"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, February 16, 2008

Violence is the Voice of Despair

Commenting on a dismissive remark by a right-wing pundit, Glenn Greenwald wrote the following, "Look at how personally vital — how indispensable — the War of Civilizations is to McCarthy, to his identity and sense of purpose. He doesn’t even need to go anywhere near combat, or fight in the Wars he cheers on. He still gets to be on the front line — a gruff, hard-nosed, no-nonsense veteran-warrior who has been in the trenches, who has stared down the ugly realities of the Civilization Wars and — despite it all — still soldiers on. Think of the emptiness and loss of purpose if the Threat from the Enemy were exaggerated and all of that faded away. This is why our nation’s faux-warriors can never be reasoned with. It’s why their greatest fear is having the Threats from Our Enemies be put into rational perspective, alongside all the other garden-variety manageable threats we face. To argue that they are exaggerating and melodramatizing the Enemy and the threat is to take away from them that which is most personally important to them." - Glenn Greenwald, "The Fun and Excitement of Civilization Wars (Fought from Afar)", Feb. 17, 2008

It would be well if such childishness were confined to the video game room. Instead they have revealed a rift, a secret illness in the mind of the rulers of this empire that has erupted into war causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions more and the destruction of an entire country. "But the 9/11 attacks and ensuing events catapulted their paranoia and powerlessness syndromes from clownish sideshow to dominant political faction. And their fevered, self-serving fantasies have empowered the Federal Government beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, created a completely out-of-control domestic surveillance state, subordinated even the rule of law to the lawless dictates of Security State officials, and dismantled long-standing constitutional protections and political values so basic that they were previously beyond debate." - Glenn Greenwald, "The Fun and Excitement of Civilization Wars (Fought from Afar)", Feb. 17, 2008

As Christians, we must discern the spirit manifested here. To help us, let us contemplate Jesus' temptation in the desert. According to Fr. John Dear, the nature of the last temptation is as follows: "After the temptations to despair and doubt comes the last temptation to domination. It is the temptation of imperial power. It urges us to be number one, to be emperor over all, owners of everything, in control of everyone, in charge of life itself. It is the temptation to be god -- and it comes with a price: the loss of our souls. It requires the worship of false gods, the idols of death. As we give in to this last temptation, try to dominate the world, and resort to imperial violence and nuclear weapons to maintain our imperial domination, we stop worshiping the living God and instead worship the false gods of violence." - Fr. John Dear, Feb. 12, 2008

Note the connection between the temptation to despair and the desire for domination. This brings to mind the title of Chris Hedges' great book on war, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, in which a veteran war journalist fully explores how the quest for meaning functions in real wars. "War is always a failure for humanity," in the words of John Paul II. It is invariably the result of a failure to hope, dream and trust in God. "The first temptation to violence is the temptation to despair ... It renounces patient trust in God and relies on its own power, which, in the end, amounts to nothing." - Fr. John Dear, Feb. 12, 2008. The emptiness fostered by the inhumanity of empire is the perfect petri dish in which to cultivate violent fantasies of domination, such as those promoted by Christian dominionists.

Out of this despair come the plagues that we are currently enduring, which is well-described as "worshiping the false gods of violence." The psychological needs behind this worship are clear enough, but the cure for this spiritual disease can only be found in Jesus Christ. "Jesus rejects the temptation to dominate the world. 'Get away, Satan!' he orders. 'Satan' was a code word for the Roman empire. Jesus and the early community resisted the empire and its domination over others. He teaches us not to lord it over others but to serve one another, love our enemies, show compassion to each other, and worship the living God. Because he turns his back on the domination system, the empire eventually kills him. The Gospel invites us likewise to reject the way of domination and empire and worship the living God of peace." - Fr. John Dear, Feb. 12, 2008

'Satan' is still the code word for empire, for the despair of God that feeds the fantasies so well described by Greenwald. The bargain is well-known - we give up our souls and Satan pays us back in the coin of dreams in which we play the role of "gruff, hard-nosed, no-nonsense" veteran-warriors fighting an enemy of unimaginable evil. Such are the wages of sin, and such will be their reward.

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