"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, January 28, 2006

The Sacredness of Human Dignity

Jesus Speaks to the Weeping Women

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

"We need to name torture for what it is -- sin," said Glen Stassen, professor of Christian ethics at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary. "It is the sin of usurping authority and making yourself the replacement for God, the sin of dominating the powerless, the sin of violating God's creation." National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Jan 13 - 15, Princeton, N.J.

For the first time in modern history, a government has demanded the right to openly and legally commit torture against those whom it deems terrorists. That government is the United States of America and its supposed "right to torture" must be opposed by everyone who considers him or herself a Christian. The following article in Christianity Today summarizes some of the main points: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/002/23.32.html

1) Torture violates the dignity of the human being. I would argue more strongly than the author of this piece that human dignity requires an absolute ban on torture, that no interrogatory torture can ever be justified. Any intentional infliction of pain on another human being must be considered anathema to a Christian, the opposite of the Gospel.
2) Torture mistreats the vulnerable and violates the demands of justice.
3) Authorizing torture trusts government too much. The author is correct that we should not trust the government (or anyone else) with the right to torture, but I would go farther. The author seems to imply that some ideal agency may be trusted to torture, but that as fallen creatures, we cannot be permitted such dominion over other human beings. I would argue that no agency can ever be permitted to torture - that the act of doing is intrinsically corrupting and therefore impermissable.
4) Torture dehumanizes the torturer. Once again, the author portrays this as a matter of trust. In fact, if torture is inherently degrading, principally to the torturer, then the ban must be absolute.
5) Torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures. I certainly don't know that we are "better than our enemies" in the words of John McCain. The evidence seems rather strongly in the opposite direction. Yet, clearly, torture not only degrades the torturer, but the nation of "Christians" whose silence countenances it.

In sum, these arguments seem pragmatic rather than fundamental and based on derivative principles. But perhaps they can serve as the starting point for a more penetrating discussion.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Jesus Nailed to the Cross

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

Part of my work as an antiwar activist has been to help returning soldiers cope with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which will affect some 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to predictions. Yet the more I contemplate this "personality disorder", the more I have come to believe that it is no "disorder" but rather the spirit's shriek of protest from a sanity that refuses to die. In the words of one who has lived within this agony of moral clarity, "Post-traumatic stress is not a disorder. Calling it that earns it a place in the DSM IV, professionalizes and medicalizes this very accurate perception that the world is not safe, and that life is not a comforting film convention. Calling it an individual 'disorder' cloaks the social systems responsible for experiences like Vietnam and Iraq." Stan Goff, "Returning Home Alive", trouthout, Jan. 20, 2006. He is refering to Douglas Barber, an Iraq veteran who blew his head off with a shotgun on Jan. 16, 2006, in the words of Goff, to "quiet the chaos in his head". Too many Christians have made their peace with this chaos, the deep chaos of believing in a nonviolent Jesus while the Douglas Barbers of the world suffer the chaos our silence has inflicted.

Stan Goff once again: "And it renders invisible the fact that Douglas Barber was not merely a suicide. Douglas Barber was nurtured on the illusions that secure our obedience, but when the real system needed to demonstrate to the rest of the world just how unsafe our nation could make them as the price of disobedience, the vile carnival barkers of the Bush administration, like administrations before them, did not recruit the children of Martha's Vineyard or Georgetown...They went, as they have always done, to places like Lee County, Alabama, where simple people have formed powerful affective attachments to the myth of our national moral superiority. When that world view, that architecture of meaning, collapses in the face of realities like convoy Russian roulette, and women holding babies up to prevent being shot, and daily stories of slaughter by the people one sleeps with, the profound betrayal of it is not experienced as some quiet, somber sadness. It is experienced like bees swarming out of a hive that has been broken, as a howling chaos. So we quiet it with marijuana, alcohol, heroin, and even shotguns."

The women holding up their babies to prevent Americans from slaughtering busloads of Iraqis attempting to go about what's left of their business refers to the following incident in Douglas' tour of duty in the War for Democracy, "When Doug was in a traffic jam one day, feeling very vulnerable, and the US units dismounted to clear the traffic jam - angry and afraid and waving weapons at the civilians - a woman in a bus held up her baby for them to see ... like that window-sign we see in cars on American highways, 'Baby on Board.' Only she wasn't cautioning other drivers to be careful. She was trying to prevent an armed attack that could kill her child."

What inner compromise prevents us from questioning the god of "Christians" who let babies be murdered so that we can safely rape the planet? Is the failure to be adjusted to this "Christian civilization" a psychological disease to be banished by numbing the inner scars of our warriors with drugs?

As Christians we should celebrate our maladjustment. "[The prophets] were maladjusted to the quiescence and obedience that passed for good social order, an order of mass impoverishment and copious bloodshed. They were abnormal in their refusal to join in the endless rounds of compromise of spirit and conscience. In short, as Abraham Heschel described it, the maladjustments and abnormalities that beset the prophets were actually a form of 'moral madness.'" Lee Griffith, "The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002, p. 116.

When the priests were about to kill Jeremiah, he spoke as follows, "Yahweh himself sent me to say all the things you have heard against this Temple and this city. So now amend your behavior and actions, listen to the voice of Yahweh your God...For myself, I am as you see in your hands. Do whatever you please or think right with me." Jeremiah 26: 12 - 13. Where are the Christians who refuse to believe that their faith is a therapy of adjustment to empire?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Father of Lies

"…Sacred Scripture, in its very first book, Genesis, points to the lie told at the very beginning of history by the animal with a forked tongue, whom the Evangelist John calls 'the father of lies' (Jn 8:44). Lying is also one of the sins spoken of in the final chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation, which bars liars from the heavenly Jerusalem: 'outside are... all who love falsehood' (22:15). Lying is linked to the tragedy of sin and its perverse consequences, which have had, and continue to have, devastating effects on the lives of individuals and nations. We need but think of the events of the past century, when aberrant ideological and political systems wilfully twisted the truth and brought about the exploitation and murder of an appalling number of men and women, wiping out entire families and communities. After experiences like these, how can we fail to be seriously concerned about lies in our own time, lies which are the framework for menacing scenarios of death in many parts of the world." Pope Benedict XVI, Message of Peace, Jan. 1, 2006.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

This is Your Freedom

Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

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

"In a May 7th (2004) dispatch reproduced by IBC, New Standard correspondent Dahr Jamail reported that “rows and rows of fresh graves” occupied by civilians killed by their American “liberators” “filled the football stadium in Fallujah. Many of [the graves],” Jamail noted, “are smaller than others. My translator Nermim reads the gravestones to me: ‘This one is a little girl.’ We take another step. ‘This is one is her sister.’ Next to them is their mother.”

“We walk,” Jamail continued, “slowly under the scorching sun along dusty rows of humble headstones. She continues reading aloud to me: ‘Old man wearing jacket with black dishasho, near industrial center. He has a key in his hand.’ Many of the bodies were buried before they could be identified. Tears are welling up in my eyes as she quickly reads: ‘Man wearing red track suit.’ She points to another row: ‘three women killed in car leaving city by American missile.’”

Jamail quoted an Iraqi man who “’saw American snipers shoot a woman while she was hanging her clothes’

“Another man” interviewed by Jamail pointed to a mosque and recalled that “Marines entered the mosque before they bombed it and slit the throats of refugees. This,” the man asked Jamail, “is their democracy? This is their freedom?’”

"One of the bodies brought to the [Falluja] clinic," wrote Jamail on April 14th, 2004, "was that of a 55-year old man shot in the back by a [U.S.] sniper outside his home, while his wife and children huddled wailing inside. The family could not retrieve his body for fear of being shot themselves. His stiff corpse was carried into the clinic, flies swarming above it. One of his arms was half raised by rigor mortis” (www.iraqbodycount.org/resources/falluja/index.php)" - "Thomas Friedman and the Murder of Civilians", Paul Street, ZNET, Jan. 5, 2006.

The resort to war is not written in stone. These crimes, and we are speaking specifically about violations of the Geneva Conventions which enshrine the principle that persons who do not take part in armed hostilities are entitled to specal protection and humane treatment, are the result of decisions by this administration that show no regard for the life of Iraqis. Our temptation as resisters of these crimes is to despair of the goodness inherent in both a corrupt and Godless administration and a public anesthetized to the point of inanity. For Americans in particular, it would seem, to act without, not just immediate success, but even the realistic prospect of success, violates the worship of success which our culture has long incarnated. As war resisters, the culture that uses war as a first resort and, with the fall of any economic alternative to "savage capitalism", encounters no rival on the world scene, seems beyond challenge as it more and more openly violates the moral principles regarding torture, war, and fundamental human rights. Domination of the media has led to a sense that the current world order is beyond question, that we are staring into the "end of history", in the memorable words of one neoconservative. As Christians, we must remember that it is not and never will be until Christ comes again.

As Christians, our primary duty is to the truth, which is also love. We must recognize that we are living in a country that has placed itself outside the laws of humanity. This is now officially recognized in Europe, "Dick Marty, the Swiss lawmaker leading the probe on behalf of the Council of Europe, said there was no question the CIA was undertaking illegal activities in Europe in its transportation and detention of terror suspects. 'The strategy in place today respects neither human rights nor the Geneva Conventions,' Marty said at a news conference in the Swiss town of Burgdorf. 'The current administration in Washington is trying to combat terrorism outside legal means, the rule of law.'" "Investigator believes CIA flouted law in Europe", AP, Jan. 14, 2006.

Once we recognize the beast in whose belly we live, our duty, as Christians, is to resist with whatever weapons God has granted us, to the limit of our strength, leaving all prospect of success in His all-caring hands. Success will come first in the form of a newly-formed heart.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Incanting Anemic Souls into Heaven

An essay by Chuck Gutenson, which can be found here, punctures the smug assumptions of much neoconservative religiosity, which dutifully fulfills its role as "moral ballast", in the words of Wendell Berry, by "incanting anemic souls into heaven." In the piercing formulation of Budde and Brimlow's Christianity Incorporated, "Our primary assertion is this: to the extent that capitalist formation succeeds, Christian formation fails." It is precisely the view of Christianity as corporate cheerleader, whose major job is to ameliorate the required excesses of globalized competition, that seems incarnated in the recent essay by Joe Loconte which epitomizes the pseudo-balance of contemporary journalism while reinforcing the requisites of the principalities and powers that underlie corporate domination.

Laconte's underlying assumption is that Christianity can, as long as it behaves itself, be a useful bit player in propping up our unquestionable way of life. Again from Christianity Incorporated, "Indeed, for Christianity to be relevant today, it must do for the whole of society what chaplains do in the armed forces - meet spiritual needs and personal crises, provide legitimation and explanation for the way things are, and generate loyalties to the collective and its purposes."

Though I may be accused of op-edism, I think the best counter to George Will, who wrote that "Jesus can be lord, but only small l and only in your private life." is the poem of Paul in Colossians 1:16 - 17:

For in him were created all things
in heaven and earth
things visible and invisible
whether thrones or dominions
whether rulers or powers -
All things were created through him and for him.

"All things" would seem to include that nasty little patch known as politics, which, while I would be the last to say it might "usher in the kingdom of heaven", will, I believe, one day be redeemed.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

They Thought They Were Free

Milton Mayer was a Jew that struggled to understand what had happened in Nazi Germany. "An American Jew of German ancestry, and a brilliant reporter, Mayer went to Germany 7 years after Hitler's fall and befriended 10 Nazis. This book is, in large part, his story of that experience. Intertwined through it -- written in 1955 -- are repeated overt and subtle warnings to future generations of Americans -- us, today." from a review by Thomas Hartmann.

In the beginning, the Nazis did not seem to be the shocking monsters which subsequent perspective has made them. As Mayer describes the process of Nazification happening in Germany, the parallel with our own time is unmistakable, "What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security." The big surprise of 9/11 has become the governing metaphor for each subsequent major decision by this government, accompanied by the same mystification of their decision-making process. Once again, Mayer: "This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter..." Yet I do believe that we are still free, though not to the degree of even a few years ago. What I fear is that we are proving unworthy of our freedom, that we are letting it go bit by bit to grasp promises that will never be fulfilled.

I'll let Mayer have the last word: "You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, 'It's not so bad' or 'You're seeing things' or 'You're an alarmist.'

"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. ...

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked - if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in '43 had come immediately after the 'German Firm' stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in '33. But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying 'Jew swine,' collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in - your nation, your people - is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God." Milton Mayer, They Thought They were Free, 1955.