Syria

This seems to be the week America talks about the tragedy in Syria. And today is the day Pope Francis II called for prayer and fasting for the people of Syria.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on some bad news in my own life (news I’m not sure I want to talk about here), so I haven’t written about Syria yet.

Most likely, President Obama is going to “solve” this by bombing the bad guys, just like he’s doing in Yemen and Pakistan. He’s proven he is perfectly happy to send in the drones, missiles and bombers, with or without a declaration of war.

He can do that with or without Congress ‘s approval. What is this gridlocked Congress gonna do if they don’t like it, impeach him? Not going to happen, especially not over a bunch of dead non-white, non-Americans.

It’s not as if there is any uniform sentiment in Congress. There are good arguments for and against intervention, after all. Right now, neither side in this civil war has any capacity to hurt us. Could that change? I don’t know.

What’s going on over there is an atrocity, and I know the rest of the world has to do something. But I’m not at all convinced that dropping bombs on an atrocity will make it less atrocious.

I don’t have a perfect solution. At this point no one does. But maybe this world would be a little better off if America was a little less ready to fight. We’ve been at war since 2001, continuously.

Most elementary school students and a large number of elementary school students have literally never been alive in a time of peace. Most high school students and some college students are too young to remember 9/11, or a time when we weren’t at war.

And back then, most of the Christians I knew were strongly pro-war. And I was, too. But I wonder if that was be right idea. I wonder if we might have served our country and our God more faithfully by being a voice of peace.

Maybe we should be that voice of peace now.  And maybe we should have a clear picture as to how American bombs are going to help the Syrians…before we drop them.

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Four Types of Violence, Part Five: Some Parting Thoughts

Peace Sign made of garlic, photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

Good for the World, Good on Spaghetti
Photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

I’ve been talking about violence a lot lately, and I think it’s time to bring it to a close now.  Kurt Willems has a great series here outlining a powerful argument for total pacifism among Christians.  Needless to say, there are other interpretations.  MT at Biblical Self Defense  discusses several OT and NT passages that relate to self defense, including armed self-defense, as not just a necessary evil, but a positive good.

Though I have not yet been swayed to the point of actual pacifism, I have to say that Kurt Willems’ arguments have profoundly affected me. He’s helped me to reassess my overall attitude towards violence done in my name as an American, the violence in the media that I consume, and the violence in the culture that I create.

And let’s face it, our American culture is awash in violence. We glorify revenge at every turn. Even as Christians, if you look at the time we spend watching violent films and TV, we probably glorify “good guys killing bad guys” more than we glorify God.

So what is the answer? I’m afraid I don’t have the whole answer. I may never have it. But I’ll keep wrestling with it. I know this much for sure:

Even without being convinced of true pacifism, the kind that would not use force to resist a home invader who threatens my pregnant wife, the kind that would not use force to resist the Nazis in World War II – even without taking that (admittedly radical) step … I can commit to pursuing peace today, through:

  • Questioning the violent actions my government takes, whether declared wars or unilateral (even unmanned) actions
  • Questioning the level of violence used in our justice system, especially against peaceful protesters and nonviolent offenders
  • Questioning the violence that is allowed to happen by authorities turning a blind eye or simply being overwhelmed: bullying in schools, beatings and rape in prisons.
  • Turning the other cheek in personal disputes, refusing to use even verbal ‘violence’
  • Protesting verbal violence, especially misogynist and racist bullying
  • Valuing the lives of foreigners in distant nations as much as I do my own, especially if they are civilians
  • Examining the culture I consume and create, and expunging anything that glorifies violence as a positive good.

Why Bother? (Drone Strikes and Child Labor and Factory Farms, Oh My!)

Chickens Stuffed into Battery Cages

Sunday, I had someone ask me what I was trying to accomplish.  She was specifically talking about boycotting factory farmed meat and eggs, but I suppose the same could be said of several of my “causes,” including: Voting for a third party candidate in protest of the two major party candidates use of, and approval of, continuing drone strikes that kill hundreds of Pakistani civilians. Boycotting Hershey’s chocolate until they institute a plan to stop using cocoa farmed using forced child labor. Or, to go way back, making sure the diamond on my wife’s engagement ring was not a conflict (“blood”) diamond.

And I stuttered.  I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer.

What I finally came up with was this (and I hope I can phrase it more eloquently here than I did then).  Many of the evils we encounter in this day and age are systemic.  They are clearly above our pay grade, above the area of influence we have any power over.  And I’m talking real evil here, not policy differences (the argument whether the current welfare system helps or entraps the poor is not “good versus evil.”  Both sides have concerns for those who need assistance, they just don’t agree on how it’s done.  That’s not what I’m talking about).

When I encounter such an evil, when I become aware of it, I have a choice.  I can ignore it, pretend I didn’t see it, and by doing so, give it my support.  Or I can do something, even something small, to push back against it.

So what am I trying to accomplish here?  I want to preserve whatever shreds of my integrity still exist by not being blindly complicit with known evils.  I want to let the people around me know that these things are going on, that people (and animals) are suffering terribly.  I want to let people know that our disposable consumer culture comes with consequences, often for the weakest and most vulnerable.

And most of all, I want to remind myself.

Ayn Rand was wrong about a lot of things, but she was right about at least one.  If you can do nothing else, call evil evil.  Say it.  If you have no power to do anything else, name cruelty.  Name theft.  Name murder.  There is power in just saying the truth.

 

The Audacity of Losing Hope in Politics

I know it’s easy, in this political season, to look at both candidates and lose hope.

One promises hope and change, but wages a drone warfare against Pakistani villages, killing hundreds of civilians. The other speaks the language of conservativism and the Christian Right, but spent his career dismantling businesses and shipping jobs overseas.

Both seem utterly in the grip of corporate interests.  Neither seems apt to bring an end to warrantless surveillance, extrajudicial execution, and indefinite detention.

Yes, they’re different, but they’re different like Nero and Julius Caesar were different.  One may be worse, one may be better, but neither one will be truly good.  God warned Israel against wanting a king, but Israel persisted.  It looks like we’re still reaping that harvest now [1 Samuel 8:10-18]

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m not going to be able to vote for either President Obama or Governor Romney, because of their use of (and acceptance of continued use of, respectively) Predator drones to strike Pakistani villages.

Killing men, women, and children, burning houses, and terrorizing  entire towns semi-permanently?  Cruel and pointless.  Defining as “militants” any male of fighting age who happens to be found in these areas?  Deceptive and arrogant.  Hiding these actions from public scrutiny?  Disreputable and disgusting.

Nobody seems to be taking this seriously.  Most of my ‘progressive’ friends and most of the Emergent Evangelical voices on the blogosphere are still singing the President’s praises, as if they’d never even heard of this.  My more conservative friends wholeheartedly get behind Mitt Romney, taking an “anybody but Obama” stance.

Even the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson hasn’t ruled out continuing the drone-slaughter, even as he promises to bring the troops home.  Apparently, Pakistani lives are cheap these days.

And both candidates who actually have a chance of winning are so beholden to corporate interests that we commoners hardly even matter.  Would I have voted for one or the other, if not for this slaughter?  Maybe, but it doesn’t matter now.  I won’t support this with my vote.

I’ve heard people say that President Obama isn’t a real Christian, but never because his hunter-killer drones kill Pakistani children.  No, it’s because he’s pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.  I’ve heard people make similar arguments about Governor Romney, because his economic policies will hurt the poor.

And everybody’s so gung-ho for their candidates that they seem to think the world will end if their man loses.

The world won’t end.  Too many rich people have too much invested in this crony-capitalist, “too big to fail” model.  The world will only end when God ends it.

And that’s the thing to remember.  God is not up for re-election.  God is the king of the universe, regardless of the popular vote or the electoral college.  As Christians, we have to remember that, and remember where our true loyalty lies.

I’ve heard people question whether any true Christian can vote for President Obama.  And I’ve heard the same thing about whether any true Christian can vote for Governor Romney (not because he’s Mormon, but because of his regressive economic policies and his pseudo-Randian VP).  Frankly, both positions are ridiculous.

Christians have a lot of reasons for voting for candidates, and questioning somebody’s commitment to Christ because they don’t share your political preferences is borderline blasphemous.  Election 2012 isn’t the Messiah versus the Antichrist.  It’s two rich, connected power-players competing for the most powerful prize on the planet.  If your conscience leads you to vote for one or the other, fine.  But shut up about God’s candidate.

As Christians, we need to maintain unity, with each other and with our neighbors of other faiths.  Whoever wins will be our President, but not our true ruler.  You don’t like Romney?  You don’t like Obama?  Try living under Nero or Caligula.  Try being a Russian or Ukrainian or Lithuanian Christian during the Stalin years.  Though many were martyred, God preserved his church, and it flourished, even underground.

To quote Longfellow, God is not dead, nor does he sleep.  No matter who wins or loses, we have to stick together, to pray together, to pray for whichever man makes it to the White House, to pray for our nation.  God is our Hope, not any man.

An Open Letter to President Obama and Governor Romney

Mural of Picasso's Guernica

Mural of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica

President Obama,

I appreciate your concern for the poor and marginalized Americans.  I appreciate your hope, your ability to inspire America with your speeches and ideas.  I thank you for ending the previous administration’s use of torture.

Governor Romney,

I admire your business acumen and your ability to work with both parties.  I admire the health care program you instituted in Massachusetts, and look forward to your ideas for national-level reforms.

But I worry about both of your souls.  President Obama, you have instituted an undeclared drone war against Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that has left as many as 168 children and teens dead.  Drones have attacked funerals, private homes and even markets.

Predator Drone launching Hellfire MissileAnd the definition of “militant” used in publicity about the strikes – anyone of military age who was in the area of the strike – is frankly deceitful.

The people of these villages live in fear, suffering death, destruction, poverty, terror, and amputation, and for what?  For every real militant these drone strikes kill, we’re certainly driving someone else into the arms of the Taliban.

This is unconscionable, and I frankly shudder to think that any professing Christian could so coldly terrorize towns and villages.  We’re exposing them to their own little 9/11’s, day after day.  And I tremble to think that my tax dollars fund this horror.

President Obama, Governor Romney, one of you will be President of the United States for the next four years.  One of you will make the decision to continue this unconscionable practice or end it.

I will not be voting for anybody who supports this barbarism.  President Obama, if you stop this and promise to never do it again, I will vote for you.  Governor Romney, if you reverse your position and promise to stop these strikes, I will vote for you.

Otherwise, I will vote for a third party candidate who comes out against these atrocities or refrain from voting, as a protest.

Meanwhile, I will pray for both of you, that God may grant you wisdom and compassion, and that he may show you more mercy than you have shown others.