“Our society is dominated by the self-serving who proceed by ways of calculation and cunning and manipulation and deceit. But such a society — with its violence, its consumerism, its militarism, its alienation — is no way to live. To ponder an alternative, from greed to generosity, from self-serving to gratitude, our whole life made available as one long thank offering” is transformative. “Such a way of life contradicts the way of the world.”
— Walter Brueggemann in Living the Questions’ “Countering Pharaoh’s Production-Consumption Society Today”
Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the world’s leading interpreter of the Old Testament and is the author of numerous books, including Westminster John Knox Press best sellers such as Genesis and First and Second Samuel in the Interpretation series, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, and Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes.
Tragic as the downfall of CIA Director General David Petraeus might be, it’s just the symptom of a much larger problem: the “spirit of militarism.” The high rates of military divorces, suicides, and PTSD diagnoses seem to suggest that what we have asked our military to do over the last ten years has put severe strain on rank and file soldiers and their families.
The paramilitary SWAT team of the Louisiana State Police patrols post-Katrina New Orleans.
Whether or not the cracking up of the personal lives of soldiers and generals creates a practical national security challenge remains to be seen. But what is not in doubt is the spiritual question that is raised not only when the military solution seems to be perceived as the most effective choice for countries around the world, but when our whole culture becomes militarized — from our police forces to our childrens’ video games to our economy’s enslavement to the military-industrial complex.
Brian McLaren shares an incident from Jesus’ life that suggests that the “spirit of militarism” itself is the problem:
“I think of an encounter Jesus has with this fellow and he says, “What’s your name?” He calls out from him the name of what’s disturbing him. And the name he gives would be like today somebody saying, “Platoon” — because he uses a military word: Legion. So, what’s driving you crazy? What’s making you insane? “Platoon.” And so it’s this language of living in this world that’s so militarized. “This is what’s making me crazy.” And so that man is now restored to humanity from being oppressed by something inside of him, the spirit of militarism you might say.”
Jesus managed to cast out the demon that possessed the man (see Mark 5 and Luke 8). But today, the “spirit of militarism” seems all the more entrenched — and poised to not only define, but cripple our culture and our legacy.
Brian McLaren is a pastor, emergent church leader, activist, and speaker and has been named one of the most influential Christian leaders in America. He is the author of numerous books, including Everything Must Change, A New Kind of Christianity, Naked Spirituality, and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World.
The McLaren quote is an excerpt from the “Living the Questions” program, “Saving Jesus,” just one of many programs designed to spark conversation in questioning the dominant pop theology of Christian orthodoxy.