Academic (in)Security

Well, now that I am back in school, it’s time to dust off the old profile. That is where I filed and published some undergraduate and MTS work so I could share it with others when the need arose. Re-reading it has made it clear I need to update a few things…

Thinking about my life in terms of academic history led me to the realization that I have always felt like a bit of an outsider. In the military I felt as though I was very “Christian,” but I could not stand going to chapel because it felt like I never left the drill pad, as though there was no departure from that set of behaviors to a setting defined by very different convictions. It felt like the same old thing, even though the Bible seemed to prescribe things very different from what I spent my days as an artilleryman doing.

In high school youth group I remember having a conversation with the pastor that arose from my impression that most there were there almost exclusively for social reasons. I remember telling him that I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there (read: I wasn’t cool enough for church). He was very reassuring, but I left feeling no different. I did kept attending though. In fact, I remember quite clearly as a young child wondering why so many verses were not often obeyed or followed, despite being clear they were imperatives upon individal readers (love your enemy, give to the poor, bless and do not curse). Was I the only one bothered by these things? Was everyone else privy to a set of rules that I had no access to? Was I cool enough to be in the know?

Just to be clear, this persists as a deep insecurity in my life and may very well inappropriately shape my read of what surrounds me. It touches my theology, my relationships, my entire perspective. I don’t mention this to discredit myself, but to be honest about my fallibility. One thing I learned from war is how fallible I am, and how fallible humans can be more generally. In fact, theology came alive to me when I realized I could disagree with established minds and voices that had been held on a pedestal in the days of my youth.

At Duke I learned one of those pedestalled voices was Augustine. A popular bishop in the 4th century, he wrote beautifully, even becoming the very first person in recorded history to write an autobiography (his Confessions). When I learned he was credited with being the earliest proponent of “just war” thinking, I wanted to learn more. I learned he got his ideas from a roman lawyer named Cicero. Problem was, there were several centuries of christian soldiers he could have learned from, the most noteworthy of whom being my patron saint, Martin of Tours.

Martin was a bishop when Augustine was still sorting out Manichaean heresies from orthodox Christianity and had spent a full term in the Roman army (25 years). He knew the Caeasars personally because his worldly career had been to protect their bodily lives. It was put to an end when Martin was forced to distinguish between protective service in the Praetorian Guard and destructive service on the battlefield in Worms in 356 AD. His Roman street cred suffered, but his Christian authority only increased exponentially as he studied under the most learned theologian of the time (Hilary of Poitiers) and participated in a number of ecumenical councils and debates, eventually becoming the Bishop of Tours in Gaul. So why didn’t Augustine turn to Martin’s life, the teachings he left his disciples (like Victricious, the Bishop of Roeun), or the stories of countless soldier saints that Martin drew upon for guidance (like the martyr Maximilian of Tebessa, or the first cenobitic monk who inspired Benedict’s later “rule” Pachomius of Thebes, just to name a couple)?

Questions like that plague my studies. I wonder why Augustine is given the primacy of place that he is in terms of martial theological traditions like “just war” or “responsibility to protect,” if he himself never performed military service. He advised generals, but he did so without the benefit of first hand knowledge. In its lack, he turned to the pagan world for resources already bodily extant in the church. As a former soldier myself, I am left to wonder why Martin, another soldier, got left out, overlooked, and under-utilized. My insecurity returns, but I think it may be more than that. It may be that in fact somehow I can turn that question, that doubt, into an academic project. With it, I hope, the constant reminder of my fallibility returns as well. I am only human, I am insecure and anxious. But in my commitment to honesty, which is inherently self-critical, I may also discover a bit of truth. Maybe we DO need to look again at how the Church has framed war and take stock of why and how those accounts have failed and whether they might need to be desperately reimagined. Maybe we need to see soldiers and soldiering as having theological resources that go much deeper than the dichotomy of war or peace, justice or mercy. I don’t know, but I want to learn more. It will provide decades of fulfilling research, I am sure, so I should have plenty of academic (and hopefully professional) security.

While at Duke, I did a directed study with Stanley Hauerwas and Warren Smith, but never finally wrote up my conclusions because I had overcommitted to other writing projects. Here at the University of St. Andrews, I can take up those questions once more in the company of scholars like John Perry, NT Wright, Mark Elliott, and others. I look forward to sharing my findings here and at my profile. Engage with the material I provide in the comments, or shoot me an email at lml7@st-andrews [dot] ac [dot] uk!

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