“Old words that used to mean something—ideals, meaning, character, self, soul—have come to seem mere floating signifiers, counters in a game played by commencement speakers and college catalogs. Vague and variable as their meanings may have been, there was a time when the big words of the humanities still carried weight. They sustained yearnings and aspirations; they sanctioned the notion that the four-year transition from adolescence to adulthood might be a time of exploration and experiment.
This idea has not disappeared entirely, but the last time it flourished en masse was forty years or so ago, in the atmosphere pervaded by the antiwar counterculture. Indeed one could argue that the counterculture of the 1960s and early ’70s involved far more than the contemporary caricature of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. It was in part a creation of young people who wanted to take college education seriously, to treat it as more than mere job training. Beneath the slogans and excess, the counterculture contained a probing critique of the instrumentalist mentality that managed the Vietnam War—the mad perversion of pragmatism embodied in the American major’s words: “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” Writers like Albert Camus, Martin Buber, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer may have been more often cited than read by young people in the 1960s and ’70s, but those writers’ presence in countercultural discourse suggested the urgent question at its core: How can we live an ethical life amid the demands of illegitimate power?”
I wish I had heard even one homily like this on a Sunday in the last 14 years, just one. But I haven’t, which is part of the reason we started this site.
In February, Preacher Randy Beckum carefully and respectfully questioned Americans’ increasing love of militarism, in light of Christian truth. The majority of his sermon consists of quotes from Scripture. He is a soft spoken person. He is not being disrespectful to military personnel, nor is he really making any assertions. He is asking questions, simple questions, basic questions — that is all. He is trying to spur thought, trying to “start a conversation.”
That is too much. It was deemed offensive and disrespectful. He was fired. When the kinds of questions he is asking become too controversial for American Christians to tolerate, I think that is a sign that something is wrong, very wrong. Too many American Christians want certain topics to be considered “off limits,” as in “you can’t go there” or “it is wrong to question this.” Violence and war (and participation in war) is the number one topic that they want deemed “off limits.” It seems quite clear to me that they are afraid of the questions: If you ask the questions, they might lead you to the “wrong” conclusions.
But it is never “wrong” to question anything! Inherent in the Christian faith is an ongoing attitude of self-criticism, self-critique. This applies to both our own souls and our country at large. Our religious leaders garner much praise, love and support when they unite us as Christians (and Americans) by demonizing and vilifying the “other,” whether that “other” be Muslims, liberals, secularists, terrorists, Obama, etc. We feel edified and strengthened through opposition, enmity. But when they urge us to look at ourselves, and within ourselves, we no longer feel united in self-righteousness and mutual admiration and self-congratulatory celebration for our collective awesomeness: We feel disharmony, disagreement, self-doubt, and maybe even if we let ourselves “go there”…shame? guilt? And how can a country stay strong and united if our leaders make us question our own awesomeness? We kill the messenger and feel safer. With that scary voice silenced, we can once again relax, comfortable and settled with our self-justifications.
Sermons like this in civilian life are rare. They are dangerous for the one who delivers them. So, can you imagine a military chaplain giving a sermon like this? All of the pressures that already exist for our religious leaders — pressures to be popular, to be PC, to be accepted and loved by everyone — all of those pressures are only increased exponentially in the even more militaristic culture of the military.
This story apparently became popular over on Reddit, where it made the front page by attracting readers’ attention and receiving over 500 comments. I would like to know what became of this story and whether the Chaplain got his job back, but a quick Google News search shows only exactly one search result: the original story. Apparently, no mainstream media outlets, local or national, have found this story worthy of reporting?
Lawrence Vance posted this over on the LRC blog today:
“For the pregame festivities, the Notre Dame Marching Band took the field and played ‘America the Beautiful.’ As the crowd sang, the PA announcer read the preambles of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Then the ROTC color guard came onto the field with their flags, and the band played ‘The Star Spangled Banner./ When the song ended, a plane flew overheard, and four Navy Seal skydivers jumped from it, parachuting into the stadium. While the jumpers slowly descended, the PA spoke for several minutes about the virtues of the Navy and its role as ‘a global force for good.’ The PA also noted that the Seals are among the finest warriors in the world and that they are trained to parachute deep behind enemy lines under cover of darkness. As the jumpers came into the stadium, one of them displayed a large American flag. The crowd erupted in applause. At halftime, the Michigan Marching Band joined the celebration, dedicating its entire halftime show to war. The band started with ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ (again), which the PA said was in recognition of America’s ‘victory in the War of 1812.’ Then the band played ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home,’ in remembrance of World War II. The show ended with ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ which featured the display of a 20-yard-long American flag. During a timeout in the third quarter, the Navy Seal skydivers came onto the field, along with two naval officers dressed in their white uniforms. The PA introduced each of the jumpers by name, and the commanding officer was presented with a Notre Dame football helmet as a gift. The PA asked everyone to thank the Seals, along with all military personnel, for their service in protecting our freedom and keeping America safe every day. The crowd erupted in applause.
See also: Bullsh*t Train to Jingotown
Congratulations to the Rutgers and Minnesota students who clearly understand that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In 2006, I attended a protest against Condoleezza Rice’s appearance as a commencement speaker at Boston College at the height of the Iraq War. BC, allegedly a Catholic college, honored her even though Pope John Paul II (now Saint John Paul II) and the Vatican he headed had explicitly condemned the invasion and war she helped to plan. Vatican foreign minister Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said it would be a “crime against peace.”
“This crime against the peace was a brand new charge, never before seen in international law. American prosecutors, led by Justice Jackson, had a more sweeping view of justice in mind. They saw the supreme crime at Nuremberg not in any specific act of Nazi mass killing, nor in the construction of the death camps like Auschwitz. For American prosecutors, the supreme crime was a completely new criminal charge: waging aggressive war, or the crime against peace.”
— from “The Ghosts of Nuremberg” by Michael Gaddy
Rutgers students protest Condoleeza Rice for her involvement in the Iraq War. She stands to make $35,000 off this speaking engagement. Starting wars pays and keeps payin’ and payin’ years into the future.
Looks like a few people are awake and breathing over at University of Minnesota too. This is good news.
In case CNN and Fox News forgot to mention it: On May 25, 2007 Andrew Card faced hundreds of boos and catcalls as he was given an honorary degree during the graduate school commencement at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Before the commencement, about 200 protesters staged a rally and press conference outside the Mullins Center on the UMass campus. Hundreds more students and faculty who opposed the honorary degree would later protest inside the hall.
Card, former Bush Administration Chief of Staff and chief salesman for the invasion of Iraq as head of the White House Iraq Group, faced signs calling him a war criminal.
There is no immediate “Catholic tie-in” here, but we must post a photo of the uniforms that Northeastern will wear to play Michigan on November 16, just for anyone who balks when we mention creeping militarism in our society. It’s just getting plain sick. As for the philanthropic motive and PR spin about how the uniforms were not made to resemble blood but a “distressed flag” (whatever), here is some great (non-Catholic) commentary by Matt Ufford, a Northwestern graduate and a veteran, who says that he “hates” these uniforms and “would like to debark the bullsh*t train to Jingotown.” Right there with you, Matt. We think that train is headed straight to hell, and that’s no figure of speech.
Catholic economist (there’s a tie-in!) Thomas DiLorenzo provided some commentary on the LRC blog and linked to these BBC films about how the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco used sports to glorify the state and statism. Maybe we’re stealing from their playbook.
Actually Ufford’s train comment brings to mind Franz Jagerstatter’s train dream:
“I saw [in a dream] a wonderful train as it came around a mountain. With little regard for the adults, children flowed to this train and were not held back. There were present a few adults who did not go into the area. I do not want to give their names or describe them. Then a voice said to me, ‘This train is going to hell.’ Immediately it happened that someone took my hand, and the same voice said to me: ‘Now we are going to purgatory.’ What I glimpsed and perceived was fearful. If this voice had not told me that we were going to purgatory, I would have judged that I had found myself in hell.”
He said that the train represented National Socialism. Prior to having the dream, he had read that 150,000 Austrian young people had joined Hitler. In a meditation on Jagerstatter’s life, Father Daniel Berrigan urged that we not become complacent in these “post-Hitler” times:
“To speak of today; it is no longer Hitler’s death train we ride, the train of the living dead. Or is it? It is. The same train. Only, if possible (it is possible) longer, faster, cheaper. On schedule, every hour on the hour, speedy and cheap and unimaginably lethal. An image of life in the world. A ghost train still bound, mad as March weather, for hell… Despite all fantasies and homilies and ‘states of the union’,’ urging the contrary. Today, a world of normalized violence, a world of standoff, of bunkers and missiles nose to nose, a world of subhuman superpowers and the easy riders. The train beats its way across the world, crowded with contented passenger-citizen-Christians.”
Scary. And look, plenty of tie-ins in this post…
In one the of close to two-hundred brief reflections composed between May and August of 1943, Jagerstatter writes, “Love as the outer-wear is the ‘uniform’ of Jesus’ disciples. His disciples are known by their love.”
Wow. That kind of came full circle, didn’t it? These excerpts are from an article called Love’s Justice: The Witness of Franz Jagerstatter, by Anna Brown over at WagingNonviolence.org. The writings she is referring to are from Franz Jagerstatter: Letters and Writings from Prison, edited by Erna Putz, Orbis Books, 2009.
On November 9, 1965, at the age of 22, Roger Allen LaPorte set himself on fire in front of the United Nations building in New York City to protest the Vietnam War. He was a former seminarian and a member of the Catholic Worker Movement. Despite his burns, he remained conscious and able to speak at the hospital. When asked why he set himself on fire, La Porte replied, “I’m a Catholic Worker. I’m against war, all wars. I did this as a religious action.” La Porte died the next day.
At least eight Americans set themselves on fire in public places to protest the war. Rhode Island College Students for a Democratic Society created and displayed a memorial of their acts in the RIC quad in 2006 as part of Diversity Week:
“to remind the audience of the extent to which people from all cultures and religious backgrounds have gone when committed to resistance to war and repression. The message of our display is in no way an endorsement for self-immolation. In a healthy democratic society, it should not be necessary for people to be driven to this extremism in order to have their pleas heard. It is nonetheless inspiring to consider what these actions reveal about human nature and its yearnings. They bear witness and are a testament to the extent to which the emotion known as compassion can move people. The majority of these people were devoutly pacifistic and religious Americans, who, feeling utterly frustrated with their efforts to halt escalations of the Vietnam conflict, decided on this action as their last plea for peace.”
“Advertising reflects the mores of society.” –David Oglivy
So are the mores of society the mores of the Catholic Church?
According to Wikipedia: Aviator sunglasses were originally developed in 1936 by Ray-Ban for pilots to protect their eyes while flying. They became popular after newspaper photographers snapped pictures of General Douglas MacArthur wearing them on a beach in the Philippines during World War II. They became popular again in the 1960s (hm, during Vietnam) and then again with films like Top Gun. In the 1990s, their popularity waned, but they became very fashionable again in the early 2000s. (I wonder why.)
Aviator sunglasses are also characterized by dark, often reflective lenses; their opacity lend an air of mystery or secrecy, which works well with the “C.I.A.” theme.
Obviously this is an attempt to make the Eucharist look cool and exciting, and what’s cooler than fighter pilots and stealth C.I.A. operatives, right?
“You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality.” David Ogilvy
This is an excellent article by Daniel C. McGuire, professor of moral theology at Marquette University:
At Marquette University, there are two contradictory schools of thought on war and both are — confusingly — taught to our students. One is based on the Judeo-Christian, Catholic, Jesuit moral tradition, and it is encapsulated in what is called “the Catholic just war theory.” That theory puts the burden of proof on the warrior, not on the conscientious objector…The other school of thought taught at Marquette is called the ROTC. ROTC does not accept or include in its independent curriculum the “Catholic just war theory,” which defends the right of “selective conscientious objection to particular wars” for soldiers. Neither does its curriculum require course work on the biblical teaching of peace-making.
via Marquette and ROTC: Alliance with military training is contradictory, July 23, 2013