"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, March 25, 2006

Justifying Torture

“By contrast, 41% of "secular" respondents replied that torture is never justified, the highest percentage of any group surveyed.” Street Prophets, March 24, 2006.

“But the portion of Catholics who justify torture is even higher, according to the survey. Twenty-one percent of Catholics surveyed said it is "often" justified and 35 percent said it is "sometimes" justified. Another 16 percent said it is "rarely" justified, meaning that nearly three of four Catholics justify it under some circumstances. Four percent of Catholics "didn't know" or refused to answer and only 26 percent said it is "never" justified, which is the official teaching of the church.” National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2006.

As painful as it may be for religious people to recognize, the reason for the higher levels of justification for violence and torture among the explicitly religious may be directly related to the implicit view that respect for human dignity is treated as a relative value in the monotheistic religions. While respect for the divine is absolute, respect for the human is relative to circumstances and the guilt or innocence of the person. In the extreme, violation of the divine law may result in an eternity of torture, so it naturally follows that such violation may result in the beginnings of such torture here below. In such cases, the torturer may see him or herself as carrying out God's will against the violator. In fact, it could be that these religious believers are referencing something much less than human by the term "God", while degrading the God-imaging human beings who must suffer this torture and murder. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to see the dignity of human beings as absolute since there is no higher power to trump that dignity.

As a Catholic, I have to endorse the words of the theologian John Perry: "As followers of Jesus, we must state clearly and unequivocally that torture violates the basic human dignity afforded all of God's children, and is never morally acceptable. On this two-year anniversary of the revelations of the cruel, inhumane and humiliating treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison -- the first of numerous revelations regarding institutionalized torture practices in the U.S. war on terrorism -- we reiterate our church's profound respect for the dignity of all persons and reject as antithetical to Christianity any and all justifications for the use of torture." Christ is being crucified today through the practice of torture.
Most disturbing now, says Pax Christi’s executive director, David Robinson, is the “merging of the profit motive with the routine use of torture.” Robinson says the U.S. government is “outsourcing torture to private entities” in Iraq that use abusive interrogation methods. The introduction of profit into the mix, he says, assures that there will be more of it.

During Lent especially, he says, the image of Jesus, who was tortured to death, should be powerful for Catholics, reminding them that “Christ is being crucified today through the practice of torture.”

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Face of God

The face of God is seen in our brother, our Iraqi brother, our Palestinian brother, the brother that lives in the prison. Even to debate whether torture can be justified is a stain on the body of Christ. Christians live from an even greater expansion of the dignity of the human person which gives true glory to God, not in battle fantasies against cartoon evil. Listen to the words of our mother, "The human person’s dignity is a central moral criterion in 20th-century theology. Many theologians find the 'image of God' in the dignity attached to our personhood. They also see the human talent for creating and sustaining community life as grounded in our similarity to the divine nature, a nature which the doctrine of the Trinity teaches is a unique community of three persons distinct only in their mutual relationships to each other. Thus, a torturer inflicting torments and suffering on a victim not only defaces another brother or sister but implicitly attacks the face of God in the other and destroys human community." - John Perry S.J. "The Theologian's View"

To be a Christian means to place the respect for human dignity in the heart of our worship. In the words of Vatican II, "Today there is an inescapable duty to make ourselves the neighbor of evern man, no matter who he is, and if we meet him, to come to his aid in apositive way, whether he is an agaed person abandoned by all, a foreign worker despised without reason, a refugee, an illegitimate child wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a starving human being who awakens our conscience by calling to mind the words of Christ: "As you did it to one of the least of these my bretheren, you did it to me" (Mt. 25:40).

"Whatever is opposed to life itself, . . . whatever violates the integrity of the human person . . . torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity . . . all these things . . . are a supreme dishonor to the Creator"

"[Such infamies] do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury." ("Gaudium et Spes," 2, 27).

Human dignity will one day expand in an ocean of light. Let us take the first steps into that sea by embracing more and more of the faces of God, then we shall honor God.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Inward Resistance

The battle for peace is seemingly intractable. We fight, protest, make speeches that drive politicians to tears (see James Spader in Boston Legal), but the world has yet to shake its dumb indifference to the crucifixion of the least of these. Tom Fox is one who shows us the way and demonstrates with his own life that peace workers cannot measure themselves by the world's yardstick. To set worldly success as the chief aim of our movement, as we are constantly exhorted to do by "realists", "tough thinkers", and others whose hearts have been dulled to the stirrings of the Spirit, is to shift our attention away from the human prize. It was a prize that Tom Fox never took his eyes off of. And as he looked, the world failed to change him, to make him despair, lose his grip on the spirit that lives. The Spirit of God is not a booming voice announcing a continuous string of astonishing successes. Often, it is as weak as an aging man being beaten in the middle of the Iraqi desert, but the beating did not refute his mission or validate the philosophy of the beaters, and did not force him to surrender to the darkness which inhabits the hearts of the violent. Many of us step near the undertow of despair until we see that it is only the flip side of worship of success which is the true national religion. And then we know that Tom will one day walk among us again, full of the grace and truth, rejoicing.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Theater of Evil

In a recent article by Andrew Greeley, the causes of the war in Iraq are traced to U.S. political theater, "The real reasons for the war are too harsh to be fully accepted. The vice president wanted to tighten up on civil liberties. The secretary of defense wanted to wage a new kind of war. The neoconservative memo writers wanted to take pressure off of Israel. 'Our president' wanted to reap the glory of being a wartime president. The majority of Congress wanted to be seen as patriotic Americans. Many, perhaps most, Americans wanted revenge for the World Trade Center attack. Many, perhaps most, Americans believed that the war in Iraq was part of the 'war on terrorism.' -
Andrew Greeley, Evil of war brings unending pain, Chicago Sun-Times, March 10, 2006.

In this article, I would like to plunge more deeply into the crooked will that so regularly drives us into carnage. When we look at ourselves, we see the good intentions with which we are motivated and the ingratitude and spite with which our intentions are misunderstood and cast back at us. Whereas we are rational and compassion inspires our every deed, those who oppose us are, by definition, irrational, motivated by unfathomable fanaticisms, slaves of the violence of their own imaginations. In the words of Lila Rajiva, "If we examine why it is we refuse rationality to terrorists who offer us nothing but reasons, it becomes evident that it is because we refuse to admit our own irrationality. It is because we do not need or want reasons. The reasons we offer grow, metamorphose, vanish, but our will to violence remains. The provocation does not arise from our victim, for when he meets our demand, we remain insatiable. Our victim is irrelevant to a violence that merely finds an object in him." Lila Rajiva, The Language of Empire. Indeed, our will to violence remains in Iraq. We need to ask ourselves in all honesty, why do we stay? Reasons gather and scatter like leaves in the autumn wind, new ones rising up with every shift in the stellar alignments, yet the treasure we spend (and what treasure do we hold higher?) argues persuasively that we value this project above any cure for world hunger or end to the plagues that rot the lives languishing in the Third World or even the economic survival of our own people. What inspires us to this liberating deed?

"The torture at Abu Ghraib, like the bombing of Iraq, moves toward such limitless rationality that it becomes completely irrational, gratuitous, and without any purpose beside the display of power...This diminishment of the victim to an object rather than the acts themselves is what makes the torture and terror of the warfare state ultimately pornographic, for while the theater of the terrorist-insurgent seeks to communicate and is to that extent rational, our theater appears to be only a perverse enjoyment, a tasting of our freedom from all constraint, the self-pleasuring of power delighting in its own performance." The Language of Empire. This taste lingers in our mouths as the "revised" Patriot Act is passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress. We have grown impatient of the constraints and duties of a free people, based on never-ending and painstaking self examination. Conscience is an onerous task, and respecting the rights of others has become tasteless and insipid to palates thirsting for lustier refreshment. “Reason and respect/ Make livers pale and lustihood deject.”

“The conclusion is inescapable. The terror that is held up to us like a red rag is actually of our own making and allows each objective when reached to immediately recede, leaving an insatiable void into which we thrust with greater and greater violence, inflamed by weakness in a theater almost of sadism.” The Language of Empire. The violence we engage in never succeeds in staunching the terror it was intended to suppress, and secretly we know it never will. Once violence is seen as the cure, we are committed to pouring ever renewed doses of it into a situation that grows more hopeless with every dose. Tragically, history shows that this violence continues to grow until the emptiness of the false drama becomes insupportable and new dramas take the place of the myth of redemptive violence.

These dramas are not merely collective fantasies made real, but perform a specific task in the maintenance of power. They sustain the power of the terrorist state, “…torture makes real the power of the state on the body of the individual and on the body politic. Torture is a ‘liturgical’ enactment of the imaginative project of the state. Therefore the terrorist state is not just the agent of torture, but the effect of torture as well.” William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist. Amnesty International has recently documented the continuing torture of detainees by U.S. and Iraqi forces (Complete report: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE140012006). Beyond the drama of redemption through blood purge, we also need to see our wills inscribed on the bodies of Arab victims. It doesn’t particularly matter which Arab victims, but we need to see the marks of our power. “As in wars between states, considerations of the motive and intents of the states are secondary to the effects on the object of intervention, whether it is the body on which the torture is inscribed or the population on which terror is rained…It is inequality in power, illegitimacy in its use, and disproportion in its application that constitute the essence of terrorism as it does torture. It is the humiliation and subjugation of whole populations through normalized physical and psychological violence and detention that constitutes terror or torture, especially in its most insidious form, the rational violence of the modern state to which we are blinded by language and ideology.” The Language of Empire. The aim, in every such intervention, is never to erase violence, to create a peaceful world, but to drive the violence “deep within the recesses of the individual”, Cavanaugh, ibid. Once the empire has left its mark on our victims, our lust is temporarily gorged.

As Christians, we must pray that this violence will be purged from our hearts. Rather than thrilling to the “shock and awe” of holy violence, let us keep the vision of John of Patmos before us where he speaks of one of the heads of the Beast: “One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement, the whole world followed the beast.” (Rev 13:3). In the words of Lee Griffith, “The Beast cannot be killed with violence. The mortal wound is healed. Like Hydra, the Beast is strengthened by all violent assaults.” Lee Griffiths, The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

One Family

Jesus Falls for the Second Time

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

"In his fatherly care for all of us, God desired that all men should form one family and deal with each other in a spirit of brotherhood. All, in fart, are destined to the very same end, namely God himself, since they have been created in the likeness of God who 'made from one every nation of men who live on all the face of the earth' (Acts 17:26). Love of God and of one's neighbor, then is the first and greatest commandment. Scripture teaches us that love of God cannot be separated from love of one's neighbor." Gaudium et Spes, 24.

The co-author of the most in-depth analysis what went wrong in the war in Iraq, Michael Gordon of the New York Times, who wrote "Cobra II" with General Bernard Trainor, said in an interview on Democracy Now!: "I think most of the U.S. military commanders there thought that there was a chance to put Iraq on a better course had we done some things differently, had we had more troops, had we had effective nation-building policies, had we not disbanded the army." True as such statements are, they also redirect our attention toward issues of technical competence rather than the larger one of how we treat those created in the image of God.

Further in the interview:
"AMY GOODMAN: General Trainor, you talk about the troika -- President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Rumsfeld -- making the decisions?

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: That's correct.That's a correct -- the three of them were joined at the hip, if I can use that expression. They all thought basically the same way, and their perceptions became reality. I think the President, I would describe it as the man who presided over the troika. I think Vice President Cheney was very influential in terms of the policy. And certainly, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was a man in charge of the execution of the policy. Everybody else was what I would describe as in the outer circle."

It appears that the corporate-controlled media has finally realized that there may be something amiss in Iraq. It also appears that this intractable fact is being framed so as to focus our attention away from the glaring violation of human dignity and the obligations we owe our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Actually, it seems to me that Gordon’s presentation ably frames the message of the day that the war was a fundamentally sound decision that became subverted through technical misjudgment. Notice how he moves the focus from the macro decision – to go to war – about which he pretends to be disinterested, to the micro decisions – to disband the army, to add more troops,etc.. The American media sees its job as focusing on the style and technique that is used to carry out decisions, not to question those decisions, or even allude to issues of substance. It is not a question of obtuseness – Mr. Gordon is surely aware of the larger issue – it’s a question of semantic strategy. By admitting infractions of the technical requirements for an effective invasion strategy, he fixes our attention on procedure, while the unspoken issue is “How do we effectively impose our system on other peoples?" about which experts may debate the best means to accomplish. The "troika" representation of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld hints at a characterization of them as psychologically aberrant in contrast to the technical competence of the generals on the ground. The subtext is that we need to adjust our procedures if we want to be an effective empire. I’m afraid that far from the deliberate obtuseness that much of mainstream reporting seems to evince, it is guided by a political strategy that seeks to keep our attention focused on issues of technical competence and personality, while leaving the great sleeping giant of moral judgment fast asleep.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Who Are We?

"Every generation or so an evil arises which is so monstrous, so degrading to the human spirit, so morally bankrupt that even to debate it is a sign of moral corruption. Native American genocide, slavery, totalitarianism, and Jim Crow laws are evils so unspeakable that we cannot understand today how anyone with a shred of decency could have once supported them. Today, torture, a practice far more degrading to us than to our victims, represents such an evil...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...Mr. Bush's statement that "we do not torture," even as he was threatening to veto the entire Defense bill because it limited his right to torture, is a dramatic example of how torture degrades the torturer even more than it does his victims. And it is a disgraceful commentary on our nation that no major church, business, or political leader, nor the fawning media personalities who interview him and his officials, has expressed outrage at this bald-faced lie. And one can barely mention an unspeakable Congress, which ignored his lying about torture after spending two years impeaching his predecessor for lying about sex...The real question for us, however, is what this says not about President Bush and our other leaders, but about ourselves. What are we, as citizens, as human beings, willing to live with? Are we willing to live with a President, Vice-President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and Attorney-General who either engage in or rationalize torture in our names, even as they shamelessly deny they are doing so?" Fred Branfman, truthout, March 3, 2006.

The degradation that Fred is speaking of here is what we apply to the image of God when we fail to respect the image that lives within ourselves. As Jurgen Moltmann has so incisively expressed it, our likeness to God does not lie in our qualities. This would imply that the degree of our reason or our compassion would make us more or less similar to God and thereby determine our ontological status. The logic of this quickly leads to setting a few human beings in the category of "truly human" while the vast majority waste away in the outer darkness of inhumanity, to which we have relegated most of the population of the Middle East.

Our likeness to God embraces the whole family of this earth. Rather than trying to be like God in qualities, it is in our relationships that we attain true likeness, "Human beings' objective likeness to God subsists in God's relation to them. This is indestructable and can never be lost. Only God can end it. The dignity of each and every person is based on this objective likeness to God. God has a relationship to every embryo, every severely handicapped person, and every person suffeering from one of the diseases of old age, and he is honoured and glorified in them when their dignity is respected. Without the fear of God God's image will not be repected in every human being and the reverence for life will be lost, pushed out by utilitarian criteria. But in the fear of God there is no life that is worthless and unfit to live." Moltmann, God for a Secular Society, p. 84.

May we also add that our brothers and sisters in Iraq are crying out to us today to save them from a brutal and suicidal assault currently undertaken by American troops. Will you speak out or will you be one of those who said, "I didn't know that the Jews were being killed?"

The Death of Moral Imagination

"The Iraq War is a pure war, a war for the sake of war. Congress is debating whether to spend another fortune on it, another fortune that could completely remake this nation if spent on useful projects, and Congress has no reason for the war. The reason is purely that the media won't like you if you vote against a war, but there's no actual reason for the war - not the weapons of mass destruction that Bush always knew weren't there, not the ties to 9-11 that Bush always knew did not exist on behalf of a ruler who, anyway, is no longer in power, not reducing terrorism which has been increased by this war, not improving global relations when this war has driven global opinion of the US to a record low, not preventing a civil war which the US attack and occupation have created, not supporting the troops when most of the troops want to come home - and almost half of them openly admit to pollsters that they don't know why they're there." - David Swanson, Iraq: Pure War, Pure Crime, truthout, March 3, 2006.

Those of us who have watched the sickness grow for most of our lives know that its roots lie far deeper than fear of the media, those puppets of power. Still, we need to repeat the phrase until it takes root in the healthy soil of our defiance - this is a war without a reason. The Fathers of the Church often saw the essence of evil in its emptiness, the howling void in which it pretends to see its triumph. They don't know why they are there, and we don't know why we are so silent and complacent. We seem unable to peer into the emptiness that lies at the heart of our defection.

Let us listen to the words of Jurgen Moltman and laugh at the absurdity of evil, "Non-resistance to evil shows up the absurdity of evil. Evil's strength is violence. Evil's weakness is its wrongness. Counter-violence supplies evil with its supposed justification, and often enough stabilizes it. It is only the non-violent reaction which robs evil of every legitimation and puts the perpetrator of violence in the wrong, 'heaping burning coals on his head' (Rom. 12:20)." Jurgen Moltman, The Way of Jesus Christ. This is the love that will ultimately defeat evil, not by killing the evildoers, not by taking on their slavery ourselves, but by destroying the sin which has made all of us slaves.

William Sloan Coffin has provided a sound diagnosis: "People in every generation have striven for power, the only difference being that ours has achieved it. This is 'the century of total war' because this is the 'the age of omnipotence.' What has happened is curious. You know the expression 'A man's reach should exceed his grasp.' That means our moral imagination should stretch beyond what we are able to do. Now the situation is reversed: what we are able to do is beyond the reach of our moral imagination. Our capacity to destroy is virtually unlimited. But our capacity to imagine, to feel, to respond, is, as always, limited. Thus we are able to do physically what we cannot grasp morally. We are living beyond our moral means. This is the heart of our problem."

To flee our own emptiness we have created a war to cling to. We have voluntarily surrendered our rights because we did not have the moral capacity to grasp the duties of our freedom. Let us embrace our emptiness and ask for forgiveness.