March 18, 2012
Many years ago now, I remember that once I said in a class, I believe it was an American Government class, that what had adversely affected this country was an underdeveloped sense of sin. This was not a planned assertion; it just came out of my mouth I know not from where. The students looked at me as most would, with that look of utter disdain or shock that is reserved for those who are, not to be sophisticated about it, loco. I myself thought that perhaps this was true.
And I am still of the latter opinion. But when I read articles such as the one above, from today’s New York Times, on the what war does to human beings, I begin to wonder anew: Are we really aware of what we are doing? That is, are we really aware of what war does to the human soul?
We have these categories like post traumatic stress disorder that allow us to think that we know what is going on, but one should wonder about the adequacy of these concepts for understanding the affects of our actions. A man deployed four times to places utterly foreign to him, where he thinks and must think that almost anyone would like and even try to kill him, is said to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. And then he seems to confirm this by massacring 16 people who are sleeping, including children.
Post traumatic stress focuses our attention on the mind, not the soul. This could be too intellectual, but not surprisingly for we moderns who tend to embrace Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore I am.” [One of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins, has a Catholic priest say in one of his novels, correcting Descartes: “I stink, therefore I am.”]
There is, however, more to consider. What had happened to this man’s soul during and as a result of his four deployments? What sin had he witnessed? What sin had he committed? How did he seek redemption, if he did at all? After all, redemption is not really one of our common concepts, a concept, for example, that the military would take seriously enough to structure a man’s service around. We think that talking, therapy, is the way to go and perhaps it is. But what of silence? What of prayer? What of getting in touch with the all inclusive ALL, sensing our place in a universe that is at once mysterious and magical? What of meditation?
Yes, I know. There is that look again, the look of disdain and surprise, accompanied by the thought: “This is what happens when people spend too much time in school!” But I can take it. I even smile. And I do because I know that some where in you, deep in you, there is a doubt, there is a place that is saying to you: “He could be right!” After all, this isn’t anything new. A long, long time ago, a man named Socrates tried to wake the Athenians up, to get them to see what they were doing to their souls because, as even Billy Joel knows, “It’s All About Soul.”