"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Crossing the Threshold of Hope

"It looked like the fall of the Berlin wall. And not only did it look like it. For a moment, the Rafah crossing was the Brandenburg Gate.

It is impossible not to feel exhilaration when masses of oppressed and hungry people break down the wall that is shutting them in, their eyes radiant, embracing everybody they meet - to feel so even when it is your own government that erected the wall in the first place.

The Gaza Strip is the largest prison on earth. The breaking of the Rafah wall was an act of liberation. It proves that an inhuman policy is always a stupid policy: no power can stand up against a mass of people that has crossed the border of despair.

That is the lesson of Gaza, January, 2008."

Naturally, the crime at the heart of this liberation has been censored by the U.S. mainstream media: "Months ago, the two Ehuds - Barak and Olmert - imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, and boasted about it. Lately they have tightened the deadly noose even more, so that hardly anything at all could be brought into the Strip. Last week they made the blockade absolute - no food, no medicines. Things reached a climax when they stopped the fuel, too. Large areas of Gaza remained without electricity - incubators for premature babies, dialysis machines, pumps for water and sewage. Hundreds of thousands remained without heating in the severe cold, unable to cook, running out of food."

Since the breakout a few weeks ago, Israel has now decided on open genocide, "By further restricting the supply of food to an already malnourished population, Israel has clearly decided to take its "diet" a step further. If the people of Gaza remain cut off from the food aid on which their survival now depends, they will face starvation.

They are now essentially out of food; the water system is faltering (almost half the population now lacks access to safe water supplies); the sewage system has broken down and is discharging raw waste into streets and the sea; the power supply is intermittent at best; hospitals lack heat and spare parts for diagnostic machines, ventilators, incubators; dozens of lifesaving medicines are no longer available. Slowly but surely, Gaza is dying." - "The Strangulation of Gaza", The Nation, Feb. 18, 2008.

"Israel's methodical actions make it clear that it is systematically grinding down and now actually starving people for whose welfare it is legally accountable simply because it regards Gaza's 1.5 million men, women and children as a surplus population it would, quite simply, like to get rid of one way or the other: a sentiment made quite clear when Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi proposed, shortly after the current crisis began, that the entire Palestinian population of Gaza should just be removed and transferred to the Egyptian desert. 'They will have a nice country, and we shall have our country and we shall live in peace,'"- "The Strangulation of Gaza", The Nation, Feb. 18, 2008.

Such a peace was well known to the Roman empire: "They made a desert and called it peace." - Tacitus.

Christians, of course, need not fear that that they will be forced to look at the starving faces which our government's unceasing support for Israel has procured. Nor will their pastors intrude any unwelcome pleas for justice, but we will all continue to enjoy the "Gospel of Prosperity" until the Rapture takes us to eternal Disneyland. How pleased God must be with us.

Resistance is the Only Stance Worthy of a Christian

As the rubble of World War II still smoldered, French philosopher Albert Camus wrote, "What the world expects of Christians is to get out of their abstractions and stand face to face with the bloody mess that is our history today. Christians must speak out and utter their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never a single doubt, can arise in the heart of even the simplest person."

Such is the witness of Fr. John Dear, Jesuit priest and member of Pax Christi, who was arrested for the crime of presenting a petition called the "'Declaration of Peace,' calling upon citizens everywhere, including senators and congressional representatives, to speak out against the U.S. war and occupation on Iraq, to work to stop the war and pursue nonviolent solutions for the people of Iraq and the Middle East." - "My statement before the judge", Fr. John Dear, Jan. 22, 2008.

Predictably in the Christian republic of America, "There was little peace, love and understanding as a federal judge castigated a nationally known activist and Roman Catholic priest for an Iraq war protest that blocked a Santa Fe elevator in 2006.0126 03.

'I’m not interested in making a martyr out of you,' U.S. District Judge Don Svet said Thursday in Albuquerque before sentencing the Rev. John Dear to 40 hours of community service and $510 in fines and fees, to be paid immediately." - "Catholic Priest, Other Protesters, Sentenced in Santa Fe", Jan. 26, 2008.

Martyrdom, like many other gifts of God, is given to us for the restoration and renewal of human life in society, not for our individual edification. These charismatic gifts are available to anyone who wishes to live in Christ as long as we are willing to bear the witness of the cross in our testimony against the powers of this world. The charismatic gifts are the only source of strength against the aggressions of the principalities, such as the courts of the United States. Regarding these, the statement of Steve Baggerly during his trial for an action against Blackwater illustrates their role, "The courts pretend that adherence to the law is what makes for an orderly and peaceable world, while, in fact, US law and courts stand idly by while the US military and private armies like Blackwater have killed, maimed, brutalized, and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. In the end US courts trample International Law, as well as God's law of love for all people, by rubber-stamping every US war and military intervention, invasion, incursion, occupation, police action, and special forces operation coming out of the Pentagon—and they are many and constant. Our courts even protect our world's largest stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction despite international treaties and laws that declare them illegal and demand their disarmament. US courts make sure that if our weapons of mass destruction are one day used to destroy the planet and all life on it, to undo all of God's creation, that it will be perfectly legal."

The law they respect is the law of strength - law is enforced on behalf of the most politically powerful player against those who must be bent to his will. So the charismatic gifts have been given to us so as to make a political witness, not merely a personal one. "The exercise of these gifts constitutes the essential tactics of resistance to the power of death." - William Stringfellow, "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land.

"To exist, under Nazism, in silence, conformity, fear, acquiescence, obeisance, collaboration - to covet "safety" or "security" on the conditions prescribed by the State - caused moral insanity, meant suicide, was fatally dehumanizing, constituted a form of death. Resistance was the only stance worthy of a human being, as much in responsibility to oneself as to all other humans, as the famous Commandment mentions. And if that posture involved grave and constant peril of persecution, imprisonment, or execution, at least one would have lived humanly while taking these risks. Not to resist, on the other hand, involved the certitude of death - of moral death, of the death to one's humanity, of death to sanity and conscience, of the death which possesses humans profoundly ungrateful for their own lives and for the lives of others." - William Stringfellow, "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land.

Let us be filled with gratitude for Fr. John Dear and all that host of martyrs who resistance keeps the rest of us alive.

The New World Order

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost." — Arthur Ashe

"For the oppressors, what is worthwhile is to have more — always more — even at the cost of the oppressed having less or having nothing. For them, to be is to have and to be the class of the 'haves.'" - Paulo Friere.

In contrast, one of the fountainheads of Christian resistance is what might be called "the Jubilee principle", which means that property rights, far from being absolute as those who own the empire's resources proclaim, must always submit to the demands of economic justice. To put the matter in human terms, "'I don't have a right to more than anybody else', she would say. 'And I believe that if somebody else is under violent repression and extreme poverty, I should be able to accept those conditions too. I have to act in ways that are consistent with that, because if I try to ignore what's happening, I feel a lot of conflict within myself.'" - Barbara MacQuarrie, quoted in "Heroes and the Courage to be There", Philippe Duhamel.

Democratic activity has come to be stigmatized by the ruling elite as a distraction from the proper activity of the masses, which is to fulfill their role as technocratic tools for the power and profit of that elite. Such activity must be neutralized by constant indoctrination with cynicism regarding the possibility of change and distraction in the form of mindless and addictive "entertainment", characterized by indulgence in sex, violence and drugs. Some of us fringe Christians even dare to believe that massive indulgence in sex and drugs is what destroyed the real spiritual movement of the 60's. This indulgence is not liberative, it is enslaving. Yes, renunciation of sexual hypocrisy is liberating, but it liberates us only from hypocrisy, not from the lack of pleasure which the human treatment of sexuality requires. The pleasure attendant upon exploitative sexual relations does not liberate, it enslaves just as any violence does. It also leads to addictive behavior which impedes our ability to live fully human lives. The same applies to drug taking, which is a form a despair in the creative possibilities of human activity. It relieves the pain of inhuman exploitation by desensitizing us, thus dulling the edge of justice. Clearly, the principalities have a strong interest in encouraging these behaviors.

The 60's revolutionaries also had a marked tendency to confuse the effects of fascism with its core values. They criticized effects such as conformist behavior, rigidity, rationalism, nationalism, and managerial efficiency as fascistic, while often ignoring the fundamental thrust of fascism as a strategy of power. This core value structure involves the reduction of humanity to a function of ideology and its effects can just as easily be flagrant self-indulgence as adherence to conventional norms. A careful study of Nazism demonstrates many examples of this. Confusing the effect with the cause in this way led to attacks on many false enemies, including real Christianity, which was much to the pleasure of the principalities.

From the viewpoint of the ruling elite, democratic activity is not desirable for most citizens. Their job is to produce and consume in sufficient qualities to ensure the enrichment of the rulers and their minions, while leaving the coordination of the system to a technocratic management class which has the required expertise to ensure smooth operation. Democracy works counter to the efficient operation of the system and thus should be treated as a nuisance to be tolerated only when absolutely necessary. Likewise, the concentration of power in the executive aids in the effective operation of empire, so ancillary bodies such as Congresses and Parliaments should be deprecated. The system will be designed to meet the needs of its subjects, which are primarily pleasure and entertainment, precisely by removing them from influence on government, either national or corporate, where their interference would only lead to disruption.

Another key element in the neo-fascist strategy is the elimination of non-technical or business-oriented education. Subjects that lead to broad humanist reflection such as history, philosophy, literature, theology or political science should be marginalized and their professors made to feel effete, non-contributing members of the new social order. Education that does not contribute to profit margins has no purpose in this social order. Such knowledge may lead to inconvenient demands for human dignity and rights and even provide leisure for political activity, which would degrade effective business performance. For instance, considerations of human rights might impede the ability to eliminate those unfit or otherwise unable to perform at the optimal level for the planned social order. Such education could easily lead to human "dead weight" that would reduce profit margins.

Humanistic education also often leads to an illegitimate questioning of globalization. Since the only valid type of human being is the business or technical person, an adequate religious ideology such as that supplied by Christian or Muslim fundamentalism is all that is necessary to answer spiritual questionings, which in any case will be reduced to a minimum because of our abundant sources of entertainment and distraction. Elimination of invalid categories of human beings can also be justified on humanitarian grounds since it is likely that they would find life in the new social order unfulfilling. Fortunately, recent studies in cognitive science demonstrate that we may be close to creating conditions in which humanity's spiritual aspirations can be completely eliminated.

Such is the logic of neo-liberalism taken to its ultimate conclusion. Yet we are Christians, which means that "Engagement in specific and incessant struggle against death's rule renders us human. Resistance to death is the only way to live humanly in the midst of the Fall." - William Stringfellow, "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land"

The power against death is what Christ lifts us into: "In raising Lazarus, in other words, Jesus reveals what is implicit, but hidden, in all of the healing episodes, that is, his authority over death, his conclusive power over death, his triumph over death and all that death can do and all that death means. To so surpass death is utterly threatening politically, it shakes and shatters the very foundation of political reality because death is, as has been said, the only moral and practical sanction of the State. Of course the political principalities and their vassals would loathe and fear Jesus - and seek to consign him to death - because he healed, because he raised Lazarus, because he signified the Resurrection from death, because he exemplified life transcending the moral power of death in this world and this world's strongholds and kingdoms." - William Stringfellow, "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land"

Resistance to Violence is the Only Human Way to Live

"The Democratic-controlled Senate moved Thursday to shield telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying program from lawsuits. By a vote 60 to 36, the Senate rejected any provision in its upcoming amendment to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would open the companies to prosecution in civil courts." - "US Senate moves to grant immunity to telecoms complicit in illegal wiretapping", Jan. 26, 2008. To understand the depth of the capitulation, read Glenn Greenwald's piece, "Your Harry Reid-led Senate in action" which can be found here: Your Harry Reid-led Senate in action

Habits die hard. If Democrats are this submissive to an incompetent leader while the wind of the majority blows in their favor, what might they do for a popular and accomplished leader? Whenever despair of the Republic starts to gnaw, I remember the Resistance fighters of WWII whose governments collapsed before another empire. What kept their hope alive? The act of resistance itself keeps hope alive and is the only means of retaining sanity and conscience.

Keeping hope alive means keeping the inner spiritual life in us breathing, speaking, and acting. Our enemy is precisely the despair that imperial propaganda blares and disguises in a thousand forms. Just as drug taking is a form of despair in the goodness of our humanity and our prospects for a life of creative endeavor, so reconciling ourselves to life in an empire that is destroying life for billions is submission to the power of death.

What is this ingratitude that seizes us in the face of the miraculous gifts of God? Our lives could be filled with creative deeds, with acts of spiritual power, not scurrying like cockroaches in the consumerist prisons we have allowed to be built around us, ingesting degrading "entertainment" that neutralizes our conscience and drains our power to resist.

We may well be facing the end of the democratic republic in America, as our elected representatives have lost the power of resistance to empire: "... where it counts most, Democratic leaders in Congress have completely abdicated their constitutional oversight role. What they are doing now reprises the worst failures of other self-paralyzed Parliaments in societies that were facing crackdowns on civil liberties and the rule of law, and their voluntary self-emasculation may go down in history as one of those turning points at which leaders cave shamefully to transformative pressure that leaves a country far less than its founded ideal. Through their actions, they are potentially causing irreparable harm to the institution of Congress itself...the White House essentially asserted that Congress has no power over the executive branch and could not question executive branch officials about their activities." - Naomi Wolf, "It’s Time to Hold Democratic House Leaders in Contempt", Jan. 26, 2008.

If we are facing the end of democracy, then it is time for us to start forming cells of resistance, as the Confessing Church did in Germany during the 1930's. The "German Church" in our situation is right-wing fundamentalism that is acting as the ideological engine for the advent of open fascism. Those who doubt this should take a look at Huckabee's recent comments on Iraq's WMD: "I think it's more likely that that weapons of mass destruction that we know that he at one time had, he used weapons against the Kurds, good chance they may have gone to Jordan. We don't know where they are." - Mike Huckabee, Jan. 25, 2008. Clearly, truth has no meaning for this "evangelical" leader.

"To exist, under Nazism, in silence, conformity, fear, acquiescence, obeisance, collaboration - to covet "safety" or "security" on the conditions prescribed by the State - caused moral insanity, meant suicide, was fatally dehumanizing, constituted a form of death. Resistance was the only stance worthy of a human being, as much in responsibility to oneself as to all other humans, as the famous Commandment mentions. And if that posture involved grave and constant peril of persecution, imprisonment, or execution, at least one would have lived humanly while taking these risks. Not to resist, on the other hand, involved the certitude of death - of moral death, of the death to one's humanity, of death to sanity and conscience, of the death which possesses humans profoundly ungrateful for their own lives and for the lives of others." - William Stringfellow, "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Precision Bombing

"They have plundered the world, stripping naked the land in their hunger, they loot even the ocean: they are driven by greed, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; neither the wealth of the east nor the west can satisfy them: they are the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal passion to dominate. They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace." - Tacitus

Many peoples shall come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths."
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

- Isaiah 2:3-4

The way to justify war is to create technological distance: "Regarding precision bombing they quote Marc Garlasco, a Human Rights Watch military analyst: 'My major concern with what's going on in Iraq is massive population density... you have the potential for very high civilian casualties, so you need really granular intelligence on what you're going to hit. But I don't think they're being careless.'

If you buy this logic, as long as, say, Iraqi insurgent forces weren't being careless, it would be OK on human rights grounds for them to bomb the US White House so long as they had sufficiently 'granular intelligence' on where President Bush was sitting, and used one of those 250-pound bombs that 'make blasts safer for civilians.'

Just hope that at that moment a servant wasn't bringing Bush a cup of coffee, or that he wasn't being visited by nieces, or a Cub Scout troop, or even, say, one of those human rights officials who now consult with General Petraeus or legitimize the idea of bombing countries that have been invaded illegally (according to, say, the British Foreign Office's former deputy legal adviser, who resigned because 'an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to a crime of aggression') so long as painted on one side of the bombs is the word 'precision'." "Killing Civilians, Carefully", Allen Nairn, Jan. 18, 2008.

We protect ourselves from the sight of dead innocence through the use of technological symbols such as "precision bombing", which neutralizes our capacity to visualize death. In place of the sight of an armless or legless child who happened to be visiting his grandfather, we see greenish optical displays of a "precision bomb" destroying a house. The truth is simply too ghastly for us to envision, so our empathetic capabilities have to be numbed by verbal anesthetics.

"It is not just that babel incites violence - though it does ... but, more than that, babel is violence ... Essentially, babel targets the facilities of comprehension - sanity and conscience - which distinguish human beings from other creatures." - William Stringfellow "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land"

The key point here is that the Pentagon is not being imprecise about precision bombing. The intent is make the full visualization and comprehension of the murders we commit through "collateral damage" impossible, to obfuscate the powers of moral perception with verbal fog. This hail of technological verbiage is designed to annihilate the perceptive conscience. This technique can be referred to as "overtalk", "in which the media themselves so accentuate volume, speed, and redundancy that communication is incapacitated (even where the data transmitted may not be false or deceptive). The auditor's mind is so insulated, inundated, or transfixed by verbal and visual technology that it is crippled or immobilized." - William Stringfellow "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land".

The result: "...the Post cites the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq as estimating 'that more than 200 civilian deaths resulted from U.S. air strikes in Iraq from the beginning of April to the end of last year, when U.S. forces began to significantly increase the strikes to coordinate with the expansion of ground troops.'". "Killing Civilians, Carefully", Allen Nairn, Jan. 18, 2008.

Only the power of the cross can cut through the babel spewed by the principalities and powers: "In inflicting violence on one another, men know not what they do, for they know not the sacredness of their brothers' and their own humanity, which at its innermost core is one with the humanity of Christ. The violence of men at any place or time in history is the violence of Golgotha. And the victim, yet by his infinite love no longer victim but redeemer, is everywhere and always the same: the man of the cross." - James W. Douglass.

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, Pray for us!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Deliver Us from the Violence of Apathy

"...the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis maintain neutrality." - Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967.

There are two types of social critics: those who believe that the current situation is the result of incompetence and can be fixed if only we had more intelligence and good will and those that see the current situation as a result of cold calculation. Unfortunately, experience lends greater and greater weight to the latter. Social classes can be most effectively repressed by exploiting their weaknesses. Drugs are a prime example. The ruling elite has no interest in ending the drug trade, because they realize that the drugged mind is complicit in its own degradation, that taking drugs is a form of accepting the waste of human life that the capitalist system engenders deliberately in pursuit of profit.

The fundamental relationship between Church and empire has remained steady for two millenia: "Those human beings and communities of humans who persevere in fidelity to God and to the gift of their humanity, those who resist death and thus live in Jesus Christ - whether that be a public formality or not - do so under the condemnation of the State in own way or another, be it in ridicule and ostracism, in poverty or imprisonment, as sojourners or fugitives, in clandestine existence, as a confession movement, or, otherwise in resistance." - William Stringfellow, "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land"

Jesus Christ led the way in showing how direct action could change hearts. The Christian Peacemaker Team has followed the footsteps of Jesus into the office of one of the primary enablers of the American addiction to blood and wasted humanity: "Eight CPTers, dressed in sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance for complicity in the war, entered the Congressman’s office around 4:00 p.m. They presented his staff with a letter expressing their concerns and a pledge for the Congressman to sign, in which he would promise to vote against any further funding for the occupation in Iraq." - "CHICAGO: Five CPTers arrested in M.L. King Day witness against Iraq war".

Even those of us who can't risk arrest can risk prayer and penance during this Lent by participating in "People Breaking the Silence", a time to bring before bishops and archbishops the sight of Christians doing penance for the sin of complicity in torture and the sin of silence in one of the most brutal and unnecessary wars ever to disgrace the human race.

"Upon his release from jail shortly after midnight, Gerber said he had no regrets about his action: 'We can hope and pray for peace but there are times when we are called by the Spirit to take drastic action to live the Gospel of peace and love.'"

One place to begin is with the Litany of Resistance:

"One: For our scorched and blackened earth
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For the scandal of billions wasted in war
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For our leaders who wage war in our name
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For our Caesars and our Herods
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For our generals and tacticians
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For the men and women in battle
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For the men and women training for war
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For the scientists and researchers
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For the arms dealers and the merchants of death
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: For our taxes that fund the evil of war
All: Forgive us for we know not what we do
One: Deliver us, O God
All: Guide our feet into the ways of peace
One: In humility, we ask
All: Hear our prayer. Grant us peace."

- Christian Peacemakers Team (Litany of Resistance)

Samuel Provance gave testimony tonight on Democracy Now about Abu Ghraib. What was deeply moving was his complete honesty and openness, obvious to anyone who shares his humanity. No one stood up for justice with him. Not a single soldier. Every single one looked at what happened to him and decided to protect themselves. That is the world the U.S. has created. That is the shame we must live with. That is the world we have said "yes" to. That is the world that those who are silent will die in.

It is not the world of Jesus Christ.


"Guantanamo is so striking in its immorality and lack of justice," said Nolan, who participated in a similar protest for last year's rally -- representing the same man, 26-year-old Fazaldad, whose first name is listed as "unknown" on Defense Department lists. "If humans were created in God's image, torture is clearly a defilement of that." - Tim Nolan, on being arrested on Jan. 12, 2008 at the Supreme Court while protesting the illegal incarceration of detainees at Guantanamo.

The main goal of the action was humanization: "About 70 of those arrested withheld their legal name and instead gave the name of a detainee upon arrest. Today in court they gave their legal name but stated that their arrest on behalf of a detainee. Thus one of the main goals for the action was achieved because a number the court dockets as well as individual citations now have one of the detainees' names on them."

Only thus were the names of detainees at last recognized in a court of law.

There was a time in America when the brutalities carried out on these detainees would have roused the indignation, not merely of those who live by the Sermon on the Mount, but of the average subway rider in any major city. There was a time, I say, when those who tortured and degraded their fellow man as we have done in Guantanamo, would have provoked overwhelming shame throughout this country, even in the parishes of the Catholic Church. But that time, that happier time, has passed, perhaps forever, and such deeds are now nothing more than fodder for late night pundits. But there was a time...

When we declare human beings to be less than human, we defile ourselves: "The judges hearing the case ... concluded that the plaintiffs were not 'persons' for purpose of the relevant statute protecting religious freedom. They further concluded that acts of torture and contempt and abuse targeting religious belief were within the legitimate scope of conduct of an American cabinet officer, so that official immunity blocked the suit." - "In Voiding Suit, Appellate Court Says Torture Is To Be Expected", McClatchy Newspapers, Jan. 11, 2008. The judges concluded that the Guantanamo detainees were not human in the eyes of good Americans. Therefore, these units of organic matter should expect torture, for that is their fate under the eyes of a Christian nation.

The Church declares the remedy for this defilement: penance. Fame and success are not necessary, just the willingness to suffer for our brothers and sisters incarcerated in the dungeons of the American Empire: "Juma Din is the name of my prisoner. An Afghan who is one year older than my daughter, he has been in Guantanamo a long time. That’s all I know about him. I wrote his name on both my wrists with a ballpoint pen to be sure I wouldn’t forget it. How terrible if I had forgotten his name!"- Jean Athey, "Speaking for Those in Guantanamo", afterdowningstreet.org, Jan. 18, 2008.

The first step in rehumanizing ourselves is to give our victims their names back. They are not categories such as "enemy combatants" - they are fathers, husbands, sons and daughters who are cared for beyond comprehension by our God.

"In the many years he has been at Guantanamo, and to the shame of my country, no court has heard his name or learned anything about him. Is he a terrorist, a pawn in someone’s tribal vendetta sold to the United States for a bounty, or just unlucky -- in the wrong place at the wrong time? Whatever the answer, I know he has suffered mightily and, I thought, I could 'suffer' just a little on his behalf."- Jean Athey, "Speaking for Those in Guantanamo", afterdowningstreet.org, Jan. 18, 2008.

No court has heard this man's name. What an opportunity for sanctification God has granted to the Christians of our time. To take the names of the nameless and suffer on their behalf in defiance of an empire that smirks at its own inhumanity. What graces might shower down from heaven if only we would accept the burden of this penance!

"On that march, most of us thought about the prisoner whom we each represented. I wondered about the mother of Juma Din. She is probably about my age, since our children are the same age. What kind of hell must she have lived through for six years? By now, she surely knows her son is in Guantanamo; she must suffer daily, waking up each morning to imagine what horror he will endure that day." - Jean Athey, "Speaking for Those in Guantanamo", afterdowningstreet.org, Jan. 18, 2008.

The essence of penance is not the degree of suffering, but the imaginative endurance of the suffering we have caused others and particularly our Savior. In the case of the Guantanamo detainees, it is the horrors which our silence and inaction have created in the lives of innocent men and those who love them. It has long been demonstrated conclusively and admitted by the Pentagon itself that most of our detainees had nothing to do with any terrorist organization, but were picked up due to greed for U.S. monetary rewards and tribal vendettas. The empire needed enemies so they were manufactured by U.S. tax dollars.

"I suffered dry heaves the rest of the day as we waited to see the judge. This was starting to be a bit more miserable than I had anticipated. But, I thought, has Juma been tortured? Has he been ill? Has he had been forced to go hungry or eat something he found disgusting? Probably. And he likely didn’t have the sympathy and loving care I was receiving from my friends in the holding cell." - Jean Athey, "Speaking for Those in Guantanamo", afterdowningstreet.org, Jan. 18, 2008.

Finally, she said what she had come to say: "'My name is Jean Athey and I am here on behalf of Juma Din.' For the first time, Juma had his name before a court of law." - Jean Athey, "Speaking for Those in Guantanamo", afterdowningstreet.org, Jan. 18, 2008.

As Christians, we must shout, 'I am Juma Din! I have a name - I have a face. My humanity has been trampled beneath the feet of a Christian nation and I have been tortured due to the silence of a Christian people."

"The logic of non-violence is the logic of crucifixion and leads the man of non-violence into the heart of the suffering Christ. The purpose of non-violence is to move the oppressors to perceive as human beings those whom they are oppressing. Men commit acts of violence and injustice against other men only to the extent that they do not regard them as fully human. Non-violent resistance seeks to persuade the aggressor to recognize in his victim the humanity they have in common, which when recognized fully make violence impossible." James W. Douglass.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Frozen Consciences

"Invitation: Moved by faith and conscience, we struggle to respond to the gospel of Jesus, which challenges the church to answer this call to conversion: To change our hearts of hardness, indifference, and complicity to hearts of compassion, solidarity and justice. To fast and pray, in our Cathedral Church, in a spirit of REPENTANCE of the sins of war, terrorism and torture, in a spirit of MOURNING for all the dead, wounded and the millions of displaced peoples of Iraq, as we take up alms to assist them, in a spirit that MOVES us from silence to be heralds of the Easter Gospel of Nonviolence and Peace, in a spirit of HOPE to be a people of faith alive in the Risen Christ with New Life and a New Vision."

In this blog, we see the Bible as essentially, not peripherally, political, as it is normally construed in America. The American viewpoint is that religion is primarily addressed to the individual who is in need of salvation, a change of life that leads to moral renewal and particularly a renewed respect for authority, whether parental or governmental. In contrast to the personal certainty of conversion, the political consequences of Christianity are considered derivative and questionable. Our viewpoint is that of William Stringfellow who said, "...the Bible is essentially political, having to do with the fulfillment of humanity in society, or, in traditional words, the saga of salvation." - all quotations in this post are from "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land" by William Stringfellow.

Salvation understood in this way is not simply the personal moral decision of an individual abstracted from the society in which he is embedded, but a salvation encompassing both the individual and his or her social milieu. A salvation that includes the powers that rule the political world: "What ever reasons can be assigned for it, Americans fail to comprehend Revelation as an ethical literature concerning the character and timeliness of God's judgment, not only of persons, but over nations and, in truth, over all principalities and powers - which is to say, all authorities, bureaucracies, ideologies, systems, sciences, and the like." In other words, God's judgment is not exclusively directed at individuals, but also toward the authorities which rule and, in most cases, oppress those individuals. These "authorities" are not construed as collectives of sinful individuals, but as principalities and powers in the biblical sense.

It is critical to understand that this critique is not equivalent to attributing evil intentions to those in power, though such are clearly present among many in power. One of the greatest weaknesses in the anti-war movement today is the tendency to blame the Iraq occupation on the President and a small band on neo-cons in the Executive branch. The powers rejoice at such analysis because it weakens resistance movements by putting the focus on personal immorality rather than systemic sinfulness. When such critiques are mounted, the subtext is "If only we could get more intelligent and morally enlightened leaders, then we wouldn't have these horrible wars." The underlying philosophy considers "system" as basically an unreal abstraction - only individual decisions for or against competent and morally enlightened action really count. So all effort is poured into getting rid of one set of leaders and substituting a new set, who wind up carrying out exactly the same policy as the previous group.

The focus of our resistance must be on the social pathology of our institutions, as unrealistically ambitious as this might seem. Only faith can give us the strength to challenge the powers which have paralyzed moral response in their acolytes, whose conscience has become institutionally frozen behind the wall cementing the distance between personal and public morality. For Christians not to protest the immorality in which our country has plunged by prosecuting an unjust war and occupation is to empty our vocation of all its prophetic substance.

The essence of this paralysis of conscience is the reduction of the human to the inhuman. Those who participate in this reduction either actively by false declarations and violence, or passively, by allowing authorities to violate the rights of human beings in public silence, have their own humanity subtracted: "A federal appeals court Friday threw out a suit by four British Muslims who allege that they were tortured and subjected to religious abuse in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a ruling that exonerated 11 present and former senior Pentagon officials...The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the detainees captured in Afghanistan aren't recognized as "persons" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they were aliens held outside the United States. The Religious Freedom Act prohibits the government from "substantially burdening a person's religion." - In Voiding Suit, Appellate Court Says Torture Is To Be Expected, McClatchy Newspapers, Jan. 11, 2008.

If they are not "persons", what are they? Organic material in human form? To be disposed of as our Pentagon officials see fit? And since when is "torture to be expected"? And accepted in silence? Every American should feel the shame of this inhuman, anti-American, and anti-biblical ruling in their bones.

Please consider signing the petition:

"People Breaking the Silence"

And consider going further: ask the bishop in your area to consider allowing you and your companions in faith to pray at local cathedrals to do penance and wash ourselves from the shame of these deeds of inhumanity. "We petition our Bishops in all Dioceses to enable us to pray at our Cathedrals, the centers of our church; and we further petition our Bishops to support, pray and fast with us to help us cleanse our souls of the immorality of war, the immorality of torture, and the immorality of occupation."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Where Mercy Walks the Plank

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, Pray for us!

In the sixties, there was chaotic confusion about the difference between tradition and that which disrupts tradition. The resistance which is now growing in the U.S. is profoundly traditional. See the video and particularly the speech of John Nichols at this link: Defending the Constitution. What is becoming blazingly obvious is that the movement for peace and justice comes from a passion to re-found ourselves in the compassion from which we were born. By embracing nonviolence, we grow new roots in soil ravaged by the rootless drive of modern imperialism. It is precisely the "conservatives" in the modern sense of the term that have lost their moorings and attempt to root themselves in a past that never existed.

True radicalism (rootedness) is found in voices such as that of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter. In the recent statement "People Breaking the Silence", Catholics from across the U.S., inspired by the martyrdom of Blessed Franz, and moved by a spirit of repentance, say with him, "If the Church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?" Why are we so desperate for Church survival that we are ready to sacrifice the one prize that makes the Church worthy of survival? What difference does it make that the pews are full when hearts are cold to the madness of oppressors?

Some demons are cast out only by fasting and prayer: "Our faith tradition teaches us that the grace of prayer and fasting can conquer greed and the lust for power that lead to war." Some of us go farther and say that prayer and fasting and the suffering found in the cross can actually end war, not simply the lusts that impel those weakened by their dependence on violence to extend their habitual murder.

Let us take the pain of this war into ourselves, by dedicating ourselves throughout Lent to embrace the nonviolent cross, to do penance for those who have hardened themselves against the suffering of Iraqi children, women and men, blustering that they will continue their murders so long as only lesser lives are blasted.

"Therefore, we intend to fast and pray without ceasing throughout the entire season of Lent. In purifying ourselves of this suffering caused by war, we hope to extend this mercy to the mother church of the Diocese."

We must particularly ask forgiveness participating in violence by our silence, our failure to resist even to the point of direct action, as Jesus showed us how to commit in the Temple. Silence under these circumstances is sin.

Please read the entire statement and consider signing and, more vitally, participating in this Lenten fast: People Breaking the Silence

In Memory of Franz: Lord Jesus Christ, You filled your servant Franz Jagerstatter with a deep love for you, his family, and all people. During a time of contempt for God and humankind, you bestowed on him unerring discernment and integrity.

In Faith he followed his conscience and said a decisive NO to National Socialism (Nazism) and unjust war. Thus he sacrificed his life. We pray that you may glorify your servant Franz, so that many people may be encouraged by him and grow in love for you and all people. May his example shine out in our time and may you grant all people the strength to stand up for justice, peace and human dignity.

For yours is the glory and honor with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

May we pray likewise: In faith, we follow our conscience and say a decisive NO to corporate imperialism that wastes entire countries and rips lives apart through unmastered greed and mindless technological supremism.

"We petition our Bishops in all Dioceses to enable us to pray at our Cathedrals, the centers of our church; and we further petition our Bishops to support, pray and fast with us to help us cleanse our souls of the immorality of war, the immorality of torture, and the immorality of occupation. We invite and welcome the participation of all peoples of conscience in our efforts for peace in our world. Together we can fulfill our responsibility to our youth to educate them about forming a conscience consistent with the way and teaching of Jesus."

Crime Don't Have a Face

Once we begin to create an economy that puts human need and the flourishing of the specifically "human" qualities (particularly those performed by the "Human One") at the center of all economic activity, we can then begin to live the life of freedom that is fully realized in the kingdom of God. The alternative, presented as "inevitable" by corporate propaganda speaking through its news media, is that "terrible inner sickness of a dehumanised world" which Ladislav Stoll saw as the inevitable result of the capitalist economy. From the Christian viewpoint, the force which impoverishes man in this way is one of the principalities and powers against which we fight: "What is most crucial about this situation, biblically speaking, is the failure of moral theology, in the American content, to confront the principalities - the institutions, systems, ideologies, and other political and social powers - as militant, aggressive, and immensely influential creatures in this world as it is. Any ethic of social renewal, any effort in social regeneration - regardless of what it concretely projects for human life in society - is certain to be perpetually frustrated unless account is taken of these realities name principalities and their identities and how they operate vis-a-vis one another and in relation to human beings." - William Stringfellow.

The ultimate root of the power known as "capitalism" is sin, the sin of preferring "having" over "being" - "'The more you have', said Marx, 'the less you are'. Hence his insistence that 'the transcendence of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes'." - Randhir Singh, "The Future of Socialism". Without addressing an economic system which is founded on this sin, no effective realization of a truly Christian social program is possible. Christ cares about man in his concrete humanity, therefore he cares about the system, the powers that enslave him into a caricature of real humanity. As long as Christianity proclaims that the only method of transforming society is through the persuasion and conversion of individuals, the social ethic of change by osmosis, so long will the powers that keep us in social and economic slavery continue to flourish in behind a mystical obscurity. I'm not proposing orthodox Marxism as the vision of the kingdom - I am proposing that Marx had a keen insight into the sinful power of capitalism, a power inherit in the way capitalism operates in the world today. Ignoring these realities leads to a Christian practice that believes we can live truly human lives under an economic system that deliberately enslaves the majority of the world's inhabits to subhuman conditions in order to enrich itself. Such a system cannot be "reformed", or made acceptable through the actions of "saved" individuals, it can only be transformed through revolutionary struggle which seeks the end of capitalism itself. The discipline of this revolutionary practice is found in the Sermon on the Mount in its social implications.

As much as our current Christian leaders would like to have it both ways, we cannot have an economic system based on institutionalized greed and satisfy the just needs of human beings at the same time. "But to believe that you can assure need satisfaction through greed, private acquisitive drives, universal competition and strife -- the values of capitalism -- and yet hope for a humane society of cooperation and solidarity is utopianism of the worst kind." - Randhir Singh. Christians usually believe that private virtuousness can be fenced off from the surrounding social chaos, that islands of holiness can be created in the sea of monstrous evil which will "leaven the dough" of the world's basic sinfulness. By persuading one individual at a time to cease supporting the structures of sin, we will eventually create the new world. What is found in practice is that it is impossible to resist the structures of sin as individuals - the social power of the group as incarnated in the Church is absolutely vital. But the Church, whether Catholic or the main strains of Protestantism, has resisted the culture of greed with an uncertain and often self-contradictory voice, though it rings out clearly in many of the writings of John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII.

The reality remains the same: "Subordinating humanity to economics, to imperatives of the market, capitalism commodifies life and undermines and rots away the relations between human beings which constitute societies. Its ethos of the market place -- competition, egoism, aggression, alienation, universal venality, in short the rat race -- creates a moral vacuum in which nothing counts except what the individual wants and can grab, here and now. At the end of it all, even when wants are satisfied, the people are ever more subordinated, ever less free, ever more flattened and made passive by the dictatorship of consumerism, that arbitrarily shapes values, imposing on them the heavy burden of uniformity. The values of difference, individualisation (not individualism), all-sided development of man, of human freedom itself, disappear in the market place which is proclaimed to be free. As human beings, people simply don't fit into capitalism, which is a quintessential market society. For a truly humane society to come into existence, capitalism has to go." - Randhir Singh.

A deep understanding of the Sermon on the Mount leads inevitably to a call for social justice. Archbishop Elias Chacour, an Eastern-rite Palestinian Catholic bishop in the region of Galilee, who escorted President Bush on a tour of the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel on Friday, Jan. 11: "The Sermon [on the Mount] was calling for action in a certain direction. This is where Christ was calling on all his followers to get up and do something to get their hands dirty, protect the poor, heal the sick, release the prisoners - including those in Guantanamo Bay, and I will tell [President Bush] that." - Sojourners, "God's Politics" blog

15 Magic Hours

A report from Phil Chinn on the port blockade at Olympia that stopped the weapons of murder from reaching Iraq for 15 hours of peace:

"The most vivid memory in my mind at the moment is huddling under a tarp, in a makeshift tent at 3:00 AM in the pouring rain. I remember being soaked to the bone, drinking hot tea with a few unfamiliar faces. We had constructed the tent out of a tarp and a barricade, which was blocking the street on two sides, with a small path for cars to get through. Trucks and Strikers could not make it through, and we even had a truck axle and several cement blocks ready to block off the entirety of the road. We had held the road for nearly 12 hours at that point, with another barricade at the main entrance to the port blocking off every path that military vehicles and equipment could be driven down. Somewhere, between the rain and the cold wind, was a sense of joy. We had turned back police from our barricades, and we were going to maintain them as long as we could. While in most other situations the chant 'Whose port? Our port!' would be little more than wishful thinking; for a while, it was true." - Phil Chinn, "Port of Olympia, November 2007 - SDS News Bulletin

Christians know that "direct action gets the goods", as Jesus showed so often and so convincingly. We can lobby and plead and vote, but in the end, the powers only respond when they suffer pain and inconvenience. May a whole new generation of activists arise from the ashes of indifference!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Christian Revolution

"Today 4.2 million Iraqis have been forced to flee home and/or country. Around the world, millions are forced to flee environmental crises and conflicts caused by resource depletion and climate change.

We bring their stories to the empire that decrees their plight. We want to remember all the refugees we never see and to remind us all of the Pentagon's power to create and maintain the suffering caused by U.S. warmaking.

American Historian Howard Zinn, in reflecting on his experience as a bombardier, and his research on the wars the US has waged, has come to these conclusions about war:

One : The means of waging war (demolition bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear weapons, napalm) have become so horrendous in their effects on human beings that no political end (however laudable), the existence of no enemy (however vicious), can justify war." - Jonah House

This is where most Americans will stop. Their deepest faith is in the effectiveness of cluster bombs and fifty-caliber machine guns to stop evil which is incarnated in human beings who fail to accept the natural order of American dominance.

But force is always a confession of failure. "Jesus resisted evil with an intensity which revealed the uselessness and irrelevance of violence, and this resistance of love constitutes the Christian revolution." - James W. Douglass. The weakness of violence lies in its impotence to convince the opponent to accept the truth of one's position. "To force the opponent to yield to our own truth is only a confession of its inherent impotence to convince him in mind and heart. Or rather, it is a confession of our failure to employ the force of truth, which force alone can effect the conversion we are in reality seeking through the blind desperation of violence." - James W. Douglass.

Ultimately, America seeks an acquiescent population that will actively accept it's economic and political model. But reality balks: "Over the last four years, and in polls from a wide range of sources, Iraqis have been especially unequivocal on one point: that the US military occupation of their country produces more violence than it prevents. A May 2004 poll sponsored by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority found that roughly 80 percent of Iraqis had "no confidence" in US-led forces to improve security and that most "would feel safer if Coalition forces left immediately...A year later, in August 2005, a secret poll conducted for the British Defense Ministry found that "less than one per cent [sic] of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security." Polls conducted over the past two years have continued to find strong majorities of Iraqis concurring in this view." - Kevin Young, "The US Occupation and Popular Opinion in Iraq", Jan. 5, 2008.

Lacking compelling reasons for those we wish to control to accept our dominance, we use white phosphorous to make our points. In doing this, we violate not only "their" nature, but our own as well: "Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law - the strength of the spirit." - Gandhi.

"Two : The horrors of the means are certain, the achievement of the ends always uncertain.
Three : When you bomb a country ruled by a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant.
Four : War poisons the soul of everyone who engages in it, so that the most ordinary of people become capable of terrible acts." - Jonah House

War itself is spiritual poison - it cleanses us of truth and the spiritual virtues that allow us to see truth. "Violence is as much a sin against truth as are deceit and trickery." - James W. Douglass

"Five : Since the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in war has risen sharply with each subsequent war of the past century (10% civilian deaths in World War I, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam, 80-90% in Afghanistan and Iraq) and since a significant percentage of these civilians are children, then war is inevitably a war against children.
Six : We cannot claim that there is a moral distinction between a government which bombs and kills innocent people and a terrorist organization which does the same. The argument is made that deaths in the first case are accidental, while in the second case they are deliberate. However, it does not matter that the pilot dropping the bombs does not 'intend' to kill innocent people -- that he does so is inevitable, for it is the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate. Even if the bombing equipment is so sophisticated that the pilot can target a house, a vehicle, there is never certainty about who is in the house or who is in the vehicle.
Seven : War and the bombing that accompanies war are the ultimate terrorism, for governments can command means of destruction on a far greater scale than any terrorist group." - Jonah House

These considerations lead us to conclude that if we care about life, justice, children, we must, in defiance of whatever we are told by those in authority, pledge ourselves to oppose all wars."

"To take the point a level deeper than the lie of propaganda, one can affirm that it is the truth of man himself which is violated in war, that truth which has the power to achieve justice without violence." - James W. Douglass.

Give me the courage, Lord, to accept non-violence as the foundation of my personal, social, and political commitments. Let the seed of love grow within me until it encompasses the whole world.

For more information go to:
Jonah House: www.jonahhouse.org