THE ATROCITIES in NICE: Replacing War with Truth & Reconciliation

NICE

The entire world was shocked by the horrendous atrocities of July 14th during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, when a madman ran over scores of his fellow citizens.

Appropriately the crimes were followed by tears, laying of wreaths, moments of silence, and prayer vigils.

France’s President Hollande evoked sympathy when he correctly declared the attacks “an act of war.” No one disagreed.

However, Mr. Hollande was not correct in his implication that the killings in Nice (and earlier in Paris and at Charlie Hebdo) somehow began a war that France and its partners have now self-righteously resolved to “finish.” Rather, all those massacres are part of a much bigger picture that centralizes France’s participation in the U.S.-fabricated War in Iraq and the resulting creation of the Islamic State (ISIS).

To fill out that picture, consider the following home truths about that war in particular, and about war in general. Uncomfortable as they are, allowing those truths to sink in might help uncover non-violent alternatives to the carnage that stupefies everyone.

Begin here:

  • War is hell.
  • In modern warfare, 90% of casualties are civilian.
  • The casualties include refugee migrations.

_____

  • The West’s response to 9/11/01 was to declare war.
  • It began a campaign of bombing and extra-judicial assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere.

_____

  • According to a study by Lancet (one of the oldest scientific medical journals in the world), since 2003 the U.S. war in Iraq has caused more than one million deaths – again, most of them civilian.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. has supplied weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia for their own bombing campaigns against Muslims in Gaza and Yemen.
  • In Gaza alone (with complete U.S. support) the Israeli Defense Force fired 50,000 shells, carried out 6000 airstrikes, destroyed 3,500 buildings, killed 2250 Gazans, including 551 children.

_____

  • In wars there are always at least two sides.
  • All have the right to attack and counter-attack.
  • It is insane to be shocked when counter-attacks occur.
  • Counter-attacks often mimic attacks.
  • So if one side is perceived as attacking defenseless civilians, the other side will likely respond in kind.

_____

  • France itself is at war.
  • President Hollande is a founding member of the U.S.-led coalition that has recently dropped 175,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria killing at least 600 civilians in the process.
  • Therefore no one should be surprised when “in kind” counter-attacks occur. (To repeat: that’s the way war works.)

In view of such home truths, and recognizing that intensified bombing has proven counterproductive, instead of responding to the Paris massacre with more of the same, the U.S., France and their allies should:

  • On principle reject the atrocities of war that on both sides justly horrify everyone.
  • Institute instead a process of Truth and Reconciliation that admits and apologizes for the causal role the War in Iraq has had in the creation of ISIS.
  • Take seriously Britain’s recently published  Chilcot Report that indicted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for cooperating with the Bush administration in misleading the world into that war.
  • Prosecute Blair, Bush, Cheney and others for the crimes the Chilcot Report describes.
  • Open western borders to the refugees inevitably produced by the U.S.-led wars over the last 15 years.
  • Spend the billions now invested in war against ISIS on rebuilding Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Palestine.
  • In churches and other principled fora, specifically condemn all Islamophobic statements of politicians and other public figures.

Only actions like these can release the world from massacres that are the unavoidable consequences of the wars we rightly recognize as hell.

(Sunday Homily) The Torture Report: Cheney Channels King David in the Struggle over Historical Narrative

Cheney

Readings for 4th Sunday of Advent: 2nd SAM 7:1-5, 8-12, 14A, 16; PS 89: 2-5, 27-29; ROM 16: 25-27; LK 1: 21-38 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122114.cfm

Strange that according to a poll last week, more than half the “American” people think torture is permissible. I say “strange” because nearly 80% of Americans consider themselves “Christian.” And Jesus himself was a victim of torture. On the other hand, can you imagine Jesus torturing anyone?

You’d think the similarities between the Romans’ treatment of Jesus and the “Americans’” treatment of countless innocent victims would make devout Christians less accepting of torture.  Maybe they’d oppose torture on principle, as a matter of faith.

Or perhaps it’s that they just agree with ex-VP, Dick Cheney. After all, he wouldn’t consider “torture” what the Romans’ enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) did to  Jesus  – not the prolonged beating we all witnessed portrayed in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” not the crowning with thorns, not forcing a beaten man to carry his own instrument of execution, not driving nails into his hands and feet, not leaving him for hours struggling for breath on a cross whose chief agony was bringing the victim to the point of asphyxiation (like waterboarding) and beyond.

According to Mr. Cheney, that punishment would have crossed the line to torture only at the point when death proved imminent. Unfortunately, as with untold (literally) victims of U.S. enhanced interrogation, that line was crossed in the case of Jesus.

But in the end, as supporters of U.S. Empire, “American” Christians probably understand and forgive what the Romans did. After all, like its U.S. counterpart, the Roman Empire was under siege on all sides. And the Jews were particularly rebellious. And Jesus (in Roman eyes) gave every indication of leading a rebellion. An empire’s got to do what an empire’s got to do – even if it means killing the innocent like Jesus.

I think however that there’s something more than compassion failure at work here.  The “more” is the power of propaganda. That’s something addressed in today’s liturgy of the word. There the author of 2nd Samuel whitewashes the brutal King David and turns him from something like a mafia don into a national hero. In today’s gospel selection, even the evangelist, Luke buys the distortion. He makes Jesus the successor of David.

I’ll get to that in a moment. But let me first finish with the torture document. You see, (as Glen Greenwald has pointed out) it’s no wonder that “Americans” can’t identify with the tortured much less connect them with Jesus.

That’s because since the Report’s release on December 9th, the mainstream media (MSM) has treated us to an endless parade of torturers and torture enablers explaining away the conclusions of the Senate’s years-long study.  We haven’t heard a word from the victims of torture or from the families of those whose sons and daughters were killed at the hands of sadistic representatives of our government.

The result of this one-sided silencing of the victims has been to rob them of their humanity – of their very existence.  Given the deafening silence, why would we feel compassion for people who don’t even exist? Out of sight, out of mind.

Imagine how better informed we’d be if on “Meet the Press” or somewhere Mr. Cheney had to defend his policies against his victims – many of whom, Greenwald reminds us (because he has interviewed them) are incredibly articulate. Perhaps the victims might suggest waterboarding the ex-VP to see if he really believes that practice doesn’t sink to the level of torture.

According to University of Wisconsin –Madison Professor Alfred McCoy (the author of Torture and Impunity) this erasure of victims is all part of a five-stage policy on the question of torture. After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, the first step was identifying the low level perpetrators with “bad apples.” The second stage kept rumors of more widespread torture at bay in the name of national security. Thirdly, President Obama adopted the “let’s look forward, not backward” approach. Fourthly came the move to exonerate all those guilty of torture or enabling the practice. Finally we’ve reached the stage which emerged last week: vindication before the bar of history of all those connected with U.S. torture.

Again, that’s where the battle has been joined today; we’re struggling over historical narrative. This is the stage all empires come to eventually as their crimes inevitably come to light. It’s what we witness in today’s liturgy of the word and the white-washing of Israel’s King David. The example is instructive. It suggests practical responses to the Torture Report at both the level of faith and political action.

You see, there are really two separate king David traditions in the Bible. One presents the good David, the other, the bad. The good David is the one largely presented in I Chronicles 10:14-29:30. He also appears in today’s first reading from 2nd Samuel and in the responsorial psalm.

This David is pious, and wants to build a temple for God. According to the story, God is pleased, and rewards him with everything a king could want: victory over his enemies, immortal fame, prosperity for his people, thriving descendants, and a dynasty that will last forever.

Then there’s the bad David who begins to appear in I Samuel, chapter 16. This David is a murderous tyrant. He rebels against Saul, Israel’s first king. He’s a womanizer, a murderer and an object of popular hate.  Far from lasting forever, his dynasty ends with the death of his successor, Solomon. He’s the David whose death-bed instructions are worthy of any Mafia godfather. To Solomon he says, “Take care of my friends, Sol – and my enemies too (wink, wink). You know what I mean?” (IKGS 2: 1-9)

Besides that, the bad David bastardizes the Mosaic Covenant and its protection of widows, orphans, and resident aliens and turns it into a tool of the ruling classes – from Moses’ “I will be your God and you will be my people,” into David’s “You are my son, the king of Israel, and your dynasty will last forever.”

Of course, the bad David has been swallowed up by popular memory of its competing tradition. David is uniformly remembered by the majority of believers as the man “after God’s own heart.” As I said, in today’s familiar gospel selection, Luke falls into that trap. He makes Jesus (through his foster father, Joseph, no less) the successor of David. And this even though Jesus as portrayed by Luke is no friend of the Temple or of kings and emperors. Rather he is the friend of the beneficiaries of the Mosaic Covenant – the widows, orphans, aliens, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans. His values do not include enemies (much less victory over them) or prosperity, fame, or everlasting dynasties.

Recognizing this struggle over which narrative will prevail sheds light on the Torture Report. It enables followers of the simple man from Nazareth to judge that the struggle even before the bar of biblical history has been won by the likes of Cheney and Bush. It has been won by the bad David.

Our conclusion: we must not allow that to happen as we fight over whose story should prevail concerning the latest revelations about the powerful organized crime syndicate known as the CIA.

So what should we do?  Our response should be at two levels.

At the level of faith believers should be exposed to the historical Jesus I’m attempting to present in these homilies. We neglect those powerful myths at our own peril. Even the uninformed can understand them.  This means that the Jesus’ story represents a powerful tool for raising consciousness about torture (and other issues of social justice).

It’s true that the MSM might not expose the story of the tortured to that 80% of “Americans” who claim to be Christian. However, if those with the responsibility for explaining the sacred texts assume that responsibility and do their homework, there’s no reason why those wishing to follow Jesus can’t understand that:

  • Jesus himself was a victim of torture at the hands of an empire very like the United States.
  • He taught universal love.
  • He was non-violent
  • He said he considers what’s done to the least of the human race as done to him.
  • He said we should love our enemies.

At the political level we should:

  • Urge outgoing senator Mark Udall (D Colorado) to use his senatorial privilege of unlimited free speech to release the entire unredacted torture document.
  • Pressure the media through phone calls and letters to the editor to present the other side of the torture story including interviews with torture victims and with the families of those whose sons and daughters, husbands and wives were killed under CIA torture.

Christians Have Been Worshipping the Devil for Millennia: Lent calls us to change Gods

Empires[1]

Readings for First Sunday of Lent: Dt. 26: 4-10; Ps. 91: 1-2; 10-15; Rom. 10: 8-13; Lk. 4: 1-13. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021713.cfm

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a time of renewal – of getting back to basics – to asking questions about what we really believe and what God we truly worship. Today’s liturgy of the word helps us to do both. Deuteronomy 26 directs us to the authentic faith of Jesus – in the God who liberates the enslaved. Today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel calls us to worship that God rather than devil – the evil one that our culture and church (!) have been worshipping for centuries – ever since they first embraced imperialism in the 4th century C.E. Let me explain.

Start with that reading from Deuteronomy 26. It’s a key text if we want to understand the God in whom Jesus placed his faith. Jesus, remember, was a Jew, not a Christian. And Deuteronomy 26 provides us with the creedal statement that the Jewish Jesus accepted as did all Jews of his time. I mean, for them, Deuteronomy 26 functioned much like our Nicene Creed does for us each Sunday. It was a reminder of their basic belief. As such, it can be summarized in the passage’s seven points:

1. Our father (Abraham) was a wandering Aramean (a Syrian).
2. “Abraham” (i.e. his descendents) went down into Egypt.
3. There we became a great people.
4. But the Egyptians enslaved us.
5. We cried out to our God, Yahweh, who raised up the rebel prophet, Moses.
6. He led us out of Egypt, across the sea, through the desert, and to this land “flowing with milk and honey.”
7. This land is our gift from Yahweh; Thanks be to God!

That’s it! That was the faith that Jesus, the Jewish prophet, inherited from his ancestors. It was a tribal faith centered on the ownership of a God-given piece of land (Palestine) which (despite its dryness and desert character) the descendents of Jacob saw as rich and productive (flowing with milk and honey).

Notice that this Jewish faith had nothing to do with an afterlife, heaven or hell. (In fact, belief in the afterlife was a very late development among the Jews; it didn’t emerge even for debate until about 200 years before Jesus’ birth.) Instead, as among all hunter-gatherers, herds people and agriculturalists, Jewish faith was centered on land. Obviously then, it had little tolerance for colonial military forces like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks or Romans all of whom at various times occupied Palestine. Colonialism and foreign occupation contradicted Jewish faith in a fundamental way. It was intolerable.

That was true for Jesus too. As a prophet, his fundamental proclamation was not about himself or about a new religion. Much less was it about the after-life or “going to heaven.” Instead, Jesus proclaimed the “Kingdom of God.” That phrase referred to what the world would be like without empire – if Yahweh were king instead of Rome’s Caesar. In other words, “Kingdom of God” was a political image among a people unable and unwilling to distinguish between politics and religion.

In God’s Kingdom, everything would be reversed and guiding principles would be changed. The first would be last; the last would be first. The rich would weep, and the poor would laugh. Prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom, while the priests and “holy people” – all of them collaborators with Rome – would find themselves excluded. The world would belong not to the powerful, but to the “meek,” i.e. to the gentle, humble and non-violent. It would be governed not by force and “power over” but by compassion and gift (i.e. sharing).

The creedal account of Deuteronomy 26 sets the stage for today’s gospel narrative about Jesus’ temptations in the desert. (And it’s here that the devil-worship connected with empire enters the picture. Listen closely.) In a context of Roman occupation, Luke’s account raises the question of whom to worship. The choice he presents is stark: one can worship the devil the author of empire or Yahweh, the opponent of imperial power of all types.

That clear choice becomes apparent in Luke’s version of Jesus’ second temptation. From a high vantage point, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth. Then he says,

“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

Notice what’s happening here. The devil shows Jesus an empire infinitely larger than Rome’s – “all the kingdoms of the world.” Such empire, the devil claims, belongs to him: “It has been handed over to me.” This means that those who exercise imperial power do so because the devil has chosen to share his possession with them: “I may give it to whomever I wish.” The implication here is that Rome (and whoever exercises empire) is the devil’s agent. Finally, the tempter underlines what all of this means: devil-worship is the single prerequisite for empire’s possession and exercise: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

But Jesus responds,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Here Jesus quotes the Mosaic tradition summarized in Deuteronomy 26 to insist that empire and worship of Yahweh are incompatible. Put otherwise, at the beginning of his public life, Jesus declares his anti-imperial position in the strongest possible (i.e. scriptural) terms.

Now fast forward to the 4th century – 381 CE to be exact. In 313 Constantine’s Edict of Milan had removed from Christianity the stigma of being a forbidden cult. From 313 on, it was legal. By 325 Constantine had become so involved in the life of the Christian church that he himself convoked the Council of Nicaea to determine the identity of Jesus. Who was Jesus after all – merely a man, or was he a God pretending to be a man, or perhaps a man who became a God? Was he equal to Yahweh or subordinate to him? If he was God, did he have to defecate and urinate? These were the questions.

However, my point is that by the early 4th century the emperor had a strong hand in determining the content of Christian theology. And as time passed, the imperial hand grew more influential by the day. In fact, by 381 under the emperor Theodosius Christianity had become not just legal, but the official religion of the Roman Empire. As such its job was to attest that God (not the devil) had given empire to Rome in exchange for worshipping him (not the devil)!

Do you get my point here? It’s the claim that in the 4th century, Rome presented church fathers with the same temptation that Jesus experienced in the desert. But whereas Jesus had refused empire as diabolical, the prevailing faction of 4th century church leadership embraced it as a gift from God. In so doing they also said “yes” to the devil worship as the necessary prerequisite to aspirations to control “all the kingdoms of the world.” Christians have been worshipping the devil ever since, while calling him “God.”

No, today’s readings insist: all the kingdoms of the world belong only to God. They are God’s Kingdom to be governed not by “power over,” not by dominion and taking, but by love and gift which leave people like the liberated daughters and sons of Abraham free to live in control of their own God-given piece of earth. Or in the words of Jesus, the earth is meant to belong to those “meek” I mentioned – the gentle, humble, and non-violent.

All of this has implications for us as would-be followers of Jesus and as citizens of a country whose “leaders” (supported by their “Christian” counterparts) increasingly embrace empire as the inevitable and fitting destiny of the United States.

In fact, in 2003, then vice-president, Dick Cheney sent out a Christmas card on which was inscribed the words, “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” Cheney’s implication was that the United States is God’s new chosen people. Empire as practiced by the United States represents God’s will.

Instead, today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us the opposite. Empires arise only with the devil’s aid.

Does this mean that faithful followers of Jesus must pray for the defeat of the United States in its imperial conquests? Must we discourage our sons and daughters from joining the military?
(Discussion follows)