Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Guarantee of Continued Violence in the Middle East

Guaranteed. Place your bets now, before the rush. We have just guaranteed more years of violence and mayhem in the Middle East -- and probably in many places around the world. How? It's easy.

You just give thirty billion (that's 30 with 9 zeros after it) dollars worth of military aid to the nation of Israel so they can maintain their military advantage over everyone else in the Middle East. See the story here. Oh, and at the same time, DO NOT ask them to treat the Palestinians with any kind of justice!

The Israelis have unjustly occupied Palestinian territory since -- 1948? No doubt there has been injustice on the part of the Palestinians over the years, but their oppression at the hands of the Israelis is just as -- at least! -- horrendous. Many web sites recount the history of this conflict, but one I've found useful is called "Palestine Remembered."

My point here is not to place blame (there is more than enough to go around, and it doesn't stop with the Israelis or the Palestinians), but to point out the obvious: the US is continuing to feed the fires of conflict in the Middle East. If we were serious about peace, we would work hard to resolve the Palestinian conflict. When we side with Israel (as we have always done), we provoke all of the allies of the Palestinians. We're not trying to solve this conflict -- I suspect it is way too profitable for the US oil and military interests. This is big business!

I want my country, the United States of America, to live up to its claims of being a peace-loving nation. We can only do that by bringing peace in Palestine. The "War on Terror" (a stupid name for it, just for starters) is only throwing gasoline on brush fires. The root of the issue is in Palestine. When we can stop the oppression of the Palestinian people and bring a resolution there, we will have made great strides toward reducing the terroristic threat world-wide. Period. The US can do this -- we have the political and economic (as if they're different!) clout with Israel to get it accomplished. But it will require that we give up some of our own economic interests. Hmmm. Fat chance.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"'Scores die' in Iraq bomb attacks"

That's the headline over this story on the BBC website, posted just today (August 14, 2007). Over 175 members of a religious sect known as Yazidi were killed by suicide bomb attacks, apparently by fellow-Kurds.

This is the kind of violence the US presence has provoked in Iraq. Now, in a vacuum of power caused by the end of the Hussein regime, the ethnic groups in Iraq and the religious sects are vying for power.

Of course, the ethnic and sectarian tensions were present before, but were checked by the power of Hussein's central government. And of course, there was the threat of Hussein's next whimsical ethnic cleansing. Or so the story goes.

Is Iraq a safer place now? Is it a better place to live? Is the quality of life better now than it was before? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding "NO!" We have opened Pandora's Box, and now we don't know how to shut it.

I want us Americans to know the truth about what we have caused, and continue to cause. I want us to remember to grieve for the thousands and thousands of dead Iraqis, not just the dead Americans. The website "Iraq Body Count" reports that a minimum of 69, 334 Iraqi civilians have been killed, and a maximum of 75,775. On October 11, 2006 CNN reported that over 655,000 Iraqis had been killed in the war. The director of a 2003 door to door survey in Baghdad and southern Iraq has published his findings on this site, "Iraqi Civilian War Casualties. He includes names, ages and causes of death. This is the Iraq war made personal rather than letting it remain a remote conflict in an obscure part of the world, easily overlooked or forgotten.

Every day there are human beings dying -- being killed -- by both US forces and Iraqi militia or "death squads." Each one of these people has a family -- a husband or wife, a parent or grandparent, a child or children -- who now grieve. These are not just body count numbers, but people -- individuals. Each one is a life ended. Each one was a child of God, no matter what we think of their politics or religious beliefs.

When we think about what to do next in Iraq, we can't think only of US national interests. We cannot think only of the deaths of American soldiers and civilians (because so much of the war effort has been contracted out to private enterprises, some estimate that there are more American civilians in Iraq than American soldiers!). We have to remember also that the Iraqi people have suffered incredible loss -- tantamount to genocide. Many times more Iraqis have died than Americans.

Is it any wonder that the Iraqis want us out?

It has been argued that if we leave now, we will leave the Iraqis to their own self-destruction -- that the civil war that would ensue would be worse than our continued presence. That's an excuse, I think, to keep our armed forces there and to continue to pursue our national interests there. Let's get it out of our heads that we're just there to do the Iraqis a favor. If that were the case, our troops would also be in Dafur, and in many, many other places around the world where there is civil strife. The only way a war effort can be sold to the American people is by claiming national interests. Face it, we're not altruistic in the use of our troops. We send them out where it will ultimately help our economy. If it were mere altruism, we wouldn't risk American lives.

So, would the situation in Iraq be worse if the US troops leave? Or would the Iraqis find a way to police themselves and end the civil war presently going on?

I believe they would. It certainly wouldn't be easy or quick, but it seems clear to me that this conflict will NEVER end so long as US troops are there. We're their enemy, and they won't give up until we're gone -- just as many Americans would resent, for instance, a Chinese occupying force, and would never give up until they were forced out. So long as the enemy (us!) is present, there will be war in Iraq. Period. Oh -- unless every last Iraqi is killed. But that would be genocide, and we're against that -- aren't we?

Are we doing the Iraqis a favor by forcing democracy on them? I doubt it. Democracy is dependent on a number of ideas that existed in the Western world as a result of the enlightenment -- ideas like individualism and egalitarianism -- and that DO NOT exist in the middle east, and these ideas are not necessarily Biblical or the best ideas of humanity. (More on that another time, perhaps.) But without those concepts and practices having become a part of a culture, democracy will make no sense. And that's Iraq -- an inherently communal society that values societal roles and traditional hierarchies.

So, we're doing them no favors, but merely creating more strife and killing. Staying won't solve it, and leaving won't end it, at least not immediately. However, leaving will allow it to end eventually. Staying will have the opposite effect, and ultimately will result in more destruction of life than leaving.

Go to the Iraqi Civilian War Casualties and read the names. Look at the pictures. See the faces of those killed and injured. Love your enemies.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why I Retired From Baseball

Basically, at about age 20 I realized I would NOT have a career in the big leagues. Why? Hmmm. Somewhat long story, but here goes.

For spring break my sophomore year in college (1979) some friends and I (all on the Michigan Christian College baseball team) went to Florida. Now, first of all, back then spring break in Florida did NOT resemble anything now broadcast on MTV. Not that I've watched much of that. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Anyway, to prove that point: we did go to the beach, and we did meet some girls there -- all from David Lipscomb University. No kidding. No partying.

Anyway, we also went to a couple of major league spring training games. We went to the Yankees spring training facility to watch them play against the Orioles. I was impressed by the athleticism and sheer strength of the players, especially compared to my own! It appeared that both of my shoulders would fit on any one side of theirs. (I was so thin back then, believe it or not, that when I graduated from high school I was "willed" by fellow graduates a pair of snow shoes so I wouldn't fall through the cracks in the gym floor!) But they didn't look like football players -- absolutely no excess weight. Just sheer, natural strength. So far, though, I was undeterred from my career choice of being a major league baseball player.

But, as we watched the game, a player strode to the plate and hit a line drive. I promise -- it never got more than six feet off the ground, and it slammed into the outfield fence in left-center. I'd never seen a ball hit that hard, and I remember realizing in an instant that I could never do anything like that. I just didn't have the talent, and the whole situation was just too intimidating. I knew I would have to quit.

What I didn't know at that moment -- and only realized later -- was that the player who had hit that line drive was (then little known) Eddie Murray, who would finish his career with 504 home runs and would be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. In 1979 he was entering his third year in the majors, and had hit only 37 home runs. Wimp. See his career stats here. All I knew at that time was his name.

So, I got intimidated out of a sure-fire career in the major leagues by a future Hall-of-Famer. Ok -- maybe not "sure-fire" (except for the part about NEVER making it). I blame it all on Eddie Murray.

Sometimes I wonder (still!) what might have happened in my life if a few little things had gone differently -- if I'd had better coaching, or hadn't injured my thumb on my throwing hand by playing basketball that year, or hadn't been over-awed by Eddie Murray. The answer is: we'll never know. It's fun to wonder, especially when I hear baseball announcers lamenting the dearth of good pitching in the majors. The dream is probably better than the reality would ever have been.

Some people would claim divine providence -- that God had other plans for me to become a minister or a theologian. Of course, there are others who attribute my present career to Satan! So, did God arrange for me to see Eddie Murray so I would give up on the pipe-dream of playing major league baseball and turn to theology? Did God arrange it so that I would sprain my thumb and be unable to pitch for part of a season? Or was it all "chance"? Or, was it Satan?

Only a few things seem clear in this issue. One is that God does NOT micromanage the entire universe. Not everything that happens is according to God's plan. If it were, there would be no sin. Since sin and evil certainly exist (I know this can be debated, but one issue at a a time, please!), and since (Biblically speaking) we can't blame God directly for them, there must be another cause of sin and evil that is NOT God. Therefore God does not control every event in the universe. Some things are, then, OUTSIDE of his control. (Note: I am not arguing that God CANNOT control all events, only that he DOES NOT.)

Could we say that God controls all events that are NOT sin? In other words, since seeing Eddie Murray and the Orioles play the Yankees that day is (most probably) not sin, is it possible that God arranged the whole thing?

I suppose it is possible, but it doesn't seem likely to me. Think of all (or at least some) of the arrangements that would have to be made for such an event to come about. Eddie Murray would have to be healthy: no spring training injuries, no flu bugs, no spring training fatigue, etc. (And don't think that "etc." is insignificant -- it probably stands for millions of other possibilities!) He had to be "swinging away" and not trying to bunt for a base hit or sacrifice bunt -- so in part this situation depended on what players who batted just before him had done! His manager would have to be in agreement: he needs the at-bats, the opposing pitcher isn't some young kid who throws wildly at 98 MPH and might hurt the young star (Murray), there is no one else who needs work more than Murray or that management needs to evaluate, he doesn't need time off, he won't be assigned to a different game, he won't be traded, etc. And we might try to consider the broader possibilities: Murray's family had no crises, no big events, and the weather had to cooperate. Etc. What about the possibilities in the game? Murray would have to be "seeing the ball" really well to get that kind of hit (unless we assume direct divine intervention, i.e., that God swung the bat FOR him), the pitch would have to be just right, bat speed just right. ETC. The catcher would have to call for the pitch (and he is obviously trying to call a pitch that would NOT allow such a hit!!!), and the pitcher would have to agree. Obviously the pitch wasn't a "pitcher's pitch," i.e., it didn't do exactly what the pitcher intended, so Murray was able to lace it into the outfield. Or perhaps it WAS the "pitcher's pitch," but the scouting report on Murray was wrong, or he had learned to hit a particular type of pitch that he hadn't been able to hit the year before -- so that the scouting report was RIGHT, but outdated. And he had to hit it precisely on the right part of the bat -- no broken bat blooper would do, no ground out, no lazy fly ball or measly single. ETC.

What about me? I had to be watching intently rather than being distracted by my friends around me. My ego had to be in just the right state for the hit to have the effect it had on me -- not too confident or cocky, but yet not so un-confident that I wouldn't have a dream of playing major league baseball. I had to have the cooperation of my friends -- we all had to agree to make the trip to Florida, we all had to come up with the money, convince our parents we could do it without killing ourselves (a dicey proposition if ever there was one) or becoming completely corrupted. We had to agree to go to major league spring training camps rather than the beach or Disney World. We all had to be healthy enough, we all had to get up on time, be willing to pay the gas there, ETC. ETC.

Did I, my friends, the manager, the pitcher, the catcher, and/or Murray himself have any free will in these decisions? For God to have orchestrated the entire situation, wouldn't free will have to have been suspended almost completely for all those involved? Does God DO THAT?

I suppose he could. We do have Biblical examples (such as Jeremiah) where the text says that God chose a person's path before he/she was ever born. But even then, human beings seem to be able to choose a different path -- would we argue, for instance, that Jesus was coerced by God -- that he had no free will to choose to follow God's will for him? I doubt it. And consider Jonah -- he chose a different path, literally. And then God DOES get coercive. Could he still have chosen differently? It appears so, though that might have had dire consequences (I mean, what would it take to follow up on spending three days/nights in the belly of a large fish? I don't even want to imagine what would be worse!)

So, God CAN get rather coercive at times. But, coercion is different than the removal of freedom. Under coercion one can still defy. One merely has to be willing to pay the consequences.

In other words, it seems unlikely that God set up a coercive situation for me to see Eddie Murray hit a line drive that would make me think about becoming a theologian rather than a baseball player.

I think that also answers the question about Satan's involvement. If God himself will not suspend free will, would he allow Satan to do so? Doesn't seem logical.

Maybe God just wanted to see the Yankees get beat again. That sounds like the God I worship.