Sunday, June 11, 2006

Learning to ?

This morning at church my friend Phyllis gave me an article called "How a Soldier Learns to Kill". It's from Rolling Stone, written by Jeff Tietz. The version I have is an abridgment from The Week, May 19, 2006. Anyway, the article is an extended description of how effectively the US Army trains its infantry soldiers to be ready to kill. It begins by describing how psychologists interviewed soldiers after WWII and found that only about 25% of them ever returned fire. The Army thereafter changed its basic training. Now, basic focuses on preparing a soldier for battle psychologically- by building intense relationships among the unit, the Army convinces recruits that on the battlefield they can either kill "enemies" or let their friends die. The extensive nature of this programming was a disturbing idea from which to begin worship.

So, now I'm thinking. What does this mean for the church? I think that, ideally, the church does a similar thing to basic training, but for opposite goals. Certainly, building group strength is an important part of congregational life, but it is created (ideally, and I think at my church) primarily to encourage positive reactions to outsiders- The point of the group is to expand the group, or at least expand members' notions of who's in their group. (Rachael and I talked about this when we first met in Psych class.) It's like- the army is all about building a group that will be ready to make all outsiders targets. Churches should be about building groups that will be ready to make all outsiders allies. In church, we are not learning to kill, but rather learning to... transform? To create? Learning to help build the reign of God?

Huh. It also strikes me that the army is doing a better job. In that they are more thoroughly convincing their members of their goals. Not that churches should emulate such elaborate brainwashing, but it gives one pause...


Beth said...

If you want to read a whole book about this, there's a really good one (and when I say really good, I mean terrifying) called On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Dave Grossman. I read it my sophomore year right after reading a novel about World War II and then wondered why I had been unusually sad for a couple of weeks!

I think that the church has both an easier and harder job than the army...the army has to overcome a huge human resistance to killing other humans to accomplish violent goals; the church has to overcome a huge human tendency to ignore or alienate "outsiders" in order to accomplish goals of creating, expanding and sustaining communities of friends and allies.

Rachael said...

In church, we are not learning to kill, but rather learning to... include, love, accept, redeem, forgive, welcome, create an environment that allows folks to be transformed by the healing of the Spirit!