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…

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.