Spiritual Assessment

PTSD

The two assessment instruments that are accessible on this website were developed and extensively used while I served as Chief of Chaplain Service at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. My theological education in Berkeley, California from 1964-1968, the antiwar movement that evolved during that period and the years that followed, and my subsequent employment as a VA chaplain have all greatly influenced my spiritual, personal and professional development regarding war, civic responsibility and moral behavior in contemporary society. The assessments available on this website were used extensively to conduct research and provide clinical care to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What follows are my reflections on PTSD, its meaning and significance for our culture, and the path forward for those suffering from the wounds of war, which includes all of us. I welcome your feedback, especially from soldiers and veterans experiencing PTSD due to combat and their military service. My thoughts are unfinished and my words are a work in progress posted for purposes of dialogue, feedback and hopefully for gaining greater understanding of a condition that has much to tech us.

East of Eden—The Spiritual Meaning of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Chapter 1: Setting the Stage

To understand where we are today, we need to go back to the beginning, to understand how the story begins. In the Hebrew-Christian tradition, that beginning is recorded in the book of Genesis. While scholars agree that the book of Genesis is not the oldest portion of scripture but was written during the post-exilic period of Israel’s history, it is our good fortunate that this book is given this foremost and prominent position in sacred scripture. It becomes foundational. Walter Brueggemann writes:

 The first eleven chapters of Genesis are among the most important in Scripture. They are among the best known (in a stereotyped way). And they are frequently the most misunderstood…. In these texts, there is almost no historical particularity. Other than the reference to specific peoples in chapters 10-11, there is not concrete identification of historical persons, groups, movements, or institutions. Creation is treated as a unity. And where individual persons are cited, they are treated as representative of all creation, the part for the whole.[1] The entire narrative of these eleven chapters are “concerned with the tension between God’s will for and call to creation and the mixed way in which creation heeds that will and answers that call.”[2] The introduction to Genesis (1:1-2:4a) therefore introduces the theme of human destiny.

This text focuses on human persons as the glory and central problem of creation. These are the children of The Eighth Day (Thornton Wilder).  Delightful creation is finished. Sabbath is celebrated as a sign of the new life. Now human destiny in that world must be faced. The destiny of the human creature is to live in God’s world, not a world of his/her own making. The human creation is to live with God’s other creatures, some of which are dangerous, but all of which are to be ruled and cared for. The destiny of the human creation is to live in God’s world, with God’s other creatures, on God’s terms.[3]

The lyrical poem that is Chapter 1 in the Book of Genesis is a Theocentric narrative that places God at the center as the One who creates order out of chaos, written at a time of great upheaval, uncertainty and fear. On August 1, 1536, in the preface to his Institutes, Calvin, wrote of a time of “disturbances, tumults, and contentions.” It was a time not unlike Chapter 1 of Genesis when order, reassurance, meaningfulness and certainty were introduced at a time that longed for and needed that regularity, hope and a promising future.[4] Its context is that foundations have been shaken. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”[5] And again and again the writer of Genesis 1 reassures us: and it was good. We are told all of creation, the universe itself, its seasons of night and day, earth and sky, moon and stars, plants and animals, and finally the apex of creation, humankind, made in God’s own image, are all good. It is an earlier poetic expression of Robert Browning’s “God’s in His heaven—All’s right with the world![6] At this point, all is hopeful.

In Chapter 2 of Genesis, a more prosaic and alternative story of creation is presented. Its focus is on the creation of man and woman. In chapter 1 we are told that we were created in the image of God. How this happens we are not told. It is a concept and theological doctrine present in Judaism, Christianity and Sufi Islam.[7] Humankind created in the image of God has been the prevailing thought accentuated by Michelangelo’s depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Consequently, our understanding of God is our own image of ourselves. That places great limits on the understanding of who God is. Our creation in the image of God also becomes a central theme underlining Augustine’s theology. He placed emphasis on the image of God, but then that image being corrupted by the Fall. Although Augustine did not originate the doctrine of original sin or humankind's fall from grace, he gave it added emphasis based on Chapter 3 in Genesis. “Tragically, Augustine’s misreading and misinterpretation of sin based on looking at Scripture through the prism of dualism is accepted as dogma by most contemporary Christian theologians. The doctrine of original sin owes more to Augustine’s desire to emulate the philosophers than it does to the Scriptures.”[8]

Walter Brueggemann concurs when he says that “no text in Genesis (or likely in the entire Bible) has been more used, interpreted, and misunderstood than this text. This applies to careless, popular theology as well as to the doctrine of the church.”[9] Brueggemann goes on to say that while the text is commonly treated as the account of “the fall,” nothing “could be more remote from the narrative itself.”[10] He goes on to add that the Old Testament does not assume such a fall. For such a pessimistic view of human nature one needs to turn to the tradition of Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

It seems to me that a richer and more comprehensible understanding of humankind’s creation, that has been largely ignored, is contained in Chapter 2, the 7th verse. “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”[11] In contrast to being created in God’s image that is depicted in chapter 1, chapter 2 provides us with a more biological, evolutionary, historical, and I would say functional understanding of who we are and who God is in relationship to us. We are not God’s image; God does not look like us. Instead, listen to what a contemporary astrophysicist says about our creation.

The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.[12]

This sounds a lot like the language of Genesis 2. “(T)hen the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,” or we might say stardust.  At this point science and religion can come together. We come from dust. And then the Bible adds, “and (God) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”[13]

While created in the image of God has its limitation, the metaphor of God breathing life into what was once dust is rich in meaning to anyone who has ever been resuscitated, worked as a medical professional, or watched a TV show about hospital emergency rooms. Life comes from breath. More importantly, this breath that gives life from the biblical perspective comes from the breath of God. God and all that is God are indwelling in us, physically, spiritually, consciously, and biologically. Consciousness, that is, our conscious mind emerges from the breath and mind of God. Metaphorically it is as if a God gene has been implanted into our DNA. God breathing life into Adam and Eve is a metaphor for God being in all of us, of God indwelling in human life; and not only in us, but in all of life. God breathing life into us becomes a meme that forms “our cultural DNA,”[14] as well as our spiritual DNA.

Contemporary psychology teaches us that we are by nature benevolent. By benevolence it means taking care of and protecting the welfare of people we know.[15]  Our benevolence or our caring for each other is further evidenced by evolution and anthropology: although smaller, weaker and more vulnerable than competing mammals, humankind prevailed by coming together, cooperating and taking care of one another. Psychology divides us into two distinct groups with competing values. At one end of the spectrum are those motivated by “extrinsic” values. These values include prestige, status, image, fame, power and wealth. They are strongly motivated by the prospect of individual reward and praise. They have little interest in cooperation or community. People who emphasize these values tend to report higher levels of stress, anxiety, anger, envy, dissatisfaction and depression that those at the intrinsic end.[16]

People at the other end of the spectrum are motivated by social norms characterized by the social norms of kindness, empathy, community and freedom from fear and want; these are values that favor the intrinsic end of the spectrum. “If our purpose is to create a kinder world, we should embed within the political story we tell the intrinsic values that promote this aim: empathy, understanding, connectedness with other people, self-acceptance, independent thought and action.”[17]

The narrative of Genesis 2 is that we are embedded with the values God breathes into our lives that give us life, consciousness, and animates our being. God defines our essential being and our Creator’s intentions for our lives. If God is love, then our essential nature is also that of love and relationship. But this image of God being in us as love has not taken hold historically in Christian theology. Instead, emphasis has been placed on human sinfulness or on our estrangement or separation from God, often using Genesis 3 as the basis for the Christian doctrine of original sin. Emphasis is placed on humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden.[18] Augustine taught that “all of humanity was really present in Adam when he sinned, and therefore all have sinned. Original sin, according to Augustine, consists of the guilt of Adam which all humans inherit. As sinners, humans are utterly depraved in nature, lack the freedom to do good, and cannot respond to the will of God without divine grace.”[19] Augustine made war and killing, which is the subject of this book, understandable if not acceptable. In fact, he goes on to define the conditions that make for a “just war.” His understanding of a just war will be described later in this book. By default, this pessimistic understanding of humankind makes war normative and expected. In popular culture, fiction, movies, and video games, it even becomes heroic and consequently glorified.

It was Anselm who, in the eleventh century, based his doctrine of atonement on this understanding of human depravity and original sin. He believed “God would punish human beings and bar them from heaven unless they had performed sufficient penance to fulfill their debt to God for their personal sins and their sinful nature. Humanity’s level of debt for sin, however, was beyond any human capacity to repay it. Nonetheless, unless it was paid, none could enter heaven; all would go to hell. To override this double bind, God paid humanity’s debt. He became incarnate in Christ Jesus to die on the cross, offering the gift of his death to pay for humanity’s crimes.”[20] This painted a picture of God as vindictive and vengeful towards those who God had created, but contrary to whom God calls good in chapter one of Genesis.

Martin Luther follows the lead of Anselm when he asserts “that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception…. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.”[21]

This rather pessimistic understanding of human nature is often reinforced and confessed in our churches as they confess that we are by nature “sinful and unclean.” It is further enunciated by philosopher Thomas Hobbes who in 1651 asserted that “the default state of human relations is a war of everyone against everyone else. Life in the state of nature, he famously observed, was ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’. It is not hard to see how he drew this conclusion, after witnessing the devastations of the English Civil War. His knowledge of human evolution was confined to the book of Genesis and informed by the doctrine of original sin.”[22]

Both the doctrine of original sin and the doctrine of atonement have had an insidious effect on Christianity’s relationship with other religions as well as our understanding of love as the central characteristic of God. Contemporary theology has begun to reevaluate the emphasis placed on the atoning death of Christ as being of any importance at all. In fact, it is seen as a detriment to understanding the meaning of Jesus life and death for contemporary Christianity. [23] [24]

An atoning theology that says God sacrificed his son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us.[25]

One way in which Anselm’s doctrine of the atonement infects our imagination at earthly levels is that it can give support for war, even making it seem holy. “Christians were exhorted to imitate Christ’s self-offering in the cause of God’s justice. When authorities in the church called for vengeance, they did so on God’s behalf.”[26]

In line with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, present day proponents of this traditional understanding of divine power sacrifice God's love and goodness before the altar of sovereign power.[27] But in contrast to this historical orthodoxy and Anselmic substitutionary theology, a new understanding of God’s place in a postmodern and pluralistic age is reflected in process theology. It “affirms a relational understanding of power in which God works with the world, providing ideals and the energy to embody them, rather than unilaterally determining everything that occurs.”[28] Jesus Christ ‘saves us’, not by his atoning sacrifice, but “by opening and empowering us to experience God's vision for our lives and for our world in new and lively ways. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection do not transform God's attitude toward us, involve Jesus paying ransom to demonic forces to liberate us, or require his suffering on our behalf in order to appease God's wrath. Rather, as the model for what we can be in our time and place, in every century, Jesus Christ calls us to become fully human as we embody in a variety of ways our vocation as God's healing partners in our world”.[29]

A new and contemporary way of understanding God, creation, and humanities place in our world today is Process Theology. It has been influenced by and grows out of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Perhaps foremost among what Whitehead considered faulty metaphysical assumptions was the Cartesian idea that reality is fundamentally constructed of bits of matter that exist totally independently of one another, which he rejected in favor of an event-based or ‘process’ ontology in which events are primary and fundamentally interrelated and dependent on one another.”[30] He gave preeminence of Becoming over Being. Whitehead’s idea of God differs from traditional monotheistic notions.[31] Perhaps his most pointed and famous criticism of the Christian conception of God is that “the Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar.”[32] “Here Whitehead is criticizing Christianity for defining God as primarily a divine king who imposes his will on the world, and whose most important attribute is power.”[33] But according to Whitehead, God’s power is relational and not coercive, it does not cajole but persuades, it invites and lures rather than force and control. It is revealed in love and not in domination. When it comes to theological reflection, process theology follows the Apostle Paul's affirmation that "the greatest of these is love."[34]  “As opposed to the most widely accepted forms of Christianity, Whitehead emphasized an idea of God that he called ‘the brief Galilean vision of humility’”.[35] God’s aim “dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operates by love.”[36]

A major tenet of process theology is the understanding of God being in us rather than apart or separated from us. In Genesis 2, as already stated, God creates man and woman out of dust, and then breathes God’s own life into them. The Soul of God now inhabits the essence of humankind. The meaning of life and the evolutionary aim of creation is creation itself and its continuing emergence, continuing the intentions and aims of God. This Soul or Spirit is what breathes life into inanimate being, be it the creation of beauty, of truth, of love or life itself. It gives us consciousness. An essential tenet of process theology is panentheism, the belief that God dwells in as well as beyond humankind. Pantheism is the belief that all reality is identical with divinity,[37] or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent god.[38] In contrast to pantheism, panentheism affirms the view that “the world exists within God, although God is more than the world.”[39] Such a God is involved in an immanent fashion `in, with, and under' all things.[40] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines panentheism as “the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part of it exists in Him, but (as against pantheism)  His Being is more than, and is not exhausted by the universe.”[41] “Panentheism asserts that all things are encompassed by the divine being, while God is also more than the set of all finite things.”[42] From an eschatological point of view all things move towards Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega point[43], that “in the end, God will be able to say, ‘Behold, it was good, yea it was very good,’”[44] that is, it emerges into love. Genesis 1 captures the beginning of creation as well as its end point. (This theme will be further developed later in our discussion.) A more accurate reflection of the beginning of the Book of Genesis would be for us to confess that we are “by nature loving and kind; and then to add, forgives us God when we fail to live up to our true nature and your presence in our lives.” This contrasts to the traditional Christian confession already mentioned that says, “we are by nature sinful and unclean.” Panentheism is also a reflection of Ephesians 4:6 that states “there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all (italics is added).”

In line with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, proponents of traditional understandings of divine power sacrifice God's love and goodness before the altar of sovereign power. In contrast, process theology affirms a relational understanding of power in which God works with the world, providing ideals and the energy to embody them, rather than unilaterally determining everything that occurs. God does not force God’s Self on us, but lures, inspires, encourages and guides us to be who God has created us to be.

 “This means that God is in us and we are in God. God is part of our very being, and we are parts of God’s very being. It is quite literally true that in God we live and move and have our being. This is true not only of human beings but of all of God’s creatures. What we do to the least of these, we do also to God.”[45] It is why Paul can claim that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Just as God “lurks behind the loving Jesus,”[46] God also lurks behind us and lures us into being like Jesus. God and we are intertwined, just as we are therefore intertwined with all of creation. All is connected.

It is Pauline theology that recognizes this entanglement with Jesus whom Christians assert to be the Christ.[47] When Paul speaks of us being in Christ, he also means that Christ lives in us. It is Johannine theology, on the other hand, that emphasizes that God was in Christ.[48] It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that process theology is rooted in the Bible. God in us, Jesus in us, the Divine Spirit all residing in us in a profound way we do not fully understand.

Therefore “process theologians suggest that God’s relationship to the world is intimate and continuous rather than distant and discontinuous. God is not the ‘wholly other,’ but rather the ‘wholly present one,’ whose existence cannot be fully contained by the world. Without some degree of continuity between God and the world, divine love, relationship and activity in the world are meaningless and irrelevant. This is the heart of process theology’s panentheistic vision of ‘God in all things, and all things in God.’”[49] When God breathed life into man and woman the biblical idea that God is love was and continues to be imprinted onto the soul of humankind. Culture imprints other ideas as well, but the essence of who we are includes part of the nature of God. Panentheism bridges the gap between what is temporal and what is transcendent.

As stated above, the thesis of Genesis, chapter 1 is “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”[50] This theme is continued in chapter 2. “While the first creation story is more high level, the second gets into what Robert Alter calls the ‘technological nitty-gritty’ of human origins. We’ve gone from God as hands-on surgeon—cutting, molding, shaping, breathing.”[51] From dust a living, breathing human being is created. And they live without shame.[52] All is good.

Chapter 3 of Genesis introduces the antithesis to what is good. We live on God’s terms, not as creator but as creature in chapters 1 and 2. Here comes the rub. Chapter 3 tells us that we do not want to live on God’s terms.  We want to live on our terms. God’s adversary is then introduced into the story. A dialog takes place between the serpent, the craftiest of all wild animals that God had made, we are told, and woman. Then we read “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “you will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God (italics added).”[53] This sets up the tension between God’s intentions for humankind and the way creation responds to that call. It is the temptation to replace or be our own god, to live independently from God, as though God does not exist, or if God does exist, we regard equality with God as something to be exploited.  Consider this meta-theme or urge that runs throughout Hebrew-Christian Scripture and its contrasting image cited by Paul:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself  (italics added) and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.[54]

These two themes will reoccur as we consider Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is the focus of this book. They will be considered as they pertain to combat soldiers and war in general:  God’s “will for and call to creation and the mixed way in which creation heeds that will and answers that call.”[55]

Chapter 3 will be the subtheme or meta-narrative then that will serve as the metaphor for PTSD and the chapters that follow. Certain laws or boundaries have been established by God, or as non-theists might say, by life itself, that cannot be crossed without dire consequences to follow. The law of gravity establishes that we cannot step off a 12-story building without falling to our death. Another meta-narrative that runs through the Hebrew/Christian scriptures is that humans are to live in relationships, loving the neighbor, and to be stewards of all of life, human as well as nonhuman.  Genesis 2:18 says that “it is not good that man should be alone.” “A central assertion about human nature in Genesis and a central finding about human nature from neuroscience agree: Human beings are not meant to be alone.”[56] Isolating ourselves and withdrawing from others has negative and even dangerous consequences. “A central finding of modern psychology…is that our well-being depends on our interactions with others. To be happy is to be connected.”[57] When we take exception to the biblical injunction that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves we let hate and war and killing prevail. This is a central hypothesis and teaching of quantum physics, that will be considered later; it is that all of creation is intimately connected and intertwined at life’s most basic level. The indwelling of God as love in all of life is therefore a contradiction to the way we often respond to the call of God and the breath of God that creation imprints on the soul of humankind and cannot be erased. Its influence is conditional and depends on our openness to the Spirit that emerges in the evolution of consciousness that defines who we are.

This assertion that we are to live in harmony with all of life is contradicted by the story of the serpent in Genesis 3. The serpent is our own ego that tells us we shall not die by doing what is forbidden. The serpent tells us that there will be no consequences for behavior that is contrary to the will of God, behavior that conflicts with taking responsibility for the stewardship of the earth, as using the other, whether animate or inanimate, as means to an end rather than as subjects infused with the presence of God. We will make up our own minds about what we do. We are told, and we want to believe that God knows that when we eat of what is forbidden, our eyes will be opened, and we will be like God, knowing good and evil. We want to be the “decider” and God to be subservient if God exists at all. We want to take control. We know better. It is the sin of hubris or pride. It is an infectious disease that attacks individuals, cultures, nations, genders, ethnic groups and religions. It is especially prevalent in those who dominate or want to dominate others.  It expresses itself collectively and culturally as well as individually. It is an attitude and behavior that places us at the center of the universe rather than taking our rightful place as dependent subjects owing all to God.

We now live in a world where “[t]he pursuit of material satisfaction dulls our concern for other people and for the living planet. It blinds us to our place in the world and the damage we impose on others. It propels us down a narrow corridor of self-interest, self-enhancement and immediate gratification. These tendencies are reinforced by an economic system that puts a price on everything and a value on nothing; a political system that promotes economic growth above all other aims, regardless of whether it enhances human welfare or damages it; and organizational and technological changes that could scarcely have been better designed to drive us apart….But above all … the trend towards social breakdown is driven by the dominant political narrative of our times.”[58] It is the heart and soul of national populism and neo-liberal economics that makes the market the determining factor in how a society is governed and measured. It also leads us towards war.

From the beginning of the human narrative spelled out for us in Genesis 3 we learn that:

Human nature doesn’t determine what we do, it only determines what we ought to do. It describes our moral limits or boundaries, which we are free to cross but not without consequences. It means our freedom is not without its limits. As soon as we begin to become aware of ourselves, our world, and our possibilities, we discover that we are able to do more and other than we ought to do. The appeal here to “limits” is not to any civic or social law, laid down by states or sovereigns, but rather to a law that we only come to know from within and then perhaps only when we transgress it…. We experience it as disgust, contempt, and despair at having violated something at our core, either our human core or our personal core or quite probably both.[59]

The consequence of the narrative that is chapter 3 in Genesis is spelled out in chapter 4, in the tragic and prophetic story of Cain and Able. It is to this story that we now turn.

Chapter 2 Genesis as an introduction to PTSD

First, this story is not specific to any historical period or to two historical brothers but is representative of a meta-narrative of how not to treat one’s brother. Specifically, it is a prohibition against taking the life of another, a prohibition against killing. It anticipates Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, “you shall not murder.” It then spells out the consequences of what is to happen when the blood of another is shed.

First, the importance of the story of Cain and Able is captured in John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden. The philosophically inclined cook, Lee, is discussing this story from the fourth chapter of Genesis. He is referring to the elders in his community when he says, “These old men believe a true story, and they know a true story when they hear it. They are critics of truth. They know that these sixteen verses are a history of humankind in any age or culture or race.”[60] Likewise, in reading or attending a performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear, one does not have to be royalty to understand the anguish any parent feels who is alienated from or has a broken relationship with one’s child. Similarly, the universality of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman captures the anxiety and despair of anyone whose dreams are not realized and who lives with overwhelming regret for decisions that were made and the events that follow that cannot be undone. Like all great literature, music and the arts, they hold a mirror up that reflects who we are, both in our successes and in our failures. The history of humankind reflected in the story of Cain and Able is a story we neglect or deny at our peril. It is a story that hits too close to home for us to heed; if we were to take this history of humankind seriously, much in our culture, in our religion, in our economics, in our national identity and in our politics would have to change. Abel is every man or woman whose life has ended by the hand of another. Cain is everyone who has ended the life of another, whether that be in combat, in a community where violence is the norm, or in unjust economic, political, or social systems that deprive others of the fullness of life intended by God. 

The story is rather simple and straight forward. Two brothers bring to God their offerings. Cain, being a tiller of the soil, that is, a farmer, brings “an offering of the fruit of the ground.” The offering is not characterized as to its quality. We are not told whether it is good fruit or if it is bad fruit. Is it fruit of the ground, or is it fruit “off the ground,” that is windfalls left after the main crop has been marketed or devoured? A subsequent comment by the Lord is that “if you do well, will you not be accepted?” The story suggests that Cain may not have done well, and that “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”[61] As the story unfolds, we are told that Cain does not master it. In contrast to his brother, Abel brings what is best, “the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.”[62] Or was God’s lack of regard for Cain’s offering a projection of Cain’s own anger towards God, reflecting his own sense of failure and blaming God for his own sense of inadequacy, jealousy and self-interest? But what is central to this story of sibling rivalry is what happens next and the consequences of fratricide. It begs the question of who my brother or my sister is, and what is my responsibility towards the other. Cain denies that he is connected to Abel, that his destiny is inseparable from the fate of his brother, and that he is responsible for his brother’s well-being as well as his own. When the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” the bedrock of all systems of ethics is being laid down. In Cain’s answer “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”,[63] his responsibility for his brother’s death is now compounded by a double lie. He knows he is responsible for his brother’s death and he knows his brother’s fate. He distances himself from this truth because he wants there to be no consequences for his own behavior. He mistakenly believes that taking another’s life brings no remorse, no sense of guilt, no punishment for a wrong inflicted on another. He denies that when “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being”,[64] that the character of God was imprinted on humankind, that all of life is sacred, it is relational, interconnected and entangled in ways that is often not imagined and can never be broken. When the life of the Other is willfully ended by another, the sacredness of the Divine that is present in all of life is shattered. The I-Thou relationship, intended by God, is broken. No longer is Abel a Thou. He has become an It, an object distinct from Cain’s subjective self. There will be consequences for Cain for the death of his brother.

The Lord asks, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”[65] It is a voice that Cain will continue to hear as well. “And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil; and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”[66] The ground of Cain’s being is shaken. And a few verses later we read “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”[67]

What we have here is not the punishment of God but the consequences of Cain’s own behavior. His motivation or the reason for his behavior is not what matters. It is the outcome, or the consequences of what Cain has done, that is, killing his brother that is at the heart of this story. Emphasis is often put on the first part of this story, on Cain’s motivation for taking the life of Abel, on God’s perceived displeasure towards Cain’s offering of which God has no regard, and God’s preference and high regard for the gift Abel offers up. The focus of what follows will not be on Cain’s motivation and the reason he kills Abel, but it will be on the outcome and consequences of this tragic story as it relates to taking the life of another. People who kill always have their reasons, being it the theory of a just war or support for capital punishment as a deterrent, out of revenge to even up the score, or the justification by a nation to send its sons and daughters to war.

Cain ends up being separated from his family and his community. He becomes homeless, a wanderer. He will become a fugitive. His life becomes unproductive; “when you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength;”[68] in other words, he becomes disabled. Speaking to God Cain says, “I shall be hidden from your face.”[69] This sad story ends when we read, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”[70] Nod is not a specific city or place, but in means “wandering.”

What I want to suggest and what will be the focus of the rest of this book is how the story of Cain and Abel mirrors the experience of people who have been engaged in combat. East of Eden describes the plight of veterans of war who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD. I want to make a distinction between those who serve in the military in general and those who have served in combat and have knowingly killed another human being. Most people who serve in the military serve in a non-combat role. About 80 percent of the jobs in the military are non-combat occupations.[71] Their experience is qualitatively different than those who have knowingly killed another human being.

The outcome for Cain after killing his brother is being exiled out of Eden, to the land of Nod, which means wandering. There he is separated from home, community, and family. God condemns Cain to be a “restless wanderer”, rootless, living from hand to mouth, away from the supportive relationships of family and friends.[72] He is also separated from God. “Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face’”.[73] “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord.”[74] Cain is “cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”[75] He is now homeless, both literally and figuratively. God condemns Cain to be a “restless wanderer”, rootless, living from hand to mouth, away from the supportive relationships of family and faith. He is robbed of a meaningful life, “when you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength.”[76] Meaning and purpose are no longer his. Cain’s guilt is overwhelming. Because of his shame he expects and feels that he deserves to be punished.  “Anyone who meets me may kill me.”[77] His paranoia distances him from his neighbor and his community. It needs to be noted that while Cain expects to be punished for his sin, that is to be put to death, God chooses to protect him. “The Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.”[78] God continues to love Cain.

When Cain cries out to God that he will now be the target of Abel’s avengers, “God disagrees emphatically, though without taking back the basic sentence. Cain’s plea occasions a divine amelioration of the sentence, reflecting a divine responsiveness to a human cry, an openness to taking a difference way in the future in view of what human beings have to say. God’s response to violence is not an “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”[79] Quite the contrary, to counter violence with violence accomplishes nothing more than to allow evil to spiral out of control. It is “sin couching at your door.”[80] It is not only sin lurking at the door; it is sin that enters through the door. The blowback from getting even comes back to destroy not only the perpetrator of evil but also the one who seeks revenge. As we shall see later, living in a quantum world, as we do, challenges the use of violence as a means of bringing about justice. The cross will be God’s response to evil. Evil can only be overcome by love. To end violence requires that a different tool than evil be employed. Einstein once said that “no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”[81] Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan examined 100 years of violent and nonviolent resistance movements in the book “Why Civil Resistance Works.” They concluded that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent uprisings.[82] The nonviolence of Jesus is God’s response to killing. God responds nonviolently to violence; the cross is God’s response to evil. Violence begets violence. Nonviolence when accompanied by civil disobedience or nonviolent movements begets justice that can lead to peace. Violence does not change culture but embeds itself into culture. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela who dramatically changed history by choosing the route of non-violent civil disobedience. When Nelson Mandela emerged from prison his message to the violence in South Africa was “throw your guns into the sea.”[83]

Chapter 3 East of Eden’s Metaphor for PTSD

The story of Cain and Able and East of Eden will now be the background and metaphor that introduces a spiritual understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD in the narrative that follows. Cain is traumatized by guilt and shame, by loss of meaning and purpose in his life, he is filled with anger towards God and towards his brother, by grief because of loss of family and community, he is estranged from God and feels he has been unfairly treated. All of these are classic descriptions of PTSD.[84] The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as the result of exposure to a traumatic event.[85] It includes exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.

Behavioral symptoms accompanying PTSD include re-experiencing memories of the traumatic event, avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the trauma, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. “Re-experiencing covers spontaneous memories of the traumatic event, recurrent dreams related to it, flashbacks or other intense or prolonged psychological distress. Avoidance refers to distressing memories, thoughts, feelings or external reminders of the event. Negative cognitions and mood represent a myriad of feelings, from a persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others, to estrangement from others or markedly diminished interest in activities, to an inability to remember key aspects of the event. Finally, arousal is marked by aggressive, reckless or self-destructive behavior, sleep disturbances, hyper-vigilance or related problems. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) manual emphasizes the ‘flight’ aspect associated with PTSD; the criteria of DSM-5 also account for the ‘fight’ reaction often seen.”[86] These symptoms cover the experiences of veterans suffering the consequences or aftereffects of war. But the experiences of military veterans are not equal. There are qualitative differences between those who serve a support role for combat soldiers and those engaged in killing. As already noted, only about 20 percent of those serving are called upon to take the life of another human being.

The World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems states that “Typical features include episodes of repeated reliving of the trauma in intrusive memories (‘flashbacks’), dreams or nightmares, occurring against the persisting background of a sense of ‘numbness’ and emotional blunting, detachment from other people, unresponsiveness to surroundings, anhedonia, and avoidance of activities and situations reminiscent of the trauma.”[87]

Both definitions of PTSD echo the experience of Cain in Genesis 4. He avoids the setting where the killing takes place and escapes to another country, to the land of Nod (Nod means wandering), East of Eden. He is a wanderer, i.e., homeless. A meaningful life now escapes him, that is, “when you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength.”[88] Cain becomes a fugitive. While the percentage of veterans incarcerated has fallen when compared with the non-veteran population in recent years, in 1978 and 1985 when these statistics were available, a disproportionate number of people imprisoned were people who had served in the military. “Incarcerated veterans who saw combat (60% in prison and 67% in jail) were more likely than noncombat veterans (44% in prison and 49% in jail) to have been told they had a mental disorder.” [89]Finally we read “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod …. East of Eden.”[90]

One of the distressing effects of military veterans suffering from PTSD are the spiritual injuries from which they suffer. We read that “Cain went away from the presence of the Lord.” William Mahedy, who served as a chaplain in Vietnam, writes that there was a general Protestant/American kind of faith and practice prevailed when the United States initiated its war in Vietnam. There was an inner conviction that as a nation we had found favor with God. That favor in turn would result in prosperity, success and material blessings. This favor would also carry over into war. He goes on to write:

All this is germane to the Vietnam experience, because in our culture war is impossible without this religious underpinning. It is what allows a soldier to remain sane and convinces him he is morally correct while he kills. It is what gives the feeling that “God is on his side.” This feeling is his only defense against nihilism. It is a world view that “grips him in the guts” and satisfies his mind at the same time. Without it, the most he can say about war is that “it don’t mean nothin’.”[91]

A similar nihilism gripped German soldiers and German culture in general after World War II. Following the capitulation of Germany in 1945 Helmut Thielicke writes universities were filled with “former officers, dressed in the remnants of their uniforms from which they had torn the badges of their rank, refugees from the Eastern territories who had lost everything and often did not know where their immediate families were or even whether they were still alive, and also many who came from prison camps.”[92] “Before us sat a generation of youth which had been shrewdly and cruelly misled by the holders of power. And now they faced a world of rubble and ruins; not only their homes, but also their idealism, their faith, their concepts of value were shattered.”[93] What was shattered often included their religious faith. A similar sense of nihilism is captured by Mahedy as he goes on to write:

A great many Vietnam veterans have become religious agnostics or are now hostile to religion because they took seriously what they learned in Bible classes or in the parochial schools about killing. War stories describe very clearly what happened to the religious feelings of these warriors. Combat shattered their Calvinist/American world view. They experienced themselves in a new way—not as moral, religious, blessed, but as both perpetrators and victims of a massive and mindless violence. The sustaining rationale drawn from traditional American religion collapsed in the face of the Vietnam reality. They could no longer feel religious or moral; therefore, in their own judgment, they were not.[94]

The outcome of this experience is that there is a high correlation between PTSD and religious doubt.[95] Other spiritual injuries associated with PTSD include guilt, anger, grief, the absence of meaning and purpose in life, despair and the feeling that life has treated one unfairly.[96] This is an expression of nihilism that results from war. Research clearly indicates that there is an inverse association between the strength of religious faith and the severity of PTSD symptoms.[97] When combat veterans lose their faith, the severity of their PTSD is magnified.

Killing others and failing to prevent the death of others are two specific experiences that play a major role in generating guilt and PTSD in combat veterans.[98] This combat experience also plays a role in weakening religious faith. The literature also posits that weakened religious faith, PTSD, and guilt lead to greater interpersonal violence, less interpersonal closeness, and difficulty holding a job in civilian life.[99] These outcomes associated with PTSD in turn echo the existential life experience of Cain in Genesis 4. Cain’s fear that he might be killed can be read as an expression by Cain of his fear and paranoia of others, or that he deserves death because of his own culpability for the death of his brother. The high number of suicides by combat veterans serve as an indicator that veterans either feel they do not deserve to live or that the emotional pain and spiritual suffering they carry is too great a burden to bear. Twenty-two veterans a day die by suicide. This is one and a half times more than suicide by non-veterans. Women veterans who die by suicide are five times as great as women who have not served in the military.[100] “By the late 1980s, over sixty thousand veterans had committed suicide since returning from Vietnam, more than were killed during the entire war; by 1998, the number had topped one hundred thousand.”[101] The metaphor for their struggle is that they go on living East of Eden, separated from others, alienated from God and therefore from themselves. Qualitatively, like Cain, they live on a different plane. They just as well might be living in a parallel universe unlike those who have not been exposed to killing another human being.

To understand PTSD from the inside out one must listen to and pay attention to the experiences of those who have a first-hand experience of war. In Ken Burns TV series of the Vietnam War, U.S. Army veteran James Gillam states that you “do your first killing as quietly as you can…. I beat and strangled someone to death…but that wasn’t the only casualty. The other casualty was me, the civilized version of me.” Mark Bowden in recounting the battle for Hue in 1968 tells a similar story of Eden Jimenez, another veteran who cannot forget:

Some things found in the houses stayed with marines in other ways. Eden Jimenez was clearing rooms, tossing in grenades, waiting for the blast, then racing inside shooting for all he was worth. He entered one room this way that was empty except for a tall old wardrobe, which he had filled with holes. He opened it gingerly, and inside found a young woman, whom he had mortally wounded, who was holding a baby and a rifle. One of Jimenez’s rounds had pierced her throat. She was bleeding and choking to death, and soon died, still holding the baby, which was miraculously unscathed. He handed the child off and it was passed to the rear. When he was an old man, living in Odessa, Texas, he still wondered almost every day about that woman and child. Why was she holding a rifle? Did she think that was going to protect her? Did she think that no one would look inside the wardrobe? Who was she? How would he have felt if he had killed the baby, too? What ever happened to it? Should he have looked before shooting into the wardrobe? These things turned over and over in his mind and gave him a sick feeling.[102]

As a chaplain I vividly recall the account of another Vietnam veteran whose military duty was to go down into tunnels to search for the enemy. On one such occasion he encountered a young woman carrying a rifle. He killed her and as she fell forward, he saw the infant she had strapped to her back, only unlike Eden Jimenez, his bullet had also killed the baby. It too was an experience he could not forget.

A similar heartbreaking story is told of Noah Pierce who enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was seventeen. He was part of a vanguard of soldiers who participated in the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. Sitting alone in his pickup truck in Gilbert, Minnesota, he put a gun to his head and ended his life. He had just written a note to his mother on the back of an NRA pistol-safety certificate. These were the words he wrote:

Mom, I am so sorry. My life has been hell since March 2003 when I was part of the Iraq invasion…. I am freeing myself from the desert once and for all…. I am not a good person. I have done bad things. I have taken lives. Now it’s time to take mine.[103]

Living East of Eden had become too unbearable for him to go on living.

Vietnamese spirituality believes that the lives of the dead are inextricably intertwined with those of the living. For those who die a “bad death” it is believed that they may be forced to go on suffering as “wandering ghosts.” They are trapped in limbo between our world and the world of the dead. They continue to suffer forever reexperiencing the violence that ended their lives, haunting the living until their fate is embraced and acknowledged. “The idea of such wandering ghosts is an unfamiliar one for most Americans, but we should not be too quick to dismiss it. The crimes committed in America’s name in Vietnam were our “bad death,” and they have never been adequately faced. As a result, they continue to haunt our society in profound and complex ways.”[104]

Being haunted is an expression that appears again and again in the narratives of combat veterans. Bob Kerrey, a Navy Seal in Vietnam, confessed that “I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you, and I don’t think it is. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse. Because that’s the memory that haunts.”[105]

A diagnosis of PTSD covers a broad range of traumatic events. It does not make a distinction between victims of violence such as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation, and events where the person experiencing PTSD is the initiator of the violence. This includes persons such as Cain who do the killing or initiate the violence.

Chapter 4 Perpetration-Induced PTSD

Rachel MacNair makes a distinction between trauma that is initiated by another, and trauma in which the one suffering from PTSD is the initiator of the violence. She coined the term "Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress" (PITS) to describe the trauma experienced by the initiator of the violence as a subcategory of PTSD,[106] as opposed to those who are the victims or are on the receiving end of violence. Combat veterans, of course, are both on the receiving end and the initiators of violence. That is the meaning and the experience of war. MacNair defines the term "Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress" or PITS as involving “any portions of the symptomatology of PTSD, at clinical or subclinical levels, which result from situations that would be traumatic if someone were a victim, but situations for which the person in question was a causal participant.”[107]

MacNair makes the point that “the vast majority of studies have not considered or only tangentially considered the role of killing in battle, as opposed to danger or the trauma of seeing friends hurt or killed. Yet this is the first obvious place to consider the role of active participation in traumatic circumstances.”[108] This is not surprising. Politically it challenges our nations premises for going to war. Justification for going to war is never about killing, although in the Vietnam War progress was eventually measured by the number of dead enemies, not by territory controlled or by capturing “the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people. Euphemisms used to justify war are such terms as “the defense of freedom,” “stopping the spread of communism,” “preventing terrorism,” “protecting liberty,” “national security,” etc., etc.  

To reiterate, this is not surprising. As a nation, we collectively share with causalities of war the same symptoms as PTSD veterans. Writing in Truth-out.org, John Omaha defines the United States as a PTSD nation.[109] “Individuals with combat-related PTSD experience two distinct sets of symptoms: reexperiencing the traumatic event and avoidance of it.”[110] Reexperiencing includes reenactment. America’s original sin of slavery and genocide against Native Americans continues to be reenacted in the United States’ wars of aggression. The American people may not know what is done in their name, but those on the receiving end surely do—including the people of Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1959 to the present), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Vietnam (1961-73), Laos (1961-73), Cambodia (1961-73), Greece (1967-74), Chile (1973), Afghanistan (1979 to the present), El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua (1980s), and Iraq (1991 to the present), to name only the most obvious cases.[111] Besides the Middle east, US drone warfare has now expanded into the African continent. These wars fit MacNair’s definition of PITS.

 “Combat PTSD often presents in soldiers in the form of recurring recollections of the traumatic event through dreams, nightmares or flashbacks. Nightmares and flashbacks of the trauma are major symptoms of PTSD in traumatized individual.”[112] At the national level reoccurrence presents itself in the form of frequent images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Movies are another way of reexperiencing traumatic events. Those of us who grew up watching television shows of “cowboys and Indians” were exposed at an early age to reexperiencing America’s original sin in its genocide against our native population. Movies of war, video games, television news shows of school shootings, and terrorist attacks all imprint on our conscious and unconscious minds traumatic events.

Hypervigilance is another symptom of PTSD. Our nation’s response to 9/11 was a hypervigilant reaction to a national emergency. Nine-eleven was indeed a crime against humanity but not a war against humanity. Meriam-Webster defines war as a “state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.”[113] The United States was attacked by individual terrorists and not by the nation of Afghanistan or Iraq. The blunt instrument of a “war on terror” to prosecute a crime was a disastrous overreaction and made no sense. The collective punishment of Afghanistan, including the civilian population, was a disproportionate response to a crime, violating international law[114] and the principals of a just war.”[115] The U.N. Charter prohibits the use of force for purposes of retaliation, vengeance, and punishment. It prohibits the use of military force except for matters of self-defense (Article 2[4] & Article 51). In other words, unless a future attack on the United States takes place by a nation sate, it cannot use military force according to the Charter of the United States.

Paranoia is another symptom associated with PTSD. The United States spends three times as much on military spending as second-placed China. It spends more on the military than the combined total of the next eight nations.[116] This amount of spending indicates a nation fearful of others, including countries far weaker and more vulnerable that the United States. Our response to asymmetrical warfare illustrated by our so-called “war on terror” and to 9/11 has been a costly expenditure of our national resources. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda spent no more than $400,000 on the attack on the United States.[117] The United States will end up spending nearly six trillion dollars on its wars in the middle east since 9/11; this does not include expenditures that will be spent on veterans after 2019. It was Dwight Eisenhower who said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

National paranoia is depleting our nation’s treasure and will assure that our nation’s greatness will be diminished and sacrificed by the military/industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about in words so eloquently expressed.

Experience has shown that high-tech armed forces, such as those of the United States, are inappropriate, overly blunt instruments against terrorists and guerrilla warfare. What was called for was international police cooperation to hunt down the terrorists and changes in foreign policy to separate militant activists from their passive supporters, whose grievances need to be addressed. 

Initiating a war to prosecute a crime is a disproportionate use of force, another principal of just war thinking. Tools for fighting crime are far more disciplined, precise and focused than using the blunt instrument of war and allow for a more successful outcome that the use of military force. Our nation’s history of success in Vietnam, Central America, Iraq and now Syria have not been good. Tools for fighting crime include an investigation to determine those responsible for the crime, a charge brought against them, apprehension, a trial and then appropriate punishment. An example of the successful use of justice in prosecuting war criminals in a court of law was key figures in the Balkan War who were charged and convicted for war crimes by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, Milan Lukic and Sloboadan Praljak for crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars.[118] The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. In using the crime metaphor rather than the war metaphor would have prevented the evil of the United States’ misadventures in the Middle East and in Latin America. “Instead of acting to resolve the post 9/11 crisis, the United States exacerbated it with massive military assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq, two ill-advised and unnecessary wars that inflamed passions throughout the Islamic world and repelled huge majorities in every democratic country on earth.”[119] In addition, the “United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019, including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post-9/11 war veterans.”[120]

In 1953 the Central Intelligence Agency introduced the concept of blowback in response to overthrowing the legitimately elected government of Iran. The term was used to describe the likelihood of retaliations against Americans, civilian and military, at home and abroad as the consequences of covert operations in other people’s countries. In his book Blowback Chalmers Johnson argues that “many aspects of what the American government (has) done around the world virtually (invites) retaliatory attacks from nations and peoples on the receiving end.”[121]

Blowback is an appropriate metaphor for PTSD at the individual level for combat soldiers engaged in Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS). Killing has consequences. While medics often do not carry weapons in combat, in Vietnam Army Medic Wayne Smith tells of an ambush in which he armed himself and along with his unit killed many enemy soldiers. “I feel responsibility,” he says. “I feel blood on my hands. When you kill someone for your country all things change.”[122] Guilt is a spiritual injury many soldiers experience because of their killing in war.[123] Yet, a vast majority of studies that have not considered the role of killing in battle.[124] Too little attention has been given to what killing in war does to the human soul. Lt. Col. David Grossman, a retired army officer and former West Point psychology professor states that humans by nature are not killers. “Looking another human being in the eye, making an independent decision to kill him, and watching as he dies due to your action combine to form the single most basic, important, primal, and potentially traumatic occurrence of war.”[125]

"One veteran of the American invasion of El Salvador described his first kill. He had a defending peasant in his rifle sights, but he did not want to pull the trigger on an impoverished farmer fearfully protecting his home. Meanwhile, his sergeant screamed in his ear, "Shoot, shoot, kill the bastard or I'll have you court-martialed!' He pulled the trigger. As he vomited and cried, his sarge slapped him on the back and said, ‘Don’t worry. The first one is always the hardest. It'll never be so hard again.' War survivors commonly report such situations in which they felt forced to betray their moral codes. Afterward, they pass through life without feeling, like wooden puppets on strings."[126] Symptoms of PTSD include a sense of numbness, emotional blunting, detachment from other people and unresponsiveness to surroundings.[127] Incidence of soldiers vomiting associated with killing reoccur in the literature of war; it is as if soldiers cannot stomach what they are being commanded to do.

My conclusion as retired Chief of Chaplain Service at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, research conducted while in that position, and my reading of the literature, especially biographies of the Vietnam War, is that the meaning of combat related PTSD is that the killing must stop. David Morris, writing about PTSD states that “PTSD remains to a surprising degree a cultural and existential phenomenon, a condition with no cure and little solid biological grounding.”[128] “Is it truly a psychiatric disorder, as we understand them today, or is it perhaps something akin to a ‘moral injury,’ as some theorists, like Jonathan Shay and Brett Litz, have suggested?”[129] If PTSD is blowback to war at the personal level, and if there is no cure, then prevention to this disorder rather than curing is where we now turn. Prevention happens when the killing stops.

Going forward my premise will be that a Theocentric ethic precludes killing and war. In addition, my reading of the Gospels is that a Christocentric understanding of Jesus life indicates that peace is achieved not through violence but through justice and love. This may include non-violent civil disobedience to injustice and war. I turn now to Jesus as the Christ in offering an alternative vision to war and violence in our world today.

Chapter 5: An Alternative Vision to War

“The world in which we live is in the grip of an anthropological crisis of unimaginable proportions. If we hope to fully comprehend this challenge and to respond to it intelligently and gracefully, then in the words of Rene Girard, we must take advantage of the incredible interpretive power “that is bestowed on humankind by the Passion of Christ.”[130] “This thought is echoed by French philosopher, mystic and social activist Simone Weil when she wrote ‘The Cross of Christ is the only gateway to knowledge.’”[131] This Christocentric understanding of history will be developed by two strands of contemporary theology as it pertains to war and violence.

The first strand is the contribution to contemporary thought offered by Liberation Theology. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize writes regarding the religious legitimation of violence:

Jesus issued no call for violent action, even to change unjust situations. Still less then did he call for violence in order to maintain and defend a situation of injustice. Accordingly, we are bound to declare that Christian values are never defended by murder, torture, or repression. Sad indeed would be those “humanistic, Christian values” that require violence for their maintenance! Such methods can never take up the defense of that life and love that have set us free by making us children of one Father as well as sisters and brothers to all humankind. “Filiation and fraternity”—the status of children of God and brothers and sisters of one another—are not maintained by force of arms. They are values lived from within a true conversion of the heart by accepting the gifts of the Lord in a spirit of poverty.

The principle focus of Liberation Theology is on God’s preferential option for the poor, for the outcast, for the victim, and for anyone who suffers because of structural injustice, economic abuse and those left voiceless when it comes to their place at the table. This identification with the victim is a central theme of liberation theology, thus its focus on history, politics and salvation. "To work, to transform this world, is to become a man and to build the human community; it is also to save. Likewise, to struggle against misery and exploitation and to build a just society is already to be part of the saving action, which is moving towards its complete fulfillment.”[132]  In terms of war this means God's preferential option for the victims of war, for soldiers killed or wounded, for civilian populations that become the victims of "unintended consequences" or "collateral damage", and of women and children left widows and orphans because of armed conflict.

"The God whom we know in the Bible is a liberating God, a God who destroys myths and alienations, a God who intervenes in history in order to break down structures of injustice and who raises up prophets in order to point out the way of justice and mercy. He is the God who liberates slaves (Exodus), who causes empires to fall and raises up the oppressed."[133] "The whole climate of the Gospel is a continued demand for the right of the poor to make themselves heard, to be considered preferentially by society, a demand to subordinate economic needs to those of the deprived. Was not Christ's first preaching to 'proclaim the liberations of the oppressed?'"[134]

The other-worldly nature of traditional theology and popular religion has no place in liberation theology. "It seems clear today that the purpose of the Church is not to save in the sense of 'guaranteeing heaven.' The work of salvation is a reality which occurs in history. This work gives to the historical becoming of mankind its profound unity and its deepest meaning."[135]

Another difference between historic religion and liberation theology is the primacy of love and hope over faith in which faith is often interpreted as correct belief emphasizing creedal and doctrinal purity. Liberation theology’s focus is on behavior and on the systems that create suffering, poverty and injustice. Historical and traditional doctrines of Christianity such as substitutionary atonement in which it is believed that Christ died for our sins have no place in liberation theology. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement has provided Christianity with a permissive excuse to go on sinning since sin is always covered if correct belief is maintained. As Gutierrez reminds us, the primacy of faith over love and action can lend itself to rigidity, authoritarianism and the repressive characteristics reflected in the more reprehensible side of religion.[136] This allows for Christians to be engaged in war and killing since all sins have been covered in advance by the crucifixion of Christ. Since Christ suffered we do not have to suffer; it is a convenient theology for first world Christians who are part of the dominate and ruling class. Liberation theology does not interpret Christ’s suffering in this regard. The crucifixion is understood as God’s identification with the suffering of the poor, the outcast, for those unjustly treated, and for those living in the margins of society through no fault of their own. It addresses systemic injustice and suffering and through praxis (doing rather than believing) strives to collectively change the social conditions that limit human dignity and are the cause of oppression, violence and war.

A primary focus is liberation from sin, but sin that is systemic, that is collective and that is part of the fabric of culture that entangles everyone in its grip. This gives to sin a political and historical dimension that goes beyond private transgressions and failures. “One of the oldest themes in the theology of liberation is the totality and complexity of the liberation process. This theology conceives total liberation as a single process, within which it is necessary to distinguish different dimensions of levels: economic liberation, social liberation, political liberation, liberation of the human being from all manner of servitude, liberation from sin, and communion with God as the ultimate basis of a human community of brothers and sisters.[137]

Liberation theology had its birth in the underdeveloped countries of our world, particularly in Latin America. Jose Miguez Bonino states that Latin American underdevelopment is the dark side of Northern development; Northern development is built on third-world underdevelopment. The basic categories for understanding our history are not development and underdevelopment but domination and dependence. This is the crux of the matter.[138] It addresses the condition of colonialization which is the exploitation of poor and underdeveloped nations by the developed nations. Historically for Latin America it meant conquest and then the expropriation and seizure of gold and silver and returning it to Spain and Portugal. In the United States this relationship of colonialization and dependency was originally expressed in the conquest of Native Americans and later in the slave trade that exploited African slaves imported as property to the New World. It was again repeated in the relationship of the United States to Central America and its blowback that we are now experiencing as immigrants leaving El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras seeking employment and asylum from violence north of the border.

In the United States colonialization is also experienced in the relationship between capital and labor. Our tax laws favor capital over labor with the result of the dependency of labor on the ruling class and the evolution of a growing plutocracy in our nation. “The growth of capital’s share accelerated with the victories of Margaret Thatcher in England in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1980, marking the beginning of a conservative revolution. Then came the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989, followed by financial globalization and deregulation in the 1990s. All of these events marked a political turn in the opposite direction from that observed in the first half of the twentieth century. By 2010, and despite the crisis that began in 2007–2008, capital was prospering as it had not done since 1913.”[139] The disparity between the haves and the have nots continues to grow.

Colonization in the United States is as likely to be internal as it is external. In addition to the relationship of capital to labor, such imbalances and exploitive behavior exist based on class, race, gender, and military service. The way in which military service and soldiers are exploited is illustrated by a war memorial erected in Marseilles, Illinois. The memorial was erected by civic-minded bikers and Vietnam veterans and is appropriately named the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial. It is the only national memorial commemorating those who have died “during the course of the various campaigns, skirmishes, protracted wars, and nasty mishaps that have involved U.S. forces in various quarters of the Greater Middle East over the past several decades.”[140]

Those whose names are engraved on the wall in Marseilles died in service to their country. Of that there is no doubt. Whether they died to advance the cause of freedom or even the wellbeing of the United States is another matter entirely. Terms that might more accurately convey why these wars began and why they have persisted for so long include oil, dominion, hubris, a continuing and stubborn refusal among policymakers to own up to their own stupendous folly, and the collective negligence of citizens who have become oblivious to where American troops happen to be fighting at any given moment and why. Some might add to the above list an inability to distinguish between our own interests and those of putative allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.[141]

The above quote is by Andrew Bacevich, an American historian specializing in international relations, security studies, American foreign policy, and American diplomatic and military history. He speaks out of his own experience as a graduate of West Point and serving as an officer in Vietnam. He retired from the United States Army with the rank of colonel. “Bacevich has been a ‘persistent, vocal critic of U.S. occupation of Iraq, calling the conflict a catastrophic failure.’”[142] He describes the war in Iraq as “immoral, illicit, and imprudent.” His son Andrew John Bacevich, also an Army officer, died fighting in the Iraq War in May 2007.[143]

The United States’ exploitation of its soldiers is most evident in its preventable wars. This is most evident in Middle East Wars as well as in Vietnam. The stated purposes of going to war in both Vietnam and especially Iraq were never achieved. President Johnson’s objective in Vietnam was to “prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam—and, more importantly, shield him against charges of having been ‘the first president to lose a war.’”[144] “Johnson could not envisage anything less in Vietnam than an outcome that stopped Communist ‘aggression’; in that respect he shared the same hope that had guided Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.”[145]

The stated purpose of winning the war on terror in the Middle East was to “dismantle the repressive Taliban regime” in Afghanistan and in Iraq to defeat “a regime that developed and used weapons of mass destruction, that harbored and supported terrorists, committed outrageous human rights abuses, and defied the just demands of the United Nations and the world.”[146] The Taliban regime has not been dismantle; instead it can be argued that Isis was created and has expanded due to the U.S. led war in the Middle East. No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. The assertion that Saddam Hussein collaborated with Osama bin Laden has been discredited by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies. And Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General at the time of the Iraq invasion, saw the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a violation of international law.[147]

In other words, the stated purposes of both the Vietnam War and the War on Terror have not been accomplished. Instead, the blowback from these “stupendous follies” and “catastrophic failures” have cost the United States 58,220 lives in Vietnam and more than 8,000 in Middle East Wars. These numbers ignore the widows, orphans, and civilian deaths resulting from wars not of necessity but of choice. This does not mean that there have not been “winners” in these wars. Soldiers who are the labor in such wars have been exploited by capital. An example of this exploitation is the military/industrial complex Eisenhower warned us of in his farewell address to the nation.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex (italics added). The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.[148]

In the Middle East wars "Halliburton--of which Cheney had been the chief executive officer--had received more than half a billion dollars in military contracts relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in an arrangement that did not require the firm to bid on these jobs."[149] Militarism, nationalism, and capitalism have all been strengthened by America’s wars of choice that have been waged against nations poorer, weaker, and more underdeveloped. Not only have these nations been exploited for reasons of “oil, dominion, hubris, a continuing and stubborn refusal among policymakers to own up to their own stupendous folly,”[150] but United States soldiers have been exploited in carrying out these ill-advised misadventures.

The task of liberation theology in underdeveloped nations is to liberate the poor, the oppressed, and those suffering from their dependency on the rich and powerful. The task of liberation theology in North America, on the other hand, will be to liberate us from war. It will liberate us from the military/industrial and I would add congressional complex that have exploited soldiers and those who die or are wounded and their families in the name of a misguided patriotism that benefits those who profit from war.

A second characteristic of liberation theology is defined by the word conscientization. It is an awakening of those who are exploited and oppressed. In the United States this means no less than liberation from militarism and war. It means the liberation of soldiers and their families, and of faith communities who have been betrayed by a misguided patriotism and a false sense of security dependent on control and the threat of violence against those who challenge the imperialism of the pro-war parties in both houses of congress and of both political parties. It means a transformation and paradigm shift in our self-identity as a nation. This liberation and transformation will never be granted by the powerful and by those who profit by war, by exploitation, and by greed. Historic and traditional theology has characteristically focused its attention on individual and personal misdeeds and sins. What is now required is a focus on systems of injustice and on the powers that control and exploit individuals and nature itself. Environmental and social injustice are the arenas where liberation theology manifests itself. We are reminded of this in the following declaration:

As we see it, a perhaps faulty presentation of the Christian message may have given the impression that religion is indeed the opiate of the people. And we would be guilty of betraying the cause of (those who are exploited), if we did not stress the fact that the doctrinal riches of the Gospel contain a revolutionary thrust. Indeed, the God whom we know in the Bible is a liberating God, a God who destroys myths and alienations, a God who intervenes in history in order to break down the structures of injustice and who raises up prophets in order to point out the way of justice and mercy. (God) is the God who liberates slaves (Exodus), who causes empires to fall and raises up the oppressed. The whole climate of the Gospels is a continual demand for the right of the poor to make themselves heard, to be considered preferentially by society, a demand to subordinate economic needs to those of the deprived. Was not Christ’s first preaching to “proclaim the liberations of the oppressed?”[151]

In the context of war and violence, the poor are those who are suffering from PTSD caused by killing. Their so-called disorder is screaming out to all those who have ears to hear that violence and killing is no way to bring order, justice and peace to a world that is increasingly drifting towards annihilation and the end of human civilization as we know it. One of the loudest protestations of war is captured in a film by John Huston filmed in 1946 titled Let There Be Light.[152] This legendary film director, screenwriter, and actor directed this film while serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. It was intended to educate the public about post-traumatic stress disorder or “shell-shock” or war neurosis as it was then labelled. This unscripted presentation of the mental disabilities suffered by World War II soldiers was a devastating depiction of what war does to the human soul. The documentary was suppressed by the U.S. government and was not released until 1980. The fear was that its release would reveal what happens to soldiers in war and would turn the public against military service, making recruitment far more difficult if not impossible.

The task of liberation theology in North America is to deepen understanding of the blowback from war—both personally and collectively--, and to enunciate the relationship between public policy and violence in general. It means that instead of being the opiate of the people, religion and theology’s responsibility is to provide a prophetic role by connecting the dots structurally between our nation’s imperial aspirations and the absence of domestic tranquility.

Jimmy Carter is best remembered  for his Camp David Accords that negotiated a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt as well as his emphasis on human rights, but in his State of the Union Address delivered on January 23, 1980 he defined what came to beknow as the Carter Doctrine. It proclaimed that “the United States would use military force, if necessary, to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf. It was a response to the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, and it was intended to deter the Soviet Union, the United States' Cold War adversary, from seeking hegemony in the Persian Gulf region. The following key sentence, which was written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Adviser, concludes the section: Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”[153] This primarily meant access to middle eastern oil. This was essentially an expansion of the Monroe Doctrine to another continent enlarging U.S. imperial aspirations.

Since then justification for United States’ military action in the Middle East is delineated in a document titled the National Security Strategy of the United States published on September 17, 2002. It is referred to as the Bush Doctrine and is defined as “a collection of strategy principals, practical policy decisions, and a set of rationales and ideas for guiding United States foreign policy.”[154] Some of these principles had reemerged from a document first enunciated by deputy secretary of defense in the first Bush administration and were disavowed by George H. W. Bush after they were leaked to the New York Times. The main point of the Bush Doctrine includes preemptive strikes against perceived enemies and military primacy. This first-strike doctrine flies in the face of historic just war theory first articulated by Saint Augustine. More will be said about this later. This national security document justified the Iraq War and continues to support military action in the Middle East and in Africa as it pertains to drone warfare. As such the President or his appointed arbitrator serves as self-appointed judge, jury and executioner in the administration of military force.

An alternative to the use of military force would be to utilize the International Criminal Court (ICC), an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that sits in The Hague, Netherlands. The ICC has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity, international crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. The United States did not ratify, nor did it assign on as a member of the ICC for fear that American nationals may be tried in connection with alleged war crimes. This tribunal has held national leaders accountable and may therefore be the reason the U.S. has chosen not to ratify the ICC’s legitimacy.

The dots that need to be connected are the relationship between foreign wars and peace and tranquility at home. In an article published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology titled the “Relationship Between War and Crime in the United States” faces up to the effect of killing in war and the impact it has on society when soldiers come home.

Human conduct, normal and abnormal, is largely a product of the interaction of the forces of personality and environment."' Anti-social human conduct, then, characterized by its aggressive, competitive nature and its indifference to social welfare, results from the conditioning of the personality by society. Anti-social individuals have found it more convenient not to conform to society's ethical code. But sometimes society alters its code of conduct and permits behavior which she formerly punished severely. "Society has its mass-homicides called wars, its mass- robberies called invasions, its wholesale larcenies called empire building."' Under conditions of war, then, behavior formerly called criminal, i.e., killing, is now considered good and commendable. When the war is over and man returns to the every-day civil competition of life, it is inevitable that war-ethics should have left their mark upon him. The necessary conditions can call them into action again.[155]

The same understanding of war is contained in a book by Edward Tick:

What are we denying about our war making? We deny our own complex human nature, including our capacities for greed, evil, and doing harm, clinging instead to the belief in our own innocence and goodness. We deny the true destructive nature of modern warfare in order to cling to its mythic foundations. And we deny that war changes its participants forever, promoting instead the belief that PTSD can be repaired and that vets and survivors can resume an ordinary civilian identity.... America claims innocence and goodness as fundamental traits. We believe that our young men and women should be able to go to war, get the job done, and return home blameless and well.[156]

It does not happen that way as indicated by research on domestic violence. A study by Resul Cesur and Joseph Sabia shows that assignment to combat substantially increases the probability of intimate partner violence and child abuse.[157]

The idea that U.S. Presidents as well as soldiers in combat become judge, jury and executioner as to who shall live and who shall die is now regularly played out in what has become combat zones in our American cities as well as in our nation’s schools. The same principle and ethic that governs United States foreign policy is now being practiced on American streets. Children who die and innocent civilians and innocent bystanders are the collateral damage we read about overseas in our nations combat zones. Leaders at the highest level in the executive and legislative branches of government do not feel they will get a fair shake by relying on international tribunals to make judgments on who is innocent and who is guilty and who should be punished accordingly. Similarly, young people who use weapons designed for military service to settle grievances and take the law into their own hands do so because of the absence of trust in institutions meant to mediate justice. The fact that white-color criminals get a slap on the wrist or go free while African Americans and minority young people are disproportionately represented in our nation's prisons permeates the consciousness of those engaged in violence at the street level. They feel their chances are better when they become judge, jury and executioner than if they were to rely on law enforcement officials or the nations courts. More will be said about the connection between our nation’s War on Terror and domestic violence when entanglement theory will be discussed in later chapters. Again, the challenge for liberation theology in North America must focus on ending sanctioned killing and putting an end to our nation’s endless wars.

A second strand of a Christocentric understanding of war is the contribution to contemporary Christian theology offered by James Cone. He reflects on the meaning of the cross in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.[158] He specifically addresses the issue of how suffering can be redemptive. He writes that the redemptive nature of the cross is found in God’s critique of power.[159] Contrast this with author and journalist Chris Hedges comment on power:

The U.S. military has won the ideological war. The nation sees human and social problems as military problems. To fight terrorists Americans have become terrorists. Peace is for the weak. War is for the strong. Hypermasculinity has triumphed over empathy. We Americans speak to the world exclusively in the language of force. And those who oversee our massive security and surveillance state seek to speak to us in the same demented language. All other viewpoints are to be shut out.[160]

Cone, on the other hand, speaks of the cross as a “paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.”[161] Cone uses the cross as the Christian symbol that challenges the dominant ideologies of power, wealth and control in our world today. He cites Delores Williams, the Paul Tillich Emeritus Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York, who “developed a persuasive critique of the idea of redemptive suffering. She rejected the view common in classic texts of the Western theological tradition as well as in the preaching in African American churches that Jesus accomplished human salvation by dying in our place. According to Williams, Jesus did not come to save us through his death on the cross but rather he ‘came to show redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relationships.’”[162] Righting relationships is the central thrust of liberation and Black theologies that focus our attention on justice in the face of systematic evil. Both accentuate God’s liberation of the poor as the primary theme of Jesus’ gospel. I would add to this anyone who suffers from exclusion, injustice, hate, bigotry, sickness and all the manifest evils in our world today, particularly those that express themselves in systemic ways. In keeping with the focus of this book it includes soldiers and their families exploited by the powers that be who then suffer a lifetime from the personal blowback from war. Systemic injustice is a human creation, and as such, its perpetrators can be held accountable and its effects can be righted. Regarding suffering Cone write:

I accept Delores Williams’s rejection of theories of atonement as found in the Western theological tradition and in the uncritical proclamation of the cross in many black churches. I find nothing redemptive about suffering in itself. The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair, as revealed in the biblical and black proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.

This certainly holds true for the life and preaching of Martin Luther King Jr. We are reminded of this when Cone writes “white theologians do not normally turn to the black experience to learn about theology. But if the lynching tree is America’s cross and if the cross is the heart of the Christian gospel, perhaps Martin Luther King Jr., who endeavored to “take up his cross, and follow [Jesus]” (Mark 8:34) as did no other theologian in American history, has something to teach America about Jesus’ cross.”[163] Redemptive suffering in terms of King’s life is evident in his influence in history that brought about historical changes in the United States including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Indeed, civil disobedience practiced by Martin Luther King Jr. has been far more effective in bringing about significant social and cultural changes than military force. This includes the end of colonialism represented by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience in India, the end of apartheid in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela, the suffragettes movement in America, the women’s liberation movement, protests against the Vietnam War hastening its ending, Caesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers movement, and the labor movement itself in the United States.     

The cross too is a non-violent civil-disobedient demonstration against the principalities and powers represented by empire and dominion maintained by violence. The historic context of the crucifixion was Passover, the Jewish celebration of liberation from an earlier empire. It was the standard of the Roman governors of Judea to attend major religious holidays, not out of reverence but to see that religious devotion did not get out of hand and lead to any trouble. Pilate march down over the sixty miles from Caesarea Maritima to Jerusalem as a display of imperial power as well as Roman imperial theology. “According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.”[164] While Pilate’s procession proclaimed the power of empire and the power of violence, Jesus procession proclaimed the non-violent Kingdom of God and peace through justice and love. Jesus demonstration during Holy Week in Jerusalem, as well as his ministry in Galilee was a protest against the “domination system” of first century Palestine. It was a social system marked by three major features: political oppression, economic exploitation and religious legitimation.[165] Herod had been appointed by Rome as king of the Jews who in turn appointed the high priest and temple authorities. They ruled at the pleasure of Rome. “After abolishing the Jewish monarchy, Rome initially ruled through the high priest, the temple, and a local aristocracy centered in the temple. This was Rome’s traditional practice throughout its territory: appointing local collaborators from the indigenous population to rule on Rome’s behalf. The primary qualification was wealth—Rome trusted wealthy families.[166] Somethings do not change. The Iraq war had the strong support of evangelical Christians represented by Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham, Falwell boasting that “God is pro-war.”[167]

My hypothesis is that what combat soldiers and their families are suffering from is a contemporary expression of what Cone is writing about in The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Suffering and dying because of war are today’s lynching tree. It needs to be added that African Americans were over-represented in the Vietnam War and their percentages died accordingly. “Although they made up less than 10 percent of American men in arms and about 13 percent of the U.S. population between 1961 and 1966, they accounted for almost 20 percent of all combat-related deaths in Vietnam during that period.”[168] Similarly, a growing number of Hispanic immigrants today are being deported after serving in the U.S. military in Iraq and the Middle East.[169]

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, writes in his book Christ in a Poncho: Witnesses to the Nonviolent Struggles in Latin America writes:

On one of my first trips to Ecuador I had a dream. I dreamt I saw Christ on the cross dressed in a poncho. Later I happened to be visiting a community of the Little Brothers of Charles de Foucauld. I went into the chapel and there he was on the wall again—Christ crucified, in a poncho, as I had seen him in my dream. From then on he never let me alone and, after I was released from La Plata Prison, I set myself to do a painting of this Christ in a poncho. He is the Christ of the poor.[170]

Likewise, it is easy to imagine the one on the cross wearing the poncho to be a soldier, placed on a cross erected by the military/industrial complex Eisenhower warned us against. I would add to the military/industrial complex the executive and legislative branches of government of both parties who have historically been pro-war.

Going back to the first chapters Genesis in which God breathes life into everyone, there is a God instinct is in all of us. When we kill another human being, we break that instinct and disfigure the Divine. As described by process theology, God breathing life into Adam and Eve is a metaphor for God being in all of us and in all of life. By killing we break the moral arc of the universe that bends towards love and justice. The God instinct in humans is to create and make beauty. It is the inclination towards order and orderliness, thus towards justice, love, and showing mercy. Within this context, PTSD is a cry of the heart. It is a protest against the taking of life, a protest against war by the God instinct that is in all of, an instinct that is more developed in some individuals than in others. I will further discuss this in the chapter on moral injury and Kolberg's levels of moral development. It represents a higher level of emergence and as such is positive development in the evolution of a higher order of thinking and of behavior, an evolution that is beyond war, an ascent that is hopeful and constructive. PTSD is a protest against the masters of deception that see war and killing as normal and even heroic. It pulls us away from destroying human life and towards a more civil society. It disavows our adjusting downward our morality to our behavior and calls on us to adjust upward our behavior to a higher standard the preserves not only our own life but also the life of our neighbor. It transcends religion, ethnicity, nationality, ideology and all that divides humanity into warring camps.

PTSD suffered by combat soldiers is a protest against killing and therefore a protest against war. It is the non-violent God instinct rebelling non-violently against taking the life of another human being. It is God within embracing and aspiring to the God above or the transcendent Breath of Life. The story of Cain and Able is God's Preventative Story (GPS) for the soul against combat related PTSD; its message and meaning are do not kill your brother or your sister. It is a protest, a judgment against those who initiate and promulgate war. The redemptive suffering of combat soldiers and veterans experiencing PTSD is that they are the canaries in the coal mind warning us that that a nation that relies on violence and force to establish its empire is doomed to live East of Eden separated from the God who gives us life. Unlike a medical diagnostic category that defnes combat related PTSD as a disorder, it is a condiiton that meaningfully speaks judgment against and unmasks the masters of war.[171] 

Future chapters will include my take on moral injury, just war theory and Christianity, moral development and its relationship to moral injury, quantum physics entanglement theory and its relationship to PTSD, black holes as a metaphor for war, quantum ethics, and the hopefulness and the silver lining found in PTSD’s meaning.



[1] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 11.

[2] Ibid., p. 9.

[3] Ibid., p. 40.

[4] John B. Cobb, Jr., For Our Common God (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2015) Kindle edition Loc. 56 of 8392.

[5] William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming,” The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989).

[6] Browning, Robert. “Pippa Passes,” Bells and Pomegranates, 1481 (check reference).

[7] Wikipedia, Image of God.

[8] Peter Nathan, “The Original View of Original Sin, “ Vision.org, Summer 2003.

[9] Walter Brueggemann, “Genesis,” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010 paperback edition) 41.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gen. 2:7 NRSV.

[12] Neil deGrasse Tyson, https://www.bbntimes.com/en/science/are-we-made-of-stardust.

[13] Gen. 2:7 NRSV.

[14] Bruce Feiler, The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us (New York: Penguin Press, 2017), 11.

[15] George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age in Crisis (New York: Verso, 2017), Kindle 126.

[16] Ibid., 128.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Wikipedia, citing “Original Sin,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Ann Parker, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008) Kindle edition Loc. 4679.

[21] Wikipedia, Ibid.

[22] George Monbiot, Ibid, 278-285.

[23] Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Ann Parker, Ibid, 4675-4684, 6530 ff.

[24] John B. Cobb, Jr., Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015) Kindle edition 164-172 of 2375.

[25] John Dominic Crossan & Richard G. Watts, Who Is Jesus? (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 115.

[26] Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Ann Parker, Ibid, 4703.

[27] Bruce G Epperly, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: T & T Clark International, 2011) Kindle edition 730-236 of 2269.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid 956.

[30] Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Free Press, 1967), 17.

[31] Roland Faber, God as Poet of the World: Exploring Process Theologies (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), chapters 4-5. 

[32] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1978), 342.

[33] Wikipedia, Alfred North Whitehead, “God”.

[34] I Cor. 13:13 NRSV.

[35] Wikipedia, Ibid.

[36] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1978), 343.

[37] “Pantheism,” The New Oxford Dictionary of English (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008), 1341.

[38] Paul Edwards, ed., “Pantheism,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan and Free Press, 1967), 34.

[39] Philip Clayton & Steven Knapp, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith (Oxford: University Press, 2011), 72.

[40] Phillip Clayton and Paul Davies, editors, The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), Kindle edition, 3858.

[41] Philip Clayton, Adventures in the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 118.

[42] Ibid., 151.

[43] Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 268-272.

[44] Ibid., 174.

[45] John B. Cobb, Jr., The Process Perspective II (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2011), Kindle edition 127 of 2453.

[46] Epperly, Ibid., 1118 of 2269.

[47] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology II: Existence and The Christ (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 97.

[48] D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), 126-127.

[49] Epperly, Ibid., 410 of 2269.

[50] Gen. 1:31a NSRV.

[51] Feiler, Ibid., 49.

[52] Gen. 2:25b NRSV.

[53] Gen.  3:1b-5a NRSV.

[54] Phi.2:5-8 NSRV.

[55] Brueggemann, Op. cit.

[56] Feiler, Ibid., 54.

[57] Ibid., 14.

[58] Monbiot, Ibid., 272-281 of 3394.

[59] Robert Emmet Meagher, Killing From the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just War (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Press, 2014) Kindle edition, 10.

[60] John Steinbeck, East of Eden (New York: Penguin Books, 2002) Kindle edition, 302.

[61] Gen. 4:7 NRSV.

[62] Gen. 4:4 NRSV.

[63] Gen. 4:9 NRSV.

[64] Gen. 2:7 NRSV.

[65] Gen. 4:10 NRSV.

[66] Gen. 4:13-14a NRSV.

[67] Gen. 4:16 NRSV.

[68] Gen. 4:12a NRSV.

[69] Gen. 4:14a NRSV.

[70] Gen. 4:16 NRSV.

[72] Fretheim, Terence E., “Genesis,” The New Interpreter's Bible I (Nashville Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1994), 374.

[73] Gen. 4:14a NRSV.

[74] Gen. 4:16 NRSV.

[75] Gen. 4:11 NRSV.

[76] Gen 4:12a NRSV.

[77] Gen. 4:14b NRSV.

[78] Gen. 4:15b NRSV.

[79] Mat. 5:38 NRSV.

[80] Gen. 4:7 NRSV.

[81] https://quotefancy.com/quote/762717/Albert-Einstein-No-problem-can-be-solved-from-the-same-level-of-consciousness-that

[82] Chris Hedges, “The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of a Complex Societies,” Truth-Dig, April 14, 2014.

[83] http://web.ccsu.edu/afstudy/upd13-1.html.

[84] Gary Berg, “The Relationship between Spiritual Distress, PTSD and Depression,” Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling 65, no. 1 (2011) pp….

[85] American Psychiatric Association, “PTSD,” Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Washington, DC: DSM-5, 2013).

[86] American Psychiatric Association, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,  https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Psychiatrists/Practice/DSM/APA_DSM-5-PTSD.pdf.

[87] Rachel M. MacNair, Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2002) Kindle edition, 133 of 2942.

[88] Gen. 4:12 NRSV.

[89] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (December 2015: NCJ 249144.

[90] Gen. 4:16a NRSV.

[91] William P. Mahedy, Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986) p. 31.

[92] Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism: Its Origin and Nature—with a Christian Answer (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961) 11.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Mahedy, Ibid.

[95] Berg, Ibid., p. 3. (check this out)

[96] Ibid.

[97] Alan Fontana & Robert Rosenheck, “Trauma, Change in Strength of Religious Faith, and Mental Health Service Among Veterans Treated for PTSD,” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 192, no. 9 (September 2004) 579.

[98] Ibid., 580.

[99] Ibid.

[100] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_veteran_suicide.

[101] Edward Tick, War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 2005) 165.

[102] Mark Bowden, Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017) Kindle edition, 5201-5209.

[103] Robert Emmet Meagher, Killing From the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just War (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2014) Kindle edition, 4.

[104] Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2-13) Kindle edition, 261-262.

[105] Meagher, Ibid., 143.

[106] Rachel M. MacNair, Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing (Westport, Connecticut, Praeger Publishers, 2002) Kindle edition, Loc. 148 of 2942.

[107] Ibid., Loc. 154 of 2942.

[108] Ibid., Loc. 182 of 2942.

[109] https://truthout.org/articles/ptsd-nation.

[110] Ibid., p. 2 of 7.

[111] Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Cost and Consequences of American Empire (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2000) Kindle edition 106 of 5324.

[112] Truthout,Ibid.

[113] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/war

[114] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_force_by_states.

[115] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war_theory#Doctrine.

[116] https://www.forbes.com, April 24, 2017.

[117] https://www.pri.org/stories/2011-05-07.

[118] Wikipedia, Yugoslav Wars, ICTY/MICT.

[119] Johnson, Ibid., Kindle edition 200-207 of 5324.

[120]https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2018/Crawford_Costs%20of%20War%20Estimates%20Through%20FY2019%20.pdf).

[121] Johnson, Ibid. Loc. 83 of 5324.

[122] Ken Burns and … Vietnam War.

[123] Berg, Ibid….

[124] MacNair, Ibid., Loc. 182 of 2942.

[125] Ibid., Loc 85.

[126] Tick, Ibid., p. 19.

[127] MacNair, bid., Loc. 133.

[128] David J. Morris, The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Boston & New York: First Mariner Books, 2016) Kindle edition, p. 228.

[129] Ibid., p. 229.

[130] Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1995) p. 259.

[131] Ibid.

[132] Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1973) p. 159.

[133] Ibid., p. 116.

[134] Ibid.

[135] Ibid., p. 255.

[136] Ibid., p. 219.

[137] Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History (New York: Orbis Books, 1983) p. 144.

[138] Jose Miguez Bonino, Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975) p. 16.

[139] Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2014)

Kindle Edition, p. 41 of 685.

[140]   Andrew J. Bacevich, “Our 8,000 Military Dead in US Mideast Wars: ‘Words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in main” Informed Comment, 5/24/2019. https://www.juancole.com/2019/05/glorious-sacrifice-expression.html.

[141] Ibid.

[143] Ibid.

[144] Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: The Viking Press, 1983) p. 335.

[145] Ibid., p. 396.

[146] Winning the War on Terror (U.S. DEP A R TMENT OF ST A T E • B UREA U OF PUBLIC AFF AIRS 9/11/03.

[147] Rationale for the Iraq War (Wikipedia).

[148] https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/17/eisenhower-warns-of-military-industrial-complex-jan-17-1961-1099265.

[149] Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (New York: Broadway Books, 2006) p. 230.

[151] Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, Ibid., p. 116.

[154] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Security_Strategy_(United_States).

[155]Betty B. Rosenbaum, “Relationship Between War and Crime in the United States.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 30, issue 5 (Winter 1940): 722-740.  

[156] Edward Tick, War and the Soul (Wheaton Illinois: Quest Books, 2005) pp. 154-155.

[157] Resul Cesur and Joseph J. Sabia, “When War Comes Home: The Effect of Combat Service on Domestic Violence,” The Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. XCVIII, no. 2 (May 2016) 209-255.

[158] James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011).

[159] Ibid., Kindle edition, Loc. 312.

[160] Chris Hedges, “The Menace of the Military,” Truthdig (February 3, 2014) https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-menace-of-the-military-mind/

[161] Cone, Ibid., Loc. 305.

[162] Ibid., Loc. 405.

[163] Ibid., Loc. 1646.

[164] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006) p. 3.

[165] Ibid., pp. 7-8.

[166] Ibid., pp. 12-13.

[170] Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Ibid., back cover.

[171] Bob Dylan, Masters of War (from “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963).


Website Builder