Friday, December 08, 2006

It's all about Archimedes

and moving the world:

"As I’ve written before, our real choices in Iraq are 10 months or 10 years. Either we commit the resources to entirely rebuild the place over a decade, for which there is little support, or we tell everyone that we will be out within 10 months, or sooner, and we’ll deal with the consequences from afar. We need to start the timer — today, now.

"As long as we’re in Iraq, Iraq implodes, and we absorb a lot of the pain. The minute we leave, Iraq explodes — or at least no one can be sure it won’t — and that is a real threat to the Iraqi factions and neighbors. Even facing that reality might not knock enough sense into them to compromise, but at least then they’ll have their medieval religious war without us.

"Only that threat will give us leverage."
--Thomas Friedman, via E&P

Not to pick on the Moustache of Freedom, but this is the conventional wisdom, not just in D.C., or the GOP, or among the neo-cons, but in the world: we cannot afford to act to our disadvantage. It might be arguable whether morality requires self-sacrifice, but if certainly requires consideration of the other, as well as acceptance of responsibility for what we have done. And morality is not a simple either/or where we always give advantage to the other, and take only responsibility and blame on ourselves. Yet this entire Iraq fiasco has been an exercise in either/or thinking, and the very opposite of the caricature of Christianity as a "slave morality." If Christians are last of all and servants of all, US foreign policy has been determined to make our nation first of all nations, and ruler of all nations.

And we can see where that has gotten us.

The conventional wisdom is still running that way. As long as it looks like we haven't failed, as long as we can make it look like we've done the right thing, all will be well. If our eventual withdrawal from Iraq can be re-cast as one that increases, not decreases, our power, it is more palatable. If we can just see it as giving us "more leverage," then we won't have lost anything by this debacle, and we can still convince ourselves that "We're No. 1!"

This is, of course, of a piece with Christian evangelical thinking, which rose up to grab the reins of power in a Deuteronomistic fervor, convinced that once American government was purged of sin, the millenium would surely follow, convinced that as long as everyone looked moral and upright, the nation, too, would be. Or at least people like James Dobson and Ted Haggard would get the best seats at the table. ($190,000 a year buys a pretty nice seat.) Small irony now that some of them aren't even welcome at the table, and may never return there. Rather than serve, they would be served, and the church that believes in you! would be the church that ruled the world. For the most popular evangelicals it is not about service, but about financial management. As it is in the world, so it is in the evangelical church: it's all about power management:

In many evangelical congregations, men and women with same-sex attractions are expected to use prayer and Bible study to help them resist the temptation to sin. Haggard comes from a charismatic tradition that puts particular emphasis on the devil's corrupting influence. He has described supernatural visions of demons waiting to infect newborns with sinful desires.

This theology of constant spiritual warfare has led some of his followers to blame Haggard's fall not on any personal weakness but on Satan's cunning. As congregation member Jan Long, 60, put it: "The enemy wants to destroy us."

Such constructions worry the Rev. Tony Campolo, a liberal evangelical leader who helped guide President Clinton's spiritual restoration after the Monica S. Lewinsky affair. "The idea that this is a matter of some evil spirit taking hold of him is setting Ted Haggard up for disaster," Campolo said. "He may have a tendency to pretend that he's been delivered from his homosexual feelings … and all is well."

Campolo said he hoped the restoration team would impress upon Haggard that "there is no easy fix. These are problems he will struggle with for a lifetime."
"The enemy wants to destroy us." That language, of course, sounds familiar. It is the language of George W. Bush, justifying the war in Iraq. Whatever the reason we are there, now, we mus justify the use of our power as events move forward into an unknown future that we thought we could control. It's all about power. There may be one power in the world, but He needs our help in order to prevail, because there is an Enemy who is almost as powerful, and until He returns to hurl the Enemy into the eternal lake of fire, we must be His soldiers. That, at least, is the way it's sold. It was sold that way in Ted Haggard's church; it was sold that way as an excuse for invading Iraq. The only humility there, is being humble enough to recognize you are responsible for defeating Satan. It's a helluva job, but somebody's gotta do it. After all, with great moral purity comes great responsibility.

The problems of Iraq, of course, are problems this country will struggle with for a lifetime. Just as we have struggled with the legacy of slavery; just as we have struggled with the genocide of the Native Americans. It's all about power, in the end, and power is antithetical to the practice of morality. Machiavelli understood as much. Indeed, "religion is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values." When those absolute values conflict with our relative ones (Q: should we withdraw from Iraq "six months from now," or on a date certain?), the relative ones always prevail (A: on a date certain to be selected at least six months from now), until we see a way to gain advantage.

And as long as we can keep fighting them over there, we don't have to fight them over here. Which means the violence remains as real as the violence on our TV screens every night.

O Wisdom, O holy word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care; Come and show your people the way to salvation.
Because until then, we'll keep believing we actually have some leverage; and despite what they tell us, we'll keep believing in pictures:

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