In 2007, former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said, “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover the most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together or perish alone.”
I like this statement because it is indeed true that both religion and freedom need each other to survive. Religion requires freedom so that it can grow and express itself freely. Freedom requires religion because religious beliefs provide a moral compass by which citizens guide their actions. Without that compass, a society will become lawless and ultimately crumble.
For freedom and religion to survive, our nation has had to fight numerous wars in the interest of democracy. Granted, our leaders have not always made wise decisions about which wars or conflicts to enter, but within those events brave men and women have fought, suffered, and too often died so that our society could enjoy freedom and the freedom to worship as we please.
For that reason, whether a religious group believes in fighting wars or not, it is important for us to recognize veterans because of their sacrifice — of time, of their own freedom to live the way they wanted, of their health and, yes, of their lives. Their sacrifice echoes Christ’s sacrifice, and the martyrdom of the saints, across the generations.
Recently, I watched the movie “Gladiator.” In the beginning of the movie, Russell Crowe plays the part of Maximus, a Roman general who is about to lay waste to rebelling Germanic tribes. Before going into battle, Maximus tells his soldiers “If you find yourself alone riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!” Maximus also tells his soldiers “… what we do in life echoes in eternity.”
Christ did not consider his equality with God something to exploit, so he died for everyone (Phillipians 2: 6, NRSV). The apostle Paul considered himself already dead (Galatians 3:20, NIV). Paul was willing to do anything for Christ because he had died to his selfish desires. This is a common theme throughout humanity’s conflicts, either physical or spiritual. Matthew Settle, playing Lieutenant Ronald Spiers in “Band of Brothers”, told a young trooper, “… the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead”. Veterans who fight for their country die to themselves as well. No one can successfully go into the heat of battle, or to war, without already dying to selfishness. What they have done and are doing for us will echo throughout eternity.