"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.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Frozen Consciences

"Invitation: Moved by faith and conscience, we struggle to respond to the gospel of Jesus, which challenges the church to answer this call to conversion: To change our hearts of hardness, indifference, and complicity to hearts of compassion, solidarity and justice. To fast and pray, in our Cathedral Church, in a spirit of REPENTANCE of the sins of war, terrorism and torture, in a spirit of MOURNING for all the dead, wounded and the millions of displaced peoples of Iraq, as we take up alms to assist them, in a spirit that MOVES us from silence to be heralds of the Easter Gospel of Nonviolence and Peace, in a spirit of HOPE to be a people of faith alive in the Risen Christ with New Life and a New Vision."

In this blog, we see the Bible as essentially, not peripherally, political, as it is normally construed in America. The American viewpoint is that religion is primarily addressed to the individual who is in need of salvation, a change of life that leads to moral renewal and particularly a renewed respect for authority, whether parental or governmental. In contrast to the personal certainty of conversion, the political consequences of Christianity are considered derivative and questionable. Our viewpoint is that of William Stringfellow who said, "...the Bible is essentially political, having to do with the fulfillment of humanity in society, or, in traditional words, the saga of salvation." - all quotations in this post are from "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land" by William Stringfellow.

Salvation understood in this way is not simply the personal moral decision of an individual abstracted from the society in which he is embedded, but a salvation encompassing both the individual and his or her social milieu. A salvation that includes the powers that rule the political world: "What ever reasons can be assigned for it, Americans fail to comprehend Revelation as an ethical literature concerning the character and timeliness of God's judgment, not only of persons, but over nations and, in truth, over all principalities and powers - which is to say, all authorities, bureaucracies, ideologies, systems, sciences, and the like." In other words, God's judgment is not exclusively directed at individuals, but also toward the authorities which rule and, in most cases, oppress those individuals. These "authorities" are not construed as collectives of sinful individuals, but as principalities and powers in the biblical sense.

It is critical to understand that this critique is not equivalent to attributing evil intentions to those in power, though such are clearly present among many in power. One of the greatest weaknesses in the anti-war movement today is the tendency to blame the Iraq occupation on the President and a small band on neo-cons in the Executive branch. The powers rejoice at such analysis because it weakens resistance movements by putting the focus on personal immorality rather than systemic sinfulness. When such critiques are mounted, the subtext is "If only we could get more intelligent and morally enlightened leaders, then we wouldn't have these horrible wars." The underlying philosophy considers "system" as basically an unreal abstraction - only individual decisions for or against competent and morally enlightened action really count. So all effort is poured into getting rid of one set of leaders and substituting a new set, who wind up carrying out exactly the same policy as the previous group.

The focus of our resistance must be on the social pathology of our institutions, as unrealistically ambitious as this might seem. Only faith can give us the strength to challenge the powers which have paralyzed moral response in their acolytes, whose conscience has become institutionally frozen behind the wall cementing the distance between personal and public morality. For Christians not to protest the immorality in which our country has plunged by prosecuting an unjust war and occupation is to empty our vocation of all its prophetic substance.

The essence of this paralysis of conscience is the reduction of the human to the inhuman. Those who participate in this reduction either actively by false declarations and violence, or passively, by allowing authorities to violate the rights of human beings in public silence, have their own humanity subtracted: "A federal appeals court Friday threw out a suit by four British Muslims who allege that they were tortured and subjected to religious abuse in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a ruling that exonerated 11 present and former senior Pentagon officials...The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the detainees captured in Afghanistan aren't recognized as "persons" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they were aliens held outside the United States. The Religious Freedom Act prohibits the government from "substantially burdening a person's religion." - In Voiding Suit, Appellate Court Says Torture Is To Be Expected, McClatchy Newspapers, Jan. 11, 2008.

If they are not "persons", what are they? Organic material in human form? To be disposed of as our Pentagon officials see fit? And since when is "torture to be expected"? And accepted in silence? Every American should feel the shame of this inhuman, anti-American, and anti-biblical ruling in their bones.

Please consider signing the petition:

"People Breaking the Silence"

And consider going further: ask the bishop in your area to consider allowing you and your companions in faith to pray at local cathedrals to do penance and wash ourselves from the shame of these deeds of inhumanity. "We petition our Bishops in all Dioceses to enable us to pray at our Cathedrals, the centers of our church; and we further petition our Bishops to support, pray and fast with us to help us cleanse our souls of the immorality of war, the immorality of torture, and the immorality of occupation."

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