Sunday, April 09, 2006

"progress"

three years ago today this iconic photograph of american triumphalism was taken in bagdad. three years later, many of us are wondering "what the hell is going on?"
my intention is not to raise an overdebated hot issue, but just to mark this day in memory and juxtapose it with the other event that is remembered today: palm sunday.
if you have time, read through this thoughtful essay a prof of mine wrote: Christian Reflections on War.
here's a quote fom it- "Many Christians in the United States seem to have confused Caesar and Christ. We seem to have confused a kingdom of this world—our nation—with the Kingdom of God. The will and interests of our nation have become conflated with the will and values of God."

15 comments:

joy said...

i agree with your prof, phil. and now with the talk of going into iran... this dogma is scary. we really need to be able to see beyond the US and need to see the world.

pedro said...

I agree with Joy. However, what is even scarier is that I was at the least indifferent to our invading Iraq and at the most a supporter. I remember watching the news and feeling awe and pride that Iraquis were heaping insult upon the fallen statue that had just been toppled. However, much reflection over the past three years, as well as the benefits of hindsight have crystallized my resolve to engage more critically with wrold events in the future.

As an aside, the power of hindsight is really very powerful; however, with this power comes the temptation to rationalize and justify the past. We see this being done to history all the time: people denying that the holocaust happened, Westerners forgetting that our colonial past is cause enough for the rest of the world to despise us, Christian fundamentalists claiming that our nation was founded on Christian principles while conveniently forgetting that slavery was enshrined in our most hallowed constitution (or at least not realizing that slavery contravenes the gospel).

I have realized that although I now oppose to the war and even to the invasion itself, I cannot deny that I was at one time not so vehement in my objections. I must own up to the errors of judgment and moral lapses in my own past, even as I object to the inequities of my nation's policy.

elnellis said...

peter, thanks for your honesty that addresses my self-righteousness. i, too was merely ambivalent about the whole thing 3 or 4 years ago. now i object strongly, but does that mean the answer is to evacuate totally? how can we honor the people to whom we have done great violence against? most likely through owning our nation's "log in eye."
what does the kenosis mean in the context of holy week... in the category of war?

erk said...

I am curious as to what is so wrong about what happened in Iraq? An evil dictator was overthrown, now, as one would suspect the country is in uproar. I wish that we could get rid of more evil dictators all around the world,i.e. most of the governing forces in Africa. yet, the way that I read the quote it was talking more about Christians and politics. It did seem that the war in Iraq was blindly supported by Christians. I guess cause we have Christianity somehow tied up with Republicanism. Jesus never called believers into politics. He called us to pray for our leaders and honour them as those placed there by God. Our president is not God, yet he has been placed by God (I guess, with that logic I'd even have to say that Clinton was placed by God...I shudder at the thought) I think it's important that we know what is going on in our country, not so that we can have opinions but so that we can be informed. We will never know the whole story since the media will only ever present one side and our only way of knowing what is going on is through the media. I think it is important that we love one another as Christ loved us.

P.S. Slavery, although it was poorly practiced in the U.S. is not against the Bible. Slaves are to honour their masters and Masters to treat their slaves well, but it NEVER says that slavery is wrong. All men are equal spiritually, but not in rank or occupation.

pedro said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Firelance said...

Erk, have you ever been a slave? Before you go blindly wielding that "Paul didn't condemn Philemon for owning a slave" cliche I want you to ask if you have ever been one. Do you honestly think that in American (or any) slavery, New Testament guidelines were being followed? Look at the contrast between the last sentence of your first paragraph and your p.s. tag! Just look at it. It goes like this:

"I think it is important that we love one another as Christ loved us.

P.S. Slavery, although it was poorly practiced in the U.S. is not against the Bible..."

Lian said...

Interesting. I have to say, Firelance, that there never is point in scripture in which slavery is condemned. Having said that, I don't think it is a mark of Christ-like love to own slaves, however, the New Testament is full to the brim with encouragements, not just from Paul but from Christ himself, not to tear down the established social structure but to heal it with love. In that sense, I suspect Christ would not have supported any war. Then again, it's hard to imagine him protesting one either. He seemed to think the world was worth saving but not through dispute - not through physically broken chains - not through agressive upheaval - not through passifist upheaval. Through sacrifice.

If we're going to shout about political justice we'll find ourselves in a bind. It is unjust to invade another country and spark a violent war. It is also unjust to have power to bring down gross injustice (please don't try to persuade me that Iraq has been a nation marked by even cursory justice) and do nothing.
Also, I'm afraid that for Christians interested in the kingdom, the excuse that "they didn't want any help" (which is highly subjective to begin with) just isn't going to fly. We certainly didn't want Christ's help.

pedro said...

Erika,

It is not easy to explicitly say what is wright or wrong about the situation in Iraq because the situation in Iraq is so complex. I will definitely grant (as will, I suspect, most people - even outspoken opponents to the war) that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein in power. However, the result of his overthrow is an unstable nation-state that (although Washington refuses to label it so) is in the midst of a civil war. Just because elctions have taken place does not mean that democracy has taken root in Iraq. To the contrary, the very enemy we sought to combat (terrorism) has arguable grown stronger as a result of our uncalculated military actions. Furthermore, this action has only worsened America's image on the global scene. Thae fact is that America has a history of covert regime change worldwide, and, in the long run none of those interventions has worked in our favor. Iran is a poignant example. Iraq is proving to be another such example.

As far as the overt evangelical supportfor the war, I recently heard a pundit quip that for Christians, human life is only important until it is born (an obvious commentary on the juxtaposition of our militant opposition to abortion in America and our overwhelming support of a bloody, ongoing war in Iraq).

Concerning slavery in the Bible, I personally feel that it is amore cultural issue. You're right - Paul admonished slaves to remain slaves; but he was probably speaking more about sumbission for the sake of the gospel than he was supporting slavery. However, Christ turned the idea of submission on its head. He said that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He demonstrated this absolute self-sacrifice by giving up every entitlement he possessed (as God, he is entitled to everything) and became a slave to death. I don't see many human masters becoming slaves to their own slaves. The gospel is about giving up entitle ment, not about accepting the status quo. Humanly, this is abominable because slaves are always considered to be less than human. Slavery is not an occupation; it is forced servitude. Remember that women had only slightly more politicval rights than did slaves in the Roman Empire.

It's easy for us to glibly talk about chaos in Iraq because those of us who dialogue on this blog live in amazing stable and nonviolent parts of the world. Our overthrow of Saddam's regime has only traded one evil for another. Now we are also culpable for the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Remember how we felt when the Twin Towers were brought down? Only 2,000 people died. Most of us watched in horror from the comfort of our safe, secure living rooms with a Coke in hand. And few famlies were personally affected. Were we outraged? You bet.

Put yourself in the shoes of an Iraqi (or a slave for that matter). Not only did a foreign power overthrow your government; they still occupy your country. Now you not only live in terror of the opressiveness of a cruel dictator, you now have car bombs blowing up in your city every day, and your fellow countryman are indiscriminately killing each other. Every Iraqi has been personally affected by the current violence in Iraq, even those who were onlyl abstractly affected by the terror of Saddam's oppressive regime. In those circumstances, it's likely that not many Iraqis have the luxury of feeling outraged. They're scared shitless.

It's easy for us to feel empathy with and to pray for persecuted Christians because we can identify with them; after all, we share a common faith. Even though it's nearly impossible for most of us to put ourselves in the shoes of the average Iraqi, I think we need to try.

pedro said...

Chad,

I would disagree that we believers are not expected to become active politically in order to right injustice. Although Christ's example is the highest standard to follow, his personal ministry was ordained by the Spirit to establish the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which is spiritual in nature but also sociological in that its nexus is in the church. However, it also looks foreward eschatologically to a time in which all creation and humanity will live under the absolute reign of God. This is not to say that we humans will eschatologically accomplish the Kingdom, but the spiritual and ecclesiastical order that has been established carries the seed of humanity's eschatological future. Our eschatological existence will encompass all of reality, not just an abstract spritual modality.

Christ was absolutely apolitical; this comes through in his explicit refusal either to support or condemn the Roman Empire. However, it is clear from the scriptures that God is concerned with social justice. This is especially evident in the old testament in which tose with power (especially the priests) are condemned by God for abusing their power and oppressing Israel. This is why Micah famously turns Israel's religiosity on its head and writes: "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To sct justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Christ's message was not political (the Zealots wished for a violent overthrow of the Roman Empire), but justice transcends politics. Social movements such as those that have overthrown systemic slavery, created sufferage and social respect for women, and have insured that not only are all people equal spiritually but also legally (i.e. the American Civil rights movement) have been just. There were absolutely aspects of each of those movements which went beyond and contradicted the gospel, but those were the aspects that attempted to replace one heinous evil with another excess (e.g., "black power" and the feminist movement). The nature of our contemporary Western democracy, however, is that power does not rest in a divine monarch or emperor but that all political power is vested in the people, that is you and me. Thus, we ARE the governing authorities, and we then have the absolute responsibility to question the injustice and mistakes of our representative leaders. Because we have entrusted them with the right to rule by electing them, we are culpable for their mistakes and excesses.

You're right that Iraqis initially welcomed us as liberators, but because (as I stated earlier and did not elaborate) our reasons for invading Iraq placed liberating Iraqis at the bottom of the list, our presence as occupiers quickly became unwelcome. Remember the stated reasons for overthrowing Saddam? He was a part of the Axis of Evil that is still seen by the Bush administration to be a threat to the physical security of the American people. He was believed to possess weapons of mass destruction (I personally bought into that faulty intelligence and reason for invading). We were not concerned that he would use those on his own people - he already had and we did nothing. Following the first Gulf War, we led Iraqi Shiites into believing that we would support an uprise. They rose up against Saddam and we withdrew our covert support. Saddam also used chemical weapons on the Kurds in the north, and we did nothing at the time. Part (though not all) of our reason for invading Iraq was for the oil. The sectarianism that divides the currently divides the country has its modern roots in the creation of the Iraqi state after WWI. Its borders (like the borders of the former Yougoslavia and other remnants of the Ottoman Empire) were arbitrarily drawn in the ininterests of the victorious powers. Iraq is clearly a nation that was created with no historical logic. The northern third of the country is populated by Kurds, and the southern two-thirds is populated by a combination of Sunnis and Shiites, although there is even geographical division for these groups. If you follow events, you will know that some Kurds do, indeed want to seced from Iraq, but the rest of the Iraqi people are unwilling to lose the oil-rich territory that the Kurds populate. Another example of the relative importance of oil is that, if you will remember, before Saddam was overthrown, the UN had an "oil for food" program in which the economic embargo of Iraq was partially suspended in order to obtain its oil.

These two examples suffice to begin to color the complexity of the situation in Iraq. Again it it is important to remember that we DID NOT invade Iraq primarily to liberate the Iraqi people. Thus, I don't think it is necessary or appropriate to compare our intervention in Iraq with the redemption effected by Christ.

nathan Barrett said...

Lian,

This quote rocked,

"Having said that, I don't think it is a mark of Christ-like love to own slaves, however, the New Testament is full to the brim with encouragements, not just from Paul but from Christ himself, not to tear down the established social structure but to heal it with love."

This is the same issue in II Tim 2 (might be I Tim) where Paul is instructing women to be quiet in the Church and learn quietly. This isn't a passage that says women shouldn't talk in Church or share, it means to take it easy because the rest of society doesn't even allow their women to learn anything, much less in quietness - so in fact this was quite counter-cultural for the time if one reads it in its context. Women were given liberties but they were being told not to take it to far and tear down the social structure and thereby give the Gospel a bad name. They were being instructed to take it slow but yes the Gospel does set people free - except it is a process that takes time, love and relationships.

The other amazing thing that is being pointed out by the slavery issue is also its context. Slavery at that time wasn't what we have today. In the Roman world slavery was much like insurance or a credit card. You do it when you are caught between a rock and a hard place. The slave would agree to terms with his master to work for a certain amount of time while the master paid off his outstanding debt or gave him security and a place to live. He was then a slave but there was a contract involved - it got different when children were born into slavery but many times initially it wasn't forced on them against their will, although it may have been forced on them by their circumstances. Although, if you became a slave to a Roman citizen and then were freed you became a "freedman" and were able to attain the rights of a Roman citizen whereas before you were a slave that would have been impossible, so becoming a slave was actually quite beneficial for your social standing when it was all over with - this makes me think of immigrants who come to North America or Europe from horrible conditions and work their ass off to make it but then they receive all the benefits of national health care and their children are offered a much better life. Context is Queen, Christ is King, I guess I wish I knew what I was talking about more often.

Blessings!

nathan Barrett said...

Lian,

This quote rocked,

"Having said that, I don't think it is a mark of Christ-like love to own slaves, however, the New Testament is full to the brim with encouragements, not just from Paul but from Christ himself, not to tear down the established social structure but to heal it with love."

This is the same issue in II Tim 2 (might be I Tim) where Paul is instructing women to be quiet in the Church and learn quietly. This isn't a passage that says women shouldn't talk in Church or share, it means to take it easy because the rest of society doesn't even allow their women to learn anything, much less in quietness - so in fact this was quite counter-cultural for the time if one reads it in its context. Women were given liberties but they were being told not to take it to far and tear down the social structure and thereby give the Gospel a bad name. They were being instructed to take it slow but yes the Gospel does set people free - except it is a process that takes time, love and relationships.

The other amazing thing that is being pointed out by the slavery issue is also its context. Slavery at that time wasn't what we have today. In the Roman world slavery was much like insurance or a credit card. You do it when you are caught between a rock and a hard place. The slave would agree to terms with his master to work for a certain amount of time while the master paid off his outstanding debt or gave him security and a place to live. He was then a slave but there was a contract involved - it got different when children were born into slavery but many times initially it wasn't forced on them against their will, although it may have been forced on them by their circumstances. Although, if you became a slave to a Roman citizen and then were freed you became a "freedman" and were able to attain the rights of a Roman citizen whereas before you were a slave that would have been impossible, so becoming a slave was actually quite beneficial for your social standing when it was all over with - this makes me think of immigrants who come to North America or Europe from horrible conditions and work their ass off to make it but then they receive all the benefits of national health care and their children are offered a much better life. Context is Queen, Christ is King, I guess I wish I knew what I was talking about more often.

Blessings!

erk said...

I would never want anyone to think that I am a lover of slavery. I agree that in many countries at many times it has been a horrific thing. Evidently the American slaves were the only ones where the master was said to own their souls. I agree that is evil. All I was saying was that we need to be careful using our modernized values when interpreting Scripture. Agreed that the slaves in the Bible times were sort of more like domestic help. They even had some rights. American slaves did not, and that was an evil. Not all slave owners were evil (although the accompanying racism was) and some valued their slaves and acknowledged them as people. Anyway...I would not wish slavery on anyone. we simply need to be careful in our interpretation and make sure that our passions to interpret the Bible for us.
I would also be careful to say that it is America's fault that the Iragis are currently in a state of civil war. They were never before allowed a say in government, now they are and there is a lot of anger from years of fear and suppression. Many countries experience civil war before they are able to become a solid political base. I get very frustrated at the constant blame game, that when there is suffering then America must be to blame. I think Bush was even responsible for the 9/11 attacks. At some point people need to be responsible for themselves. I'm sure that the Bush administration had made errors, but they are not entirely responsible for the state of Iraq. No, we didn't go to war for the Iraqi people, we went to war because there seemed to be a threat to the American people. I would like to honour those soldiers who have died and are willing to die even now in Iraq for that idea of keeping America safe.

Lian said...

Pedro, Thanks for pointing out my irresponsible comparison between Christ's redemption and the Iraq invasion. That wasn't really my intention but it certainly came out that way.
I just want to go on the record as saying that I don't support the invasion. We love our democracy (I certainly benefit from it every day) but democracy is one of many political systems that encourage corruption - that require leaders to please the populace in order to maintain power. That means that I distrust almost every decision politicians make as being ultimately self-interested. The same is undoubtedly true in Iraq. But again, SOME of the outcomes are just, many are unjust.
We humans are so intent upon overpowering each other that every act is ultimately a destructive one.
This is the didachy of T.H. White's "The Once and Future King" and one that is implicit in Christ's example: The cycle of evil and injustice can never be broken among men as long as we maintain our "earthbound" systems of governance and justice, all of which depend upon the righting of wrongs - the Mosaic "eye for an eye". I agree that God's interest in social justice is deep, but I also think his Son has demonstrated to us that the old ways, the legal ways, the human ways will never purge injustice.

We have rightly upheld women, children and minorities in many ways in the West but they seem to be suffering all the more in Africa, Asia and the Middle East - PARTIALLY as a result of our Western greediness.

This is why Christ did not radically reform the injustices of his day - a reformed system will be conversely imbalanced and will be imperfect and will eventually corrode.
Neither War nor Anti-War can touch the kind of paradigm shift that Christ makes - a total preemption of justice in favour of self-destructive mercy.

pedro said...

Erika and Chad,

If you have felt lambasted by my previous two posts, it was because the timbre of your previous pasts had touched a nerve within me. However, I now have a better feel where the two of you are coming from.

I hear what you are saying about the blame game. As a white, male, American, Protestant, I am often the brunt of criticisms of societal oppression, and I often weary of perpetually owning up for injustices that I am only guilty of through association. And I also wish to honor the soldiers (including your brother)who fight for duty's sake. I, myself, was enlisted to serve as an Airborne Ranger two years ago, but after I began dating the woman who is now my wife, and at the advice of friends who had, themselves, spent a tour of duty in Iraq, I got out of my enlistment before going to basic training. I am not saying that we are entirely to blame, but we are definitely to blame for failing to anticipate what you, Erika, point out - that the Iraqis have not had the freedom of self-determination for a very long time and thus have no experience ruling themselves.

Chad, I absolutely agree with your assessment that absolute justice can never be found through political means and that power too often corrupts; this is what I was saying in bringing up eschatology. However, my theology differs somewhat. I believe that because creation is God's realm, believers are obligated to be engaged in every area of life. Thus, we must protect the environment as stewards of limited resources; we must not only wield political power judiciously, we must also empower the disenfranchised by giving some of our power to them; we must engage intellectually and artistically, not just for the sake of witness, but because art and intellect are a means of expolring the organization and aesthetic of our God's creation. These engagements may, in fact, never better the situation on earth, for while the Kingdom has not yet been fully realized, sin still wages war against holiness, and as you say, we will never purge injustice; however, we are never told to quit a losing battle.

Ultimately, I would agree with you that self-destructive mercy is what we are called to, but I believe that justice can be paradoxically achieved through such loving self-sacrifice. After all, in theological parlance we are said to be made just (or we are justified) through Christ's self-sacrifice on our behalf. Can not justice be achieved as well by giving up power as by assuming it?

Firelance said...

Erk, I'd like to apologize for the comment I made above. I do hope you see this comment since Phil's post is now a couple weeks old. I was in a nasty, negative mood when I wrote it and it was ugly. I'm sorry. I knew what you were saying and I put words in your mouth. Forgive me.