Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Do Whatever He Tells You

Advent must begin with Mary, who presents us with the infant Christ. “The flesh of Jesus is
the flesh of Mary,” St. Augustine wrote. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
When I go to the crib this year I will think, as I always do, that we are not dependent on the
governments of this world for our safety, but “the government will be upon His shoulder.” This
baby cradled in a manger, this boy talking to the doctors in the temple, this youth working with St.
Joseph as carpenter, this teacher walking the roads of Palestine, “Do whatever He tells you,” Mary
told us.
First published in the November 26, 1966, issue of Ave Maria at Notre Dame, IN.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cardinal Bertone Urges Nonviolence

An Article from the Houston Catholic Worker

Vatican Declares Catholicism a Peace Church:
Follow the Way of the Great Prophets of Peace, the way of Conscientious Objection and of Alternative Social Service, the way of Nonviolence

by Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, new Vatican Secretary of State

Excerpted from Cardinal Bertone's first address to the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, all the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, on September 29, 2006.

Our contemporaries hope that the diplomats in their role will contribute to establishing and maintaining "an international order, the art of establishing reasonable human relations among peoples" (Paul VI, Speech to the Diplomatic Corps, January 8, 1968). They desire also that the diplomats will be peacemakers, "servants of the interests of the peoples" (cf. John Paul II, Speech to the Swiss Diplomatic Corps, June 13, 1984), men of law, of reason, of sincere dialogue, and who promote a renewed impetus of solidarity among peoples, especially in order to review the matter of the debt of the poorest countries so that there will never again be persons, above all children, who die of hunger or endemic illnesses, that never again will there be innocent victims of war or local conflicts; that never again will anyone be mistreated for their convictions or their beliefs.

A universal commitment is urged on behalf of the neediest of the world, of the poorest, of the persons who often seek in vain for that on which they and their families might live. The dignity, the freedom, and the unconditional respect of every human being in their fundamental rights, in particular their liberty of conscience and of religion, must be among the primordial concerns, given that we must be in solidarity with their situation and with the future of our brothers and sisters, not remaining indifferent in the face of the sufferings that disfigure man and which each day are before our eyes.

I know how much diplomats are particularly attentive to these delicate questions in the whole world. I think especially of the violence, in all its forms, inflicted on women, and on children, born or about to be born. The defense of life, from conception to its natural end, just as the defense of the family based in marriage, are also essential themes of social life. Paul VI also emphasized that diplomacy "confronts more directly the real and concrete problems of social life, and above all what can be defined as the most important of all, the problem of peace" (Speech to the Diplomatic Corps, January 8, 1986).

As he said, in a speech on December 6 of 1986:

"The contribution of the Holy See to the question of peace is particularly rich and comprehensive, since the key points of the Magisterium largely surpass the systematic and organic in-depth study of the theologians." There exist profound links, underlined by the Popes, between peace and the development of peoples, between peace and liberation, between peace and human rights, between peace and international solidarity.

The Popes have given new names to peace and have offered ways to arrive at true peace. Ways that do not exclude, but integrate one with another: political and diplomatic ways, that become concrete through agreements that prevent and block conflicts; juridical and institutional ways, that raise up new institutions to guarantee security and peace; a psychological and pedagogical way-I say this as a Salesian, as a son of Don Bosco-that through multiple educational centers tends to form a culture of peace; the way of the witness of the great prophets of peace; the way of conscientious objection and of alternative social service, the way of nonviolence.

The crucial fields where the intersection of the prophetic aspect and the concrete necessities of life appear most strongly-that a human ethics also must consider, particularly in the context of private and organized violence, marked also by the plurality of opinions that confront them are the following:

- Social Protection to guarantee objective order and the defense of human rights;

- Condemnation of war in the field of ethics, and its exclusion as a means to resolve eventual differences between States

- Security , which privileges nonmilitary components and reinforces instead political, economic and social structures;

- Disarmament , which must embrace all types of arms, and thus become general, including the objective of "unilateral disarmament," that covers a great ethical and positive value.

On these themes, the search of intellectuals and the reflections of organisms of the Church and Christian communities will never stop.

In every case, the documents of the Holy See, and above all the clearly evident Magisterial postwar texts, are not texts which one can read over quickly or, even worse, be allowed to be ignored. They are texts that must be read attentively and meditatively, so that the ideas can be translated into practical actions and the world can recognize the force and current importance of the Christian message in the gift of self and the courage with which Christians act on behalf of peace, today, for all people.

( Translated by the Houston Catholic Worker from the Spanish-language text provided by the Vatican ).

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVI, No. 6, November-December 2006.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ireland, Principles, and Jobs

So, Shannon Airport in Ireland is still on my mind. I was chased out of there in the fall of 2002 with an Irish peace activist who was keeping tabs on American military planes stopping over on their way to the Middle East. Ireland's constitution declares it a neutral state, so some of the Irish understandably take offense to foreign warplanes landing in the country. I was doing research on nonviolent activism in Ireland at the time.

The fight over Shannon Airport in Ireland, like so many other defense industry fights, comes down to principles vs. jobs. On the one hand you have folks advocating for peace and neutrality, and on the other, folks reminding everyone that a fella's got to eat. And if a fella earns his daily bread by cashing in on a heavy traffic of military personnel and equipment on its way to blow away who-knows-what-sorry-bastard, well... That's the way the world is. Not pretty. But a fella's got to eat.

I caught a little fresh perspective on Shannon Airport, and on this whole sad principles/jobs divide, just last week. I was returning from a trip to Europe and one of the airports I hit on the way back was Shannon. Now, I've known for some time about US transport jets refueling there, terror suspects being sent through in "extraordinary renditions," etc. etc. Still though, it was jarring to walk into the airport lounge and be confronted with some 50 odd American Navy sailors in sand-colored cammies.

Most of them were standing around the bar, drinking pints. A few younger enlisted types were wandering around the duty free shop, which is where I was. They were coming home for Thanksgiving and picking up gifts for their mothers, little brothers, alcoholic uncles, and so on. Normal Americans, good kids, the sort of women and men I talk with every day on the GI Rights Hotline.

Now, I don't look like much, but I don't think I look like a penniless slob (OK, I actually do look like a penniless slob, but I try not to while traveling--less hassle from security). So it was interesting to see what happened as I stood there perusing the whiskey selection. As soon as a man or woman in cammies entered the whiskey aisle, a nice Irish lady would run up and ply them with free samples of expensive booze, cajoling them to take a nice bottle home to mom, or dad, or of course to alcoholic uncle Steve. Meanwhile, I was thoroughly ignored. Even when I was left alone in the whiskey aisle, staring at labels, with the free sample lady similary unoccupied a few feet away at her table.

The lesson? Free sample lady knew where the money was. It was in the pockets of the lonely American boys and girls heading to Chicago for a weekend-long reprieve from the worst experience of their lives.

This is what the jobs side of the principles vs. jobs fight looks like. An old lady pushing booze into the hands of giddy and sad American kids.

Related links:

Peace On Trial, website for the Irish Ploughshares community which smashed up a US navy jet at Shannon using hammers, prayed, were arrested, had three trials, and were unanimously acquitted.

...Into Ploughshares, a brand new blog by Ciaron O'Reilly. Ciaron was one of the aforementioned Ploughshares activists, and he's a friend of mine.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Catholic Worker Statement to the Bishops

At the conclusion of National Catholic Worker Gathering, held from October 19-22 in Panora, Iowa, Catholic Workers from across the U.S. issued a statement appealing to the U.S. Catholic Bishops to break their silence and to call for an immediate end to the U.S. War in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also called on the Bishops to call for the eradication of the recently passed Military Commissions Act which allows for the indefinite detention for "enemy combatants", the ending of habeas corpus right for these prisoners, and the use of abusive interrogation methods which clearly constitute torture.

Over 300 Catholic Workers from over fifty houses, including from Germany and Holland, attended the Catholic Worker Gathering. The Catholic Worker was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933, and the late John Cardinal O'Connor initiated a process in the catholic Church for her sainthood.

Declaring that torture and war are sins, the group called on the U.S. Catholic Bishops to do the following:

• call for an end to the U.S. practice of torture.
• call for an immediate end to the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• offer counsel to and support for conscientious objectors.
• call for the closing of Guantanamo and all secret military prisons and torture centers.
• call on all Catholics and people of faith to engage in prayer, fasting and acts of nonviolent resistance to stop torture and to end the war.

The group also called on Catholics and other people of goodwill to join them for a nonviolent action in Washington, DC on January 11, 2007, the 5th anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at Guantanamo, to call for its closing.

Read the entire statement

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Welcome to the No Fact Zone

I attended a talk the other night at Bethel College, an evangelical college in the South Bend area. The title was “Unmasking Terrorism,” and advertisements promised I’d be hearing from a Palestinian-former-terrorist-turned-evangelical-Christian. So it seemed like the kind of thing that would be worth checking out.

The talk that followed however, given by one Walid Shoebat, truly shocked me. I was appalled. An evening that started with vanilla praise music quickly turned into a hate-fest that had me thinking of 1984. It was horrifying; in fact, I was reminded of the Old Latin version of Psalm 95/96: “The gods of the heathens are demons.” What went on at Bethel truly put me in mind of the demonic. They were saying the name “Jesus,” but the God they described was something hideous and malformed.

The talk also put me in mind of Steven Colbert’s “No Fact Zone.” I always figured he was exaggerating the Right’s tendency to color everything with ideology (which can of course also be said of the Left). I didn’t realize he was describing certain people’s tendency to spread vicious half-truths and lies. Specifically…

Among Mr. Shoebat’s claims throughout the night were the following points (please note that these claims are written as they were communicated during his talk—he might present things differently in writing, but this was the content as heard in the audience):

  • All terrorists are Muslims; there are no Christian or atheistic terrorists. At all. Anywhere in the world. When confronted with the example of Northern Ireland, he said, “There is no longer terrorism in Ireland.”
  • Arabs had only been living in (or perhaps ruling, he used ambiguous language) Israel/Palestine for a total of 100 years prior to the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948.
  • Until 1948, the Zionist movement carried out the acquisition and settlement of land in Israel/Palestine entirely peacefully, without the use of arms or any kind of coercion.

Meanwhile, his plan for dealing with international Islamic extremism and terrorism seemed to be as follows:

  • Begin closing mosques. He definitely advocated the forcible closure of mosques in the US and Europe, and as far as I can recall he hinted that this would be appropriate for the Middle East as well.
  • Send Christian missionaries to the Middle East to accompany American troops. I’m drawing this from a comparison he made between a drug-infested neighborhood and the Middle East. He said that one doesn’t send Harvard professors to a drug-infested neighborhood to solve its problems. One sends ministers and Christian community workers and armed police. He emphasized that the police had to be armed. He left the audience to draw its own conclusions about how his metaphor applied to the Middle East. I think it was obvious what he was suggesting.

Most disturbing of all were the “Amen”s that came from the audience now and then as Mr. Shoebat poured out his hatred.

I don’t really know what to do in response to this kind of stuff. I’d try to bring up the excellent points the Pope made in his Regensburg address about faith and reason, but I’m afraid his quote from that Byzantine text would just encourage them. Sigh…

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Letter from Intelligence and Military Professionals on Use of Torture

Today, a letter was sent to the Judiciary Committee to the attention of Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Patrick Leahy. It represents the views of former US Government and military officials who served in the CIA, in the Army, in the Air Force, at the
Department of State and the FBI. It represents a consensus view that torture is an ineffective and immoral practice.

Read the letter

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Yea, those Muslims and their violence"

The Muslim world is furious; the rest of the world is nervous. The comments by the pope late last week marked his entry--whether intended or not--into the volatile world of religion and violence. And many Muslims are not liking what was said.

But was he only talking to them?

Christians seem oblivious of the connection between the remarks and our own practice of our own faith. On the topic of religion sanctioning violence, our response is, "yeah, those Muslims." Yet even though the pope used a Christian-Muslim dialogue to make his point, the speech itself was aimed at his own flock: the Christian world. And we too ought to feel the heat (as should Islamicists) of the pope's real bombshell last week at Regensburg: true faith has no room for violence.

Let the Muslim world ponder that claim. And let the Christian world—which has brought us World Wars, nuclear weapons, and now an ongoing hail of violence and threats of violence—ponder the claim with them.

By now most are familiar with the quote from the 15th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Debating with an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, the emperor took issue with the prophet's apparent approbation of violence and said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Yet that is not the end of the quote. It goes on to claim that "God is not pleased by blood....Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats....To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."
The pope states his interpretation here quite simply: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

How are we missing the relevance of these words for Western Christians who have put forward military might as a tool in "spreading freedom?" Certainly no one is saying the War on Terror is religious, but to hear the rhetoric and to see the ecclesial supporters, the whole enterprise has a kind of religious feel to it. And besides, if religious doctrine is no rational basis for war, is politics somehow okay?

George Weigel and Richard John Neuhaus seem increasingly perplexed by the growing pacifism of the Holy See. First they tried to dismiss John Paul the Great as a kindly old man who, of course, wants peace but really should stick to religion and let the U.S. exercise "prudential" warcraft. But now comes along Benedict, the one who in a May 2, 2003 Zenit interview said that "we should be asking whether it is still licit to speak of the very existence of a 'just war'."

And again in last week's Regensburg speech, the pope rejects the very basis for violence. It is not rational. One way of putting the pope's point is that the authentic commands of God are reasonable, even if faith is needed to penetrate their depths. And, of course, to see what the Father commands, we turn to the Son who shows us the face of the Father. In that turn, to Jesus Christ, we have full clarity. Christ offers a way of nonviolent, sacrificial love of friends and enemies. Period. No wiggle room for building nukes—whether it is Muslim Iran or Christian America-—or using violence to further principles.