Raising Consciousness about U.S. War-culture and Sacrifice

I relish opportunities to talk with groups to raise consciousness about our reality in the United States, and have an engaging series of slides that I show along with the talk that show all sorts of surprising (and not so surprising!) connections between war-culture and popular culture, youth culture, the economy, education, religion, the list goes on and on. . .  I also use this as an opportunity to raise consciousness about the “sacred canopy” that the language and practices of sacrifice play to justify and sacramentalize war.  I was glad to give this lecture not so long ago before a group of college students at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.



Sacrifice, American Exceptionalism, and War-culture

Sacrifice, American Exceptionalism, and War-culture

Please open this link to read an article I wrote for The Library of Social Science, an online resource engaging scholars and thinkers from around the world who work on questions related to war and sacrifice.  In this article I engage with the thinking of theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas regarding his book, The American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity.  Why are Americans “so easy with war”?  Stanley Hauerwas takes up the challenge to probe and analyze this conundrum, and set forth an alternative. Here I lay out the argument of Hauerwas’ book and highlight how and why so much of this is compelling and timely; but I also discuss why I take a different path in terms of Hauerwas’ theological response to the reality he describes.

“How Did War get to be Religious?” Peace Retreat with PA Mennonites


The first evening of our retreat in the snowy Poconos Mennonite Spruce Lake Center, we broke up into small groups to share with one another the ways that our lives have intertwined with the realities of war.  In my group of seven people, three men had applied for Conscientious Objector Status during the Vietnam War era.  For these men, this was a time and process of decision-making that made a huge difference.  They were forced at a young age to take stock of their values in the context of their faith commitments; they were sent to various places in the world to perform alternative service in place of combat; and at least one spoke of the deep mentorship he received from his pastor, who provided him with theological materials, support and insight about his decision.


One of the important issues that the group raised and reflected upon had to do with not getting overwhelmed.  The depth and pervasiveness of war-culture in the United States is so vast, so well financially supported, and so largely invisible to so many Americans.  Peace advocates need to be sophisticated and saavy in their analysis of war-culture and their strategies for deconstructing it and imagining alternatives.  Among many possibilities these important strategies were thoroughly discussed:

  • —Use commonsense; increase our own awareness; find allies
  • —Tell the truth about war-culture
  • —Counter dominant messages and practices (i.e. war video games)
  • —Talk with people across differences: interfaith, rural/urban, civilian/veteran
  • —Seek ways to avoid paying war taxes
  • —Question and resist war-culture’s norms (i.e. requisite patriotic gestures)
  • —Study and question images of Christian salvation; resist and challenge religious images/language used to glorify or mystify war
  • —Study, and develop creative means to counteract recruitment strategies
  • —“Follow the money!” Engage in economic analysis of war-culture
  • —Emphasize forgiveness, not retribution; starting afresh, not wallowing in the past


I was deeply moved by this time of thoughtful and profound learning with people whose long and courageous Christian commitment to peace has so shaped them.

January and february events

–Jan. 16
This is to promote the Winter Peace Retreat wiith PA Mennonites, Feb. 8-10, at Spruce Lake Retreat Center in Canadensis, PA

“How Did War Get to Be Religious?  Supporting Christian Peace-Buildings in U.S. War-Culture”   with Kelly Denton-Borhaug

check out the link:http://peaceretreat.ppjr.org

Earlier this January I spoke at a Mennonite Clergy gathering to generate some interest in these themes.  You can listen to the podcast below: