Saturday, January 29, 2011

Who Should Defend the Nation?

Looking at the riots in Egypt brings to mind the time I studied in Berkeley. My books smelled of tear gas for two years. That is not what I wanted to write about today, but on second thought maybe it is not far off. Who is defending that nation: the police, the army - or the rioters?
Our church includes on staff a part time "theologian in residence." He teaches in the Religious Studies Department at a local university. The subjects range from the biblical to the theological, to church history, and on to world religions. In the discussion group he leads on Wednesday nights the current series is on ethics. This night we watched a thirty minute presentation by Michael Sandel to his thousand member (!) class at Yale. The theme centered on the English philosopher John Locke, who has been such an influence on American individualism. (You can get it by googling, Michael Sandel  justice.) Someone in our group offered the observation that in the 1,008 graduating class one year there had been seven going into the military.
The discussion centered on who should defend the nation. The alternatives presented were: volunteers, draftees, or mercenaries. In our two on-going wars we are mixing two of these. In the Civil War, if you were in the North you could pay someone to take your place in the draft; in the South you were draft exempt if you lived in one of the frontier counties. (I grew up in Eastland County in Texas. We lost a third of the male population when Lee surrendered.) We might suspect that in any day and time that poverty plays as big a role as patriotism in military recruitment. Today, we know that in defending the nation it is not just a matter of who does not come home, but also the consequences of post traumatic stress on those who do - and their families. Far too often there is a shocking impart on a community, as well.
We usually talk about post traumatic situations in terms of healing, be it medication, counseling, religion, or whatever - ignoring that holding pattern, long term hospitalization. It is, however, also an ethical issue. When we consider the religious aspects we often think of the Apostle Paul. What we need to remember is that when he went to the synagogues to make his presentations that in every congregation were intelligent and well education gentiles. They were attracted there because of the well known and respected ethical sensitivities of the Jews in the diaspara.
When we think about Paul and despair and hope in regard to the post traumatic processes, let us always keep in mind the ethical: What is right?

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