This will date me. One time when I was a kid in second grade, I was sitting in the weekly assembly in the auditorium where all the second, and maybe first and third, graders would be led in a sing-along. I can’t think of too many songs I actually liked singing. “This old man, he played one…” dopey. “I’ve Got Sixpence…” Wha?? Although they did try to engage us, even teaching us an occasional song that was actually on the radio, perhaps a Perry Como hit such as “Catch a Falling Star.” The place was obviously in full Elvis denial.
Of course, they had us sing patriotic songs, a couple of which I actually enjoyed, especially “America the Beautiful,” which I thought had great words and an even greater melody. Not so great for me was “God Bless America.” To me, it was — well, I didn’t have the vocabulary at the age of seven, but years later, when I learned the word “smarmy,” that was it for me. Maybe not for you. But for me, yeah. “God Bless America” sounded smarmy. Triplets trying to sound like a march can do that for me to this day.
All I could express to my best friend Mark at the age of seven was “I don’t like ‘God Bless America.'”
Mark turned as if I’d whacked him with a melting ice cream cone. “You don’t like God? You don’t like America?” Thus did I learn the vagaries of something I did not have the word for either until years later: interpretation.
The reason I remember this little event is because although Mark certainly improved as an interpreter of ideas as he matured, others just don’t. I come across the travails of people suffering under people with grown-up’s power and a seven year old’s interpretive skills, and the shock I felt at Mark’s rejoinder so many years ago returns.
Thus does Jeremy Hall’s story raise that old (and no doubt formative) sense of shock:
[Army Spc. Jeremy] Hall, 23, served two combat tours in Iraq, winning the Combat Action Badge. But he’s now stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., having been returned stateside early because the Army couldn’t ensure his safety.
And what puts him in peril? Did he place other soldiers’ lives in danger? Did he rat out his buddies for chicken-droppings violations? Nope. Jeremy Hall’s life is in danger because he is an atheist.
Hall has filed a lawsuit, joined by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which fights for the First Amendment against military proselytizing. The MRFF believes that proselytizing is widespread, and no wonder.
Hall claims that he was denied a promotion in part because he wouldn’t be able to “pray with his troops.” And of course he was returned from overseas due to physical threats from fellow soldiers and superiors. Things became so bad that he was assigned a full-time bodyguard.
This is nothing new to Mikey Weinstein, founder of MRFF and a former Air Force judge advocate general who also served in the Reagan administration. Weinstein says that he has collected nearly 8,000 complaints, mostly from Christian members of the military tired of being force-fed a narrow brand of evangelical fundamentalism.
You might want to check out the MRFF website here. Disturbing stuff.
There are Christian theologians who have distinguished between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” The former seeks the Church Triumphant in the here and now, and is willing to “defend the faith” against any who would stand in the way of their march toward God’s Kingdom’s manifestation. The latter embraces the unfinished nature of life in the here and now as the path of service. It seeks to exalt the humbled and, when necessary, humble the exalted. It lives with the ambiguity inherent in this life and therefore looks upon the theologians of glory as arrogant at best.
I might add, with the interpretive acumen of a second grader at least.