Melvin, thanks for your question about my choice to join the Army. So, before giving some details about that decision, I think I need to make two points to put this into its proper context. I think the main point to make when I reflect upon my past is that prior to March 2010 I was not a saved Christian (or, at least, not aware of my salvation, however we want to parse that out). That said, what motivated me, i.e. what drove me at the deepest level of desire, and the subsequent plans I developed in order to fulfill those desires, was drastically different prior to my conversion than after my conversion. Some of those desires were perhaps objectively good (e.g. the desire to fight evil in the world), but were often motivated by subjective desires that were not good (e.g. the desire to be glorified or idolized by others). So, the disjunction between decisions made prior to my conversion and after March 2010 is massive and when I reflect back on the reasons for my joining the Army in 2008, I try and consider what my heart was like back then versus what it is like now. Is there continuity…yes, certainly. But the discontinuity, as I said, is massive as it relates to the purposes that I have now (e.g. to glorify God and to build His kingdom) versus the purposes I had then (e.g. to attain glory for myself and to have others see me as morally “good.”)
A second point to make that develops this first one is my use of certain categories that help explain my pre-conversion reasoning versus my post-conversion reasoning. These categories are not my own, I have appropriated them from the danish existential philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. According to Kierkegaard there are three stages of character development an individual could go through: the aesthetic (or sensual stage), the ethical stage, and the religious stage (i.e. the stage of faith). Now, I use these pretty generically, not in a technical way that represents any deep analysis of Kierkegaardian philosophy, but just as a rubric for understanding the sort of progress or trajectory I think my life took (and perhaps all lives take). I say this because by the time I enlisted in the Army I had lived a rather intense life in pursuit of sensual pleasure for several years. That pursuit of pleasure (not just sexual pleasure, but that is certainly part of it), had become fairly passé for me, and I had seemingly moved into a more moral or ethical mode of being and behaving. That is not to say I wasn’t sinning, but that I was desirous of being more moral, more ethical. Ravi has spoken often on the “problem of pleasure” and by 2008 I had most definitely found myself in the middle of that problem. Therefore, to be (or at least act) more moral was a big part of what motivated my decision for the Army.
So, to summarize these points: 1) there is some continuity of desire and motivation between my pre-conversion life and my post-conversion life, but at a deeper level of desire and motivation there is also a massive disjunction between who I was and who I now am becoming in Christ. I think we all recognize this, especially those of us who were saved as adults. Also, 2) I use the Kierkegaardian model to show where I think I was in my life (the ethical man) and what I had already passed through existentially (the sensual man) at the time I choose to enlist. With that in mind, I think I can identify (after many years of reflection, and especially since my time here in seminary) four reasons why I did so:
I joined so that others would think I was heroic, or noble, or morally good. I wanted to feel affirmed (also in itself not a bad thing, but when the praise of man is our highest good, then it is obviously sin). So, the desire for affirmation apart from faith in Christ, I think often devolves into the desire to be worshipped or idolized.
I joined because I was bored with pleasure and desired to flee from the external trappings of sin. I literally thought, for example, that since I couldn’t shake my sin of pornography, to go to basic training for 9 weeks (and then AIT for 6 months) with no access to internet, magazines, tv, etc. would be a means to excising my addictions to sex.
Also, because I was bored with life, I simply needed to fill my emptiness with something new, something different and, for me, something challenging. The Army was a means to all three, and also a medium for being constantly active (since separate from God someone like myself tends to busy himself with “noise” and “activity” and novel experience). There was, in fact, a time early in my career where I was even bored with my first duty unit, and actually considered quite seriously getting a part-time job alongside my military job. Instead, I tried out for Special Forces: a way to keep very busy indeed.
Finally, and I think this is more indicative of a right desire but done in the wrong way, I did want to fight against evil in the world. I was disgusted with living the life of a sort of playboy (I was wealthy, in good shape, living in a posh Chicago neighborhood, a professional dancer, etc.) and I wanted to fight against what I thought was the most egregious form of evil I could think of. Thus, I considered two options that year: one was the Army and the other the FBI. The two evils I reckoned were the most malevolent forms of moral evil in the world today were Islamic terrorism (i.e. the Army route) and child sex trafficking (i.e. the FBI route). I choose the Army route. There is probably more to why I choose Army over FBI, especially that area of FBI work, but perhaps that should be discussed in a more private setting.
So, I know this is a long response to a simple question, but these things, when properly analyzed through the lens of my new life in Christ, seem to be areas worthy of deep spiritual reflection and hopefully one that can lead to spiritual formation. Thanks again for your question, Melvin. Where you also in the Army yourself?