Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: the military & religion

The Fort Hood shootings have raised questions again about how the military should handle the personal religious beliefs of its soldiers, whether they are evangelical Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, and so on. What is the proper role of religion -- and personal religious belief -- in the U.S. armed forces? Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices?

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: the military & religion

Ever since the beginning of the first gulf war in the early nineties, derogatory terms like “hajji” and “raghead” have become part of the US military vocabulary in order to dehumanize enemies in the middle east. However, the result of this technique is that not only is the enemy dehumanized, but so are the soldiers themselves. It is the role of religion in the military to humanize the soldier.

Humanity is defined and exists in as much as we are in relationship; with other humans, with creation, and with God. Christians within my tradition confess that humans are created in the image of God. In particular, humans are created in the image of a God who is always in relationship with itself, with the world, and with humans.

And so, when we dehumanize the enemy, we end up dehumanizing ourselves. Yet, militaries around the world are always tempted to dehumanize the enemy and soldier alike in the pursuit of military objectives. But it is the task of religion and faith to keep both the soldier and the enemy human. Doing so, religion forces the military to recognize the full humanity of its service people. When religion humanizes the soldier the military is confronted with the fact that service people’s theological convictions and faith cannot be partitioned off from their military tasks. Rather they are whole people who must deal with both the congruency and incongruence of their faiths and the work they are called to do.

This must be of great concern with a humanized military. The stresses we all face in determining whether our actions and vocation are consistent with our understanding of God are only amplified in a military context. The military must take seriously the significant psychological and theological stresses that its service people endure. Let me be clear here, the heinous actions of Hasan at Fort Hood cannot be understood or blamed on any single factor, let alone the particular stress of rectifying faith convictions with military service. But in the wake of this incident, increasing cases post traumatic stress disorder and military suicides in Iraq the military must take seriously these extreme stresses by providing appropriate treatment and its decision making on all levels.

But a humanized military can be one of our society’s greatest assets. A military filled with soldiers who are in relationship with the other is a military that is truly empowered to stand on the side of the oppressed and defenseless. And when the military does this, it is in right relationship with religion and faith.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Avoiding the 'D' Word

This week's On Faith Question from the Washington Post:
Proposed health-care reform legislation includes a provision that allows Medicare to pay for "end-of-life" counseling for seniors and their families who request it. The provision -- which Sarah Palin erroneously described as "death panels" for seniors -- nearly derailed President Obama's health-care initiative. Some Republicans still argue that the provision would ration health care for the elderly. Does end-of-life care prolong life or does it prolong suffering? Should it be a part of health-care reform?

Avoiding the ‘D’ Word

Most people in the United State are not prepared to talk about death. Culturally, we are bombarded with ideas and images that only propagate life, seemingly ignoring death. As I watch football on Sunday afternoons, a relentless stream of commercials peddling cures to erectile dysfunction, show images of how we can continue to live life to its fullest, even as death approaches. And on the most popular medical dramas of our times, shows which utilize the intense emotions surrounding death in the medical fields, death is far from a reality. Just look back to Grey’s Anatomy from a couple of seasons ago, when a main character dies, only to be brought back to life through a twisting of plotlines.

I must also admit that religion and Christianity in particular, have not been particularly helpful in preparing people to deal and talk about death. Many churches now hold ‘Celebrations of Life’ rather than funerals. They choose to focus wholly on the person’s life, rather than acknowledge the fact that this person has just died. Even in the quiet conversations in parish halls, congregants will avoid using the ‘d’ word all together, preferring to say that someone has ‘passed on’ rather than to say that someone has died.

It is because of this cultural conditioning to avoid death, even in thought, that ‘end of life’ counseling must be included in any health reform legislation. Dying is a part of living. Unfortunately, most individuals and their families are not prepared to deal with the realities of dying on their own. They need the outside support of medical and palliative care professionals in order to help provide comfort to both the patient and their families in the midst of the stress and anxiety of death with which they are most often not prepared. As Christians, we proclaim a God who is present not only in the exhilarating moments of living, but also in the mundane and even in our dying. End of life counseling can be a source of comfort, reassurance, and presence in a situation where our cultural support leaves us standing alone. Families need this support and by providing it, we point to the God who is present and bringing comfort not only in our living but also in our dying.

Leia Mais…