"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.

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

Tolerance, Compassion, Sanity, Hope, Justice

"Torture should not be what America stands for . . . I do not vote to allow torture,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy. Russ Feingold said: “we need an attorney general who will tell the president that he cannot ignore the laws passed by Congress. And on that fundamental qualification for this office Judge Mukasey falls short.” Feingold added: “If Judge Mukasey won’t say the simple truth — that this barbaric practice is torture — how can we count on him to stand up to the White House on other issues?"

Wow — it sounds as though there was really a lot at stake in this vote. So why would 44 Democratic Senators make a flamboyant showing of opposing confirmation without actually doing what they could to prevent it? Is it that a filibuster was not possible because a large number of these Democratic Senators were willing to symbolically oppose confirmation so they could say they did — by casting meaningless votes in opposition knowing that confirmation was guaranteed — but were unwilling to demonstrate the sincerity of their claimed beliefs by acting on them?" - Glenn Greenwald

The conclusion is clear: "The role of the Democratic Party is to block any movement of working people that would challenge the political monopoly of the corporate elite." - wsws.org

As this blog has often argued, the role that the Democratic party fulfills in maintaining the current power structure is as a lightening rod to draw the energy of righteous anger and ground it in innocuous channels. The latest spectacle is of a piece with the political theater of the past year with the same flamboyant rhetoric hiding the same lack of will.

And the consequence? "Now, 'torture' is not only something we openly debate, but it’s something we do. And the fact that someone is on the wrong side of the 'torture debate' doesn’t prevent them from becoming the Attorney General of the United States. It’s just one issue, like any other issue — the capital gains tax, employer mandates for health care, the water bill — and just because someone is 'dead wrong' on one little issue (torture) hardly disqualifies them from High Beltway Office."

Not at all. A small matter such as whether to torture someone to death - it's an issue, a matter for political debate, perhaps, but not a life and death issue for Americans, who must be safe.

Indeed, a few years ago, we were a decent people. Now we are still "Christians", but what does that mean? Nothing, so long as we "register our displeasure".

Friday, November 02, 2007

War Criminal

It is a day of rejoicing when the voice of those of us who believe in a God of justice can see our belief enacted in public. Go to War Criminal to see the video of Condolezza Rice being accused of being a war criminal by a woman willing to act out the justice most of us only profess, Desiree Anita Ali-Fairooz, a woman who has quit her job to devote herself to the struggle against the ongoing murder in Iraq, had the courage to act in the moment of opportunity. One day this act will be remembered with the honor it deserves.

The facts about the U.S. occupation of Iraq sometimes spill out accidentally, "The American people don’t understand, the only way we can win this war is by committing genocide." according to a high-ranking military officer after a screening of the excellent new film, "Meeting Resistance". See Why Iraqis Resist, Socialist Worker, Nov. 2, 2007 for the full story on this new film.

Since the Secretary of State professes a deep regard for the human rights of the Burmese monks fighting for freedom, let us examine what her former company, Chevron, is carrying out on the Burmese people, "While Burma's military junta cracks down on pro-democracy protests, oil companies are quietly jostling for access to the country's largely untapped natural gas and oil fields. Meanwhile Chevron, the only US company that still has a significant presence in Burma, has issued a vague statement of support for human rights, but have so far continued to back the military junta with millions of dollars in oil and gas royalties."

In pursuit of natural gas, "'They [Chevron] are funding the dictatorship,' said Marco Simons, US legal director at EarthRights International, an environmental and human rights group with offices in Thailand and Washington. 'The oil and gas companies have been one of the major industries keeping the regime in power.'" In other words, the oil companies that pay the bill for the Republican party keep the military dictatorship of Burma in power, despite their distracting rhetoric regarding human rights.

With these facts as background, it becomes easier to understand why the war crimes against Iraq were considered to be so critical to the interests of the ruling elite in the U.S. Only through the imposition of direct military control can the investments of the ruling class now be guaranteed. Though the media is paid to ignore or disguise the facts, the U.S. is now in a state of economic and political decline relative to the other powers of the world. The display of military might is a sign of this growing weakness as its options narrow. More and more the only way to enforce its will is through direct force and surveillance and control, but the end of that road is easy to see. Those who feel the freedom of the sons of God will never submit. The rulers can no longer command the consent of the governed except through fear - and one day, we will wake and laugh at the silly specters that currently make us tremble. Thus the necessity for torture. And what is the antidote to torture-induced fear?

"In the man humiliated and defeated by torture we discover the Servant of Yahweh, Jesus who is crucified today, the prophet who denounces the personal and social sin of his time and ours, the Son of God dead and resurrected, present in every action which transforms History...

"Jesus is as present in the tortured today as He was in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, and that presence effects the transformation of mere historical time into the Kingdom...And if to some extent we share the sufferings of the tortured, He who was tortured by Roman justice and nailed on the Cross accompanies us and we for our part accompany Him, because He identifies Himself with the tortured." - Torture and Eucharist.

In every Iraqi or other Muslim now being tortured to keep the rulers of this world safe, each Christian is being tortured because our Lord feels the pain of each of them as His own pain. May we have the faith to take some of His burden and love our brothers and sisters as He loves them.