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Christian Nationalism and American Militarism on Display at Local High School Basketball Game

american militarism

It was ten after four as I pulled into the Bryan High School parking lot. I arrived thirty minutes before game time so I could make sure that I had a first-row seat for the night’s slate of basketball games between the Swanton Bulldogs and the Bryan Golden Bears.  Bethany, my daughter with Down Syndrome, was with me. Armed with pens and spiral notebooks, she spent the night drawing pictures and entertaining those who sat nearby.

I brought my camera equipment with me. I ALWAYS bring my cameras, feeling naked on those rare occasions when I leave them at home. I love watching high school basketball games. I am reminded of a time long ago — forty years ago now — when a young redhead boy sprinted up and down the court, hoping his meager effort would lead to a team victory. Never a great player, I still love the machinations of the game. Tonight’s varsity match was a blowout until late in the fourth quarter when Swanton mounted a comeback.  A flurry of shots fell through the net, trimming Bryan’s lead to eight. I wondered, would Swanton find a way to snatch victory out of jaws of defeat? Alas, it was not to be. Swanton lost all three games — ninth grade, junior varsity, and varsity.  My cousin’s son plays on Swanton’s ninth grade team. He, statistically, had a great game, but his fellow teammates did not.

I knew that tonight was going to be difficult me. It was Veteran’s Night — an opportunity for locals to recognize and applaud veterans for their service.  Surrounding me were fans wearing Trump tee shirts and hats, along with hundreds of people wearing flag apparel. These are the same people who would be outraged if I burnt a flag, demanding my arrest for violating the “flag code.” Lost on them are their own violations of the code with their Trumpesque accoutrements.

The public address announcer let the crowd know that the pregame events would begin with the Bryan band playing God Bless America. Everyone stood to their feet as the band began to play America’s second national anthem. Those near me put hands over their hearts, and several of them lustfully sang the words made infamous by the terrorist attacks on 9-11.

I did not stand, silently voicing my disapproval of the insertion of Christianity into a secular public high school event. It is not easy for me to do so. I can feel the stares, and in the past I have had people rebuke me for not giving Jesus his due. I remind those who dare to challenge me that I am an atheist and a secularist. Why should I give reverence to a mythical deity or show my support for those who care little for the separation of church and state.

Once the Christian Tabernacle Choir® finished with their hymn of praise and worship to America’s God, it was time to move on to the patriotic portion of the pregame events. The announcer asked all the veterans in attendance to stand while the rest of us stayed seated.  Dozens of veterans stood as people cheered and young millennials ran to them, giving them high fives and thanking them for their service. I did not clap, hoping that since we were seated no one would notice my lack of applause. Alas, I was quickly outed as the crowd rose to its feet, applauding and cheering those who were lucky enough not to return home in a body bag. Their raucous applause went on for several minutes.

I was the only person not standing. Across the way stood my uncle, a veteran of the Vietnam War. I am sure my refusal to participate in the night’s glorification of American militarism offended him. However, he knows that my refusal to do so is a matter of principle for me. I resolutely stand in opposition American imperialism and militarism. My refusal to stand is me saying that I oppose America’s continued involvement in violent, unwinnable wars in the Middle East.  Without soldiers, politicians would not be able to stuff American exceptionalism down the throats of the world.  Most of all I refuse to stand because I don’t want one more drop of blood shed in my name. I don’t want American men and women dying just so I can have the “freedom” to watch basketball games. I will gladly not watch another sporting event if it means no more violence, carnage, and bloodshed. How dare we cheapen military deaths with empty words about freedom and the American way of life. Enough! I say, to the endless violence and destruction.

After the veterans were seated, it was time for the playing of the National Anthem. As is my custom, I stood, removed my hat, and held it over my heart with my right hand. As the band played, I turned my gaze to the flag and quietly sang the Anthem.  A tear trickled down my cheek as I pondered what has become of the United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave.


  1. Avatar
    J.D. Matthews

    I wish I could’ve been there with you, as I would’ve sat with you and partnered with you in such “civil disobedience”–which nobody seems to remember is the real “patriotism” that started the whole damned country. It is daunting, being the only person in the entire ballpark to refrain from removing one’s hat and saluting those idols of military and flag. (I was opposed to this when I was Christian, as well, because I viewed it as worshipping an idol. I don’t think I was too far off, even though I protest for other reasons now.) Just know that in all likelihood, someone else was out there wondering if they should sit it out too, but lacked the bravery to do so. You may have provided encouragement for them. You did good, sir.

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    There are tears being shed all over the world now. You are not alone but your narrative symbolizes the state of affairs for people who want to resist giiving into the self-righteous, deluded mob. The flag-worship, the forced cohabitation of nation-worship with God-worship is a deeply rooted virus in America. It is no accident that Trump in now invoking God’s name while he attacks the world for America’s sake. The world must be vilified so it can be hated, so America can be great again.
    We are in deep deep trouble now and I suspect that civil unrest and even violent disobedience is not far off now.
    That you stand (or sit) with your convictions, that you have carefully considered this life, now that is a remarkable example for Americans! I agree with J.D. Matthews that your honesty and willingness to be yourself is not going unnoticed. How else will America be free again? How else will USA be able to know that the greatness Trump promises is a bitter collapse of American heart. When Kennedy asked the people to consider what they could do for their country he was speaking for the world. As a Canadian, I was mostly a supporter for this America, was a supportive neighbor. I am no longer. The USA is the most dangerous nation on earth. It makes North Korea look like a rookie. And it seems that so few can see out of the ether. I wish you every good thing, Bruce Gerencser, every benefit of good fortune, health and strength to endure what is to come in your land. (It will badly affect us Canadians too but I trust we will not succumb.) I will be cheering on my wife today as she marches here in Canada, supporting women marching all over this hemisphere. Damn you Trump. Damn your blind gluttony, your disdain for women, your shallow, hateful vision.

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    Becky Wiren

    I feel for you, Bruce. Since my kids were into music and not sports, there weren’t the same nationalist/Christianist displays. Certainly not to that extent. (I can’t clearly remember if there were any because I was still a Christian and it’s been years.)

    Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that since WWII, all our wars have been wrong. And even during WWII the US government knew of the Holocaust and did not step in to try to prevent it in any way. No, we live in a country with a government that is willing to tamper with and destroys other governments and countries. And while I think Putin is evil, I’m sure our government has done assassinations of those we wish were gone. I know of the deposition of the head of Iraq for the Shah. We destroyed democracy in the name of oil!

    No, too many of us live in our society isolated from the evil and destruction our government does. Minorities and the poor don’t get this consideration and they fight back while being mocked by the comfortable. We already lived in a plutocracy before Trump was elected, albeit one that was a little more friendly to the world and its citizens. Unfortunately, now we all are probably fucked.

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    Daniel Wilcox

    Thank you, Bruce! Especially for this paragraph: “I was the only person not standing. Across the way stood my uncle, a veteran of the Vietnam War. I am sure my refusal to participate in the night’s glorification of American military… I resolutely stand in opposition American imperialism and militarism. My refusal to stand is me saying that I oppose America’s continued involvement in violent, unwinnable wars in the Middle East.”

    If only more Americans would stop this rabid glorification of militarism and national “group egotism” which has nothing to do with legitimate defense of our country.

    This has happened in the past, too. I remember visiting an Assemblies of God church when we moved and being shocked, even angry, when suddenly in the middle of the worship service the minster had everyone in the congregation get up and give the pledge of allegiance, etc.:-(

    And where I taught high school, which was a very secular school (but near an air force base) at the start of the Gulf War, during a school assembly, they had a special pep rally for our troops, where the scantily clad cheerleaders led the crowd in a rousing pro-war “We’re #1, We’re #1…”

    This was the same week in which lots of Iraqis, both the innocent and the guilty were dying in the “shock and awe.”

    To compare a brutal unjust war to a football game was beyond the even worst form of nationalism:-(

    I felt ashamed to be a human. Another teacher, an agnostic, and I do a teach-in at lunch against the war and the glorification it, but few attended.

    My only regret was that I didn’t act on my inner conviction. I strongly felt I ought to climb down out of the stands where I was being one of the adult monitors of the thousands of students,
    and interrupt the glorification festivities pointing out how grossly unjust and uncivil the whole obscene spectacle was.

    But I didn’t because I was worried about losing my job. I deeply regret not standing against the nationalistic egotism.

    Thank you for NOT standing, for opposing the current mess of our trying to overthrow governments, supporting Islamic jihadists, giving Muslim killing regimes billions of dollars, causing the wounding and death of untold millions,
    and leaving so many American young men and women dead for no rational or defensible reason.

    We seldom agree, but on this one, we do sit together.

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    The motto for my High School class was a good one, “Only dead fish go with the flow”. I’ve shared your discomfort, as has anyone else who stand (or in this case didn’t stand) for something one believes in (or does NOT believe in).
    “God Bless America” I certainly wouldn’t stand up or salute or anything for this.
    As for saluting military veterans, I don’t take your hard line and would give them a nod. If they couldn’t get enough volunteers there would be conscription and I know the military and I wouldn’t have gotten along well at all. I’d certainly agree the world would be a better place in most cases when the U.S. doesn’t intervene, but it is certainly appropriate to separate war from the warrior.

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      I am with you on this one, Troy, about not having an issue with vets getting the nod. However, here’s my 2 army kids perspective.

      I have 2 children in the Army (SSG and CPT). Both of them feel verrrryyy uncomfortable with all the military jingoism of the public with their “thanking them for their service, public displays etc”. Neither one of them will stand up when service members are asked to be recognized at a public gathering- neither one of them feels comfortable about it. Not to say, they don’t take advantage of military discounts, etc, but neither one of them goes out in public in their uniform unless they are going on duty, or coming off duty and haven’t changed into their civvies yet or are in their dress uniforms for vet funerals or other formal occasions. In their words, “we are just serving our country, it’s want we want to do, it’s not a popularity contest”. I know other military folks that feel differently, so I guess it’s a mixed bag.

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        Thanks for your perspective. Considering the other Trump, God, and Country with macho flag waving going on at this high school game, it is likely less actual appreciation and more using the veterans as props.

  6. Avatar

    I am of two minds on this subject. I have disliked the Pledge all my life and as an adult I will only stand respectfully if I must. I don’t care for “God Bless America” and I dislike the jingoism that’s patriotism nowadays.

    Veterans OTOH I will respect because they have volunteered to give up a good portion of their individual rights, they have promised to go where they are sent and do as they are told. Some have lost their lives, some have lost body parts and many have lost parts of their souls. They have also done something that I have had the freedom to decline. They have been treated poorly by command and we have broken our promises to them on so many levels. This applies doubly to the men of the Vietnam era and before who were drafted and had little choice in the matter.

    Now it’s true that sometimes vets are used as props for Jingoistic displays such as you describe. They can say “No thanks, and not stand up, which, had I served would probably be my choice. but they do deserve our thanks and our respect.

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