Last week, late in the day on July 4, I received a remarkable message from a former Marine. (I am out of the country and have only been able to get around to it now.) It contains a heartfelt, without being merely emotional, expression of the disconnect many of the very finest among our fighting men and women now feel. On the one hand, they sacrifice – some to the point of no return – for our nation and its deepest truths. On the other, they get little thanks and, still worse, face contempt for their own deepest values, including their religious values.
In some ways, of course, this has now become a commonplace in our society. People fight and die for us so that the rest of the country can go along unconscious, thinking that nothing we do as individuals or a society much matters to our well being or moral quality as a people – or our sheer survival.
It’s sometimes puzzling to me why millions are still willing to bear that burden under current circumstances.
But there’s a wistful quality to this particular memoir – especially with regard to Catholicism, that’s worth careful attention.
My correspondent begins:
On 4 July 2004, I remember stopping to take a break during a patrol in and around Fallujah that lasted for five days straight. I remember the heat being unbearable; and the grind of being IED’d, shot at, and mortared had become so normal that fear had been supplanted by motion. I remember being in between my vehicle and a berm of sand which gave me cover from enemy fire. . . .My plates, ammo, radio were so heavy every movement was hard. I lay there catching a break looking up at the sky. I thought although I am tired and no one supports this war I am serving my country, leading Marines, and I am serving to protect my constitution. And on 4 July 2004 in Fallujah I thanked those men who years before in Philadelphia penned my rights as an American. I wished I wasn’t in Iraq, but I knew it was my duty.
No small number of Americans these days mock this connection of fighting in foreign wars and our Constitutional foundations. In fact, we’re now engaged in using the military to conduct anti-Constitutional and, in some instances, anti-Christian social experiments.
My correspondent adds a hair-raising twist to these sad developments:
Today 4 July 2013 almost ten years later, many battles later, I am sad. Yesterday an American told me “That Constitution is outdated and it should be rewritten. It was conceived by a bunch of farmers that couldn’t manage what we have today.” The conversation ended with several individuals telling me: “Your faith will never be attacked; but if the Catholic Church continues to believe what it does your faith will be like the racists who refused to accept the civil rights movement.”
There was a time when you might have doubted a conversation like this could really take place, but no longer. President Obama has never said such a thing outright. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that he and his administration have this basic view of things. They use the prestige of the Constitution when it suits their purposes, but otherwise think – and rightly so, to judge by the lack of pushback from the people or other parts of government or the press – that they can ignore the confining idea of those long-ago “farmers” when it comes into conflict with something they want to do, like impose their own values on other Americans and the Catholic Church.
There’s a longstanding American arrogance towards the Church, of course, mostly rooted in ignorance of the cultural richness and intellectual solidity of Catholicism. That has now been augmented with the burning hatred towards anyone who stands in the way of radical individualism, almost exclusively in sexual matters. Americans have so little interest in religious questions per se anymore that they no longer deride the Catholic Church over the older sore spots: theological questions, the Virgin Mary, the confessional, or “priestcraft” (though the celibacy of clergy is now denounced with the same fire that the mere existence of the priestly office once was – a telling change).
Now, it’s all about contraception, abortion, homosexuality and a vision of human beings and the world that denies the new ethic. That our whole civilization until quite recently and virtually all other civilizations known to history agree with Catholicism on such questions counts not a whit in this new American dispensation.
We ought to be clear that as traditional Christianity disappears the threat to the constitutional order of America grows. My correspondent gets this exactly right:
So today I am sad because my faith and my Church are considered bigotry; and the silly document I have sworn an oath to protect and done so for thirteen years in multiple wars. . .is considered by some as foolishness written by farmers. Thankfully those “farmers” promised me that I would I have the freedom to practice my faith and voice my opinions. I hope Americans remember this today. I fought for this freedom, along with many others who gave everything, and we surely will.