Moral injury is one of the priorities of Quaker House, and I have also always had a fascination with sacred texts. So, when Exploring Moral Injury in Sacred Texts, edited by Joseph McDonald and forward written by Rita Nakashima Brock, was published, I was immediately drawn to it.
The book is a compilation of essays written from various perspectives – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and civil. Some of the essays resonated more with me than others, but that is generally to be expected in such a work.
Remember the man who lived among the tombs, who gave his name as Legion? Michael Yandell offers a unique but coherent treatment of this story. He correlates the plight of the man living among the tombs to moral injury that stemmed from military experiences and from shouldering the burden of the entire army by his own self-identity. When the man approaches Jesus, he is both seeking out a representative of his victims and also interacting with a benevolent religious figure. Finally, this man, now relieved of some of his inner anguish, is given work to do within his community to continue the process of healing and reintegration.
My reaction to the essay written from a civil perspective was interesting. I initially recoiled at the term civil religion, even though this is not a new term. If sacred texts are supposed to have some hint of the divine within them, perhaps imperfectly diffused and captured, then equating civil texts with the sacred can feel like an affront. But, Daniel C. Maguire makes a powerful case for the similarities. His essay explains the resulting power of national fervor and patriotism and also clarifies a troubling result: Our culture is so overwhelming patriotic that thoroughly questioning the morality of a specific (or all) military action (that will result in death and destruction) is immediately at odds with this national moral code of sacred patriotism and its portrayal of honor. He refers to this phenomenon as a shifting of the burden of proof.
Additional essays I found particularly interesting were:
- “Division of Spoils after Battle” by Brad E. Kelle, mainly for highlighting the community’s responsibility in sending soldiers into battle.
- An essay discussing our sacrificial language and imagery by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, including recent literary examples capturing its effect on returning soldiers and on the communities who remain at home.
- “Peter and Judas: Moral Injury and Repair” [or failure of repair in the case of Judas] by Warren Carter. This is an excellent contrast of outcomes.
- The story of Aṅgulimāla as told by John M. Thompson, mainly for contrasting the Buddhist focus on “how to respond?” with the Western question of “what is just?”.
“We might look at the parades and celebrations, the tributes and ceremonies, the media frenzies and political scandals surrounding the US military as shackles and chains*–strategies to avoid confronting the trauma of war as a collective community while placing the burden of guilt regarding war on a few individuals. Mercy, healing, and movement toward the divine occur when these strategies are abandoned, when the aggressor [can]** speak the truth of his or her experience and the community is compelled to listen.”
Michael Yandell, “‘Do Not Torment Me’: The Morally Injured Gerasene Demoniac,” in Exploring Injury in Sacred Texts, ed. Joseph McDonald (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 148.
* The community had attempted to bind the man who lived among the tombs, called Legion, with shackles and chains to keep him from hurting himself.
**I changed the wording here. The original says “. . . when the aggressor is compelled to speak . . .”