Legion: For We Are Many

[I originally posted a longer version of this review on another blog in June 2017.]

Exploring Moral Injury in Sacred Texts is a compilation of essays written from various perspectives – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and civil. Some of the essays resonated more with me than others, but that is generally to be expected in such a work.

In the Christian Bible, remember the man who lived among the tombs, who gave his name as Legion? Michael Yandell offers a unique but coherent treatment of this story. He imagines a scenario in which this man’s suffering is from moral injury that resulted from his experiences as a soldier and from shouldering the mental/emotional/spiritual burdens of his entire legion. When the man approaches Jesus, he is seeking out a representative of his victims from whom he seeks forgiveness but also interacting with a benevolent religious figure. The healing is neither instantaneous nor completed by the end of the narrative. Rather, he is given work to do within his community to continue the process of healing and reintegration.

My reaction to the essay written from a civil perspective was interesting. I initially recoiled at the term civil religion, even though this is not a new term. If religion is supposed to have some hint of the divine within it, then equating secular activities with the sacred can feel like an affront. But, Daniel C. Maguire makes a powerful case for how the one has been co-opted by the other. He explains the power that is intentionally built by using themes and techniques found in the Bible, in sermons, and in religious music, intensifying national fervor and patriotism. He also notes a troubling result: Our culture is so overwhelmingly patriotic that thoroughly questioning the morality of a specific (or all) military action is immediately interpreted to be at odds with this national moral code of patriotism.

Additional essays I found particularly interesting were:

  • “Division of Spoils after Battle” by Brad E. Kelle, mainly for highlighting the community’s responsibility in sending soldiers into battle.
  • An essay discussing our sacrificial language and imagery by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, including recent literary examples capturing its effect on returning soldiers and on the communities who remain at home.
  • “Peter and Judas: Moral Injury and Repair” [or failure of repair in the case of Judas] by Warren Carter. This is an excellent contrast of outcomes.
  • The story of Aṅgulimāla as told by John M. Thompson, mainly for contrasting the Buddhist focus on “how to respond?” with the Western question of “what is just?”.

I think anyone working with moral injury, particularly moral injury resulting from military service, would find this book thought-provoking.

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