"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, August 10, 2008

Few are Guilty, All are Responsible

"Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. If we admit that the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual's crime discloses society's corruption. In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every man, crime would be infrequent rather than common." Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

Much the same could be said of the state of the American soul. Every time a member of a Christian church fails to examine current policy concerning torture in the light of his or her Christian faith, he makes it that much easier for the torture to continue. And the longer it continues, the more established it becomes. Every time one of us refuses to stand up and protest an illegal, immoral war, such wars become a little easier to launch. Over time, we become responsible for what our government does, especially in a partially democratic society such as the United States.

Would George Bush and Dick Cheney be able to commit their war crimes with so little resistance if the spirit of society were different? For creating that spirit, we all are responsible.

The list of unjust U.S. wars is a long one: Vietnam, proxy wars against the people of Chile, Argentina, and other Latin American countries, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. We are responsible for several million deaths (three million Vietnamese, one million Iraqis, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans), but we continue to look the other way.

Much could be said to qualify our guilt: a suspect electoral system which is dominated by moneyed elites who primarily serve their corporate masters; a carefully controlled news media which utilizes sophisticated propaganda techniques to divert citizens from real democratic action; mass-media industries dedicated to selling diversions to consumers and misinformation aimed at crippling meaningful political action.

But each in our own degree has contributed to the dire moral situation in which we find ourselves. And in the society around us we can recognize our own face. Many Christians will say, "But this world is not our lasting home - we are citizens of heaven." Then show yourself to be such by transforming the greed and inhumanity in which we wallow.

It is our fate to endure the guilt of an abundant life in an empire which is carelessly destroying the only home any of us will ever have. Not simply eviscerating the physical ecology, but primarily the moral and spiritual ecology that has kept hope alive through these centuries.

In the words of Robert Jensen, "We must hold ourselves and each other accountable, while knowing that the powerful systems in place are not going to change overnight simply because we have good arguments and are well-intentioned. We must ask ourselves why we don't do more, while recognizing that none of us can ever do enough. We must be harsh on ourselves and each other, while retaining a loving connection to self and others, for without that love there is no hope.


As Heschel put it, "the prophets endure and can only be ignored at the risk of our own despair." To contemplate these harsh realities is not to give in to despair, but to make it possible to resist." - Robert Jensen, "The prophetic challenge: 'Few are guilty, but all are responsible'"

No comments: