An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Friday, April 28, 2006

End the Silence

"I take a holy vow to never kill again." - Neil Young, Living With War.

All of us, whether we admit it or not, are living with war in our hearts. We can stop this war anytime we wish. The act of stopping hate in our hearts, whether it be for the co-worker that constantly obstructs our efforts or for a President that kills without a twinge of compassion because he has the power not to care, is the act that ends the powers that be. We can destroy his power because we have the power to care whether we hate or not. When we stop hating, we destroy the power of this world. When we start loving our brothers in Iraq and in Iran, then we bring the kingdom of God to life in our hearts.

"If democracy is not all it’s cracked up to be, and a war for oil is blatantly immoral and unproductive, the question still remains-- why do we fight? More precisely, why should we fight? When is enough killing enough? Why does man so casually accept war, which brings so much suffering to so many, when so little is achieved? Why do those who suffer and die so willingly accept the excuses for the wars that need not be fought? Why do so many defer to those who are enthused about war, and who claim it’s a solution to a problem, without asking them why they themselves do not fight? It’s always other men and other men’s children who must sacrifice life and limb for the reasons that make no sense, reasons that are said to be our patriotic duty to fight and die for. How many useless wars have been fought for lies that deserved no hearing? When will it all end?" HON. RON PAUL OF TEXAS
BEFORE THE US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, September 8, 2005

Let me summarize the feelings that Neil Young and a chorus of American voices now are crying, "For American liberty to be restored and extended, American Christians need to carry on with their country the same lovers' quareel that the prophets of old carried on with Israel, and that God consistently carries on with the whole world. We must say Yes to what we can, and No to what we must. We must see that when a government betrays the ideals of a country, it is an act of loyalty to oppose the government. We must take the road less traveled and be more concerned with our country saving its soul than with it losing face. "I tremble for my country when I recall that God is just" (Thomas Jefferson)." - William Sloan Coffin.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Silence, Vast and Still

Larry Beinhart's recent piece in Common Dreams (In Silence, the War Continues) should be read by all who care about putting out the war that rages in our hearts and overflows onto the bodies of the innocent. After laying out the case that the Iraq War constitutes a war crime, indeed the "supreme international crime": "To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." - Nuremburg Tribunal, article 109.

How far have we fallen from the days when America spearheaded the movement to make war illegal? As Beinhart shows, the major difference between those times and ours is not the prevalence of violence, or even its justification, but the sheer emptiness with which we the children have greeted the advent of this crime. Our ancesters may have been more instinctive in their aggression, but a latent moral outrage flared even in the most brutal days, a flare that has flickered out in our hearts. Knowing we are cowards, the news media shields us from the horrors we have unleashed on the innocent. And we are glad to be shielded. We have become unworthy of the fire of justice.

The major difference between the crime of the 1930's and our own is the self-willed muffling of our conscience, or in the words of Beinhart, "There are no mitigating circumstances, except, perhaps, the silence.

The silence, vast and still, came from the media. It came from our other politicians. From our historians, lawyers and generals, from our priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams, who failed to step forward and say, wait, once upon a time we said that waging an aggressive war was the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Once upon a time we hung people for the crime of waging an aggressive war.

We are continuing that war. We have already begun the preparations for another war.

We may not be able to stop this administration from committing war crimes, we may not be able to bring them to justice, but we can end the silence."

Christian Solidarity

Yesterday it was revealed that Mary McCarthy at the CIA was probably the source of the revelations about the secret prisons to which the CIA rendered suspected terrorists in order to torture them. What must the Christian attitude be toward those who uncover grave human rights abuses which are currently being carried out by this administration? This woman took an oath to protect the secrets of this government - can we defend her action without diminishing the virtue of keeping one's promises? The Church teaches us that "Professional secrets - for example, those of political office holders, soldiers, physicians, and lawyers - or confidential information given under the seal of secrecy must be kept, save in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very grave harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party, and where the very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth. Even if not confided under the seal of secrecy, private information prejudicial to another is not to be divulged without a grave and proportionate reason." Catechism #2491. Is not the torture of a fellow human being precisely the exceptional case that the Catechism provides for? In fact, is this situation not precisely the "ticking bomb" scenario so beloved of the right-wing media? Our brothers are currently being held in secret prisons where they are being tortured and perhaps murdered. The CIA knows where they are and knows the harm that they are doing to these images of God. The only way to render them justice is to raise a public outcry that may awaken the latent shame that lies in the heart of the most bureaucratic abuser. Does the obligation to free the victims of such injustice overrule the obligation to protect "professional secrets"? If only those who wear the name of Christian would start proclaiming the truth from the bowels of this Bluebeard which we blindly call our security, that sea of tears, then at last the cleansing process could begin. Let us pray that those in government will claim their status as sons and daughters of God and throw off the paralysis that seals their lips while the image of God is degraded and done to death. The Christian support which Mary McCarthy receives will say much about our commitment to God's love.

"For men and women in a nuclear world, when the human race has outgrown war but hardly knows it yet, Jesus more than ever is the best way to liberation, freedom, and peace. The hostility that churned up Cain and that others throughout the centuries have sought to perpetuate, Jesus seeks to ground. That makes it our calling to ground, not to perpetuate, hostility. The violence stops here, with each one of us who claims Christ's holy name. The gossip, the false witness borne against a neighbor, the cold unconcern for warm human beings - all forms of violence, everything that violates human nature - stops with us." William Sloan Coffin.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday and the Life of a Prophet



"After experiencing the horrors of the Vietnam War, certain American veterans proclaimed they couldn't believe in God any more, as if it had been the will of God that they should have been over there in the first place. It is not the will of God that any human being die in a war, on a battlefield, and it is no exaggeration to picture Christ between the opposing lines, every bullet and missle passing through his body.

Why does God let these things happen? Because God can't prevent them, love being self-restricting when it comes to power. If these human disasters grieve us, we can imagine how they break God's heart. But human disasters are the responsibility of human beings, no God. We can blame God only for giving us the freedom that, misused, makes these disasters inevitable. Often, I confess, I do blame God. I rail at God, saying, 'Look, God, if you give an expensive watch to a small child and the child smashes it, who's at fault?' But I have to recognize that if love is the name of the game, freedom is the absolute precondition. God's love is self-restricting when it comes to power. The Christmas story, more than any other in the Bible, shows us that we are going to be helped by God's powerlessness - or God's love - not by God's power. The Christas story shows us that God had to come to earth as the child of Joseph and Mary because freedom for the beloved demands equality with the beloved."
- William Sloan Coffin.

The bullets that pass through the body of Jesus are not passing through some mystical substance, but through flesh that tears. God came to bring a different kind of power to this earth. Not the power that perpetuates the crimes upon which this world is based - exchanging one set of criminals for another keeps the system of slavery thriving. But love restricts itself and renounces the power that does not rise from its substance. We discover this power when we renounce the violence that powers us. We believe in the power that comes from a death on the cross, which is not a magical power, but a power that lives in our hearts and is stronger than death. We experience this power most deeply when we have lost and become lost. Have no fear of the megachurch religion - to the extent it is based on "prosperity thinking" and national idols, it will fade into the paganism which is its true worship. We give our hearts to another, as did Bill Coffin. And we place all our hope in God's powerlessness, which is greater than the strength of men and nations.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

War is a coward's escape from the problems of peace

From Tertullian: "Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?" De Corona Militis, Ch. 11.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Torturing the Truth



Jesus Nailed to the Cross



See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire

As we prepare to look into the eyes of he who was tortured for us, may we who call ourselves Christians renew our dedication to end the practice of torture whereever it may occur, particularly by those who claim to be protecting our security. What security is it that keeps our lifestyle safe while rotting our souls?

"Torture is not an ethical means for fighting terrorism, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace." Cardinal Renato Martino made that assertion today at a press conference where he presented Benedict XVI's message for World Day of Peace, to be held Jan. 1.

"Torture is the humiliation of a person, whoever that person is. For this reason, the Church does not accept it as valid this means to extract the truth," the cardinal said.

These two quotes from an article on Zenit indicate the rapidly solidifying consensus by the Church that torture has joined the ranks of acts that are intrinsically evil - in the same category as abortion. With the image of Jesus on the Cross, being tortured to death, we need to reflect on exactly why this act is evil at the core and can never be justified.

What makes us like God - made in the image of God? Part of the answer must be our rationality and freedom. When such an image is tortured, the purpose is to destroy that freedom, to make the torturer's will prevail, to negate the will of the tortured and to reduce him or her to the level of an instrument, a mere thing in the hands of the only real power, the torturer and the authority he or she represents. Where reason and persuasion have failed (or have never been tried in most cases) physical and psychological pain is applied to coerce the will, to negate the freedom that has been abused and therefore rendered the bearer of that freedom unworthy of further respect.

In the eyes of the Church, we are persons, not individuals to be coerced, to be tortured into shapes that feed the eyes of those who love power for power's sake, "...everyone should look upon his neighbor without any exception) as another self, bearing in mind above all his life and the means necessary for living it in a dignified way..." Specifically forbidden are "...all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures..." Gaudium et Spes, 27. These moral laws apply as much to "terrorists" as to our fellow Catholics.

But there is a further similarity of the person to the community of persons that live in the Trinity. In the words of John Perry, "...the human rights and dignity attached to our personhood ... are grounded in our similarity to the divine nature, the nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, persons distinct only in their mutual relationships to each other in the unique community we call the Trinity. Thus, a torturer inflicting torments and suffering on a victim not only defaces another bother or sister, but implicitly attacks the face of God in the other, and destroys human community." Torture, p. 43.

Let us pray for the souls of those Catholic bishops that choose to turn a blind eye to the crimes against international law and human dignity that the current U.S. Administration continues to commit and justify openly. "Bush's demand is unprecedented. No leader in all human history, not even Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, has publicly demanded the right to torture. All others have behaved as Bush did before the amendment when he secretly tortured on a scale unseen in American history even while saying he wasn't. Forced into the open by the McCain amendment, however, Bush chose to openly demand the legal right to torture. Most experts assume he will continue to torture." Fred Branfman, "On Being Good Americans"

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Confess and Be Free

"Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind." Romans 12:2.

As Christians, we must embrace freedom, not freedom as this world understands the term, freedom to indulge our worst impulses, but freedom from the shadows that live inside us. In support of this, I suggest a three part program to free us from our inertia and complicity in the murder and torture of those our government labels "enemy combatants." Perhaps this time, we Christians can acknowledge our guilt while the crime is being committed rather than carrying out a safe and meaningless reconciliation years after the actual deeds were done.

1) Truth is the first act of freedom. We must confess that by our silence we have allowed our government to carry out viciously anti-human and anti-Christian policies toward the peoples of the Middle East virtually without challenge.

2) We must feel a deep contrition for the sin of our government and resolve to do whatever is in our power to right the evil which has been carried out in our name. But this attritio cordis must go far beyond feelings of anger and righteousness, and lead to the "work of grief", the determined rooting out of all the temptations and compulsions which led to the current state of crime. All the love of indulgence which this culture makes mandatory and has led directly to this mad attempt to appropriate resources to sustain this indulgence must be renounced. In other words, the Gospel calls us to a change of heart, not merely a momentary spasm of shame. This should be accompanied by a thorough examination of the current ideologies that dominate our culture in the light of the Gospel so that we can clearly discern their anti-Christian character.

3) We must follow with satisfaction through good works, not simply good words. We must not be satisfied with the traditional means of protest, but must seek for ever more creative and Christian ways to express our rejection of this world of violence. Reduction of consumption is a first and obvious "sign of expiation", as well as being a direct blow against the system of sinful domination. We should expect to suffer for these acts of resistance. Indeed, we can expect more suffering than the violent rebels because such resistance is more deeply threatening to the powers that be.

Please let me hear your ideas about how we might carry out this resistance in the spirit of Christ and if you would like to add to the program here suggested.