Category Archives: Christianity and Politics

On Justice Part 2

This is the second part of a series on justice that began quite a while ago here. In that post, I posed this question:  Why should it make sense to us to tie justice primarily to punishment when the gospels seem to tie it to liberation? To put it another way, why should God’s justice ultimately be a penal justice? I also acknowledged that the first post was leaving things a bit messy. We’re going to begin to untangle some of that here.

I want to point out up front that, despite the title, this post is not going to be primarily about justice; rather, I want to set up the current situation that gives rise to the questionable conception of justice I outlined in the last post–namely, the moralization of justice.

To do that, we need to first examine the concept of sin. In western Protestant traditions, sin has been conceived of in two partially related ways. First, it is the general condition of human beings (Original Sin) that we are born into and must “work” to get out of by accepting the grace offered to us through faith. Second, there are individual “sins” that are indicative of the more general condition but which can themselves be identified, outlined, placed in hierarchy, and appropriately condemned. This condemnation is a markedly different formulation than what we find in the Catholic tradition. In pre-Reformation Catholicism, acts of sin are counted against you in a sort of running tally with your works of righteousness; the more righteous you are, the less time spent in purgatory. But in the Protestant tradition, broadly, the condemnation of sin is tantamount to the rejection of the world which is always at odds with the kingdom of God. This was by no means Luther’s view. It doesn’t quite accurately describe Calvin either, but it was the Reformed movement that gave rise to a strong version of this understanding in America.

The Puritans, who were Calvinists, held two narratives together that deeply shaped the way they viewed the world and how God interacts with it. First, was the narrative of persecution–what is called a “jeremiad.” The Puritans (who really were persecuted in England) believed that they were the only truly elect. They saw themselves as a pure (hence the name) distillation of what it is to be a member of the elect and as the last bastian of morality and decency among a rapidly degenerating, horrifically evil world (which included Catholics, Anglicans, and other Protestants.) They fled to the New World in order to establish the City of God, free from the dangers that the evil outside world presented. Second is their understanding of how God acts in the world, which is also necessarily tied to their belief in election. While they believed in election, they also believed it was impossible to know for sure who was actually elect. But they thought that if a person had been blessed with election by God, it would be naturally reflected in the abundance of blessings that surrounded him. If one is a member of the elect, one would live a righteous life and be abundantly blessed. The righteous life necessarily includes abstaining from “the world” which requires a black-and-white knowledge of what is righteous and what is worldly. Thus, a life devoted to and focused on Christ is primarily about one’s own moral behavior.

Furthermore, if one were to err, punishment would be the only way to ensure a truly repentant heart and a commitment to returning to the right path. Those who do not repent are in danger of eternal punishment.

The effects of this sort of moralization of Christianity are numerous and far reaching. The most important effect is that the significance of Christ for our lives, “following Jesus,” is primarily about not doing bad stuff simply for the sake of not doing it. We hear a lot of sermons and sing a lot of songs about following Jesus, giving him control of our lives, etc., etc. However, we rarely hear about what that should actually look like. We’re left to draw concrete conclusions from the abstraction of Christ as “the center” of our lives, and that has predictably resulted in the separation of Christians from the “sinful world” strictly for the sake of “not sinning” itself. Separation is, after all, the safest way to be a Christian, since it allows one to live in a protective bubble safe from the dangerous world. I’m not just talking about families who homeschool their kids and only have friends from church, etc. Even those who live in the world can still take Jesus’ command to not be “of it” as a prescribed morality. You can live among the sinners, just don’t be one of them–simply because you shouldn’t. Jesus and God just don’t want you to. There is no other reason given. The focus of our whole Christian life, what makes us distinct from the world, becomes the fact that we don’t participate in activities that are rather arbitrarily designated as sinful because they correlate with some notion of “what the world does.” If we abstain, pray sometimes, serve others sometimes, read the Bible, and go to church, we’re devoutly following Christ. Christianity becomes a life of inward contemplation with its outward signs restricted singularly to church-going, occasional service projects and negative action (i.e. I don’t do a, b, or c.)

In this familiar version of Christianity, sin becomes the barrier that keeps us from abstractions like “being close to God” and “following Christ.” But I don’t think either are primarily about “not sinning.” Scripture makes it pretty clear that to follow Christ, to be close to or love God, to be “in relationship” with both, to [insert any other relationship to the trinity you can think of], is accomplished in loving others in a such a way that radically subverts the worldly order–the orders of power, privilege, and the oppression that those naturally bring. When I love and serve those that seem impossible to love and serve, I am loving and serving Christ. If that becomes the focus of the Christian life, then sin takes on a very different role. It is that which prevents us from that love and service. It is that which we seek after and prioritize over that love and service. In other words, it is idolatry.

This understanding of sin is not new. I’m following a whole host of people (thinkers as far apart as D.A. Carson and Peter Rollins, for example) in defining sin as idolatry. We typically think of idolatry as one sin among many, another moral guideline, but that sort of thinking (that there is a list of rules which, once broken, constitute a list of sins) is exactly what we’re trying to get away from. If we conceive of sin in this way, we can begin to see that our moralization of sin has actually prevented us from identifying some really pervasive sin barriers. Our own comfort and security. Our privilege. Our politics. The prioritization of our allegiance to the nation-state. We can easily imagine how these might impair our ability to engage in selfless acts of mercy, justice, and compassion to those who are poor, oppressed, and helpless (which we also might say represent the bare minimum as expressions of a life devoted to Christ), let alone to develop a posture of service and humility, one in which relationship and solidarity with the “refuse of the earth” becomes a part of our very identities as Christians. We too become the scum of the earth. In an interesting, ironic twist, the moralized view of justice has in fact prevented us from actualizing what I think is clearly biblical justice.

This doesn’t suddenly mean that activity we once saw as sinful is no longer sinful. The reason for its categorization as sin as well as the contingent consequences of sin have changed. While the elimination of morality from our conception of sin may seem like I’m watering it down, the contingent consequences of sin are actually far more severe. Under the view I’ve outlined, sin not only has damaging consequences for us, but  In the next post, we’ll begin to look at the cosmic

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A Brief Discourse on Justice

“When justice is divorced from morality, when rights of individuals are separated from right and wrong, the only definition you have left for justice is the right for every individual to do as he pleases. And the end of that road is anarchy and barbarism.” – John Piper

Let me begin by saying that this isn’t a post about John Piper or even fundamentalism per se. Taking them down is too easy, and frankly, they see enough abuse from other progressives. I say that because what I want to suggest in this post might at first sound rather pedestrian, some kind of banal plea for social justice. But stick with me. I intend to do a few posts about justice, so in this one, I’m just trying to lay out the primary tension and raise some really difficult questions.

I’ve been thinking about justice a lot since moving to Chicago. I now live in a city that suffers some of the worst systemic oppression in the country (not that Los Angeles is much better), and I live in a neighborhood (Rogers Park) that experiences a large portion of that. I live among people who, according John Piper’s understanding of justice, deserve some sort of punishment–not the justice that comes through the undoing of systemic oppression.

The understanding of justice posited above begs two important questions:

Is justice tied to morality, and if so, how?

Christians tend to think of justice in two fundamentally distinct ways: Legal and Social. Most Christians probably wouldn’t disagree with Piper, i.e. we need morality or else civilization degenerates into anarchy. I also don’t doubt that most Christians, including Piper, have a heart for the poor and oppressed. That varies widely in how it’s embodied, but I think most Christians today know that’s part of the program, and they want to participate, whether they really mean it or not. The problem is that these two categories aren’t divided so neatly. It’s not as if all those who suffer under systemic oppression are really saints with hearts of gold in desperate need of liberation. Many who would qualify under the Social probably also qualify under the Legal understandings of justice. So if we really want to stick to the legal/moral understanding of justice–that true justice punishes the wicked and vindicates the righteous–we have to shuffle a bit if we also want to be biblical followers of Christ and address the social. In other words, it’s really tough to love a homeless drug addict with the love of Christ when you also feel pretty strongly that he should go to prison for the stealing the money he needed to buy his drugs.

I know some might object to the idea that Jesus didn’t have a moral understanding of justice. He did, but not in the sense of bringing punitive justice to the rule-breakers. For Jesus, the true moral breach was living in a way that did not bring liberating justice to the poor and oppressed. That is his message to the Pharisees. (See Matthew 23:23, for example.)

Here’s the primary problem: Why should it make sense to us to tie justice primarily to punishment when the gospels seem to tie it to liberation?

Why is it that we’re perfectly comfortable with our notion of “God’s love” exceeding our wildest expectations and definitions, yet when it comes to justice, we seem to want to limit God to an exact replica of our own penal system? Why wouldn’t “God’s justice” be just as radical as God’s love? And why wouldn’t those two things be tied together?

The typical response to this sort of question is, “Oh, but they are! You see, when a parent loves a child, she disciplines that child for the things he does wrong. It is just that the child be punished for the things he does wrong.”

There are two glaring problems with this.

1) We don’t love our criminals. That isn’t why we punish them. When we think of the people who are “going to hell,” we think of the “bad guys” (probably because it’s too painful to think of some atheist relative, but that’s a future post.) We want the people who have done us wrong punished. We want them to suffer a bit–or a lot. Most of us have never been wronged in any serious way by a criminal, yet we still demand punishment, mostly because we sense that it will make us safer. That’s what the Piper quote at the beginning is getting at. If there’s not punishment, all us civilized folk are going to be forced into a state of anarchy. That might be the case for describing a practical social structure. But that has less to do with some notion of maintaining morality for the sake of morality than it does just making sure we can walk safely on our own street (and I recognize that even those points are debatable.)

2) People who make the above claim always forget the second part of it: Forgiveness. The punishment doesn’t work the way the parent intends unless the child is allowed to return to the loving arms of the parent. If you’ve been scouring the gospels this whole time for the place where Jesus tells the adulterous woman to “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11),  you need to ask yourself: If the woman did continue to sin, would Jesus not continue to welcome her back regardless of whether or not she repented? And that isn’t even the whole verse:

10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” [CEB]

Jesus doesn’t condemn her, and I think it would be hard to make the case that he would change his mind regardless of whether or not she followed his final instruction to her. (Of course, this is all ignoring that John 7:53-8:11 is a disputed section of the gospel anyway. Critical editions of the Greek New Testament don’t have it. So if one really wanted frame Jesus as a moralist out to nab the rule-breakers of the Ancient Near East, one would need to look elsewhere.)

The extreme tension in understanding what justice is according to Jesus comes when we try to reconcile our moralist sensibilities with the fact that Jesus welcomes everyone and doesn’t condemn them. That starts raising all sorts of grinding, insomnia inducing questions about murderers, sex offenders… Questions that cannot be written off or taken lightly, but questions that we’ll have to cover later.

There is only one group of people Jesus says are excluded from the his kingdom. He says everyone except those who wield power against the poor and oppressed are welcome in the kingdom of God. And it isn’t because there’s some sort of “sin force field” keeping the power wielders out. It’s that the kind of thing that the kingdom of God is is the kind of thing that they absolutely despise. Those on the outside, in the outer darkness that Jesus speaks of in Matthew, aren’t weeping and gnashing their teeth because they’re being horrifically tortured–it’s because the kindgom of God is an absolute affront to the power they hold so dear, and they just can’t stand it. They can’t bear to see God’s justice being handed down–not against them but for those they were against. The powerless coming to power.

It might seem like our notion of justice is a bit of a mess at this point. There’s a lot I haven’t addressed yet. We haven’t really defined “sin.” As I’ve alluded to, we haven’t talked about justice for victims of crime, especially violent crime, about justice for victims of despots like Hitler or Stalin. We haven’t talked about what forgiveness is or might look like in any of those situations. Those are all very important points. What I want to do in subsequent posts is tease out the ways in which even our conceptions of what justice should be like in these situations is challenged by the nature of God as I want to suggest it. For now though, let’s think about what the implications might be for the sort of justice I’m suggesting. What do we lose if we remove morality from the equation? What do we gain?

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Whirring Machines: Capitalism, Christianity, and Subjectivity

“A sum of money is the leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.”

This is how Kurt Vonnegut’s fifth novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, begins. In much of his work, Vonnegut draws the reader’s attention to the painful observation that humans are not much different than machines in the way they interact with the world of the late 20th century. His characters seem to have little control over what happens to them, the victims of immovable forces, as he likes to say. These forces, however, are not simply “forces of nature” as they are for the American nihilists of the late 19th century (Stephen Crane, for example.) Elsewhere in his work, Vonnegut writes of humans as having little motors whirring inside of them as they mindlessly bend toanother force inside of them: the drive to wealth at any cost. Capitalism.

Capitalism is “natural” in the sense that it is the mode of production currently employed at this time in history. This understanding is, of course, what Marx means by historical materialism. Put simply, historical materialism is the claim that history is guided by the human need to produce in order to survive–which is the truly natural piece of capitalism (of any mode of production.) This is coupled with the fact that human beings have the ingenuity to adapt to their situation in order to accomplish this goal; thus the mode of production in use will always be adapted to changing circumstances until a point where it collapses in on itself, giving rise to a new mode. We can see at once that, unlike a hurricane or earthquake, capitalism at least feels like it’s in our control to some degree and probably more so than any other mode of production in the past. We make ourselves. Our success is dependent upon how hard one works, and if one has failed to procure a comfortable lifestyle, one has simply not worked hard enough. What we earn belongs only to us.

But think about what we give up in order to accomplish the goals capitalism sets forth. We become part of the labor force for a capitalist (a CEO or a small business owner–doesn’t matter) and have our subjectivity erased, or we try to control some of the means of production and thus participate in that erasure. Certainly there are more nuanced modes of subsistence (non-profit work, for example), but for the purposes of this illustration, let’s stick with the most common forms of participation in our economy.

When one is hired to work for a corporation at any level, one surrenders one’s subjectivity to that corporation. Let’s say you’re a barista at Starbucks. You probably make an average of 10 beverages an hour during a shift that sell for $3-$5. You see maybe $8 of what is made, a small amount goes back into the corporation to procure more means of production, and the vast majority goes to the people who own the corporation–who own the means of production. Some Starbucks baristas are incredible: they’re creative, friendly, they make your drink quickly and very well. Others are awful (as a recent SNL sketch illustrated.) Both will be paid the same. The amount each is paid is determined by how much wealth the owners of the means of production can amass while ensuring that the corporation will continue to produce as efficiently as possible. That baristas at Starbucks are given health benefits is not a sign of the company doing something “extra” for their employees. It’s a sign that the labor force requires more from the owners of the means of production in order to continue producing at the necessary rate. It’s a way for Starbucks to remain competitive by keeping employees happy (maybe happier than employees elsewhere) and improving its public image.

If you’re an employee and you have a bad day, make a mistake, do something that costs the company money, you’ll most likely be fired. An employee’s personal situation is of absolutely no consequence. The only thing that matters is the accumulation of as much wealth as possible. And if you’re a small business owner with all of your assets on the line, it’s even more important that employees mean nothing to you. How could you fire your own brother? We know that this is how capitalism works–those who accept it unreflectively will readily admit that one has a right to make as much money as he or she possibly can through whatever legal means necessary. This is justified because of the false belief that one of those baristas, if she just works hard enough, can eventually become the CEO. That is the fundamental lie upon which capitalism continues to operate. This is how we see that money cuts two ways in capitalism, which is why the bee metaphor is especially apt. On the one hand, the vast majority of people under the capitalist system are drones, making up a labor force to create wealth to be used by very few. On the other, they are drawn to the wealth they are creating, and those who are more successful than others will do anything to acquire more. In other words, the promise of money (and more money–an infinite potential) traps people in this system under the pretense of a false hope.

Employees are not people. They are whirring machines. They are worker bees. Their story and circumstances do not matter to the people who need what they contribute to the labor force as a whole. And in the process of grabbing more for themselves they perpetuate the erasure of subjectivity. Christianity also erases subjectivity, but in a radically different way. Christ’s call to lay down our lives, to give up all that we have, is a call to forsake our own personal identities and take up a new one as a follower of Christ. That isn’t a new insight–I think Pete Rollins has made the same point. But the Christian relationship to subjectivity doesn’t end there. As we forsake our own subjectivity, we do so in order to help others who have been robbed of theirs through injustices perpetrated against them reclaim it.

It is in this way that we can see a radical break from capitalism in Christian practice. (Matt has described a different way here.) Christianity requires knowing–not in a “God knows me, and I’m special” way–but in a way that calls on us to know people. This is what discipleship is. The Great Commission is a call to make disciples, to draw people close into your circle, which has no borders. This discipleship-making is not first and foremost a task of conversion (a terribly destructive misreading of that passage.) Rather it is a calling of people into our midst–people who have been marginalized, treated as objects, as machines, as filth or garbage, so that their subjectivity may be restored and their lives transformed. Again, this isn’t conversion. A conversion (as a confession of Christ and a commitment to taking seriously what it is to follow him) is a forsaking of subjectivity. In other words, we are making disciples when we help people reclaim their subjectivity so that they can come to realize they should forsake it in order to help others reclaim their subjectivity and thus rehearse the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. That is the gospel message.

For Your Reading Pleasure…

I (Joel) have been invited to participate in a new blogging community called Flux of Thought. There you can find brief discussions on theology, philosophy, political theory among other related things.

You can read here: Flux of Thought

You can follow the blog on Twitter here: @fluxofthought

I’ll still be writing and posting at A Church Unbound as well since FoT is going to be made up of much shorter posts, and I can’t help but be long-winded sometimes.

Against Torture

I. Introduction

In the years following the attacks of September 11th, the American public engaged a controversy that seemed anachronistic: do we as a society condone torture techniques if they are deployed in the War on Terror? With the advent of the Geneva Conventions and United Nations charter, most had assumed this question was a settled dispute. One the other hand, many others decried the term “torture” as partisan word-play and insisted the techniques used were legitimate, if enhanced, interrogation tools. This controversy over terminology obscures the debate to this day, while also suggesting a public ignorant of the use of these techniques during the Bush administration. Demonstrably false claims, such as the administration’s repeated assertion that only three detainees had ever been waterboarded, were reported by the media as a legitimate point of view. Additionally, the military and CIA sections responsible for detainee prisons and black sites have kept a close guard on information. In 2004, news broke of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and the American public was confronted with abuses that went far beyond the waterboarding of a handful of suspects. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse, humiliation, and electrocution were now a reality of American’s treatment of detainees.

According to reports from former officers and material produced by Wikileaks, abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have included waterboarding, dry-boarding (slamming prisoner against walls), burning, stress-positions, sleep-deprivation, blasting high-decibel audio, and possible cases of homicide.[1] Eventually, the Bush administration officially endorsed twenty-four methods of enhanced interrogation, and numerous unendorsed methods have been used as well. That much of the public continues to support enhanced interrogation and that the media continues to refer primarily to waterboarding is a demonstration of our (perhaps intentional) ignorance of abuses. The Bush administration characterized all of these abuses as the result of rogue officers, but one must wonder if the interrogators and guards at these sites were not taking precisely the logical end to a road that began with an administrative memo in support of waterboarding. With a doctrine of sin, Evangelicals should have been the least surprised that a tacit approval of waterboarding lead to these horrific practices, but this has not proved to be the case.

Just after the height of the controversy, a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled American opinions on torture by religious group. It found the highest support for torture (the term “torture” being explicitly used rather than “enhanced interrogation”) among white Evangelical Protestants, with more than six in ten affirming torture is sometimes or often justified. Only one in eight Evangelicals answered it is never justified. This contrasted with a national mean of 49% answering torture is often or sometimes justified.[2] These numbers are significant for those of us who are part of the Evangelical Protestant church: as a whole, we are the greatest supporters of torture, and we seem to feel no dissonance between torture and the teachings of Christ. The election of Barack Obama was hoped to signal an end to nearly a decade of abuse, and while official policy has been drawn against torture, Guantanamo Bay has yet to be closed, black sites are still open, and we have little way of knowing whether the practices have been ended in total. With a large segment of the American population still in favor of torture, we should not presume this matter has been settled.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the issue of torture from a theological perspective. My objective is to provide context under which the current debate developed in the early years of the War on Terror, describe techniques used in order to 1) describe the horrific nature of interrogation techniques and 2) justify the use of the term “torture,”[3] and argue that these actions constitute morally reprehensible behavior that a Christian is prohibited from engaging in or supporting.

II. Context: Early Years of the War and the Rise of Torture

Our modern conventions against torture emerged in the shadow of Auschwitz. After the end of the Second World War; the Geneva Conventions were ratified by participating countries to establish international standards for war, including prohibitions on torture. Torture is now a war crime and a crime against humanity, first at the Nuremburg trials and today at the Hague (that no United States official has been indicted by the Hague presents another example of our perceived exception to law). “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,”[4] states the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). In 1949, the Third Geneva Convention proclaimed, “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war.”[5] United Nations article 2.2 prohibits torture, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture (1985) clarifies the definition of the term: “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.”[6]

A claim I will develop is that America’s perception of exceptionalism, her power, and her distance from a truly threatening war created an environment were torture was not only policy de jure but also created de facto. Closer to home, the United States Army Field Manual advises, “…U.S. policy expressly prohibit acts of violence acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats [or] insults… as a means of or aid to interrogation.” The irony of Army’s manual is that interrogation techniques deployed at Guantanamo were adapted from the Army’s school for (resistance to) torture, SERE. What was explicitly called torture if done by a foreign entity was rephrased as enhanced interrogation if done in Guantanamo. Beyond being a strictly military or governmental issue, our media has tended to label waterboarding as torture if done by a foreign entity but enhanced interrogation if done by the U.S. This represents a culture-wide ambiguity of the term. We disavow our responsibility.

Early in the war, a 2002 memo written by White House council Alberto Gonzales redefined torture: “Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying sever physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”[7] When the memo became public two years later, it was pointed our that, in practice, this memo could be used to justify any horrific treatment so long as the detainee was not killed in the process. In fact, by this time detainees had begun to die during interrogations, but if this came to light it could be labeled an accident (or framed as a suicide, as may have been the case in Guantanamo). At the same time, the Bush administration and Congress fought the Supreme Court to curtain habeas corpus as well as redefine detainees as “unlawful enemy combatants” and therefore unprotected by the Geneva Conventions that prohibited torture of “lawful enemy combatants.”[8] When Tim Russert interviewed Dick Cheney in 2001, the Vice President feely admitted, “We also have to work, through, sort of the dark side, if you will… A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies… it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal.”[9] As the scandal came to light, President Bush defensively claimed, “We do not torture.”[10] In effect, the U.S. had proclaimed that 1) its interrogation techniques were not illegal, 2) even if they were illegal, the Geneva conventions did not apply to the detainees, and 3) the ticking time bomb argument made law de facto irrelevant in what amounted to an on-going special case of exception.

This is the argument from exceptionalism; no matter what the legal or moral objection, the United States is doing what it must do for the sake of national security. Senator John McCain (R) has been among the most outspoken opponents of torture and astutely observed, “This isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.”[11] But his Newsweek editorial, while expressing a profoundly moral sentiment, reveals a trace of logic that has lead to the same practices he opposes. He opined, “We allow, confuse, or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength- that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for… that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights,” [emphasis added].[12] I claim that it is this species of exceptionalism, when taken to its conclusion, that led the Vice President to comfortably admit that certain dark measures are warranted. It is the belief that different people have different values, and that American interests supersede the human rights of others.

III. The Definition of Torture

Understandably, the United States has a vested interest in concealing public knowledge of torture. Some of these interests are arguably quite legitimate—it is intuitive that abuse of this sort will generate propaganda for the recruitment of insurgents. Beyond the intuitive, studies have know concluded that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are key reasons Muslim youth have joined insurgent forces, and an untold number of Coalition forces have been killed as a result.[13] But aside from legitimate concerns, a public awakening to abuses would curtail the abilities of the executive branch to execute the war as it sees fit. Since news of interrogation practices has been released, public outcry has been stilted by a definition of terms. What we have is a distraction from the issue in the form of an argument over what is and is not legal. Thus, it is important that we clarify what we mean with the word torture.

Waterboarding has been described as “splashing water in a detainee’s face” on the one hand, and as “controlled drowning” by another. In past history, it has been called one method of water torture and is still called this even within US media when referring to waterboarding by foreign entity. The war over terminology legitimizes or delegitimizes the method. The size and scope of the methods are vested with significance as well, hence the Vice President’s claim that we have only waterboarded three men and the President’s claim that this limited practice yielded life-saving intelligence.

In his book The Future of Faith in American Politics, David Gushee cites a number of practices that have been leaked in recent years. In addition to a now-famous photo of a hooded detainee attached to electrodes at Abu Ghraib, marines in Mahmudiya forced a detainee to dance on an electric transformer. Another detainee at Abu Ghraib was beaten and had a chemical agent poured on his skin while being sodomized with a baton as officers threw a ball as his groin (these two cases are described in Defense Department reports). While there have been no reports of releasing dogs on detainees, dogs have been used at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to scare detainees into thinking they would be attacked. Another was beaten with a chair and choked. The International Committee of the Red Cross describes a detainee who was handcuffed and made to kneel on a surface hot enough to cause severe burns. The Washington Post reports a detainee was chained naked to the floor and left in cold temperatures (the subject died). In Al Asad, another was trapped in a sealed sleeping bag and died of asphyxiation at an American base.[14]

The Guantanamo cases of alleged suicide are a point of ongoing controversy. Prisoners at Guantanamo are checked every three to ten minutes, twenty-four hours a day, specifically to guard against suicide. Objects in their possession are controlled so as to prevent the possibility of suicide, an action that has been made so difficult that even detainees’ water intake is monitored to prevent death by water intoxication (the only avenue of suicide available).[15] On June 9, 2006, three inmates reportedly hanged themselves simultaneously. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) classified its report, but claimed the prisoners had hanged themselves. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the report was made public and found to detail an unlikely scenario. The inmates were said to have hanged themselves from the ceiling with hands and feet bound. Each prisoner had a rag shoved down his throat. The medical examiner arrived immediately and noted rigor mortis had set in (indicating death by as much as two hours earlier- when policy requires prisoners to be checked every three minutes. The report states that the teeth of one man were broken due to attempted resuscitation by the examiner. Sergeant Joseph Hickman, the guard on duty that night, came forward with a different story. He reported the deaths occurred at a previously secret facility on the base, and he recounted a series of trips made that night by a vehicle he had been ordered not to search. By morning, he recalls, everyone knew the detainees had died by suffocating on cloth rags shoved down their throats and that the camp’s commander, Colonel Michael Bumgarner, acknowledged this before informing the soldiers that the media would be reporting a story of hanging instead. Furthermore, a medical examiner listed the official cause of death as hanging but removed the neck organs which would allow follow-up investigation to determine whether death occurred from hanging, choking, or strangulation. One of the men had been determined innocent and was on a waiting list to be sent home, lending further suspicion against the suicide narrative. At least two other soldiers on-site (Army Specialist Christopher Penvose and Specialist Tony Davila) support Hickman’s narrative. The subsequent NCIS and FBI investigations neglected to view closed-circuit monitors, conduct proper interviews, or view pertinent documents in order to reconstruct the night’s events, and further requests for investigations have gone unanswered. Hickman infers the nature of the investigations amounted to tacit threats against would-be informants and demonstrate a culture of secrecy in the Bush administration as well as further cover-up by the Obama administration.[16]

The International Committee of the Red Cross released a 2007 report on its findings at Guantanamo. It focuses on fourteen detainees and describes methods used against them. It includes 1) suffocation by water, 2) prolonged stress positions, 3) use of a collar to slam detainees into a wall, 4) kicking and beating, 5) confinement inside of boxes, 6) prolonged nudity, 7) sleep deprivation with beating and loud audio equipment, 8 ) exposure to extremely cold temperatures, 9) prolonged shackling, 10) threats against the person and family of detainee, 11) forced shaving, and 12) deprivation of food.[17] The report repeatedly refers to lack of access to proper restroom facilities during waterboarding, travel, and shackling. In some cases, detainees are allowed to defecate into a bucket, but often they are required to defecate and urinate on themselves (if naked) or into a diaper. During waterboarding, a subject is strapped to a bed, tilted head-down, and has a cloth inserted into his mouth onto which water is poured, often for nearly a minute at a time.[18] Stress positions vary from standing to kneeling but, in any case, do not allow a subject to sit. These positions are maintained one to ten days. Similarly, differently shaped boxes are constructed to force detainees into uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time. Air holes are frequently covered so as to begin asphyxiation.[19] Nudity is used as a psychological technique and may last from hours to several months.[20] Sleep deprivation is among the oldest of torture techniques, and most of the interviewed detainees reported this practice would be inflected for days before a break was given. One reported loud music being played on a loop for twenty-four hours a day during his first year of detainment in Afghanistan.[21] Detainees, while naked, were placed in tarps and had cold water poured in for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time.[22] Most reported extensive periods of being handcuffed and shackled, and two reported being restrained in this way for half a year without interruption. In addition to threats of beating and rape against detainees and their family members, they report guards frequently explaining that Geneva Convention rules did not apply, “So no rules applied” and they would be brought to “the verge of death and back again.”[23] Food deprivation was frequently carried on for weeks at a time, during which vitamin supplements were used to keep the detainee alive.[24]

More recently, the advent of classified document dumps by Wikileaks has further confirmed abuses. Documents reveal US officers routinely gave custody of prisoners to foreign entities with known practices of abuse. The October 2010 dump details at least six deaths resulting. The cables indicated US investigations into abuse often ended once it was found a prisoner was transferred into Iraqi custody, resulting in no accountability for those involved. A military document from 2005 indicates the use of cigarettes to burn detainees as well as the withholding of common medical treatment resulting in the death of twelve. A 2007 document details a suspect burned with an acid and his fingers cut off: “Victim received extensive medical care at the Mosul General Hospital resulting in amputation of his right leg below the knee[,] several toes on his left foot, as well as amputation of several fingers on both hands. Extensive scars resulted from the chemical/acid burns, which were diagnosed as 3rd degree chemical burns along with skin decay.”[25] A 2009 document details a suspect who, after being beaten, was pushed into a street and shot. Documents detail electrocution, whipping, sodomizing, and forcing detainee to perform oral sex on interrogators and each other. In addition to the torture of detainees, Wikileaks documents recount the homicide of civilians during home raids and at road checkpoints. Hundreds of thousands of documents have now been leaked to and released by Wikileaks, and as further instances of abuse continue, more are expected to come to light. The significance of these documents, aside from further confirmation of abuse, is that they demonstrate torture lasted far longer than the one to two years claimed by the Bush administration. Moreover, the most recent documents suggest abuse has not ended altogether under the Obama administration either.

The question of who is responsible has been the site of blame-shifting. Evidence to-date suggests that torture began in a haphazard way on location but was quickly legitimized and pushed forward by the Bush administration at the highest levels (including the direct involvement Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and the Joint Chiefs). When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004 shortly after a detainee froze to death (which military pathologists ruled as a homicide) the administration framed this as the responsibility of rogue soldiers acting out of order.[26] But Abu Ghraib can also be seen as the reasonable result of two years of torture policy. In 2003, Rumsfeld ordered a team of former Guantanamo officers to “Gitmoize” Iraq.[27] Rumsfeld approved fourteen enhanced interrogation techniques which the administration soon expanded to twenty-four. The Pentagon deployed the “Copper Green” or “Special Access Program,” an elite unit with legal authorization to use force as it saw fit to interrogate any intelligence resource. The military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school had long taught its soldiers how to resist torture (with torture techniques modeled on illegal practices used by foreign states), but SERE Air Force Reserve Colonel Steve Kleinman recounts his group being sent to Iraq in order to teach these same techniques to interrogators for use on detainees. Horrified at the realization that his job was to teach torture, Kleinman recalls, “They wanted to do these things. They were itching to. It was about revenge, not interrogation. And they thought I was coddling terrorists.”[28] By this time, “ghost” prisoners were being transported across borders to black sites (also prohibited by Geneva) and request for base lawyers and translators went unanswered.[29] With all this confusion on top of the war effort, commanders sensed a growing concern over whether prisoner abuses were illegal or protected. In addition to the Gonzales memo, more clarification was requested. Justice Department Legal Council Jack Goldsmith recalls DCI Tenet’s request that maximum “flexibility” be maintained in handling detainees. Though the State Department is tasked with issues relating to foreign treaties, the White House deployed the Justice Department’s John Yoo to draft a series of now infamous memos clarifying that no legal protections existed for the detainees.[30] Without international legal protection, with twenty-four torture techniques explicitly sanctioned by the administration, and with still-unclear rules as to what (if anything) was prohibited, the stage was set for a series of scandalous abuses to surface. Within a year, Abu Ghraib broke the world news.

The position of this paper is that this abuse constitutes torture. The opposing position often claims that nothing the US has done could be called torture, but instead is merely legitimate interrogation that has saved lives. While there exists to date no evidence that of the pragmatic latter claim that torture is responsible for life-saving intelligence, the former claim is a more peculiar ethical stance. Put simply, if these actions are not torture, what would constitute torture? I presume the claim that US abuse does not constitute torture comes from one of two sources: 1) ideological loyalty prevents the individual from condemning the abuses committed during the watch of one’s political party, or 2) ignorance of abuses committed misleads the individual to believe no such abuses have occurred. I have only personal anecdote to support this claim, but my experience has been that the vast majority of those defending our abuses are unaware of the techniques used (though ideological loyalty often compels individuals to claim the administration has no direct responsibility after the individual is exposed to reports of torture). For these reasons, it is more important than ever that Christians in the US be informed and tell the truth about this terrible issue.

IV. The Moral Case Against Torture

In Carl Schmitt’s classic treatise on political theory, Political Theology, he opens with the maxim, “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”[31] Schmitt develops the idea that sovereignty is defined by the ability to decide to put the law aside. He argues our post-Enlightenment conceptions of the state are really theological beliefs wherein God has been replaced with the state. In short, just as God is free to do as God pleases, the sovereign state is now defined by the ability to make exceptions and disregard law (this does not mean Schmitt is necessarily in favor of the illegal exception, but merely that this is the reality of modern, sovereign politics). The most sovereign state could make exceptions not only to its own laws, but to all international law as well. Schmitt might have said that to torture is to make ourselves a god (or a devil).

Political theorist Walter Benjamin writes, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”[32] Giorgio Agamben more recently builds on this saying, “The voluntary creation of a permanent state of emergency (though perhaps not declared in the technical sense) has become one of the essential practices of contemporary states, including so-called democratic ones.”[33] This has come to fruition with the permanent War on Terror, which is given daily in the media as an excuse for rights to be infringed upon. There are no borders, goals are either unattainable or unspecified, and violence by either side serves to replenish ranks and political capital needed to continue an indefinite war. What is more, each side appears to firmly believe the other started the war and is solely in control of when it ends. In this catastrophic situation of perpetual war, the state has declared it must now deploy torture. Exception is made into law via legal memos, habeas corpus is suspended by executive fiat or bureaucratic confusion, and international standards against unlawful treatment of detainees are disregarded entirely. If this is the new mode of operation for America, American Christians must consider more than ever how we are implicated and how to respond.

In his book Torture and Eucharist, William T. Cavanaugh calls torture the “imagination of the state.”[34] He describes the nation-state as performing a drama in which groups are assigned roles to play. Hence the war is framed as one of freedom versus tyranny, liberty versus Islamo-fascism, etc. Cavanaugh’s concept of “inscription” allows us to justify brutal behavior not only toward enemy combatants, but moreover, even civilian noncombatants may be inscribed with the label “expendable.” This is most evident in the number of cases of torture that are only known to us because they are from former detainees—those who were captured and released on lack of evidence after years of abuse. Citing Philip Abrams, Cavanaugh says torture represents not just a physical force but also the people’s belief in the nation-state as it “silences protest, excuses force, and convinces almost all of us that the fate of victims is just and necessary.”[35] Is this not the meaning of Maslow’s saying, “When all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail,”?[36] This nihilism and misplaced belief is inappropriate for one who professes the lordship of Christ.

Jim Wallis writes, “Christian theology is uneasy with empire, and the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison reveal why. More than just politics is at stake in this scandal; moral theology is also involved… Truth telling is also central to Christian theology, which teaches that falsehood has consequences.”[37] The Patristic fathers were ardently pacifist, and this position was specifically defended as a consequence of Christ’s teaching that we must love our enemies and put down the sword. After the Constantinian conversion, a pragmatic tradition of Just War Theory developed. But the very fact that such limits had to be placed on warfare should serve to remind us of our nature, which is so quick to devolve into brutality. An Evangelical doctrine of sin should cause a deep skepticism of the power given to individuals in the conducting of enhanced interrogations (even if it were to be considered moral under certain circumstances). In a peculiar twist, we seem the least concerned with how this power might be applied. When Evangelicals show broad support for enhanced interrogation, we see a need for a more robust doctrine of sin.

If a doctrine of sin should make us skeptical of the power placed in the hands of interrogators, a system of ethics based on the teaching of Christ, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount. The meek and the peacemakers are called blessed (Matt. 5:5-9), and disciples are commanded to love their enemies (Matt. 5:43-4). The Torah’s lex talionis is rejected (Matt. 5:38-9), and hearers are told to treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated (Matt. 7:12). Perhaps most importantly, Jesus tells his hearers that the road is broad that leads to destruction (Matt. 7: 13-4); though torture may seem unthinkable, it is a most natural thing for individuals to inflict brutal treatment against those by whom they feel threatened. Put succinctly, torturing what one chooses to see as an inhuman, brutal, Islamo-fascist is as easy as hating ones enemy. That is the broad way. It is far more difficult to treat an enemy with dignity as one would like to be treated.

For all the failings of the church to stand up against torture, there are glimmers of hope. Numerous denominations have continued to make statements against torture, and Evangelicals are beginning to see this as a moral issue as well. Shortly after the news of torture broke from Guantanamo, 2007 saw the broad support of “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture.”[38] The document frames torture as an issue of basic human rights where detainees are human beings, neighbors, and “the least of these” (Matt. 25:31-46.) Concern is expressed for aligning our nations legal standards for the treatment of detainees in the War on Terror with “the foundational Christian moral norms”[39] as taught by Christ. The document summarily explains the history of Christianity at its best (drawing support from both Protestant and Catholic sources), supporting human rights up to the present day. After affirming support for international and domestic law that prohibits torture, the document closes by asking that we not become like those we vilify, supporting our own brutal methods by pointing to the terrorism of others. The final paragraph strongly states, “Undoubtedly there are occasions where the demands of Christian discipleship and American citizenship conflict. This is not one of them.”[40] To this I would only add that while there are undoubtedly occasions where Christians may disagree on whether a practice is moral or prohibited, the case of torture is not one of them.

V. Conclusion

This paper has discussed the issue of torture from a theological perspective. I described the early years of the War on Terror that brought about the use of torture, described techniques used for the purposes of 1) describing the horrific nature of actions committed and 2) to justify the use of the term “torture,” and I argued that this constitutes morally reprehensible behavior that a Christian is prohibited from engaging in or supporting in any way.

Torture is not a dead issue. Though firmly eschewed by the current administration and officially prohibited, the cables produced by Wikileaks demonstrate that torture has continued among field agents. While we should find the administration’s firm condemnation of torture reassuring, Guantanamo remains open, black sites are still in operation, and perpetrators of war crimes have been left unpunished. Perhaps most horrifying is that only three candidates running in for the 2012 election (Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and Barack Obama) have publicly condemned torture. All other candidates in the GOP field have voiced support for returning to a policy of torture. That such rhetoric generates enthusiastic support among so many Americans and Christians should give us pause; this issue is not settled among the American public, and should Agamben’s “state of exception” carry on in the War on Terror, we will continually return to this issue. Now more than ever, Christians must be informed and committed to truth telling about what torture is, about the awful things we have done, and that basic human rights and the ethics of Jesus forbid support of this ineffective and brutal practice. The Gospels describe Christ as being falsely accused and executed by torture in order for the state to maintain peace. For followers of that Christ to support state torture—ostensibly for peace and often against falsely accused individuals—is a case of brutally twisted irony.

by Tad Delay

taddelay.com

Bibliography

Blank, Justin, & Kolawole, Emi. “A Tortured History.” FactCheck: Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. http://www.factcheck.org/a_tortured_history.html (accessed December 2, 2011).

Gushee, David P., The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008.)

Horton, Scott. “The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.” Harper’s Magazine. http://harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368 (accessed December 3, 2011).

Hunsinger, George, ed., Torture Is a Moral Issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and People
of Conscience Speak Out (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.)

Inside Guantanamo Bay. DVD. Directed by Cohen, Bonni, and Jon Else. National Geographic Explorer, 2009.

International Committee of the Red Cross. “ICRC Report On the Treatment of Fourteen
“High Value Detainees” In CIA Custody.” NY Books. http://www.nybooks.com/media/doc/2010/04/22/icrc-report.pdf (accessed December 3, 2011).

“Iraq: Wikileaks Documents Describe Torture of Detainees.” Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/10/24/iraq-wikileaks-documents-describe-torturedetainees (accessed December 5, 2011).

Mayer, Jane, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror turned into a war on American Ideals (New York: The Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008.)

Schmitt, Carl, & George Schwab, trans, Political Theology: Four Chapters On the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.)

“Survey: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/30/religion.torture/index.html (accessed December 1, 2011).

Wallis, Jim, God’s Politics: Why the Rights Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (New York: HarperCollins, 2005.)


            [1]. Scott Horton. “The Guantánamo “Suicides” (http://harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368).

            [2]. “Survey: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful” (http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/30/religion.torture/index.html).

            [3]. This paper will use the terms “torture” and “enhanced interrogation” interchangeably as synonyms for the same practices. Examples justifying this conflation are given in Section III.

            [4]. David P. Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008), 126.

            [5]. Ibid.

            [6]. Ibid.

            [7]. Justin Blank, & Kolawole, Emi. “A Tortured History” (http://www.factcheck.org/a_tortured_history.html).

            [8]. Inside Guantanamo Bay (National Geographic Explorer, 2009).

            [9]. Justin Blank, & Kolawole, Emi. “A Tortured History.”

            [10]. David P. Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics, 126.

            [11]. Ibid., 134.

            [12]. Ibid.

            [13]. Inside Guantanamo Bay.

            [14]. David P. Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics, 124.

            [15]. Inside Guantanamo Bay.

            [16]. Scott Horton. “The Guantánamo “Suicides” (http://harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368).

            [17]. International Committee of the Red Cross. “ICRC Report On the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” In CIA Custody” (http://www.nybooks.com/media/doc/2010/04/22/icrcreport.pdf), 8-9.

            [18]. Ibid., 10.

            [19]. Ibid., 13-4.

            [20]. Ibid., 14.

            [21]. Ibid., 15.

            [22]. Ibid., 16.

            [23]. Ibid., 17.

            [24]. Ibid., 18.

            [25]. “Iraq: Wikileaks Documents Describe Torture of Detainees.” (http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/10/24/iraq-wikileaks-documents-describe-torture-detainees).

            [26]. Jane Mayer, The Dark Side (New York: The Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008), 238.

            [27]. Ibid., 241.

            [28]. Ibid., 245-7.

            [29]. Ibid., 244.

            [30]. Ibid., 161-81.

            [31]. Carl Schmitt, & George Schwab, trans, Political Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 5.

            [32]. George Hunsinger, ed., Torture Is a Moral Issue (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 106.

            [33]. Ibid.

            [34]. Ibid., 93.

            [35]. Ibid., 93-4.

            [36]. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 110.

            [37]. Ibid., 146.

            [38]. David P. Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics, 253-70.

            [39]. Ibid., 254

            [40]. Ibid., 268.

Occupy Wall Street: Resist the Populist Temptation

Slavoj Zizek’s speech at Occupy Wall Street. Transcript here.

Ideologies at their purest: 1) Capitalism is bad, Socialism is good. Or, 2) Socialism is bad, Capitalism is good. Ideology is political drive minus fact and substance, the excrement of whatever you believe regardless of reality. I fully support the Occupy Wall Street protest. My concern is that it will only be left-wing version of inane populism that has infected the American right over the past three years. We don’t need more of this kind of populism. But that brings me to the question of how to define populism. What is it? How does it function?

A full two years before the Tea Party came onto the scene, Zizek predicted a post-Bush utlra-right populist movement, defined their characteristics, and gave a rough timeline of their rise and decline. I thought that was a little bit impressive. So while pondering the relationship between Occupy Wall Street and populism, I stumbled across Zizek’s article Against the Populist Temptation.

“The field of politics is thus caught in an irreducible tension between “empty” and “floating” signifiers: some particular signifiers start to function as “empty,” directly embodying the universal dimension, incorporating into the chain of equivalences which they totalize a large number of “floating” signifiers.” – Slavoj Zizek

The definition used here for populism is purely ideological- it depends on ambiguous signifiers. Politics within a democracy depends on ambiguous signifiers- it’s why we don’t trust the same politicians we campaign for. “Change We Can Believe In” was ambiguous- you could plug whatever meaning you want into it, but all it definitely meant was that you had already made up your mind you would be voting for Obama. Birtherism is another ambiguous signifier- it meant less that people were foolish enough to believe Obama was born in Kenya and more that they voted Republican.

Zizek doesn’t go into this in the article, but this type of belief in the signifier is the clinical definition of neurosis. It is the fixation on the symbol with indifference to the Real. Another way to say it is that the symbol holds the place of belief for you. Hashtag your social media with #some-cause, and you won’t have to define your own opinions. The opposite condition of neurosis is psychosis- the belief that your symbol is one and the same with the Real. The catch? You never know whether a belief is more neurotic or psychotic until evidence is irrefutable. Until the birth certificate was released, we had no way of knowing whether Birthers were truly insane or simply affirming their political loyalties. The result? Of the more than fifty percent of Republicans that said they doubted the President’s citizenship, a only a little more than a third were still Birthers after the birth certificate was released. Those people are the psychotics- the ones you should stay away from. The rest were just delving into neurosis- as we all do. What we will see in coming weeks is whether the Occupy movement has legitimacy and staying power, or else is just a psycho/neurotic blip on the radar.

“The first thing to note is that today’s populism is different from the traditional version – what distinguishes it is the opponent against which it mobilizes the people: the rise of “post-politics,” the growing reduction of politics proper to the rational administration of the conflicting interests… there is a constitutive “mystification” that pertains to populism: its basic gesture is to refuse to confront the complexity of the situation, to reduce it to a clear struggle with a pseudo-concrete “enemy” figure (from “Brussels bureaucracy” to illegal immigrants). “Populism” is thus by definition a negative phenomenon, a phenomenon grounded in a refusal, even an implicit admission of impotence.” -Zizek

The far right took a number of long-standing and arguably legitimate concerns but finally mobilized them against a mythical Marxist Muslim from Kenya-the shelf-life of a ridiculous founding myth makes for a quick expiration date. If Occupy Wall Street devolves into a psychotic blaming of bankers and stockbrokers, it will fail. If it blames an unqualified term like “capitalism” and advocates some extreme alternative, it will fail. If if continues to focus on policies to address and raises awareness among a public misguided by 24 hour propaganda masquerading as news, it just might get somewhere. I don’t mean to defend capitalism- we would do well to integrate a good dose of socialism into our irrevocably capitalist economy. And I do not at all mean we need to “find a third way” or any ridiculous nonsense such as this- I absolutely believe we need an actual left in this country to check the abuses of laissez-faire capitalism. I’ll put it this way: the bank CEO’s are praying to Mammon that you will demonize bank CEO’s- scapegoating keeps the system stable.

And please, remember to panic. Because SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT!

by Tad Delay

taddelay.com

A Comment on the Death of Osama bin Laden

I’ll get right to the point. It saddens me that Christians would celebrate the death of another human being.

Such a reaction directly contradicts everything that we, as Christians, should value. The Bible tells us that God does not rejoice in the death of human beings, including wicked ones (Ezekiel 33:11, Proverbs 24:17-18).

Maybe even more convicting, though, is this: I don’t remember at all, in Jesus’ life and ministry, a moment where he kills an enemy, suggests that we kill our enemies, or rejoices in the death of an enemy.

Actually, Jesus allowed himself to be killed by his enemies. It was God’s will.

Furthermore, the celebration of bin Laden’s death really seems to be just an easy way around the terrifying reality of forgiveness. When we celebrate bin Laden’s death, we are limiting God. We’re saying that the power of God’s forgiveness and grace would not be enough to save someone like Osama bin Laden; therefore, the only thing to do is celebrate the death of a horrible human being. We have trouble accepting that even someone as horrible as bin Laden could be transformed by God’s love and grace.

How can we possibly claim to believe in an infinite, all-powerful God, if we do not believe He could transform and save Osama bin Laden? Isn’t God’s grace extended to everyone? Is there anyone in history whom we could ever say is not eligible for God’s grace?

It would be unbelievably arrogant to think we could.

There is only one death to celebrate: The death that defeated death.

by Joel Harrison