War and God

I was recently messaging with old friend Barry Mateer who is now in Iowa about his time 50 years ago when he was a Peace Corp volunteer in Nepal. He was there for a couple of years, returned to Iowa, got sick from a disease contracted over there, almost died, and when drafted, he filed for Conscientious Objector (CO) status. He was required to do some Alternative Service instead of serving in Vietnam. He elected to return to Nepal, and his parents, although concerned, did not object.

My tennis buddy and teaching colleague in Barcelona was about the same age. He too was a CO, did his Alternative Service cleaning toilets at a state hospital (mental institution). I was a bit younger, was in line to be drafted, but by then the war was winding down. Nonetheless, I also applied for CO status and was accepted about 6 months before Jimmy Carter ended the draft, so I didn’t have to do any Alternative Service. (I did end up volunteering for my church in China for a year, similar to AS, but many years later.

Which brings me to this story in the Smithsonian magazine, The Priest of Abu Ghraib. It is a long piece about Joshua Casteel and his time in Afghanistan. Another war, same story. Casteel was raised in a very religious family and volunteered for the war. I will let the article tell his fated and tragic story, a story where he struggles mightily to be a good Christian as well as a good soldier. He fails. With terrible consequences.

We switched as a family from the Catholic church to the Church of the Brethren when I was a teen. I was never sure whether it was because it was such a great church (it was) or whether it was because it was a peace church. I certainly am grateful, though, for the move. While my family has moved cities and congregations (they are now Presbyterian), I have wandered away from a formal religion and accepted a happy agnosticism like those around me here in Japan. I still volunteer, though, and I still think about war, killing and god. But nowhere like Joshua Casteel.

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