"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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Texture of Peace

Let's begin this week's blog with a prayer for Cindy Sheehan, who has made the hard, yet wise decision to pull back and regroup. The Democrats don't deserve the money and tears of this noble woman. Those who truly struggle for peace have long realized that the Democratic Party, while more than willing to feed off the progressive energies that rise from the anti-war and other progressive movements, ultimately has no more than a parasitic relationship to the forces of peace and justice in this country. It pains me to say this because there are many good and sincere progressives in the Democratic Party, but their recent capitulation has confirmed a long-standing inner capitulation to the forces that rule this empire. Those of us who have truly paid attention for the last 20 years foresaw the obvious conclusion to the pretense of resistance that Democrats have simulated for the last six months. The function of the Democratic Party in the empire's metabolism is to serve as a region of safe discharge for rebellious longings. They must present a realistic image of rebellion in order to draw progressive emotive force, but once the identification is made, they safely discharge the energy for change into submission which is characterized as "realistic compromise". No one seems to notice that this "compromise" always comprises total capitulation to the requirements of the war machine.

So much for the Democrats. Cindy's action of withdrawal is symbolic of the current state of the anti-war movement as a whole. We have striven long and hard for four years within the current political alignments which have gladly feasted on the humanity of our grief. These political forces will soon find other victims. She has made the courageous decision to give no more heart's blood to the soulless machine that is more than ready to throw thousands more bodies into the jaws of Baal. Few understand how significant a turning point this may turn out to be. The current political system has revealed its true nature in an act of blatant hypocrisy by those who were trusted to end the madness. This act of cowardice is a spiritual event that will begin a new phase of struggle, one that may soon make the current alignments obsolete.

One of the favorite tactics of empire is to create false leaders to draw followers that would otherwise follow true leaders such as our Lord. The media loves to flatter itself with its power to create such leaders (Hillary is the obvious current candidate), and so is seduced into serving the empire in this way. Cindy, on the other hand, led from a beating heart, hence the viciousness of the media's attacks. They perceive genuineness as weakness and react accordingly.

The case of Cindy Sheehan's resignation from one form of activism is profoundly symbolic for the antiwar movement. She gave her passion and life blood (literally) for several years to this cause only to withdraw exhausted and with a sense of futility. That sense of futility is a cry to heaven, a spiritual fact of great significance. Pouring one's heart's blood into the current structures of democratic change has become futile. "Those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable." as Robert Kennedy put it. Realization of this fact is slowly dawning across many progressive circles who have given their heart's blood to stop a war recognized as unjust by a large majority of the American people. The current power structure created this war, as it does most wars, in order to distract attention from the new modes of resource theft that they planned. Cindy's action was a cry from the heart that such plans are deeply immoral and inhuman and the deaths that they require are not just "collateral damage", but life changing blows to the people that actually pay the price. Unfortunately, the current political system cannot tolerate such fundamental change. It is owned and operated by those who regard such lives as an acceptable price to pay and whose response to its own errors of judgment is invariably to increase the rate of murder.

The system needs fundamental conversion. The democratic means of change provided in the Constitution have failed and Cindy, being at the center of the antiwar movement was one of the first to realize it. As she sees clearly now, we need a fundamentally different approach than lobbying Congresspeople and getting the vote out on election day. These means have been tried and we have seen that even when they succeed with the people, they fail to influence the government. The cry of agony and grief is filtered out and smothered in order to smooth the path of dominance. The government is now fully controlled by corporate power and the gestures it makes toward listening to the people have devolved into obvious lies. Witness Rahm Emmanuel's statements that giving way completely to the war machine's demands was actually a way of stopping it. In the past, there would be at least a symbolic concession toward the opposition to justify capitulation. Now, the ruling powers no longer feel the need to make any concession, and are able to comfortably depend on the Democrats to justify their endorsement with rhetorical gestures.

So the decision must be made to work outside the system. The system is a finely tuned mechanism for supporting corporate power and part of that mechanism is channeling dissent into ineffective dead-ends. The more sincere and likable progressives work within that system, the more legitimation it receives and the more effective it can carry out its neutralization function. It needs the heart's blood of people like Cindy Sheehan since it has no life within itself. By denying our life to it, we starve the beast.

"Evangelical conversion requires more than a change of heart; it also requires a liberation of social organization insofar as it produces and reproduces sinful patterns of behavior. This social conversion is brought about through transformative social struggle, with the tactics and strategy suited to bringing about the changes needed. Social sin has to be opposed by social grace, fruit of God's gift and of human endeavor inspired by God." - Leonardo Boff.

So we bid a blessed farewell to Cindy and pray for new streams of grace to come upon us from the Holy Spirit to heal the heart of a broken world.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Death No Longer Has Power Over Us

"Death – and all its attendant principalities and powers of violence cloaked in the lie of necessary evil – has no dominion over us. This is the freedom that we are offered in Christ." - Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners, on the forgiveness of his captors by Jim Loney of Christian Peacemakers.

Here are the words of Jim himself: "We want to see an end to all killing, regardless of the reason. Capital punishment is simply the legal face of the dead-end cycle of violence and retribution for violence that is destroying Iraq. We want to see something genuinely new and different, a future that begins with the power of forgiveness." - God's Politics, May 25, 2007.

What does it mean to say that death no longer has power over us? It means the abandonment of a static view of the world, the view constantly promoted in the media that says there is no real alternative to the current consumerist vision of society. When consumerists look into the future of their society, what do they see? - an endless expanse of more and more consumables, powered by ever more productive technology. But who is this consumer? It is an utterly static human being, who never really changes, but only qualifies and increments his or her pattern of consumption. Yes, there is change in the form of new needs, usually induced by marketing campaigns, but these needs are endless variations on old patterns.

Such a vision is inherently despairing because it implies that fundamental change in human nature is impossible. We produce commodities, we consume commodities. Even psychological change is seen as another commodity produced by mental health professionals. All takes place on the same horizontal plane of production and consumption and human beings are ultimately just appendages of the commodities they consume.

All of us know we have more potential than this. Christians have the image of Christ, the image of what humanity could truly become. Our lives as Christians are a constant compromise between this image and the one we participate in through consumerist society. As Christians, we seek transformation in Christ, to become the human being who lives without emnity, without greed, always putting the other first. Where consumerist society demands an endless cycle of induced needs and commodified responses to those needs, Christian living means constant change and growth in the social bonds that unite us to those around us, a never-ending expansion in our sense of the humanity of others.

The reign of commodities is the reign of death because it is the reign of the inhuman over the free development of humanity. We do not become more human through a proliferation of cell phones and Internet chat rooms. We become more human through the development of our capacity for love. Working hard to create the conditions for more hard work is the death spiral in which our society is currently locked. Our productivity is merely the sign of our emptiness.

The Church teaches us that we have a real alternative to barbarism, but that we must realize this alternative through our own free actions, guided by the Holy Spirit. These spiritual gifts have been given us for the imagination of a new human being, not the transformation of humanity into a wide-open mouth shoveling in dangerous and degrading commodities.

Of course, the Church doesn't condone such an image of man, but so far it has failed to analyse the true nature of the systemic social and economic evil that produces such a humanity. Systems of social evil can only be opposed systematically. Individual efforts at moral improvement are doomed when an entire system has been constructed on radically anti-Christian principles. The Holy Spirit pushes us beyond individualistic efforts to form us into social arrays which are the basis for a new vision of community.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dropping the Mask

God have mercy on the Iraqis whose suffering will not end until we show mercy. The Democrats have chosen to abandon the power given them to bring an end to the madness of this suffering. Iraqis awoke this morning to the message from a fully united U.S. government that if they didn't achieve "benchmarks", which consist primarily of turning over 75% of their oil profits to Chevron and BP for the next 30 years, that we would retaliate by abandoning any pretense of rebuilding the country we destroyed. Such is the current state of American justice.

In many ways, we have become the economic zombies that neoliberals have for so long tried to squeeze our humanity into. Why are we so incapable of compassion for those whose lives we have destroyed?

Perhaps we could listen to an Iraqi voice once in a while? "In an open letter to the US Congress, Hasan Jum’a Awwad, head of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, expressed a similar view. 'We see no good reason for linking the passing of the feeble Iraqi oil law to the withdrawal of the occupation troops from Iraq,' he wrote. 'Everyone knows that the oil law does not serve the Iraqi people, and that it serves Bush, his supporters and the foreign companies at the expense of the Iraqi people who have been wronged and deprived of their right to their oil despite enduring all difficulties.'"

There is no real disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on war goals, only the means. And clearly the means is more blood: "... the number of combat soldiers would rise from the 52,500 that were there in early January to as many as 98,000 by December. The total number of US troops—including support units—could hit a record 200,000." So Bush doubles the surge to a deafening silence. There will be no protests from Democrats, all are united in the cry for more soldiers, more blood, more prosperity. Only the news media still pretends they are antiwar.

The function of Democrats in this sorrowful empire remains what it has been for decades. They defend the basic interests of empire, while maintaining the fiction of a stalwart opposition in order to stall and redirect any real opposition that may lumber forth - to smother the otherwise fierce passions of a betrayed and exhausted population. A betrayal that is sensed, but misconstrued by the majority.

Here are the facts: "In all, at a time when 82 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want Congress to either approve funds for the war with strict conditions or cut off all funding immediately, 90 percent of House and Senate Democrats combined voted to give George W. Bush a blank check." - David Sirota, Working Assets, May 25, 2007.

In fact, there is nothing our leaders fear more than democracy. By assenting to this moral catastrophe, the people themselves are abdicating their right to further dissent from empire's designs. Now we must feel as the ancient Romans did in the days of early Christianity, when the Church still spoke with blood against power. Frankly, it no longer matters whether dissent is 82% or 99%, for the voice of the people has been silenced and the reign of unfettered corporate empire has slouched unashamed into the light.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Is That All You've Done?

War Resisters Honored: Augustin Aguayo, Robert Zapala, Pablo Paredes and Camilo Mejia

“I was angry that there was all this money - the planes, bombs, guns, the contracts that were given to Halliburton - going to people who didn’t need it. There were these children dying for lack of blankets and basic medicine and shelter,” says Wilding, her voice rising with fury. “They were living around open sewers, without anything. How could you not be angry? They was always so much need and so little you could do that I was never thinking, ‘I’m so clever, look what I’ve done.’ It was always, ‘Is that all you did?’ People were always asking me to help on a more material level, for cooling fans, money for operations, all sorts of things. A woman at the camp asked for clean knickers and sanitary towels.” Even with the £10,000 Wilding had raised for the trip, she could not meet every need, although she did help pay for the installation of drains and pipes in the camp." - Iraq: Send in the Clown, Guardian/UK, May 17, 2007.

Iraq, once among the most advanced countries of the region, has been reduced, in terms of basic economic and social indices, to the level of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What is involved is the systematic destruction of an entire society through the unleashing of violence and criminality on a scale not seen since Hitler’s armies ravaged Europe in the Second World War." - "The US war and occupation of Iraq—the murder of a society", Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, May 19, 2007

In fact, history will very likely see the majority of Americans today on the same moral level as the Germans of Hitler's Germany. They might judge us even more harshly because we had the advantage of the German example. The main mitigating factor is the current news media, which operates as a prime feature of one of the most sophisticated and effective mechanisms of social control ever devised.

What this social control mechanism needs to obscure is
that "US operations in Iraq have amounted to sociocide—the deliberate and systematic murder of an entire society." - "The US war and occupation of Iraq—the murder of a society", Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, May 19, 2007. Iraqi society needed to be destroyed so that it's oil resources could be more easily harvested. As long as a reasonably healthy society existed in Iraq, it was clear that external control of its oil resources would not be tolerated. Though the strength of the resistance was somewhat surprising to the empire, they do not doubt that their strategy of sociocide will ultimately prevail. Iraq will be reduced to a social desert of warring clans dotted with enclaves maintained by oil companies and protected by the military. The alternative of building a society ruled by a compliant dictator has been discredited by the failure to control Saddam, whose rebellion would be a continuing threat no matter how well-controlled the dictator might be. Better to destroy the society, the technique pioneered by the Israelis in Palestine. The resulting tribal chaos is far more easily controlled than a central government with a unitary military, a possibility that was eliminated by the dissolution of the Iraqi army after the initial conquest.

Halliburton has already moved to location of its new triumph. Once the work of destruction is complete, corporations will be free to move into the social vacuum and establish their spheres of dominance.

"With the US war in Iraq in its fifth year, more than a third of the American soldiers deployed there condone the torture of captured Iraqis. When torture could result in coerced information, 36 percent of army soldiers and 39 percent of marines support it. These numbers rise when torture is seen as preventing the death of a fellow soldier—44 percent for marines and 41 percent for soldiers.

Asked whether “all non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” less than half of soldiers agreed. Close to a third of all soldiers reported they had insulted or cursed at non-combatants in their presence. Twelve percent of marines and 9 percent of army soldiers said they had unnecessarily damaged or destroyed Iraqi property; 7 percent of marines and 9 percent of soldiers said they had physically hit or kicked civilians.
" - "Support for torture, routine abuse of Iraqi civilians", Kate Randall, wsws.org, May 9, 2007.

The elimination of compassion has its price: "The MHAT cites 72 confirmed US soldier suicides in Iraq since the beginning of the war. The majority of these deaths involved single, white, male, junior enlisted soldiers, and all those documented showed the cause of death as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Statistics from the US Army indicate that a total of 84 active, reserve and National Guard soldiers killed themselves in 2005 (the latest year from which data is available), up from 50 deaths in 2001. Those figures do not include suicides of recently discharged veterans." -
"Support for torture, routine abuse of Iraqi civilians", Kate Randall, wsws.org, May 9, 2007.

The point to be emphasized is that sadism is not a problematic aberration that the military intends to eliminate through better counseling, but an inherent aspect of the dominance required to execute this occupation.

The consequence for those who believe compassion is at the heart of our Lord's mission are clear. First, we must become ever more compassionate people. Only the witness of our love for our brothers can hold an image before the eyes of our nation that has the power to recall us to true humanity. As Christians, it is our faith that that power is greater than all the machinations of this world, with its never-ending urge toward "full spectrum dominance". Secondly, it is the duty of all Christians to join the antiwar movement and obey our Master's voice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Infrastructure of Applied Agony

"The most painful thing for the inmates there were the cries of the people being tortured. One day, they brought sheets to cover the cell in order for no one to see anything. They began torturing one of them, and we could hear what was happening. We listened as his soul cracked." - Former inmate of Abu Ghraib It is not only "their" souls that crack. The failure of our souls to crack in sympathy with those we torture, or allow to be tortured in our names, causes a still deeper rent in the fabric of our being.

"The schools were in an appalling state, but nothing could prepare her for the squatter camps, crammed full of displaced families. They weren’t classed as refugees because they were still in their own country and they did not receive aid. In one camp, 125 families were living without adequate food and water, shelter and medical care. There was no sewerage system. A two-month-old girl died because of the cold and a four-year-old boy had his legs badly burned from the open paraffin stove his family used in their shack built of breezeblocks and canvas; with no medical care, he lay there with his legs oozing pus and blood and riddled with infections. A young man had his fingers blown off because he would take bullets apart to sell the tiny bits of scrap metal.

“I was angry that there was all this money - the planes, bombs, guns, the contracts that were given to Halliburton - going to people who didn’t need it. There were these children dying for lack of blankets and basic medicine and shelter,” says Wilding, her voice rising with fury. “They were living around open sewers, without anything. How could you not be angry? They was always so much need and so little you could do that I was never thinking, ‘I’m so clever, look what I’ve done.’ It was always, ‘Is that all you did?’ People were always asking me to help on a more material level, for cooling fans, money for operations, all sorts of things. A woman at the camp asked for clean knickers and sanitary towels.” Even with the £10,000 Wilding had raised for the trip, she could not meet every need, although she did help pay for the installation of drains and pipes in the camp.
" - Iraq: Send in the Clown, Guardian UK,

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mother's Peace Day

Mother’s Day Proclamation

1872, By Julia Ward Howe

"Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.

It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace."

Instead, this is the honor we show to our mothers:

"A government delegation sent to investigate the bombings in Zerkoh reported that three villages were hit by the U.S. strikes, destroying 100 houses and leaving 1,600 people homeless. Several women, children and infants were among those killed, and a week after the bombings, villagers were reportedly still pulling bodies from the rubble.

“So far, the people have buried 45 bodies, and they are still taking out more,” Ghalum Nabi Hakak, of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told the Washington Post. “Yesterday, they buried 12 children. The exact number of dead is not clear, but the people are very angry.” - Socialist Worker, May 11, 2007.

Thus the heroic deeds that the media tries to portray as the honor of our fighting men and women. I'd like to use this scene to cut to the core of the distinction between personal and social morality. The Medillin Documents lay out the Catholic position: "In the search for salvation we must avoid the dualism which seperates termporal tasks from the work of sanctification. Although we are encompassed with imperfections, we are men of hope. We have faith that our love for Christ and our brethern will not only be the great force liberating us from injustice and oppression, but also the inspiration for social justice, understood as a whole of life and as an impulse toward the integral growth of our countries."

The scenario described above is in every way "contrary to the plan of the Creator and to the honor that is due Him." Puebla, #28. Our commitment as Christians is to the debased and marginalized, which includes those whose society we have destroyed.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

You Can't Win a Crime, You Can Only Stop It

Recently, soldiers have begun to speak more loudly about what they have been made to do: "There are so many things that are tied together. I saw one soldier who was stationed overseas and he was an MP and he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because he saw our government do things to people that no person should ever have to see our government do. He said that he couldn’t go into details because it’s all classified, but he still felt that he was bound to military doctrine where you can’t tell anything to anyone. But he has nightmares every night because he saw us torturing people. He was at one of our secret, non-existent prisons and he saw people tortured and he cannot cope with what he has seen.

The more I’ve thought about all these signing statements Bush has attached to these laws, basically our Constitution says we’re not going to torture people, the Geneva Convention says we’re not supposed to torture people, and yet we are still torturing people. So Congress passes a law saying we’re not going to torture people and then Bush passes a signing statement saying that if he feels it’s in the national interest to torture people, he’s going to do it. But he’s not the one torturing people, it’s not his hands that are being bloodied. It is our soldiers’ hands. It is the soldiers at Abu Ghraib who are torturing people." - "Iraq veterans speak out", ISR, May/June 2007.

Mute, like sheep filing quietly into the slaughter chamber, Christians can only speak about personal, not social morality, as if there is a real distinction between them when one is ordered to torture a fellow child of God, so the torture goes on. And our hands grow bloodier by the day.

When will Christians begin to perceive that the issue of personal morality versus social morality is completely artificial? When a soldier is ordered to torture an Iraqi, both personal and social morality form a single act which he or she is morally responsible for. The fact that he or she is ordered to do so changes the quality of the act, but also imposes the social obligation to change the system that results in such an order. The situation's fabric weaves together social and personal factors inextricably into a single garment of responsibility. To artifically cut oneself off from the social aspect of the moral situation and pretend that the social reality absolves one of personal responsibility is to bury oneself in a moral cocoon. Not that we antiwar resisters should stand over the soldiers who murder and torture on orders in a morally superior fashion - there is no doubt that most of us would do the same or worse. And that our guilt is on the same order as theirs because our inaction allows the evil to continually grow.

"As I sat on the outskirts of a city in my seven-ton truck, tanks went in and shot everything that moved: men, women, children, donkeys—it was a turkey shoot. I got to go through and see the aftermath. That was our strategy the whole way to Baghdad, we just leap-frogged all the way up." "Iraq veterans speak out", ISR, May/June 2007.

Scott Ritter says: "In America today, we should have known better, since we ostensibly stand for so much more. That we have collectively failed to halt and repudiate the war in Iraq makes us even worse than the Germans."

Our greater consciousness and more informed sense of history deepens the color of our guilt. It is a dark shade indeed, darker than the shade that adorned Germany at the end of World War II because we set ourselves up as those who were defined by our opposition to fascism, our willingness to die to make fascism disappear. Yet now we have embraced it as our creed, for some even our Christian creed. Some of us admit that we have become emperors, that we love consumption and domination more than the ideals that set this country in motion more than 200 years ago. And we are willing to follow the logic of that domination to the extent of justifying or ignoring torture, murder at the scale of millions, and indefinite occupations as long as the media sings the song of honor in our ears. Rest assured that the media will continue to sing, to praise our brave soldiers defusing the IEDs that the enemies of freedom plant. Because that song will make blind men mad and that is precisely the mission that they carry out so ably.

"The big deal is today and tomorrow morning. Just this minute and then the next determines whether you or I do what we can to stop the injustice and the tyrannies surrounding us, and inside our hearts. Right now is the only time we own!" - June Jordan, poet (1936 - 2002)