"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.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

War is Over - If You Want It

Christianity is a cry for revolutionary justice, but one that has been strangled by centuries of submission to power for the pottage of survival. The martyrs embraced death to defy empire for the sake of Christ and their message conquered the world. Their successors count filled pew seats and take polls.

"There is an anecdote about the Spanish inquisitor Torquemada from the XV century. In a dialogue he raised the question: Is it allowed not to torture a heretic? He answered: It is not allowed not to torture a heretic because one would take away the last chance of saving his soul.

This has obviously changed and not least for the Church who condemned Torquemada for his cruelty and fanaticism. The question today is: Is it allowed NOT to torture a terror suspect? The answer is: NOT torturing is not allowed because the chance of saving the life of an innocent person would be lost. In the memorandum of the Justice Department, it says: International laws against torture 'may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations' conducted in President Bush’s war on terrorism, according to a newly obtained memo…" - Franz Hinkelammert, "Humanism and Violence"

"Not torturing is changed into an act of barbarism. Not torturing becomes unconstitutional, inhuman, irresponsibility and collaboration with terrorism. Torture promotes life." - "Humanism and Violence"

But the voice of the baby speaks:

This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows made of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;

The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The Angels' trumps alarum sound.

- Benjamin Britten, A Ceremony of Carols

Since our imperial troops have laid Mesopotamia waste, the pageantry and comfort of a New Year's Day parade highlights the anguish we have caused. As Cindy Sheehan put it before the White Rose Coalition protest on Jan. 1, 2008: "I can’t remember a time in my life where anyone protesting at a parade would have upset me at all, but since Casey was killed in Iraq and since I have faced and witnessed so much violence, oppression and hardship in the world, it is absolutely stunning to me that this protest would create so much vileness and venom. There are so many more important things in the world besides parades and football games. I have also tried to imagine an Iraqi happening to catch a glimpse of the Rose Parade on TV somehow and marveling how everything is so happy and beautiful in America when our nation has utterly devastated and destroyed theirs."

Cindy's perceptions are, as always, clear-eyed and unflinching, but as followers of the one who exposed unjust social relations in ancient Palestine, we must go deeper. The Rose Bowl shimmers and shines with the wealth created in the devastation of Iraq. Wars are created so that arms dealers have someone to sell to.

"Since the 'conquest' of Iraq, over one million Iraqis have been slaughtered or have died from the tragic, but unavoidable consequences of invasion and occupation. BushCo have desecrated our Constitution and the almost complete fascist take-over of our media and the blatant stealing of our freedoms here at home have bypassed many Americans while they are slumbering in our dull, stupid sleep.

As long as people like Carrie have their 'circuses' to divert them, then they don’t have to bother their 'beautiful minds' with the crimes of BushCo---but ignorance is not an excuse for being awash in the blood of nearly 4000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

I spend every second of every day mourning my son and longing for his future. I am sorry if someone wearing an 'Impeach Bush and Cheney' t-shirt will ruin a parade for somebody, but we are trying to prevent many more people from having their entire lives ruined.

We cannot allow this criminal regime to continue as in the words of the first leaflet from the White Rose Society:

It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes ... reach the light of day." - Cindy Sheehan.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Torture Training

"America is a fallen nation. Americans exist in time, in the era biblically called the Fall. America is a demonic principality, or conglomeration of principalities and powers in which death furnishes the meaning, in which death is the reigning idol. Enshrined in multifarious forms and guises, it enslaves human beings, exacts human sacrifices, captures and captivates Presidents as well as intimidating and dehumanizing ordinary citizens." - William Stringfellow

Babylon the Great has fallen, will fall, and will continue to fall throughout the ages to come.

According to recently leaked lecture on torture techniques by Dr. Larry Forness of the American Military University (reference below), those considered "terrorists" by the U.S. have no human rights - eight hundred years of struggle toward the light has been blotted out - "Therefore, no terrorist -- whether running free or in custody -- is entitled to any protection under any international law to which we are a signatory or law of the United States."

What follows are the fallacies that Dr. Forness detects in those who hesitate to torture:

"Fallacy #1. Torture never works, because a prisoner will tell the interrogators whatever they want to hear just to stop the torture.

That's based on a faulty assumption. That faulty assumption is that, if you act on the fabricated intelligence provided by the prisoner, and then you find out that it is not correct, that the prisoner does not have to pay a price for lying. Before you ask the prisoner for information, you tell that prisoner that if he or she lies, you will torture the prisoner, the family, the friends, the parakeet, whomever. And then do it."

So where's the problem? For every challenge to torture, there's an effective technological answer. If lies are the problem, punish the lie and the truth will follow. Let the circle of torture grow and truth will be infallibly produced.

This is the obvious counter to the oft-repeated formula among liberals that torture is self-defeating. Torture works in two ways - it destroys the humanity of the tortured and it instills insurmountable fear in those who would follow the example of those who resist.

"Fallacy #3. Torture as a means of interrogation is generally not accepted throughout the world.

In point of fact, within the last three years, more than three-quarters of all countries in the world have practiced torture as a means of interrogation. This applies to their own citizens, as well as foreigners, whether combatants or not."

What follows is a case study of the effective interrogation of Filipino Muslims during the early days of the American empire. "In 1909, before World War I, there were a number of terrorist attacks on the United States forces in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, by Muslim extremists. General "Black Jack" Pershing was the appointed military governor of the Moro Province. He captured 50 terrorists and ordered them to be tied to posts for execution. Since all the prisoners were Muslim, he asked his men to bring two pigs and slaughter them in front of the prisoners. He then proceeded by dipping bullets into the pig’s blood.

In the process he executed 49 of the terrorists by firing squad. Then, the soldiers dug a big hole in the ground and dumped in the terrorists’ bodies and covered them in pig’s blood and viscera. The last man was set free. For 42 years there was not a single Muslim attack anywhere in the world.

His rationale was quite simple and effective. Since a radical Muslim is willing to give his life for his religion in a Jihad war, killing him would not make much difference. He would be seen as a martyr (shahada).

But the General knew that all Muslims believe in eternal life after death with 72 virgins waiting for them in paradise. He also knew that those that embrace Jihad usually prepare themselves physically and spiritually in case they die in combat.

Since the pig is considered forbidden food (haram) in Islam, Pershing introduced this variable to thwart their hopes to enter Allah’s kingdom. The pig’s blood automatically nullified any prior purification by contaminating their bodies." - http://www.wikileaks.org/wiki/Torture%2C_interrogation_and_intelligence

One doesn't know whether to laugh or weep - or both. The essence of violence is to turn what is human into an object. The excuse for violence is always that "our side" has been turned into an object by the "other side." The interrogation expert in the passage above is not dealing with living men, but with "Muslims", whose religion can be manipulated to obtain the desired technical outcome. To the extent that these "Muslims" allow themselves to be transformed into objects, the procedure will be a "success".

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:12.

The world forces of this darkness are the forces of dehumanization, that have transformed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, men, women, and children, into "collateral damage", that have allow ghastly experiments in torture on thousands of innocent bystanders in the dungeons where we perfect the techniques of inhumanity.

Such is the face of the naked beast which we must battle in ourselves and in a government soon to ratify the forms of bestiality which from which the face of American piety continually averts itself.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Denial of the Incarnation

The motivating factor behind the posts to this blog is complete faithfulness to the incarnated Jesus Christ. As a foundation for its stance regarding war and economic injustice we offer the following statement: "What is then seen to be common to Christ's active and passive presence in the world is man in the state of suffering, as he first cries out in suffering for the aid of his brother and he secondly as the brother lays down his goods and his life in suffering response to that cry. If it is then recognized that suffering is the one earthly reality with which God identifies himself universally in the person of Jesus Christ, who becomes present to suffering through the love of the Holy Spirit, it will be seen that the Catholic faith - by re-emphasizing the active presence of Christ as suffering love over those dogmatic formulations which, however true, have been frozen rather than fulfilled - can be true to its self-definition as a witness to the living and universal Christ." - James W. Douglass

The Church in America must incarnate the living Christ, must become the reality of living, suffering belief. Bishops, in the face of clear calls to peace by both of the recent popes, have remained silent in the face of the most blatantly unjust and unnecessary war of modern times, an incarnational heresy that affirms the theory of faith, but excludes the practice of suffering love. Instead, the choice (or non-choice) was made to continue the long history of capitulation to culture that leaves the voice of compassion mute at the very moment when it could actually do some good.

Re-grounding ourselves in the Gospel, we recognize that peace and justice both flow from Jesus Christ. In terms of action in this world, we also see that peace divorced from revolution that restores justice is "just as futile today as revolution divorced from that peace which would keep it radically just." - James W. Douglass. In order to root out violence from our society, it is not sufficient to strive for personal peace. Without facing the root of institutional and cultural violence, we will find ourselves unwittingly re-programmed into new forms of violence no matter how sincere our personal efforts.

The mega church mentality is a kind of hypnotic self-ignorance that induces a sense of well-being and vehemently affirms the normality of institutional violence. This cultural Christianity worships the gods of established disorder rather than awakening the power to change the structures of injustice. In the words of one of greatest Christians of our time, Mahatma Gandhi, "Jesus lived and died in vain if he did not teach us to regulate the whole of life by the eternal Law of Love." Gandhi was Christian (or Christic) because he acted on Christ's principles, no matter what his formal Hindu beliefs might have been. Catholics, no matter the frozen purity of their theological principles, are stones of scandal to the extent that they fail to live those beliefs to the full current stature of human growth. Making Christ into an emblem for the unquestioning support for the conventional values of the most life-denying civilization in history reveals the true roots of the false religion portrayed as Christianity. Christ did not come to validate the virtues that support a smoothly functioning empire.

The message still to be learned by the majority of Catholic Christians was perceived by Gandhi's simple clarity. On seeing a crucifix at the Vatican, he said, "I saw there at once that nations, like individuals, could only be made through the agony of the Cross and in no other way. Joy comes not out of infliction of pain on others, but out of pain voluntarily borne by oneself." It is not through water boarding and assassination that we free ourselves from fear, but through the conscious acceptance and redemption of the suffering with which we are gifted and through ending the injustice we continue to commit against the exploitable. God will lift fear from us when we cease to terrorize others.

"The logic of non-violence is the logic of crucifixion and leads the man of non-violence to the into the heart of the suffering Christ." - James W. Douglass. In this sense, the practice of non-violence is the antidote to war. Our churches practice politic silence regarding the dehumanization of Iraqis, loudly praying that our soldiers be divinely freed from suffering and death while they deliver unbelievable agony to the subject people. A non-violent anti-war movement must therefore begin by a re-humanization of the muted Iraqi voice. Every Iraqi killed by U.S. forces must receive a name and a home. Once the full humanity of the Iraqi victim is recognized, once we see the face of Christ in the broken Iraqi child, then the potency of our smart bombs will be bled into the sands of the forgiving desert. It is precisely through the power that is no power in this world that the powers of this world are brought to shame and are made to see their true weakness.

An illustration of this weakness came on Dec. 7 in a courtroom in Currituck, N.C. where seven companions of Jesus Christ were convicted of protesting against the random murders committed in Baghdad by Blackwater mercenaries. Terrified that the words and motivation behind the protest become widely known in the area, the judge ordered the courtroom cleared. "He didn’t want people influenced by our message," Baggarly said. "There have been hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq. If we’re going to speak about that, nobody is allowed to hear it. Obviously the system feels threatened by that. It loves darkness."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Memories of Good Men

Of what worth are all the consumables with which we stuff ourselves to inner and outer sickness if one human being has to be tortured to assure our access to them?

And humans that must be tortured are often ourselves:

"Somewhere on that street there’s an IED," Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ybay told 2nd Platoon on June 20, briefing them just before they patrolled the streets of Adhamiya, Iraq, as they had been doing for 10 months.

"I’ll find it!" shouted Bradley driver Spc. Ernesto Martin.

Not that day. Not that soldier. But others riding on that patrol would be among five to die the next day, when an IED flipped their 30-ton Bradley upside-down like a cheap toy and set it ablaze.

The surviving platoon members comforted each other that their friends died looking out for their brothers. They told each other they would have done the same. They cried and beat their fists into walls. They knelt in the sand and bent their heads and tried to convince themselves Iraq was worth it.

But that was hard because they no longer believed they were fighting for Iraq. They had, once, a long time ago. Before they had seen the Iraqi bodies with their heads dipped in acid, before the children tossed grenades at them. Now the locals refused even to acknowledge dead neighbors sprawled on their sidewalks." - Army Times, "Blood Brothers", http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/11/bloodbrothers/

And so the soldiers sang:

Adhamiya Blues

War, it degrades the heart and poisons the mind
And we’re tossed aside by governments’ lies.
But we continue to grieve.

"Politics would soon become an issue within Charlie Company, too.

It was just another bad day to add to many — and DeNardi’s platoon had already faced misery that seemed unbearable. When five soldiers with 2nd Platoon were trapped June 21 after a deep-buried roadside bomb flipped their Bradley upside-down, several men rushed to save the gunner, Spc. Daniel Agami, pinned beneath the 30-ton vehicle. But they could only watch — and listen to him scream — as he burned alive. The Bradley was far too heavy to lift, and the flames were too high to even get close. The four others died inside the vehicle. Second Platoon already had lost four of its 45 men since deploying to Adhamiya 11 months before. June 21 shattered them.

Though their commanders moved them from the combat outpost to safer quarters, members of 2nd Platoon would stage a revolt they viewed as a life-or-death act of defiance. With all they had done and all they had seen, they now were consumed with an anger that ate at the memory of the good men they were when they arrived in Iraq."

There is something we can't face:

"But within days, he would lose five men, including a respected senior non-commissioned officer. Master Sgt. Jeffrey McKinney, Alpha Company’s first sergeant, was known as a family man and as a good leader because he was intelligent and could explain things well. But Staff Sgt. Jeremy Rausch of Charlie Company’s 1st Platoon, a good friend of McKinney’s, said McKinney told him he felt he was letting his men down in Adhamiya...

According to Charlie Company soldiers, McKinney said, I can’t take it anymore,' and fired a round. Then he pointed his M4 under his chin and killed himself in front of three of his men."

Resistance is the first sign of healing:

"They woke to the news that Alpha Company had gone on the mission instead and one of their Bradleys rolled over the 500-pound IED. The Bradley flipped. The explosion and flames killed everybody inside. Alpha Company lost four soldiers: Spc. Zachary Clouser, Spc. Richard Gilmore, Spc. Daniel Gomez and Sgt. 1st Class Luis Gutierrez-Rosales.

'There was no chance,' said Johnson, whose scouts remained at Apache and served as the quick-reaction force that day. 'It was eerily the same as June 21. You roll up on that, and it looked the same.'

The guys from Charlie Company couldn’t help but think about the similarities — and that it could have been them.

'Just the fact that there was another Bradley incident mentally screwed up 2nd Platoon,' Strickland said. 'It was almost like it had happened to them.'

The battalion gave 2nd Platoon the day to recover. Then they were scheduled to go back out on patrol in Adhamiya on July 18.

But when Strickland returned from a mission, he learned 2nd Platoon had failed to roll."

Rebellion and love are blood brothers:

"He didn’t know 2nd Platoon had gathered for a meeting and determined they could no longer function professionally in Adhamiya — that several platoon members were afraid their anger could set loose a massacre.

'We said, 'No.' If you make us go there, we’re going to light up everything,' DeNardi said. 'There’s a thousand platoons. Not us. We’re not going.'

They decided as a platoon that they were done, DeNardi and Cardenas said, as did several other members of 2nd Platoon. At mental health, guys had told the therapist, 'I’m going to murder someone.' And the therapist said, 'There comes a time when you have to stand up,' 2nd Platoon members remembered. For the sake of not going to jail, the platoon decided they had to be 'unplugged.'"

Something that won't heal:

"Ybay said he tried to persuade his men to go out, but he could see they were not ready.

'It was like a scab that wouldn’t heal up,' Ybay said. 'I couldn’t force them to go out. Listening to them in the mental health session, I could hear they’re not ready.'

At 2 a.m, Ybay said, he’d found his men sitting outside smoking cigarettes. They could not sleep. Some of them were taking as many as 10 sleeping pills and still could not rest. The images of their dead friends haunted them. The need for revenge ravaged them."

But they refused to surrender to the rage. In this, they showed themselves far greater men than those who sent them into the fire, as well as those who refused to speak when they knew how great a wrong was about to be committed. While we are encouraged by corporate media and politicians to indulge in gutter feelings of revenge, these soldiers, inured to violence by training and daily experience, pulled themselves out of that gutter and began a process of healing that may one day open infinite paths of light.

The power of this story is that it lights up the principle of hope. If these soldiers had obeyed orders, we probably would have had another Haditha or worse. And that would have been according to plan for the masters of the current empire, whose purpose is to terrorize the population of Iraq into submission. Terror and massacre are always part of the plan - all the training, psychological pressure, and planning tend toward making carnage a habitual response.

"If my guys had stayed at Adhamiya, they would have taken the gloves off," said Capt. Cecil Strickland, Charlie’s company commander. "We were afraid somebody was going to get in trouble."

Note that the commander was not afraid that innocent Iraqis would be killed and maimed. He wanted to make sure his guys didn't get into trouble. Master Sgt. Jeffrey McKinney was known to be intelligent and perceptive and he killed himself in front of his men, incapable of accepting further life on the terms given him. He refused to continue to live in a situation that demanded the loss of his humanity. It is possible that his sacrifice may have unleashed a inner power in the others to withstand the loss of their humanity as well.

When the Bradley was destroyed by a 500-pound bomb, Strickland said. "It was almost like it had happened to them." That sense of solidarity was the precipitating force of the mutiny. In that moment of awareness the platoon underwent a mental shift that compelled resistance, not resistance to orders so much as resistance to a system that had programmed them for massacre. They were trying to resist themselves, the inner rage that was driving them toward death.

The soldiers had first approached "mental health leaders", who attempted to deaden their senses by prescribing medications, and then tried to deaden their conscience by advising them to "do the right thing", to obey the order and let the chips fall where they may. But then a miracle happened.

The men decided "they could no longer function professionally in Adhamiya." They confessed they were no responsible for their actions, that they would not "set loose a massacre", would "light up everything", every living man, woman, and child in their path.

Note carefully the response of the "mental health leaders" to the platoon's decision:
At mental health, guys had told the therapist, 'I’m going to murder someone.' And the therapist said, 'There comes a time when you have to stand up,' 2nd Platoon members remembered."

"There comes a time when you have to stand up." The same advice given by every father to a son that has been bullied. The same coded license for free fire zones that has let the dogs of hatred slip from "professional control" since Roman times.

Nevertheless, "For the sake of not going to jail, the platoon decided they had to be 'unplugged.'"

The platoon pleaded to be "unplugged." They had been plugged into a war machine that was about to "light up" a village of human beings, most of whom had nothing to deserve death, but who needed to be terrorized until they released the resources which empire craved.

Conscience is indeed "like a scab that wouldn’t heal up", as Ybay put it. When McKinney made the sacrifice of his life, he loosened the forces which hold our consciences so tightly bound. Though of a different order of consciousness, it evokes the sacrifice of Nhat Chi Mai, the Vietnamese monk who burned herself between a statue of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and a statue of the the Virgin Mary, to demonstrate that she was "willing to endure the greatest of suffering in order to protect [her] people", according to Thich Nhat Hanh, her friend and fellow monk.

Nhat Chi Mai wrote the following on a strip of cloth before she burned:

I wish to use my body as a torch
to dissipate the darkness
to waken Love among men
and to bring peace to Vietnam.

The scab that such sacrifice awakens will never heal. But all the empire knows is that an order has been refused.

"They called it an act of mutiny," Cardenas said, still enraged that the men he considered heroes were, in his mind, slandered. "The sergeant major and the battalion commander said we were unprofessional. They said they were disappointed in us and would never forget our actions for the rest of their lives."

Truth comes alive in us when we have the courage to defy the conditioning that makes war inevitable. This awakening must at last light up the spark of conscience in those Christians who continue to justify war. "A faith in truth's power to overcome the world by love and accepted suffering is as essential to an understanding of the Gospel as it is lacking in a Christianity which continues to endorse warfare." - James W. Douglass. Can we at least open ourselves to the soldiers who have felt and acted with the spirit of life even as they seethed with desire for revenge? What better furnace in which to forge the conscience of an American Christian?

"There can be no living speech about God, under any name, except where injustice is resisted by love in witness to His presence in the suffering." - James W. Douglass

Read the whole story on these links:
1) http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/12/army_bloodbrothers_071126/
2) http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/12/bloodbrothers2/
3) http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/12/bloodbrothers3/
4) http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/12/bloodbrothers4/

And see the presentation on Democracy Now!:


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Deliver the Powerful from the Impotence of their Weapons

Our resistance to empire is rooted in our capacity for suffering. The inner contradiction of global capitalism is that by deliberately cultivating poverty and misery on a mass scale in order to ensure a steady stream of profits through the reduction of labor costs, they breed a culture of suffering that provides the strength to resist domination, as we are currently seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dominator believes that a steady application of suffering to the victim will eventually destroy the core of the victim's personality and obtain total submission. But the victim becomes disciplined by a life of poverty and suffering that creates in him a core of resistance that is invisible to power. The minions of power, living in the luxury of the global elite, cannot understand that the wretched of the earth see life as suffering and live in the pain on which the powers build their shining cities.

Hence the massive miscalculation of Iraq. Blinded by wealth and comfort, assuming that Iraqis would quickly aspire to the lifestyle possible in "democracies", the war makers believed that the sparks of resistance would be quickly snuffed out. In fact, the combination of a long, brutal war with Iran, sanctioned and financed by the U.S., along with twelve years of inhuman sanctions, along with the massive oppression of our designated strongman, Saddam, had bred a fierce inner power that revealed the impotence of our technologies of death. This power of endurance is upheld by the justice of the Iraqi cause and the inhumanity and injustice of their oppressor.

Unfortunately, what has undercut their cause and may lead to their ultimate capitulation is their embrace of substandard versions of the weapons of the powerful, in the form of suicide car bombs and IEDs, along with crude tortures. The insurgents' adoption of violence cannot compete with the more effective use of that violence by the powerful. At the same time, such an embrace disrupts the unity necessary for successful resistance. The Sunni/Shiite sectarian divide which was cultivated by American and Israel has had great success in weakening that unity. When death squads are formed on either side, the oppressor's work is carried out by his victims.

"Suffering is the matter of a crucified world and the flesh of its unrealized power." - James W. Douglass

The essence of violence is the transformation of human beings into objects. This is the root of violence beyond all the "shock and awe" of bombs, guns, and the techniques of refined psychological destruction developed by the members of the American Psychological Association.

The purpose of torture is reduce human beings to the level of controllable objects, as illustrated in the following report Daniel Corsetti, an Army "interrogator" whose recent interview provided a participant's viewpoint on what was done to detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Naturally this account has been disappeared from the U.S. press. Access details are at the end of this blog post.

"Each prisoner has in his cell a carpet measuring 1.2 m by 2.5 m. And they spend 23 hours a day sat on it, in silence. If they speak, they are chained to the ceiling for 20 minutes and black visors are put on them so they can't see and protectors are put on their ears so they can't hear. They are taken down to the basement once a week, in groups of five or six, to shower them. It's done to drive them crazy. I almost went crazy', recalls Corsetti. Apart from those normal cells, in the basement of the prison there are six isolation cells, plus two rooms for who the former soldier describes as 'special guests'."

And who are these "special guests"? "But Bagram has an underworld in which the CIA tortures the leaders of Al-Qa'idah. 'One day I went to an interrogation session and as soon as I arrived I knew that it was not a normal case. There were civilians, among them a doctor and a psychiatrist. The prisoner was called Omar al-Faruq, an Al-Qa'idah leader in Asia who had been brought to the prison by one of those agencies', recalls Corsetti. 'I don't want to go into details because it could be very negative for my country, but he was brutally beaten - daily. And tortured by other methods. He was a bad man, but he didn't deserve that'."

At one point Corsetti exclaimed, "It's incredible what a human being can take."

But the torturer remains implanted with his deeds forever: "...Corsetti, a veteran of two wars, says: 'I have seen people die in combat. I shot at people. That is not as bad as seeing someone tortured. Al-Faruq looked at me while they tortured him and I have that look in my head. And the cries, the smells, the sounds, they are with me all the time. It is something I can't take in. The cries of the prisoners calling for their relatives, their mother. I remember one who called for God, for Allah, all the time. I have those cries here, inside my head'."

The power of suffering lives as an aching image inside those charged with enforcing the imperial will on those who must be subjugated, working like dirty acid on the false image the torturer bears of himself.

The purpose of torture is psychological, to break the core of human personality, to make a person into an object even in his own eyes, "'In Abu-Ghraib and Bagram they were tortured to make them suffer, not to get information out of them'. And the fact is that at times the torture had no other goal that 'to punish them for being terrorists. They tortured them and didn't ask them anything'. That is the case of the practice known as 'the submarine': to simulate the drowning of the prisoner. 'They have them hooded and they pour water on them. That makes it very difficult to breath. I think you can't die with the submarine. I certainly never saw anyone die. However, they do cough like crazy because they are totally submerged in water and that gets on their lungs. Perhaps what it can give you is serious pneumonia'. The civilians who took part in the interrogations used the submarine whenever they wanted. They gave it to them for five or 10 minutes and didn't ask anything."

Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh defines the method of torture as the questioning of the victim's reality. The victim's inner personal narrative must be replaced by the regime's official discourse: "The victims are made to speak the words of the regime, to replace their own reality with that of the state, to double the voice of the state." In the case of the prisoners at Bagram, ordinary men and women lose their own identity and take on the personality of Al-Qaida because this is what the narrative of the current regime requires. "The goal of torture, in effect, is to produce acceptance of a State discourse, through confession of putrescence...The victim does not take on the glorious voice of the regime, but rather its opposite, the voice of corruption."

These methods have been well-engineered: "An important subject was that of psychological torture, administered by psychiatrists. 'They tell them they are going to kill their children, rape their wives. And you see on their faces, in their eyes, the terror that that causes them. Because, of course, we know all about those people. We know the names of their children, where they live - we show them satellite photos of their houses. It is worse than any torture. That is not morally acceptable under any circumstances. Not even with the worst terrorist in the world', says Corsetti, before adding: 'Sometimes, we put one of our women (female US military personnel) in burqas and we made them walk through the interrogation rooms and we told them: 'That is your wife'. And the prisoner believed it. Why wouldn't they! We had those people going without sleep for a whole week. After two or three days with no sleep, you believe anything. In fact, it was a problem. The interpreters couldn't understand what they were saying. The prisoners were having hallucinations. Because, of course, this is not like if you or me go three days without sleep when we're partying. I've gone five days without sleep when I've been partying. But this is different. You're in a cell where they let you sleep only a quarter of an hour every now and then. With no contact with the outside world. Without seeing sunlight. Like that, a days seems like a week. Your mental capacity is destroyed."

"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." Clearly, this is one of primary purposes of torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Detainees are made to take on the identities of terrorists in order to vindicate their master's fantasies of his heroic role in the battle against world terror. "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. Torture plays out the dream of a certain kind of state, the production of a certain type of power/knowledge which I will call the imagination of the state...The imagination of the state has a tremendous power to discipline bodies, to habituate them and script them into a drama of its own making...[Torture is] both the production of that threat [against the state] and the response to it, and thus the ritual site at which the state produces the reality in which its pretensions to omnipotence consist."

As Christians, we can only behold the pretensions of empire with pity and pray that the perpetrator-victims and the suffering-victims can find that place "In the crucifixion of the world where suffering is transformed into power by Truth and Love and thus redeemed, it strikes at the root of injustice in man."

See http://www.juancole.com/2007/12/former-us-interrogator-recounts-torture.html for the full interview of Daniel Corsetti.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

New Human Beings

Christ came among us not to spiritually justify the power relationships of empire, but to create new human beings, "interbeings", each of whose happiness is linked to that of the others in webs of joy, in which the flourishing of each is the condition for the flourishing of all. While capitalism isolates each consumer in the web of his or her possessions, Christ liberates us from individual possessions into the world of the common good, whose light enriches our spirits with the reflected glory of the whole. Socialism, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, was originally a Christian idea, one that grew directly from the spirit of the Gospel.

This is a truth that the great political leaders of our time such as Hugo Chavez, understand instinctively. Recently, in his commentary on Socialism Doesn't Fall from the Sky, he expounded the following statement, "To build the new society, he stressed, it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations' -- the factors of production and the production of goods and services -- 'to build the new man, the new woman.'" in this way:

"And do you know who spoke of new human beings more than two thousand years ago? Do you know who? Christ and the prophets spoke of the arrival of new human beings. Christ was a new man; he was the incarnation of the new human being, except that they crucified him. Old human beings often crucify new men and women because they don't want anything new. And new human beings are social beings, human beings. Che said that revolutionaries are the highest form of human beings, the kind of person who lives each day not thinking of her own gain nor of how to obtain that personal material gain -- no, no, no, thinking of other people. And, what is more, in relation to a project -- in this case the revolutionary Bolivarian project -- completely committed, struggling against old vices -- corruption, abuses of power, egoism -- and against those categories that are capitalist: commodities, economic profitability."

Note that revolutionaries are the highest form of human beings in the view of Che Guevara because they are not centered on their own material interests. There are several major flaws in socialist thinking as practiced in the 20th century, but one of the most fatal was its economic determinism: the idea that history would inevitably lead to just social relations through the operation of deterministic laws of material interest. This thinking is as illusory as the blind faith in the free market practiced by our current capitalist overlords. In fact, Chavez is speaking of the necessary spiritual basis for just social relations. To take the "dull instruments left by capitalism", individuals enslaved by the commodification of life, and try to build the world of socialism out of that, on the theory that the material interests of the oppressed class would lead to victory, is sheer fantasy. The just society is built by those who live justice in their daily lives, and this justice flows not from material interests, but the love that flows from the root of the branches.

"This isn't the most important thing - individual material interest, etc. can't be what guides any human being who calls herself socialist and who joins in the construction of a socialist society." Here we see the awakening of a new type of socialism, emerging directly from its practice under current Latin American conditions. This practice is implicitly spiritual and leads to a spiritual goal: "We need to remember the goal. The world that we want to build is the society of associated producers, where each individual is able to develop his full potential, the world which, in Marx's view would allow the 'absolute working-out of his creative potentialities,' the 'complete working out of the human content,' the 'development of all human powers as such the end in itself.'" Of course, these "human powers" need not be understood in a purely materialist sense, though they require a material basis in just economic relations.

At the center of this vision is the new man, "Christ, as I mentioned before -- although some bishops get angry, that's not my fault, I am free to say what I believe; here everyone is free to say what she or he thinks -- I believe that Christ was a great socialist, the greatest of our era." - Hugo Chavez

The new man is built through the practice of love, who finds joy in making others joyful, who cannot rest in his individual happiness as long as one soul suffers on God's earth. This revolutionary practice requires complete dedication and is not simply the antidote to the violence and injustice that poisons life in this world, but is the positive force of which violence is the negation. "Truth's answer to the problem of a social injustice more profound that was anticipated - as is always the case - is not the contradiction to truth of violence but rather more commitment, more imagination, more aggressive action, more love, more suffering, more of our lives in the struggle - for the medium of truth's power is neither a proposition nor a gun but a more and more loving human being." - James W. Douglass.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Supreme Act of Faith

"Acts of resistance are moral acts. They begin because people of conscience can no longer tolerate abuse and despotism. They are carried out not because they are effective but because they are right. Those who begin these acts are few in number and dismissed by the cynics who hide their fear behind their worldliness. Resistance is about affirming life in a world awash in death. It is the supreme act of faith, the highest form of spirituality. We remember and honor the names of those who, solitary when they began, defied their age. Henry David Thoreau. Jane Adams. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Mahatma Gandhi. Milovan Djilas. Andrei Sakharov. Martin Luther King. Václav Havel. Nelson Mandela. It is time to join them. They sacrificed their security and comfort, often spent time in jail and in some cases were killed. They understood that to live in the fullest sense of the word, to exist as free and independent human beings, meant to defy authority. When the dissident Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken from his cell in a Nazi prison to the gallows, his last words were 'this is for me the end, but also the beginning.'" - Chris Hedges "Why We Resist", at http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/12/10/5731/.

Conscience is the ability to do what is right even when no one else is doing it. To act when no one understands or supports you, to defy injustice when everyone is snickering, to be a fool for Christ - this is the flowering of the spirit. What holds us back is not "common sense", but fear and "a complacency bred from cynicism and despair" (Chris Hedges). Most progressives are suffering post traumatic stress from the endless stream of ridicule poured on the heads of those who believe that another world is possible.

But we must see past this trauma. "In terms of the Gospel, the history of man's liberation from injustice is an outward aspect of the inward growth of man into God. Liberation is the consequence of God's explosion of love in history, made visible in the cross of Jesus of Nazareth. Liberation is the political expression of humanity's transformation in love. It becomes possible whenever man turns from the will to power and instead acknowledges in his depths the power of Love. The growth of God's love in man, and his transformation into the man-God, is the process which results finally in the breaking of chains and the freeing of slaves. The political liberation of humanity is a sign of God's redeeming presence breaking the bonds of sin." - James W. Douglass.

When we break the bonds of violence in ourselves, we break them not just for ourselves and our immediate circle, but all humanity can breathe a little more freely. Everyone who struggles for this liberation, whether they acknowledge Christ or not, is building the kingdom of God to the extent that they remain in the power of this love. Part of that spirit is to acknowledge that current economic structures are fundamentally unjust and need to be radically transformed in the direction of structures that exalt the dignity of man, God's image on earth. Capitalism, which focuses exclusively on profit and maximization of wealth without concern for the good of humanity or the whole, is inevitably the foe of God's kingdom.

The alternative, which we will experience in the lives of returning Iraq vets, is well described by Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking of the wave of veterans now returning from the blood bath:

"In the years to come, when people trickle home, they will carry these nightmares into their work lives, and also into their personal lives.

They will be cops, prison guards, politicians, merchants, teachers, and journalists.

Within them will be these silent demons who will not rest in Iraq.

American society was deeply impacted by the return of Vietnam veterans, and not for the better.

We have yet to see the ripples from the war wash against the shores of this land.

We will find that the blood of war, and the perversities of occupation will splash against us all."

"Then a power angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, 'That is how the American empire is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.'

'Never again in you, American empire,
will be heard the song of bankers and generals,
the music of drum and bugle marching abroad;
never again will technicians of every skill be conscripted
through the global slave trade;
never again will shine the light of the frontier.
Your corporate heads were the princes of the earth,
all the nations were under your spell.

In the American empire you will find the blood of prophets and saints."

The end is certain. The exploiters will fall from power, and the poor will inherit the earth. Will Jesus find you among them?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christ the Revolutionary

"A final key ingredient for a successful strategy is our ability to frame our own struggles, or to tell our own story. If we act defensively within the framework of the United States government and their 'war on terror' story, we will always be on the defensive. If we allow them to define reality, we will always lose. If we limit ourselves to defensively arguing that there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, or that there are none in Iran, for example, without challenging the legitimacy and cost of the United States being an empire, then we are operating in a reality defined by those in power. We have to be able to understand, fight, and win the 'battle of the story.'" - David Solnit.

Or in the words of Daniel Berrigan, we do not accept the terms of the argument. The story they tell always leads to the same conclusion, ongoing support for violence against nature and against ourselves.

Yet still we resist, just like the three people that managed to show up for the commissioning of the USS Sampson in Boston on Nov. 3, 2007. CNN won't be there, you can bet. But God will be. He is there in the emptiness, when no one seems to notice. The gestures we make from the heart are the ones that count, even when no one is there to cheer.

Today is the day of the 18th anniversary of the women and Jesuits assassinated in El Salvador–an anniversary of a modern-day crucifixion that we celebrate as a sign of hope that all of us remain faithful in the struggle, in the face of whatever lies in our path. Only then will we be able to experience the joy and gift of resurrection. The joy and gift of resurrection which is the gift of life.

Which leads to the story that we Christians must tell: "And do you know who spoke of new human beings more than two thousand years ago? Do you know who? Christ and the prophets spoke of the arrival of new human beings. Christ was a new man; he was the incarnation of the new human being, except that they crucified him. Old human beings often crucify new men and women because they don't want anything new. And new human beings are social beings, human beings. Che said that revolutionaries are the highest form of human beings, the kind of person who lives each day not thinking of her own gain nor of how to obtain that personal material gain -- no, no, no, thinking of other people. And, what is more, in relation to a project -- in this case the revolutionary Bolivarian project -- completely committed, struggling against old vices -- corruption, abuses of power, egoism -- and against those categories that are capitalist: commodities, economic profitability. This isn't the most important thing -- individual material interest, etc. can't be what guides any human being who calls herself socialist and who joins in the construction of a socialist society. I'll read some more: "We need to remember the goal. The world that we want to build is the society of associated producers, where each individual is able to develop his full potential, the world which, in Marx's view would allow the 'absolute working-out of his creative potentialities,' the 'complete working out of the human content,' the 'development of all human powers as such the end in itself.'" And these last sentences are direct quotes from Marx. Marx's thought must become a potent nutrient of the Bolivarian Revolution. We have to go to this thought and to socialism's great thinkers. (Of course, we here are not going to copy this thought as if it were a catechism and we are not going to carry around a little book which tells us what has to be done. No, no. We just take sustenance [from them] to use to invent our socialism). Simón Bolivar, a thinker who becomes more social, more revolutionary, more socialist with each day that passes -- somewhere around here I have a book published by Simon Rodriguez University: Simon Rodriguez' Letters -- a socialist to the core, a thinker, a philosopher. There's a lot to be found, taken, extracted, as if from a gold mine, from Simón Rodriguez's thought: ideas, inspirations, guidance for our socialism . Zamora, Mariátegui, and many, many other thinkers. Christ, as I mentioned before -- although some bishops get angry, that's not my fault, I am free to say what I believe; here everyone is free to say what she or he thinks -- I believe that Christ was a great socialist, the greatest of our era." - Hugo Chavez

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Path of Harmlessness

The path of harmlessness must be practiced in our daily lives if peace is to achieve effective political expression. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "To practice ahimsa, first of all we must practice it in ourselves." The rebellion must begin within ourselves, the rebellion against the violence, against the world and the burden of self that we carry in our hearts. To make a false dichotomy between ourselves and our society, with our ego trapped as an unwilling victim and American society as the the trapper is to create an inner war that nourishes the violence which drenches this world.

Again, Thich Nhat Hanh: "If we divide reality into two camps - the violent and the non-violent - and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel responsible for wars and injustice, without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves."

We in the peace movement cannot move forward until we enter into this truth. We must become the peace we seek. The spirit of absolute condemnation is the spirit of dehumanization that is the enemy we seek to defeat with every breath we take. At the same time, we must be clear-eyed, we must not pretend that injustice is not injustice. This is the thin line along which many of those in the New Age movement stumble. Focusing on individual well-being, they lose touch with the larger world, overlooking social injustice since such awareness might impede their individual serenity. In fact, we are the perpetuators of the injustice of the world when we fail to act against social violence. The suffering of the world is not separate from our own suffering and God's.

Outrage at violence and knowledge of its basic internal and external causes must be continually cultivated by those who would be called peacemakers. The essential thrust of Christian practice is to grow seeds of resistance within one's spirit to the false values of empire. God is not the ultimate emperor validating empire's conventional values, but its Liberator who appears not as a power, but as Crucifixion. Christianity is not conformity to this world, but implies an inner transcendence of the social values that encapsulate injustice. To make Christianity into a support for conservatism as it is understood today - a mixture of virulent nationalism and boosterism for that organized banditry known as global capitalism - is to pervert its basic spirit.

God has been revealed in Jesus Christ not as an emperor, not the "ultimate power in the universe", as we might like Him to be, but "...as freedom, love, and sacrifice, where He suffers for man and strives together with man against the falsity and wrong of the world, against the intolerable suffering of the world. There is no need to justify, we have no right to justify, all the unhappiness, all the suffering and evil in the world with the help of the idea of God as Providence and Sovereign of the Universe. This is a hard saying. One must turn to God for the struggle on behalf of freedom, one behalf of righteousness, on behalf of the enlightening and betterment of existence." - Nikolai Berdyaev.

Christianity must not serve as an excuse to justify suffering. God exhorts those who would conform to His spirit to fight the causes of suffering in this world with all their heart, mind, and spirit. God is ultimate revolutionary struggling even in the souls of those who don't believe in Him. And He may be far more alive in such a one than in the church leader who confuses goodness with slavery to calcified injustice.

To pray sincerely not only leads to direct action against the violence of empire, but is itself a revolutionary act, for it invokes a power that contradicts empire. This is why empire seeks to destroy or absorb Christianity, depending on the political force-fields of the moment. In the past, Christianism was used as a totalizing ideology to justify social and political oppression and the empire may well be preparing a new and more encompassing use of this false ideology, or better, idol, which hides its true nature in Christian trappings.

The fundamental law of peace is that to harm another human being is to harm ourselves. And equally, to cease harming ourselves brings harmony to our relations with others. Every sincere act of peace strikes a blow against empire, so don't despair if you can't join demonstrations or direct actions, but do not neglect them if you can. It may well be that the word of love and reconciliation said to one who drives you mad will do more to end war than the cleverest shouted slogan.

Listen to Thich Nhat Hanh:

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Inner Decay

"An internal United Nations (UN) report into the November 6 bombing in Baghlan, in northern Afghanistan, has revealed how the actions of security guards after the blast greatly increased the death toll."

"Dying empires cling until the very end to the outward trappings of power. They mask their weakness behind a costly and technologically advanced military. They pursue increasingly unrealistic imperial ambitions. They stifle dissent with efficient and often ruthless mechanisms of control. They lose the capacity for empathy, which allows them to see themselves through the eyes of others, to create a world of accommodation rather than strife. The creeds and noble ideals of the nation become empty cliches, used to justify acts of greater plunder, corruption and violence. By the end, there is only a raw lust for power and few willing to confront it." - Chris Hedges, "America in the Time of Empire"

"The document said it was unclear how many of the 77 (61 of whom were children) who died were killed by the bomb and how many by shooting afterwards. But according to AP, the report did say, 'However, latest reports suggest that gunshots could account for as many as two-thirds of all casualties.'"

"Regardless of what the exact breakdown of numbers may be, the fact remains that a number of armed men deliberately and indiscriminately fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians that posed no threat to them, causing multiple deaths and injuries."
'It is believed that at least 100 rounds or more were fired into the crowd with a separate group of schoolchildren off to one side of the road bearing the brunt of the onslaught at close range.' - "UN report into worst Afghan atrocity implicates security forces", wsws.org

These are acts of desperation, not strength. Of cowardice and despair. We will never admire, nor give obeisance to acts of domination that arise from despair of the truth of man, of the infinite potentiality of his personality. America must accept its fate with the humility that becomes a country that was once the world's hope. Let go of its tense clutch on power or embrace the void.

The great difference between the revolutions of the twentieth century and those of the twenty-first is this: those of the twentieth century rebelled against conventional morality and religion, and were largely successful in that rebellion. Those of twenty-first century are in favor of a radically orthodox morality and religion and will re-establish these as the foundation for an even more authentic rebellion against conventional morality and religion.

The loss of capacity for empathy means that we can no longer see ourselves as others see us. That sense which once allowed us to see from another perspective than that of our selfish interests has now been subtracted from the sum of our humanity. This engenders an elemental blindness that makes effective decision-making impossible. The obsessive focus on ourselves and our interests unleashed by 9/11 has isolated us with the cage of our own national ego, poking out the eyes of our soul, adrift in the void where we have lost faith in everything but military might. The search for perfect safety is the search for perfect hell.

Only genuine spiritual understanding can reveal what happens to the heart when safety becomes paramount, or in the words of C.S. Lewis: "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intake, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries,; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." C.S. Lewis, "The Four Loves"

The Roots of War

The war is in our souls. We carry war around with us like a latent infection always ready to flame into life once more. It is here that we can apply the healing that makes us part of the whole, of the common good. The angry reply which we staunch today may go farther in stopping the next war than an angry email dashed off to a Congressperson. In the words of scripture, our battle is not against human beings, but the thrones, powers, and dominions which rule the empire. These are spiritual forces against which our souls can be set.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, one who knew war personally, so simply states, the real casualties of war are souls of men and women who come home after practicing violence for so many months. It is the lethal damage which our spirits sustain whether we are present on the battlefield or not that is the most deadly effect of war, but we can all contribute to healing that wound which festers with our faithlessness.

Those of us who believe that human beings were made to serve not themselves, but the common good, can sense how worthless it is to place all the blame for the current horror in Iraq on Bush, the neocons, the military-industrial complex, or whatever demon you choose. Their fingers pulled the trigger, but we handed them the gun. This gun grew for a long time in the darkness of our hearts, but when it was ready, they pulled it free. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "The President acted the way he did because we acted the way we did. It is because we are not happy enough that we had a war. If we were happier, we would not take refuge in alcohol, drugs, war and violence." Chris Hedges' brilliant book about war is called "War is a Force that Gives us Meaning." It is a force that can fill the emptiness we have allowed to grow within ourselves and which we vainly try to fill with what will never satisfy.

"The most important practice for preventing war is to stay in touch with what is refreshing, healing, and joyful inside us and all around us. If we practice walking mindfully, being in touch with the earth, the air, the trees, and ourselves, we can heal ourselves, and our entire society will also be healed. If the whole nation would practice watering the seeds of joy and peace, and not just the seeds of anger and violence, the elements of war in all of us will be transformed." Thich Nhat Hanh, "Love in Action"

Unfortunately, anger and violence are more profitable to those who rule this society so we are barraged with an incessant flood of propaganda that weakens our efforts to be free and whole. We are told in so many ways that pushing against the tide is useless, that our survival depends on cooperating with the dominant violence that our power of resistance grows weaker and weaker. Yet within the soul of each of us is a power that cannot be bound, if only we would use it.

By reflecting on the nature of our relations with the world around us, we begin to sense of what power we are members. By embracing love in our daily lives, we break the chain of power and domination within which most of us are links. The essence of nonviolent direct action is the refusal of consent to the dominating hierarchy that wishes to absorb us. We have the power to stop consenting to the use of our hearts and minds as part of a grid to power war. We can end one small part of war right now.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What Are Our Voices For?

Listen to the words of a soldier trying to follow his faith:

Specialist Joshua Casteel - Listen to the audio clip (or download)


Where is the leadership which should expect from bishops, the shepherds of the people of God? Justice must be enthroned - this is the work of Jesus. 40 years of hermaneutics, Vatican II, and all the rest, and not a single forthright criticism of a war that they admit was in no way justified by just war principles, not as long as it really matters - while the war is in progress.

"For too long the language of morality and sin has been commandeered by those among us who think the primary goal of religion is to regulate human intimacy. People like you and me—that is to say, thoughtful people of faith whose souls are inclined to the work of making the world a better place—we don’t want our religious faithfulness to be confused with prudishness, so we shy away from anything that might look like a pounded pulpit or that might smell like brimstone.

"Brothers and sisters, dear friends, when it comes to torture, we need to lose that inhibition, because how can torture be anything but immoral? And if we cannot condemn as sin that which truly is immoral, then what might our God-given voices be for?Brothers and sisters, dear friends, when it comes to torture, we need to lose that inhibition, because how can torture be anything but immoral? And if we cannot condemn as sin that which truly is immoral, then what might our God-given voices be for?" - Ben Daniel, speech at the headquarters of a company that renders "enemy combatants" to be tortured for the edification and career advancement of American politicians.

Indeed, what is the purpose of spiritual life if it can't be moved by the plight of our brothers and sisters and we are condemned to live in a fairy land of Rapture? For what has God given us minds and hands and hearts if they cannot be moved by a world of starvation caused directly by the corporations that coddle us with obscene and undeserved comfort? Our hearts were not given us so that we could distract them with brainless nonsense while the world burns.

"I am not schooled in national security or in international politics. I am a pastor, and I wouldn’t be a very good one if the promotion of social righteousness were not part of my ministry. What I know about torture is this: it’s not just ineffective, and unpatriotic and illegal, and dangerous. To torture someone is immoral because it is cruel and it is unfair. Torture uses punishment to determine guilt rather than using guilt to determine punishment. Torture desecrates the image of God that is common to all humanity. Torture is a sin." - Ben Daniel

It is as much a mortal sin as abortion, though you don't hear Catholic bishops shaking that tree very often. They have more important things to deal with than the torture of human beings.

"And woe unto you if you are torturing your fellow human being. Woe unto you if you are getting rich by providing material support, service, or assistance to the purveyors of torture, for how does it profit a person to gain the whole world but lose his or her soul? Woe unto the politicians who have abused our nation’s fear to find support for torture and who change the definition of torture in order to say with a straight face, 'Americans don’t torture'. Woe unto the politicians who have not spoken out loudly enough to condemn torture. Woe to the religious communities and leaders who have been silent. Woe unto you, for you will have to go to bed each night knowing that you have sinned against humanity and against God." - Ben Daniel

And you will have to sleep in the sin your silence has nurtured.

"The final word belongs to grace. Grace enables and empowers us to change. The good news is that no matter what the propagators of hatred and fear may tell us, we can reject the sin of torture and so can they. We can just say no. There remains time for the amendment of our national character. By grace we can affirm the sanctity of each human life. By grace we can refuse to live under the illusionary comfort of security that is conceived in cruelty and born of brutality. By grace we may live moral and upright lives." - Ben Daniel

Wake from sin and speak. It is the only true security.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Silence is not permitted

Imagine, if you will, a political group inspired by the ideals and actions of the first Christians, or in the words of Jacques Maritain, "Imagine a political group of men who decide to resume ... and to transpose into the political order the methods of the early Christians and of apostles of all times... they go beyond the ordinary means that the law provides and that are not, strictly speaking, means of warfare. In cases where it becomes necessary to carry on their struggle by voluntary suffering, they practice poverty, they endure punishment carrying the loss of civil rights, they go out to meet these things, shouting the truth in season and out of season, refusing in certain cases to cooperate with the civil authority, and initiating reforms outside the law, not to disorganize the state or imperil its safety, but to obtain the repeal of an unjust law, or to bear witness to the existence of a right, to force a reform of which reason has recognized the necessity, to prepare little by little the transformation of the temporal regime, until the hour comes when the burden of office and responsibility shall fall into the hands of the group." "Freedom in the Modern World"

When we contemplate, not the ephemeral regimes of Republican or Democratic flavor, but the powers of global dominance for which they act as marketing representatives, it is almost impossible not to succumb to a sense of futility. In fact, they have labored long and hard to instill this sense of impotence in us, the idea that there is no alternative to the everlasting dominance of savage capitalism - the end of history, indeed. But the weapons God has given us are the same as those which the early Christians used against an equally powerful empire. And he will not abandon us now either.

We begin by acting on our conscience - there is no substitute for action, but the action must be supported by the twin pillars of prayer and strategic analysis. Prayer must be sincere, but the strategic analysis must penetrate to the depth of the power relations that we face. Otherwise, we will be satisfied with small concessions while the real crimes continue.

Recently, three followers of Jesus acted against torture training at Fort Huachucha in Arizona and issued the following statement: "Today we join many who call for an end to our country' s use of torture in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq, Afghanistan and in secret prisons elsewhere. We stand near the main gate of Ft. Huachuca, a U.S. Army post in southern Arizona, home base for Army intelligence and where all Army interrogators are trained.

We are here because we can no longer tolerate violations of fundamental human rights such as detention without trial and acts of torture committed in our names behind the vast secrecy which the present administration has instituted.

Although Colonel Jeff Jennings and other training staff at the fort seemed sincere in telling some of us that waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions are prohibited at Ft. Huachuca, we continue to believe that these brutal and dehumanizing methods are still happening at the hands of U.S. interrogators deployed abroad. These acts and the secrecy surrounding them contradict our understanding of the U.S. Constitution and our treaty obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. They are deeply unacceptable to our personal moral consciences.

There has been widespread opposition to our current government's imperial policies of pre-emptive war, unwarranted telephone and Internet-based surveillance, the sending of invasive national security letters, rendition of many times mistakenly suspected foreigners to countries known to practice torture and the selective abolition of civil rights like habeas corpus.

We have filled the streets; we have filled the Internet and telephone lines, the op-ed and letters to the editor columns as well as Congressional mail bags.Some of us have refused war taxes. And yet unspeakable, illegal and immoral acts are committed daily in our names as American citizens.

Gates and sentry posts always relate to greed, the desire to hold on to what we have and to keep people less fortunate than we are from claiming their share. It is not true that military people are more greedy than the rest of us, but they have accepted the charge of protecting our abundance with weapons of unprecedented killing power. They are enforcing the projection into the world of our unwillingness to share. We cannot reconcile gates, guns or sentry posts with the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi spoke of nonviolent direct action as an experiment in truth or satyagraha. We ask ourselves: how can we best honor our need to withdraw our complicity with our government's actions? Our simple ritual of approaching the gate of Ft. Huachuca expresses our willingness to undergo suffering rather than to inflict it, and our longing to bring our country to openness and accountability.

We seek to meet with enlisted personnel and officers on Ft. Huachuca to continue a dialogue about the interrogation techniques they are learning, how easy it has been for others trained before them to fall into cruelty, and to explore with them what they each might do to prevent themselves from repeating the horrible errors of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. We may be arrested.

We ask for your prayers, and we ask also that you escalate - in any nonviolent way you are led - your own efforts to end torture and the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan."

Look at the face of the boy at the top of the blog post and imagine what he feels as he faces what America has wrought in his tortured country. Then lift up your heart in prayer and ask God to heal us of the fear that causes us to kill and torture.

The Spiritual Means of Warfare

In the last post, we considered the basics of how Christians should carry out their battle to be the arms of Christ in remaking the world. In this post, I'd like to consider why the tactics of nonviolence, as pioneered by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, are those that accord most deeply with the Christian spirit.

We begin by trying to understand the meaning of courage in the Christian tradition. Courage is one of the four cardinal virtues which defines how to build ourselves into the image of Christ to which we are called. When we think of courage in the modern context, we normally conjure up images of fearlessness in battle, but this does not form the essence of this virtue according to traditional teachings. According to these teachings, for instance as found in Thomas Aquinas, there are two kinds of courage: "...the courage that attacks and the courage that endures, the force of coercion or aggression and the force of patience, the force that inflicts suffering on others and the force that endures suffering inflicted on oneself." - Jacques Maritain, "Freedom in the Modern World". Maritain's analysis reveals that the essential act of this virtue is found in the inner force that endures suffering inflicted on oneself, not its power of attack. The current manufacturers of consent dramatize the attack aspect of courage in order to draw us into wars by appealing to our love for this virtue. But this aspect is not the essential part of courage, but only a superficial manifestation of it.

The essence of courage is described as, "...courage in endurance [which] corresponds to the principal act of the virtue of fortitude and is characteristic of the 'bravest of the brave.' Such endurance derives its strength from something that possesses the greatest power of resistance in the world of nature, from the paradox of a nothing which is also a universe, the invisible power of human personality." - Jacques Maritain, "Freedom in the Modern World". This endurance of suffering displays the power of the human person, rather than the energies of the material and quantitative world, on which virtually all political emphasis is placed. In other words, while corporate media propaganda exclusively emphasizes our power of attack, indulging in a pornography of weapons systems, the real core of courage lies in the capacity of endurance which reflects the spiritual power of the human person. Warfare always tends to "purely technical principles unfettered by any consideration either divine or human", while "means of endurance tend to find their fullest expression in the sovereign freedom of a soul that is exalted above the terrors of nature and of death and enveloped in the sacred fire of Uncreated Holiness, so that these means tend of themselves to follow the moral rules of reason and of love. Love is the animating principle of the spiritual means of warfare; their power is verily the power of love. Merely human love and even misguided love is able to overcome obstacles of the most difficult kind. Shall not the power of these means be still more mighty if the love that governs their action is essentially sane, spiritual, noble, rid of all egoism and base passion; if its source and its end be Truth; if its name be Charity?" - Jacques Maritain, "Freedom in the Modern World".

This constitutes the essential definition of Christian nonviolence. We resist evil with every ounce of force and courage that we are capable of, but we resist evil (the meaning of fortitude or courage) with the means of endurance, rather than the means of attack. The force of coercion and aggression stirs the sufferer of aggression to react with the same means, provoking the endless cycle of retribution which is so familiar in current Iraq. On the other hand, "The force of voluntary suffering and of patience, the force of endurance, tends to annihilate the evil by accepting and dissolving it in love, absorbing its sorrow in the soul in the shape of resignation. There it stays, and goes no further. And thus the force that strikes and is necessary and, if it be just, stops the expansion of evil and limits and contracts but is unable to extinguish it, has in its own nature less strength and perfection than the force that endures and that, in the case where it is informed by Charity, is of its own strength capable of extinguishing as it arises the evil that free agents unnecessarily introduce into the world. It is evidently of its own nature a more effective instrument of redemption."

So by absorbing the sorrow of violence into our own souls we become effective instruments of redemption, receiving into our own bodies the marks of violence, thereby extinguishing the evils of war. The symbol of this force that endures is the cross, and this type of courage is exemplified in the highest degree in the martyrs, such as Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, who endured beheading rather than serve those who waged war unjustly.

In our next blog posting, we will take up the question of what the body of this Christian resistance might look like.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The True Revolutionary Believes in God Alone

"At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide." - Times Online

In the words of Jesus, "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." The sword is the god of death from whom Jesus came to save us.

So far, about 10,000 veterans have killed themselves as a result of what they were made to do in Iraq. This is currently happening at the rate of 120 suicides a week according to CBS news. What has been the response in the Christian community?

The words of Daniel Berrigan still resound in the current situation: "We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total -- but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. So a whole will and a whole heart and a whole national life bent toward war prevail over the velleities of peace. There is no peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war -- at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake." - Daniel Berrigan

Christians are not called to be silent in the face of war, to meekly bear its unjust burdens while attending only the personal details of their spiritual relationships. Christ did not come to redeem us as individual religious consumers, but as miraculous beings through whom he can work the redemption of the whole world, including power relationships.

One of the reasons we are so fearful of paying the price lies in a sense of futility, expertly reinforced by the corporate media, but having its source in our fundamental belief that external, visible success is the only measure of value. But the saints' lives testify to a completely different order of values. In the words of William James, "The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am...against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, underdogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top." One could almost make it a social law that the greater the immediate success, the more hollow and ephemeral the ultimate result is likely to be.

Christians who wish to live out Christ's love of justice must adopt a completely different viewpoint from that of the world. At the same time, they must carry out a much deeper analysis of the revolution which is needed to embody this justice.

The first proposition of Christian revolution is, in the words Charles Peguy, "The social revolution will be a moral revolution or not at all." To say these words in the current conditions of social stagnation is to implicitly endorse that stagnation by asserting that only when all people become embodiments of Christian virtue will the conditions for real social revolution be present. On the Christian right, the emphasis is exclusively on individual virtue. Social virtue, except in minor and primitive forms that also focus on individual virtue or lack thereof, is not yet part of their spiritual vision. The New Age movement likewise, though more open to the social consequences of spiritual teachings, in practice focuses almost exclusively on the spiritual well-being of the individual and justifies the group because of the benefits it provides to individuals. Both are variations on the idea stated crudely by Marget Thatcher that society does not exist, only individuals.

Interpreted in this way, the statement becomes a pretext to avoid any effort at social transformation. Most of us are familiar with those who believe that all effort to preserve the ecological integrity of the planet is wasted because God will soon miraculously restore the world. The same applies to any social effort. What few comment on is the despair that lies in wait behind this apparent "faith."

Let us turn to an older and wiser tradition, "The meaning is you can only transform the social regime of the world by effecting at the same time and first of all within yourselves, a renewal of spiritual life and of moral life, by digging down to the spiritual and moral foundations of human life, by renewing the moral ideas which govern the life of the social group as such, and by awakening in the depths of the latter a new elan." - Jacques Maritain, Freedom in the Modern World.

Yet in practice, we Christians often despair of the power of our weapons and long to embrace the weapons of the world. In the words of Maritain, "If the Christian is not doomed to failure pure and simply, is he at any rate and especially in our time doomed to the appearance of failure? Are the arms of edification the only arms he is at liberty to use? In the face of the technique of of secular war that the modern world has elaborated, is he denied the use of these means of warfare?"

Does our lack of success mean that we are doomed to material impotence? "If any one ... is tempted to give way before the apparent ineptitude of the spirit in the things of time, let him go forward and enter into the very depths of the spirit, and learn its power not only in the things of eternity but also in the things of time; not only over the the soul but over the flesh also. There are other means of warfare than secular means."

"Great events of history and great revolutions normally result from a hidden process of growth, from the internal thrust of a new order which takes form and shape and fulfills its own ontological requirement within the heart of a given state of civilization." Ours is the slow, patient work of nonviolence, which, in the end, achieves a spiritual beauty and and the power to transform even stubborn flesh.

In the next post, we will examine why nonviolent resistance is the means that most accords with being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The spiral of violence is broken by those willing to absorb the violence in their own flesh

Christianity is intrinsically opposed to the system of normalized injustice that pretends to be civilization. There is no need to reconcile Christian with progressive values - we are still catching up with the values of the most progressive man in history - Jesus Christ. I pray to God each day that I may one day be able to accept and realize his progressive intensity. The direction of history is toward nonviolence, toward justice for all, towards ending the domination of each human being by another, but not merely by ending the injustice out there, but by extinguishing the injustice living in my heart. And even this division is unreal since there is an organic link between the two that welds both injustices together.

Christianity is more radical than Marxism because it gives the soul an anchor-point outside of time and matter. No matter how much the Marxist believes in economic justice and economic determinism, in the end there is nothing outside the material processes of history for him to cling to. If his class loses the battle, the loss is absolute because for him there is no spiritual realm of justice in which all will be redeemed. It either happens in history or it doesn't happen. Though the Marxist may see this redemption as a projection of unfulfilled hope, it acts as a powerful source of spiritual strength which the materialist denies himself.

The radicalism of the 60's can be critiqued in many ways, but probably it's greatest flaw and the reason it fizzled so quickly after (or even before) the Vietnam war had ended was the sense of futility and cynicism that it instilled. After the idealistic fervor subsided, all that was left was the pursuit of personal pleasure in sex, drugs, and media, which was characterized as "liberating" by the uprising capitalistic class which has since triumphed. The sense that the forces of repression and control were so powerful that there was no alternative but to serve them, while knowing and repressing the knowledge of their corruption, was the final result of much of that radical critique. Rather than empowering the free individual with a sense of his ability to create change, the effective power to make change was drained off in a thousand different directions. Many were the exploiters of that initial fervor, but few stayed to cultivate its deep roots, roots that must reach into sources of spiritual renewal if the blossoms are to live.

There is a wisdom that comes from years of thought and struggle over revolution and one of its fruits is the insight that there is no revolution "out there" for us to join. In the 60's and 70's, I devoutly believed that and I searched restlessly for the perfect movement to join. Then I fell back in bitter disappointment, thinking I had missed the revolution, that I was too slow to act, and that it had passed me by. But now I know that this was not the case. The revolution that I was searching for was one that I was carrying in my heart the whole time. Gandhi said it best: "We must be the change we wish to see." In other words, the missing element in my search was myself. There are organizations of course and magazines and marches, but they are really just props, not the actual revolution that we seek. The revolution begins when we act with compassion, when we care even when no one joins us, when believe in peace and act on that belief even in the uncaring void.

So clap your hands!: "So in Isaiah God speaks of making a new people, and in Thessalonians Paul warns, not against associating with non-believers, but associating with lazy believers. The struggle of the human heart is constant, and the only comfort in the struggle is knowing that the struggle goes on in God, in the community of faith, among believers. The comfort is knowing that the struggle to open your heart to all the closed hearts around you is one shared by those in faith with you, that when you share your faithfulness you don't do it alone, and your strength doesn't come from your will alone. Will is not faith, and it will not preserve you against the challenge to what you believe. Standing alone is weakness, not strength. What would Jesus do? Find a group who shared his beliefs, and open his heart to them; and from them, in them, with them, open his heart to the world; not as an act of will, but as an act of faith. And then you will see "the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD." Which is what you are looking for, after all; not your victory, but the victory of God." - Adventus