Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Faith and Service

There was a time in the early days of Christianity that some occupations were seen as being incompatible with the faith. These included being an actor, a teacher and a soldier. Actors were by definition hypocrites, but the plays they put on were usually immoral and of pagan themes. Teachers of the time were expected to teach pagan philosophy and soldiers had to offer sacrifices to the Roman emperor as a god. Faith was seen as being in conflict with these ways of making a living.

I ran across a Washington Post on a Sikh trying to join the Army, Sikhs challenge US Army's ban on turbans, beards. I see his problem. I taught a Religion and Culture class at Valdosta State Univerity's Kings Bay Center and we looked at how Sikh beliefs conflict with culture. Central to this primarily Punjabi off shoot of Hindusim, are the Five Ks:

Each of these is a symbol of a Sikh mans faith in the deeper meaning of the word symbol, which means that it participates in the thing it signifies, like how the American flag is not just a patriotic sign, really participates in our understanding of what it means to be American. So to a Sikh man, cutting his hair (at all, ever) is a deeply held religious issue. In fact, there have been Sikh martyrs who haved died rather than cut their hair or shave. One of their major teachers (Guru Gobind Singh in 1699) wrote,

My Sikh shall not use the razor. For him the use of razor or shaving the chin shall be as sinful as incest. For the Khalsa such a symbol is prescribed so that a Sikh cannot remain undistinguishable from among a hundred thousand Hindus or Muslims; because how can he hide himself with hair and turban on his head and with a flowing

This is not some minor addition to the faith but central to it. Yet, this ideal conflicts deeply with the time-tested boot camp drill of taking all your possessions, shaving your head and creating a new group identity for you.

I wouldn't normally delve into Sikh concerns, but it makes me wonder what I would give up of my faith in order to serve my country. I could give up much in terms of my own convenience, but I couldn't budge on my belief in the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the need we all have for redemption, the understanding I have of the Bible as God's Word, and so on. I think the Sikh should just shave his beard and cut his hair if he wants to serve in the military and to him that is like his telling me that I should just drop my belief in the Trinity if I ever want to do the same.

The Army is reviewing its policy as concerns this one Sikh physician who wishes to serve as an Army doctor. Where do we appropriately draw the line when it comes to the beliefs of another. Certainly, if there beliefs were that they should be able to abuse their wife or their children, we would set limits. But does a hair and beard matter so much? And yet what of the group identity created through the boot camp experience? How do we draw the line when it comes to the faith of another and still stay true to our ideals as a nation?

What would you give up (as concerns your faith) in order to serve your country and what would you instance on even to death?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor



  • At 6/16/2009 1:50 PM, Blogger averagecandy said…

    There are other ways to serve your country other than joining the military. I hate to oversimplify the issue, but...ya.


Post a Comment

<< Home