An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "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.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Friends of democracy and freedom in action: "At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services."
While the media titters about Karl Rove back in the saddle and our President looks the other way, children are being tortured in our name. One phone call could put an end to these well-documented tortures, but in the name of protecting Christian civilization from "evil-doers" he won't make that call.
Where does sanity lie? "The will to embrace - love - sheds the light of knowledge by the fire it carries with it. The eyes need the light of this fire to perceive any justice in the cause and actions of others. Granted, there may may in fact be no justice to perceive there...But if there is any justice in their cause and actions, only the will to embrace them will make us capable of perceiving it because it will let us see both them and ourselves with their eyes. Similarly, the will to exclude - hatred - blinds by the fire it carries with it. The fire of exclusion directs its light only on the injustice of others; any justice they may have will be enveloped in darkness or branded as covert injustice - a mere contrived goodness designed to make their evil all the more deadly...The clenched fist hinders perception of the justice of others and thereby reinforces injustice; the open arms help detect justice behind the rough front of seeming injustice and thereby reinforce justice." Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, Abingdon, 1996, p. 216.
God is not asking us to conquer and destroy the evildoers: "Do all you can to live at peace with everyone. Never try to get revenge; leave that, my friends, to God's anger. As scripture says: Vengeance is mine - I will pay them back, the Lord promises. But there is more: If your enemy is hungry, you should give him food and if he is thirsty, let him drink." Romans 12: 19 - 20.
Lord, forgive us the blind "justice" that refuses Christ's sacrifice, who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but humbled himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. Let the cry of the tortured children reach God's ears and let him put an end to such "justice".
Thursday, December 22, 2005
"Accounts from detainees at Guantánamo reveal that the United States as recently as last year operated a secret prison in Afghanistan where detainees were subjected to torture and other mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said today...The detainees offer consistent accounts about the facility, saying that U.S. and Afghan guards were not in uniform and that U.S. interrogators did not wear military attire, which suggests that the prison may have been operated by personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency.
The detainees said U.S. interrogators slapped or punched them during interrogations. They described being held in complete darkness for weeks on end, shackled to rings bolted into the walls of their cells, with loud music or other sounds played continuously. Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise. The detainees said they were deprived of food for days at a time, and given only filthy water to drink...The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night.... Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off...J.K., another detainee (name withheld at attorney’s request), also alleged that he had been held in the dark, shackled to the wall and subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation and constant loud music and noise, as well as being beaten during interrogations. “People were screaming in pain and crying all the time,” he told his attorney." Human Rights Watch, "U.S. Operated Secret ‘Dark Prison’ in Kabul", Dec. 19, 2005.
While I was sitting in the pew, envisioning those living in darkness, imagining what it would be like to live every minute waiting for the torture that is sure to come, I thought of the words of Jurgen Moltmann, "We have lost God, and God has left us, so we are bothered neither by the suffering of others which we have caused, nor by the debts which we are leaving behind us for coming generations. We see all this, but it doesn't touch us. We know it, but it leaves us unmoved...Knowledge is no longer the revelation of our power; it is the revelation of our powerlessness. Because this growing apathy...is becoming more and more universal, it has to be based on an objective alienation from God. God has hidden his face and is far from us." Jurgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society, Minneapolis, Mn.: Fortress Press, 1999, p. 16 - 17. How can we pretend to believe in God when we ignore His face in those we have tossed into the dungeons of our mad fears? Only by being moved by the face of the suffering one can we allow God to recover us. We can pray and sing in the pew all we want, but he remains far from us until we bring mercy to those who wait in darkness for the torturers we have hired.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Civil Disobedience for a Moral Budget
Let us raise a prayer of thankfulness for the actions of the true religious leaders of our country, those who joined Jim Wallis and were “arrested in front of the Cannon House Office Building while kneeling in prayer to protest the immoral budget and tax agenda which slashes spending on the poor to finance tax breaks for the rich.” Sojourners, Dec. 15, 2005. When I contemplate their action within the light of the cross, I am filled with joy that the Holy Spirit still stirs our hearts. This willingness to suffer for the sake of the poor is precisely what Jesus came to show us. In the words of John Howard Yoder, “The willingness to suffer is then not merely a test of our patience or a dead space of waiting; it is itself a participation in the character of God’s victorious patience with the rebellious powers of creation.” John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971, p. 209.
To be silent in the face of such a strike against human dignity is to be complicit in contributing to the suffering of millions of the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. As Christians we are not only under no obligation to “submit” to a government that carries out such violations of basic human rights, while wallowing in massive corruption, but are directly obligated by our Christian vocation to resist it to the limits of our strength. Yoder shows how Romans 13, often invoked by fundamentalists as banning all resistance to the governing authorities in fact shows that those authorities are ministers of God only to the extent that they carry out his will. “We should then read ‘they are ministers of God to the extent to which they busy themselves’ or ‘in that they devote themselves’ to the assigned function…But we can judge and measure the extent to which a government is accomplishing its ministry by asking namely whether it persistently … attends to the rewarding of good and evil according to their merits.” Yoder, p. 205.
They can arrest us, detain us, torture us, crucify us, but they cannot stop the flood that pours from the fountain of the Spirit. Though we cannot resist with the weapons of the Powers, our insubordination is the more total for that very fact. “The conscientious objector who refuses to do what government demands, but still remains under the sovereignty of that government and accepts the penalties which it imposes, or the Christian who refuses to worship Caesar but still permits Caesar to put him or her to death, is being subordinate even though not obeying.” Yoder, p. 209. We submit to the sovereignty of Caesar not because we accept his justice, but because we fundamentally reject the system maintained by the Powers of this world.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Jesus Falls for the First Time
See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire
"Torture not only degrades the victim, it also ultimately degrades the torturer," said Kimball, who served in Iraq and now teaches history at West Point. "We already have enough soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after legitimate combat experiences. But now you're talking about adding the burden of willfully inflicting wanton pain on another human being. You tell a soldier to go out there and 'waterboard' someone" - strap a prisoner to a board, bind his face in cloth, and pour water over his face until he fears death by drowning - "or mock-execute someone, but nobody is thinking about what that's going to do to that soldier months or years later, when it comes to dealing with the rationalizations and internal consequences. We're talking about serious psychic trauma."On Torture, III: Brutality and Sadism as National Policy, and the Monsters of Our Time”, Once Upon a Time, Dec. 11, 2005.
“[Bush Administration] officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.
The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.” “Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim”, New York Times, Dec. 9, 2005.
Though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denies rendition for the purpose of torture, “The State Department's 2004 human rights report on Egypt said that despite legal safeguards, there were numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated detainees.” William P. Strobel, “Rice defends U.S. handling of terror suspects”, Knight-Ridder, Dec. 5, 2005. According to Human Rights Watch, “The notion that the Syrians won't torture some one because they (the United States) get a promise from the Syrian secret police is laughable," he continued. ‘They know perfectly well what is going on.’ (from the same article).
According to the Independent, “The rationale behind Washington's ‘rendition’ of terror suspects has been called into question by a senior al-Qa'ida operative, who says he made false claims to Egyptian interrogators about the group's links with Iraq in order to escape being tortured.” “Al-Qa'ida operative lied about links with Iraq to avoid torture”, The Independent, Dec. 10, 2005.
New revelations about extraordinary rendition continue to emerge: “Binyam Mohammed, 27, says he spent nearly three years in the CIA's network of 'black sites'. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator…A senior US intelligence official told The Observer that the CIA is now in 'deep crisis' following last week's international political storm over the agency's practice of 'extraordinary rendition' - transporting suspects to countries where they face torture. 'The smarter people in the Directorate of Operations [the CIA's clandestine operational arm] know that one day, if they do this stuff, they are going to face indictment,' he said. 'They are simply refusing to participate in these operations, and if they don't have big mortgage or tuition fees to pay they're thinking about trying to resign altogether.’” “MI6 and CIA 'sent student to Morocco to be tortured”, Guardian, Dec. 11, 2005.
International law is quite clear and specific about such activities. The Convention Against Torture, signed by the United States 21 years ago to this day, on December 10, 1984 states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Convention Against Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, United Nations, Dec. 10, 1984.
Codicil for Christians: “Anyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something about it is a potential criminal under international law unless the person takes affirmative measures to prevent the commission of the crimes.” Brecher, Cutler, and Smith, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond, New York: Henry Holt, 2005. p. 13. Our silence in the face of this monstrosity makes us complicit in the crimes of this administration.
I end with the words of a mother explaining to her children that the U.S. does not torture: “Everything is connected, and each time I turn on a light switch, I need to think about where that energy comes from and if the way it was produced hurts or benefits life. If I extend that question to everything I consume, it won’t be possible to use plastic without knowing the consequence might be the murder or mutilation of a child in Iraq to protect my “right” as an American to petroleum products…There is no path, no blueprint, no road map to peace; the path is peace. Act peace, be peace, buy peace.” “How Can I Tell My Children the U.S. Doesn't Torture?” BuzzFlash, Nov. 30, 2005.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
On the cross, Christ disarmed the Powers, the Powers that now wrap us in the warm certainty that violence always wins. “The weapon from which they heretofore derived their strength is struck out of their hands. This weapon was the power of illusion, their ability to convince us that they were the divine regents of the world, ultimate certainty and ultimate direction, ultimate happiness and the ultimate duty for small, dependent humanity. Since Christ we know that this is illusion. We are called to a higher destiny: we have higher orders to follow and we stand under a greater protector. No powers can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Unmasked, revealed in their true nature, they have lost their mighty grip on us. The cross has disarmed them: where it is preached, the unmasking and the disarming of the Powers takes place.” John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972, p. 147 – 148.
By their witness to the unarmed Christ, the four Christian Peacemakers now awaiting their fate in Iraq have triumphed. By walking into the grip of the Powers, they, like Christ, have unmasked the secret of violence and revealed its pathetic weakness.
Though I cannot speak for them, I can speak to what their sacrifice signifies to myself as a follower of Jesus. Unarmed, they have walked into one of the most violent situations on the face of the earth, not to reap the $300,000 salaries of the hordes of mercenaries we have hired to sow terror, but “…to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exist within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God's children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.” Reflection by Tom Fox, one of the kidnapped Christian Peacemakers in Iraq.
Note in particular that he does not say, “We do this to make the enemy love us.” or “We do this because these enemies will become humanized.” In the words of Bonhoeffer, “The will of God … is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.” This is not meant to be an easy or “fulfilling” choice. Freed from the domination of the “enemy” stereotype, our behavior is no longer enslaved to that dead standard. We are free to treat others, even those who hate us, as we have been treated by Christ. “His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus…By our enemies Jesus means those who are quite intractable and utterly unresponsive to our love, who forgive us nothing when we forgive them all, who requite our love with hatred and our service with derision, … Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it.” And who in the current scene need it more than the Iraqi people?
This is not idealism, but hard, concrete Christian realism. The Powers revel in human dehumanization and the witness of 20 centuries has not ended their reveling. In fact, they have grown clinical in their dehumanizing strategies. But the Christian Peacemakers have conquered the Powers by their unswerving witness to God’s love. In the words of Jon Sobrino, “What does Jesus’ cross really say? It says that God has irrevocably drawn near to this world, that he is a God “with us” and a God “for us.” And to say this with the maximum clarity he lets himself be a God “at our mercy…reason will continue to ask what use a credible but impotent love is, and the answer is anything but easy…Years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it: ‘Only a suffering God can save us.’… There is something in a pure and credible love, even if it is impotent, that – paradoxically – generates hope in the power of love as such.” Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological View, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1993, p. 231 - 2. Or in the words of the Catholic catechism, “The Christian is not to be ‘be ashamed of testifying to our Lord.’ In situations that require witness to the faith, the Christian must profess it without equivocation…We must keep ‘a clear conscience toward God and toward men.’ Catechism of the Catholic Church, article 2471. May the power of the love of the Christian Peacemakers fill our own hearts with the courage to bear witness to the faith we profess.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Friday, December 02, 2005
Jesus Takes Up His Cross
See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire
As Christians, it seems that our duty is to dig deeper than the merely pragmatic concerns now being raised about the war in Iraq, valid as these may be. Our first concern should not be success, but whether our national projects advance the Kingdom of God. No matter how successful or otherwise the war in Iraq might be, we should struggle against it if it contradicts that Kingdom and the laws that should govern it. Perhaps a few more words by John Howard Yoder might bring this point to it's head, "He who resorts to blows confesses he has no better arguments. Violence is weak not only in the motivation and the moral resources which keep out the enemy but cannot create a wholesome society. It can aggress but not defend; it can revolt but not build. It can eliminate a specific abuse but cannot bring social health. If a regime established by violence is to survive, this can only be by demonstrating its capacity to increase progressively the areas of freedom and of orderly legal process. The one thing you cannot do with bayonets, as the dictum has it, is to sit on them." John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacificism, Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971, p. 167. The failure in Iraq goes far deeper than incompetent execution. The spirit that prosecuted this enterprise emerged from a culture of death, as Pope John Paul II so often described it.
John Paul II's attitude toward this war can be fairly summed up in his statement made on January 13, 2003 in an address after the American Congress authorized the use of force, "NO TO WAR! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity." The culture of death in which this war was gestated can be characterized in the following passage from John Paul II's Gospel of Life, "This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable 'culture of death'. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency." This is the culture that justifies war as long as it can be successfully spun, but turns against it and its promoters once they are perceived as ineffective. It then becomes painfully clear that it is the ineffectiveness that is condemned, not the naked aggression involved in invading a sovereign country based on lies. The Tribunal at Nuremberg stated, "To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." This is the evil that Christians should, in my opinion, be focused on, not the fact that the aggression is not going well. It would be far worse if this deeply sinful plan were actually working. I also see an analogy here with Yoder's insight that the church should rejoice in her weakness, that her duty is not to make the powerful more effective, that we Christians need "no longer hold ourselves to be morally or psychologically obligated to tailor or moral standards to the needs of the people who are running the world", or running it into the ground in the current situation.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Jesus Condemned to Death
See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire
On this first Sunday of Advent, may we peer carefully into our hearts to discern whom we are allowing to form them. Just as the Eucharist knits us into the Body of Christ and breaks down the isolation and alienation of consumer culture, so we constantly need to be alert to those social forces readying us for the slaughter. In the words of James, "Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like a fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days...You have lived on the earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter." James 5: 1-3, 5. The days of slaughter are upon us in Iraq. While churches looked the other way as Iraqis were offered up to knock a few cents off the gas price for our SUVs, we fatted our hearts. Our hearts grew encased in layer upon layer of lies and self-flattering images to which we gladly lent our ears and eyes. We know that we are being shaped, yet we are too flaccid to exercise the muscles that would form us in the image of Christ.
Most of us know where our real loyalty lies and it is not to the Church. In the words of a recent study, "...the church is (or should be) about being the new creation, a gathering of disciples that heralds the kingdom of God. As persons made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), human beings ought not tbe formed into tools that serve lesser gods like the firm, but instead the full unfolding of the human person is realized in communion with Christ and the redemption of all creation. The church is meant to be God's social laboratory in the world, a prototype of human community that crosses all the world's divisions and holds together without killing and exploitation as its glue - as such it is meant to prefigure the kingdom of God, not a lean-production capitalist firm in which the few dominate and exploit the many inside and outside the firm." Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow, "Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business is Buying the Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2002.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
St. John Chrysostom goes on to speak in the voice of Our Lord, "I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. But the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power. That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect."
The face of Christ is not the face of satisfied wealth, a church fed fat off the suffering of billions, with its mouth taped shut in the face of an illegal war inscribed with the lie that “everything changed after 9/11.” By assuming the church’s interest in political matters to be confined to issues of personal sin such as sexual morality and personal responsibility defined as if current economic structures were simply a unquestionable given, such churches well fulfill the role designated for them by the corporate state, that of “chaplains to capitalism.” Such a church is far different from the one that emerged during the persecutions of the Roman Empire or the Chilean dictatorship, when Christians believed “that there exist mysterious channels which can make the solidarity of friends reach those who languish in the deepest dungeons…those who are being tortured are united in the tortured body of Christ. ‘Conditioned by the knowledge of those “mysterious channels”, their bodies are transformed into powerful flesh for the sacrifice in which they lovingly commune [comulgan, receive the Eucharist] with those who suffer.” (Ibid., p. 277).
God does not empower those who imprison detainees in neoliberal dungeons which let us play sick videogames in the state’s imagination. God’s power is not found in the technology of pain and death, nor can His purposes be advanced by it. The screams of the victims of Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, and the newly revived gulags of Eastern Europe are the screams of our Lord, who died to bring us a new discipline, one that breaks the disarticulation of the individual which optimizes the conditions for corporate profits. In opposition to a church that exudes the spirituality of what John Paul II described as the “culture of death”, resistance to the powers that thrive on the myth of redemptive violence is built into the sufferings of the cross, and embodied in the bread that knits us into the body of Christ. In the words of William Cavanaugh, “The true ‘discipline of the secret’ calls Christians to become the true body of Christ, and bring to light the suffering of others by making that suffering visible in their own bodies.” (Ibid., p. 281). This commitment is deep as the commitment to our own bodies, whose silence is complicity with the torturers, those whose non-negotiable need for comfort and security justifies the pain of those in whom He lives.
The litany of torture techniques used in Chile, with the exception of electric shock, though instances of that in the current Iraq conflict are documented as well, closely resemble those in Rumsfeld’s memo posted on a column outside Cellblock 1A in Abu Ghraib, as described by Colonel Janis Karpinski, “it discussed interrogation techniques that were authorized. It was one page. It talked about stress positions, noise and light discipline, the use of music, disrupting sleep patterns, those kind of techniques.” (Democracy Now!, Interview with Col. Janis Karpinski, Oct. 26, 2005). By the way, I don’t think the current administration is literally copying the techniques used in Chile and other Latin American countries during the 70’s and 80’s. If anything, the Chileans probably learned the techniques from us, trained as they were in the School of the Americas, but I argue merely that similar goals often call for similar means: the goal in this case being the opening of the Middle East to economic liberalization.
Friday, November 18, 2005
What we believe was born in pain, the pain of Jesus on the cross. Those who torture Iraqis seek to isolate them in their pain, to disarticulate the victim’s bonds to others, those intermediate social bodies which would challenge the new state power that seeks to extend its neoliberal grip. In their suffering, we can see the face of the suffering Jesus, just as “the theologian Jose Aldunate says, ‘Torture is the most vehement attack against the body of Christ’; according to Aldunate, it is Christ himself who is tortured.” (William T. Cavanaugh. Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1998. p. 257). Torture removes the intervening layers of society that buffer the individual from its raw power. The sexual humiliation which we witnessed in the photos from Abu Ghraib represent a technique that has been refined over decades, particularly in Latin America, which induces the degradation necessary to force acceptance of the state’s drama of power. “The goal of torture, in effect is to produce the acceptance of a state discourse, through the confession of putrescence.” (quoted in the study referenced above on p. 31). Far from simply being a desperate attempt to wrest information from unwilling subversives, “We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state’s claims to power over the bodies of its citizens.” (Ibid, p. 31). This is not sadism or “stress relief”, it is science, a carefully refined tool used to fragment all social sources of identity other than the corporate state, a mode of governance which targets the springs of spiritual identity, as we see in the desecration of the Koran, just as Pinochet targeted the Church in Chile.
What torture represents in its extreme form, the disintegration and disappearance of all that rivals the corporate state, inhabits the society that practices it as a pervasive atmosphere of fear and fragmentation. What is remarkable about the post 9/11 era is how disciplined the “coalition of the willing” has been in “scripting our bodies into a drama of fear.” (Ibid, p. 33). Their purpose is not directly to repress, but to induce a sense of chaos from which they can rescue us, to produce the drama of a new era, in which “everything has changed”, most notably the rules against “cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment.”
The society that enters into this drama is one in which intermediate organizations, churches, unions, parties, those units of what the Catholic Church calls subsidiarity, which as originally articulated in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, counter the “…injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order” that assigns “to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” QA, paragraph 79. After the fall of Baghdad, Bremer’s economic policies were described by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank, as “an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world” (Klein, Naomi, “Baghdad Year Zero”, Harper’s Magazine, Sept. 24, 2004.) The same form of “shock treatment” required similar social measures in Chile during the 1970’s, as “Los Chicago Boys”, Milton Friedman and his fellow travelers, were called upon to restructure that economy. The all-too-familiar results, atomized unions and soaring unemployment arise from an ideology in which “only individuals can have moral obligations”, in the words of Friedman (Milton Friedman, “Good Ends, Bad Means” in the Catholic Challenge to the American Economy, ed. Thomas M. Gannon, S.J. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1987, p. 105). To support such “therapy”, an economic “grill” was needed. In Chile, a detainee described the “grill” as follows: “…immediately I was taken to the torture chamber. There they made me undress and with my hands and feet tied to the metal frame of the lower part of a bunkbed they began to apply electric current to me. This is the ‘grill.’” (Ibid, p. 24). This “grilling” was the logical counterpart to the “shock” to the economy applied by the Chilean dictatorship and almost exactly parallel to the one ordered by Paul Bremer in Iraq. Torture can effectively aid the required atomization of society. “The disarticulation of worker’s organizations through the strategy of torture was an essential component of the neoliberal economic model imposed in Chile and other Latin American countries.” (Ibid., p. 39).
Sunday, November 13, 2005
The Italian film from RAI which can be viewed here: http://movies.crooksandliars.com/fallujah_ING~1.wmv extensively documents the weapons use with eye-witness accounts. In fact, if you look at the material collected by Daily Kos, http://www.dailykos.com/tag/White%20phosphorus, it's clear that even at the time, such radical left-wing publications as the Washington Post documented the use of white phosphorous as a weapon, which the Army did not dispute at the time.
White phosphorous is a weapon of terror, which burns the skin of its victims to the bone and can't be extinguished with water. The teaching of the Church on operations such as razing the city of Fallujah and treating every person in the city as an insurgent is clear: "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons-especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons- to commit such crimes." Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2314.
I have to admit I'm often afraid that I'm speaking to the void, a voice crying in the wilderness that no one hears. Yes, there are blogs that speak about these things, but hardly ever from a Christian perspective. Where are my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who see Christ's face in the massacred inhabits of Fallujah? Where is the outrage among Catholic bishops over the destruction of a city and the use of chemical weapons to melt away the skin of innocent men, women, and children? Yes, there will probably be commission one day that will conclude, long after the witnesses of the time have died or moved on, that perhaps it was a crime that was committed in 2004. Why were these voices silent in the year 2004 when they might have saved a life or two?
Saturday, November 05, 2005
" In an interview for National Public Radio he (Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff) charged that Vice President Cheney's office--and new chief aide David Addingtoon--was responsible for directives which led to U.S soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wilkerson said he had some hard evidence: a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff. The directives, he said, contradicted a 2002 order by President Bush for the military to abide by the Geneva Convention rules against torture." - "More Fodder for Press: Wilkerson Charges Cheney Responsible for Prisoner Abuse", AP, Nov. 4 , 2005.
In direct support of his contentions, Cheney is currently making direct personal appeals to endorse "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees. "Vice President Dick Cheney made an unusual personal appeal to Republican senators this week to allow exemptions to a proposed ban on the torture of terror suspects in U.S. custody, according o participants in a closed-door session." "Cheney Seeks CIA Exemption to Torture Ban", AP, Nov. 5, 2005. This Christian uses his power not to seek comfort for those souls who have fallen into his clutches, but open and unprecedented freedom to degrade and torture them without limit or oversight. Not even Pinochet's Chile demanded such an open right.
Yet still the silence of the churches continues. Let us pray that we might be forgiven our own silence and inaction while our brothers and sisters are tortured to keep us safe.
Of course, many types of addiction are widespread in this society for rich and poor. Along these lines, I would like to suggest a definition for the poor: first, there are the economic poor, in the Gospels, those who hunger and thirst, the sick, those in prison, and so on. Secondly, there are those despised by the ruling society: sinners, publicans, prostitutes, who are not necessarily economically oppressed, but denied dignity. These two usually converge in our society. The self-righteous Christianity I've been critiquing here says that the poor are in the state they are in because they lack the motivation and self-discipline to raise themselves up. Drug addiction is part of the syndrome that causes their poverty. It results from repeated, morally culpable self-indulgence that leads to enslavement to drugs. Part of the good news that Jesus came to bring might be that the lack of dignity and self-esteem which drive the poor (and rich) to this enslavement is not only the result of personal sin, but also social sin that reinforces negative self-images in order to encourage an economically lucrative indulgence.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Friday, October 28, 2005
Saturday, October 22, 2005
That understanding of freedom was not foreign to our eighteenth century forebears who were enormously influenced by Montesquieu, the French thinker who differentiated despotism, monarchy, and democracy. In each he found a special principle governing social life. For despotism the principle was fear; for monarch, honor; and for democracy, not freedom but virtue. In The Broken Covenant, Robert Bellah quotes him as writing that "it is this quality rather than fear or ambition, that makes things work in a democracy."
According to Bellah, Samuel Adams agreed: "We may look to armies for our defense, but virtue is our best security. It is not possible that any state should long remain free where virtue is not supremely honored." - William Sloan Coffin, "None of Us Have the Right to Avert Our Gaze", CounterPunch, Oct. 22, 2005.
Such words would make a fitting epitaph for the Bush Administration, whose slogan seems to be "Force creates honor." None of us, he says, and he is speaking particularly of those who profess Christ, "none of us have the right to avert our gaze" from the face of war. To do so does not make us more spiritual, but less human. We do not have the right to ignore the consequences of our obsequious silence in the face of the crimes ongoing in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. May the fresh air of freedom fill our hearts with the power to say "No!"
Saturday, October 08, 2005
While the pragmatic arguments against torture, best understood and summarized by the military and incorporated into their field manuals, are virtually unanswerable, as Christians we must penetrate more deeply and understand why torture is always a violation of God's law. According to the Catechism: "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity." Catechism, #2297. God calls us not merely to respect the dignity of others, but to grow every day more deep in our appreciation of that dignity, which in the end is our own dignity as well. Degrading others degrades ourselves even more thoroughly and wounds our humanity, making us less able to love others and the Lord. The purpose of social life is to create a world where such abuses are no longer possible.
Penetrating even more deeply, the Catechism characterizes using God's name to justify torture as blasphemy. "It is also blasphemous to make use of God's name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death." Catechism, #2148. Those who use God's name to justify torture, as the current administration is doing by their veto of the bill which simply codifies anti-torture rules that have been a part of military code for decades, commit mortal sin.
Let us pray for those who blaspheme the image of God and justify war as Bush recently did by saying, "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …' And I did."
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Why don't the current leaders of the Christian denominations speak out? Some do, but many are still chained to the distinction between the personal and the political. Much of the power of religion comes from its personal nature. It is a personal commitment that requires constant cultivation and grows ever deeper with that cultivation. The political is an external reality that impinges on us in ways that we cannot control. It may be an area of interest or even passion, but it is not part of our interior in the same way as our relationship to God.
Contrast this with the personal nature of the relationship between soldiers and their "Persons Under Control" or PUCs: "The torture of detainees was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers. Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC [Person Under Control] tent on their off hours to 'Fuck a PUC' or 'Smoke a PUC.' 'Fucking a PUC' referred to beating a detainee, while 'Smoking a PUC' referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness." Human Rights Watch, September, 2005.
Is this a personal or a political relationship? It seems to me that this is actually both simultaneously. Detainees are tortured and humiliated as a means of social control in a way similar to the organized torture carried out in Chile in the 1970s and 80s. The evidence for this is the meticulous documentation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which demonstrates that in most cases torture is not being carried out for information. Most detainees have no worthwhile intelligence about the insurgency since their incarceration is the result of random roundups by clueless officers. The torture documented by HRW serves two primary purposes - relief of stress and social control, goals which are mutually reinforcing. It also exemplifies how questionable is the distinction between the personal and the political. Many of the soldiers are committed Christians, yet they participate in torture as reported by Capt. Ian Fishback, not merely breaking a man's legs with a metal Louisville slugger as a means of stress relief, but obeying orders to torture fellow children of God.
In the words of Capt. Fishback, "Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq." And later: "Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable." "A Matter of Honor", Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2005.
In response to Capt. Fishback, as well as the many other cases of torture and abuse, Sen. McCain has repeatedly tried to enforce the rules of the Army Field Manual regarding torture with this result: "Ninety senators, backed by an array of former admirals and generals, voting in favor of an amendment to a military appropriations bill. Their bill provides clear guidance to American troops, banning the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in U.S. custody. It establishes the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogation of detainees." "Torture: An American Story", Alternet, Oct. 12, 2005.
Yet once again, a vast silence grips the Christian leaders of America, whose voice now could be decisive in ending the torture. Please urge your bishop or pastor to speak out about this issue. To be silent now is to participate in the torture and abuse of innocents.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
"On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC (Persons Under Control) tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day [a sergeant] shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger, a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs." Human Rights Watch, "Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division", September, 2005.
Soldiers in Iraq feel at the mercy of an unfeeling and incomprehensible power that has thrown them into the pit of darkness. At any moment, one of the PUCs or the brother/cousin of a PUC could end their life. They have been trained to feel invincible, yet they know they are slaves in the service of a power that doesn't care for their life or death. These psychological conditions are pre-requisites to the real purpose of the powers controlling the situation - to turn soldiers into torturers. Torture has long been found to be one of the most effective devices for the enforcement of social control.
The following applies directly to the production of insurgents in Iraq through torture - "We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state's claims to power over the bodies of its citizens. Torture plays out the dream of a certain kind of state, the production of a type of power/knowledge which I will call the imagination of the state. To speak of imagination is not, of course, to imply that state power is "merely imaginary," a disembodied thought. The imagination of the state has a tremendous power to discipline bodies, to habituate them and script them into a drama of its own making...Torture is rather both the production of that threat and the response to it, and thus the ritual site at which the state produces the reality which its pretensions to omnipotence consist." William T. Cavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist", Blackwell, 1998. p. 31.
Just like the Chilean dictatorship of the 1970's and 80's, the current Bush administration is deliberately producing "insurgents" through the use of torture. The recent Human Rights Watch report, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division" gives direct eye-witness testimony from Army officers to the continued use of torture in Iraq. It is also clear that this torture is not being used to extract information in most cases, but to terrorize and degrade the Iraqi populace. The fact that soldiers are "allowed" to work out their frustrations by breaking detainees' legs with a baseball bat demonstrates the purpose of this treatment. It is a mechanism of social control and at the same time a means of justifying the continued presence of the U.S. in Iraq. "The security of some states is made to depend on the insecurity of its citizens. The citizens then become self-disciplining, which is far more effective than the use of brute force." Torture and Eucharist, p. 46. In addition the torture is most effective if it is vaguely known to the citizens but denied by the powers that be so as to create a sense of total powerlessness and anxiety and thereby strengthen the levers of control.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, I strongly encourage you to read the whole report, which can be found at http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905/.
When we are silent in the face of torture, we internalize the will of the masters who have ordered the torture. In effect, we aid in the process of bringing the Iraqis into subjection to the will of the master country by inwardly brutalizing our own souls. The harm that is done to the Iraqis, the Persons Under Control that we are now torturing, is little compared to the damage that we are doing to ourselves. In the words of Juan Cole, "The first reason to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners...The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely. The some 15,000 Iraqis in American custody are all by now undying enemies of the United States. Some proportion of them started out that way but perhaps could have been won over." Informed Comment, Sept. 23, 2005.
In the next few weeks, I intend to extend these observations by examining the uses of torture as revealed in past U.S.-sponsored regimes that relied on torture as a means of social control. But I would like to end by remembering the words of Jesus quoted at the beginning: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28. The torturers are weak, they can only harm the body - they cannot command the soul. When we discover and root out the torturer in ourselves, then we will have the power to stop the brutalization of Iraqis. Please read the report.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
This citadel often manifests itself in the form of smugness radiating from our Christian identities. When we become addicted to comforting lies our vision of the world devolves into cartoonish battles of enlightened civilization and dark swarms of “terrorists” engendered from the marshes of perverted beliefs, beliefs moreover that mirror our own. The religion of Christ becomes the sickly sweet expression of our church leaders which scent calls for the assassination of our enemies, those who own resources we covet.
Walter Wink describes the mirror image of the true church in the following words:
“The myth of redemptive violence is nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical denunciation and negation by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it claims God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a biased and partial tribal god worshiped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but a fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but a rod of iron. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final liquidation. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. It usurps the revelation of God’s purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous.” Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992, p. 30.
How do we become aware of the evil that grows within us? Sometimes it is only by confronting the bodies of those we seek to dominate, “Three U.S. army personnel—two sergeants and a captain—describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water.” Human Rights Watch, “New Accounts of Torture by U.S. Troops”, Sept. 24, 2005. As good Christians, we hold ourselves aloof, untouched by the torture committed in our name by our born-again President and his prayerful Cabinet. To allow in the cries and screams of our victims would be too painful, yet it haunts us like a sin we can barely remember. Our continuing silence and the silence of our Christian leaders makes a powerful contribution to those screams and cries, but the citadel is far too comforting to leave.
Monday, September 26, 2005
What is the effect of torture on our Christian spirit? To what extent does our silence in the face of ongoing brutalization of Iraqis in the name of our "safety" cause us to become brutalized? To what extent are we brutalizing our Lord when we break the legs of Iraqis with baseball bats? I would really like to start a conversation on these questions because I don't see any conversation about torture and Christianity happening on other blogs. If you know about such a conversation or blog, please let me know.
Our Lord is crucified with the people of Iraq - he stands with them in mute authority while they are degraded as he was degraded - to prove the omnipotence of the truly degraded. May we pray for a love like his and the ability to act on it.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Sunday, September 11, 2005
How many times have we given ourselves permission to be a little materialistic, just this one time? We deserve it, just like Bush deserves his bike rides. And maybe it's true that first time, but soon the tenth and twentieth time have long since passed and we've ceded the right to permanent selfishness, establishing a new level from which to devolve further. And suddenly we find ourselves imitating attitudes we secretly despise, but the secret grows more and more hidden until we no longer recognize it as our own.
To share God's life is to encounter a level of being that calls humanity to ever higher levels. These days it is often very difficult to distinguish spiritual and material processes, so debased has our understanding of humanity become through technical dominance. This dominance enslaves our understanding of the meaning of compassion. We break this slavery only through love for the least among us.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
James Moore once again, "The water has washed away the scales from our eyes and now we have seen where our decisions have led us. Every vote we have ever cast for every charlatan selling tax cuts and less government has had an affect on lives in New Orleans." Indeed, much has been washed away and it is time for us to gaze steadily at what the generation of the 60's and 70's has become. The fads that caked like toxic mud on our consciences are all starting to dissolve and soon the core of our ideals will reveal its emptiness. For a thousand reasons that seemed incontrovertible at the time, we accepted mini- and then micro-substitutes for those original ideals. How many of our generation managed to convince themselves that the high-tech revolution of the 90's was the fulfillment of the ideals of the 60's?
James Moore: "The fault is ours; those of us who gave two terms to the PR president by casting our votes and believing we could get something for nothing...Our silent support and inattention to detail makes possible illigitimate wars and corrupt contracts." Like the PR president, we needed to live balanced lives, without reflecting on who would pay the price for that balance. The balance always came by feeding off the capital of past generations. That capital has worn thin and may soon wear out like the ozone layer that protects us from the radiation burns of our folly.
James Moore: "New Orleans is a symptom of something far greater than simply inadequate federal response. Our government, and all of the great institutions that have maintained our democracy, is dying. And we have let it. We have not listened for the truth." We always owed ourself more than to listen to the truth. Indeed we have enjoyed ourselves - we have lived the good life.
How is it that the generation that prided itself on its honesty and self-insight has become incapable of admitting error? Before you start to explain away what I have said as "guilt tripping", please explain to me what real guilt would look like.
"The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion." Let us ask for forgiveness for the times when the false religion of wealth and power has entered our hearts and we accepted it gladly. And let us ask that George Bush repent of and be forgiven for his neglect of the poor and the defenseless and that in this forgiveness he may find the blessings which come from service to the poor in spirit.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
To be a Christian means to accept an inescapable responsibility to the poor. The scenes along the Gulf Coast are the result of the systematic abandonment of this responsibility. The people in charge of this government don’t believe in government and so it is logical that they can’t carry out effective government policies. For them, dependence on government assistance is the result of personal moral evil and must be expunged, or else the weak themselves must be expunged.
Let us pray that God will hear the voice of the poor.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
As Christians, we know that the enemy is truly "inside the wire", inside the wire that passes through our hearts, as does the line between good and evil. Our silence and inaction has been a large contributor to this war, so let us pray for ourselves and the President that the scales may at last fall from our and his eyes. Our God is a God of miracles.
For many years after my conversion, I wandered in the desert of right-wing Christianity, wondering why their religion seemed to have so little to do with the Biblical Jesus, and more tellingly, why the tone of so much of their writing was so smarmy and cynical. They seemed secretly to be in love with power and wealth, marking them as confirmations of righteousness (or dominion) rather than as deeply ambiguous signs, as much of corruption as of favor.
Christians wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way. Not so the worshippers of America, the “hyperpower” whose cause is currently identified with Christ’s. Its words come thundering out in a flow whose naturalness validates their contents, “What joy for the virtuous, seeing this vengeance, bathing their feet in the blood of the wicked!”, Psalm 58: 10. In the words of a well-known spokesman from the Pat Robertson tradition, “The righteous … are called by God’s law to exercise a holy ‘violence’ against certain of the wicked, thereby manifesting God’s wrath.” (Jordan, James B. “Pacificism and the Old Testament”, in The Theology of Christian Resistance, ed. Gary North (Tyler, Tx.: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 92. In fact, it is the presence of a surgically-implanted metal shield right over the ear drums that infallibly indicates the presence of the righteous. What characterized the “wisdom of the desert” was the infinite patience with which the voice of the Lord was sought. What the Desert Fathers feared deeply was the temptation to substitute their own voice for that of God. Our political blow-hards suffer no such weakness.
Out of the evil that our policy has inflicted on Iraq and the deeper evil our guilt has inflicted on us, may we not begin to perceive an outline of the good that God may one day shape from this horror? The Iraq escapade may one day symbolize the stupidity and ineffectiveness of globalistic violence in the way Nazism symbolizes the horror of racist violence. Let us pray that Iraq will at last put to rest the ghost of Vietnam and that the lessons that war should have taught us will be burned in our hearts like the words of the ten commandments.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
The silence in the face of the crimes and mistakes which were so eloquently listed on Imitatio Christi (http://imitatiochristi.blogs.com/imitatio_christi/) in "What Would It Take?" is the silence of complicity. We don't want to admit these crimes because our silence and tolerance of a corporate media that veils them behind noise and nonsense is a part of them. Emotionally, we can't adjust to the dissonance that has grown between what was the winning ideology and the real grief that our actions have caused. How cruelly it punctures the carefully cultivated image of our goodness. And how often have we surrendered to this image? How often have we preferred to be entertained rather than informed by the nightly news? How much have we really cared about the blood on our hands?
Like Bonhoeffer in the 1930's, we may soon have to make a choice. For him, "the time is very near when we shall have to make a choice between National Socialism and Christianity." For us, the choice between following Jesus and allowing this administration to drag the noble name of "evangelical" through the blood of a 100,000 Iraqis may be as stark.
Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? ... David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the LORD.'
Knowing our sinfulness does not come naturally - we must be trained in the sense of sin. It is more than embarassment over mistakes, shame at stupidity or carelessness, or even a sudden demand for domination. As Stanley Hauerwas describes it, "its fundamental form is self-deception." (The Peaceable Kingdom, Notre Dame, 1983, p. 46). We want to believe many things about ourselves and the sense of sin is the secret laughter that exposes the brittleness of our lies.
Part of what is happening in Crawford, Texas is that truth in the form of uncontrollable grief is confronting the glamorous patina of unshakeable pride. There may be much truth to the subterranean rumor that Bush is unable to openly face real emotion, unable to process genuine humanity. Someone capable of the crimes he has committed could not have much sense of the value of human life. Protected by the shield of righteousness, he cannot turn the gaze on himself and realize in what name he has truly acted. Beyond this, there is evidence of a lack of ability to truly engage the battle that must be fought before making decisions that will etch hatred onto generations. He rushes to judgment in a manner that is often praised as "decisive", but this decisiveness hides impatience with the tedious processes of reason and evidence that serious decision require. Gut instinct has to be earned - it's usually not a gift from above.
As fellow sinners, as fellow slaves of violence, we should reach out our hands to him and pray for the recovery of his inner peace, not the false "peace" that comes from self-righteousness, but the peace that comes from accepting crooked humanity and the hard and tedious struggle for truth, which would heal our own souls as well. In fact, this goes to the heart of why we go to war. We go because we have not the patience to endure the suffering that leads to peace. None of us want to see the weeping face or feel a pain that can't be washed away. Pray that the born again will be born anew in the King of Peace.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Friday, August 12, 2005
"Overwhelmingly, they [neocons] did not serve; overwhelmingly, their children do not serve. While having plenty of young, metaphorical lambs of all kinds, they choose to sacrifice the lambs of others."
"I suspect this is part of what makes Cindy Sheehan so impossible for the administration to deal with -- she has made the sacrifice they are only willing to require of others. They have given no lambs, but want all that attends a "war administration"; she has given the lamb, but will not be granted even her small request: face-to-face dialogue with the one who sent her son into harm's way.
One last point from the story of King David and Nathan, a point that I would love to see embodied in this president. After Nathan tells his story and identifies the King as the perpetrator of injustice, the King, to his credit, responds, "I have sinned against God." I am not holding my breath; since this president can admit no errors at all, it is hard to see how he could ever admit that the thing he most uses to identify himself was mistaken. But, we can hope, and we can support the Cindy Sheehans of the world who will stand before the president and say by their actions, "You are the man!"'
Indeed, they have all that they want, but they demand much more, because they demand that their violence will ultimately lead to the reign of heaven. May we pray that those who use others as gloss to shine the shield in the inner movie of their glory may come face to face with a mother's grief. Not for their shame, at least not only, but so that the tide of truth may at last wash away the lies that degrade all they touch, and all we touch, who by our silence endorse their lies. Somehow, the heart always pierces through the deadening paralysis:
How slippery the paths on which you set them;
you make them slide to destruction.
How suddenly they come to their ruin,
wiped out, destroyed by terrors.
Like a dream one wakes from, O Lord,
when you wake you dismiss them as phantoms.
- Psalm 73.
Let us pray that Bush will repent of his violence and embrace the cross, in which all sacrifices will be made fruitful. May peace at last spring up in his heart - let us believe in this miracle.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
My response was as follows: "What evidence do we have that George W. is or is not a Christian? Can a man as unquestioningly committed to violence as he apparently is be Christian in any meaningful sense? A Christian profession that requires violence to maintain itself betrays itself by that very commitment. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “A truth that must use violence to secure its existence cannot be truth. Rather the truth that moves the sun and the stars is that which is so sure in its power that it refuses to compel compliance or agreement by force. Rather it takes the slow, hard and seemingly unrewarding work of witness which it trusts to prevail even in a fragmented and violent world.” Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom. Notre Dame, 1983, p. 15. Of course, to say this does not excuse those of us professing Christians who struggle daily with our own violence, even though it may not be projected onto the world stage. Those who intend seriously to disarm their hearts from the inner rage of self-assertion usually realize that they are quite capable of hearing that rage as the divine voice."
I do not think that we should sit in judgement on individuals, but I think that those who commit themselves to violence which is morally certain to cause widespread death to innocent civilians need to provide an account of their Christian profession. There is a religion in America that calls itself "Christianity" or even "Bible Christianity" that instinctively identifies the interests of the United States with the kingdom of God. In this religion, violence can not only be justified but sanctified when it is carried out in the interests of the "People of God", the good citizens of the United States. To identify Christianity in the traditional sense with this religion seems to me to be highly questionable. This religion is a caricature, a travesty resulting from the betrayal of the Church in favor of a covert spiritually-tinged nationalism, a sanctified moral surrender to one's culture. Seen in this light, George Bush's attack on the "evildoers" of Iraq makes him one of the high priests of this "Christianity". So I join in the call on him and the other members of this church to lay down their arms, to look into their hearts, and examine what the origin is of the violence that drives them.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
I would like to begin with a simple question, "Why can't the Pentagon adopt a policy of forgiveness?" Pause for a moment. What would be the consequence? Islamist radicals would be stunned, perhaps stunned into silence, the silence of awe, a silence that would drain the fierce focus of their attacks. Momentarily (only momentarily?) the cycle of violence and counterviolence would be broken. For a blessed moment, our world would look completely different. "Behold I make all things new."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters to obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren." - The Cost of Discipleship.
If we completely abandon the revenge that lives in our hearts and feeds on the flames of self-justification, perhaps this is the sign from us that God awaits to shed as-yet-unknown graces. Do we have hearts to imagine such miracles?
If we fail to react as the bombers secretly wish, then indeed evil has no mark. Study how the Bush reaction to bin Laden violence has fed that violence, how, on some unfathomable level, the two sides need each other to fan each other's justification. The spirit of Christ that lives within us is the match, the true answer to the violence of bin Laden and Bush, two halves of the same demonic coin, two offerings to the lord of this world. The cycle of revenge and justified counter-violence can only be ended by a creative act that steps beyond the assumptions which rise so automatically. What about a Department of Peace and Forgiveness? The worst that could happen is that we would be nailed to the cross.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Sunday, July 10, 2005
"From this place which is forever bound to the memory of this extraordinary man, I wish to express to the people of India and of the world my profound conviction that the peace and justice of which contemporary society has such great need will only be achieved along the path which was the core of his teaching."
Not Realpolitik, not "fighting the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them here", not Shock and Awe, not forcing "freedom" and "democracy" on the skeptical Arab, but Gandhian nonviolence is the path which the Vicar of Christ has pointed out as the beacon for contemporary statesmanship. Much will become clear to us when we disarm our hearts, when we seek a power greater than bunker busters and rejoice in transformed spirits rather than soulless economies that rip the floor out from under those on the margins to ensure endless profits for those whose money could feed whole countries.
In other words, have we the courage to trust Christ and Him alone? Not to seek the protection of wealth and bombs and oceans of oil?
At the journey’s end may each be able to return to the Source in peace and say:
"I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." Acts 26:19
Saturday, July 09, 2005
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Sunday, July 03, 2005
The Observer has seen photographic evidence of post-mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle which demonstrate serious abuse of suspects including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and - in one case - the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee-capping." -- Guardian, July 3, 2005
Now that the Iraqi government has openly admitted to torture, we expect that the outcry among Catholics over the abuse of God's image, the blasphemy of torture will reach the heights it did during the controversy over whether liberal politicians should receive communion.