You ought to feel safe with the U.S. Navy so close by. The naval base at San Diego is the second largest surface base in this particular branch of our sprawling military system. From my hotel room I can watch the ships chugging through the harbor and from the Convention Center you can see quite a spread of naval real estate. Still, all this hardware doesn’t make me feel safe. Perhaps because I’m a child of the sixties, I can imagine a world at peace where military budgets don’t literally take food from the mouths of hungry citizens. The last time I was in San Diego for AAR/SBL I toured the USS Midway aircraft carrier. It’s clearly visible from my room. I was amazed at both the technology and the obvious expenditure for such a craft. It can’t be easy to set a city afloat.
Whenever I experience things like this I can’t help but wonder what we might accomplish if we loved each other as a species and put our heads together to try to solve our problems. Lack of water—perhaps ironically in this naval city—is a serious global issue. Poverty is the ghost of civilization. The grasping of power by the driven but inept is clear worldwide. We build great, complicated war machines. The noise generated by the helicopters charging overhead bespeaks their weight and weaponry. Down here in the southwest there are places civilians just can’t go because our military is busy keeping us too safe to allow us to wonder what they’re up to. Black budgets must be nice. I stand here among religion scholars and dream.
Ironically religion often leads to the fear that leads, in turn, to militarization. We want to protect our “way of life.” We’ll follow the prince of peace into war any day. Just give the signal and release the missiles. It doesn’t make me feel safe at all. One time on a family visit, we drove through Norfolk, Virginia. We stayed at a cheap hotel, because, well, we’re cheap. The metal door was heavily reinforced with a stolid steel lock. Navy men, we were informed, didn’t always behave well while ashore. The locks were to keep us safe from those protecting us. We stayed only one night and left early the next morning. So I while the annual meeting away under the watchful eye of our largest line item on the budget. They’re keeping our bodies safe, but who’s keeping track of our souls?