Thursday, September 5, 2013

War

I do not like that I’m writing this post.

I just had a lovely few weeks. I was in the office for a week, excited about upcoming publications. I had great conversations with colleagues. Then after some work time at home, I had a long weekend in California celebrating the marriage of two friends, catching up with friends and family, and throwing a baby shower for my brother and sister-in-law. Instead of blogging about family, babies, weddings, wine, and beauty, I’m writing this blog. As one of my uncles once told me, I’m just so focused on suffering: human suffering, animal suffering, suffering-suffering.

The nagging sense I had over the past week over the state of the world is caused not only by my focus on suffering, but by the very real drumbeats for war from within the U.S.

I don’t know enough about current international policy, and specifically about the civil war in Syria, to provide a well-reasoned opinion. I do not believe I hold a particularly unique perspective. I’m writing this because I don’t know what to do, but I do know the current discourse nags at me.

I am of the opinion that war is, as the bumper sticker says, bad for children and other living things. War leaves a swath of ecological, cultural and psychological damage. War is good for others who are markedly less vulnerable. I know war is profitable for arms dealers, defense companies, and many U.S. government contractors. I know war can be positive for politicians.

Policy-makers who are pushing for military action against the government of Syria cite the use of chemical weapons as the reason to impede on that country’s sovereignty now, as opposed to when the first million refugees were displaced, or when the first group of protestors was slaughtered.  As President Obama said in 2012, and again on September 4th, the world set this “red line” over which the government of Syria stepped. On this international stage, chemical weapons use is more horrific than killing children through hunger or bullets or bombs or drones. There is an international treaty (of which Syria is not a signatory) declaring the use of chemical weapons illegal.

Here is what I do not understand. How is it that some kinds of violence are worse than others? Dying by gunfire appears to be more acceptable than dying by chemical or biological warfare. Dying of a shortened lifespan due to hunger and oppression appears to be more acceptable than death by terrorist.

We in the U.S. have a spotty human rights record, at best. At worst, we are known for toppling democratically elected governments, propping up dictatorships, turning a blind eye to crimes against women in other countries by our own troops, and interfering in the lives of sovereign nations on a regular basis. We have a culture that enables high rates of sexual assault, and policies that allow hunger to flourish. Why is it that we get to be the human rights police?

I could speculate on the answers to these (mostly rhetorical) questions. I have lots of theories. No matter. It is a fact that chemical weapons are considered to be more heinous. It is a fact that the U.S. often steps into situations in other sovereign nations.

My religious tradition has room for what is known as the “just war theory.” The Allied cause in what became known as the First World War was believed to be just. Certainly World War II provided plenty of reasons to think the cause of war could be just. By the end of World War II, my denominational tradition moved away from just war theory, supporting instead an international body for conflict mediation. Instead of looking for reasons to justify going to war, or supporting war, Presbyterians began to work towards a proactive theology of peace (“Peace” entry from the Westminster Handbook to ReformedTheology by Donald McKim).

This bent toward peacemaking shows up particularly when it appears we as a country might head toward military actions. The head of communion for the Presbyterian Church (USA), known as the Stated Clerk, has sent letters to elected officials cautioning against rushing into the use of military tactics. The most recent statements urged the use of other (non-military) tools against Iran (in 2012) and Syria (in 2013).

Some people scoff at these statements. I am so grateful we as a church are taking a stand, and communicating that stand to our international partners. Words do sometimes matter. The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon wrote a letter expressing gratitude for the words of the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA).

What accompanies these statements and amplifies their power are all the Christians who are taking action, who are calling their elected officials asking them to oppose military action against the government of Syria, holding vigils, and educating themselves. More information about asking your representatives to support an alternative solution is here.

I do not like war anywhere. I know this national and international conversation is more complicated than I understand. I want to know what it means to be a Christian in these moments. I do not like that I am writing this blog post.



5 comments:

  1. Thanks Laura for this post. It is truly humbling to hear the people most directly affected affirming the statements, policies, and actions of the church. In this case, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon supporting the PC(USA) call for nonviolent alternatives.

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    1. Thanks for reading, and thank you for your peace work.

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  2. If you are interested in some new ideas on interfaith dialogue and the Trinity, please check out my website at www.religiouspluralism.ca. It previews my book, which has not been published yet and is still a “work-in-progress.” Your constructive criticism would be very much appreciated.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    For more details, please see: www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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