Raised Right: Slogans vs. Reality

In chapter six of “Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith From Politics,” Alisa Harris describes her initial support of the Iraq War and how she came to question her faith in that war and her stance on war in general.  She describes one experience that served as a catalyst for the re-evaluation process:

But one day I popped in my grandmother’s big-band cassette tape and heard a song that pricked me with uneasiness.  A gunner fell and the sky pilot set aside his Bible and took up the gunner’s gun, singing, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, and we’ll all stay free.”

I hit Fast Forward, scrambling the buoyant trumpets and brassy tune. it was all right to portray the long-suffering nobility of soldiers writing letters to their sweethearts and thinking of home or even the soldiers fretting about their girls sitting under the apple trees with other men.  But with this song I could see the gunner lying in pieces and the sky pilot using the phrase we all toss so casually — “Well, praise the Lord” — before he used the ammunition to rip a hole in a human being.

Prior to the above passage, Harris had described romantic notions of war and acknowledged in hindsight that they had been truly romantic.  However, this song struck her with a more bloody reality.  What seems to strike her however, is not only this bloody reality, but the casual way in which it is talked about and almost taken lightly by the flippant — at least as used in this context — phrase “Praise the Lord.”  She repeats her astonishment about such flippancy of a line uttered by Gary Cooper’s character in Sergeant York compares killing German soldiers in World War II to “shootin’ turkeys.”

As Harris faced the realities of war and the thought that war involves killing people — something generally condemned by the Christian god — she finds such casual talk about it to be troubling.  This forces her to consult with other people, both people in her lives and the great minds of people she respects as she grapples with this tough decision.

It’s this grappling with tough questions and the openness to being discomforted by such easy comments that interests me most in this chapter, because it’s something I think is too often lacking in conservative evangelical circles.[1]  Flippant phrases intended to simplify complex topics and therefore discourage uncomfortable thoughts over them are far too common.  They allow those who hear and repeat them to pass over a topic quite quickly and state a position without thinking abut the full implications of that position — especially for other people.

It’s only when those simplified phrases are shown in contrast to the much messier reality they seek to gloss over that such phrase’s flippancy becomes uncomfortably obvious.  Granted, not everyone responds to that discomfort as well as Harris did.  Rather than digging for deeper answers, some will simply dig their heels in harder and even become hostile to anyone who attempts to show them the deeper complexity of the topic and the horrible insensitivity of such simple catch-phrases.

In time, they might be able to cover up the discomfort again and stop thinking about the reality.  But one might hope that more such moments of discomfort might crop up, continuing to afflict the comfortable until they seek to comfort the afflicted.

Notes:
[1]  In fairness to the conservative evangelical Christians, it’s lacking in plenty of other circles as well, including some of the circles I belong to.

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