"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, June 03, 2006

The Mystery of Haditha

Over the past five days I have been meditating on Haditha and reliving the war crimes of Vietnam in the just re-released "Winter Soldier", in which Vietnam veterans recount the war crimes they participated in and witnessed. Soldiers in both Iraq and Vietnam were driven by the same overwhelming powers, powers which require that the human soul be degraded in order to justify its conquest. Since it is the purpose of this blog to situate the events of the U.S. war in the Middle East within a larger political and spiritual perspective, I'd like to begin this week's meditation with a quote from Roger Williams in the 1600s, reflecting on the systematic massacre of the Indians by the Puritans, where he described the motivating force as "... a depraved appetite after the great vanities, dreams and shadows of the this vanishing life, great portions of land, land in this wilderness, as if men were in as great necessity and danger for want of great portions of land, as poor, hungry, thirsty seamen have, after a sick and stormy, a long and starving passage. This is one of the gods of New England, which the living and most high Eternal will destroy and famish."

The spirit of this blog, at its best, is, I hope, the spirit that spoke through Roger Williams in this passage. The true Christian voice has always been here in America, even as the massacres were being carried out while "praising God" and bearing his cross around the neck. What was so striking about the testimony of the soldiers in "Winter Soldier" was the palpable sense of spiritual cleansing that radiated from them as they confessed the crimes that they had committed and been conditioned into committing. Once we admit who and what we have become, then we are free to receive Christ's healing grace. That is why this voice is here - it is the constant cry of confession of our internal and external violence. Those who have tried to justify the Haditha massacre, which in reality represents a whole series of depredations on the Iraqi people, have stifled the healing that might have taken place. A great healing is on the way, but there must first be a wave of repentance, a renunciation of the hunger for the "great vanities" and a recognition that it is by our own hands that much of the earth remains engrossed in the vanities of our creation.

This spiritual cleansing can release the oppressor from his oppression, a part of God's compassion for the sinner that rarely gets mentioned by either the right-wing that strives to excuse murder or the left that concentrates exclusively on the victim. In the words of Jurgen Moltmann, "Guilt without the experience of atonement leads to the repression of guilt, to the compounding of injustice, and to the compulsion to repeat the injust act. Unless his guilt is forgiven the guilty person cannot live...Since no one can live with guilt over injustice and violence, because it is unendurable, and since it cannot be got rid of through repression, or by pushing it off on to someone or something else, the person concerned 'has forfeited the right to live', as people use to say. Even if the person is never punished, he never finds the strength to affirm a life that has personally been so negated."

So how is soldier who gave way in a moment of unendurable frustration and constant dehumanization and murdered women and children to be healed? Again Moltmann: "God suffers injustice and violence as an injury to his love because, and in so far as, he holds fast to his love for the unjust and the person who commits violence. So his love must overcome his anger by 'reconciling itself' to the pain it has caused. This is what happens when God 'carries' or 'bears' the sins of his people." The soldiers who committed this massacre can only receive Christ's healing power if we allow them to face their guilt. The cruelest possible act for Iraqis and Americans alike is to deny their (and our) responsibility - to pretend that it was only a mistake or an isolated psychological aberration. Such denial of responsibility ends the healing process and encases the perpetrators in their lifeless guilt.

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