So I’m walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot the other day –
(Yeah, I shop there. Whadda ya think — I live in one of your university-hugging, professional middle class greeny suburbs? This is army town, no time for that fluff. We had two Supercenters when I got here; now there’s five. Whole Foods & Costco are about ninety minutes away. I get there when I can; otherwise, cut me some slack here.)
— and I see the back of this parked van. On the rear window is a revelation.
I’ve glimpsed it before, driving past, but here it is, holding still, within reach of my pocket camera.
While the camera clicks, and clicks again (I operate on the “Bad Photographer” principle: take lots of shots to get a decent one), I begin thinking about military strategy. (You’ll see why in a minute.)
When war planners talk combat strategy, they put a lot of effort into finding and defining a target’s “center of gravity.”
A target’s “center of gravity” is whatever is most important in making it able to defend itself. It often involves more than simply weaponry; it may be a motivator, such as a beloved symbolic leader, for whom devoted followers are ready to fight to the last.
Similarly, in its home society, a military establishment’s “center of gravity” may not depend chiefly on guns or bombs. Rather, it can be the force which lends it the most legitimacy, which makes war and militarism worthy, honorable, deserving of support, even sacred. This is more likely to be a belief system than a stockpile of bombs or missiles; the belief system is what drives the stockpiling of bang-bang.
Diagram from a scholarly strategic study of the “center of gravity.” More on this here.
After working up-close and personal for several years with the US military, I think I can point to its center of gravity, or pretty close to it. I’m convinced that the “Spirit of War” that grips our society like the Beast 666 depends for its hold more than anything else on the devotion and blessing of US War Christianity.
American churches, many actively and others passively, have become tools of militarism’s influence over large segments of the citizenry.
There isn’t space here to describe this complex force in detail. It has infected Catholic as well as Protestant churches, and has a foothold in the Jewish community as well.
But here was a snapshot of it, starkly visible on the back of a van at Wal-Mart.
What are alleged peaceniks such as Quakers going to do about this “center of gravity” for the war machine? Answering that query will involve careful study, as much as for any other key element of the “Military Industrial Complex.”
But first it will require a waking up to the reality of the phenomenon. Very few American “Christian” scholars and activists have made that connection, alas.
One honorable (but lonely) exception is Charles Marsh, in his book, Wayward Christian Soldiers.
(All you ‘”Christo-centric” and Evangelical Quakers who have read it, raise your hands . . . .)
The role and impact of US War Christianity is easy to demonstrate, and anything but metaphorical or symbolic. It ranges from rampant crusader infiltration of the military academies, to signs plastered on Humvees in Iraq declaring “Jesus Killed Mohamed.” To emblems like this on the back window of a van in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
It is also not new – indeed, it glorified the extermination of Native Americans, upheld slavery, blessed America’s entry into the “great game” of imperialism. These days, among other things, it justifies torture and scoffs at climate change. It helps fill our days with distractions (e.g., arguments about dress codes and same sex marriage) in the face of official horror.
In my view, real progress toward making the U.S. a law-abiding nation, will sooner or later involve major thrusts against US War Christianity, as a key “center of gravity” of U.S. militarism.
Tackling the war spirit in the churches will not be easy; the struggle will be unsparing spiritual warfare that truly deserves the name. Moreover, as a people, Friends in the US are generally not well-prepared for the struggle. On the pastoral/evangelical side, accommodation to “patriotism” is largely unquestioned; flags in “sanctuaries” are not uncommon.
On the other side, all too many liberal Friends have spent much time avoiding and escaping everything to do with these and most other varieties of Christianity, becoming secular (aka “spiritual”) in all but name. When it comes to challenging this homegrown behemoth, they’re not even in the arena, never mind in the contest, preferring to talk of politics, or “inner peace” as the priority.
Well, when push comes to shove, avoidance will not not suffice. The sooner we begin getting ready, the better.
Bible verses for the day:
Exodus 15:3: The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.
There are two groups of Friends for whom this task of getting ready seems particularly urgent:
One is those who are headed for the YAF gathering in Wichita later this month.