Take Time Off When You Return

The first time I came back from a deployment, I was back at work within days. The second time, it was about a week. The last was the first time I actually took off several weeks and used up all of my leave. While I eventually became stir-crazy from staying at home, it was much more of a healing process than I had in the past. This is why I now advise returning service members to take the time off if they can.

For most of my deployments, I returned to work very quickly. After my first deployment, this was largely a financial decision since my income was much higher in my civilian job than as a National Guard noncommissioned officer. My second deployment, it was mostly out of loneliness. While we took several days off, went to stay at a resort, and spent every waking moment together, eventually my wife and children returned to their job and school, leaving me at home. I did not last more than a few days before I started begging my boss to start back to work. Looking back, I can now see the beginnings of depression that reflected deeper problems in dealing with separation. My last deployment, I probably would have also returned to work immediately, but it ended up being close to 90 days before I was picked up on contract and so was forced to remain at home. It was during that time that I discovered how important it is for returning service members to take the time off if they can afford it. Most people have at least 30 days coming to them. The wise use most if not all of it.

For one thing, taking time off allows you catch up on household chores. Most returning service members have a “honey-do” list waiting for them that include chores and repairs that piled up while they were gone. For me, it was a lot of yardwork – my wife has severe allergies and does not often work out in the yard. Although we hired someone to keep the yard cut, no one really kept up with trimming hedges and trees, weeding beds, or making sure fences were repaired. For others, it may be a deep cleaning. A lot of people simply don’t do a very good job at it when they are on their own, though hiring a maid can help. For me, it was cleaning the garage. I seem to be the only one who knows how to put away tools, and it took me days of searching through drawers and cabinets to bring them all together. My earlier deployments, I had spent a lot of weekends catching up rather than doing so after I got home.

Another issue that can take time is for service members to become reintegrated with the family. Some of this is resuming normal parental duties. My earlier deployments, this was helping the children get ready for bed and reading to them. My oldest daughter had picked up this duty while I was gone (after working all day in kindergarten, the last thing my wife wanted to do was spend time with children). For others, it may be picking the children up from school or getting caught up on the children’s lives. Then there were the bills. My wife had more or less taken over bill payment during my first deployment, but she was growing tired of it. I found boxes of paperwork, which I had to file. Others may need to gradually pick up other household duties. All of this takes time, and being busy with work can complicate things.

Most of all, I found that staying home for a full month allowed me to process a career of being away from home. By jumping into work so quickly in the past, I had kept myself too busy to reflect on my deployments. When I was finally still, a flood of memories, fears, and anxiety came back to me. It was then that I saw how much recovery is a necessary part of the redeployment process. It is not only to deal with injury and trauma caused by war, it also is to release the stress of working days on end at peak performance and hypervigilance. For the first time in my life, I felt unstressed and fully healed from the suffering I had endured. For this reason alone, taking time off after a deployment is critical. We cannot heal until we can process our pain and stress.

Many military service members prefer returning to duty or to their jobs without taking time off. That way, they don’t have to deal with their feelings. In the end, however, they need the time to catch up on chores, become reacclimated with their families, and heal from trauma and stress. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, take the time off. You need it and deserve it.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

We’re All Connected

A few weeks ago, I went to the funeral of a friend’s dad. Because of being close friends with her stepfather, who married her mother just after she was born, she has called me uncle all her life. As I sat looking over the audience and watched the videos with pictures of her father, I was surprised by how many people I knew or had met that were connected to this man – I worked with one, I went to church with several, I served in the National Guard with others, I saw them at birthday parties, graduations, etc. It was a quick reminder that we are all connected in some way.

As I continued to meditate on the number of people I knew from the funeral, I began to see the implications. The man I had worked with felt sympathy for a relative. Would it impact his work? Were there others I once worked with who knew my friend through this man? The ones who knew her from church felt sad with her and prayed for her, although they may not have known her father. The ones who served in the military knew the pain of loss and traumatic stress and understood more than most what she was going through. I barely knew many of the people I had seen at my friend’s birthday parties. Some of them were close to her father; many of them were related on her mother’s side. Yet we had in common our love for one beautiful young lady. I suddenly found myself in alliance with them in their sympathy for my friend. The lines were sometimes slender, but I saw that, though strangers, we were all in this boat together, all struggling to get back to land, all sharing duties, all looking for land or rowing or handing out food or praying. We were all connected, spiritually if not physically.

Charles Williams, the friend and fellow-Inkling of C.S. Lewis, frequently discussed the concept of co-inherence, meaning “binding together.” In essence, he believed that all people were connected to each other spiritually in Christ. He took literally all of the talk about the church being the body of Christ and bearing each other’s burdens and thought that all believers were spiritually connected. When his friends went off to World War I and he was disqualified because of his terrible eyesight, he felt connected to them in their service and grieved terribly when they died. Based on this, he argued that the pains experienced by any Christian ought to be felt and carried by all and that it is possible for one person to carry the burdens of fear, grief, and pain if others are willing to give them up. In his novel, Descent into Hell, poet Peter Stanhope agrees to carry the fear of Pauline Anstruther when she began seeing her own doppelganger and believed her death was imminent. The ones who struggled most with evil were those who were disconnected from others. In fact, in real life Williams actually established an informal organization, the Companions of Co-inherence, which included his friends and protégés who agreed to be bound to each other in the spiritual sense that Williams meant.

In a similar way, I recognized the connections I had with so many others as part of my own co-inherence with my friend and her family. When my friend wept at her father’s passing, my heart was burdened, though I lived across town and did not see her daily. When her family members grieved, so also did I. Even now, I pray that I can help carry her grief during this time that she might know peace. When she was younger, and her family rejoiced with each year passing, with graduations and awards, I rejoiced with her and her family and friends. Though we are not as close as we once were, I remain connected to her, as I am also connected to all who place their faith in God. I desire all of these friends and family to be successful, healthy, happy, empowered, and spiritually attuned. The same is true of my friends and family, who are connected to me, who feel my pain and help carry my burdens. Even the strangers I meet at stores or see on weekends are connected to me and would ask about me if I were gone. This is how the body of Christ is supposed to work. We are constantly supporting each other, inquiring about each other, and helping each other.

When we look at life, we begin to see how we are all connected by a web of interactions and relationships with friends, family, and even strangers, and that these interactions are what make up most of our lives – our loving, grieving, helping, and supporting. It is only by recognizing that we are all part of the same body, all connected by God to each other, that we understand how serious our responsibility is to help one another. This is when the spiritual power of being interconnected truly comes to life.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

Skepticism as a Way of Life

I have written in the past about the need for skepticism in all walks of life, including faith. More than ever, many today want people to simply submit to authority. The only way to overcome this attitude is to make skepticism a way of life. The philosophy of skepticism has existed for thousands of years and was a major influence on the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the rise of Western Democracy. Most of what we have accomplished as a people is due to those who refused to accept the party line. In fact, the more we move away from skepticism, the harder it will be to maintain the achievements that led to our modern culture.

The founder of philosophical skepticism was Pyrro of Elis (fourth century B.C.). Since his works are lost, we know him primarily through Sextus Empiricus (second century A.D). Sextus argued that we should suspend judgment about nearly all beliefs that are not based on what is evident to our own experience or observation. We should especially question any belief based on adherence to philosophical dogma rather than inquiry. It was not that Sextus did not believe in an objective reality or societal norms; rather, he doubted that reality could be known with absolute certainty using reason, science, or mathematics due to the finite knowledge of these fields. There is always something more to know that could change opinions. It is better to approach truth with humility and admit only that this is how things appear to us. While some have argued that this leads to living in constant uncertainty, making life impossible, he held that it is the only way to reach a state of happiness. You question all things until you come to a point of equanimity in which you recognize there are some things you may never know. All people go through the stages of seeking, refuting, and suspension of judgment. In other words, it is a philosophy that is as much about our state of mind as it is about what the world is like.

You can probably see immediately the importance of skepticism to the modern world. Sextus had a direct influence on Michel de Montaigne, David Hume, Rene Descartes, and Blaise Pascal, and through them Isaac Newton, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson. Science and reason took enormous leaps because people questioned received dogma. People resisted and overthrew tyrants because they questioned treatment of their subjects and refused to accept what their party told them. We can especially see Sexton’s influence on Fredrich Hegel, whose dialectic involves finding equanimity between two premises (thesis and antithesis) that results in a new position (synthesis). Hegelian dialectics greatly influenced Karl Marx’s dialectical materialism and the views of the modern left. Sadly, many who claim the mantle of these philosophers and scientists have lost sight of their skeptical roots. Too many are demanding that we submit to their authority when questioning orthodoxy was what led to the political, social, and scientific advances that mark our modern culture. It is an open question whether we can survive and continue to advance if we suspend our skepticism.

For example, in the political realm, some have argued that democracy requires an adherence to truth and that fake news and social media tribalism have undermined our institutions. As a result, some have proposed limitations on free speech. This attitude has led to censorship by social media and cancellation of past authors based on their view of the truth. The skeptic, however, asks whose view of truth they are enforcing, and whether this is merely opinion? What if the version of events they are promoting proves incorrect? This frequently happens, such as when much of the media banned as Russian disinformation any mention of Hunter Biden, who now even the New York Times and Washington Post admit was likely involved in corruption. Their earlier denial of what they now admit is true had a dramatic impact on electoral politics. Rather than limiting access to information and opinions, the skeptic argues that it is better to increase access to them, for it is only in reviewing all information that the truth can be determined. If we stop questioning the actions of governments and government officials, we can only revert to tyranny.

The same can be said of science. Some public figures have claimed that questioning them about policy issues is tantamount to questioning science. The skeptic would observe that no science is settled, and in fact the scientific method requires constant review and revision. There are widespread views about many medical issues. This is why getting a second opinion is always recommended. One need only point to products and procedures such as thalidomide, DDT, asbestos, and frontal lobotomies, which were once considered safe by scientists that are now recognized as causing irreparable harm. Attitudes about diet, medicines, and even physics and biology have changed radically just in the past generation. Only by questioning accepted science has there been advancement in technology and medicine. In short, when we shut down questioning science, we end up with stagnation. The scientific method cannot survive without a climate of skepticism and open discussion.

Even on matters of faith, skepticism can be helpful. As I argued last month, questioning statements about faith not only helps keep church people honest; it also helps them to focus on love rather than doctrine. While some may believe that philosophical skepticism is incompatible with faith, which often requires acceptance of authority, in fact I’ve found several of their tenets helpful. First, it forces us to question what we know. We find answers only when we ask for ourselves, not when we simply accept something on the word of other people. Second, skepticism reminds us that we should believe most strongly in what we’ve directly experienced and seen. While I believe in the Second Coming based on authority (the words of Jesus), I have experienced the love of God, the salvation of Christ, and the indwelling Spirit, and I’ve seen miracles and lives radically changed. I ought to believe in and argue for what I know personally above all else. Third, I’ve come to accept that there are many issues about which there are no clear or provable answers. These are the times that we must accept certain issues on faith. In other words, skepticism leads us to a point where we must trust in God. Without a little bit of skepticism, we are more likely to rely on ourselves than to have a pure and sincere faith.

For those who do not question the statements of those in charge or who do so only occasionally, it can seem iconoclastic and shocking to encounter a skeptic. Yet it is precisely because of such skepticism that our society has obtained such a level of freedom, prosperity, technological achievement, and faith-based morality not seen by many other countries. To maintain our current culture, skepticism must become a way of life. Seek, ask, and knock, and then you will know the truth. If you don’t, you will never know true contentment or achievement.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

Deployment as a Sort of Death

Spring is a time of renewal. It is when dead deciduous trees come back to life with new growth, when grass starts turning green, when winter ends with warmer days, and when many species of animals bear their young. Easter, the Christian holiday that celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ, is also in the spring. It is a celebration of life returning to what was previously dead. Service members also go through a death and resurrection some years. It’s called a deployment.

Death rites are an important part of many religions. In fact, most major religions believe in life after death. Mummification was a rite to prepare the dead for the afterlife. Muslims, Jews, and Christians believe in judgment and paradise. Hindus believe in a cycle of rebirth and reincarnation. Others believe in death and rebirth experiences during life. The Eleusinian Mysteries (Persephone) included a rebirth ritual in imitation of her six months in Hades. Christian baptism represents the death and resurrection of the believer. In the case of Christianity, however, Christians believe that the death and resurrection of the believer are more than symbolic. In the same way that a historical Jesus died and rose, Christians believe that the believer shares in this event by dying to fleshly desires while being born again with the indwelling Spirit of God.

Like these rebirth experiences, I have lately begun to see deployment as a sort of death. Service members experience something like death each time they leave. They must leave behind a part of them that is alive to family and friends. It’s like being buried in a tomb. There is the abrupt pain of separation, and then you seem to be interred into a life of darkness and emotionlessness, where you are cut off from real life and the ones you love. Many become Stoic or emotionless when talking about their feelings. As the afterlife is very different from your life on earth, your new life in the service seems to have no connection with the old. You have a new job, a new place to live, and new friends that are distant or foreign from the old. Of course, you don’t really die – memories of the life you left behind go with you, and you remain in contact with those you left behind. But it feels like a sort of death.

For me, this last deployment was the worst so far. The first two deployments I handled reasonably well. The first I was more or less in shock and was too worried about our dangerous mission to think about missing family. It was not until after we drove through Iraq in soft-shell vehicles and arrived at our base that I was able to call home and check on them. The second deployment, I was very busy, and in any case I was much closer to those in my unit. Most I had known my entire career. The last time, I did not know as many people in my unit, and I missed my family much more. Because I had to travel to another location to mobilize, I had a lot more time to think about my situation. It was much harder to leave them, and I found myself trying to keep in touch with them more than I had previously. Yet I still had a job to do, and so had to leave worries of family and job behind. It was, in a way, like dying. I had to put aside my old life and start a new one.

The good news is that there is a resurrection coming. Eventually, your mission will end, another unit will replace you, or your time will run out. You will go back to your demobilization station and start to wake up and realize that you have the rest of your life in front of you. When you go home, you will return to the good life and the ones you love. Your suffering and separation will end. The darkness of being stuck in another place and time will fade away. Life will return. When you walk off that plane to greet your loved ones, it’s like coming out of a grave to the crowds waiting for you. The stone is rolled away. You are filled with pride and joy to be rejoining the living.

As we celebrate Easter and spring this year, remember that there is life again after the deployment. You will return to life and love. Do not give up hope. There is a resurrection waiting.

Reprinted from 2018.

@ 2018 J.D. Manders

Ask Old Sarge While You Can

All who serve know an old, crusty sergeant, perhaps a bit salty and edgy, but who has a toughness and wisdom. These senior NCOs seem to have been in the service forever and have a wealth of experience in deployments, support of civil authorities, and training. The sad fact is that more and more of these heroes are retiring, leaving a huge knowledge gap. For those who would learn from the former generation, you’d better ask your questions while you can. Within a decade, there will be few left who remember how it used to be.

When I joined the service more than three decades ago, there were still a handful of Korean War veterans who could speak of their experiences, but it was mostly the Vietnam vets that raised me and showed me the ropes. The last of these retired not long after my 2012 deployment. They not only remembered the war; they also spoke about civil disturbances and race. They remembered when units first integrated and the real struggles they went through. Then there were the Cold War veterans, who remembered training in Korea, deploying to Europe, and preparing for nuclear conflict. Later, it was the Desert Storm veterans, who remembered the last great alliance defeating Iraq in less than a month after spending six months living in the desert while missiles rained down on them. Looking back on these men, I recall conversations with them about their experiences that have direct relevance to today, whether about riots, nuclear conflict, chemical threats, or a new Cold War. Their wisdom about how to train for and operate under these threats were formative for me.

For the new generation, the old NCOs are the ones who remember the beginning of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. They talk about their experiences with the surging patriotism after 9-11, about preparing for the first deployments in a generation, about counterinsurgency operations, and about the harsh climate of the Middle East. They may remember supporting civil authorities after Hurricane Katrina or the Tornadoes of 2011, providing police services for local communities, and helping to hand out food and water or clear debris. A handful may remember how it was before 9-11. They may reflect on the stable world order and the decline of the military and how reservists in particular had to ramp up their readiness rapidly. A few of us still remember the end of the Cold War and a divided world suddenly released from the grip of totalitarianism. These learned unique skills, fighting on the move, owning the night, tracking multiple moving parts, and establishing operating bases with heavily protected and camouflaged structures. While the wars of the future may have little in common with those in the desert, there are elements that transcend all operations. Those who are just entering the service can learn a lot from the older generation.

The sad fact is that the younger generation will eventually run out of time. The exodus is already beginning. Those who joined immediately after 9-11 have now passed their twenty-year mark, which is the date when most service members begin to retire. Already, many of the people I knew when we first deployed to the Middle East have retired. Large groups stepped down from lifelong positions or received medical discharges over the past year, worn out from decades of service. I expect the turnover to continue. As always, the struggle is how to prevent knowledge loss when this happens. Of course, the military has its doctrine and manuals to guide people, but there are things that can only be taught through example, such as patriotism, an attitude of service, dedication to the mission, treating others professionally, or being a leader. Likewise, manuals are no replacement for experience in running an operations center, how to counsel personnel, running a convoy, or personal safety. When those who have combat experience are gone, there will be far fewer people with this kind of experience to fill the ranks. Those who wish to learn from their experience and preserve their knowledge for the future only have a short time to do so.

In other words, people should be asking that old sergeant questions while they can. In a short time, the older generation will be gone, and it will be the new generation that young service members turn to for answers on how to lead personnel, train for operations, and be mission focused.  We should learn from the experiences of the older generation while we still have time.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

Take Time to Read

Recent surveys have shown there was an uptick in readership over the pandemic. This suggests that there are some individuals who would read more if they had more time, and that it is mostly our pace of life that has impacted reading in the U.S. It is another reminder that we need to take time out to read if we want to maintain reading comprehension and gain the benefits of reading.

Overall, just under a quarter of the adult population (23 percent) are nonreaders. That is, they have not read a book in the past year. According to PEW surveys, this number has remained fairly consistent since 2014 and increased gradually since the 1970s. Most of these individuals have a lower income and education level – they make less than $30,000 per year and have not completed a college degree. Most are men, and they are slightly more likely to live in rural areas. Most analysts have blamed the large increase in nonreaders on the widespread availability of video media, which has been on the rise since 1970. Before the growth of the television market, it was much more common for all people to turn to books or newspapers to entertain or educate themselves. While many of these observations continue to hold true, there is another factor that has become evident in recent surveys.

According to surveys, there has been a significant increase in reading since the pandemic. Publisher’s Weekly reported that reading time increased by 21 percent, from 17 to 20 minutes per day on average. This was especially the case for readers under 34 and over 65 – young adults and the elderly. There was a 140 percent increase in reading time among Black Americans, with less than 25 percent increases among other groups. PEW analysis shows a 5 percent increase in those who read ebooks, and the Association of American Publishers reported a 16.5 percent increase in audio book downloads. In other words, while the overall percent of nonreaders has remained roughly the same, the amount of reading or listening to books actually increased over the pandemic, when more people were stuck at home. This suggests that, given more time, readers would in fact read more often. In short, the availability of time directly influences how often readers read. This suggests that our lifestyle plays a major role in our reading habits.

While the surveys don’t show why people read or what benefits they get, I’ve repeatedly discussed these in detail. Readers tend to be more well-rounded and informed. Reading news stories based on one or two sources provide a rather limited view of history or current events. Reading detailed articles and books provides multiple viewpoints and voices based on dozens of sources. Further, reading has certain spiritual benefits. It connects you with others as you understand people’s background and plights and as you share the same experiences. As I have repeatedly argued, fiction also provides people with a sense of escape that can provide healing, especially if the fiction includes supernatural elements that suggest powers beyond this world. People who read will tend to find rest that makes them calmer and better able to deal with reality rather than being escapists as some people argue. Reading helps build up our imaginations, which is what helps most people appreciate spiritual experiences. All of this is in addition to the fact that practicing the mechanics of reading helps make people better readers and more likely to read in the future.

What all of this shows is that more people would read if they had the time. There is, of course, a significant number of people who continue to prefer video or online information as opposed to books in printed or digital formats. Media has just made it easier for less literate people to get information from other sources.  Nevertheless, many people would read more when given the chance. During the pandemic, they had this opportunity. Now that life is returning to normal, the constraints of time endemic to modern life will once again reduce time available for reading. If people want to receive the benefits of reading, they must take the time to read. They must turn off television and put down their phones more often in the evenings. They should try reading while eating breakfast or commuting instead of listening to news or music. They should set aside a half-hour or hour before bed to enjoy some quiet time with a good book. We can carve out the time in our busy lives if we choose to.

The question, of course, is whether we choose to make time for reading. I expect now that things have gone back go a post-pandemic normal that most people will put down their books and return to their busy schedules. Yet we can and should make time for reading. It is only then that we will gain the benefits that only reading can bring.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

The Doubting Among Us

For many years, an atheist was a member of a church that I attended. Many “church” folks might be surprised or even shocked by this, but we must remind ourselves that this is normal. If people of faith are not drawing (and challenging) those who doubt, there is something wrong. I would even argue that it is beneficial – the doubting among us help to keep us honest and remind us of what is important.

The first thing some people ask is why an atheist would attend church regularly at all. Of course, there are some sanctimonious atheists who would go to religious services only to mock or challenge others, but in fact the varieties of why people don’t believe differ as widely as the reasons why people believe. Many atheists have no desire to fight with others but want only to find a place of acceptance. As a matter of probabilities, it is better for families to be involved in communities of faith whether they believe or not. People who attend church regularly are less likely to become involved in drugs or become pregnant, more likely to finish school, and more likely to make something of themselves. It’s just that simple. This is the reason why Deists such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, though they may have questioned the divinity of Christ, yet strongly believed in the necessity of religion because it benefited society. Sadly, it’s a lesson that some opponents of religion will learn only too late, for a deconstructed society is far more likely to slip into an amoral barbarism than evolve into some utopia.

It should be normal to have the doubting among people of faith, if not by invitation, then attracted by reputation. There ought to be something in our lives, whether love or inner peace or service, that draws people to us. If this is not happening and people do not recognize there is something different about us, it may be because there isn’t anything different about us, which is a problem. The doubting should want to know what that something is that makes believers different. In the end, it is not altar calls or fancy sermons that draw the unbelieving; it is a changed life. Our lives speak much more than words. There is a famous quote attributed (probably falsely) to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if you must, use words.” Whether or not he actually said this, it is certainly true. In any case, those who are shocked by the presence of unbelievers are missing out on a key requirement of faith. They ought to be appealing to those who most need to hear their message of hope.

Having doubters among people of faith benefits more than the unbeliever; it also benefits those who already believe. For one thing, it helps believers to be a little skeptical. Too many believers fall into groupthink, in which they simply go along with others because it’s popular. Perhaps they are claiming a miracle from something that is rationally explained, or perhaps they try to stretch Bible verses as a “proof text” to support bad theology. We’ve all seen it done. The doubter helps by throwing cold water onto these misuses of faith. They challenge believers to answer why they believe something, and those who learn these answers actually become stronger believers as a result. This is actually helpful in any class or group. I remember an older lady in a Sunday School class I attended who wanted to discuss every point. She often apologized for being rude, but I frequently reminded her how helpful she was in clarifying issues that needed to be clarified, which would only result in more consistent faith.

However, the main benefit of having the doubting among believers is to remind us about what’s important. It isn’t theology or popularity. We should not crave or be driven by these things. What’s most important is loving others. You may think your worship is out of this world or your teaching is spot-on, but if you treat people rudely, you’re only making a lot of noise. Those who doubt, who challenge our faith, who ask questions, help to remind us that we ought to be known by our love, for it is kindness that helps people change their minds. Many who doubt are looking first and foremost for friendship rather than faith, and for these, love and acceptance are of primary importance. But whether acceptance is what they want or not, the presence of those who are “outside” a community challenges people of faith to include them in the group, not just in discussions but in meals, gatherings, and recognition. It is not only a duty to include others; it is a true sign of faith and love.

One of my favorite sayings from Charles Williams is that every band of disciples ought to include a doubting Thomas. We ought to invite and draw those who doubt to participate in our gatherings and discussions. This not only benefits them by exposing them to the truth, it also benefits us in helping us to remain grounded and focused on loving others. Those of true faith welcome the doubting among us.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

Service Is Life Changing

It is generally true that those things that change us the most are the ones that are the most uncomfortable at the time. That is, the problems that go against the grain are the ones that shape who we are. Military service is perhaps the best example of this. Some people serve a short time. Some people serve their whole lives. For both, however, service is life changing.

Most people join the military as teenagers straight out of high school. The reasons they do are as varied as the people themselves. What they have in common is a lack of experience. Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training are thus formative experiences for them as they become physically fit, learn a military trade, spend time outdoors, and adapt to a high level of stress. Before I joined the military, I had been an underachieving peacenik – soft, undisciplined, and not very motivated about anything. Basic Training not only made me physically stronger; it also gave me a sense of purpose and the discipline needed to better myself. I was basically a C student before I went to Basic and an A or B student afterwards. Most people who join the military get similar results. They afterwards know where they are going and why. They establish goals for themselves and develop the discipline necessary to achieve them. They are toughened by their training to be able to withstand stress, distraction, and pain, which helps them become more successful.

For those who stay in the miliary for a long time, their experiences often expose them to more of real life than their peers, which gives them a broader perspective. For many, the military forces them to interact with people that they have nothing common, whether rich or poor, different races, or people of foreign descent. This not only builds skills in how to relate and get along with others; it also provides a broader perspective about life, religion, and politics. The first time I visited a country outside the U.S. was with the military. It was also the first time I visited a third-world country. While I was often restricted from visiting dangerous places, I did not merely go to the tourist traps and usual travel destinations. I spoke with locals about their experiences, saw the poverty of towns, and had to learn enough of their language to find my way. Many service members have similar experiences. They learn, not just to find safe spaces away from things that challenge them, but to embrace those who are different. They have seen the world, and they have seen both the best and worst of humanity. Nothing takes them by surprise.

Finally, the military usually makes people more altruistic and self-sacrificing than the average citizen. This is only natural given that most military members join out of a sense of service and patriotism. Living in close quarters with people under great pressure, trials, and even threat of bodily harm makes you feel closer to your comrades than brothers, and you are often willing to do more for them than even for your family back home. You not only train and fight together; you also protect and help people – it’s part of your mission. In addition to protecting the entire nation by fighting enemies overseas, service members are often called to help refugees, provide disaster relief, support police and firemen, and give aid and comfort to civilians. Especially with the National Guard, who only deploy overseas occasionally, “Defense Support to Civil Authorities” and state missions are their normal duties. Most who live in this environment learn to serve thinking mainly of others. Even off-duty, they find ways of helping others, and they are often willing to sacrifice themselves for the safety of children or other innocents. In short, they’ve learned what sacrifice and selfless service mean.

Of course, not all people join the military because they are patriotic or want to help others. Most join for college money or for a job. Many see enough by the time their first hitch is up that they have no desire to stay in. Even these, however, walk away bettered from the experience. Yet some re-up because they have learned the real meaning of sacrifice. This was the case with me. I joined for college money and stayed in for a career because I felt like I was making a difference after 9-11. Whether you walk away or stay in, your military experience has made you stronger, more world-wise, and service-oriented. Military service changes members for the better.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

The Uses of Myth

I’ve always been drawn to mythology, and it continues to be an interest, whether it’s novelizations such as C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces or plays such as Owen Barfield’s Orpheus. One of the first books I owned as a child was a collection of myths by Inkling Roger Lancelyn Green, and I believe that mythology first made me aware of spiritual things. While many people across the religious spectrum seem to reject all mythology as misguided, in fact myth has important uses, both for writers and for readers.

Part of the problem is that there is no agreement about what mythology is or how it evolved. By myth, I am talking specifically about a fictional story involving supernatural beings or events. Psychologist Carl Jung described myth as a representation of a collective consciousness, our fears and hopes as a society. Moralist Reinhold Niebuhr believed myth a symbolic representation of nonhistorical truth. Greek writer Euhemerus of Messene argued it originated in historical events or natural processes retold and changed over time. Most Christian writers argue myth is merely a demonic lie. Modern writers seem to view myth as children’s stories to be swiftly rejected as an adult. My own experience matches that of C.S. Lewis, who argued myth was an “unfocussed gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination.” I had an experience similar to his, in which reading mythology first drew me to a belief in the supernatural and then later to the gospel itself. In his view, divine truth came to the imaginations and consciousness of man as he looked to the heavens, but they were often warped or mixed with other images. They continued to contain historical elements mixed with true religion. Later, with the gospel, they became history as “the myth must have become fact: the Word, flesh; God, Man.” Always God was drawing people toward Himself, though many became sidetracked or deceived.

In a similar way, the uses of mythology have also evolved, as Inkling scholar R.J. Reilly described in Romantic Religion. For pagan priests, myths are true representations of divinity. They accept myths as received and rarely seek truth beyond them. Others use mythology as an example. Greek philosophers such as Socrates saw myths as symbols of divine qualities – Athena represented wisdom; Zeus, power; Aphrodite, beauty, etc. We find similar uses of mythology by Niebuhr, Alexander Pope, and Racine. Myths are merely parables or morality plays, which have little to do with God. Some modern writers use myth to explain what they perceive as the chaos of the modern age. We see something similar in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, or James Joyce’s Ulysses. In essence, because of familiarity with myth, these writers used it as a figure that is easily understood by everyone. Most of them, however, find no value in myth beyond this. Once everyone understands their illustrations, myth is no longer necessary. Finally, there are some who seem to use mythology to express something they can’t describe, as an approximation of something that is unsayable any other way. This is the approach taken by the Romantic poets, such as Percy Shelly in Prometheus Unbound or Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Kubla Khan. Myth for them demonstrates something spiritual and divine that is inexpressible.

The Christian writer, in recognizing that Christ is a myth that became fact, approaches myth from a higher perspective. Sometimes writers continue to use myth or fiction as a way of explaining truth in what some call allegory. Thus, Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe represents Christ, as do Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, who both sacrifice themselves to defeat evil. These writers use their stories as tools to reach those who are drawn to the wonder of myth. Why, then, do so many Christians continue to read fiction even after they believe, and why do writers continue to write fiction once they fully understand the truth? Probably because they also recognize that there are many aspects of their faith that they cannot adequately describe. Fiction remains the best way to say what they want to say. This is the same reason that Jesus told parables, though He explained His stories to His disciples. Sometimes a story, a comparison, best tells us about God, and what we get out of myth depends on what we bring to it. Thus, fiction not only leads us to God, it becomes the servant of God by helping us to know the unknowable Creator. Finally, we must remember that Christ not only exists in the past, but is forever revealing Himself in the present. Thus, myth not only became fact, it’s constantly becoming fact. He is both man and God, both historical and wonderful. He lives as a historical man but also as a wonderful God. The unseen God becomes real to us as Christ is revealed through stories of wonder. Only by writers continually combining both wonder and truth in their stories is Christ revealed.

Those who are perceptive may have already noticed the progressive expansion of these uses of myth – each builds on and includes the next. The Romantic still uses myth as a symbol even while revealing inexpressible truths about God. Christians use stories both as symbols and to express what cannot be expressed, but they also recognize that fact and myth perfectly combine to reveal Christ. Each of these appeals to readers of different interests and ultimately draws them into deeper understanding of the truth. This is why myth, and indeed all fiction, continues to be compelling.

© 2022 J.D. Manders

The God Formula

From the earliest history of mathematics and physics, there have been some who have tried to develop a formula to prove the existence of God, as well as to address other metaphysical questions. Some mathematicians try to demonstrate that belief in God is logical using various arguments, primarily ontological ones, that is, those based on the characteristics of God. Several of these have provided clear reasoning, yet we must conclude that faith is still necessary to believe.

The first to develop a mathematical formula about the existence of God was John Philoponus (d. 570), who desired to defend the logical consistency of the Christian faith against pagan philosophers. Using deductive logic, he argued that a) all material objects are caused by something, b) the universe is a material object, therefore, c) the universe has a cause, which he argued was God. In essence he argued for the necessity of a transcendent cause of the universe, which is someone outside of the material world. Of course, Aristotle had also argued for a belief in a “Prime Mover,” unlike Platonists who believed a perfect God could not interact with the imperfect material world, but Philoponus added mathematical proofs for each of the premises of his syllogism.

In the Middle Ages, several churchmen published other arguments for God. For example, Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) argued that, since varying degrees of goodness exist, there must be a supreme goodness, which is God. He neatly avoided the Euthyphro dilemma – whether God is good because God decides it or because He adheres to a standard of good – by arguing that God embodies all that is good. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) gave five proofs for the existence of God. These were: Motion – since there cannot be an indefinite chain of movement, there has to be a First Mover; Causation – since everything has a cause, there has to be a First Cause; Necessity – since all things whether necessary or unnecessary originate in something else that is necessary, there must be something that is necessary only within itself; Gradation – since all things come in a gradation of good to bad, or hot to cold, there must be something that is the superlative noble and good; Order – since nature follows laws, there must be something that establishes order. Although not one of his proofs, he also argued that we derive our reason from God, which is in essence the argument from reason, that reason proves there must be an intelligence behind creation rather than random events.

While these men discussed the rationality of God, they did not advance the mathematical proof. That was taken up by men such as Johannes Keppler (d. 1630), Isaac Newton (d. 1727), Renee Descartes (d. 1650) and Gottfried Leibniz (d. 1716). While Keppler and Newton argued for the existence of God based on the mathematical rationality of physics, Descartes more extensively developed the arguments of Anselm and Aquinas: the argument from reason (that reason proves the existence of God), the ontological argument (that there must be a perfect God who exists), and the causal argument (that nothing comes from nothing). He nevertheless used his own terminology. He argued the existence of finite substances independent of each other required the existence of an infinite substance on which all other substances depend. Leibniz also developed mathematical proofs for an ontological argument, in essence, that there must be a Perfect Being, that is, one that cannot act with less perfection than He is capable. From this, he argued for the need to attain to moral perfection and that the world he created was “the best of all possible worlds.”

The most recent mathematician to try to develop a God formula was Kurt Godel. I’ve discussed in past articles the importance of Godel’s “incompleteness theorems” in discussing the existence of God. In essence, he argued that all complete mathematical systems contain at least one assumption that cannot be proved without referring to something outside that system. Late in life, he sought to complete the work of Leibniz, although he never published his views due to fears of persecution. Instead, he gave them to a colleague shortly before his death. His proof focuses on the ontological argument of the necessity of the existence of a “God-like object” that possesses every good or positive property. Later scientists have tested out his formula with computers and found that it held up under analysis, although like all such theorems, it relies on the fundamental assumptions placed within it. Nevertheless, that a perfect being exists appears a mathematical certainty.

Despite the positive result of this verification, we must recall Godel’s incompleteness theorems, which are the only weak point in his ontological proof. Since all closed systems must contain an unprovable premise, so also did the ontological proof, which Godel no doubt recognized. All proof for God or against Him necessarily relies on assumptions at some point. Whether we believe in God or not has always come down to faith, though we can and should base our faith on logic or other evidence. When we do, we find it reasonable to believe in God.

© 2022 J.D. Manders