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CHRISTIANITY, TERRORISM AND THE CYCLE OF WAR

 

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In This Issue:

 

  • David’s Notes: Christians and the War on Terror
  • Three Recommendations: 
    James Wagner. Com
    Alternatives To War. Org
    Peace Links
  • Lessons from the Mideast Agony by Daniel Maguire
  • Pearl Buck and the Cycle of War by Lois Eby

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DAVID’S NOTES

 

CHRISTIANS AND THE WAR ON TERROR

 

I come from deep deep in the Methodist church in Ohio. My mother’s parents were Methodist missionaries in Africa at the end of the 19th Century and upon returning to America, my grandfather continued as a pastor to local Methodist churches in Ohio for the rest of his life.

When I was a child, every morning at breakfast we read THE UPPER ROOM and the assigned Bible passages in both the Old and the New Testament. I went to church every Sunday for at least half the day and often spent one evening a week there too. When I was in high school I was president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at my church, and I went to church camp every summer. I went to a small Christian college in southeastern Ohio and upon graduating I entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

When I was a student at Union Seminary in New York in the early 1960s, I had to take a church history course. Our text was called THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, a huge tome, which I retitled THE CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST. What I learned from that course is that the carnage wreaked upon the world by the Christian Church down through the ages makes the Taliban look like bad guys from a skit on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

There’s a strong desire in the United States these days to return to those golden days of yesteryear and mount again a Holy Crusade against the heathen infidel, a desire to return to the idea that if conversion of the heathen by introduction to The Book–The Bible–doesn’t do the trick, then conversion by the sword is not only necessary but sanctified and Godly.

Thus in the middle east during the Crusades as also in South America, Africa and myriad other places around the world during the age of colonialism, the recalcitrant non-Christian heathen was converted to The One True Faith by the sword.

Here at the beginning of the 21st Century it’s not so much The Bible that is “The Book” as it is the book of Capitalist Materialism and today the sword is not literally a sword, but rather more likely a laser guided bomb delivered from a plane so high up in the sky it is invisible. These differences not withstanding, a new Crusade has begun.

Whether it is in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, The Philippines, Georgia, Palestine, Cuba, Libya, Syria or WhoKnowsWhereElse–the list of those included in The Axis of Evil gets longer every day–it is clear that this new Crusade, this Pax Americana, with which we now attempt to blanket the entire world, is a Holy War.

And those waging this Holy War are playing God. There is some kind of bitter irony in that, because these so-called Christians in the current administration, like President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft to name just two, deliberately misunderstand the holy writ to which they constantly refer. Just two examples:

Many people who have not studied the Bible don’t understand the meaning of the well known notion in Hebrew law, of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” To many modern people who did not grow up with the Bible this seems like some kind of barbarism when just the opposite is true. The Hebrews came up with the idea of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” as a method, a law, of restraint, the point being that if your enemy puts out your eye, you may not do anything more to him than put out his eye. Imagine what it would be like if this ancient Hebrew law were applied to the current Israel-Palestine situation?

And the same is true for Yahweh’s edict which says, “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord” meaning again that it is for the Lord to seek vengeance, not those who have been offended.

Jesus of Nazareth, that upstart revisionist, came along and played some major changes on these ancient Hebraic tunes, but the ideas grow directly out of his Jewishness and the power of law to create restraint. As Daniel Maguire points out in a letter quoted later in this issue, it was Ancient Israel’s gift to the world to create the revolutionary idea that it is law and justice, not military might, that brings peace.

In a time of bitter slaughter and seemingly hopeless quagmires out of which it surely seems impossible to get, I want to conclude by quoting the last few lines of Chapter 80 of Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching. Here is a vision of peace we must cling to. Ridiculous and impossible as such a notion seems these days, it is necessary, mandatory, that we keep this vision before us so that we will not give in completely to the forces of cynicism and war.

Here are the last few lines of Chapter 80:

Their food is plain and good, and they enjoy eating it.
Their clothes are simple and beautiful.
Their homes secure.
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their neighbors,
and their chickens and dogs call back and forth,
they leave each other in peace as they all grow old and die.

Imagine a world in which different groups of people live within sight of each other, so close that their chickens and dogs call back and forth, and yet the people all live in peace with each other as they all grow old and die. Imagine that.


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THREE RECOMMENDATIONS:

JAMES WAGNER. COM
In recent months, New Yorker James Wagner has developed one of the most interesting and readable websites out there. Wagner has a wide-ranging concern for current events such as the War in Iraq, John Ashcroft’s shenanigans and other DC outrages, Gay Rights, the less commercial arts and even the lighter side of What’s Happenin’ in the Baghdad on the Hudson. We strongly recommend you visit: http://www.jameswagner.com

 

ALTERNATIVES TO WAR
Coming out of upstate New York is an interesting website called: ALTERNATIVES TO WAR. Full of contact organizations, relevant quotations, ideas and recommendations for ways to resolve conflicts without resorting to war, this is a fine organization and a useful website. Visit: http://www.alternativestowar.org

PEACE LINKS
Alternatives to War also publishes an twice-monthly, on-line newsletter called: PEACE LINKS, which is available to anyone who signs up, which you can do athttp://www.alternativestowar.org


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LESSONS FROM THE MIDEAST AGONY

To the Editor of THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Re “15 Killed by Suicide Bomber; Sharon Cuts Short U.S. Visit After a Meeting With Bush” (front page, May 8):

Voices from Israel’s past contain a wisdom that is not reflected in the peace-through-war policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government.

Some 30 years ago, a Hebrew University law faculty member wrote, “A border is secure when those living on the other side do not have sufficient motivation to infringe on it.”

As another Hebrew University professor put it: After every victory, “the abyss of mutual hatred will deepen and the desires for vengeance will mount.”

A few months after the 1967 war, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a leading Israeli intellectual, said that the occupation was unjust and would lead to the subjugation of the Palestinians, and even to the corruption of Israeli society.

Ancient Israel gifted the world with the revolutionary idea that it is justice, not military might, that brings peace. Now is the hour for that wisdom to be reborn.

DANIEL C. MAGUIRE
Milwaukee, May 8, 2002
The writer is a professor of religious ethics at Marquette University.


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PEARL BUCK AND THE CYCLE OF WAR
by
Lois Eby

Many years ago I read Pearl Buck’s autobiography called MY SEVERAL WORLDS. In it there’s a description of the attitude ordinary Chinese had toward armies and war, at a time when warlords fought back and forth across the landscape of China. Buck wrote that they spoke of war as a natural disaster. She inspired me to think of war as if it were a hurricane, a disaster that local communities can only pray does not blow their way.

It’s a metaphor that has seemed even more compelling since September 11th and the aftermath of violence and retaliation around the world since then. The aggressive side of human nature continues to carry the destructive force of hurricanes, floods, and volcanoes. Communities continue to hope that the disaster does not blow their way.

Pearl Buck also wrote eloquently about observing seeds of violence in the relationship between the colonial West and the Chinese people. As a child, she was accepted in Chinese homes. She became especially sensitive to the negative effect that colonialism and its aggressive policies had on Chinese attitudes toward white people and the West. After the Western powers defeated the Chinese in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, she saw how the Chinese hated and feared white people, feelings they hid from white adults but not from her. She says, “I learned the other side of the victory the white men had won and I knew then what my life has taught me since, that in any war a victory means another war, and yet another, until some day inevitably the tides turn, and the victor is the vanquished, and the circle reverses itself, but remains nevertheless a circle.”

Pearl Buck’s dual images have been very much on my mind lately. The image of war as an endless circle of battles, defeat, humiliation, and still more battles certainly fits the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it seems to me that her image of war as a natural disaster like a hurricane, blowing first one way and then another, serves as a warning about the potential consequences of a never ending cycle of terrorism and anti-terrorist wars. The wish to avoid planting the seeds of future hurricanes gives us an urgent reason to question whether war will ever bring an effective end to terrorism. Unlike facing an impending hurricane, we do have the opportunity to step back, assess the consequences, and seek ways to break the cycle, rather than take at face value assurances that some day war will eliminate our enemies.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay first aired as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio on 29 April 2002

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