"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, May 27, 2006

Unindicted Co-conspiriators

As progressives, we are often given (and give) the impression that once the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush troika are defeated, then things can go back to normal and we progressives can renew our battles with the success they formerly met. In fact, this is probably as much an illusion as the wonderworld that the troika tries to paint. What this ignores is that most of us are former progressives who became involved with the pro-business culture of the eighties and nineties, sparked by the explosion in information technologies. This industry has two characteristics that make it hostile to progressive politics, though one might suppose otherwise when its origins are considered. First, to keep up with this industry, even post-boom, requires the dedication of a monk. No one who is not willing to commit themselves 24X7 to enhancing their skills and understanding will be able to survive for long. Being a technologist is largely a matter of facing one crisis and revolution after another - it is almost a pure case of Darwinian capitalist exploitation. Of course, it's supposed to be exciting and fulfilling to do technology all the time, but in reality this is true in most cases only for the very young. Therefore, it is physically impossible for those who work in this industry to spare time for progressive activities. Secondly, the very subject causes attention to be focused on purely technical issues, as if they were the heart of life. It tends to abstract and objectify human problems into a set of technical specifications which can be solved by the application of well-known techniques. We make money when that situation is true, so we are highly motivated to believe it is so. The entrepeneurial push of most technology companies strongly reinforces the culture of individual superiority and the elimination of cooperation.

Consider, for instance, the willingness of Yahoo, Google and MSN to filter search engine traffic for anything that might offend the political sensibility of the Chinese segment of the empire. I don't think we should be surprised when many of the sources of Internet news that progressives depend on suddenly and mysteriously start disappearing. The technological revolutionaries have demonstrated their commitment to profit and their willingness to cooperate with the forces that guarantee that profit. Their supposed commitment to progressive values (usually with the qualification 'libertarian') is much shakier.

The Party of Death

"God, you are known throughout Judah, Israel glories in your name.
Your tent is pitched in Salem, your command post on Zion.
There you break flaming arrows, shield and sword and war itself!
Majestic and circled with light, you seize your prey; stouthearted soldiers
are stripped of their plunder.
Dazed, they cannot lift a hand.
At your battle cry, God of Jacob, horse and rider are stunned.
You, the one who strikes fear; who can stand up to your anger!
Your verdict sounds from heaven; earth reels, then is still, when you stand as judge
to defend the oppressed." - Psalm 76.

"In the first minutes after the shock of the blast, residents said, silence reigned on the street of walled courtyards, brick homes and tiny palm groves. Marines appeared stunned, or purposeful, as they moved around the burning Humvee, witnesses said.

Then one of the Marines took charge and began shouting, said Fahmi, who was watching from his roof. Fahmi said he saw the Marine direct other Marines into the house closest to the blast, about 50 yards away.

It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali. Although he had used a wheelchair since diabetes forced a leg amputation years ago, Ali was always one of the first on his block to go out every morning, scattering scraps for his chickens and hosing the dust of the arid western town from his driveway, neighbors said.

In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children -- 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.

Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots -- in Ali's house and two others -- were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital said.

A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died.

Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.

The Marines moved to the house next door, Fahmi said.

Inside were 43-year-old Khafif, 41-year-old Aeda Yasin Ahmed, an 8-year-old son, five young daughters and a 1-year-old girl staying with the family, according to death certificates and neighbors.

The Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom, survivors and neighbors said later. Khafif's pleas could be heard across the neighborhood. Four of the girls died screaming.

Only 13-year-old Safa Younis lived -- saved, she said, by her mother's blood spilling onto her, making her look dead when she fell, limp, in a faint.

Townspeople led a Washington Post reporter this week to the girl they identified as Safa. Wearing a ponytail and tracksuit, the girl said her mother died trying to gather the girls. The girl burst into tears after a few words. The older couple caring for her apologized and asked the reporter to leave.

Moving to a third house in the row, Marines burst in on four brothers, Marwan, Qahtan, Chasib and Jamal Ahmed. Neighbors said the Marines killed them together.

Marine officials said later that one of the brothers had the only gun found among the three families, although there has been no known allegation that the weapon was fired."

"Just because I believe in the 'resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come' I must already resist the forces of death and annihilation here and now, and must love life here on earth so much that I try with everything I have to free it from exploitation, oppression and alienation. And the opposite is equally true because I love life, and stand up for its justice, and fight for its freedom wherever it is threatened, I hope that one day death will be swallowed up in the victory of life, and that then 'there will be no mourning nor crying nor pain any more' (Rev. 21:4)" - Jurgen Moltmann.

The forces of death crowd into our hearts every day. I do not excuse the soldiers who carried out this bloody and unjustified massacre, but many of us can recognize the forces that drove them to it - the forces that so easily drive us. The tension straps us into our societal binding - the slightest resistance causes chafing. Every minute, we wonder if a sudden explosion at work will mean an end to all the dreams of our life. We fight without ceasing to preserve a pool of hope that is constantly drying out. Then the explosion comes and the tightness of the binding gives way. We shout - we are momentarily loosed from the bonds that make us see human beings in the faces of others. We become agents of another - our fingers now owned by the machine twitch and twitch and the children die. God save us from the body of this death!

The principal to keep hold of in the face of such massacres is to recognize that what they have done cannot be isolated, much as the military court system and our news media will attempt to do. Their first impulse is to rope off this "incident" (that they were unable to cover up) and point to it as a legal problem. It is not a legal problem - it is part of a much larger picture that includes our own assent to violence in the wake of 9/11. Of course, the picture is much larger than even that. Just as in Vietnam, those soldiers were acting out of a hidden consensus that fundamentally approves of violence and seems incapable of grasping that all violence involves injustice, lies, and oppression. Soldiers are conditioned to be as violent as possible, yet they are told that they must obey rules. But rules turn to dust before the fundamental forces that drove them into the "theatre of war" in the first place. Those forces are the falsehoods that now must be covered up with violence. No matter what the rules say, these men were indeed obeying their master.

"The trouble with violence is that it changes not too much, but too little. Nonviolence is more radical because it is more truthful. Violence always ends up calling on lies to defend it, just as lies call on violence to defend them. By contrast, truth is naked, vulnerable as Christ, its only weapon Christ's own, God's love. So the very love of God that found oppression, poverty, and corruption intolerable, this same love, rather than inflict suffering - even on those imposing it on the poor - took suffering upon itself. What can only be said cynically of another - 'It is better that one man should die than that an entire nation perish' (ah, the demands of national security!) - can be said in utter truthfulness about oneself: 'It is better that I should die rather than a single other person perish.' That's finally how truth disarms, and there is no better way." - William Sloan Coffin.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Laughing Monsters

Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.
He puts an end to wars over all the earth;
the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps.
He burns the shields with fire.
"Be still and know that I am God,
supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth!"

Future generations will look back on us and think of most of us as monsters in human form, though laughing monsters. Cyclops's who judged each other according to how responsively they reacted to each other's cynicism, justifying their existence by the amount of distraction they could produce. While God's creation was dying around us, we hid our bodies in amusement parks, tried to believe in self-made paradises as tawdry, as full of empty parodies of what once might have been great as our hearts have become when the chattering pauses. The one absolute taboo in our culture is to not be amusing - to be serious and, therefore, BORING. Unfortunately, to care about something is to be serious about your relationship with that thing - to be heavy is to be connected. Those who feel no connection laugh easily - there's always another situation to keep them distracted. To laugh is to be detached, to view life at an ironic distance, from which it can be violated.

Our descent into hell has begun: "A US lawmaker and former Marine colonel accused US Marines of killing innocent Iraqi civilians after a Marine comrade had been killed by a roadside bomb.

"Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," John Murtha told reporters. The November 19 incident occurred in Haditha, Iraq.

"There was no firefight" that led to the shootings at close range, the Vietnam war veteran said, denying early official accounts, which said that a roadside bomb had killed the Iraqis.

"There were no (roadside bombs) that killed these innocent people," he said.

Time magazine reported the shootings on March 27, based on an Iraqi human rights group and locals, who said that 15 unarmed Iraqis died, including women and children, when Marines barged into their home throwing grenades and shooting.

"It's much worse than reported in Time magazine," Murtha said.

At least three Marine officers are under official investigation, and no report has been released, Army Times said Tuesday."

"The fact that U.S. Marines -- the few, the proud, etc. -- were capable of such bestiality says something ominous about the psychological state of the American military after three years of being stretched to the limit. These weren't draftees or Guardsmen or pathetic losers like Calley. These were professionals, supposedly the best of the best, and yet they threw away their training, their code and their honor, and drenched themselves and their flag in the blood of innocents. They simply snapped, in other words, and it makes me wonder how many more like them are out there -- one IED or ambush away from going beserk."

They threw it away. Honor, professionalism (the Holy Grail of our age), their code... And we "Christians" throw it away when we stew in our impotent mope, waiting for God knows what to begin to act, to speak for the living Christ, living in the women and children whom our silence has killed, to scream out the window if we can't think of anything better. "If we wish to resist the cynical annihilation of what is alive in the world of human beings and nature, we must first of all resist in ourselves the tendency to grow accustomed to this annihilation. It is not merely mass death that is so frightful. It is even more the fact that people have gradually got used to it, and have become callous toward the suffering of the victims." Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Chains Begin to Hurt

"The more the patient detects the tokens of returning health, the more restless and expectant he will be. That is the paradoxical situation of the children of God in the world. The hope that sways them is due largely not to what they are lacking but to what they have already received..."

"When freedom is close, the chains begin to hurt. If there were no such thing as freedom, or if every hope for liberation in us were dead, we should get used to our chains and, once having got used to them, should no longer feel them." - Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life.

But we feel them yet. We know what freedom feels like - we see it in the eyes of those we are free with, in the eyes of our brothers.

"There is an important struggle going on for the soul of Christianity, which should be of concern to everyone, Christian or not. The debate is not just at the level of arguments over whether, for example, certain Old Testament passages should be interpreted to condemn homosexuality. The deeper struggle is over whether Christianity is to be understood as a closed set of answers that leads to the intensification of these boundaries, or as an invitation to explore questions that help people transcend boundaries." - Robert Jensen, "Why I am a Christian (Sort of)", March 6, 2006.

"The chains begin to hurt, for we already sense that we have the power to break them." - Jurgen Moltmann.

"It's a little disconcerting, but it offers one enormous consolation: we do not have to wait until 'after the revolution' to begin to get a glimpse of what genuine freedom might be like. Freedom only exists in the moment of revolution." - Andre Grubacic, "Power and Revolution", May 11, 2006.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Descent Into Hell

We begin with two quotes. One to show what war is doing to our soldiers in Iraq and another to frame these effects in the underlying social forces that continually freeze the love which God never ceases to sneak into our hearts:

"The narrowness of his vision is exactly how even the best and most humane soldier unwillingly becomes a monster, and the people who create war know this. Out of grief and rage, with the stench of his buddy's shredded flesh in his nostrils, the soldier stops asking questions and then begins making up his own rules with a rifle. He has touched the heart of darkness and there's no going back ever. Embracing the whore called war destroys morality, and doing all this in a dishonorable cause compounds the damage." Tony Swindell, "Our Descent into Hell has Begun", Counterpunch, May 4, 2006.

The next from "Resurrection" by Leo Tolstoy: "Suppose a problem in psychology was set: What can be done to persuade the men of our time - Christians, humanitarians or simply good-hearted people - into committing the most abominable crimes with no feeling of guilt? There could be only one way: to do precisely what is being done now, namely, to make them governors, inspectors, officers, policemen, and so forth....It all comes down to the fact that men think there are circumstances when they may treat their fellow beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist."

To make someone a soldier is to tell them that killing is good. We cordone off an area and say, "In this area, under these circumstances, the normal moral rules which we established in the churches and enforced through law no longer apply. Instead, the opposite rules now apply. Put an end to the compassion that wells up in your heart for the weak ones whom you must now destroy. No longer quell your violence and anger, but let them boil. Let cruelty grow strong within you and feel its power to the tips of your fingers. Go to the outer bounds of what restraints of humanity you have managed to imbibe. Let all that go and release the demons within that you have so long repressed. Let the gun be your argument and fire the only reason you know."

Now the stage is set. We have discovered the circumstance in which we may treat our fellow human beings without love. But, of course, we discover these circumstances every day. Under ideal circumstances, when the parousia occurs, we will learn to love our brothers, but not in the particular circumstance that confronts us today. Love is impossible here and I surrender myself to this impossibility more or less reluctantly. We have now cordoned off such an area in Iraq and the Iraqis act with the violence which our actions have established in that area.

A recent post on the wonderful Adventus blog summarizes much of what I try to convey here as a Catholic and Christian: "The nature of humanity is not bestial, only held in check by power and reason. And the nature of the universe is to do justice, and love mercy. Freedom is rooted, not in power or in order, but in justice. Seek justice, and you will have freedom; seek justice, and you will establish order; seek justice, and you will not need to concern yourself with law." The war in Iraq, in its most generous interpretation, is an attempt to impose what we call "law and order" on the social chaos that is Iraq. It is a manifestation of the unshakeable faith in force which is the true faith of America at present. America has apparently lost its faith in the deep underlying justice that lives in Christ and the mercy that God showed us on the Cross. Instead, they believe in the efficacy of smart bombs to establish order and justice in the hearts of Iraqis. Such "faith" will sooner or later destroy its bearer. Those of us who surrendered to this empty and cowardly faith in war-imposed "order" as the bringer of justice moan in our spirits for God's cleansing river to pour over us and through us. In the words of Martin Luther King, "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Your silence will not protect you

And all the dead air is alive. With the smell of America's God.
- Harold Pinter, "War With Iraq"

"'And now abide faith...' The abiding faith this country needs for its spiritual restoration and future health is the faith of the prophets who loved Israel, but whose love for their country was often measured by their deep disappointment with it. Prophetic faith is full of anger, yet it is always anchored in the greatness and goodness of God, not in hatred of enemies. Prophetic faith recognizes that economic tyranny can be as great as political tyranny. Prophetic faith sees justic as central, not ancillary, to salvation. It recognizes that God's undonditional concern for justice is not an anthropomorphism (a projection upon God of our human attributes), but rather that our concern for justice is a theomorphism: to the degree that we embody justice, God takes form within us.'" - William Sloan Coffin

The human being who follows Christ is the embodiment of justice - he lives for the justice that lives in the honesty of the bright green spring leaves.

"For American liberty to be restored and extended, American Christians need to carry on with their country the same lovers' quarrel that the prophets of old carried on with Israel, and that God consistently carries on with the whole world. We must say Yes to what we can, and No to what we must. We must see that when a government betrays the ideals of a country, it is an act of loyalty to oppose the government. We must take the road less traveled and be more concerned with our country saving its soul than with it losing face. 'I tremble for my country when I recall that God is just.' (Thomas Jefferson)." - William Sloan Coffin

From a recent appearance by Sister Joan Chittister: "...there is an inconsistency operating in the churches about the absolute value of life. Obviously, life is not always an "absolute" value. At least not where men are concerned. When men interrupt life, it is not absolute. We can kill, they tell us, to defend the state, to punish for the state, to “defend” ourselves. And we can kill the innocent, bomb them to smithereens, threaten the future of the whole world, if we want to and still be holy. Our churches find cruise missiles "a matter of theological doubt." But not condoms; not birth control pills; not stem cells; not fertilized ovum. How can this be?"