Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Global Oh

I saw this on Huffington Post the other day: World Peace Through Global Orgasm (http://www.globalorgasm.org). They are calling all people to have sex on Dec 22nd (the Winter Solstice, exactly one month from today) to "effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy".

Even though this is quite possibly the dumbest peace strategy idea I have ever heard (and believe me when I say there is never any lack of dumb peace strategies), my commitment to peace is so strong that I am going to recklessly agree to participate. Hopefully my wife’s commitment to peace will also be strong that day, but if not, I’m willing to go it alone if needed. Sometimes, you just have to do what you are called to do, regardless of whether other people join you.

Note that if it doesn't work, all we have to do is figure out who did not participate, and then blame them for the remaining violence in the world.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Department of Peace, Anyone?

Here’s a different perspective from the Fosdick quote I posted earlier. It is from J. Denny Weaver, a Mennonite theologian, in an essay entitled “Which Religion Shall We Follow?”, written after 9/11.

It is unfair to assume that pacifists, who did not create the long buildup of frustrations that produces people with a feeling of hopelessness who do terrible things, can now be dropped into the middle of it with an instantaneous solution…The usual assumption is that because I and perhaps a few Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) reservists cannot parachute into a situation and resolve the problem on the spot, pacifism is proved irrelevant and misguided.

For the “What-about” question to be fair, pacifists need equal time to prepare and equal numbers of people involved – say three peace academies (parallel to the Naval Academy, West Point, and the Air Force Academy) graduating several hundred men and women each year highly trained in nonviolent techniques, plus standing reserve companies of thousands of men and women trained in nonviolent tactics, all of whom have access to billions of dollars to spend on transportation and the latest communications equipment. Merely observing that compared to national military preparedness, the nation spends practically no money on nonviolence and has no structures in place even to think about it, makes it glaringly obvious that no serious attention was given to anything but violent responses to September 11. The nation’s response was far from a calculated decision based on careful consideration of a range of options. Quite transparently, it was shaped by – and is the current expression of – the national myth that shapes American identity. Both for government policy and in the mind of the public in general, violence was the only option considered, anticipated, and prepared for.

He goes on to say that violence, by definition, fails more than half the time, since both sides use it, and at most one side “wins” (and often both sides lose). He then lists the countries the US has used military force against since 1945 that did not produce democratic governments respectful of human rights as a result of our actions against them: China (45-56), Korea (50-53), Guatemala (54, 60, 67-69), Cuba (59-60), Congo (64), Laos (64-73), Vietnam (61-73), Cambodia (69-70), Grenada (83), El Salvador (80s), Nicaragua (80s), Panama (89), Iraq (91-present), Sudan (98), Afghanistan (98), and Yugoslavia (99).

I like the way he turns the question around here – why should we expect pacifism to have quick answers to complex problems when we don’t practice or prepare for peace? Why do we assume violence works when it has such a terrible track record?

I’m not sure that lets pacifism entirely off the hook – it still needs to make a case for how effective it can be as an answer to immediate violence. But pacifism is more of a way of life, a way to address the root causes of violence, to prevent violence from erupting in the first place. It may not always be able to provide satisfying answers. But violence rarely provides satisfying answers either, even though our national myth of benevolent redemptive violence tells us otherwise.

I totally agree with his call for peace academies. Americans, against overwhelmingly evidence to the contrary, believe ourselves to be a peace-loving people. We should make use of our desire to see ourselves that way, and push for a Department of Peace as a logical extension of our stated values.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fosdick on War

As usual, I have a hundred ideas for blog posts, and no time to write them up. So, I'll cheat, like I often do, and post a quote I like. This one is from Harry Fosdick, liberal 20th century theologian, from an essay on whether Christians should participate in war.

Today when I picture Christ in this warring world I can see him in one place only, not arrayed in the panoply of battle on either side, but on his judgment seat, sitting in condemnation of all of us--aggressor, defender, neutral--who by out joint guilt have involved ourselves in a way of life that denies everything he stood for. The function of the church is to keep him there, above the strife, representing a manner of living, the utter antithesis of war, to which mankind must return if we are to have any hope. But the Christian ministry does not keep him there by throwing itself, generation after generation, into the support and sanction of the nation's wars. Rather it drags him down, until the people, listening, can feel little if any difference between what Christ says and what Mars wants. It is not the function of the Christian church to help win a war. A church that becomes an adjunct to a war department has denied its ministry. The function of the church is to keep Christ where he belongs, upon his judgment seat, condemner of our joint guilt, chastener of our impenitent pride, guide to our only hope.

I especially like the line about the "aggressor, defender and neutral" all being guilty. Pacifism isn't about sitting back and letting evil flourish, but about creating conditions for peace. Nonetheless, there are times when pacifism has no better answers than the soldier, and I think it is important to recognize that sometimes being faithful results in ineffectiveness, and requires both humility and penance. We are all to blame when conflict cannot be resolved peacefully.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Post-Election Musings

On a night when CNN was claiming that Democrats need to govern as conservatives (because some of their victories were in conservative districts) and FOX was claiming the election showed how *conservative* the country still is (apparently the transition from faith-based reality to reality-based reality is slow and painful), we must once again depend on Jon Stewart for the most incisive comments:

  • “Can Karl Rove’s tactical genius overcome, say … reality?”
  • “Democrats need 15 seats be the controlling party and allow themselves access to corruption and sexual perversity.”
  • And my favorite: “... the Democrats cunning strategy of slowly backing out of the room while their brother gets yelled at for burning down the garage”.
I’m glad my political compass is broken, and the Democrats did win. More specifically, I’m glad there will finally be some oversight and accountability for the Bush administration. I hope Democrats can develop some spine and redeploy troops in Iraq, and maybe even impeach Bush, but I’d settle for making him follow the law from now on.

Finally, I must say that it still drives me nuts to hear CNN refer to pro-war, supply-side, gay-bashing christian conservatives as “value voters”, as if those who support ending the war, increasing the minimum wage, and having simple tolerance towards others are not votes based on values. Ironcially, these conservative values are usually in direct opposition to what Jesus taught, like their triumphalist desire to see a Christian America dominate the world, or their support for policies that increase disparity or turn their backs on poor and the sick.

In the end,Democrats are not going to make everything OK. I'm just hoping they can slow our descent into Armageddon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Musings

It’s Election Day, and I have a bad feeling that the Republicans are going to steal yet another election from the bumbling Democrats. There are just too many Diebold voting machines out there, plus the usual tactics for suppressing votes.

The October surprise ended up being the Saddam trial verdict. Gee, no political calculations there – just good ole American luck! I wonder why all those conservative pundits who were decrying the political timing of the Mark Foley scandal are not now harshly criticizing the politicization of the trial timing. I guess consistency isn’t a family value.

I realized yesterday that I can hardly even listen to Bush speak anymore without turning my stomach. I heard him on the radio last night whipping up a crowd of supporters. He said something about how Saddam has been found guilty and is now going to hang, followed by thunderous applause from the crowd. It was quite unseemly, not unlike a French Revolution mob’s bloodthirsty calls for beheading the King. We Are Barbarians! We Are Proud Of It! Yea For Us!

I remember six years ago when I was horrified about then Governor Bush’s glee in executing criminals, even mocking one of them. Many of them did not have fair trials and at least one of them was later found to be innocent. I thought this lack of concern for human rights would translate into the normal Republican disdain for civil rights and erosion of programs designed to help the least among us. That the anti-Christian values of helping the rich and protecting the privileged would win the day.

As someone interviewed on the Daily Show mentioned (I can’t remember her name), these fears were a major failure of imagination on the part of liberals. Who would have thought that six years later, this country would have embarked on an aggressive, unilateral, and unjustified war, killed hundreds of thousands of people, created chaos and strife abroad, legalized torture, illegally wiretapped Americans, and emptied the treasury in support of tax breaks for the wealthy. Ironically, none of this would have been possible without the help of conservative Christians at the voting booth, voting against the values of their very own founder.

I don’t know whether Americans are capable of holding this Republican administration accountable for their deeds. I thought it was obvious two election cycles ago that some accountability was needed, which is why my political predictions are pretty useless these days. I guess we’ll find out in a few hours.

Friday, November 03, 2006

What Jesus Meant

I read an interesting little book awhile back called “What Jesus Meant” by Gary Wills. It started off rather badly for me, by slamming the Jesus Seminar, which is a group of scholars who intend to “renew the quest of the historical Jesus”. Jesus Seminar scholars like Marcus Borg are one of the reasons I can now claim an authentic Christianity for myself after a very long separation. He goes on for 6 pages describing why they are misguided. So, I wasn’t terribly inclined to hear what he had to say after that.

Nonetheless, I trudged forward, and I am glad I did. He has a lot of interesting things to say, and makes a convincing case for a Jesus who is far more radical than most everyone is comfortable with. He also has fresh and vibrant translations from the Greek. It is good to be challenged like this. Here’s are some excerpts:

When pilate asks Jesus if he is King, he answers:
John 18:36 “My reign is not of this present order. If it were of this present order, my ministers would do battle to prevent my surrender to the jews. But for now my reign is not of this present order”
Many would like to make the reign of Jesus belong to this political order. If they want the state to be politically Christian, they are not following Jesus, who says that his reign is not of that order. If, on the other hand, they ask the state simply to profess religion of some sort (not specifically Christian), then some other religions may be conscripted for that purpose, but that of Jesus will not be among them. His reign is not of that order. If people want to do battle for God, they cannot claim that Jesus has called them to this task, since he told Pilate that his ministers would not do that.


If Jesus opposes wealth and power, hierarchy and distinctions, he must have opposed their invariable instrument, violence. And of course he did. More than any other teacher of nonviolence – more than Thoreau, than Gandhi, than Dr. King – he was absolute and inclusive in what he forbade:
Luke 6.27-38
I say to all you who can hear me: Love your foes, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek. To one seizing your cloak, do not refuse the tunic under it. Whoever asks, give to him. Whoever seizes, do not resist. Exactly how you wish to be treated, in that way treat others. For if you love those you love back, what mark of virtue have you? Sinners themselves love those who love back. If you treat well those treating you well, what, what mark of virtue have you? Sinners too, lend to sinners, calculating an exact return. No rather love your foes, treat them well, and lend without any calculation of return. Your great reward will be that you are children of the Highest One, who also favors ingrates and scoundrels. Be just as lenient as that lenient Father. Be not a judge, then and you will not be judged. Be no executioner, and you will not be executed. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and what will be given you is recompense of crammed-in, sifted-down, overtoppling good showered into your lap. The excess will correspond to your excess”
Tremendous ingenuity has been expended to compromise these uncompromising words. Jesus is too much for us. The churches’ later treatment of the gospels is one long effort to rescue Jesus from his “extremism”. Jesus consistently opposed violence. He ordered Peter not to use the sword, even to protect his Lord – yet thousands, in the Crusades, would take up sword to protect the site of that Lord’s death. If one cannot use violence to protect the Lord, what can one justifiably use violence for?