So Memorial Day wasn’t too long ago, and I’ve been thinking about my mixed feelings about patriotism and group remembrances.
I don’t think patriotism is inherently bad, but I also think that questioning where our patriotic energy is directed is a healthy thing. Be wary of people who encourage blind patriotism. The Nazis were patriotic. It’s like people who stoke up religious fervor in churches. The Crusaders were “on fire for God.”
We need to question strong emotions, especially if they’re shared by a group. This is partly because we should maintain our individuality and also stay aware of the possible motivations behind any person wanting to evoke these feelings in a crowd. If we don’t think about these things, then we become easily manipulated.
I also have a problem with public remembrances when they become a form of addiction. I’ve written before about 9/11 memorials and communion, celebrating life instead of the tragic death. Balance is important.
But I do believe there is danger in forgetting.
Last September, I passed through Oklahoma on my way to back to Texas. I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, downtown off 5th Street and Robinson Avenue.
The Oklahoma City Bombing was the first terrorist attack I can remember.
I was 5 years old, it was April 1995, exactly a year before my little sister was born. My parents turned on the TV when we went home for lunch and I saw people screaming and running past reporters bombarding them with questions, emergency personnel carrying bleeding children. Those children were my age.
I watched the replays on the news for the next several months. I remember when a second explosion was set to pull down the other half of the Murrah building while the surviving family members sobbed. I shivered, because I lived in Texas, and Oklahoma wasn’t that far away.
A few weeks after visiting the memorial, I watched a documentary on YouTube about the bombing and realized that Christian terrorism exists.
We always associate Muslim extremists with 9/11, but few know that Timothy McVeigh was an extreme right-wing guy in contact with a cult called the Covenant Sword and Arm of the Lord and Elohim City, who had planned to blow the building back in 1985.
The CSA started as an offshoot Christian group, concerned about the moral decline of society and isolated in search of religious purity. Then their preparation for spiritual warfare turned physical. They organized a militia. Everyone in the camp carried weaponry. They were passionate about second amendment rights and increased government control.
The documentary explains that the CSA members believed the federal government was waging war against their freedoms. Therefore, they needed to make the next move. They planned to bomb a federal building to declare war.
This sounds very similar to the sort of fundamentalism that my friends and I grew up in, except that our beliefs stayed just inside the line and didn’t cross over into violence. We had military themed Vacation Bible Schools in the summer, we talked about being warriors for Christ, and we even had contests to see who could be the fastest to find a particular Bible verse, calling this a “sword drill.”
We were not always kind in how we engaged people on the outside.
We spouted verses and creeds without empathy. We swung our Bibles, which they said were sharper than two-edged swords, we caused emotional wounds, but we never actually engaged in physical combat.
Is there really a difference if the mindset is the same?
I said I’m not a fan of collective remembrance that obsesses, always spiraling, never reaching a conclusion. But revisiting history and finding out where you learned your history wrong is something else entirely.
That is where growth happens. That is where we gain perspective.
I’m sure most churches would say Timothy McVeigh is not a “real Christian” and the CSA is just another cult, but then they’d act like every Muslim is automatically a terrorist. And this bothers me. A lot.
This is still happening.
Last year on Black Friday, Robert Dear walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic shooting and killed three people. He said ‘God is in charge of this whole thing,’ in a press conference months later, The Gazette reported.
We can’t close our eyes and pretend this isn’t happening.
I also feel sick that I was taught to view the world in a particular way, and it wasn’t true.
I want to see the world for what it is, not what people tell me it is. It’s sort of like in the Hunger Games when Haymitch tells Katniss, “Remember who the real enemy is,” because we are that easily redirected. We seek the enemy outside our social circles.
And I’m tired of everyone pretending that the bad people aren’t actually part of us. Not a genuine member of the group. Because then we might question, we might see that the group isn’t always perfect.
And people avoid hard questions.
They want us to keep remembering the same thing over and over, never gaining clarity.