Monday, January 31, 2005

Speaking of enemies

If you need a simple, secular, reason to "love your enemies," look no further than the example of Dr. Thomas E. Woods. (Full disclosure: I had a family member by marriage, a person I dearly love, buy Dr. Woods' book from the bookstore were I work a few days a week, as a gift for a relative. "Love your enemy," indeed.) The motivation for Dr. Woods and his "League of the South" comes down to this:

And it would include, presumably, Hill's claim—in an official League of the South press release—that "[t]he 'Reverend' 'Dr.' Martin Luther King, Jr., far from being the saint of recent liberal myth, was nothing but a philandering, plagiarizing, left-wing agitator."

For Dr. Woods' League of the South, the NAACP, you see, is an "enemy" with which the League of the South is "at war." According to the League's President, Dr. Michael Hill, League members "know that the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world are nothing but vile race hustlers and that 'institutional racism' is merely an excuse to mask black failure and to justify lawless and aggressive behavior against 'white oppressors.' . . . [T]he leftist agenda on race is pretty clear," says Woods' colleague. "The question is, what are we white traditionalists going to do about it?"

And then there is this, that I picked up via Athenae at First Draft, from Keith Olberman.

It goes back to the core of the Dobsonian point of view here: the fear of the “pro-Homosexual” agenda. That may be the way he delicately phrases it, but it is not shared by most of his followers who emailed me. They were clearly angry that there was no anti-homosexual agenda.
Frankly, to have "enemies" like this is the height of hubris. It is to imagine yourself the center of the universe, and your "self" being violated because at the boundaries there are those who are "impure." It is the issue of identity. If someone in your community is not like you, then who are you? Which brings the issue down to this simple, psychological truth: that which you most oppose, you most come to resemble. And that which you most love? Do you come to resemble it, too? Or to resemble love?

ADDENDUM: It occurs to me: that which you love, you come to resemble, too. Relationships alter who you are. And it really is all about relationships. An enemy, by definition, is the one you hate. So: do you want to be defined by hate? Or by love?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

"The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"

Easy to think you are in this all by yourself. Jane caught this reference, even as it was running through my head all day, looking for a connection. Made it to church late today, and what was in the lectionary?

Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. "0 my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 0 my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD." "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" He has told you, 0 mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

And better than that, was the rest of the lectionary:


1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers;
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.

2 For they shall soon wither like the grass,
and like the green grass fade away.

3 Put your trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

4 Take delight in the LORD,
and he shall give you your heart's desire.

5 Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him,
and he will bring it to pass.

6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light
and your just dealing as the noonday.

7 Be still before the LORD
and wait patiently for him.


Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Could spend a fruitful week just exegeting each of these, especially in their juxtaposition to each other....

The Lord be with you.

What Maureen Dowd Said

Nothing more than recycling material from someone else, but, this is Maureen Dowd's description of some of the material in Erik Sarr's book about his experiences as an Army Sergeant and Arabic interpreter at Gitmo:
After the prisoner spat in her face, she left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on God. The linguist suggested she tell the prisoner that she was menstruating, touch him, and then shut off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash.

"The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength," Mr. Saar recounted, adding: "She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee. As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, 'Who sent you to Arizona?' He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred. She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward," breaking out of an ankle shackle.

"He began to cry like a baby," the author wrote, adding that the interrogator's parting shot was: "Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself."

A female civilian contractor kept her "uniform" - a thong and miniskirt - on the back of the door of an interrogation room, the author says.

Who are these women? Who allows this to happen? Why don't the officers who allow it get into trouble? Why do Rummy and Paul Wolfowitz still have their jobs?
And, of course:
The military did not deny the specifics, but said the prisoners were treated "humanely" and in a way consistent "with legal obligations prohibiting torture." However the Bush White House is redefining torture these days, the point is this: Such behavior degrades the women who are doing it, the men they are doing it to, and the country they are doing it for.
"God bless America", they say. But when they are acting like this, have they forgotten what God did for the country God had a covenant with? Have none of these people heard of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea? "God Bless America" is soon going to sound like a desperate plea, not a triumphalist slogan.

The public response to this, of course, will be that such disclosures undermine our "war on terror," or the troops, or the country. A textbook example of Samuel Johnson's assertion that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And our country is now full of patriots.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Why We Don't Need the Kyoto Treaty, or...

The World According to George W. Bush, oilman:

Three gallons per day--amount of oil consumed by average American. this is twice as much as the average European or Japanese, 15 times as much as someone in the developing world.

One quarter of world oil production--amount consumed by the United States. Of that, 1/2 is consumed by cars, pickups, and SUV's.

19.7 tons of carbon dioxide per annum--amount emitted by the average American. Nearly twice the amount emitted by average European or Japanese; over 5 times the global average.

From The End of Oil, by Paul Roberts, Houghton Mifflin 2005.

Oh, and, according to Robertson, oil production will effectively end in 30 years. According to Hibbert's Peak, the man who predicted the "oil crisis" of the '70's (and was ridiculed for it, until it came true), also predicted the inevitable end. The reason you don't hear these statistics, and the government that is supposed to protect you isn't worried about it?

Three guesses; first two don't count. Just remember: the crisis is Social Security; not petroleum. And once you buy that, you'll want to invest in this land in Louisiana I have available...

Friday, January 28, 2005

How Do You Love Your Enemy?

How do you love your enemy? How do you let go of your anger and animosity and fear? Is it merely an act of will, a matter of right thinking? Is it a product of emotional development, or intellectual insight?

Or is it an act of faith?

You cannot love what you do not know. To try to do so is an act of madness, an empty gesture that proves meaningless. But how do you love the one you know who does wish to harm you, the one who seeks your life or the life of those you care about? How do you decide what is within, and what is outside, your control?

Begin with your self. Where is your center? What is your self? How do you define it? Is it the boundaries you try to maintain? Or is it the irreducible center that you recognize and accept? Is it established by your constant efforts? Or is it established from before the time you were born, and you need merely hold on to it? And do you find it by your own efforts? Or by your openness?

Greek epistemology presumes that all knowledge worth knowing is uncovered by an act of will: a willingness to learn, to seek, explore, discover and finally know. "We shall not cease from exploration," says Eliot, "and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." But Hebraic epistemology presumes that all knowledge worth knowing is revealed, because all that is, comes from the hand of God; it comes from the Creator.

One pillar of Western civilization presumes that the most important relationships are the human ones, that how we relate to the community, how we find our place in the community, is what defines us as human beings. This is not Greek particularly; it goes back as far as the epic of Gilgamesh. Another pillar of Western civilization, however, presumes that our most important relationship is with the Creator, that from that relationship all other human relationships find their meaning, purpose, and place. This is why Genesis opens, not with the story of the Garden of Eden, but with the six days of creation, each act spoken into existence by the Creator, each result pronounced good, and humankind, male and female, placed in the midst of it and given stewardship and responsibility over it, and all related to all and to the Creator because the word of the Creator is the creative force and is the origin of everything that is. All relationships within all creation, start there.

So how do we love our enemy? We start with the impossibility of the command, and with our move toward our center. Love is a matter of vulnerability, but the more we move to our center, the more we move to God (it is the confession of Christianity, after all, that God is who gives us this command), the more we lose our vulnerability to each other, as we gain our security in God. How do we love our enemy? By loving and trusting God. Any other answer would mean it is simply an act of will, that this command is simply a statement of wisdom, and that human effort alone will finally secure our salvation. If that were so, there'd be no need for a Christian confession, for any religious confession, at all.

Preparatory to an Answer....

Answer when I call, faithful God.
You cleared away my trouble;
be good to me, listen to my prayer.

How long, proud fools,
will you insult my honor,
loving lies and chasing shadows?
Look! God astounds believers,
the Lord listens when I call.

Tremble, but do not despair.
Attend to your hear,
be calm through the night,
worship with integrity,
trust in the Lord.

Cynics ask, "Who will bless us?
Even God has turned away."
You give my heart more joy
than all their grain and wine.
I sleep secure at night,
you keep me in your care.

--Psalm 4

All you sheltered by the Most High,
who live in Almighty God's shadow,
say to the Lord, "My refuge, my fortress,
my God in whom I trust!"

God will free you from hunter's snares,
will save you from deadly plague,
will cover you like a nesting bird,
God's wings will shelter you.

No nighttime terror shall you ear,
no arrows shot by day,
no plague that prowls the dark,
no wasting scourge at noon.

A thousand my fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand.
But you shall live unharmed.
God is sturdy armor.

You have only to open your eyes
to see how the wicked are repaid.
You have the Lord as refuge,
have made the Most High your stronghold.

No evil shall ever touch you,
no harm come near your home.
God instructs angels
to guard you wherever you go.

With your hands they support you
so your foot will not strike a stone.
You will tread on lion and viper,
tramply tawny lion and dragon.

"I will deliver all who cling to me,
raise the ones who know my name,
answer those who call me,
stand with those in trouble.
These I rescue and honor,
satisfy with long life,
and show my power to save."

--Psalm 91 (90)

Lord, let your servant
now die in peace
for you kept your promise
With my own eyes
I see the salvation
you prepared for all peoples:
a light of revelation for the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.

--Canticle of Simeon

"Love Your Enemy"

Dom Crossan includes that phrase, in just those words, in The Essential Jesus, his collection of what he considers the "original sayings" of Jesus of Nazareth. How he came to choose them, and to render them, is another matter. But his comment on it is instructive.

We sometimes think of this admonition as primarily internal and emotional. Jesus' first audience heard it especially in terms of attitude and action, in terms of treating enemies as if they were friends, strangers as if they were kin, opponents as if they were family. That did not mean external action as distinct from internal attitude but simply placed emphasis on the former rather than the latter.
John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, p. 163)

Think of it in terms of the rebels who brought doom upon Jerusalem. Considering Rome their enemy, they struck at Rome; which struck back, and destroyed the city, and changed Jewish history forever (in fact, some scholars see it as the end of Hebraism and the creation of Judaism). But what enemy did they hate? Caesar? Did Caesar even know they existed, except as a threat to the Pax Romana?

How do you hate an enemy you have no personal relationship with? What you hate, what you oppose, is an abstraction, not flesh and blood. When someone follows a celebrity around excessively, we don't say that person is in love, we say they are delusional. They love the idea of the celebrity, not the person herself. When we say we "hate" our political opponents, are we describing an external action, or an internal attitude? Can I act out my anger at a politician? Does the action have any meaning?

Conversely, can you love a politician? A person, perhaps, but an idea? What relationship do I have with that idea, and who is in charge of it? Me? or the idea? Can I love someone I do not know? How do I love without any personal relationship at all? If I say I love a celebrity, I am either a child, or a deluded person. If I say I hate them, I am placing myself at the center of existence, and insisting that only what I think is important.

The issue of center and boundaries and power and powerlessness are all of a piece, and all to be seen here. "Love your enemies"? That would require action, not attitude. I cannot love those whom I do not know. I can hate; but that is impotent, because hate is about power, about action, about exerting my influence over another. If love is patient, and kind, and endures all things, and hopes all things, and believes all things, then love is about powerlessness, and I cannot exert it over another, especially over one I do not know. Love is about the other, not about me. Hatred focusses on me, on my wants, my desires, my ability to gain power over another. Love focusses outward, but needs an object, needs a reciprocation, abhors a void. Loving an idea is trying to love the void. Hating an idea is simply trying to feed my ego, to convince myself of my own importance.

"Love your enemy." You first have to know who your "enemy" is; and who it cannot be.

"(Let the reader understand)"

Gathered in this place we are reminded that such immense cruelty did not happen in a far-away, uncivilized corner of the world, but rather in the very heart of the civilized world. The death camps [like the invasion of Iraq, and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo] were created by men with a high opinion of themselves - some of them well educated, and possessed of refined manners - but without conscience. And where there is no conscience, there is no tolerance toward others ... no defense against evil ... and no limit to the crimes that follow.

The story of the camps [and Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo] reminds us that evil is real, and must be called by its name, and must be confronted. We are reminded that anti-Semitism [which, after all, simply means being anti-Middle Eastern, as Arabs and other nationals of the Middle East are as "Semitic" as Jews] may begin with words, but rarely stops with words ... and the message of intolerance and hatred must be opposed before it turns into acts of horror.

[Oops. Too late.]

From remarks delivered by Vice President Dick Cheney at the "Let My People Live" Forum, Krakow, Poland, January 27, 2005.

Yes, overly snarky. The more civilized option would perhaps be to point out that this man holds office and represents the United States only after climbing into that high position on the mound of 10,000 to 100,000 Iraqi bodies that he is directly responsible for creating. That he stands in that lofty place atop a veritable mountain of decaying human flesh, a mountain of his own creation. And that he has the gall to speak of the evil of others, to point out their splinter as if there were not a tree protruding from his own eye....

And yes, there is a difference between industrialized slaughter of a group of people, and deaths caused by blind ideology and indifference to reality. But it is a difference in degree, not in kind. To the dead, the reasons for their deaths no longer matter; and to the living, trying to slip a piece of paper between the distinctions of the Holocaust and the unwarranted invasion of Iraq, is like trying to argue the importance of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Evil is evil, no matter who perpetrates it, no matter what excuse they give for their actions. There is no justification for the deaths at Auschwitz and Dachau, or any of the deaths of World War II. And there is no justification for the deaths and the horrors of Iraq today. Saddam Hussein was evil, but we have proven no better. The Vice President's remarks only confirm that evil knows evil. It can be said for all of us. We recognize evil because we know it from our hearts. But some of us have a sense of our culpability, and some of us don't.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

If George Bush doesn't know who you are, is George Bush your enemy?

But the first step is to recognize that you "have" enemies only because you hold them as such, only because you engage in a practice of possesion, rather than in a relationship with the other.

Can you have an enemy, when the enemy doesn't know it? Can you have an enemy, when you don't know it?

The enemy that seeks your life is one kind of enemy, but it is largely the creation of the entertainment industry. Few of us have someone dedicated to taking our life. Most murders occur between friends, not strangers. Most victims of violent crime know their assailants. Strangers lurking in the bushes are a frightening idea, but they are seldom reality. And an enemy doesn't always seek to do you violence.

Facing the stone cold heartlessness of the other is like facing an open pit. How to not fall in? How to face that emptiness without needing to summon all your own ego in hating that person just to know that sense of "I AM." Hating is easier than facing the void. And loving, pouring love into a bottomless pit...isn't that somehow what God did when he loved us into being, into creation?

How not to fall in, indeed. And why the need to fall in, except the "enemy" challenges the "boundaries" that you have declared to be your "self." And defending the boundaries of the self is always a losing proposition. So let it go; it is lost. Hold fast to the center. And consider: how can you have an "enemy" whom you do not see face to face, even "the stone cold heartless" face? How can you have an enemy who does not know you, as you know your enemy? How can the relationship of "enemy" not be reciprocal?

These are not abstract questions of the philosophy of religion. These are the necessary fundamentals, the "building blocks" toward understanding how one can "love" one's "enemy"?

Death in the Morning

State sanctioned death has never been limited to our national "enemies," and an excellent article by Sister Helen Prejean makes that clear. It also reveals that, among other obfuscations, Bush has used the tool of "definitions" before, and has always been more careful and clever with his language than his persona of malapropisms would suggest:

To make sure that he never had to examine death sentences seriously, Governor Bush used a legal tactic similar to the one used by the US Supreme Court to block death row petitioners' access to constitutional claims. He restricted the standard for clemency so severely that no petitioner could qualify. He stated that since the courts had "thoroughly examined" every obscure detail of a death row petitioner's claims and found no grounds for injustice, it was not his place to "second-guess" the courts. In his autobiography Bush wrote,

In every [death] case, I would ask: Is there any doubt about this individual's guilt or innocence? And, have the courts had ample opportunity to review all the legal issues in this case?

But, of course, the courts would already have reviewed and rejected the legal issues of death row petitioners' cases before they landed on Bush's desk. As governor, Bush was literally the court of last resort for a condemned man or woman, vested with authority to dispense mercy or withhold it, according to his personal judgment. Unlike the courts, he was not restricted to pure legalities. As far back as 1855, the US Supreme Court saw compassion and mercy as central to the exercise of gubernatorial clemency. This means that governors and their boards are free to consider any basis for mercy: mental handicaps, mental illness, childhood abuse, incompetence of defense counsel, remorse, racial discrimination in juries, signs of rehabilitation.

To have and to hold

To have an enemy, first, is to have a relationship with another person.
To have an enemy is to have someone who acts against me, either over a long-term, or on a sudden impulse. And an enemy must be someone who can be held responsible for what occurs, must be accountable for his or her actions.

But what does it mean to "have" an enemy? How is it that we come to possess such a relationship with another person? "Love your enemy," we are told. Why is the enemy "mine"? Is it a person I possess? Or a relationship?

I can have relationships with several people, in several different ways. But relationship is an ontological situation: it is a position of my being, and always one that is reciprocal. I cannot have a friend if the other person does not accept my friendship, too. I cannot have a lover if the other person does not reciprocate my love. We rightly consider people who have merely one-sided relationships as either sad and delusional, or in need of therapy. "Enemy" is an ontological relationship; not a personal one, or a physical one. But is it also a reciprocal one? Must my enemy reciprocate in the same way, in order for the relationship fo "enemy" to be established? Well, if someone declares himself my enemy, but I don't recognize the relationship, I don't reciprocate, is the relationship established? Or is that person merely deluded? Dangerous, perhaps, to be sure; but if I don't recognize the relationship on those terms, does it exist?

And what does it mean to "have" an enemy? "Your" is clearly possessive. "Love your enemy," is the commandment. Clearly I can love my friend, my family, my lover. But do I have a possessory interest in them, too? Possession is a legal and physical concept. The law establishes and protects the concept of possession. Physical presence establishes and enforces it. But persons are not possessions. We do not possess people, either at law, or in ontology. Even if the law establishes a right to possession, a right to control (as it does in the case of parents and children), it does not establish a possessory interest that is similar to title in personal, or real, property. And the distinction is not merely legal. Possession of an object is possession, ownership, control, grasp, of a thing. How could we ever have, even under the most severe slavery, possession of a person?

You may possess the body; but do you possess the soul, the mind, the essence, of the person? Do you possess who they are, their being? Do we even possess our own being? Possession of things is possible. Possession of persons, is impossible.

So how can we say that we "have" an enemy? What do we mean? What do we possess? An entity which opposes us, an entity which is against us? Why would we have such a possession? Why don't we discard it? Because we do not choose our enemies, they choose us? Because we do not have enemies, they have us? Do we truly imagine that we stand that far outside of the economy of human relationships as to be innocent, as to be blameless? Or do we imagine that we are mere pawns in a game we cannot play, chips in the flood, helpless in a world we never made? If so, then how do we love anyone? We have no power to affect anything; we have no responsibility for what is done to us.

But if we "have" an enemy, and if we must love that enemy, then the entire situation is in our hands. And while we may want to cry out "Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?", we simultaneously realize that we alone have the key to our imprisonment. We cannot "have" enemies unless we possess them. We cannot love our enemies, until we release them. Because so long as they are enemies, they are not other to us; they are objects. And we cannot love objects. We can only love entities, those who can be in relationship to us.

So, how do we love our enemy? By not having any; by refusing to be in possession of enemies, but refusing to treat entities with whom we can have relationships, as objects to whom we can only stand in possession or dis-possession. That is not the full way, but that is the start of the way. It is, of course, a way of vulnerability; not yet of complete vulnerability. To simply let go of an enemy, to simply refuse that relationship, is to make yourself vulnerable physically or psychicly, if not emotionally and spiritually. To love your enemy, is to open yourself fully, wholly, completely: it is to be absolutely vulnerable. It is another step entirely.

But the first step is to recognize that you "have" enemies only because you hold them as such, only because you engage in a practice of possesion, rather than in a relationship with other. That is the first step. That is the beginning.

The Quest of the Historical Jesus

Building on a great deal of critical and scholarly work that began in Germany in the 19th century, Albert Schweitzer conducted his own research and published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, in which he questioned whether historians could establish the existence of Jesus of Nazareth at all. The book stirred some controversy, and continues to do so to this day, largely among people who have never read it or even heard of it, but are convinced that all reasonable and educated people know that Jesus of Nazareth is a complete fiction. I've had brief discussions with such people over at Eschaton. Some of them base their opinions merely on what they have heard; some base it on the claims of the Gospels, such as the virgin birth and the resurrection, insisting that any stories with such claims are inherently not credible. And then this morning I pulled out John Dominic Crossan's The Essential Jesus.

The book is Crossan's reduction of the authentic sayings of Jesus (according to his hermeneutic), and the outgrowth of his rather magisterial study: The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant. That book, of course, both presumes and establishes the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. But in his prologue to The Essential Jesus, Crossan provides a succinct refutation to the claim that there is no evidence, outside the gospels, of this man's existence.
If no Christian had written anything about Jesus for the first hundred years after his death, we would still have two succinct accounts from those not counted among his followers. One account dates from the last decade of the first century and comes from the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities 18.63:

"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. . . . For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. . . . When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the firstplace come to love him did not give up their affection for him. . . . And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared."

His description is carefully neutral or, at most, mildly critical. The text was both preserved and interpolated by Christian editors, but I cite it without their proposed improvements.

The next account dates from the first decades of the sec-ond century and comes from the pagan historian Cornelius Tacitus. Having told how a rumor blamed Nero for the disastrous fire that swept Rome in 64 C.E., he continues in Annals 15-44:

"Therefore to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the wor1d collect and find a vogue."

Despite the differences between the studied impartiality of Josephus and the sneering partiality of Tacitus, they agree on three rather basic facts. First, there was some sort of a movement connected with Jesus. Second, he was executed by official authority presumably to stop the movement. Third, rather than being stopped, the movement continued to spread.

There remain, therefore, these three: movement, execution, continuation. But the greatest of these is continuation.
John Dominic Crossan,The Essential Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco 1994, pp. vi-vii)

If, after all, it is all invention, it had to be invented by someone. It had to have a focal point, an origination, a beginning. Scholars have long stopped debating the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Now they discuss the life he lead (Crossan's books are excellent on this point), and the words he actually said.

Support the Troops

In other sections, the NYT almost redeems itself by publishing the words of Frank Rich:

In this same vein, television's ceremonial coverage of the Inauguration, much of which resembled the martial pageantry broadcast by state-owned networks in banana republics, made a dutiful show out of the White House's claim that the four-day bacchanal was a salute to the troops. The only commentator to rudely call attention to the disconnect between that fictional pretense and the reality was Judy Bachrach, a writer for Vanity Fair, who dared say on Fox News that the inaugural's military ball and prayer service would not keep troops "safe and warm" in their "flimsy" Humvees in Iraq. She was promptly given the hook. (The riveting three-minute clip, labeled "Fair and Balanced Inauguration," can be found at, where it has seized the "most popular" slot once owned by Jon Stewart's slapdown of Tucker Carlson.)

Alas, there were no Fox News cameras to capture what may have been the week's most surreal "salute" to the troops, the "Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball" attended by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. The event's celebrity stars included the Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who had been booted from Iraq at the start of the war for compromising "operational security" by telling his viewers the position of the American troops he loves so much. He joked to the crowd that his deployment as an "overpaid" reporter was tantamount to that of an "underpaid hero" in battle. The attendees from Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital, some of whose long-term care must be picked up by private foundations because of government stinginess, responded with "deafening silence," reported Roxanne Roberts of The Washington Post. Ms. Roberts understandably left the party after the night's big act: Nile Rodgers and Chic sang the lyrics "Clap your hands, hoo!" and "Dance to the beat" to "a group of soldiers missing hands and legs."

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

But nobody said it would be easy; or that it would come quickly.

All the News That's Glaringly Obvious

When American troops entered Baghdad and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein 21 months ago, Raad al-Naqib felt free at last.

But Dr. Naqib, a 46-year-old Sunni dentist who opposed Mr. Hussein, will not vote Sunday when Iraqis will have their first opportunity in a generation to participate in an election with no predetermined outcome. It is, he said, far too dangerous when insurgent groups have warned that they will kill anybody who approaches a polling station.

Starkly put, Baghdad is not under control, either by the Iraqi interim government or the American military.

From the New York Times, this morning.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but: what was their first clue?

On the bright spring day in April 2003 when marines helped topple Mr. Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, more than any other place in Iraq, was the place American commanders hoped to make a showcase for the benefits the invasion would bring.

Instead, daily life here has become a deadly lottery, a place so fraught with danger that one senior American military officer acknowledged at a briefing last month that nowhere in the area assigned to his troops could be considered safe.

I suppose one should be grateful they are finally mentioning this. But still, it raises the question: why didn't they mention this last October? Has anything really changed since then? Was there some empirical, or even vaguely sensible, reason to believe the Bush Administration had a rabbit, or even a hat to pull it out of?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Morning meditation on enemies and love

"Love your enemy." But who is "your" enemy? And how can an enemy be loved?

On a national level, "enemy" can be fairly easy to define. Almost without argument, the one who attacks you is your enemy. The nation has a duty to defend itself. The nation exists, as a legal or political concept, to "provide for the common defense." So it is in the definition of a nation, to defend its existence against those who would destroy it. And those who would destroy it, are the "enemy."

How enemies are created, is another matter. Some attacks seem to be unprovoked; clearly that is a matter of perspective. Even then, the enemy can be the provacateur, although few nations stand outside the cycles of violence and retribution, and none stand so far above it as to claim absolute innocence. But those are moral questions; sometimes applicable to the situation, and enlightening; sometimes not applicable, and merely inappropriate. Usually they are somewhere in between. But "enemy," at its simplest meaning, is the one who wishes to do the nation harm, and who must be stopped if the nation is to persist in its existence.

So nations may have enemies; but nations can never be called on to "love" their enemies. Nations, to begin with, cannot love. People can. And one of the questions about love is, can people love entities? Or can they only love individuals?

Nations cannot love, because nations have no existence, have no ability to have a relationship with another entity such that the relationship can be properly understood as one of "love," under any definition. A nation is merely an idea, a construct, an agreed upon set of political boundaries, of laws and traditions and agreements about governance. In the simplest terms, a nation is merely a social contract, and it is preserved as much by adhering to the general terms of the contract, as by its armies and navies and air power. Nations cannot have relationships. Only people can.

People have relationships; with other beings, clearly: people or animals. With institutions, too? Only through people. No one has a relationship with a corporation, a church, a school. They have a relationship with the people of that corporation, church, school. Some of those people may symbolize the institution, but the institution does not exist apart from the people who uphold and adhere to the idea of that institution. We may say our love is for the Church, or the alma mater, or "Big Blue." But it is for the ideas of those things, and those ideas are only known through other people, only realized and made accessible to us, through the actions of other people. If someone says they have a relationship with an institution, and truly mean apart from any person who represents it, we don't consider them more insightful than us; we consider them delusional. Our relationships are with beings: with people, with pets, with animals. Our relationships are never with ideas alone.

So we alone can love, can give love and receive love. It is a giving and a receiving, is love; that is why it is, and requires, a relationship. Unrequited love is mere fancy; it is, in fact, self-love. We love other people. And only other people, can receive our love.

So how do we "love" our "enemies"?

To have an enemy, first, is to have a relationship with another people. Nature may be my enemy, in some cases; or time, or circumstance. But I can't have a relationship with those things. They are indifferent to my problems, don't react to thwart my plans, don't plot to bring about my destruction, don't act on will. And I cannot love nature, time, circumstance. To have an enemy that can be loved, the enemy must be a person.

But not merely because it must be capable of receiving love from me. The enemy is willful. The enemy is the one who acts against me, either over a long-term, or on a sudden impulse. The enemy is the one who can be held responsible for what occurs. Nature, time, circumstance; all are fundamentally irresponsible. An enemy, in order to be an enemy, in order to be considered my adversary, must be responsible for what occurs, must be accountable for its actions.

Now, the question is: how do I hold my enemy accountable? In love? Or in justice?

On starting the day with the latest news

--Dante Alighieri

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Go Team Venture!

If you don't know the show, Venture Bros. is a show on Cartoon Network, a kind of snarky satire on the old Hanna Barbera "Jonny Quest" cartoon from the '60's. It features Dr. Venture, his two sons (the brothers of the title), and their bodyguard. And, of course, since this is an "action" show and a cartoon, recurring "enemies."

The enemies are part of the obvious satire on the genre itself. The self-proclaimed "arch-nemesis" of Dr. Venture, for example, is The Monarch, a guy running around in a crown and butterfly wings. And why is he the arch-nemesis of Dr. Venture, a man with few redeeming qualities but seemingly not much of an impact on the world at large? Because, explains the Monarch, "That's what I do!"

You have to fall back on that kind of explanation to make sense out of the "enemies" the President says now beset us. These enemies, he still solemnly intones, and his Administration still solemnly intones, "hate us because they hate our freedom." In other words, it's what they do. How can you have heroes, if you don't have enemies, huh?

It's a slippery term, "enemies," when you come to employ it. You can have antagonists, like Voldemort and Draco Malfoy in the world of Harry Potter. You can have "bad guys," necessary for every new installment of the James Bond cinematic series. And the question of motivation seldom requires much exposition: they hate the hero, or are jealous, or want to take over the world. It doesn't take much in fiction. But in reality, enemies require a bit more explanation.

In fact, it is almost entirely a term limited to nations. Armies have enemies, because that's what they do: they protect nations from "enemies." Are the enemies real? Yes, and no. In the famous World War I event during Christmas, when soldiers stood in no-man's land and shared brandy and soccer with their "enemies," the notion of a personal enemy disappeared, and the idea of a national enemy was so depleted the generals had to ban any such contact for the rest of the war.

But even in reality, enemies usually have a motivation, be it lebensraum in Europe, or dominance of the Pacific theater, or just the desire to spread Communism (the latter being the largely chimerical reason for the motivation of the Viet Cong). Whatever the motivation, it cannot be one shared by the hero. James Bond may be lustful, but he is never greedy or power-mad. Harry Potter may be angry, but he can't get angry enough to pronounce an Unforgivable Curse. Voldemort is driven by anger and shame at being a "mudblood." The villians of action movies are driven sometimes simply by "evil."

And always, cartoon and comic book villians are just...villians. Their villainy is their motivation. But we can't transfer that directly to reality; so we translate it, instead. Rather than villiany, the motivation is envy. They hate our "light." They want to put it out. They hate our freedom. It motivates them to destroy.

Why are "they" our "enemy"? Because that's what they do.

Welcome to statecraft as cartoon show. May God have mercy on us all.

And it's 1, 2,3--What are we fightin' for?

Have to be careful about reaching conclusions on matters of responsibility until all the facts are in. As my torts professor used to say: "Change the facts, change the outcome."

Mr. Sullivan, in his book review, noted that:
...Bush clearly leaned toward toughness. Here's the precise formulation he used: ''As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.'' (emphasis in original)

Notice the qualifications. The president wants to stay not within the letter of the law, but within its broad principles, and in the last resort, ''military necessity'' can overrule all of it. According to his legal counsel at the time, Alberto R. Gonzales, the president's warmaking powers gave him ultimate constitutional authority to ignore any relevant laws in the conduct of the conflict. Sticking to the Geneva Convention was the exclusive prerogative of one man, George W. Bush; and he could, if he wished, make exceptions. As Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee argues in another memo: ''Any effort to apply Section 2340A in a manner that interferes with the president's direction of such core war matters as the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants thus would be unconstitutional.'' (Section 2340A refers to the United States law that incorporates the international Convention Against Torture.)

The president's underlings got the mixed message.

But was the message mixed, after all? Or were there, instead, two messages? ONe for public consumption, one for covert action. Is this, in other words, a matter where yet another Administration wanted to exercise "plausible deniability."

Those ACLU documents are already producing evidence of the latter, or at least reasons to raise the question. From Dan Froomkin, today:
There's a string of redacted e-mails in the file on [on particular torture] case in which military officials discuss the White House's interest.

One officer writes to another: "Any update? I realize you are doing your best; however MOI [Ministry of Interior] guys are under a lot of pressure from the White House. . . . Any information you have on progress would help placate those that are seeking the answers and keep the pressure off us."

The other officer asks: "When you say White House, what exactly are you referring to?"

The first officer replies: "When I say the White House, I mean that this request is being handled by the President's personal staff. This request was forwarded to the President from Prime Minister [redacted]'s office. [Redacted] Special Assistant [redacted] has taken a personal interest in this woman and her case."

But that investigation, like the others, did not result in any criminal charges. I wonder if Special Assistant [redacted] ever mentioned that to anyone higher in the chain of command.


Ship of Fools

Gore Vidal was interviewed on Democracy Now! and made a quite convincing argument that America has an absolutely terrible educational system. I can only speak from my experience, and I have no basis for comparison. Vidal grounds it in American ignorance of the world and of history, something he has more knowledge about than I. It is, of course, easy to make a persuasive case for it today, if a cynical one. But his comments prompted me to think about the subject.

A few years ago, the big concern among Americans was, supposedly, "smart Asians." Asian culture, we were told, valued education. It is, they said, a heritage of Confucionism. And undoubtedly that is true: culture plays a powerful role in human society; it is practically the "genetics" of a society, and changing it or shifting it is a generations long process, not a matter of mere "enlightenment" or "revelation" to a lucky few.

But that's still too broad a canvas. Vidal was speaking of a few things, a few topics, those things he knows something about. It made me think of the subjects I know something about. Recently, I've been engaged in discussions, briefly, with references to various books that presume the "scandal" that would erupt if the "historical truth" of Jesus of Nazareth could be proven. If, for example, someone were to prove the corpse of Jesus never left the tomb; or that Mary had other children, and was not perpetually a virgin; or that Jesus was the product of a human father and mother, not a virgin birth. Or if people knew that stories of virgin births and resurrections were common coin in 1st century Palestine, and are not unique in human cultures or human history.

All of this, of course, if it ever became "known," would mean the downfall of Western civilization, the collapse of the church, the death of faith and God, once and for all. And a great shock to the priest and pastors, to boot. Except I learned every one of those theories in seminary.

John Dominic Crossan, author of an exhaustive "biography" of Jesus of Nazareth, a former Jesuit and himself still a Christian, states quite bluntly that the body of Jesus of Nazareth was tossed into a pauper's grave and probably devoured by dogs. I know this because I studied his book in seminary, and met Professor Crossan when he spoke there. This isn't scandal. It's scholarship.

Vidal says "we are shameful when we go abroad, because we know nothing." We don't know, he says, that Babylon is a center of western civilization, yet American troops went in there and "smashed everything to bits." Because they are mean? No, says Vidal, because they are ignorant. It is certainly the root of the stereotyped "Ugly American."

I can read columns in the Guardian savagely critiquing Christianity, things much more harsh than anything I've read in any comment on the Web. And I can read columns by churchmen, priests in the Anglican church, which are quite reasonable in their beliefs, men and women of faith in the world. Such columns in any major American paper would bring howls of outrage for blasphemy, on one hand, or insufficient piety, on the other. Why? In large part, because of our willful ignorance.

I come across someone occassionally, for example, who argues that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. Except the scholarly consensus, among Jewish, Christian, and even agnostic/atheistic Biblical scholars and historians, is that he did. The argument I hear is based on a tiny exposure to the questions of the 19th century, of Albert Schweitzer and others. These same people have no knowledge of the work of Gerhard von Rad, Rudolf Bultmann, or many of the German and other scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries, and their applications of various schools of criticism to scriptures and scholarship. Having learned a little bit, these people I encounter think they know more than anyone else. And they do; but they are still woefully ignorant. As Vidal says, we don't know history and don't want to know history. I'm not sure we know much of anything; nor do we seem to want to know much of anything. So do we blame the teachers, or the priests and pastors; or is it the fault of the people, the ultimate arbiters of the culture?

I don't presume, of course, that many Europeans have read through Bultmann's commentary on the Gospel of John, or bothered to study the scholarship that concluded the Torah was composed of J, E, D, and P, or that the authors of Matthew and Luke relied on a "Q" document for much of their information. But this information, all of which is now more than a century old, some of it almost 150 years old, is only now being spoken of, largely in whispers, among "liberal" Christian congregations. Why?

And the "conspiracy" theories, the idea that, if it were proven Mary was not an eternal virgin, that Jesus didn't have a bodily resurrection, that such "proof" would undo Western civilization. Where does one start in assessing such ignorance? As if these things could be "proven," as if Western civilization rested on such thin reeds, as if the massive edifice of the church was one vast expert conspiracy of silence! As if the Christian church in the world was a massive edifice in the first place! Why?

Doesn't it start with education? Doesn't it start with the willingness to learn? The pressures on schools to repress knowledge, is massive. From textbooks approved in Texas that affect the rest of the nation, to controversy over "school prayer" and "sex education," to the school district superintendent who was afraid to let my former church advertise a "Hallowe'en party" for the poor children of the nearby school because some parents might think my church was promoting Satanic worship (a true story!): I understand the depth, scope, reach, of the problem.

But we convince ourselves that all is well, that we are good, that the problems are not fundamental, merely cosmetic, merely a matter of political party or dominance or control or motivating enough of a majority. And I wonder: is that all there is? Is it that simple, that direct a task? Do we only need to redirect a few voters, change a few public officials, gain a slim majority of control in a few places, to redirect this ship of the nation?

Or is it quite willfully and quite desperately, a ship of fools?

"These things that with myself I too much discuss, too much explain."

Andrew Sullivan reviewed two books in the NYTimes Book Review last Sunday, both concerning Abu Ghraib, neither of them by Seymour Hersh. In the course of a lengthy review he made an obligatory ad hominem swipe at Hersh, and even at Mark Danner, whose book he was reviewing, but he also argues that the "buck" in the chain of command only barely reaches up to Bush's desk only because Bush excluded al Qaeda from the protections of the Geneva Convention (proving Mr. Sullivan is not an expert in international law), but then in a back door manner included al Qaeda again because, basically, the U.S. "doesn't do torture."

Someone, of course, should tell him about the School of the Americas.

Lawyers learn early in their careers to never say "never," and to always expect a new document or witness to turn up and transform their finely crafted defense into so much smoking ash. Per First Draft this morning, and a report on NPR, the ACLU has now done just that to Mr. Sullivan's argument.

Mr. Sullivan persuades himself, far too early in the day, it turns out, that Mr. Danner's exhaustive review of documents surrounding Abu Ghraib and Gitmo is enough to allow us all to reach conclusions about who did what, and why. Unfortunately for this argument, neither Mr. Dunn nor Mr. Sullivan has seen all the documents. The ACLU representative interviewed on NPR said the ACLU is convinced there are many more documents still to be released. Which can only mean any conclusions about how far up the chain of command responsibility for the torture in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo goes, are premature. As are any conclusions that the reach is limited, that the abuses and torture are, ultimately, the fault of someone below those held responsible for the actions of people under their command, because those in command are responsible for allowing such people to be under their command in the first place, or for setting the "tone" of what is permitted on their "watch."

To be fair, Mr. Sullivan seems to understand this:
And the damage done was intensified by President Bush's refusal to discipline those who helped make this happen. A president who truly recognized the moral and strategic calamity of this failure would have fired everyone responsible.... The man who paved the way for the torture of prisoners is to be entrusted with safeguarding the civil rights of Americans. It is astonishing he has been nominated, and even more astonishing that he will almost certainly be confirmed.

But in a democracy, the responsibility is also wider. Did those of us who fought so passionately for a ruthless war against terrorists give an unwitting green light to these abuses? Were we naïve in believing that characterizing complex conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq as a single simple war against ''evil'' might not filter down and lead to decisions that could dehumanize the enemy and lead to abuse? Did our conviction of our own rightness in this struggle make it hard for us to acknowledge when that good cause had become endangered? I fear the answer to each of these questions is yes.

American political polarization also contributed. Most of those who made the most fuss about these incidents - like Mark Danner or Seymour Hersh - were dedicated opponents of the war in the first place, and were eager to use this scandal to promote their agendas. Advocates of the war, especially those allied with the administration, kept relatively quiet, or attempted to belittle what had gone on, or made facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime. But it seems to me that those of us who are most committed to the Iraq intervention should be the most vociferous in highlighting these excrescences. Getting rid of this cancer within the system is essential to winning this war.
I don't quote this to disagree with him. I quote it to point out the danger of moral blindness, the disaster that inevitably follows on treating your "enemy" as someone or even something, that must be stopped. "Getting rid of this cancer" is a more pervasive problem than Mr. Sullivan's epiphany recognizes. The cancer is violence itself. We cannot privilege violence in one case, and condemn it in others. It will not stay so nicely caged, so surely under our control, so definitely in our grasp. Murphy's Law always applies, and it even more so when violence is invoked in the name of "us." Is it really possible to fight a "war" against "evil"? Are we really that ignorant, that arrogant, that naive, to believe such a thing is possible, or that we are the ones "chosen" to prosecute it? "Getting rid of this cancer...[in order to win]...the war" is unintentionally ironic: war is the cancer. The question is: how do we remove it?

How do we love our enemy? Well, who is "our" enemy? And why?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Preliminary explorations

Love requires:

1) complete vulnerability by the lover (the agent acting on love)

2) relationship with the object of one's love (the beloved).

Let it be noted there are obviously different kinds of love, or different emotions, relationships, interests, wants, needs, denoted by "love." Kierkegaard alone argued for sharp distinctions between the selfishness of erotic love, and the self-lessness of married love, in Either/Or. And then there is the whole question of love in Plato's Symposium, and again in Kierkegaard's Stages on Life's Way. Indeed, Kierkegaard, coming in no small part from his Romantic European culture, considered human love something developed in maturity as one moved from selfishness to self-lessness, and the highest form of this love is the most self-less, embodied, for Johannes de Silentio, in the "Knight of Faith."

The question of whether one disciplines a child out of "love" is forced out by 1) above, if only because the exertion of authority (power) required in such a situation obviates the vulnerability necessary in the definition. Is all discipline of children based on love? We say so today, but in Victorian England, for example, where "children should be seen but not heard," discipline was meant to impose social order on a bestial nature. Indeed, the notion of valuing children as human beings (and thus "loving" them, as the common parlance has it) is a post-industrial, bourgeois sentiment, made possible more by the luxury of being able to raise children qua "children," rather than as hands in securing the family's existence. "Love" (like hospitality) will always have culturally specific limitations to its definition. But we have to eliminate as many of those as possible in order to get at the paradox of "love your enemies."

The Deer's Cry

So NPR this morning has just reported that "the [military] reserves are shot," and that our nation's ability to fight in Iraq will be seriously impaired, if not impossible, within a year's time. All this due to the Pollyanna-ish visions of the so-called "neo-cons."

And my disgust is not with that alone, or with the broken state of the military, a state now so obvious NPR can announce it in a headline (i.e., almost without further explication being required); not with the fact that Bush has indeed broken everything he touches, or that Rumsfeld is so grossly incompetent he should be impeached, and Gonzalez and Rice shouldn't even get a hearing, much less ever be confirmed. No, my disgust is over the number of lives this has cost, and will cost: American lives, Iraqi lives, what does the political designation matter? "America" is just a political idea, "Iraq" another one. We are talking about the deaths of human beings, not of different creatures from different planets or even different levels and values of existence. I do not value life as the Hindu religion teaches, but does that mean I must devalue it to the point that only legal distinctions determine whose deaths I mourn?

What else, then, is there to do, but pray? Not for them, yet; for me. For me, that I might be able to pray for them.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us. Amen.

I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ's incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan River; His death on the cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spiced tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming on the day of doom; I bind unto
myself today.

I bind unto myself the power of the great love of Cherubim; the sweet "Well done" in judgment hour; the service of the Seraphim, Confessors' faith, Apostles' word, the Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls; all good deeds done unto the Lord, and purity of simple souls.

I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven, the glorious sun's life-giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even, the flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks, the stable earth, the deep salt sea, around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, his eye to watch, his might to stay, his ear to hearken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, his hand to guide, his shield to ward; the Word of God to give me speech, his heavenly host to be my guard. Against the demon snares of sin, the vice that gives temptation force, the natural lusts that war within, the hostile ones that mar my course; or few or many, far or nigh, in every place, and in all hours, against their fierce hostility, I bind to me these holy powers. Against all Satan's spells and wiles, against false words of heresy, against the knowledge that defiles, against the heart's idolatry, against the wizard's evil craft, against the death wound and the burning, the choking wave and poisoned shaft, protect me Christ, till your returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name, the strong Name of the Trinity; by invocation of the same: The Three in One, and One in Three, of whom all nature has creation: Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Third Sunday of Epiphany, 2005

The Lectionary for the day: Psalm 139:1-11

LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, 0 LORD, know it altogether.

You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.

And a bit from one version of "St. Patrick's Breastplate:"
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
And last, the words of one of the communion hymns used at the worship service today:
They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown;
such happy, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down.

Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died,
Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head-down was crucifed.

The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod,
Yet let us pray for but one thing--the marvelous peace of God.

We'll return to the question of love and enemies tomorrow.

The Price of Terror Alerts

Terror alerts have, of course, disappeared from the news. My Netscape headlines inform me that 10 terrorists are now being sought in the Boston area, but the Department of Homeland Security no longer sees fit to notify FoxNews of the latest color code for fear and trembling.

It is just as well. I heard an administrator for one of the Harris County hospitals speak today. His hospital is a provider of last resort, for the working poor, those "too rich" for Medicare, etc. Most of their funding comes from the county, but that funding is flat in the last years, even as the need increased last year alone by 18%.

One reason the funding is flat, interestingly enough, is terror alerts. It seems the Harris County Commissioners are concerned about readiness for "bio-terrorism" threats and the like. Perhaps they should be. Perhaps all those color coded alerts Tom Ridge announced on a weekly basis were not just the boy crying wolf.

The situation in Boston, however, argues otherwise.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The First Problem

I have been working on some ideas related to hospitality, and on the way there, I had to formulate a "definition" of hospitality. That is, to find the elements that are basic to hospitality; that without which "hospitality" cannot be said to be present. The elements come down to three:

1) a place
2) a host
3) a guest.

Simple enough. Except the host must have exclusive control over the place; must be able to extend or withhold access to others, as hospitality is, first and foremost, granting access to a place. The only one who can grant such access, must be able to grant full, partial, or no (denial of) access to any other person. This is the ground of hospitality: making a place and what is owned therein, available to another. Further, the access must be total, to be true hospitality. Anything less is merely a shading of hospitality, a diminishing. Perhaps a proper diminishing, perhaps not; but still a diminishing, a lessening of "true" hospitality.

The only way to establish a spectrum, to determine whether a hard and fast answer will do or not, is first to establish the absolute concept from which one then can, or cannot, deviate.

The place itself must be physical. And the guest must be a stranger to the host. A complete stranger. Not a friend, a family member, a distant relative. A stranger. Wholly other.

The rigidity and particularity are essential for getting at just what hospitality "is," in distinction to all other forms of social intercourse. This limits hospitality greatly, but also takes it down to the "bare necessities" (I am avoidng the concept of "essence" here as much as possible; too Platonic for my metaphysics). This definition, for example, removes from consideration welcoming someone to a public place, such as a church. The welcomer has no exclusive right to access, and no right to deny access to any other. By definition, a church is a public place. Welcoming the stranger there is certainly an act of friendliness, kindness, compassion, sociability. But it is not hospitality.

Can "love" be comparably pared down to that which is essential? Isn't that, in fact, necessary, if we are going to grapple with the idea of "loving" our "enemies"? Because if we don't grapple with it, if we don't decide what "love" means in any context, and therefore in that context, how can we determine what we are called to do?

What would those elements be?

Does love have no end?

Two examinations of love:
Love is patient and kind. Love envies no one, is never boastful, never conceited, never rude; love is never selfish, never quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance. I Corinthians 13: 4-7 (REB)
The words are so familiar they are one of the well worn stones in our cultural pockets, the common coinage that has all but lost its edge and its image, and so, its value. But take it at face value as a starting point (though not the definitive starting point, by any means); take it as a touchstone for our understanding of "love." How do our other understandings measure up to it, conflict with it, meet it halfway?

Is love empathy? I may wish to save a child or a kitten from harm. Is that love? Or just sensitivity, empathy, some measure of compassion for living things?

Does love compel me to act? It may, but in what direction?
Suppose, then, that there was a king who loved a maiden of lowly station in life. The king's heart was unstained by the wisdom (loudly enough proclaimed) unacquainted with the difficulties that the understanding uncovers in order to trap the heart and that give the poets enough to do and make their magic formulas necessary. His resolution was easy to carry out, for every politician feared his wrath and dared not even to hint at anything. Every foreign country trembled before his power and dared not to refrain from sending a congratulatory delegation to the wedding. And no cringing courtier, groveling before him, dared to hurt his feelings lesthis own head be crushed. So let the harp be tuned; let the poets' songs begin; let all be festive while erotic love celebrates its triumph, for erotic love is jubilant when it unites equal and equal and is triumphant when it makes equal in erotic love that which was unequal.

Then a concern awakened in the king's soul. Who but a king who thinks royally would dream of such a thing! He did not speak to anyone about his concern, for if he had done so, anyone of his courtiers would presumably have said, "Your Majesty, you are doing the girl a favor for which she can never in her lifetime thank you adequately." No doubt the courtier would arouse the king's wrath, so that the king would have him executed for high treason against his beloved, and thereby would cause the king another kind of sorrow. Alone he grappled with the sorrow in his heart: whether the girl would be made happy by this, whether she would acquire the bold confidence never to remember what the king only wished to forget-that he was the king and she had been a lowly maiden. For if this happened, if this recollection awakened and at times, like a favored rival, took her mind away from the king, lured it into the inclosing reserve of secret sorrow, or if at times it walked past her soul as death walks across the grave--what would be the gloriousness of erotic love then! Then she would indeed have been happier if she had remained in obscurity, loved by one in a position of equality, contented in the humble hut, but boldly confident in "her love and cheerful early and late. What a rich overabundance of sorrow stands here as if ripe, almost bending under the weight of its fertility, only awaiting the time of harvest when the thought of the king will thresh all the seeds of concern out of it. For even if the girl were satisfied to become nothing, that could not satisfy the king, simply because he loved her and because it would be far harder for him to be her benefactor than to lose her. And what if she could not even understand him-for if we are going to speak loosely about the human, we may well assume an intellectual difference that makes understanding impossible. What a depth of sorrow slumbers in this unhappy erotic love! Who dares to arouse it! (Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton Unversity Press, 1985, pp. 26-28)
Does love, indeed, have its limits, and then it compels us to act? Can we reconcile love, which endures all things and has no limits, with our inability to bear to see another suffer, which compels us to act to relieve their suffering? In Kierkegaard's parable, love compels the king to act, but love also keeps the king from acting. Love, we say, is patient. But who among us would be patient in the face of a child playing in a busy street? Can I reconcile these two: that love ideally is patient and endures all things, but love compels me to leap into the traffic and rescue that child? Is it really love that motivates me? Or something else, something as simple as common decency, or humanity? Empathy may contain compassion, but is empathy contained in love? If it is, then love endures most things, and there are some things it cannot face, and at some point it gives up hope and yields to more short-term solutions.

Is love ever reconcilable with an exertion of power?

Friday, January 21, 2005

"What is this thing called 'love'?"

Judging from the comments so far, it is clear we don't get far before we run into the central problem: what does it mean to "love"? What are the actions associated with love? And do they, in any way, overlap the actions associated with power?

Problemata I

cervantes gets us started with this comment:
Well, it seems to me that the first and foremost act of love one is obligated to perform for a gang of murderous thieves is to stop them from committing evil. This works in most systems of ethics, whether you are concerned about their karma, their immortal souls, or their dignity and possibility for fulfillment as living humans.

Once they are stopped, I can consider the possibility of redemption. But they have to earn it.

So, is love earned? Or is it given?

Romantic love is earned, obviously. And just as obviously, that is not the kind of love we are thinking about when we say, "Love your enemies." And is love about power, or powerlessness? In the case of love for another human being, either romantic love or filial love: is the purpose to exert power over the beloved? Or to be vulnerable before and with the beloved? And isn't such vulnerability predicated on the risk of being powerless, or abandoning all claims to power in the presence of something made better as you are made weaker?

Is love about gaining control? Is love about superior power, forces, abilities, strengths? Do we lock up criminals because we love them? Do we execute murderers because the State loves them so much? Of course not.

Are we, even, our brother's keeper? Are we obligated to stop someone from doing something we know is wrong? That is, in fact, the argument of fundamentalists who want to convert you to their beliefs. Some sincerely believe that you will be lost if they don't "save" you, and some even believe they will be lost if they don't "save" you. But it comes to the same thing: they must stop you from committing evil, even if "evil" as they define it, is simply the wrong belief, or even non-belief.

And finally: is loving your enemies about redeeming your enemies? Do you have that much authority? Do you have that much responsibility? Do you have, even, that power, the power of redemption or damnation?

Preliminary Expectorata

If you are going to follow the command to "Love your enemy," you first have to decide what the command means. What is "love," and how is it made active? What does it mean to claim "your"? And who, or what, is an "enemy"? Is the distinction dependent solely on you, or is it up to "them" as well?

And before you get that far, you have to grasp the paradox, firmly, despite the ontological thorns: if you "love" your enemy, are "they" still your "enemy"? Is it possible to conceive of "love" as an activity directed toward any person, and retain for that person the concept of "enemy"? Your enemy is not transformed by your hate. Surely George Bush or Dick Cheney couldn't care less what I think about them. Would my love transform them?

Or does it only affect me?

Is love, or hate, about securing the boundaries? Or is it about holding to the center?

In the spirit of Josh Marshall, we will obviously have much more to say about this. But hopefully, we'll actually get it said.

"You have been told 'an eye for an eye....' "

In the New Testament, the idea of "enemy" has a real tang, a serious bite. New Testament scholars now agree, for example, that the image of Pilate negotiating with the crowd, offering Barabbas over Jesus, and deliberating over his execution with a a foreshadowing dream, is pure fiction. The historical Pontius Pilate apparently ordered crucifixions as casually as another would order eggs and sausage for breakfast. In fact, Pilate was so brutal the Romans finally removed him from his procurate. The Romans were brutal, but they understood the necessity of judgment, and Pilate was too brutal and quick to judge even for them.

Both Herods, too, come off as bloodthirsty. The first massacres all the males 2 and under in Bethlehem, according to Matthew. Later, Herod has John the Baptist's head served up to Salome on a platter. Just within the limits of the gospel stories alone, "enemies" has a much more serious bite than it does for our domestic politics.

Still, Jesus walked among the people who suffered under such tyrants, who daily lived with such brutality, and said: "Love your enemies." The phrase has become such a well-worn stone in our cultural pockets that it has no edges anymore. It is a phrase that deserves an edge, however. What does it mean, to "love your enemies"? How is it possible to love people who would kill you as easily as step on a roach? How is it possible to love people as morally and ethically blind as Dick Cheney, or George Bush, or Condoleeza Rice, or Alberto Gonzalez. How do we love people who promote torture as statecraft, who are obviously willfully blind to the consequences of their actions, who clearly live in a world so divorced from reality as to indicate psychosis?

People who differ from Pilate and Herod only in the degree to which they can punish their political enemies. How do we love them?

Through the Looking Glass

I should be able to make something of this; but I can't.

Condoleeza Rice taking umbrage at Barbara Boxer's questions. Never once denying what she had said, never once acknowledging that what she said in response to Boxer, or Biden, was completely at odds with reality. When reality doesn't fit what you say, ignore reality. Condi Rice as the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, and soon to be the U.S. Secretary of State.

And word comes today that Alberto Gonzalez, still only White House Counsel, has declared that the U.S. anti-torture statutes don't reach beyond the waters to foreigners on foreign soil. And none of the definitions of torture or restrictions on use of torture agreed to or announced by this Administration, apply to the CIA.

Also today Dick Cheney tells Don Imus: "You look around at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list." And, of course, " 'We don't want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it,' he said." Which makes you wonder what he thinks is going on in Iraq right about now.

The situation with this Administration has gone completely through the looking glass. It is now beyond comprehension. I don't think even Barbara Boxer understands that she is speaking in one language, and the Bush Administration is speaking in a language all its own, one that sounds like English, but that has no connection with the reality the rest of us live in. There is no other explanation for this behavior, and it fits perfectly with the paranoia the President constantly displays over threats to his own person.

These people are crazy. No, really. They are not in contact with the world. I know I should fear the one who can harm the soul and not the body, but still.....

AN UPDATE: It starts at the top:
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling.

Tell us all one more time why invading Iraq was imperative, Mr. President....

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The command is clear. But is the heart engaged?

Reflecting on the response of Bush pere and fils to the tsunami, contrasted with Clinton, in the post below, I remembered this comment by Sen. Boxer in the Rice confirmation hearings:
BOXER: And if you're going to become the voice of diplomacy, this is just a helpful point. When Senator Voinovich mentioned the issue of tsunami relief, you said -- your first words were The tsunami was a wonderful opportunity for us. Now, the tsunami was one of the worst tragedies of our lifetime, one of the worst, and it's going to have a 10-year impact on rebuilding that area. I was very disappointed in your statement. I think you blew the opportunity. You mentioned it as part of one sentence. And I would hope to work with you on this, because children are suffering; we're worried they're going to get in the sex trade. This thing is a disaster -- a true natural disaster and a human disaster of great proportions. And I hope that the State Department will take a huge lead under your leadership in helping those folks in the long range.
A small point, but not an unimportant one. Everything depends on perspective, of course; on where you stand, and what you choose to look at. Is the suffering of human beings truly an "opportunity" for us? Or an obligation?

The difference is important.

"Here come the planes...."

In a much shorter vein, Holden at First Draft notifies me that Dr. Dobson is now concerned about the impact of Spongebob Squarepants on our nation's youth.
Now, Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside other children's television characters such as Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The video's makers, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools this spring to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity." He urged his allies to stand against it as part of a "spiritual battle" for the country.
It isn't true, of course. The video is meant to teach the virtues of multiculuralism. But Focus on the Family stands by its assertions that this is another attempt to pollute our bodily fluids...oh, sorry, to corrupt American Youth:
Yesterday however, Paul Batura, assistant to Dobson, said Focus on the Family stood by its assertions. "We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said.
A "spiritual battle" for the country? Manipulating and brainwashing kids? This is a powerful appeal to the issue of identity. If somebody "out there" is not just like me, does that mean I might be like them? And if that's true, then who am I?

And when justice and force are gone, there's always Mom....or, in this case, Dr. Dobson.

"...and the wisdom to distinguish...

It was one of Jean-Paul Sartre's insights, that the world you posit, is the world you live in. It is perhaps a sign that we are all existentialists now, that we see this insight borne out in the Presidential inauguration today. The New York Times noted yesterday the unusually high level of security surrounding today's second inauguration of George Bush, even as "...U.S. officials say they have no indications that al-Qaida or any other terrorist group intends to attack Bush's inauguration." NPR reports that 100 blocks of Washington D.C. are shut down, the tightest security for any Presidential inauguration in history. So why the "rooftop snipers, missile batteries, bomb-sniffing dogs, high-tech monitors and miles of metal barricades, a striking array even in a city accustomed to heightened security since Sept. 11"? Because "paranoia," as the Buffalo Springfield said, "strikes deep," and "starts when you're always afraid"?

But what is this Administration afraid of?

When Bush visited Buckinham Palace, there were numerous reports of the extraordinary security measures the White House insisted on. The Palace reported drew the line at installing a special steel lined room for the President inside the Palace itself. Did the Queen ever insist on such security measures during the "Troubles" with Ireland? During World War II? Churchill had a bunker in London during the Blitz, and the Royal Family may have left the Palace for obvious safety reasons, but did they ever betray as stark a fear as that request indicates?

Bush swaggers like a movie cowboy, or at least struts as if strutting and posturing were indications of power and confidence. But is the swagger hollow, the confidence a pose? Actions speak louder than words, and some actions louder than others. Why this extraordinary security? What extraordinary sense of fear lies behind it? And what does it tell us, the loyal opposition?

We tend to define ourselves by what we oppose. That, too, is an insight of existentialism, but one little remarked upon. The existentialist starts by defining herself against the universe: the line of demarcation is the boundary of the self, and that boundary must be set early, before it is set by the universe against you. All the effort, then, goes into claiming as much "ground" as possible, casting as wide a net as possible, and holding that spiritual or psychic territory against all invasion. The boundaries shrink as the self matures, but the initial effort is to reach out, to establish the frontier, and to slowly realize how much of the world and the cosmos are "not you."

That, at least, is the insight of child psychology and development. And it is an insight borne out by reports of Bush's inaugural speech, in which he will reportedly tell the nation that liberty at home depends on liberty abroad. Which means the national self of the United States is boundless, is global. It means that collectively we are infants, unable to distinguish between our psychic selves and the rest of the world. It means that we have no center, and that the President has cast our lot with eternal conflict.

"God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." That is the Serenity Prayer" of Reinhold Niebuhr. It is a prayer that accepts, at its premise, that the world is larger than the self, and that the self is not dependent upon the world for definition. The President, however, proposes that the world define us, and that liberty abroad determine how much liberty can be had at home. Liberty, of course, is the American definition of nationhood, of the collective "we" of the United States, so this is as central to national selfhood as America gets. And Bush has defined it, and will define it, as an infant defines their world. Small wonder he is so insecure, and requires so much security.

But what about the rest of us? How should we define our struggles, our lives, our selves? By politics, by the efforts of political parties and our own convictions? By the boundaries, in other words, and what we can establish through our efforts? Ironically, Reinhold Niebuhr did; and his daughter records that he ended his days saddened and disheartened despite all he had done. "You poor girl," he told her once, after Eisenhower took office," you've never lived under a Republican Administration. You don't know how terrible this is going to be." But that doesn't mean he struggled in vain, or wasted his efforts. "It is implicit in everything Pa wrote on the subject," his daughter writes, "that there's little point in having a foreign policy, or an arms policy, unless, as a nation, you know who you are, what sort of nation you are or imagine yourself to be." He was right, of course; and that is the heart of the struggle. Who are we, really? What sort of nation do we imagine ourselves to be?

Right now, according to our President, a scared one; a frightened, childish, bullying one, beset by terrors on all sides, with no hope for survival except through our force of arms. But is force of arms the final power in the world? or the final weakness? Are we defined by our enemies? Or by our ideals? By our boundaries? Or by our center? Existentialism says that we define the world, but it starts by defining the world against us. But it also teaches that the world does not limit us; it is our own fear, our own despair, that does that. We can't even define the nation. We can only define ourselves. And we can do that either by constantly protecting the boundaries of who we are, and thereby letting what is "not us" define what is "us." Or we can do that by finding our center, where ever and whatever it may be, and resting there. St. Teresa of Avila called it the "interior castle," because it is both the place of safety, and the place that needs no other protection. Perhaps while the world flails about trying to establish security on the frontiers, we should seek the peace of our center. It is the only true hope for peace in the world.

[Quotes are from Elisabeth Sifton, The Serenity Prayer, New York: W.W. Norton, 2003, pp. 328-329]

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Because it really is all about words....

Your President as international moral compass:
In a newspaper opinion piece signed by President Bush and offered to newspapers around the globe, a White House eager to lessen anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world is trumpeting U.S. efforts to help tsunami victims in the Indian Ocean region.

``Americans join those across the globe in mourning the tens of thousands of lives, many of them children, who were lost in the recent violent tsunamis from Thailand to the Horn of Africa,'' Bush writes in the op-ed distributed by the State Department starting last Saturday.


``In consultation with key allies and with the United Nations, the United States launched one of the largest humanitarian relief operations in recent history,'' he wrote. ``Americans will do all we can to help the people of Asia confront the great challenges that face them in the aftermath of this devastation.''


M.C. Andrews, with a White House office in charge of helping to improve the U.S. image abroad, said Tuesday the op-ed has already been published in papers in Asia, Europe and elsewhere.

Also Tuesday, Clinton and the first President Bush gave an interview to a U.S. government-financed satellite television station aimed at Arab viewers and said the response to their fund-raising drive has been overwhelming.

``People ask all the time, `Will people like America better?' and the answer is, we don't know, but that's not why we are doing it,'' Clinton said on Alhurra. ``If people know that the American people are doing this because they want to do the right thing, then they will like America better. If people think we have some motive, then they won't.''

Added former President Bush: ``I hope there is a byproduct, a fallout that will benefit, because I think the American people would want that. And to suggest we are anti-Muslim is just crazy. ... If they feel reconciled by the fact that we are helping the largest Muslim nation in the world, so much the better.''

Is it churlish to point out that Clinton promotes doing the right thing, despite any rewards? And Bush Sr. focusses on gaining some reward for our largesse? Or that both Bush's seem to think words outweigh war.

Truly, the acorn does not fall far from the tree.....