Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Allegiance, or, Serving Two Masters

Friend of CPF Joshua Casteel posted this comment in response to the discussion under Jesuit Priest Defends ROTC. But I think his thoughts are worth bringing up to the top:

"The ongoing conversation of ROTC and Catholic education is missing the point with regard to one major issue: allegiance. Let's leave violence aside for a time and assume fully that the Church didn't just screw up when it thought through the rigorous parameters which eventually developed into the Just War doctrine. So, with that assumption already made, let's take a look at what enlisted soldiers and commissioned officers swear they will do in fulfillment of the offices to which they are charged.

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God." (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

"I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God." (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)

The military is an institution that serves two entities: the Constitution and the President. The President is the servant of the Constitution. By serving these two entites, the military serves the Nation. Once a person raises their right hand and takes this oath, they abdicate all moral autonomy to make future decisions as to who exactly is an enemy to the Constitution, and how such enemies are to be dealt with. A service member is a servant to a new master, and the interests of this master trump any and all personal convictions (within the bounds of civic law) which might complicate the fulfilling of obligations, which is why we should look to a few main areas of the oaths themselves.

Both oaths demand "true faith and allegiance," and commissioned officers must be "without any mental reservation" as to their readiness to serve the interests of the nation in defense against enemies to the Constitution. So, without addressing any specifics of any war in particular as to whether it may or may not meet the criteria of the Just War doctrine, we see from the very moment of initiation a demand made of service members essentially to submit entirely, without reservation, to the absolute authority of the State in determining the parameters of justice, and more importantly, how individual soldiers are to treat their "enemies". So, let's look at the command of another authority.

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." -Matthew 6:24

Until such a thing exists in the US allowing Catholics to selectively object to wars deemed unjust by the Church, ALL Catholics serving in the military are put into a position of grave moral peril where they must choose which master to follow. It is a decision between the State and Christ's Church. The State is not an institution entirely indebted to the Gospel, and as long as Catholics are willing to raise the right hand and swear an oath of allegiance always and without reservation to uphold State interests, as interpreted by the State, Catholics will continue to serve two masters.

The problem is not so much one of doctrine, but one of deeds and duties. And as long as Catholics continue to abdicate, freely and voluntarily, the moral freedom given to them by Chirst, Church teaching will continue to be without effect. The issue is much more one of allegiance and taking seriously the fact the parameters of the State and the parameters of the Church, and the duties implied by each sphere are radically different. The political landscape has altered greatly since the time of Augustine and Aquinas. If they read our oaths, what would they think? Would they think democracy a likely avenue to arrive at Gospel interests? Would they think reformulating the geopolitical landscape of a region as equally a "just cause" as defense of the Church? Would they think natural resource security as high a cause as defense of the Church? And what would Prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah think if they looked at the oaths we so flippantly take in service of worldly dominions? I argue that everyone from Isaiah to Aquinas would be quite saddened by how easily we have accepted the new gospel of democratic nationalism, and how easily we have forgotten that we already have a political nation called the Church, and we already have a commander in chief - Christ. Which master do we choose?"


At April 03, 2006 12:16 PM, Blogger Bede the Venerable said...

This is a very important thought you've expressed, I think. It seems to get to the heart of what some in the early Church, for instance, saw as the major problem with military service--in fact, many of the writings in the first few hundred years of Christianity suggest that being sworn to so deep an allegiance to the Empire (and its gods) was a greater offense than killing in combat.

Tertullian, the earliest significant theologian to write in Latin (ca. 170-220) saw this with particular clarity. In his treatise on crowns (i.e. decorations worn by soldiers on certain festival days), he wrote:

"Before treating the matter of a military crown I think we must first ask whether military service is appropriate for Christians at all. What is the point in talking about incidental matters when the assumptions upon which they rest are wrong from the start? Do we think that one can rightfully superimpose a human oath on one made to God? And that a man can answer to a second lord once he has acknowledged Christ?" (De Corona 11.1 f, tr. L. J. Swift in The Early Fathers on War and Military Service, p. 43)

Here is, I think, a viewpoint quite similar to the one expressed above by Joshua. The level of allegiance required by military service is very problematic for the committed Christian who shares with Tertullian (or with Augustine!) a suspicion of earthly masters and their demands. It is very problematic (to say the least) for anyone who will not "put their trust in princes," but only in God.

At April 05, 2006 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed, there is no master but Christ. I find it interesting that most of the responses to Graf's letter to the Marquette Trib say something to this effect: "You are a misguided idiot, but I will die to defend your right to be an idiot."

The problem here is that Christ has already died for us. And He did not die wearing body armor, fending off enemies with a machine gun. Nor did He stand before the homestead, telling His loved ones to "get inside, run for cover, and keep the Constitution safe! I'll handle this."

Granted, that might be a good movie (well, a good B-movie), but it's not in the gospels.

I admit what I just wrote sounds silly. How can anyone imagine such a Christ? But many do. I just did.

Christ's love is radical. It does not make sense to most human ideas of justice, or emotion, or love. So we construct our own Christs that fit into our feeble brains. I know I do it all the time. I justify my sinful actions, thinking I know better than God does. But He sees all.

Jesus said to the crowd gathered around a woman who had committed adultery, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7). Would He say the same to a crowd gathered around a terrorist or a tyrant? A murderer? A rapist?

How could He do such a thing? Who does He think He is? He invited prostitutes and tax collectors into His Church. Can you imagine the field day the media would have with Him today? Who would want to be associated with such a troublemaker? Sadly, most of the time I wouldn't.

I do not have the work ethic of anyone in the military. I do not have the diligence. I do not have the faith. In many ways, they are much better and more honorable people than I. (I confess I am writing this at work.)

But in the middle of September 2001 I felt so much love for all of humanity that I could not imagine raising a finger against anyone. I felt I had witnessed the Passion of Christ. And this War on Terror (or more accurately, Transfer of Terror from one part of the world to another) has made me feel great dismay.

I pray that military men and women will stop insisting they die for this sinner through acts of aggression and violence and instead let Christ die for them through the supreme act of nonviolent resistance.

At April 08, 2006 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a friend leave the Military Academy at West Point because he couldn't take the oath in good conscience - though he wasn't a pacifist, he couldn't give his life away to someone other than Christ.

Isn't it fascinating that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us three commands right in a row:

1) Do not take oaths, ever.
2) Do not resist injury.
3) Love your enemies.

Oaths are always designed to absolve the person of the guilt they are about to incur from hurting another human being - whether it's on a battlefield or in a courtroom.

"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

Men and women aren't taking oaths of allegiance to America, they are taking oaths of allegiance to an idol, to a demon, to Satan himself.

The fruits of such oaths demonstrate this: men and women caged, mutilated, and destroyed by war and 'justice'.

If humanity were to follow what is perhaps the clearest teaching of Christ: "But I tell you, do not swear at all," the systems of violence in our world would begin to tremble and collapse.

At April 12, 2006 9:17 AM, Blogger miafrate said...

Fantastically written. If you are not familiar with this already, you should check this out: www.ekklesiaproject.org

At May 02, 2006 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had not thought of the oath matter specifically but am very glad to see it. I have thought that those who chose man's law (in this case as regarding the war) over God's law make and worship an idol: American. Too many "Christians" (Catholics included) seem to have the idea that God is an American and that somehow whatever we do, we do with his blessing. I'm heartened to see such an excellent argument such as this one on the oath offerred as an alternate to the God is an American idea.


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