Archive for September, 2016

No More War

September 11th, 2016 No comments


What I am about to write will no doubt be found offensive by many. It is not my intention to offend, but I do hope that, presented with facts, the reader might pause to consider a point of view not driven by the establishment media/entertainment machine (and in this I include not only what we call the “mainstream” media, but much of the alternative media as well).

The events of September 11, 2001 had a profound influence on the United States and the world. Anyone who was alive and aware on that morning can well remember the shock. The coordinated attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the failed attempt to destroy the White House left the nation groping for answers. For a brief moment much of the discord of American life and politics was silenced, replaced by a sense of brotherhood and unity not felt since December 8, 1941. Throughout the country people stood in solidarity with New York, political wrangling in Washington ceased, and we even rallied around a President who on any other day would be detested by a large part of the population.

We had been attacked, but we were strong. We would survive. We would overcome the attacks, gain our revenge, punish the evildoers, and emerge triumphant, just as we had against Japan in World War II. The only problem was, unlike in 1941, nobody really knew who had attacked us. When shock and sadness turned to anger and cries for vengeance we were ready to kill somebody; we just didn’t know who. This cartoon by Breen captured the national mood well.


But American unity is not always a pretty thing. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor the nation generalized the enemy to be all who looked Japanese and subsequently engaged in a wholesale internment of people of Japanese descent, regardless of their citizenship, patriotism, or innocence; an episode that is embarrassing to admit even today. Similarly, after 9/11 many Americans concluded that the enemy was Islam; anyone who even looked Muslim was an enemy. I have a Sikh friend who wears the traditional beard and turban, whose property was vandalized after 9/11 because he was mistakenly identified as a Muslim.

Between 1941 and 2001 the country had officially internalized the lessons of World War II and subsequent events so that the President quickly affirmed that while the United States would diligently pursue whoever had attacked, our enemy was not Islam, and that there are many loyal Muslims in the United States and its military forces. Six days after the attacks President Bush visited an Islamic Center where he spoke eloquently against the harassment of Arabs and Muslims living in the United States and about the need to respect Islam.[1]

Sadly, this is a battle in the War on Terror the enemy has won. The goal of terrorist organizations has been to assume the mantle of representing Islam and to characterize American response to their attacks as a holy war against Islam. Their propaganda strategy, I think, was for local consumption, but it has succeeded probably beyond what they could have dreamed among Americans. This is not universally true but a large and vocal group in the United States continues to associate terrorism with Islam and counts all Muslims as enemies, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This sentiment can be demonstrated by a sample from social media,


Images like this reflect the success of terrorists in hijacking Islam in the Western imagination.

In one sense it is understandable. In the aftermath of an unprovoked attack the victim is not likely to try to reason out the situation. If someone who is close to you suffers innocently at the hands of another, it is only human to lash out, whether the target of our wrath is guilty or not. And I’m not going to try to convince anyone that the generalization of 1.7 billion people as terrorists all intent on killing Americans is absurd, for the simple reason that anyone who can be convinced by logic already knows it is absurd, and the rest will remain unmoved.

Instead, what I want to do is to turn the tables. If we can generalize our enemy to be Islam, even though the real perpetrators are tiny cabals claiming to represent Islam, and in that we can find justification for waging war against any and all Muslims wherever they may be found, then how much more will it be possible for Muslims to view all Americans as their enemies? About three thousand people died in the 9/11 attacks and perhaps as many have succumbed to health conditions related to dust and smoke in the aftermath.[2] In contrast, in US wars after 9/11 in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, civilian casualties are conservatively estimated at approximately 1.3 million people.[3]

That is a staggering number. It is so enormous it fits into the category Stalin referred to when he remarked “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” But the statistic represents in reality single tragic deaths multiplied in number by millions. Over a million tragedies. And if we in the United States can remain angry fifteen years later at the tragic death of someone we never knew and are unable even to name, how can we expect people in the Middle East and Central Asia not to be angry at those who rained death from the sky on their children, their parents, their brothers and sisters, their friends and sweethearts? If we can blame the deaths of three thousand and more innocent civilians on 1.7 billion Muslims, is it unreasonable for innocent victims of American military action to blame three hundred million Americans?

The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after a NATO airstrike killed several Afghan civilians, including ten children during a fierce gun battle with Taliban militants in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, April 7, 2013. The U.S.-led coalition confirms that airstrikes were called in by international forces during the Afghan-led operation in a remote area of Kunar province near the Pakistan border. (AP Photo/Naimatullah Karyab)

If your kids were among these victims of American bombing, do you think your first reaction would be to say, calmly, “Well I know this was done with American weapons by Americans but they are only responding to 9/11 and so it’s ok they killed my kid — he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?” I don’t think so.

I think you would react the way you did react after 9/11 and curse America and all Americans and begin to nurse a cancerous resentment that would blossom into irrepressible hatred. And just as the 9/11 attacks caused American wrath to rain on the just and the unjust alike in many corners of the world, so America’s response causes unending blind hatred against us. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying I’m not the one doing the bombing. The bombing is being done in our name, and when we don’t speak against it, when we allow it, we are complicit.

The candidates for President of the United States for the two major parties are committed to continuing America’s reign of terror in the Middle East. One of them sounds relatively reasonable and prudent and the other foams at the mouth, but they are both counseling policies that would either directly or indirectly result in the deaths of more innocent people, with the very predictable result of creating more mortal enemies. It may be unpopular to suggest on a day devoted to chest beating patriotism that we ought to strive for peace through peaceful action rather than “peace through strength” (translation: aggression), but I feel obligated to do it all the same. I’m not suggesting devoting ourselves to peace is an easy thing to do in a world of provocations, but I am affirming it is the only moral thing to do.

No more war.

[1] George Bush, “Islam Is Peace” (Speech, Islamic Center of Washington D.C., Washington, DC, September 17, 2001), accessed September 11, 2016,

[2] Joanna Walters, “9/11 Health Crisis: Death Toll from Illness Nears Number Killed On Day of Attacks,” Guardian US (New York), September 11, 2016, accessed September 11, 2016,

[3] Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of The (Washington, D.C.: Physicians for Social Responsibility, March 2015), 15.

God and Social Justice

September 9th, 2016 No comments


The reader may or may not know that Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written in response to an open statement published by eight Alabama clergy condemning King’s direct action strategy and urging caution and patience. Few people remember that document but King’s response is beloved because it puts forward in his reasoned and eloquent way the duty of Christians to pursue social justice. Martin Luther King has become a secular hero, but he was in fact a Baptist minister first and framed his work in the context of that role. So the Letter from a Birmingham Jail can be considered in some ways a summary of a Christian theology of Social Justice.

Now, as you know, there are various positions on how and to what extent Christians should participate in a secular society. Some see it as a Christian duty to “get the country back to God,” imagining that at one point the United States was a godly Christian nation that has since apostatized and is now under God’s curse. That is an unhistorical fantasy but it is nonetheless widely believed and causes no end to friction between certain Christians and the wider society. There are other Christians who see participation in politics as sinful, believing that the world is too corrupted for the Christian conscience.

There are a number of Christian leaders who propose that the duty of the Christian in secular society is to lead a godly life within the context of the larger society and thereby demonstrate that Christianity is not radical or threatening, while leaving the flock to do little more than graze peacefully and undisturbed by inconvenient calls to do justice. This happens to be a very popular stance among the leaders of white middle class congregations whose membership are hardly distinguishable from their non-Christian neighbors.

There are others, and I count myself in this number, who argue almost exactly the opposite: that Christianity is radical and threatening, for the very reason that the Church is Christ’s body, and Christ is radical and threatening. Christ is not some peaceful little fairy bringing sleepy harmony to comfort the sinners and make them feel good about themselves. He is a warrior who brings a sword (Mt. 10:34) to disrupt the comfortable religion of first century Jews (and 21st century Christians), who overturns the tables of the money changers in the temple who perverted God’s call for righteousness and justice (Mt. 21:12-13), who railed against the religious leaders who had mistaken holiness to mean strict adherence to the law rather than the product of living out the law (Mt. 23), and who warned that those who neglect justice face eternal separation at the last judgment (Mt. 25:31-46).

The eight clergymen to whom King responded in his letter were the scribes and Pharisees of twentieth century Alabama, just as those who would divert the attention of Christians today from the glaring injustices before us are of the twenty-first. King also had a warning for the comfortable Christians of his time,

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

God calls each of us to work for racial reconciliation.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail Full Text

What if six did turn out to be nine?

September 7th, 2016 No comments


What if we did math the way we do democracy?

Perhaps it is symptomatic of the post-modern condition that facts have lost some of the exalted place they once held in the Western mind. One of the outcomes of the Enlightenment – the “Age of Reason” — that created the modern world, was the elevation of rationality over superstition. In effect the basis of what could be considered “true” changed over the course of the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, from religious truth supported by scripture and apostolic authority to scientific truth supported by mathematics. To the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, the fact that math was knowable and indisputable made it a far better measure of truth than the competing religious notions that had plunged Europe into decades of religious wars.

But the science that brought comfortable certainty and optimism to the Enlightenment philosophes also produced the most horrific era in history in the Twentieth century. After World War II the widespread faith in the inevitability of progress through science and education that had accompanied modernity faltered. Determining truth became more problematic as monolithic surety gave way to an atomizing impulse driven by competing points of view. If we cannot agree that one thing is absolutely true, can we agree that anything is true? Hence the relativism of post-modern Western society.

But what about math? Mathematical truths are still true. That was the foundation of modernism. 2+2 is 4 in every time place and language. Although the 2016 election cycle has produced some unbelievable moments I don’t think we have yet reached a point where you will find rival candidates arguing over the result of adding two and two, at least not directly. Mathematics can be made to distort the truth like the manipulation of other factual data, and politicians do this all of the time. But what if we took the next step and reached a general consensus that there are no irrefutable proofs in mathematics? What if someone could say, with a straight face, to educated people, that the sum of two and two is unknowable, or that it is whatever seems most convenient to an argument? Six, for example.

Of course we would rebel against that! So you say. But this is what we do with facts in history and politics. We have become conditioned to act as if facts don’t matter. What is true is what I just heard on the radio or read on Facebook. How do I know? Rush Limbaugh said it. Must be true. I don’t need to fact check. Of course we don’t admit that on the surface. We base our conclusions on what we think are facts, but often those facts are either deliberately altered or even made up. They are not facts at all. And, we all know  this, but somehow miss the inevitable outcome of treating facts as inconsequential: an insane civic life. A civil society in which we cannot even agree on the facts.

We can argue about the effects of 2+2=4, but we would not argue about the basic fact. What if competing groups of scientists working on the Apollo project decided that the sum of two and two could be whatever seemed the most convenient in context? Sometimes it is four, sometimes six, sometimes seventeen. In some ways this probably would have made their work less challenging, but it is doubtful whether anything they produced would have put a human on the moon. Unless their mathematical creativity ended up blowing them sky high.

It is true that conclusions derived from historical data are more complex and less certain than mathematical truths, in part because the facts are not always completely evident. We might know, for example, that one of the factors is two and that the outcome is six, but there’s no record of the process of arriving at six. You can argue it might have been the addition of a four, or two twos, or a one and a three. But you can’t say with a straight face that the outcome six was based on the addition of two and nine. And yet this is what we do in our popular discourse. Falsehoods are presented as facts and readily accepted because they conform to what we wish were true. And we vilify anyone who challenges our conclusions. Is this any way to run a democracy?

Just as young children are taught the basics of arithmetic and mathematics, citizens in a democracy, who are charged with the gravity of maintaining a just and viable political state, should be taught basic historical facts and the rules for critical thinking. We should be taught by professionals dedicated to the discipline, not lunatics and partisan fanatics. If we fail to do this we will continue marching ignorantly, but apparently happily, into a nightmare.

The Forethought

September 6th, 2016 No comments


Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.[1]

At the beginning of the twentieth century W.E.B. DuBois published a little collection of essays entitled The Souls of Black Folks. DuBois was one of the giants of American progressivism but I fear he is overlooked. He grew up in the relatively progressive Northeast and was the first black man to be awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard. If you read a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr,. you will no doubt be informed that he was influenced by DuBois, but rarely is that influence detailed, and DuBois himself remains a mystery. But he was and is not mysterious at all. During the Depression, he gravitated toward socialism as did many other intellectuals of the day. In the aftermath of WWII the anti-communist witch hunts captured him in their web. Although The Souls of Black Folks is a hopeful book, by the 1950s DuBois had become convinced that Americans would never be able to overcome racism. He renounced his American citizenship and moved to Ghana, where he died in 1963, one day before Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.

At the beginning of the book there is a short introduction DuBois calls “The Forethought.” In it he notes that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” DuBois makes a number of insightful observations in this small volume but at its base is the idea that white and black people do not inhabit the same space. Black people live in a world behind the “veil” that was conditioned by slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. White people cannot see behind the veil but only the sheer covering, and upon that canvas they project perceptions of “otherness,” fear and inferiority.

DuBois invites the reader to enter the world behind the veil to experience the life of the black person in America in 1903. Now, well into the second decade of the Twenty-First century, we find ourselves still beset by the problem of the color line. Was DuBois right? By peering into each other’s’ worlds can we learn to make a new America that is neither white nor black but draws upon the best of both worlds?

I urge you to sample DuBois’ elegant prose, particularly “The Forethought,” “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” Then take heed of his admonition in “The Afterthought:”

Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born into the world-wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. (Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare.) Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed THE END.

The Souls of Black Folks online

[1] Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.; [Cambridge]: University Press John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A., 1903;, 1999. [September 6, 2016].

The United States is not a god.

September 3rd, 2016 No comments


The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, the three pieces of paper upon which the United States was founded, are elements of a contract. The contract upholds very high standards for what people should expect from government, and imposes amazingly few limits on personal freedom. These three documents are secular political documents written by flawed men; they are not scripture. The political entity these documents created, the United States, is the practical application of the contract. Almost all of the obligation built into the contract is borne by government. The obligation of citizens is to hold the government to the contract by use of the vote. The United States is not a god. It doesn’t deserve or even demand any worship. It is a political arrangement that right now is not working out very well for many citizens. Almost everybody agrees this is true even though there is pointed disagreement about why. But the reason isn’t hard to discover. Citizens are more concerned with self-interest and being saved from bogey men than with their obligation to understand what the government is and to hold it accountable. If you want better government don’t look to leaders who will promise to save you from evil. They are the evil you need to be saved from. Instead, look in the mirror.

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