritually capable of resisting the patriotic call in a time of war. That is, when the patriotic call comes it is so powerful that Christians will make any rationalization necessary to fit the current conflict into the mold of just war criteria. At the end of the day, all wars are just wars because they are American wars.

Now the point I want to make is that this last bit--that all wars end up being rationalized as just wars by patriotic Christians--is a real possibility. I think even the most politically conservative Christian would have to admit that this could be a real temptation. And if that is so, then we finally get to the point of this post and back to the Pledge of Allegiance.

My question is this: What skills do we need to practice--today--if we are to be ready to face this temptation?

Because it seems to me that when the patriotic fever starts to boil and the flags start to wave and the war drums start to beat that we're going to have needed to have built up some immunity to this sort of thing. Otherwise, it seems to me, we'll quickly fall for the rhetoric and the social pressures. War is a fever. And we might need to get vaccinated before it reaches our community.

What might such a vaccination look like?

Well, doesn't it have to look like a restless patriotism? Doesn't have it look a bit like my struggles with the Pledge of Allegiance? Doesn't have to look like some sort of reluctance, hesitancy and doubt about the righteousness and religious exceptionality of the nation? Doesn't it have to look like attempts to hold patriotism at arm's length?

Again, this isn't about being a pacifist or a liberal or a hippie. It's about emotional preparation. About building up a reservoir of spiritual antibodies. About creating a bit of sunlight between God and Country so that the two aren't mistaken for each other when the drums start to beat.

And to clarify once again. This isn't about saying there are no just wars. I've granted that part of the argument.

This is about something different.

It's about creating the ability to notice the unjust one.

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64 thoughts on “A Restless Patriotism”

  1. Speaking as a non-American, I find the fact the US has a pledge of allegiance to be rather creepy and fascist.

  2. "You might be able to identify with all this or you might not. I suspect
    that my Christian anarchist friends won't like my ambivalence here very
    much. But nor will my conservative friends. I'm going to get dinged on
    both sides here."

    I *so* identify with this restlessness and ambivalence, theologically and politically.  I live in that in between place, though I think that I tend to sound more liberal when I speak or write about my thoughts...  I get accused of that, anyway.

    This post, it seems to me, echoes what I took away from conversation on The Dark Knight Rises post.  Learn, become informed about the ways of peace.  Be prepared (immunized, if you will) for the moment of decision and action, to choose and practice the way of peace.  It's not the human default position.  We are tribal and warring creatures, more often than not, if left to our natural desires.

    I've also been thinking some about the concept of "reciprocity."  We love others who have shown us love; we hate those who threaten or harm us; we are indifferent to those deemed unimportant to us...  Again, I agree that this is the default "setting" of human beings.  But of course, Christ in our hearts and minds affords us the "reset" option.  A different way of being in the world, *with* others.  As I thought of the reciprocity factor, I came down to the reciprocity of "God with us" -- he or she who has been forgiven much, loves much.  He or she who has been shown mercy and compassion, extends the same to others.  *That* is the kind of reciprocity we need to keep in mind, above all.

    Thanks for these excellent thoughts.  Gives me a lot (more) to think about...  ~Peace~

  3. For myself, I've solved the Pledge of Allegiance problem by saying something I learned from Reader's Digest in I think middle school. It goes like this, "I pledge allegiance to Queen Fragg and her mighty State of Hysteria. And to the Republic, for Richard Stands, one naked individual, with liberal indigestion for all."

    It may sound like a copout, but I actually do say it loud enough that if anyone was paying any attention at all to what was going on around them, they'll hear me do it. And when they call me a pinko-commie-hater, I just say, "Nationalism is evil, and patriotism smells a lot like nationalism. Also - watermelon, watermelon, watermelon."

    Then I walk off with my fingers in my ears. 

    Hope that helps :)

  4. This is a very good idea.  Times of high group passion are not the best ones for carefully sorting out your beliefs.  "Building up a reservoir of spiritual antibodies" before the war drums start to beat is very wise.

  5. can we / do we pledge allegiance to our spouses?  and, if so, how is that different from pledging allegiance to a country.

    i'm not super patriotic, but i generally say the pledge when in a group setting in which everyone is saying the pledge.  i feel comfortable that i'm claiming, in the pledge, that the nation is under God.  i don't take that to mean (despite what may have been intended) that our country is a "Christian country."  I do not feel it is. 

    rather, I understand that all countries are under God.  and, as God has placed these leaders in this place and at this time, I will pledge my allegiance to our country.  when our country pushes or requires me to sin, however, i will respectfully refuse.  my allegiance is to our country, and i am loyal and obedient to her, but will not sin in order to be so.

    i think of marriage in a similar way.  i have pledged to love and be faithful to my wife, and she has all of my devotion and loyalty.  were she to push or somehow require me to sin, however, i would respectfully refuse.  she would still by my wife, and i would still love her and stand by her.  but i would not succumb to her evil desires.  [my wife would never do this.]

    [this is all reminiscent to me of children "obeying their parents in the Lord."] 

  6. Deep thoughts to consider here, Richard. Love it.

    I found this in the Wikipedia section on Allegiance/United States an interesting thing to ponder:
    " Every natural-born citizen of a foreign state who is also an American citizen and every natural-born American citizen who is a citizen of a foreign land owes a double allegiance, one to the United States, and one to his homeland (in the event of an immigrant becoming a citizen of the US), or to his adopted land (in the event of an emigrant natural born citizen of the US becoming a citizen of another nation). If these allegiances come into conflict, he or she may be guilty of treason against one or both. If the demands of these two sovereigns upon his duty of allegiance come into conflict, those of the United States have the paramount authority in American law; likewise, those of the foreign land have paramount authority in their legal system. In such a situation, it may be incumbent on the individual to abjure one of his citizenships to avoid possibly being forced into situations where countervailing duties are required of him, such as might occur in the event of war."

    This brings up some really tough questions for us to answer individually. We are taught to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's" Where do we draw the line separating Church and State in our own hearts? Many of us seem to already have a default answer to that question; but, as you mentioned, it needs to be a thing that we, as Christians, question on every issue. 

    As far as where I try to put my heart, I love the way Jason Gray put in his song "More Like Falling in Love." 
      It's gotta be more like falling in love, than something to believe in. More like losing my heart, than giving my allegiance. Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now. It's like I'm falling in love.."

    Doesn't make the deep questions go away, though...

  7. This seems to be a very level-headed approach with a great point. It may not be that all allegiances themselves (except ours to God) are bad, but that they become bad when they are not prioritized correctly. 

    It is also interesting to note the similarity between the idea of allegiance and commitment and how modern or late-modern people's generally tend to shy away from any and every sort of commitment or allegiance that they may not want. We have a certain hesitance towards being tied down. 

    We often talk of community and commitment to a place or a group of people, however, our actions speak to a reality exactly opposite, that we have a tendency to run from difficult situations and people and to place our careers as more important to us than the people in our lives. In connection to yesterday's post, I am hesitant to dispel the ideas of commitment and allegiance to created things (friends, nations, spouse, family, etc.) for the sake of an abstract allegiance to God. Sometimes it's just easier to say we are committed to God because there really isn't that tangible accountability and pull on our lives that people and places tend to create. Sometimes our commitment and allegiance to God, is made manifest in our commitment and allegiance to a place, a community, a person, or people. 

  8. My first born son Ben (middle name Caleb- after Joshua's partner) has the temperament of a true warrior; he's both fierce and noble.

    During the time of Cheney-Bush beating their drums of WMD for Iraq war II,  Ben wanted desperately to try and become a Navy Seal; his physicality and temperament made me believe he could realistically fulfill this dream. When he conveyed this dream to me, I instantly felt the weight of destiny and I plead for "Solomon's Wisdom".

    In this sudden and solemn moment this is what I said:

    Ben, if this was a just war where someone like a Hitler was invading countries I would only respect your desire to join in and becoming that Seal,  And were you to die in battle I would certainly grieve my lifetime for you, but I would also be buoyed knowing that your death was for a just cause. What I suspect in this case though. is that Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld have something secret going on; this feels like something personal to their private agenda- not to something larger than life:
    If I lost you to this mere private agenda- for Cheney's sake- grief wouldn't begin to describe the pain I would have to carry for the rest of my life.

    He didn't sign up. He went on to become a fireman and is now married and building his life in the town he grew up in. While I feel relief whenever I remember that moment, Ben feels the sense of loss of not becoming that Seal.

    For those of us who aren't willing to equate our country with life itself-- who will always demand sunlight when shadow is the only offering-- who won't settle for mere ideology when it comes to our allegiance-- I think you've framed this discussion in the most apt way possible Richard.  WTG! (way to go!)

  9. I pledge allegiance willingly to my country (so far) --- eliminating in my head that scrap of cloth idol --- in secular settings, minus "under God," which I predate. Never, with or without God, in religious or quasi-religious settings. If the choice were mine, I'd remove that big fringed flag standing near the altar from my church. But I love the flag, get goose-bumps sometimes when I see it flying.

    I'm a Veitnam veteran. We were babies, as most who die in wars are. Those of us who died then (or who were thoroughly screwed up by the killing), did so for the sins of others who should have been old enough to know better. That seems still to be the case. I doubt there are just wars, only necessary ones sometimes (but pacifists are necessary). And we're the grown-ups now.

    Although it's neither here nor there, I was sickened then (and still am), by Christians who in the early stages of our various Gulf invasions celebrated these incursions as opportunities to open mission fields for Jesus.

  10. As I was reading this I was about to comment on something interesting I'd ony just read yesterday, about Haidt and Graham's 5 moral foundations, of which loyalty is one and that patriotism is a virtue under the loyalty foundation. And that political progressives are much less attached to 3 of the foundations, including loyalty, than they are to the foundations of justice and care ("don't harm"). Halfway through the thought I remembered that it was your book :)

    I'm not American, I'm politically progressive, and because every damn war is claimed as a just war by enough people I am closer to the pacifist side than the just war side. Patriotism, especially in the service of violence, just doesn't have a hold on me when it comes to anything serious (unlike, say, sport). So I can't really help you out. The bloodthirsty patriotism of American Christians freaks me out.

  11. Our pledge started out as a movement to provide a substitute for expressions of fealty to lords, a substitute that would apply to citizens of any New-World republic. The ideal was quite lofty, and the original version ran: "I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the republic for which it stands --- one nation indivisible --- with liberty, justice and equality for all."  It should have united people committed to democratic principles across the world.  Before it was ever used, however, the equality got yanked out, and a specific republic got put in.  Much later, the Knights of Columbus got their hands on it, and voila.

  12. The immediate rabbinic reply to Jesus' "render" statement would have been, "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it."  Jesus demonstrated that God, who imposes order on the chaos of the deep, brought Caesar out of that chaos --- Caesar is just as much God's creation as anything else.

  13. Allegiance to God isn't abstract.  He has a real, present kingdom full of real people in real families, many of them poor and children.  Nations are rarely allies of his kingdom.

  14. Over the past few years I have become a pacifist (not to be confused with passive). I strive and hope to be a peacemaker. I was once a bloodthirsty american christian patriot, and I can go back and read blog entries I wrote during the Bush/Cheney era that make we want to throw up. You are right to be freaked out. I am freaked out as well. But I am also hopeful.

  15.  It's about creating the ability to notice the unjust one.

    If all the wars the US has fought were birds on a wire, the just ones would be the white crows. 

  16. And that rabbinic reply is nothing more than a simplistic non sequitur, as that wasn't the point Jesus was making in GosMark. The concept  was clarified further by Paul in Romans, but that still doesn't answer the question at a personal level. Clearly, there is a divide that we must make in our hearts and minds concerning our levels of loyalty and allegiance to the secular and spiritual. The idea that Caesar is part of God's creation does nothing to clarify the delineation we must make. Where is the point that we no longer submit to governmental authorities to maintain our allegiance to God? To say that this question is anything other than a purely and deeply personal question for each Christian is to step into reductionism and legalism.

  17. I honestly believe that THE single biggest issue right now, as something is being birthed, or rebirthed, out of the dung heap of "christianity", is peace and non-violence. And this goes so far beyond just the issues of war and patriotism. Over the past few months, in an eerie series of events, I have been inundated by messages that seem to all have a common theme. I am starting to see a convergence, at least in my mind, of ideas that all have their center in peace and non-violence. Things like non-violent atonement, compassionate eschatology, universal reconciliation, ecospirituality and, yes, christian anarchy.
    Interestingly, and this is something I only just realized recently, almost everyone that I've been learning from in these and other related areas all have something in common (a convergence if you will): They are all in the upcoming Hellbound? film (either in the film proper or in the supplemental materials). And of course one of those folks is our gracious host here at ET.

  18. Well said. Even that which is believed to be "serving God" in community can be evil and cruel  (thinking of Westboro Baptist).

    The thing for me is that ambivalence toward country is often displayed in terms of ambivalence or even hostility toward military personnel, who have no say in where they are sent, or the events that precede their missions. Not that this Richard's stance -- clearly it's not. Historically, it has been, though (thinking of the 70s and how Vietnam veterans were treated). Politically, the military gets screwed often (pay, benefits, physical and psychological harm), while the politicans who define the parameters of the military walk around posturing and unscathed.

  19. The problem with a "just" war is that there is usually no way to determine what is just and what is unjust.  The citizenry is never given all the facts or reasons that lead to war and there is a concerted effort to conceal unjust acts by our own military.  There is also never a way to assess whether or not the cost of a "just" war was worth it or not.  The classic example is Hitler; however many historians believe that the mistake was the United States engaging in WWI which led to the conditions that precipitated the rise of the Third Reich.  Other historians believe that if the U.S. has stayed out of WWII altogether that Germany and the Soviet Union would have inevitably eviscerated each other, rendering both impotent.  As a result of siding with the Soviet Union, half of Europe was ceded to communism.  Were the results better or worse?  No one really knows.  As a Christian I believe that one should always strive to do no evil and seek peace.  That's hard in a world of warmongers, but who ever said being a Christian is easy?

  20. Regarding the pledge: I never say it, but I do stand respectfully.  I do not wish to make others uncomfortable or cause unnecessary discord, but I would never pledge allegiance to a nation or, even more ridiculously, to a flag.  I was born in the U.S. by chance; I did not choose to live here in the way that I chose to enter into a covenant relationship with Christ or my wife.  I have no intention of leaving the U.S. since it is the only home I have ever known, but I suspect that would be the case if I had been born in Japan, Argentina or Botswana.  Besides money, nationalism is the most pernicious of idols, IMO.

  21. Patricia, I hear your concerns about ambivalence toward the military men and women who are willing to sacrifice so much, with little say in where they are sent or what they are asked to do.  However, shouldn't this willingness to follow orders (even unjust or morally questionable orders) make Christians uneasy?  Should we commit ourselves to carrying out the wishes of a country (or government or military superior) upon demand, especially considering the rampant corruption and ulterior motives which we have seen in the past?  I think this is perhaps one of the reasons why the early Christians were overwhelmingly opposed to disciples serving in the military.  It seems very difficult to walk the line of who you are serving.

  22. "separating"
    That's not how I think, so we probably can't proceed profitably.

  23. That first line is from the inimitable Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes. (http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2009/10/22/) Easily the best comic strip of all time--I can't help trying to make sure everyone knows how awesome it is.

  24. Thanks, Matt. for hearing me. Don't you think this corruption and evil motives would be true in any line of work, not just the military? Working for corporations or oil companies or universities or Wall Street or city governments -- or even churches -- that are part of the powers and principalities that cause harm. There's going to be an uneasieness now matter what line of work one is in, and a powerlessness for the worker bee who has no voice in the morally questionable actions of superiors, but needs the paycheck to survive and provide for his or her family. A news story this week talked about how more and more college graduates are joining the military because of the lack of jobs in the private sector. The mother of one of Dr. Beck's psychology grads told me a week or so ago that her daughter is working as manager of a loan shop because she can't get a job in her field. The military is often the only job available for many to attain an education or draw a paycheck. As you say, "It seems very difficult to walk the line of who you are serving." But every employee is serving that in which they have no voice, and quitting is often not an option.

  25. I do not say the pledge of allegiance. I will often stand at the times when it is requested, but I find myself unable to pledge my loyalty to any nation or other temporal power, particularly those that rely on violent institutions for continued existence, while displaying full honesty. When I stand for any military parade (and I don’t always), it is a statement that I am acknowledging fellow human beings regardless of whether I agree with their path in life. 

    I am in complete agreement with questioning whether Christians in America have lost some of the spiritual strength required to resist the call to war. In some ways, I wonder whether Patriotism has supplanted other institutions as a rising religion. Sometimes it amazes me the lengths people go to in order to justify a war. Other times it saddens me that there are no justifications, merely a blind trust in whatever the people overhead say.

    To mention something that I spotted in the comments: As to whether the actions of military personnel are to be placed on the ones who command or the ones who obey, I have to come to the conclusion that neither are morally clear. In giving the order with the expectation of obedience, there is little doubt in my mind that rank is no excuse for calling for the end of a life. Simultaneously, I believe Christians are called to have their own judgments and to have an active and personal ability to recognize when something is not in accordance with loving their neighbors. Christ defined neighbors not just as the ones we already feel connected with, but also the ones from situations beyond our understanding (or even beyond our approval). However, this Law of Love also guides us to be forgiving and nurturing to those who have done wrong.

    Thanks to Richard Beck for discussing this, it is something I have struggled with over time. 

  26. Whether or not Christians can serve in the military is irrelevant.  Christians should think long and hard about what they risk if they do give up the ability to think for themselves.  Are you willing to kill another person or blow up a family's home simply because a superior officer orders it?  Would that person normally befriend you in a time of peace, and if so, are you right in killing them because someone orders you to do it?  Are you willing to count the cost necessary to disobey an order that is immoral?  Are you willing to pay the price of say, Bradley Manning, regardless of how you feel about his actions personally.

    The question is not can a Christian serve in the military.  The question is why would a Christian ever want to?

  27. Patricia, you are very right about this being a dilemma every Christian faces, regardless of their profession or employer (even the self-employed).  I do think, though, that some fields are going to require more of those tough decisions about allegiance than others.  For instance, if I'm in advertising, I pretty well know going in to that line of work that I'm going to be asked often to convince people to buy a product that they really don't need, may not even want, and possibly might not bring about the results it claims to.  This is isn't to say you can't be in advertising. But one should know the nature of the business, and the difficult decisions which will have to be made as a Christ-follower. 

    Similarly, in the military, by virtue of enlisting you are communicating a willingness to do a whole host of things based on the directions and commands of your superiors.  I know going in that there's a chance, maybe a small chance, that I might be asked to kill some other people.  I do not get to ask questions.  I do not get to be in the room when the decisions are made and examine all the evidence to see if it is a sound or necessary strategy.  I do not get to say, "I'm uncomfortable with this mission; I think I'll sit this one out" (Well, I can, but I will have broken my agreement with the military and will likely face punishment of some sort).  I do not get to yell, "I didn't sign up for this!"  Because, if I've enlisted in the military, even if it was to pay for college or simply put food on the table, I did sign up for that. 

    I'm not saying we don't all face these decisions similar to these in every line of work, but it seems to me that agreeing to follow any and all orders unquestioningly is dangerous ground for those who have their citizenship in God's Kingdom. 

    And quitting is always an option.  It's not necessarily a practical or popular option, but it is an option.   

  28. "The
    hill, which is a part of America, has killed no one in the service of the
    American government. Then why should I, who am a fragment of the hill? I wish to
    be as peaceable as my land, which does no violence, though it has been the scene
    of violence and has had violence done to it.” -Wendell Berry

    pledge allegiance to the soilof Turtle Island,and to the beings who
    thereon dwellone ecosystemin diversityunder the sunWith joyful
    interpenetration for all." - Gary Snyder

  29. Hi Matt, Thanks for responding. I think that it's not as easy a solution as just "quitting." Just as Dr. Beck made the case for his working for ACU.  Nor of Christians refusing to enlist. Do you really want the entire U.S. military populated by those without Christ as an influence in their lives? I get the tensions being felt, and not wanting Christians to participate in taking life. Law enforcement face the same kind of dilemmas and questions. But you may not realize the difference Christians make in the military. It's not just about "killing" and "blowing up houses." Case in point: good friend of ours was in a year-long deployment in a leadership role. I can't tell you what a diffeence he made both to his enlisted personnel under  him, or the locals he worked with, or the leaders of the country he was in. His job did not involve any kind of killing, and he was an influence for international good. I think that if his job had been given to someone without a heart for Christ as I know him to have that it could have been ugly. I think it's important to note that John the Baptist didn't tell the Roman soldiers to quit their jobs when they asked him what they should do (Luke 3:14)

  30. Matt, I do not understand where you get the idea that early Christians were 'overwhelmingly opposed to disciples serving in the military'? If that were truly the case then Christendom -- Roman, Celtic -- would not have come to us in the British Isles. The Roman Empire in the time of Christ and the 'early church' was a hotbed of political and military action. As opposed as the 'early Christians' might have been to their disciples serving in the military it would seem many of those serving who came to Christ and became disciples hardly had a choice of military service. It would seem the church communities, whether in secret or out in the open, would have been an oasis of spiritual support for their brethren in the military, regardless of the respective social classes that came together in communion under Christ.

  31. Richard, thanks for the powerful thoughts. For what it's worth, Daniel Bell has written a book about exactly this problem entitled "Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the tradition in the Church rather than the State." He suggests that the church be the site of practicing peace to build up the type of people who can resist an unjust war.


  32. Matt, thank you for your insight. I also appreciate your thoughts, Patricia. What my question is concerned with is the fact that joining the military under the naive assumption that one can acquire a pay-check and an education as the main draw is hardly a 'sacrifice to the nation' -- it's a way to survive when the work force isn't as forthcoming as one could hope. The American military has not used enforced conscription since Vietnam and we have all seen what a divisive role that played in shaping the character of our nation. The youth in many countries do not get to choose and must serve at least two years. Our American youth get to choose. Most of them join without fully appreciating the main role of military service is about learning how to kill and preparing for and going to war. It is not about establishing peace. If peace had been the objective then Afghanistan and Iraq would be our best allies long ago. If they want to learn about military roles in peace keeping missions they need to study The Troubles and the Bosnian War. National patriotic pep rallies are the war cries of the civilians and politicians that cheer the youth onto the battlefields without teaching them to think through the consequences of their choice to join the military in the first place. We dress them up and give them the tools of war like they were toys then tell them how proud we are. It makes us feel better to use words like 'sacrifice'. Until they come home dead or so wounded physically and emotionally we find we cannot take care of them or the knock on effect the war has on their families.

    The concept of just war, as is beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Our history shows that Americans would prefer to win war by shooting rather than cultivate peace with diplomacy. Our nationalistic pride and patriotic fervour repeatedly get in the way.

    It is helpful to speak to military chaplains and get their faith perspectives in all of this. For many of them it runs a lot deeper than just getting a soldier baptism count. :)

  33. Hi Deb,
    "What my question is concerned with is the fact that joining the military under the naive assumption that one can acquire a pay-check and an education as the main draw is hardly a 'sacrifice to the nation' -- it's a way to survive when the work force isn't as forthcoming as one could hope."
    I'm not really sure what you're saying here. I do know that for many young people, the military is their only route out of their circumstances. And for many, it's the only way they will ever be able to afford an education. 
    The reality of war is determined by the policy makers, the governmental authorities who tell the military what to do. And none of those same politicians are ever on the ground in hot zones. Their families and loved ones are never at risk. By "serving" one term in office, they entitle themselves to a lifetime retirement check. At most, they fly over to shake hands with service members for photo ops. Very different from the enlistees, who have much more invested.
    That's not a matter of being a naive assumption.

  34. I have two brothers who were in the military branches as enlistees who got their higher education as a side bonus. They only learned to appreciate academia after they learned the art of war. It is a rather naive route to go about getting your college education, and somewhat of a gamble if war intervenes. Both my brothers fully understood the soldiering crafts they had to learn first and perform when the realities hit hard. They did not complain and one continued on in the reserves. I'm just saying that if our youth choose the military as their only option for academia after high school, they need to take responsibility for the signing on, No, 1, to the consequences of becoming part of the war machine. No complaints, it was their decision. They have signed on to do the bidding of the Commander in Chief and the politicians. If they do not agree with the POTUS then they need to stay out of the military and grow up somewhere else. Signing up for something one does not believe in to do it for personal gain is not a sacrifice, no matter what kind of uniform you dress it up in. I've had too many family members serve in the military to have their honourable service dissed by lazy opportunists who feel entitled enough to cheat the tax payers into giving them a free education and a drinking tour around the world.

    I do not buy the cheap generalisation that all politicians are never on the ground in 'hot zones' (sounds a bit Hollywood), Sorry, but I am used to hearing 'hot zone' in context with medical epidemics (AIDS, Ebola). When I worked for the USAF there were some wonderful politicians who were great supporters and did not want photo ops. You only see what the media is told to feed you. The American media is very tight with what it tells its viewing audience, they have to entertain and worry about ratings and being too liberal or too conservative. There are good politicians, Democrats and Republicans, whatever label you prefer, who do a lot more militarily than the American citizens know about, and their sons and daughters serve in many capacities, at risk with the enlisted. In fact many of them are enlisted, not always commissioned. If you want to put a target on their backs during their tours of duty write your congressman, 

    This current 112th Congress is not my favourite, but believe it or not:
    'At a time when Congress is facing big questions that will affect military
    careers, the percentage of lawmakers who served in uniform has increased slightly and remains higher than the general population.About 21 percent of House lawmakers and 29 percent of senators previously served in the military, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Veterans make up only 3.3 percent of the adult population of the U.S., the report says. http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/02/military-more-in-congress-are-veterans-022212w/That's 25 from the Senate and 90 from from the House of Reps.(out of 535 members of Congress), 9 of the 20 freshmen are veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.The 111th Congress, to compare, which had less than the 112th, there were 121 combat veterans, and some continued as reservists as they served their Congressional terms in office.If you as a concerned citizen and voter do not like the perks and terms of office our politicians get, then you have the American right to protest as creatively as you want. Start a writing campaign, don't just sit back and take it. You are a lot closer to your congressmen than I am as an ex-pat and you at least have easier access. 

  35.  The word "equality" was never in the pledge. Bellamy considered putting it in but rejected the idea knowing that it wouldn't pass muster with the supers of education on the committee.

  36. Dear Dan, I'm right there with you.  I think it was you who once expressed the struggle to break out of old, dogmatic ways of thinking about God, and yourself in relation to God.  I feel with and for you, here again, as I did then, because politics is so embedded in our Christianity here in the USA; the struggle to break free into new ways of thinking and being is doubly hard.  Two for one deal.

    I'm so happy for you, Dan.  You have purposed in your heart to make a change, and you are finding the way.  I feel much the same gratitude toward Dr. Beck, and through him, a chain of others who speak with great wisdom and grace.  Peace to you, friend.  Blessings for the journey~

  37. There are no just wars. Christians should not take oaths. Our allegiance is to God. But I understand your concerns. Nothing is ever simple, unless one can submit oneself totally to God. Which is what we should do. 

  38. Thanks for the very thought provoking discussion in this thread. And for the tone. It's rare to get a good discussion on a topic like this on a blog.

    Let me make a point of clarification: this post isn't about just war theory. In the post my "acceptance" of just war isn't an endorsement but a bracketing, putting that issue to the side to move on to the topic that most interested me. As a psychologist I'm less interested in the theoretical debates about war than about creating emotional and spiritual capacities. Because you can debate war all you want, but if spiritual capacities aren't being formed then, like I said in the post, when times of war come people aren't going to have the skills of discernment or the ability to resist.

    In light of that, the point of the post was to provide an argument that every Christian should endorse--just war proponent and pacifist--that every one of us needs to cultivate a restlessness, suspicion, circumspection toward the patriotic impulses within our nations. To, in the words of the post, get some sunlight between God and Country. And it begins with little things. Ambivalence with the Pledge being just one example.

  39. Deb,  I'm not going to go into a long-winded reply. Suffice it to say that you may believe it's "naive," but without my husband's military service, we would not have been able to get his education, or purchase our home, or send our son to university. We saw a lot done TO the military, and have dear friends who have experienced the things I've talked about here.

  40. Deb, I do not have the time today to copy and paste the many examples among early church leaders/fathers that expressly rebuke military service for would-be followers of Jesus (The book, Jesus for President, by Shaine Claiborne and Chris Haw has a very brief section wtih some of those quotes in them, but it is hardly exhaustive.)  And though I would not say that "some" good came through what is commonly known as Christendom, I will say that many believe what happened to the church in the 4th and 5th centuries (i.e. Chrisitianity coming to power and cozying up with the Roman Empire) was a perversion of the gospel which has plagued the church ever since.

  41. Interesting points.

    Though I would say that the best way to prepare emotionally to judge a war justly is to study history. I don't know... I used to really esteem America's record on war but now I wonder if we've used the sword in an unjust cause more often than in a just cause.

    I know why... it's because we're HUMAN! It seems to me that a lot of proponents of american exceptionalism don't get that our history is made by flawed (usually well intentioned) humans. The more I study history, the more heroes look like humans.

  42. Getting to this a bit late, and I haven't read the comments, but it seems to me that Christians truly committed to the theory of justifiable war shouldn't pledge allegiance, either. And that that is precisely one of the dispositional habits which cultivates the kind of wisdom able to discern just from unjust -- given that (again, according to the theory) the overwhelming majority of all wars, past and present, have been and will be unjust, both in lead-up and in execution.

  43. So I found this on Facebook just recently. Creating quite a stir, apparently. I did not have time to read all the above comments, but this is precisely the question I was asking my friends at Bible college last semester. I come from a Mennonite background, so could argue quite effectively that Christians should not be involved in the military at all. However, I granted them this point (the just war theory), and felt it was undeniably inconsistent that those who believe in just war never come across an 'unjust' war. As you said, they instead justify America's actions by default because it is, after all, America.

  44. i'm a u.s. citizen and i'm religious.

    even beyond the issue of war, for me, i struggle with the fact that nationalism in and of itself is extremely harmful to human beings. engaging in unjust wars is just one facet of that. i love human life more than i love the idea of a nation-state.

    (i struggled with not adding "i'm not unpatriotic" before that sentence, because i constantly feel pressured to justify my own patriotism, list all my ties to the military, etc. when i bring this up, and i shouldn't have to.)

    i think for me the biggest struggle is not whether or not i love america enough, but whether or not i love human beings enough to envision a future that is liberated - to envision the body of christ creating the kingdom of god on earth. to me that would mean things like breaking down fictional borders and not criminalizing human beings for their basic existence, or waging unjust wars, for example.

    could america be part of that vision? possibly. i'm not so attached to the idea of america that i am willing to preserve it at the expense of millions of lives or the future of the planet, though.

  45. Written by a socialist the pledge was originally to "My Flag" and was changed to "The Flag of the United States of America" so immigrants wouldn't confuse loyalties. Being a socialist he wanted to include the words "equality and fraternity" but women and African Americans were not accepted as equals.  The loyalty is to the constitutional republic represented by that flag, a nation united in liberty and justice for everyone. Pledging loyalty to the constitutional, law abiding republic that strives for freedom and justice for everyone is not such a bad thing. Making a promise to uphold law, freedom and justice is not the same as pledging to war. Perhaps it is just good citizenship.

  46.  If your wife has ALL your devotion and loyalty, and would NEVER push you to sin, then you are a fortunate couple, indeed. For myself, I ALWAYS tend to think of EVERY absolute statement to contain its own special sort of violence (chuckles ironically), as it pre-supposes a capacity for infinity that I just plain don't have. It's all in what's going on in the heart, though, and although I know for a fact that mine's a rather murky place, I surely do love the idea of shining Purity you seem to be espousing. More power to ya.

  47. It seems to me that what we need is a way of making our love of our country such that the idea of sullying it by participating in unworthy and/or unjust wars would be unacceptable.  In other words, true patriotism means protecting the ideal from ourselves (and each other).  How does that look?  I'm not sure, but interestingly I think Christians need to learn the same discipline about the Church.

  48. Yet once more you've gathered up my current thoughts and beliefs and put them into words far more precisely and concisely than I ever could have done. In so doing, I not only find myself exclaiming aloud again and again "Yes!" as I read your material, but find my thinking clarified and deepened all the more. Thank you!

  49. To be blunt, i don't think you should feel any guilt. Your son should feel grateful for the wisdom you provided, for like all of us at a young age, we lack perspective and wisdom. If Ben still feels that becoming a Seal is maybe what he needed to have a fulfilliing identity, then maybe he needs to realize this is a shallow perspective. I can think of so many things that would be more fullfilling than becomig part of the US (or any) war machine, regardless of the personal discipline and stength it might offer. We are so very much more.

  50. Hi Michael,
    What "theory" and "lens" of mine are you referring to? I am making the argument that Christians should cultivate discernment in separating God's will from the Nation's will. You know, Acts 5.29, "we must serve God rather than man." As best as I can tell in your comment you are arguing that we shouldn't make that distinction, that Nation always speaks for God. Nation is God. And if that's your position, I'd disagree. But if that's not what your are saying, then I'm confused about what you are trying to communicate.

  51.  I'm saying that if God's word (all things work together for the good of them that love the Lord) is truth... and the Christians in Egypt face genocide... maybe God's definition of "good" is different than ours. Did He mean it when He said He's working things out for our good? Or did He mean it when He said you'll suffer as Christ suffered?

    Similarly, God gave the orders for a bunch of wars (some that the Israelites won and some that the Israelites lost) that would be very difficult to define as "just." Especially if you can imagine being on the losing side and watching your wife and children murdered by soldiers who are employed by a nation/state that God has empowered.

    So, the lens is the way in which we value human life in western civilization. Doesn't seem like God values human life (or even pain and suffering) the same way we do. The theory is that we can know which war is just and which is unjust and which one God sanctions and which one God detests. The Bible presents some pretty confusing material about God's will happening no matter what we do... and that the Nations are under God's power... and that when a ruler is in power he or she exists because of God's will. So, why argue with the powers that choose war? Aren't they simply fulfilling God's will?

  52. I'm still confused. If you trace out the logic of your argument then we should just go to war when we are told to. No questions, the moral imperative is to obey. I have that right? Hey, I get the OT problems, but what you are arguing for is satantic.
    Now if that's not what you are arguing for, if you believe individuals have moral consciences that must make decisions about the moral actions of the nation then, well, everything in my post holds steady.
    It's either obey or discern. I vote for discern. You?

  53. I appreciate the thought you put into this one, Richard. Makes me wonder if you've ever read Mark Twain's little book called War Prayer. It's a quick and easy read and I think you would enjoy it.

  54. Oh, yes... if the black and white choice were as simple as discern or obey... I certainly like discern. Discernment, as an alternative to mindless following... puts me back in control. I now exercise my power in the situation.

    The point I make here is that when we (well-fed, well-groomed, western Christians) discern, we do it through our personal lenses... which don't seem to line up with God's lens.

    If I asked you to describe an unjust war you might say things like one nation that is a super power invading and occupying a third world country, exercising enormous life and death power over civilians, etc. with little legal and financial ramifications. And what I would say then is... sounds a lot like all those wars in the Bible that God controlled/condoned/commanded and declared to be His will.

    So, what's your desired outcome? That you and I, thousands of miles from the men and women who actually bear the burden of deciding when and how to go to war would be willing/able to express our dissent? That we'd have a religious reason to dissent? Or assent?

    I'm trying to remember a story in the Bible (written for our learning) that would include a character who dissented? Shadrach? Daniel? Good OT examples maybe. What about the NT Christians who didn't want to pay taxes? Nope... Jesus seems to reinforce the idea that leaders, just or unjust, holy or unholy are put in place by God and that Christians shouldn't waste their time arguing with the powers that be... but that we should be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless... let Ceasar do whatever Ceasar is going to do.

  55. I think a lot of "just war" proponents use that idea as a excuse for their actual beliefs, which are that all authority is God-given and everyone should submit to the whims of those in authority. Besides that, they like war and they like shooting people and they love this great country. God bless America!

    That's the impression I get, anyway.

  56. But as citizens of a democratic nation where (in theory, at least) the people are in charge and the government only our representatives, wouldn't part of showing allegiance be trying to prevent our country from entering unjust wars?  Wouldn't true allegiance not only allow, but require us to protest against any war which we deemed unjust and to continue protesting until either fighting ceases or we come to a genuine change of heart about the nature of the war?  I firmly believe that a loyal opposition is the highest form of patriotism.  And yes, we haven't always acted on this principle (largely, I think, because "loyal opposition" is something Americans support wholeheartedly when they are the opposition and decry just as wholeheartedly when they are the ones in power), but I don't think the pledge of allegiance affects this much at all.  (Liberals, after all, say the pledge too and yet have no problem opposing wars.)

    I think...in Conservative America, American patriotism has gotten all mixed up with American superiority in a very scary way.  Evangelical Christians seem to tend to be conservative, Mainline Protestants lean more liberal, and Catholics are pretty evenly split.  Evangelicals outnumber Mainline Protestants, so most Christians are conservative and therefore have inherited a belief in American superiority that renders them susceptible to jingoism.

    Saying the pledge or not won't matter because it's not a question of allegiance - the real problem is the divide between showing your allegiance through trying to make the country better and showing your allegiance through loudly insisting that we rule, other nations drool and there's nothing wrong with anything especially not our wars. 

  57. A few thoughts inspired by this post (since it doesn't seem to automatically track back): http://thezyps.com/2012/09/11/allegiance/

  58. I see America as I see the Roman Empire of old... America is very much an empire, built out of genocide and slavery, and perpetuated by colonialism - touted as "bringing democracy" to nations that are lacking (Pax Romana, anyone?).  Maybe there's nothing wrong with pledging allegiance to a country that you feel is good and right... But I could never feel comfortable pledging allegiance to an empire.

  59. The way I have settled into dealing with this is that I always stand, uncover my head, and face the flag for the National Anthem, even in my own living room. I served in the armed forces and have great respect for the men and women with whom I served and their families. I refuse, however, to recite the Pledge, for the reasons you mentioned. I strongly oppose any attempt to indoctrinate children by making them recite it daily, as I did as a child. It is just plain creepy. I suspect if the average supporter of the pledge were shown videos of Nazi youth or Stalin youth or Mao Youth being forced to recite a Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis we would call it indoctrination.

    The problem I have with the 'just' war is the same problem I have with legalizing 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' We can all come up with post hoc or hypothetical examples of where a war was just or where torture yielded useful results, but they are always predicated on information you could not have had a priori. So on what basis do you make the decision?

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