Suggested reading for Memorial Day

Suggested reading for Memorial Day May 25, 2009

Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion” by Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle.

The Liturgies of Church and State” by William T. Cavanaugh (PDF).

Messianic Nation: A Christian Theological Critique of American Exceptionalism” by William T. Cavanaugh (PDF).

And my own “Memorial Day and the Religious Syncretism of the State” from a couple years ago.

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  • Mark DeFrancisis

    In the ‘Messianic Nation’ essay, Cavanaugh excellently untangles–and exposes for what it is– the historical line of thought that led to the faulty claim ,made by all too many American Catholic ‘intellectuals’ at the beginning of the war with Iraq ,that it is certain state’s perogative/judge to determine if a war is just or unjust.

    Thanks for these great essays, Michael.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    In the ‘Messianic Nation’ essay, Cavanaugh excellently untangles–and exposes for what it is– the historical line of thought that led to the faulty claim ,made by all too many American Catholic ‘intellectuals’ at the beginning of the war with Iraq ,that it is certain state’s perogative/judge to determine if a war is just or unjust.

    Thanks for these great essays, Michael.

  • Mark,

    It’s interesting to note that Sen. Eugene McCarthy also taught at what was then called the College of St. Thomas. I wonder if Cavanaugh was influenced by Sen. McCarthy’s anti-war campaign.

  • Mark,

    It’s interesting to note that Sen. Eugene McCarthy also taught at what was then called the College of St. Thomas. I wonder if Cavanaugh was influenced by Sen. McCarthy’s anti-war campaign.

  • Sacrifice is the proper term. “He gave his life for his country” (or arm, leg, etc.) is religious language. Religion preps people for worship, the state finds a made bed. (Gott, Kaiser und Vaterland). This is outdated in the West, save for the USA. (“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free” – “an American” is apparently a place). Here, people find it necessary to profess support for “our troops”. (“I’m against the war, but of course I support our troops” – what does that even mean ?). Europeans have mostly soured on the military, in Austria, e.g. it has to come begging to get a couple of used planes. A professional soldier tends to be viewed as, at best, unsavory. The draft, common in Europe, tends to cure people of martial fantasies. A professional military is the state’s best friend. The circle of the dying is specialized and narrow rather than all-encompassing – and properly brainwashed.

    The notion of “my country” is of course idiotic, as is pride in having been born in a particular place – as if it was an achievement.

    I just returned from driving 4000 miles through Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech R.). Apart from the pesky Swiss, there are no more borders, and one sees that regions considerably transcend nationality – Bavarians have more in common with the people of some regions of Austria, the Swiss in Lugano more in common with the Italians next door. Those Italians, in turn, have far less in common with Sicilians, and so forth.

    It’d be nice if Americans could ween themselves off the war teat and the whole pomp and circumstance Hitler Youth Lite BS. It should seem patently absurd to pledge allegiance to a flag, to view mercenaries as “our troops”. Heck, with a lack of wars, the ‘need’ for a Veterans Day & Memorial Day would fade.

    Well, I’m going back for another 4 weeks of driving/photographing Europe in a month 🙂

  • Sacrifice is the proper term. “He gave his life for his country” (or arm, leg, etc.) is religious language. Religion preps people for worship, the state finds a made bed. (Gott, Kaiser und Vaterland). This is outdated in the West, save for the USA. (“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free” – “an American” is apparently a place). Here, people find it necessary to profess support for “our troops”. (“I’m against the war, but of course I support our troops” – what does that even mean ?). Europeans have mostly soured on the military, in Austria, e.g. it has to come begging to get a couple of used planes. A professional soldier tends to be viewed as, at best, unsavory. The draft, common in Europe, tends to cure people of martial fantasies. A professional military is the state’s best friend. The circle of the dying is specialized and narrow rather than all-encompassing – and properly brainwashed.

    The notion of “my country” is of course idiotic, as is pride in having been born in a particular place – as if it was an achievement.

    I just returned from driving 4000 miles through Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech R.). Apart from the pesky Swiss, there are no more borders, and one sees that regions considerably transcend nationality – Bavarians have more in common with the people of some regions of Austria, the Swiss in Lugano more in common with the Italians next door. Those Italians, in turn, have far less in common with Sicilians, and so forth.

    It’d be nice if Americans could ween themselves off the war teat and the whole pomp and circumstance Hitler Youth Lite BS. It should seem patently absurd to pledge allegiance to a flag, to view mercenaries as “our troops”. Heck, with a lack of wars, the ‘need’ for a Veterans Day & Memorial Day would fade.

    Well, I’m going back for another 4 weeks of driving/photographing Europe in a month 🙂

  • Deacon Eric Stoltz

    Sunday I did not serves as deacon at my parish church, as I was scheduled to do that at the cathedral. So I stopped by the parish sacristy on the way to the cathedral to pick up my alb. Communion was underway at the 8 a.m. Mass. Just as I walked into the sacristy, the first communion song ended and then the choir began “America the Beautiful.” During communion. I shuddered to think of people reverently receiving the Body of Christ while simultaneously being moved by this song. I imagine, as always happens in such cases, emotional people probably thanked the pastor for “honoring our country with such a beautiful song.” The tears in their eyes not for Christ, whom they received, but for the nation-state.

    I’ve always been fairly tolerant of the use of such songs in Mass, as they were usually limited to the closing song. But now I see that there are no limits to how people will extend the worship of the state into the liturgy, and it should be opposed at every level.

  • Deacon Eric Stoltz

    Sunday I did not serves as deacon at my parish church, as I was scheduled to do that at the cathedral. So I stopped by the parish sacristy on the way to the cathedral to pick up my alb. Communion was underway at the 8 a.m. Mass. Just as I walked into the sacristy, the first communion song ended and then the choir began “America the Beautiful.” During communion. I shuddered to think of people reverently receiving the Body of Christ while simultaneously being moved by this song. I imagine, as always happens in such cases, emotional people probably thanked the pastor for “honoring our country with such a beautiful song.” The tears in their eyes not for Christ, whom they received, but for the nation-state.

    I’ve always been fairly tolerant of the use of such songs in Mass, as they were usually limited to the closing song. But now I see that there are no limits to how people will extend the worship of the state into the liturgy, and it should be opposed at every level.

  • Thanks for sharing that Deacon Stoltz. Of all the places for that song to be — communion — effectively turning the sacrament into a sacrament of anti-communion.

  • Thanks for sharing that Deacon Stoltz. Of all the places for that song to be — communion — effectively turning the sacrament into a sacrament of anti-communion.

  • Magdalena

    Gerald, holidays like Memorial Day are a normal and longstanding outgrowth of the human experience, a tradition that crosses national and religious boundaries and dates back into the mists of history, as anyone who has ever studied Pericles’ Funeral Oration would know. I think sometimes you have a habit of over-simplifying complex things into black and white. In fact I suspect that the European view is probably a good deal less homogeneous than you imply.

    When people talk about pride in “my country” they are not usually suggesting that they accomplished something by being born at a particular area on a map, rather they are expressing affection for their neighbors, their culture, the weather, all the things that go together to make a place, a place. They love “my country” not because it is perfect but because it is home. This is absolutely still true for Europeans – I know for a fact that Frenchmen still love being French! 🙂

    Today in my little hometown in northeast Ohio, we celebrated with a cook-out and a parade featuring the high school marching band, hot dogs and ice cream, and rides on an antique fire truck. We sang songs, waved stick flags, socialized with our neighbors and prayed for the dead. Pure state-worship throbbing with evil! And yet there were no naysayers that I spotted; I assume they were all shut up at home, scowling at the gorgeous weather and muttering under their breaths about nationalism and militarism and blood sacrifice and sin. Thank God the Church doesn’t actually encourage such sourness!

    As Christians we are “aliens” in every country, and yes the USA has sin in its heart and its bones like every other state that has ever existed, just like all human beings. But that doesn’t mean we should turn a hose on every secular feast like Memorial Day, which is not celebrating our sins but what is virtuous in us in spite of our sins. We should rejoice at what is good – God rejoices too!

  • Magdalena

    Gerald, holidays like Memorial Day are a normal and longstanding outgrowth of the human experience, a tradition that crosses national and religious boundaries and dates back into the mists of history, as anyone who has ever studied Pericles’ Funeral Oration would know. I think sometimes you have a habit of over-simplifying complex things into black and white. In fact I suspect that the European view is probably a good deal less homogeneous than you imply.

    When people talk about pride in “my country” they are not usually suggesting that they accomplished something by being born at a particular area on a map, rather they are expressing affection for their neighbors, their culture, the weather, all the things that go together to make a place, a place. They love “my country” not because it is perfect but because it is home. This is absolutely still true for Europeans – I know for a fact that Frenchmen still love being French! 🙂

    Today in my little hometown in northeast Ohio, we celebrated with a cook-out and a parade featuring the high school marching band, hot dogs and ice cream, and rides on an antique fire truck. We sang songs, waved stick flags, socialized with our neighbors and prayed for the dead. Pure state-worship throbbing with evil! And yet there were no naysayers that I spotted; I assume they were all shut up at home, scowling at the gorgeous weather and muttering under their breaths about nationalism and militarism and blood sacrifice and sin. Thank God the Church doesn’t actually encourage such sourness!

    As Christians we are “aliens” in every country, and yes the USA has sin in its heart and its bones like every other state that has ever existed, just like all human beings. But that doesn’t mean we should turn a hose on every secular feast like Memorial Day, which is not celebrating our sins but what is virtuous in us in spite of our sins. We should rejoice at what is good – God rejoices too!

  • Nor is the US homogenous. NorCal is much more like Western Europe than Texas. But Texas isn’t homogenous either – it has Austin 🙂 But overall there are trends. And at this point the US is a holdover from the bad old days. Things are still popular with many that have fallen out of favor where I’m from. The last time anyone referred to “our troops” was during WWII I’d guess.

    One can certainly like being French etc. Without being proto fascist. I like to be from everywhere and nowhere. Or, as my GPS immortally put it in France the other day, “the roundabout is your destination.”

    In any case, what’s the noble thing being celebrated today ? Soldiers kill and die for a living.

  • Nor is the US homogenous. NorCal is much more like Western Europe than Texas. But Texas isn’t homogenous either – it has Austin 🙂 But overall there are trends. And at this point the US is a holdover from the bad old days. Things are still popular with many that have fallen out of favor where I’m from. The last time anyone referred to “our troops” was during WWII I’d guess.

    One can certainly like being French etc. Without being proto fascist. I like to be from everywhere and nowhere. Or, as my GPS immortally put it in France the other day, “the roundabout is your destination.”

    In any case, what’s the noble thing being celebrated today ? Soldiers kill and die for a living.

  • Magdalena

    In fact, if you look at both the historical record and the current world situation, the US is hardly a holdover. For almost all trends western Europe (religiously, demographically, socially) is an outlier. In some ways the US certainly has more in common, both good and bad, with Latin America, Africa, the Middle East etc. than secular Europe does. As the West (including the US) continues to gradually decline in strategic importance compared to the global South and East, I think scholarship will eventually view 21st century European attitudes as an anomaly. I understand why Europeans can acquire the idea that their own trajectory represents “progress,” but that is a prejudice resulting from the significance they enjoyed in the past, a significance that will more and more rapidly begin to disappear. In reality history is not on their side.

    I hope you understand that 100 years from now the world is not going to look like Western Europe culturally or otherwise. Western Europe is going to look like the rest of the world. That world is socially conservative, religious, and also very nationalistic (unfortunately).

    The “noble thing” being celebrated today is not killing or bombing or shooting. None of those things are noble or worth celebrating… what is being celebrated is the notion of sacrifice both for a cause and for the larger community. Now a lot of soldiers who die in American wars have no idea of sacrificing themselves at all; and a lot of the “causes” for which we fight our wars are petty power-and-money grabs. But that has nothing to do with Memorial Day, which has everything to do with community and the ties that bind. Society (and the state too, but not only the state) needs that glue, and needs to honor those who die in its service. That’s why almost every culture going back to B.C. produces something like their version of Memorial Day.

  • Magdalena

    In fact, if you look at both the historical record and the current world situation, the US is hardly a holdover. For almost all trends western Europe (religiously, demographically, socially) is an outlier. In some ways the US certainly has more in common, both good and bad, with Latin America, Africa, the Middle East etc. than secular Europe does. As the West (including the US) continues to gradually decline in strategic importance compared to the global South and East, I think scholarship will eventually view 21st century European attitudes as an anomaly. I understand why Europeans can acquire the idea that their own trajectory represents “progress,” but that is a prejudice resulting from the significance they enjoyed in the past, a significance that will more and more rapidly begin to disappear. In reality history is not on their side.

    I hope you understand that 100 years from now the world is not going to look like Western Europe culturally or otherwise. Western Europe is going to look like the rest of the world. That world is socially conservative, religious, and also very nationalistic (unfortunately).

    The “noble thing” being celebrated today is not killing or bombing or shooting. None of those things are noble or worth celebrating… what is being celebrated is the notion of sacrifice both for a cause and for the larger community. Now a lot of soldiers who die in American wars have no idea of sacrificing themselves at all; and a lot of the “causes” for which we fight our wars are petty power-and-money grabs. But that has nothing to do with Memorial Day, which has everything to do with community and the ties that bind. Society (and the state too, but not only the state) needs that glue, and needs to honor those who die in its service. That’s why almost every culture going back to B.C. produces something like their version of Memorial Day.

  • I would say that traditional cultures are highly undesirable, and thus an ‘anomaly’ like Western Europe is highly welcome. Man is something that must be overcome. For the first time, we have peace of considerable longevity, equal rights and so forth. Of course, there’s a traditional culture – Islam – that poses a threat to it.

    The most desirable places in the US tend to feature very similar culture – the Pacific Northwest, for example. The absence of traditional, i.e. macho, i.e. insecurity, values tends to result in high standards of living and low levels of killing.

    A decent society doesn’t need glue ‘made’ from corpses. An intelligent individual doesn’t need an identity derived from external, coincidental circumstances.

  • I would say that traditional cultures are highly undesirable, and thus an ‘anomaly’ like Western Europe is highly welcome. Man is something that must be overcome. For the first time, we have peace of considerable longevity, equal rights and so forth. Of course, there’s a traditional culture – Islam – that poses a threat to it.

    The most desirable places in the US tend to feature very similar culture – the Pacific Northwest, for example. The absence of traditional, i.e. macho, i.e. insecurity, values tends to result in high standards of living and low levels of killing.

    A decent society doesn’t need glue ‘made’ from corpses. An intelligent individual doesn’t need an identity derived from external, coincidental circumstances.

  • Magdalena

    Ah ha, but there’s where you’re wrong! Any healthy society needs “glue,” based on sacrifice for the community as a whole. Western Europe is suffering decline for many reasons but one of the causes is likely just this lack of “glue”! If they still had an ethos similar to the one that produced Memorial Day, perhaps they would still be a successful society and not a declining one. In the US Memorial Day is increasingly about retail sales and so we are likely to follow.

    The dying of the West is tragic but in some ways it is not all that bad. One of the things the world won’t miss is the mostly baseless, culturally-conditioned assumption that Western, liberal culture is “more desirable” than traditional cultures. Believe it or not the culture in the Pacific Northwest satisfies a limited minority of the human race. The Land of Starbucks may do it for you, but it is not universally appealing.

  • Magdalena

    Ah ha, but there’s where you’re wrong! Any healthy society needs “glue,” based on sacrifice for the community as a whole. Western Europe is suffering decline for many reasons but one of the causes is likely just this lack of “glue”! If they still had an ethos similar to the one that produced Memorial Day, perhaps they would still be a successful society and not a declining one. In the US Memorial Day is increasingly about retail sales and so we are likely to follow.

    The dying of the West is tragic but in some ways it is not all that bad. One of the things the world won’t miss is the mostly baseless, culturally-conditioned assumption that Western, liberal culture is “more desirable” than traditional cultures. Believe it or not the culture in the Pacific Northwest satisfies a limited minority of the human race. The Land of Starbucks may do it for you, but it is not universally appealing.

  • That’s why almost every culture going back to B.C. produces something like their version of Memorial Day.

    Yes, it seems as though most cultures venerate those who have the priestly role of killing and dying for the community. It’s the pattern of sacrifice pointed to by thinkers like Rene Girard. Fortunately, Christ came into the world and through his death and resurrection revealed that cycle of sacrifice for what it is: the worship of death. Christ’s sacrifice tells us that we no longer need sacrifice as social “glue.”

    Of course, the logic of sacrifice demands scapegoats, and Gerald shows this fact when he says:

    For the first time, we have peace of considerable longevity, equal rights and so forth. Of course, there’s a traditional culture – Islam – that poses a threat to it.

    The scapegoats, of course, are the ones who “threaten” to disturb the peace that “we” enjoy so they need to be excluded and/or killed.

  • That’s why almost every culture going back to B.C. produces something like their version of Memorial Day.

    Yes, it seems as though most cultures venerate those who have the priestly role of killing and dying for the community. It’s the pattern of sacrifice pointed to by thinkers like Rene Girard. Fortunately, Christ came into the world and through his death and resurrection revealed that cycle of sacrifice for what it is: the worship of death. Christ’s sacrifice tells us that we no longer need sacrifice as social “glue.”

    Of course, the logic of sacrifice demands scapegoats, and Gerald shows this fact when he says:

    For the first time, we have peace of considerable longevity, equal rights and so forth. Of course, there’s a traditional culture – Islam – that poses a threat to it.

    The scapegoats, of course, are the ones who “threaten” to disturb the peace that “we” enjoy so they need to be excluded and/or killed.

  • Magdalena

    Christ’s sacrifice tells us that we no longer need sacrifice as social “glue.”

    I was speaking in terms of sociology, only, not theology… however even theologically speaking I don’t think Christ’s sacrifice has outmoded the value of OUR sacrifices as members of the body of Christ.

  • Magdalena

    Christ’s sacrifice tells us that we no longer need sacrifice as social “glue.”

    I was speaking in terms of sociology, only, not theology… however even theologically speaking I don’t think Christ’s sacrifice has outmoded the value of OUR sacrifices as members of the body of Christ.

  • I was speaking in terms of sociology, only, not theology…

    Sociology is not neutral. It has theology embedded within it. The sociology you were using includes a theology of inevitable conflict and sacrifice as the means of social cohesion and, thus, salvation.

    …however even theologically speaking I don’t think Christ’s sacrifice has outmoded the value of OUR sacrifices as members of the body of Christ.

    Of course the sacrifice of Christ does not devalue our own sacrifices. We are to follow on the way of the cross. But it does expose the evil of the willingness to sacrifice others for the sake of social cohesion. Military personnel, despite the rhetoric of this “holi(y)-day,” are not trained to sacrifice themselves, but to kill. The goal to to kill, not to die. If we trained our military to die, the military would be pointless.

    The civil religion of the united states, including and especially the ideology of the military, is at root a heresy that makes a mockery of the cross and of the Crucified One.

  • I was speaking in terms of sociology, only, not theology…

    Sociology is not neutral. It has theology embedded within it. The sociology you were using includes a theology of inevitable conflict and sacrifice as the means of social cohesion and, thus, salvation.

    …however even theologically speaking I don’t think Christ’s sacrifice has outmoded the value of OUR sacrifices as members of the body of Christ.

    Of course the sacrifice of Christ does not devalue our own sacrifices. We are to follow on the way of the cross. But it does expose the evil of the willingness to sacrifice others for the sake of social cohesion. Military personnel, despite the rhetoric of this “holi(y)-day,” are not trained to sacrifice themselves, but to kill. The goal to to kill, not to die. If we trained our military to die, the military would be pointless.

    The civil religion of the united states, including and especially the ideology of the military, is at root a heresy that makes a mockery of the cross and of the Crucified One.

  • The West’s not dying out. Try finding a parking spot in Paris 😛

    Btw, the existence of scapegoats doesn’t exclude the existence of culprits.

    Peace is always threatened – of course also by those who wage perpetual war for peace. Islam as it exists today certainly is a threat – first and foremost to Muslims. The mistake frequently made is to consider every Muslim a threat. Militant American Christianity is rather the killin’ cousin of Islamic extremism. “Shock and awe” is just more polished.

    There is no one enemy. It’s a mindset that’s common across religions and ideologies that oppresses and kills. This mindset fails to see reality and instead lives and kills based on assumptions. The irony is that those going for each others’ throats think alike.

    Assumptions are limiting, if not dangerous. This can be anything from fairly harmless (women can’t be priests, doctors etc. because they’re women) to deadly (Jews aren’t really people, witches cause bad harvests, heretics are better off dead, murdering infidels will get me virgins in paradise). Since fear is the strongest motivator, errors regarding threats are the most fatal. In addition, we’re fooled the easiest when afraid. See: Iraq War. Lastly, the group IQ tends to be the lowest common denominator, quickly turning a “community” into an homicidal mob.

    As long as people continue to see essential qualities where there are none, and prefer illusions to reality, nothing can change.

    As far as mockery of the cross is concerned – it seems that, once empowered politically, Christianity downright devoted itself to doing just that. Where’d the military be without Evangelicals and other conservative Christians ? WWJD ? Join the Air Force Academy in Colorado, apparently 😛 Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

  • The West’s not dying out. Try finding a parking spot in Paris 😛

    Btw, the existence of scapegoats doesn’t exclude the existence of culprits.

    Peace is always threatened – of course also by those who wage perpetual war for peace. Islam as it exists today certainly is a threat – first and foremost to Muslims. The mistake frequently made is to consider every Muslim a threat. Militant American Christianity is rather the killin’ cousin of Islamic extremism. “Shock and awe” is just more polished.

    There is no one enemy. It’s a mindset that’s common across religions and ideologies that oppresses and kills. This mindset fails to see reality and instead lives and kills based on assumptions. The irony is that those going for each others’ throats think alike.

    Assumptions are limiting, if not dangerous. This can be anything from fairly harmless (women can’t be priests, doctors etc. because they’re women) to deadly (Jews aren’t really people, witches cause bad harvests, heretics are better off dead, murdering infidels will get me virgins in paradise). Since fear is the strongest motivator, errors regarding threats are the most fatal. In addition, we’re fooled the easiest when afraid. See: Iraq War. Lastly, the group IQ tends to be the lowest common denominator, quickly turning a “community” into an homicidal mob.

    As long as people continue to see essential qualities where there are none, and prefer illusions to reality, nothing can change.

    As far as mockery of the cross is concerned – it seems that, once empowered politically, Christianity downright devoted itself to doing just that. Where’d the military be without Evangelicals and other conservative Christians ? WWJD ? Join the Air Force Academy in Colorado, apparently 😛 Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

  • Kurt

    Praying for the dead is one of the traditional works of mercy. There is no reason that work of mercy should not be done for those who died in service to our country, particularly for those who fought to end the horrid practice of slavery. Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them

  • Kurt

    Praying for the dead is one of the traditional works of mercy. There is no reason that work of mercy should not be done for those who died in service to our country, particularly for those who fought to end the horrid practice of slavery. Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them