"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.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Who I Am, What I Believe

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while have probably wondered about the philosophy that animates us here at Nonviolent Jesus. At the top it says, "An unofficial blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi", but what does that actually mean? Basically, it means that one who has studied the social teaching of the Church for many years is wondering why, amidst the explosion of blogs over the past few years, there has not be a single one that focuses on war and peace issues from a Christian perspective. Of course, there are Christian and Catholic blogs and they mention the war in Iraq from time to time, but we Christians often seem to suffer from an unexamined distinction between politics, which inhabits an amoral sphere unreachable by the gospel, and the personal sphere, where the vast majority of attention focuses. The interaction between these two, which has been the subject of intense scrutiny over the past thirty years, has apparently made no impact on the blogosphere. As a Catholic deeply interested in issues of war, peace, and social justice, I would have been satisfied merely to find a blog that regularly dealt with the war from a gospel perspective, but I was unable to find anyone doing that. Since then, I have come across the able and incisive blog by Chuck Gutenson, http://imitatiochristi.blogs.com/imitatio_christi/, which deals with many social issues from a Christian perspective, but I still have yet to find a Christian blog that focuses on war and peace specifically. If anyone out there knows of one, please let me know as soon as possible. So my intent here is to create a forum to reflect specifically on these issues by those who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Anyone who has read this blog knows that the perspective matches that of the Catholic Peace Movement, so if you support the Bush administration's war policies, you'll be in for some lively debate. But this voice crying in the wilderness would like to hear other voices and connect to any ongoing debate from Christian perspectives on the war on Iraq. Is there anybody out there? Please use the comment link below to tell me who you are and what you believe about this war.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Inner Price of Corruption

Corruption eventually turns on its creator. "...a politics which Libby and others inside the executive branch acted to corrupt, and which is now turning upon them." Stirling Newberry, "Deconstructing the Indictment", truthout, Oct. 28, 2005. The makers of corruption never understand the nature of the process which they unleash. Cynically, we are inured to corruption in daily life, how much more in politics, yet we still believe, and will continue to believe that purity is possible. We have to, it's what keeps us alive. Those who open the stream of corruption never fail to believe that it is controllable. It would be so easy, they think, simple to choke it off when it gets risky. A lie is always an attempt to avoid risk. But opening oneself to risk is ultimately what cleanses the heart. And when we refuse to clease ourselves, then God and nature take us in hand and the shower begins. All I can advise those who must suffer indictment and trial, and our prayers must be with them, is that as we open our hearts to the suffering which honesty invariably brings, we will taste the bitter herb which Oscar Wilde spoke of, and perhaps we will learn, as so many of us who have committed less visible crimes, that "Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rock where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole." Oscar Wilde, "De Profundis"

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Every Good Man is Free

William Sloan Coffin recently provided a trenchant analysis of why we have become weakened in our ability to resist hatred and war: "Something happened to our understanding of freedom. Centuries ago Saint Augustine called freedom of choice the "small freedom," libertas minor. Libertas Maior, the big freedom was to make the right choices, to be fearless and selfless enough to choose to serve the common good rather than to seek personal gain.

That understanding of freedom was not foreign to our eighteenth century forebears who were enormously influenced by Montesquieu, the French thinker who differentiated despotism, monarchy, and democracy. In each he found a special principle governing social life. For despotism the principle was fear; for monarch, honor; and for democracy, not freedom but virtue. In The Broken Covenant, Robert Bellah quotes him as writing that "it is this quality rather than fear or ambition, that makes things work in a democracy."

According to Bellah, Samuel Adams agreed: "We may look to armies for our defense, but virtue is our best security. It is not possible that any state should long remain free where virtue is not supremely honored." - William Sloan Coffin, "None of Us Have the Right to Avert Our Gaze", CounterPunch, Oct. 22, 2005.

Such words would make a fitting epitaph for the Bush Administration, whose slogan seems to be "Force creates honor." None of us, he says, and he is speaking particularly of those who profess Christ, "none of us have the right to avert our gaze" from the face of war. To do so does not make us more spiritual, but less human. We do not have the right to ignore the consequences of our obsequious silence in the face of the crimes ongoing in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. May the fresh air of freedom fill our hearts with the power to say "No!"

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Defending Torture

"These so-called ill-treatments and this torturing... were not, as assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual leaders, subleaders, and men who laid violent hands on internees... It is obvious that there were elements among them who would ill-treat internees, but this ill-treatment was never tolerated." Nazi Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Hoess during the Nuremberg Trails.

While the pragmatic arguments against torture, best understood and summarized by the military and incorporated into their field manuals, are virtually unanswerable, as Christians we must penetrate more deeply and understand why torture is always a violation of God's law. According to the Catechism: "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity." Catechism, #2297. God calls us not merely to respect the dignity of others, but to grow every day more deep in our appreciation of that dignity, which in the end is our own dignity as well. Degrading others degrades ourselves even more thoroughly and wounds our humanity, making us less able to love others and the Lord. The purpose of social life is to create a world where such abuses are no longer possible.

Penetrating even more deeply, the Catechism characterizes using God's name to justify torture as blasphemy. "It is also blasphemous to make use of God's name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death." Catechism, #2148. Those who use God's name to justify torture, as the current administration is doing by their veto of the bill which simply codifies anti-torture rules that have been a part of military code for decades, commit mortal sin.

Let us pray for those who blaspheme the image of God and justify war as Bush recently did by saying, "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …' And I did."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The God of Life

God is the spirit of life. His graces bloom in ever-expanding spheres of truth and value. Nationalist Christianity seeks to encase that spirit in an unchangeable idol which requires torture and murder to control those resistant to its rule.

Why don't the current leaders of the Christian denominations speak out? Some do, but many are still chained to the distinction between the personal and the political. Much of the power of religion comes from its personal nature. It is a personal commitment that requires constant cultivation and grows ever deeper with that cultivation. The political is an external reality that impinges on us in ways that we cannot control. It may be an area of interest or even passion, but it is not part of our interior in the same way as our relationship to God.

Contrast this with the personal nature of the relationship between soldiers and their "Persons Under Control" or PUCs: "The torture of detainees was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers. Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC [Person Under Control] tent on their off hours to 'Fuck a PUC' or 'Smoke a PUC.' 'Fucking a PUC' referred to beating a detainee, while 'Smoking a PUC' referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness." Human Rights Watch, September, 2005.

Is this a personal or a political relationship? It seems to me that this is actually both simultaneously. Detainees are tortured and humiliated as a means of social control in a way similar to the organized torture carried out in Chile in the 1970s and 80s. The evidence for this is the meticulous documentation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which demonstrates that in most cases torture is not being carried out for information. Most detainees have no worthwhile intelligence about the insurgency since their incarceration is the result of random roundups by clueless officers. The torture documented by HRW serves two primary purposes - relief of stress and social control, goals which are mutually reinforcing. It also exemplifies how questionable is the distinction between the personal and the political. Many of the soldiers are committed Christians, yet they participate in torture as reported by Capt. Ian Fishback, not merely breaking a man's legs with a metal Louisville slugger as a means of stress relief, but obeying orders to torture fellow children of God.

In the words of Capt. Fishback, "Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq." And later: "Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable." "A Matter of Honor", Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2005.

In response to Capt. Fishback, as well as the many other cases of torture and abuse, Sen. McCain has repeatedly tried to enforce the rules of the Army Field Manual regarding torture with this result: "Ninety senators, backed by an array of former admirals and generals, voting in favor of an amendment to a military appropriations bill. Their bill provides clear guidance to American troops, banning the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in U.S. custody. It establishes the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogation of detainees." "Torture: An American Story", Alternet, Oct. 12, 2005.

Yet once again, a vast silence grips the Christian leaders of America, whose voice now could be decisive in ending the torture. Please urge your bishop or pastor to speak out about this issue. To be silent now is to participate in the torture and abuse of innocents.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Body and Soul

"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28.

"On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC (Persons Under Control) tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day [a sergeant] shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger, a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs." Human Rights Watch, "Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division", September, 2005.

Soldiers in Iraq feel at the mercy of an unfeeling and incomprehensible power that has thrown them into the pit of darkness. At any moment, one of the PUCs or the brother/cousin of a PUC could end their life. They have been trained to feel invincible, yet they know they are slaves in the service of a power that doesn't care for their life or death. These psychological conditions are pre-requisites to the real purpose of the powers controlling the situation - to turn soldiers into torturers. Torture has long been found to be one of the most effective devices for the enforcement of social control.

The following applies directly to the production of insurgents in Iraq through torture - "We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state's claims to power over the bodies of its citizens. Torture plays out the dream of a certain kind of state, the production of a type of power/knowledge which I will call the imagination of the state. To speak of imagination is not, of course, to imply that state power is "merely imaginary," a disembodied thought. The imagination of the state has a tremendous power to discipline bodies, to habituate them and script them into a drama of its own making...Torture is rather both the production of that threat and the response to it, and thus the ritual site at which the state produces the reality which its pretensions to omnipotence consist." William T. Cavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist", Blackwell, 1998. p. 31.

Just like the Chilean dictatorship of the 1970's and 80's, the current Bush administration is deliberately producing "insurgents" through the use of torture. The recent Human Rights Watch report, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division" gives direct eye-witness testimony from Army officers to the continued use of torture in Iraq. It is also clear that this torture is not being used to extract information in most cases, but to terrorize and degrade the Iraqi populace. The fact that soldiers are "allowed" to work out their frustrations by breaking detainees' legs with a baseball bat demonstrates the purpose of this treatment. It is a mechanism of social control and at the same time a means of justifying the continued presence of the U.S. in Iraq. "The security of some states is made to depend on the insecurity of its citizens. The citizens then become self-disciplining, which is far more effective than the use of brute force." Torture and Eucharist, p. 46. In addition the torture is most effective if it is vaguely known to the citizens but denied by the powers that be so as to create a sense of total powerlessness and anxiety and thereby strengthen the levers of control.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, I strongly encourage you to read the whole report, which can be found at http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905/.

When we are silent in the face of torture, we internalize the will of the masters who have ordered the torture. In effect, we aid in the process of bringing the Iraqis into subjection to the will of the master country by inwardly brutalizing our own souls. The harm that is done to the Iraqis, the Persons Under Control that we are now torturing, is little compared to the damage that we are doing to ourselves. In the words of Juan Cole, "The first reason to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners...The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely. The some 15,000 Iraqis in American custody are all by now undying enemies of the United States. Some proportion of them started out that way but perhaps could have been won over." Informed Comment, Sept. 23, 2005.

In the next few weeks, I intend to extend these observations by examining the uses of torture as revealed in past U.S.-sponsored regimes that relied on torture as a means of social control. But I would like to end by remembering the words of Jesus quoted at the beginning: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28. The torturers are weak, they can only harm the body - they cannot command the soul. When we discover and root out the torturer in ourselves, then we will have the power to stop the brutalization of Iraqis. Please read the report.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Citadel

“Evil has insinuated itself into our very souls and rules over us from the very citadel erected to guard us against it.” Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996, p. 89.

This citadel often manifests itself in the form of smugness radiating from our Christian identities. When we become addicted to comforting lies our vision of the world devolves into cartoonish battles of enlightened civilization and dark swarms of “terrorists” engendered from the marshes of perverted beliefs, beliefs moreover that mirror our own. The religion of Christ becomes the sickly sweet expression of our church leaders which scent calls for the assassination of our enemies, those who own resources we covet.

Walter Wink describes the mirror image of the true church in the following words:
“The myth of redemptive violence is nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical denunciation and negation by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it claims God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a biased and partial tribal god worshiped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but a fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but a rod of iron. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final liquidation. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. It usurps the revelation of God’s purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous.” Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992, p. 30.

How do we become aware of the evil that grows within us? Sometimes it is only by confronting the bodies of those we seek to dominate, “Three U.S. army personnel—two sergeants and a captain—describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water.” Human Rights Watch, “New Accounts of Torture by U.S. Troops”, Sept. 24, 2005. As good Christians, we hold ourselves aloof, untouched by the torture committed in our name by our born-again President and his prayerful Cabinet. To allow in the cries and screams of our victims would be too painful, yet it haunts us like a sin we can barely remember. Our continuing silence and the silence of our Christian leaders makes a powerful contribution to those screams and cries, but the citadel is far too comforting to leave.