Monday, January 25, 2010

Benjamin Busch Essay

I heard the author read this essay on NPR today and I was struck by how eloquently he articulated such a delicate point. It is written by a Marine responding to the recent revelation that a company that makes rifle sights for the military has, for a long while now, been stamping the rifle sights with Bible verses along with their serial number. Any point involving religion in the public discourse is rife with the opportunity for misinterpretation, reaction, and offense. I am always struck by how easily we make religion support our conquests and fight our battles without thought to how anathema the idea of killing one another is to most world religions. As a Christian I have grown to believe that the simplicity of Christ's message is its beauty, but probably also why it is so easily perverted and clouded by our own experiences, prejudices, and particular political/social bent.

At any rate, this was an interesting and touching essay and one that touches on a fundamental difference between our world and the one that is envisioned by Sunni terrorists.

Benjamin Busch was an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. His memoir, 'Bearing Arms', recently appeared in 'Harper's' and his photographs from Iraq have been featured in 'Five Points', and 'War, Literature, & the Arts'. His newest essay, 'Growth Rings', is in the current issue of the 'Michigan Quarterly Review'. He lives in Michigan with his wife and their two daughters.

As a Marine invading Iraq in 2003, I thought we actively separated church and state from our motives.

I know that Scripture embedded in the obscure numbers on rifle scopes may seem like a small detail, and that manufacturer Trijicon likely intended no particular malice by placing biblical references on its equipment. Like, 2COR4:6, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." There seems to have been neither marketing nor secrecy associated with the presence of these inscriptions.

But these are not innocent times, and the codes are still messages printed and sent out. These notes have now been read and exposed, and we have the baggage of explaining ourselves to people convinced that many of our actions are motivated by religion instead of self-defense, justice or altruism.

As a Marine, I aimed at Iraq through rifle scopes, my vision amplified. When viewing other cultures, even enemies, I think we should be wary of seeing them through a lens marked by religion.

The United States is fighting Islamic extremists. But we are not Christian extremists. When I returned for my second tour in 2005, we were in the embattled city of Ramadi, and we fought jihadists, tribal factions and criminals alongside almost entirely Muslim Iraqi soldiers. It was impossible to segregate the ambitions of singular religions then.

Although the rifle equipment was stamped as a private act by a private company, it was sold to governments, and therefore unavoidably and knowingly coupled with politics. Biblical quotes were thoughtfully chosen — thoughtful enough not to be allowed as innocent of larger context.

By branding weapons with Christian messages, there is a deep and ugly blending of religion, politics and bloodshed, and it has unwittingly painted our government and military with the embarrassing language of "crusade."

America is largely composed of people who consider themselves Christian, separated by various interpretations of the same book. But I did not go onward as a Christian soldier. I went forth as an American, a Marine. I was sent by my country to fight a threat, and thereafter with the best intentions of democracy, not theocracy.

Our efforts in the Middle East were complicated enough, and small symbols are examined carefully by our opponents. Based on my understanding of the teachings of Christ, he would be very disappointed to see his Gospel assigned to war of any kind in the first place.

I leave you with a verse that has not been stamped on our weapons: "But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you" — Matthew 5:44.