Means and Ends (Neither Kant nor Machiavelli)

Kant in black & white, Machiavelli in shades of gray

Kant in black & white, Machiavelli in shades of gray

Niccolo Machiavelli famously said, “In judging policies we should consider the results that have been achieved through them rather than the means by which they have been executed.” The ends justify the means.

Immanuel Kant argued in favor of the old Latin maxim, “Do what is right, though the world should perish.” The means justify the ends.

But I don’t believe we can, in good conscience, stand by either maxim. As moral beings, especially as people of faith, we have a responsibility for both our means and our ends. We must balance the rightness of our methods with the most likely outcomes.

It’s easy to brush off Machiavelli. “The ends justifies the means” sounds like something a movie villain would say.

Until national security is on the line.

Until George W. Bush is talking about “enhanced interrogation” and “indefinite detention” (without a trial, of course)

Until Barrack Obama is talking about (or rather, trying very hard not to talk about) using Predator drones to blow up civilians in nations we aren’t even at war with.

But as Christians, we can at least try to avoid that one. We can set our feet down and join Kant in defending the old saying, “Do what is right, though the world should perish.”

But what does that mean? Does that mean being so focused on “biblical” roles in marriage that you treat spousal abuse like it’s a matter of the wife’s submission, as John Piper does below (from his entire demeanor, he either has no concept of what an abusive relationship is really like, or he has no empathy. I think both may be true, given his view of God).

When we focus on what is “right” according to scripture, and then use that to justify hurting “sinners” (such as denying them their [secular] civil rights, advocating discredited and medically dangerous therapies, or advocating for harsh criminal penalties against them in African countries),  we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

When we let our idea of “biblical” gender roles blind us to abuse in marriages, in families, and in churches, we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

Even if we are not blinded, if we ignore or minimize suffering (as John Piper is doing above), we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

When we use our interpretation of scripture (without the humility to question whether we might be wrong, reading the Bible in translation, 2000+ years later, in a totally different cultural context) as a weapon, or an anesthetic that prevents us from feeling the pain of others, we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

But we’re not doing what’s right. Not really. And our means, no matter how righteous we may thing they are, are utterly and totally tainted by the pain we cause.

Our righteousness is like filthy rags to God. That’s not just a redundant restating of Romans 3:23. It isn’t a declaration of Calvin’s “total depravity.” It means that our rightness, our self-justifications, our focus on “doing the right thing” no matter what the cost to others … is just filthy.

And the world sees this. It’s not the gospel that’s offending them. It’s our warped Kantian-Calvinistic logic, our weaponized righteousness. And it should offend them.

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Coming up on Christmas…

So much sadness, so much to do.

Building a nursery, welcoming a new life into this world

Saying goodbye to so many children I never knew

So much sadness, so many questions

Why?

Why did they have to die?

Why do I mourn them so?

Why do I mourn them so much more

Than the ones who die everyday,

Killed in my name by Predator Drones,

Weakened by hunger, claimed by disease,

Poisoned by foul water and dysentery?

Why?

And how do I move on, knowing it could be my daughter someday?

How do I wrap presents and decorate the tree?

How do I cook and eat and feast?

How do I put it all behind me and laugh and love and share?

Should I even want to?

Sometimes I wish I had a river I could skate away on…

Things I DON’T Repent Of

Communion Wine

I’ve been doing a lot of repenting lately, for my own past sins and the corporate sins I was a part of. And I make no apologies for giving those apologies. But I want to be clear on a few things I am not sorry for:

I don’t repent of believing in Jesus as the living, crucified, resurrected Word of God, begotten not made, who is with God and is God, through whom all things are made.

I don’t repent of believing that the Bible is the divinely inspired written word of God. Breathed by God, written by humans, profitable for study and meditation and growth.

I don’t repent of believing in prayer. I don’t know how or even if our prayers change God’s mind, but I know that praying changes me. That’s all I need to know.

I don’t repent in believing in the priesthood of the believer, believer’s baptism, sin, redemption, the Apostle’s Creed, and a God who is both just and merciful.

I don’t repent of my libertarian belief in civil rights and individual freedom. I didn’t leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left me (right around the time when it embraced torture and indefinite detention without trial).

I don’t repent of my generally conservative/libertarian-ish political ideals. I’m no longer convinced of even the potential adequacy of private charity to replace governmental welfare programs, so I’m not really a true libertarian anymore. And I tend to think that our problem may be less the size of our government and more the corruption and cronyism within it. But I still generally believe that a lean, well-run government is better.

I don’t repent of criticizing President Obama for his indiscriminate use of drone strikes in nations we are not at war with. Predator drone strike he authorized have killed over 1,500 civilians, over 170 children.

And I don’t plan to stop challenging the narrative that he is some kind of compassionate, righteous leader who “cares” about children and strives for peace. He has as much or more blood on his hands than President Bush, and I do not intend to let that go unspoken.

I don’t repent of sharing community with people whose beliefs don’t line up perfectly with mine, either politically or spiritually. If I stopped, how would I ever learn?

I don’t repent of the churches I’ve been a part of, where I’ve had friendships (we call them “church family”) with both the very young and the very old, and everyone in between.

(One dear lady in our church remembers teaching elementary school in 1934. She told me a story from then: when Bonnie and Clyde were killed, the police brought the wreck of their car around so the children could see it. Something that seemed like ancient history to me was an adult memory to her. Where else would I find that?).

I don’t repent of criticizing evangelicalism from the inside. That’s where I am. I’m not an ex-evangelical, a former evangelical, or a recovering evangelical. I am an evangelical Christian with deep concerns that weigh heavily on my conscience and my heart. And I will speak them from within.

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.

For God or Country (Wrestling the Angel of Patriotism)

Eagle and American Flag Photo by Pam "Bubbels" Roth, Creative Commons

Photo by Pam “Bubbels” Roth, Creative Commons

Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to be a good patriotic American and a genuine Christian at once.  This isn’t an idle thought, or some kind of “blame America first” catchphrase.  It’s a genuine worry I have.

I’ve always believed that America is essentially good (though far from perfect) and that patriotism was a good thing.  I still do, for the most part.  But now I wonder if these two things – America and the Kingdom of Heaven – are not competing goods.

Part of me wants to say “no.”  Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. [Matthew 6:24]  And I’ve already talked about how America is not, and never has been righteous (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  I can’t vote for Romney or Obama, not so long as they both support drone strikes against civilians.  For all the religious political posturing, America seems more like Rome than Jerusalem.

We do not care for the poor like we should.  The gap between the rich and poor grows.  And the mortgage crisis shows how easily the average person can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous creditors (I was a Realtor a few years back, and let me tell you, that can be an ugly field.  Finding an ethical Realtor and mortgage broker is vital, and not always easy.  I mean, really?  Approving someone for a mortgage that costs half their monthly income?  What ethical planet are you from?)

Politicians preach about Sodom, but forget what the Sin of Sodom was: Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  That’s right: Sodom’s sin was lack of hospitality, not caring for the poor, living too richly while those around them suffered [Ezekiel 16:49].  Forget homosexuality: that’s America to the core.

On the Other Hand…

Part of me wants to say “yes.”  Part of me says that Granddaddy was both.  He fought in World War II.  He started and sustained two small businesses, on of which still employs several people in our hometown, fifty years later (thanks in large part to my Dad, who’s managed it for about 25 years).

Granddaddy was always patriotic.  He put flags on the graves on Memorial Day.  He was a proud veteran, and he modeled quiet, civic patriotism.  He was also far and away a better Christian than I am.

He spent a lot of time in prayer (time I either waste online or spend writing about my feelings *smirk*).  He was a Gideon, and active in prison ministry.  Was he perfect?  Of course not.  But he was fundamentally good, and he gave God the glory.

Was Granddaddy’s America better than the one I live in now?  Nostalgia tempts me to say “yes.”  Certainly, much of his life was lived in simpler times.  The amount of information, the access to information, was less, and even entertainment came in such limited streams that you could stand around drinking coffee and talk about TV shows and actually have people know what you mean, without having to Google it (Honey Boo-Boo?  That sounds like a bee with a scraped knee, but apparently it’s a reality TV show).

But better?  We’ve been through this (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3).  World War II was a just war if there ever was one, but America still bombed Dresden, killing 25,000 civilians, America firebombed Tokyo, killing at least 100,000 and leaving 1 million homeless, roughly as many as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and more than the bombing of Nagasaki.

These massive bombing campaigns may or may not have been necessary to win the war, but they led to massive civilian deaths.  Our ongoing drone strikes are less destructive by a couple of orders of magnitude, but they’re also unnecessary and unjustifiable.

On the home front, racial segregation was an ongoing struggle.  I have a relatively objective account that Granddaddy was about as non-racist as a white man could be at the time and still live in Mississippi (told by a friend who left Mississippi in the 1950’s in protest of the racist atmosphere).  But the atmosphere affected everyone who stayed.

So, if my grandfather was able to balance love for a deeply flawed nation with faithful service to God, why can’t I?

Maybe the times really have changed.  Maybe there is no political party I can get behind (drone strikes on civilians are a deal-breaker, as is torture).  Granddaddy voted Republican as long as I can remember, but the party was very different back then.  When he was alive, I voted Republican, and did it with a clear conscience.  This year?  I don’t know who I’ll vote for, but it will be in protest.

Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.  Maybe loving America has nothing to do with being able to vote for a Presidential candidate in good conscience.  Maybe part of loving America is calling it as it is, not worshiping it as it claims to be.

Maybe I can only love America correctly if I first love God correctly.  If I turn my loyalties away from my own self (whether self-preservation, self-interest, or just self-introspection) and turn them to God’s Kingdom, maybe I’ll be able to love America like God does – fully aware of its flaws, with no blind jingoism, with no excuses, just grace.