Saturday, September 27, 2008

America's Role in World Politics

Last week I heard a prayer offered on behalf of our upcoming election. The prayer asked for national guidance that we would select the man who would lead America in such a manner that "it would rise again to be the most powerful nation on the face of the earth."

Many people, including me, had a problem with that, especially a number of non-Americans in the congregation at that time! Personally, I'm thinking about petitioning the elders to supply barf bags in the song book racks.

I probably don't need to offer any comment on that prayer -- the blatant nationalism, the subjugation of God to our national agenda -- these are clear. On the other hand, why not?

A little more subtle assumption of this prayer is that America has LOST its prominence! How interesting. Darn it, W, how could you let that happen? You need a louder rattle on your sabre! Maybe you should take that $700,000,000,000 (gotta stop -- running out of zeros) and spend it on more military might! That'll show those turds who's boss! Obviously you've been spending way too much time at the negotiating table and not enough where it really counts! Obviously the last eight years have been a miserable failure. Go figure -- W dodged his military service (for the most part). What we need now is a seasoned war hero! Let's hit 'em with a little McPain! (Or would that violate the Geneva Convention's definition of torture? O, wait -- we don't care about that. Sorry, my bad.)

I could go on, but it's Saturday morning, and I've only had one cup of espresso (so far).

But, another assumption: God WANTS the U.S. to dominate! Well, aren't we the most righteous, most just, fairest nation of them all? Mirror, mirror, on the wall. . . . If we would just actually look into the mirror we would see that such claims are preposterous. In fact, I doubt that ANY nation should make ANY claim to "righteousness." Almost by definition, nations pursue self-interest, and national self-interest always comes at the expense of the self-interests of other nations. In fact, "self-interest" itself is nowhere near any Christian virtue! Events in the history of our westward expansion could be cited here to debunk the "righteous nation" claim, but let's not go there. Would God want us to dominate the world? I can't imagine why.

Third assumption: that God might actually answer the prayer! We just ASSUME God is on our side -- because of our righteousness, I guess. Let's see, going back to the thoughts of the previous paragraph: "No one is righteous, no not one." "All our righteousness is like 'filthy rags'" (if you don't know what the "filthy rags" refers to, look it up -- pretty gruesome analogy). So, we're just asking God to underwrite our national agenda. (Sarcasm begins here.) So, of COURSE he'll do that! I mean, clearly we're God's chosen nation -- the ones God wants to bless! We're such great people, and he wants us to spread the gospel of democracy to all the world, right? So, we have the mandate to spread democracy even to people who don't want it or don't understand it, and if they resist, well, we have the God-given right to cram it down their throats, wrapped around the barrel of our guns if necessary. (End sarcasm . . . for now.)

"But what about Romans 13?" I can hear someone asking. Doesn't that state that God puts all governments in place? Therefore if we win a battle or war, it's because God wills it. And since we indeed have been the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, that's God's tacit endorsement of our nation and its agenda of world domination.

I've written on this in a previous post, so now I'll briefly comment: no. It doesn't mean that. If anything, it shows that we are in the position of the nations in the OT that God moves around like chess pieces on a board in order to maintain relative peace in the world. Being utilized by God in that sense says absolutely NOTHING about our alleged "righteousness." In fact, since God uses all things to work for good, it means he can even turn evil into good. And it's not that God causes evil things to happen, but that he can take the evil that humans create and perform on each other to somehow work for general good. So God can take the evil inclinations of a nation and use them for his own purposes. I mean, if nations are going to do evil anyway, why not try to bring some good out of it?!

Finally, there is the assumption, built onto the previous assumptions, that helping the US attain world domination is inherently Christian -- something Christians should endorse (because it is clearly God's purpose and work) and in which they should participate.

On the other hand, if it is truly an inherently evil and selfish goal, and merely one more example of God using selfish national interests to somehow keep relative peace in the world, then Romans 13 cannot be used to validate Christian participation in such enterprises.

Funny how "freedom of religion," as one of our "basic rights," can turn us into warriors for the Prince of Peace. Ok, not so funny.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Photo Essay by Phillip Toledano

Photo essay called "America: The Gift Shop," Toledano's commentary on the Bush administration. Thanks to Michael O'Keefe, Professor of Art and Design at Oklahoma Christian University, for pointing me to this work.

Perhaps you may want to start with this introduction/commentary on the display from the Word Press blogs.

The direct link to the display is:

I would love to be proud of my country. Right now, I'm not.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I've noticed lots of Facebook status notes about people remembering where they were on the morning of 9/11/2001 when the planes hit the WTC in New York and the Pentagon, and crashed in Pennsylvania. Personally, I was jarred. It was heart-rending. I have a difficult time watching even fictional television shows that depict horrendous violence -- especially on children -- because of grief over the amount of hate in the world. Events like this make me apologize to God on behalf of the human race. We're a sorry lot. Period.

Unfortunately, such events happen in our world on almost a daily basis. We here in the U. S. just aren't used to such things -- they usually only happen in distant countries we can barely pronounce, let alone find on a map. But they are there, every day. Every day there are people somewhere whose lives are torn apart by horrendous and unnecessary evil. But in the U.S., we're more or less insulated from those stories, and this insulation has led us to believe that we're somehow exempt -- or should be -- from such violence. Well, EVERYONE should be, not just Americans.

Christians long ago gave a name to such horrendous, pervasive evil: original sin. Yes, I believe in original sin -- though not the Augustinian version that focuses on a (more or less) "genetic defect" handed down through the sex-act by which a person is conceived. I believe in what I think is Thomas Aquinas's version of the doctrine: that "original sin" names what is essentially a sociological phenomenon. In other words, "original sin" names the pervasiveness of evil -- the ubiquitous nature of evil that so deeply inhabits our world that no individual can escape it, save Jesus.

Read Ephesians 2.1-2 and think about what it means for one to be "dead in trespasses." What does it mean to be dead? "Dead" in verse 1 is the same as verse 3's "we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else." In other words, there is something here about who we are at our deepest level.

Now, Ephesians 4.17-22: notice the effects of sin on the human person. It goes to the very depths of the person, to the point that one's thinking itself becomes corrupt: what is right seems wrong, and what is wrong seems right.
In other words, for me it is a mistake to think about 9-11 as something "those evil people did to us," "us" meaning "the good guys." We're not any less evil, on the whole, than those who hijacked the planes. This "war" we're fighting is not a "good vs. evil" war -- President Bush's claims notwithstanding.

Now, I know some people have just quit reading because they will think what I just said is completely ridiculous. Fair enough -- some minds can't be changed (another characteristic of the power of evil!). On the other hand, there is evidence. Let's think about it from the point of view of those who are at war with us.

Why are they at war with us? I mean -- doesn't everyone want to be American? They must be jealous -- right? Jealous of our freedoms -- that's why President Bush repeatedly says that "they hate our freedoms."

Well, I suspect they do hate our freedoms, because they value certain moral injunctions more than they value American-style freedoms. They don't WANT their young women to dress the way many young women dress in America -- nor do they want their young men to dress like American young men! They don't WANT to go to the movies and see the things common in American movies. They don't WANT to be able to download porn on the internet. And the list, I'm sure, could go on much further. (Yes, I know there are political issues as well.) If it is true that "they hate our freedom," then perhaps we can see why.

So, in their understanding (the understanding of the radical Muslims who declare themselves at war with us = only a small minority of Muslims) they are fighting against evil. It is an evil so dark that it, in their minds, is worth killing or being killed over. And many American Christians would agree with the idea that our society as a whole is sex-obsessed, violent and corrupt.

A second issue, however, is also important to note at this point -- and here's what got me thinking in this direction. Because the anniversary of 9/11 has just came and went, some attention was drawn to the event itself and to the U.S.'s response to it -- i.e., the "war on terror." Sorrow over loss was mingled with calls for patriotism and revenge. I ran across this video. Take a look. I'll wait here.

Now, I know the person who put it together has really good intentions. I don't know his/her religious affilation (if any), but putting the bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" behind some of the pics at least puts it in the "Christian Ballpark" (if there is such a thing). And the person who sent it to me (with approval) is a Christian. As I watched it, I found myself asking: "Where's the grace?" as the bagpipes rang out. Indeed -- where is the grace? Where is the forgiveness? Where is the love for our enemies? Aren't we told that vengeance belongs to God alone?

No, we shouldn't forget what happened seven years ago on September 11. Those who were killed were killed unjustly and even criminally. Real families suffered real loss of people of tremendous importance in their lives -- people who can never be replaced. You don't "get over" that kind of loss. You merely learn to live with it, if you're lucky.

I wish Christians in the United States would learn to love our enemies. Loving them wouldn't mean saying that they were right in attacking us, or in the continuation of suicide bombings in Bahgdad and other cities in Iraq. But it does mean letting go of the vengeance motive. It means recognizing real hurt, but foregoing the hate rather than contributing to the amount of hate already in the world.

I believe the power to do this comes through Jesus -- the one who saw the complete picture of evil in the world, felt it come down on his shoulders, and willingly succumbed to it. And he died with forgiveness on his lips.