Last Sunday up here. We had to go to church since they said they were going to say something to us in front of everyone. Baby was up early, and we were tired. We got in a nice, early walk before the standard Central Texas scorching began. Church saw the pastor calling us out, and mentioning that I am going to seminary, and I did my best to remain light and unconcerned about all of the eyes upon me. Old people who never bothered to look at us except maybe if we were in their pew, staring up at me, mostly I think with good intentions. We were called out alongside a young man deploying to Afghanistan for the fourth time, and he was sitting behind us. Of course, I felt awkward passing the peace–that whole bit about thanking him for his service seems like a phony thing when most people say it–and I am pretty sure I would sound phony if I said it, but I suppose I’ll have to get used to it, if I do become a pastor.
The young man just sort of looked at me. I always think that guys like that can see right through me and tell that I think the wars in the Middle East were mostly a waste of time and money. I don’t have disrespect for the troops, but most conservative people around here have a hard time unpacking the difference between being ready to serve your country and our politicians’ love of war where the money mostly flows to the Blackwaters and Halliburtons.
It’s his intentions behind his service that are noble, but the mentality we have of thinking that every last engagement a warhawk sends young people to is the engagement preventing the complete collapse of Western civilization and all of our cherished freedoms–I think that is one of those sacrosanct things that will eventually start to pull apart at the seams. It’s unfortunate that the protesting kids during the Vietnam Era did such a piss-poor job of trying to expose it–so that any progress that was made for ending this perpetual love of war was summed up in scenes of soldiers being spit on when they returned from fighting. I guess it’s also hard for me in my own way to unpack the difference between noble and righteous things like true love of country and necessity of defending it vs. big government contracts and vanity wars brought on by politicians with low self esteem.
I suppose I should just resolve in my mind to thank a young man like that for his service and say how proud we are of him, and have the message scripted well enough in my head so that it is delivered with some authenticity. After all, I am kind of inclined to think that we will never see peace in this world as long as there are nation states and people who think that their country or religion is better than someone else’s. I think that there is a good and bad version of all humanity being under one global government, and it seems inevitable that we will see the bad one first, before the good one is realized. Maybe I am wrong, and God will open doors in ways that I can’t imagine. However, my mind tends to see the arc of human progress being one that leads inevitably to more competition for resources on the planet, and the ensuing destruction, with a charismatic individual rising up to unite everyone under his new order. Then, after some take the mark of the Beast, and the tribulation has passed, Jesus returns to rule the earth for a 1000 years, and THAT world government will look and work the way a peaceful one is supposed to.
I do have a lot of faith in humanity to evolve and progress, up to a point, but I depart from the domain of the humanist every time I remember that people like Hitler and Stalin and the Bomb arrived when human progress was supposed to be at an apex. All you have to do is look at Donald Trump to see that the potential is clearly there for a lot of bad to happen before we see peace. Donald Trump may not win the general election, but we will surely see more top-tier candidates of his ilk now that he’s demonstrated that someone like him can take the nomination of a major party. Eventually, one of them will rule this country, and I mean rule, because they will declare martial law and shred up the constitution, and plenty of people will be begging them to do it, because we will be in the middle of a crisis–no doubt, a real one that has been blown out of proportion in its significance. 9/11 was bad, but we surely haven’t seen the worst yet.
And so, we will probably need soldiers of some kind until Jesus comes back. These soldiers may or may not be actively defending my freedom. The darkness brought on by those who would seek to destroy my religious freedom is creeping through so many places, that a few men and women in Afghanistan aren’t going to prevent it from spreading until it finally arrives at my doorstep. But, it’s not so much the question of what the soldiers are doing, as their intentions, and how their deep imbibing of the American mythos has enabled them to be a part of something bigger and grander than they would otherwise experience.
But, myths are myths. The Roman Republic died a slow death after losing its more democratic features. To be a Roman soldier was probably the most noble thing most young men of that time and place could hope to experience. Eventually, though, the Roman Republic died completely because it was, after all, just a construct of men. Christianity lived on. The same with the Soviet Union. The leaders of that nation tried to kill Christianity, and create a more powerful mythos around the ideal Soviet worker, but it wasn’t big enough to sustain itself, and the Soviet Union died, but Christianity lived on. The United States of America is different in many ways, one being that we often do clutch the Bible when we wrap ourselves in the flag. Christianity has sustained us through times when we most certainly should have fallen apart completely, but the USA of today is also different than it was even thirty years ago.
You read studies saying that people are more spiritual than ever, and that we have never been more of a faith-based country–but, a faith in what? The state of Christianity in the US is different today. The mythos of patriotism and the god that is our republic has become but one of many gods people tune into in varying degrees. A hundred years ago, the propensity of idols, material and media-generated ones, was nowhere to be seen. Radios wouldn’t be in most homes for another decade, TVs were non-existent. A few people had victrolas and pianos, but the entertainment was mostly somewhere out in the community. Most collections of books had the Bible as the centerpiece, and for most people, the church was an ever-present part of people’s lives. There may have been any number of individuals who attended church primarily out of habit or tradition, but the position Christianity held in the lives of Americans was always much closer to the top. Now, it competes with many other idols, and you can believe that it will be among the first ones to go if our country faces a serious threat. The rush of everyone to be kept safe, and to have the lifestyles that they cherish be kept safe, will see everyone wrapping themselves in our flag, sans Bible, sans Christ.
In other words, people will no longer care about religious freedom when they think of freedom. They will gladly give up whatever lingering sense of familial obligation or self-imposed ritual that remains with their so-called faith so that they can be permitted to continue to work in nice offices, shop at abundant grocery stores, have the latest gadgets, have air conditioning and television–you get the picture. It won’t be the last of the greatest generation and the one that followed it, pre Baby Boomers. It may not be the Baby Boomers. But, those of us in Gen X and later generations would likely overwhelmingly shutter churches and toss Bibles into the fire if it meant we could still keep our material freedoms.
Maybe it’s just my Egelical upbringing in me that keeps me from seeing the future any other way. Perhaps we will see hundreds of more years of American prosperity before our civilization inevitably collapses. But, I am highly skeptical. I hear and see too many people saying that we live in the worst of times, as if the upheavals of the 60s were to be forgotten along with the Great Depression and the Civil War. We hardly live in the worst of times as a nation, but we are certainly doing our best to rapidly create a self-fulfilling prophecy.