"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.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Contested Formation

Jesus Condemned to Death

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

On this first Sunday of Advent, may we peer carefully into our hearts to discern whom we are allowing to form them. Just as the Eucharist knits us into the Body of Christ and breaks down the isolation and alienation of consumer culture, so we constantly need to be alert to those social forces readying us for the slaughter. In the words of James, "Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like a fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days...You have lived on the earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter." James 5: 1-3, 5. The days of slaughter are upon us in Iraq. While churches looked the other way as Iraqis were offered up to knock a few cents off the gas price for our SUVs, we fatted our hearts. Our hearts grew encased in layer upon layer of lies and self-flattering images to which we gladly lent our ears and eyes. We know that we are being shaped, yet we are too flaccid to exercise the muscles that would form us in the image of Christ.

Most of us know where our real loyalty lies and it is not to the Church. In the words of a recent study, "...the church is (or should be) about being the new creation, a gathering of disciples that heralds the kingdom of God. As persons made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), human beings ought not tbe formed into tools that serve lesser gods like the firm, but instead the full unfolding of the human person is realized in communion with Christ and the redemption of all creation. The church is meant to be God's social laboratory in the world, a prototype of human community that crosses all the world's divisions and holds together without killing and exploitation as its glue - as such it is meant to prefigure the kingdom of God, not a lean-production capitalist firm in which the few dominate and exploit the many inside and outside the firm." Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow, "Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business is Buying the Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2002.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

On Being Sheep

"As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we lose the shepherd's help. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you." St. John Chrysostom, Homily on St. Matthew.

St. John Chrysostom goes on to speak in the voice of Our Lord, "I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. But the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power. That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect."

Freedom of the Eucharist, pt. 2

To discover a sane alternative to the “myth of redemptive violence” which fuels the apparatus of the corporate state, we turn to St. Augustine, whose City of God draws the line between the practice of the Roman state and the laws that govern God’s city. As Rowan Williams puts it, Augustine “is engaged in a redefinition of the public itself, designed to show that it is life outside the Christian community which fails to be truly public, authentically political.” (Rowan Williams, “Politics and Soul: A Reading of the City of God,” Milltown Studies, no. 19/20: p. 58). The church does this not by the imposition of coercive power, but by means of sacrifice, not through the infliction of pain on other bodies, but through suffering our own pain in sympathy with that of others’. In the words of William Cavanaugh, “To participate in the Eucharist is to live inside God’s imagination. It is to be caught up into what is really real, the body of Christ…In the Eucharist, Christ sacrifices no other body but His own. Power is realized in self-sacrifice; Christians join in this sacrifice by uniting their own bodies to the sacrifice of Christ.” (Ibid, p. 279). Or in the words of Augustine, “This is the sacrifice of Christians: we, being many, are one body in Christ. And this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.” (Augustine, The City of God, X, 6.) This is the true politics based in the sacrifice of the Eucharist, which embodies a power which is not power, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.” (I Cor. 1: 28).

The face of Christ is not the face of satisfied wealth, a church fed fat off the suffering of billions, with its mouth taped shut in the face of an illegal war inscribed with the lie that “everything changed after 9/11.” By assuming the church’s interest in political matters to be confined to issues of personal sin such as sexual morality and personal responsibility defined as if current economic structures were simply a unquestionable given, such churches well fulfill the role designated for them by the corporate state, that of “chaplains to capitalism.” Such a church is far different from the one that emerged during the persecutions of the Roman Empire or the Chilean dictatorship, when Christians believed “that there exist mysterious channels which can make the solidarity of friends reach those who languish in the deepest dungeons…those who are being tortured are united in the tortured body of Christ. ‘Conditioned by the knowledge of those “mysterious channels”, their bodies are transformed into powerful flesh for the sacrifice in which they lovingly commune [comulgan, receive the Eucharist] with those who suffer.” (Ibid., p. 277).

God does not empower those who imprison detainees in neoliberal dungeons which let us play sick videogames in the state’s imagination. God’s power is not found in the technology of pain and death, nor can His purposes be advanced by it. The screams of the victims of Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, and the newly revived gulags of Eastern Europe are the screams of our Lord, who died to bring us a new discipline, one that breaks the disarticulation of the individual which optimizes the conditions for corporate profits. In opposition to a church that exudes the spirituality of what John Paul II described as the “culture of death”, resistance to the powers that thrive on the myth of redemptive violence is built into the sufferings of the cross, and embodied in the bread that knits us into the body of Christ. In the words of William Cavanaugh, “The true ‘discipline of the secret’ calls Christians to become the true body of Christ, and bring to light the suffering of others by making that suffering visible in their own bodies.” (Ibid., p. 281). This commitment is deep as the commitment to our own bodies, whose silence is complicity with the torturers, those whose non-negotiable need for comfort and security justifies the pain of those in whom He lives.


The litany of torture techniques used in Chile, with the exception of electric shock, though instances of that in the current Iraq conflict are documented as well, closely resemble those in Rumsfeld’s memo posted on a column outside Cellblock 1A in Abu Ghraib, as described by Colonel Janis Karpinski, “it discussed interrogation techniques that were authorized. It was one page. It talked about stress positions, noise and light discipline, the use of music, disrupting sleep patterns, those kind of techniques.” (Democracy Now!, Interview with Col. Janis Karpinski, Oct. 26, 2005). By the way, I don’t think the current administration is literally copying the techniques used in Chile and other Latin American countries during the 70’s and 80’s. If anything, the Chileans probably learned the techniques from us, trained as they were in the School of the Americas, but I argue merely that similar goals often call for similar means: the goal in this case being the opening of the Middle East to economic liberalization.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Freedom of the Eucharist

Torture seeks to script our bodies into a drama of fear, to place the mark of the state upon us so that we willingly accept our slavery to its purposes. The Eucharist breaks the drama of fear and gives birth to the freedom of the sons of God, not by the domination of a material counter-power to the power of the state, but through the “weakness” of love. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (I Corinthians 1:25). This weakness is stronger than the power of the state, and requires a deeper discipline than the discipline of torture.

What we believe was born in pain, the pain of Jesus on the cross. Those who torture Iraqis seek to isolate them in their pain, to disarticulate the victim’s bonds to others, those intermediate social bodies which would challenge the new state power that seeks to extend its neoliberal grip. In their suffering, we can see the face of the suffering Jesus, just as “the theologian Jose Aldunate says, ‘Torture is the most vehement attack against the body of Christ’; according to Aldunate, it is Christ himself who is tortured.” (William T. Cavanaugh. Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1998. p. 257). Torture removes the intervening layers of society that buffer the individual from its raw power. The sexual humiliation which we witnessed in the photos from Abu Ghraib represent a technique that has been refined over decades, particularly in Latin America, which induces the degradation necessary to force acceptance of the state’s drama of power. “The goal of torture, in effect is to produce the acceptance of a state discourse, through the confession of putrescence.” (quoted in the study referenced above on p. 31). Far from simply being a desperate attempt to wrest information from unwilling subversives, “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.” (Ibid, p. 31). This is not sadism or “stress relief”, it is science, a carefully refined tool used to fragment all social sources of identity other than the corporate state, a mode of governance which targets the springs of spiritual identity, as we see in the desecration of the Koran, just as Pinochet targeted the Church in Chile.

What torture represents in its extreme form, the disintegration and disappearance of all that rivals the corporate state, inhabits the society that practices it as a pervasive atmosphere of fear and fragmentation. What is remarkable about the post 9/11 era is how disciplined the “coalition of the willing” has been in “scripting our bodies into a drama of fear.” (Ibid, p. 33). Their purpose is not directly to repress, but to induce a sense of chaos from which they can rescue us, to produce the drama of a new era, in which “everything has changed”, most notably the rules against “cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment.”

The society that enters into this drama is one in which intermediate organizations, churches, unions, parties, those units of what the Catholic Church calls subsidiarity, which as originally articulated in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, counter the “…injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order” that assigns “to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” QA, paragraph 79. After the fall of Baghdad, Bremer’s economic policies were described by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank, as “an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world” (Klein, Naomi, “Baghdad Year Zero”, Harper’s Magazine, Sept. 24, 2004.) The same form of “shock treatment” required similar social measures in Chile during the 1970’s, as “Los Chicago Boys”, Milton Friedman and his fellow travelers, were called upon to restructure that economy. The all-too-familiar results, atomized unions and soaring unemployment arise from an ideology in which “only individuals can have moral obligations”, in the words of Friedman (Milton Friedman, “Good Ends, Bad Means” in the Catholic Challenge to the American Economy, ed. Thomas M. Gannon, S.J. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1987, p. 105). To support such “therapy”, an economic “grill” was needed. In Chile, a detainee described the “grill” as follows: “…immediately I was taken to the torture chamber. There they made me undress and with my hands and feet tied to the metal frame of the lower part of a bunkbed they began to apply electric current to me. This is the ‘grill.’” (Ibid, p. 24). This “grilling” was the logical counterpart to the “shock” to the economy applied by the Chilean dictatorship and almost exactly parallel to the one ordered by Paul Bremer in Iraq. Torture can effectively aid the required atomization of society. “The disarticulation of worker’s organizations through the strategy of torture was an essential component of the neoliberal economic model imposed in Chile and other Latin American countries.” (Ibid., p. 39).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Stations of the Cross

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

Melting Skin for Peace

In case you haven't been following the white phosphorous controversy, there are two facts that most news coverage is completely missing. First, the accusations of white phosphorous usage are not new, but were documented at the time of the second attack on Fallujah by unembedded journalist Dahr Jamail based on interviews with Fallujah refugees. These facts were commented on rather extensively here at Nonviolent Jesus. Secondly, and this is what should aid any anti-war actions or speeches that your group may be carrying out - the Army has admitted that it uses white phosphorous as a weapon. Here is the relevant section from the March Field Artillery magazine: "WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

The Italian film from RAI which can be viewed here: http://movies.crooksandliars.com/fallujah_ING~1.wmv extensively documents the weapons use with eye-witness accounts. In fact, if you look at the material collected by Daily Kos, http://www.dailykos.com/tag/White%20phosphorus, it's clear that even at the time, such radical left-wing publications as the Washington Post documented the use of white phosphorous as a weapon, which the Army did not dispute at the time.

White phosphorous is a weapon of terror, which burns the skin of its victims to the bone and can't be extinguished with water. The teaching of the Church on operations such as razing the city of Fallujah and treating every person in the city as an insurgent is clear: "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons-especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons- to commit such crimes." Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2314.

I have to admit I'm often afraid that I'm speaking to the void, a voice crying in the wilderness that no one hears. Yes, there are blogs that speak about these things, but hardly ever from a Christian perspective. Where are my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who see Christ's face in the massacred inhabits of Fallujah? Where is the outrage among Catholic bishops over the destruction of a city and the use of chemical weapons to melt away the skin of innocent men, women, and children? Yes, there will probably be commission one day that will conclude, long after the witnesses of the time have died or moved on, that perhaps it was a crime that was committed in 2004. Why were these voices silent in the year 2004 when they might have saved a life or two?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

What We Have Lost

The Bush administration is now seeking to openly justify the torture it has carried on semi-clandestinely for the past three years. This represents one of the few innovations that the current administration has managed to achieve. The wise inhibitions of our forefathers regarding torture are now being shed, and the fact that it is being done by those who wear their evangelical faith on their sleeve, if not their forehead, makes it all the more disheartening to those of us who struggle to follow the non-torturing Jesus. The silence of the mainstream churches in the face of this blatant violation of God's image is one more sad argument that they have indeed become mere "chaplains of capitalism" as a recent study Christianity Incorporated by Micheal Budde has argued.

" In an interview for National Public Radio he (Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff) charged that Vice President Cheney's office--and new chief aide David Addingtoon--was responsible for directives which led to U.S soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wilkerson said he had some hard evidence: a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff. The directives, he said, contradicted a 2002 order by President Bush for the military to abide by the Geneva Convention rules against torture." - "More Fodder for Press: Wilkerson Charges Cheney Responsible for Prisoner Abuse", AP, Nov. 4 , 2005.

In direct support of his contentions, Cheney is currently making direct personal appeals to endorse "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees. "Vice President Dick Cheney made an unusual personal appeal to Republican senators this week to allow exemptions to a proposed ban on the torture of terror suspects in U.S. custody, according o participants in a closed-door session." "Cheney Seeks CIA Exemption to Torture Ban", AP, Nov. 5, 2005. This Christian uses his power not to seek comfort for those souls who have fallen into his clutches, but open and unprecedented freedom to degrade and torture them without limit or oversight. Not even Pinochet's Chile demanded such an open right.

Yet still the silence of the churches continues. Let us pray that we might be forgiven our own silence and inaction while our brothers and sisters are tortured to keep us safe.

Abandonment of the Poor

At the risk of being a bit stark, I would say that if you don't care about the poor, then you might as well stop attempting to call yourself a Christian. Of course, virtually all of our Christian brothers claim that they do care about the poor. But caring about the poor can't be merely theoretical. For many neocon Christians, their faith tells them that the best way to help the poor is not by actually doing anything to lighten the burdens of the poor. That, they fear, would only reinforce their sinful tendencies and further loosen the discipline that has brought them to their plight. No, much as it might wound their delicate consciences, they must increase those burdens so that the poor might build the character which is the true ticket to respect. In other words, we help the poor not by actually helping them, but by making their lives so miserable that they become like us.

Of course, many types of addiction are widespread in this society for rich and poor. Along these lines, I would like to suggest a definition for the poor: first, there are the economic poor, in the Gospels, those who hunger and thirst, the sick, those in prison, and so on. Secondly, there are those despised by the ruling society: sinners, publicans, prostitutes, who are not necessarily economically oppressed, but denied dignity. These two usually converge in our society. The self-righteous Christianity I've been critiquing here says that the poor are in the state they are in because they lack the motivation and self-discipline to raise themselves up. Drug addiction is part of the syndrome that causes their poverty. It results from repeated, morally culpable self-indulgence that leads to enslavement to drugs. Part of the good news that Jesus came to bring might be that the lack of dignity and self-esteem which drive the poor (and rich) to this enslavement is not only the result of personal sin, but also social sin that reinforces negative self-images in order to encourage an economically lucrative indulgence.