We just went through a long election season. The presidential campaigning was extensive and very expensive. The campaigning also drew a lot of attention on government spending on war and the different wars that the U.S. is engaged in at the present time.
I am Korean Canadian and when I lived in Canada, the war-culture language wasn’t so prevalent. If there was any discourse about war language, it was usually tied in with ending war or peace-keeping. Now that I reside in the states and realize how Americans live with this prevalent war-culture and all the implications that go along with it, it is important to recognize Dr. Kelly Denton-Borhaug’s book as timely, important and urgent.
Denton-Borhaug begins the book by introducing and defining “U.S. war-culture.” The realities of war-culture are veiled even as they simultaneously are covered with a sacred canopy through the rhetoric and practices of sacrifice. She examines the beginning of the post-9/11 era in order to work through a case study of the political/religious rhetoric of sacrifice that was used in the U.S. to promote and maintain war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The naturalization of war-culture in the United States is supported by an ideology of ‘necessity.’
There are strong links between ‘patriarchal ‘necessity’, sacrifice, and the Just War tradition. Just War discourse is strongly tied to patriarchal protective schemes, and is influenced by Christian understandings of sacrifice. The provisions of Just War tradition lead to the acceptance of theologies of sacrifice within our Christian tradition. This melds together with deep-seated practices of scapegoating violence which works against the vulnerable and weak persons within society. Therefore it may be important to de-center theologies of sacrifice and move towards a more loving, wholistic approach to the death of Jesus. I appreciate Denton-Bourhag’s understanding of war-culture and violence. There are so many facets to talk about this book, but I will continue on the conversation from a postcolonial perspective and the problem of essentializing.
The term postcolonial describes the modern stage of imperialism. It begins with colonialism, followed by the struggles for political independence, the attainment of independence, and on to the contemporary neocolonialist realities. It emphasizes the connection and continuity between the past and the present for both the colonizer and the colonized. The thrust of postcolonial thinking is not to maintain the status quo but to challenge and to reimagine the present reality, to seek transformation for liberation.
Postcolonial theory opposes essentialism, the contention that there is a ‘real’ essence in a given racial/ethnic category or including religious identities. Essentializing groups has been harmful as it has led to stereotypes and to racialization which reinforces the separation and the dichotomization between the colonizer and the colonized. Thus in the place of essentialism, postcolonial theory promotes hybridity, syncreticity, and cosmopolitanism; ‘it favors voluntary affiliations as opposed to inherent identities’. In this way, it provides more freedom for the individuals to express their own personal attributes without being bound to categories defined by others. This will help to deregulate the boundaries which are set up by cultures, societies and even religions.
Denton-Borhaug looks beyond the euro-centric theological voices and turns to other voices such as womanist theological understandings of soteriology and sacrifice as represented by Delores S. Williams and JoAnne Marie Terrell. She aligns herself with Williams in her critique of scapegoating sacrifice in Christianity. She draws upon the insights of Korean-Brazilian theologian Mo Jung Sung in his critique of the essentializing of sacrifice in Western theology, and its devastating impact in the lives of the poor in South America, and joins with him in the search for alternatives to sacrifice.”
The women, the poor, the marginalized all become victims of violence. To prevent such violence against the subordinated and subjugated and the most vulnerable in our society such as children and the poor, we must rethink and reimagine Christianity and how it views the death of Jesus. We have seen too many sacrifices in our lifetime to continue to view the death of Jesus in this way. With the violent murder of Emmit Till and Matthew Shepard, this type of violence isn’t acceptable or viewed as the ultimate sacrifice for those who are marginalized. Emmit Till didn’t have to die for the world to see that racism is wrong. Matthew Shepard didn’t have to be torturously murdered for the rest of the world to understand that homophobia is wrong. We don’t need any more sacrificial figures in our society to teach us or show to us something. Rather, we need a transformation within our society so that we can fully understand our own violent and sacrificial tendencies in our own lives. Christianity needs to reimagine itself so that cruelty and violence is no longer within our vocabulary or conception of who Christ is. Christ is love and love needs to be the enduring memory. Not violence that is veiled through sacrificial mandates or frameworks.
I am very of appreciative to Kelly Denton-Borhaug’s book. It is such a pertinent and relevant for our theological and religious discourse. The book speaks to us as Christians who are seeking a meaningful life in the midst of violence and war. I applaud Denton’s Borhaug’s contribution and wait with patience for her next volume.
(Click here to read more about the book).
 Kelly Denton-Borhaug, U.S. War-Culture, Sacrifice and Salvation (Sheffield: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2011), 9, 10. Jace Weaver, “Indigenous and Indigeneity” p. 221-235 in A Companion to Postcolonial Studies, edited by Henry Schwarz and Sangeeta Ray (Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2000), p. 226.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is the author of The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).