Monday, May 28, 2012

American Memorial Day: War Machines, the 1%, and Religious Right's False Claims of Martyrdom

For Memorial Day in the U.S.: the Fureys and Dave Arthur singing Eric Bogle's "Green Fields of France," a song I cannot ever hear without tears coming to my eyes.  The senseless slaughter of human being by human being in the endless cycle of wars, each of which promises definitively to break the cycle . . . . The raising of young people, disadvantaged young people for whom armies are the only choice for economic and educational advancement, as cannon fodder to resolve political and economic conflicts  fought by the elites who control any given society at any particular moment . . . .  Elites who seldom risk themselves or their own sons and daughters in the wars they wage.

While my cousin comes from church yesterday reporting that he has heard a wonderfully rousing political sermon at whose content he hints (real Christians vote Republican), and while he plants the tiny flags his church handed out to worshipers on the tables in the dining room of his father's care facility, I find myself, with our shared blood and shared commitment to Christian faith, feeling and thinking very differently than he does about these matters.  

Or Obama's birth certificate.  Or the term "African American."  Or how Walter Cronkite lost the Vietnam War for us when he revealed himself as politically biased (a "blue Democrat"; evidently the default non-biased position for reporters is GOP) and demonstrated to the North Vietnamese that we were weak.  All of these matters over which we've had unbelievable down-the-rabbit-hole-with-Alice "conversations" in the past day or so, as Steve and I visit my uncle.

I can't even begin to understand a church which screams that it is being beleaguered by the American government due to its preaching about moral issues, but which simultaneously passes out tiny American flags for its adherents to stick hither and yon to celebrate Memorial Day.  A beleaguered and persecuted church doesn't wave flags of the very government it claims is targeting the church.  A beleaguered countercultural church of martyrs--and that's what both Protestant evangelicals and the U.S. Catholic bishops claim their churches have become these days--doesn't equate the gospel of Jesus Christ with American flags.

A beleaguered church of martyrs doesn't uncritically and unthinkingly bless the government it claims is martyring it.  A beleaguered church of martyrs which claims countercultural status isn't entirely enmeshed in the political, social, and economic structures of the elites of the society it claims is anti-Christian.

A countercultural church of martyrs doesn't equate the gospel of Jesus Christ with dead soldiers.  Or with all the self-glorifying hype to which we Americans are subjected on television and in our media these days, about the glorious dead.  And the glory of war, which makes men real men.

I am not unaware of and certainly not ungrateful for the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for the generations that came after them.  As I think about the very different ways in which my cousin and I feel and think, I'm aware that the blood that binds us includes at least two officers of the American Revolution who died in battle during that struggle--Captain Samuel Kerr and Sergeant Robert Leonard, both killed in South Carolina.

I can't say, though, that those sacrifices warrant my giving my soul to machines that churn out war.  Or political and economic machines that equate the gospel of Jesus Christ and the church with the oppression of others.  

Because war machines positively require the martyrdom of those who do not belong to the socioeconomic elite running the machines of war.  They require the social and economic subjugation of those masses to the elite that controls a nation.  They require the meekness and submission of the majority to a minority whose sole claim to its right to control others is its wealth. 

War machines cranked by the 1% demand that we think of someone somewhere as the enemy, and that we exult in the destruction of our enemy.  They require, too, that we imagine we are the good and those others--the enemy over there--are the bad.  Our righteousness is assured by the God we worship with a purity those unrighteous enemies lack in their worship.

And so the little flags we scatter across our tables this Memorial Day, having heard sermons that inform us we are the good and righteous--and one of our political parties stands for God, while the other betrays God: those little flags symbolize, for me, not the success of the churches at standing for the pure gospel of Jesus Christ against a government that targets gospel-proclaiming churches.

They stand, instead, for the dangerous coalescence of the values of the 1% with the very Christian churches that now claim to be under attack for preaching the gospel.  They stand for the betrayal of the gospel and the substitution of American imperial values for the gospel in a way that threatens the destruction of the entire planet at this point in history--with bishops, priests, and pastors who claim to point the only possible way to salvation leading us on the path that runs to destruction.

P.S. Later in the day: I should have noted earlier that Peter Rothberg at The Nation has published an article with video links to ten Memorial Day songs, and this is what brought "Green Fields of France" (which is in Rothberg's list) to mind for me today.  I first heard the song and began to love it during my years of graduate study in Toronto, when groups of us students would go many weekends to an Irish pub at which the honey-voiced Irish tenor Jimmy Carton would sing this and other moving ballads about the damage done to the poor via wars planned by the super-rich.

No comments: