Category Archives: Pacifism

Go in peace

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.

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At the end of the Mass these words are spoken:

Deacon or Priest: “Go in the peace of Christ.”
or “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”
or “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
All: “Thanks be to God!”

There is then the Recessional, and there may be a closing hymn, but that is the end of the Mass. However it is said, we are told to go in peace – that peace being the peace of Christ.

What does this mean, to go in peace? We leave the Mass, having been fed at the table by the body and blood of Christ, and enter back into the world. One thing is clear, this world is not at peace. But we, followers of Christ, must go in that peace which is the peace of Christ. We go into this un-peaceful world with and in the peace of Christ.

We live in a time and place where individualism reigns, and much of modern Christianity follows suit. Salvation becomes a purely existential affair, with great emphasis placed on one’s psychological and emotional state of being. Thus this peace of Christ can easily be understood as a feeling of peace one has, however briefly, at the end of Mass; a good, warm, fuzzy feeling of goodness and, perhaps, fellowship. Emotions are important, and the warm fuzzies are not nothing, but the peace of Christ is not (or not only) about how we feel. Nor is it merely that we enjoy some light and friendly banter with our fellow parishioners until we head for the car.

This is obvious, and I don’t want to present a straw man in order to make an equally limp point. We know that the peace of Christ is the only solution to the horrors of this world, the enmity between man and man, and between man and God. We know it is only the peace of Christ that can overcome the death that sits at each of our doors, and ravages the world. And so we know there is something far more substantial to this peace than peaceful vibes.

The closing words of the Mass are not the only time we hear about peace. In the preceding Communion Rite we already spoke words about peace. Immediately after saying the Lord’s Prayer, we hear and say these words:

Priest: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
All: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

Then we go into the “Sign of Peace” section:

Priest: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.”
All: “Amen.”
Priest: “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.”
All: “And also with you.”
Deacon or Priest: “Let us offer each other a sign of peace.”

And at this point we turn to those around us, usually shake their hand and say something like, “Peace be with you.” Some might think this small exchange (of what might be derided as mere niceties) between the people of the Church is rather innocuous. But it is, in fact, a small moment of acknowledgement of our shared community of faith, and a little bit of “practice” for what we will be called to do at the end of Mass. We celebrate the peace between us and God, won for us by the sacrifice of Christ, and we begin to show how we are bearers of Christ’s image to the world by first reaching out the hand to those nearest to us and offering warm greetings.

The question is whether or not we carry this peace with us to the world. Do we embrace those final words of the Mass and seek to live them out in our daily lives, among our families, our co-workers, our neighbors? I can only speak for myself, and the answer is, “not very well.”

As a final note, perhaps an indication of our trouble with peace is how quickly our minds shut down when we hear the word pacifism. We tend to think pacifism as being fundamentally untenable. In a way it is. According to the rules of this world pacifism will not help one get ahead. Put another way, if one puts on the mind of Christ, then one will suffer. Christ suffered. The Apostles suffered. The early Christians suffered. Many Christians today suffer. But remember, it is God who fights our battles for us. We are called to love, and to be willing to suffer, for our sufferings in this life do not compare to the glory yet to come. If God is for us who can stand against us? Do not fear those who can merely kill you.

I write these words mostly for myself, for I am weak.

We get the word pacifism from the French pacifisme, which is derived from pacifique, but its roots go back Latin pācificus which comes from pāx (“peace”) + faciō (“I do, make”). In other words, pacifism means “peace making.” Note: Do not confuse pacifism with being passive. The word “passive” comes from different roots and is related to the idea of suffering, not making peace. We are called to suffer, true, but we are also called to be peace makers. They go together. Take up your cross and follow the merciful God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy.

Without Christ pacifism makes no sense. With Christ, pacifism is the only choice. Go in the peace of Christ.

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“The Greatest Error in History: Christianity Placing Violence Under the Patronage of Jesus”

Recently I have personally discovered Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. He is a powerful advocate for Christian Non-Violence or Pacifism. Years ago I came across Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. That was my first experience with Christian pacifism. More and more my inclinations lean in this direction. In fact, though I am willing to consider other arguments, and will change my mind if necessary, for now I cannot see any compatibility between being a follower of Christ and any kind of violence, including going to war. I say this while still finding stories of heroism in war deeply moving.

Here is one of several talks you can find online by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy:

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Just War Theory – an overview

This is a great overview, in six short videos, of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Just Defense (formerly Just War) Theory or Doctrine. It is also a critique of where that theory stands today in light of modern ‘total” war, and ultimately advocates for the original Christian position of pacifism, or peace making.

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The choice was the Church

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Dorothy Day wrote this in 1952 in her book The Long Loneliness:

“Thou wouldst not seek Him if thou hadst not already found Him,” Pascal says, and it is true too that you love God if you want to love Him. One of the disconcerting facts about the spiritual life is that God takes you at your word. Sooner or later one is given a chance to prove his love. The very word “diligo,” the Latin word used for “love,” means “I prefer.” It was all very well to love God in His works, in the beauty of His creation which was crowned for me by the birth of my child. Forster [her lover and father of her child] had made the physical world come alive for me and had awakened in my heart a flood of gratitude. The final object of this love and gratitude was God. No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore. I had heard many say that they wanted to worship God in their own way and did not need a Church in which to praise Him, nor a body of people with whom to associate themselves. But I did not agree to this. My very experience as a radical, my whole make-up, led me to want to associate myself with others, with the masses, in loving and praising God. Without even looking into the claims of the Catholic Church, I was willing to admit that for me she was the one true Church. She had come down through the centuries since the time of Peter, and far from being dead, she claimed and held the allegiance of the masses of people in all the cities where I had lived. They poured in and out of her doors on Sundays and holy days, for novenas and missions. What if they were compelled to come in by the law of the Church, which said they were guilty of mortal sin if they did not go to Mass every Sunday? They obeyed that law. They were given a chance to show their preference. They accepted the Church. It may have been an unthinking, unquestioning faith, and yet the chance certainly cake, again and again, “Do I prefer the Church to my own will,” even if it was only the small matter of sitting at home on a Sunday morning with the papers? And the choice was the Church. (p. 139, Harper San Francisco edition of The Long Loneliness, pub. 1997)

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The prison diary of Saint Perpetua

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

A number of young catechumens were arrested, Revocatus and his fellow slave Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and with them Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. Her mother and father were still alive and one of her two brothers was a catechumen like herself. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast. (Now from this point on the entire account of her ordeal is her own, according to her own ideas and in the way that she herself wrote it down.)

While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?’

‘Yes, I do’, said he.

And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’

And he said: ‘No.’

‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’

At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.

For a few days afterwards I gave thanks to the Lord that I was separated from my father, and I was comforted by his absence. During these few days I was baptized, and I was inspired by the Spirit not to ask for any other favour after the water but simply the perseverance of the flesh. A few days later we were lodged in the prison; and I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole. What a difficult time it was! With the crowd the heat was stifling; then there was the extortion of the soldiers; and to crown all, I was tortured with worry for my baby there.

Then Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons who tried to take care of us, bribed the soldiers to allow us to go to a better part of the prison to refresh ourselves for a few hours. Everyone then left that dungeon and shifted for himself. I nursed my baby, who was faint from hunger. In my anxiety I spoke to my mother about the child, I tried to comfort my brother, and I gave the child in their charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else.

Then my brother said to me: ‘Dear sister, you are greatly privileged; surely you might ask for a vision to discover whether you are to be condemned or freed.’

Faithfully I promised that I would, for I knew that I could speak with the Lord, whose great blessings I had come to experience. And so I said: ‘I shall tell you tomorrow.’ Then I made my request and this was the vision I had.

I saw a ladder of tremendous height made of bronze, reaching all the way to the heavens, but it was so narrow that only one person could climb up at a time. To the sides of the ladder were attached all sorts of metal weapons: there were swords, spears, hooks, daggers, and spikes; so that if anyone tried to climb up carelessly or without paying attention, he would be mangled and his flesh would adhere to the weapons.

At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of enormous size, and it would attack those who tried to climb up and try to terrify them from doing so. And Saturus was the first to go up, he who was later to give himself up of his own accord. He had been the builder of our strength, although he was not present when we were arrested. And he arrived at the top of the staircase and he looked back and said to me: ‘Perpetua, I am waiting for you. But take care; do not let the dragon bite you.’

‘He will not harm me,’ I said, ‘in the name of Christ Jesus.’

Slowly, as though he were afraid of me, the dragon stuck his head out from underneath the ladder. Then, using it as my first step, I trod on his head and went up.

Then I saw an immense garden, and in it a gray-haired man sat in shepherd’s garb; tall he was, and milking sheep. And standing around him were many thousands of people clad in white garments. He raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘I am glad you have come, my child.’

He called me over to him and gave me, as it were, a mouthful Of the milk he was drawing; and I took it into my cupped hands and consumed it. And all those who stood around said: ‘Amen!’ At the sound of this word I came to, with the taste of something sweet still in my mouth. I at once told this to my brother, and we realized that we would have to suffer, and that from now on we would no longer have any hope in this life.

A few days later there was a rumour that we were going to be given a hearing. My father also arrived from the city, worn with worry, and he came to see me with the idea of persuading me.

‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘have pity on my grey head–have pity on me your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favoured you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life. Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers, think of your mother and your aunt, think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride! You will destroy all of us! None of us will ever be able to speak freely again if anything happens to you.’

This was the way my father spoke out of love for me, kissing my hands and throwing himself down before me. With tears in his eyes he no longer addressed me as his daughter but as a woman. I was sorry for my father’s sake, because he alone of all my kin would be unhappy to see me suffer.

I tried to comfort him saying: ‘It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills; for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.’

And he left me in great sorrow.

One day while we were eating breakfast we were suddenly hurried off for a hearing. We arrived at the forum, and straight away the story went about the neighbourhood near the forum and a huge crowd gathered. We walked up to the prisoner’s dock. All the others when questioned admitted their guilt. Then, when it came my turn, my father appeared with my son, dragged me from the step, and said: ‘Perform the sacrifice–have pity on your baby!’

Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’

‘I will not’, I retorted.

‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus.

And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’

When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age.

Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits. But my baby had got used to being nursed at the breast and to staying with me in prison. So I sent the deacon Pomponius straight away to my father to ask for the baby. But father refused to give him over. But as God willed, the baby had no further desire for the breast, nor did I suffer any inflammation; and so I was relieved of any anxiety for my child and of any discomfort in my breasts….

Some days later, an adjutant named Pudens, who was in charge of the prison, began to show us great honour, realizing that we possessed some great power within us. And he began to allow many visitors to see us for our mutual comfort.

Now the day of the contest was approaching, and my father came to see me overwhelmed with sorrow. He started tearing the hairs from his beard and threw them on the ground; he then threw himself on the ground and began to curse his old age and to say such words as would move all creation. I felt sorry for his unhappy old age.

The day before we were to fight with the beasts I saw the following vision. Pomponius the deacon came to the prison gates and began to knock violently. I went out and opened the gate for him. He was dressed in an unbelted white tunic, wearing elaborate sandals. And he said to me: ‘Perpetua, come; we are waiting for you.’

Then he took my hand and we began to walk through rough and broken country. At last we came to the amphitheatre out of breath, and he led me into the centre of the arena.

Then he told me: ‘Do not be afraid. I am here, struggling with you.’ Then he left.

I looked at the enormous crowd who watched in astonishment. I was surprised that no beasts were let loose on me; for I knew that I was condemned to die by the beasts. Then out came an Egyptian against me, of vicious appearance, together with his seconds, to fight with me. There also came up to me some handsome young men to be my seconds and assistants.

My clothes were stripped off, and suddenly I was a man. My seconds began to rub me down with oil (as they are wont to do before a contest). Then I saw the Egyptian on the other side rolling in the dust. Next there came forth a man of marvelous stature, such that he rose above the top of the amphitheatre. He was clad in a beltless purple tunic with two stripes (one on either side) running down the middle of his chest. He wore sandals that were wondrously made of gold and silver, and he carried a wand like an athletic trainer and a green branch on which there were golden apples.

And he asked for silence and said: ‘If this Egyptian defeats her he will slay her with the sword. But if she defeats him, she will receive this branch.’ Then he withdrew.

We drew close to one another and began to let our fists fly. My opponent tried to get hold of my feet, but I kept striking him in the face with the heels of my feet. Then I was raised up into the air and I began to pummel him without as it were touching the ground. Then when I noticed there was a lull, I put my two hands together linking the fingers of one hand with those of the other and thus I got hold of his head. He fell flat on his face and I stepped on his head.

The crowd began to shout and my assistants started to sing psalms. Then I walked up to the trainer and took the branch. He kissed me and said to me: ‘Peace be with you, my daughter!’ I began to walk in triumph towards the Gate of Life. Then I awoke. I realized that it was not with wild animals that I would fight but with the Devil, but I knew that I would win the victory. So much for what I did up until the eve of the contest. About what happened at the contest itself, let him write of it who will.

[Here Saturus tells the story of a vision he had of Perpetua and himself, after they were killed, being carried by four angels into heaven where they were reunited with other martyrs killed in the same persecution.]

[Here the editor/narrator begins to relate the story]:

Such were the remarkable visions of these martyrs, Saturus and Perpetua, written by themselves. As for Secundulus, God called him from this world earlier than the others while he was still in prison, by a special grace that he might not have to face the animals. Yet his flesh, if not his spirit, knew the sword.

As for Felicitas, she too enjoyed the Lord’s favour in this wise. She had been pregnant when she was arrested, and was now in her eighth month. As the day of the spectacle drew near she was very distressed that her martyrdom would be postponed because of her pregnancy; for it is against the law for women with child to be executed. Thus she might have to shed her holy, innocent blood afterwards along with others who were common criminals. Her comrades in martyrdom were also saddened; for they were afraid that they would have to leave behind so fine a companion to travel alone on the same road to hope. And so, two days before the contest, they poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. She suffered a good deal in her labour because of the natural difficulty of an eight months’ delivery.

Hence one of the assistants of the prison guards said to her: ‘You suffer so much now–what will you do when you are tossed to the beasts? Little did you think of them when you refused to sacrifice.’

‘What I am suffering now’, she replied, ‘I suffer by myself. But then another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.’

And she gave birth to a girl; and one of the sisters brought her up as her own daughter.

Therefore, since the Holy Spirit has permitted the story of this contest to be written down and by so permitting has willed it, we shall carry out the command or, indeed, the commission of the most saintly Perpetua, however unworthy I might be to add anything to this glorious story. At the same time I shall add one example of her perseverance and nobility of soul.

The military tribune had treated them with extraordinary severity because on the information of certain very foolish people he became afraid that they would be spirited out of the prison by magical spells.

Perpetua spoke to him directly. ‘Why can you not even allow us to refresh ourselves properly? For we are the most distinguished of the condemned prisoners, seeing that we belong to the emperor; we are to fight on his very birthday. Would it not be to your credit if we were brought forth on the day in a healthier condition?’

The officer became disturbed and grew red. So it was that he gave the order that they were to be more humanely treated; and he allowed her brothers and other persons to visit, so that the prisoners could dine in their company. By this time the adjutant who was head of the gaol was himself a Christian.

On the day before, when they had their last meal, which is called the free banquet, they celebrated not a banquet but rather a love feast. They spoke to the mob with the same steadfastness, warned them of God’s judgement, stressing the joy they would have in their suffering, and ridiculing the curiosity of those that came to see them. Saturus said: ‘Will not tomorrow be enough for you? Why are you so eager to see something that you dislike? Our friends today will be our enemies on the morrow. But take careful note of what we look like so that you will recognize us on the day.’ Thus everyone would depart from the prison in amazement, and many of them began to believe.

The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after childbirth in a second baptism.

They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end.

‘We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.’

Even injustice recognized justice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the on looking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures: ‘You have condemned us, but God will condemn you’ was what they were saying.

At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.

But he who said, Ask and you shall receive, answered their prayer by giving each one the death he had asked for. For whenever they would discuss among themselves their desire for martyrdom, Saturninus indeed insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious. And so at the outset of the contest he and Revocatus were matched with a leopard, and then while in the stocks they were attacked by a bear. As for Saturus, he dreaded nothing more than a bear, and he counted on being killed by one bite of a leopard. Then he was matched with a wild boar; but the gladiator who had tied him to the animal was gored by the boar and died a few days after the contest, whereas Saturus was only dragged along. Then when he was bound in the stocks awaiting the bear, the animal refused to come out of the cages, so that Saturus was called back once more unhurt.

For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and the other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.

Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life.

There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: ‘When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?’

When told that this had already happened, she refused to believe it until she noticed the marks of her rough experience on her person and her dress. Then she called for her brother and spoke to him together with the catechumens and said: ‘You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.’

At another gate Saturus was earnestly addressing the soldier Pudens. ‘It is exactly’, he said, ‘as I foretold and predicted. So far not one animal has touched me. So now you may believe me with all your heart: I am going in there and I shall be finished off with one bite of the leopard.’ And immediately as the contest was coming to a close a leopard was let loose, and after one bite Saturus was so drenched with blood that as he came away the mob roared in witness to his second baptism: ‘Well washed! Well washed!’ For well washed indeed was one who had been bathed in this manner.

Then he said to the soldier Pudens: ‘Good-bye. Remember me, and remember the faith. These things should not disturb you but rather strengthen you.’

And with this he asked Pudens for a ring from his finger, and dipping it into his wound he gave it back to him again as a pledge and as a record of his bloodshed.

Shortly after he was thrown unconscious with the rest in the usual spot to have his throat cut. But the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetual Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honours, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.

From The Acts of the Christian Marytrs

texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo

(c) Oxford University Press, 1972

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>Mindless Menace of Violence

>In light of the shooting in Arizona today that left several people dead, including a 9 year old girl, I am reminded of a speech by another politician:

I wonder how compatible or incompatible the concepts outlined in this speech are with biblical Christianity.

Note: When I first posted this I made mention of the shooter being an Afghanistan war veteran. That information was erroneous and came from early but false reports. I have removed that information. I apologize for any misrepresentation.

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The Christian Nation

I am re-posting this from my other blog.

To the degree that this nation (U.S.A.) is, or has ever been, a Christian one, is the degree to which one can question such a “fact.” For to be called “Christian” is to bring along all that that name implies, evokes, and requires. But that is a very dicey proposition at best. What nation would want to be judged by the Sermon on the Mount? What nation would want to be compared to the example of Jesus? What leader would want to be evaluated by Jesus’ definition of hypocrisy? When we examine this country, its history, its foreign policies, its current events and current leaders, the facts say otherwise. Regardless of the hagiographic mythologies of this country’s creation and of its “fathers”, this is not, nor has ever been a Christian country that has lived up to that name. But from the political stump and from its pulpits this country grasps at that label as though it were some ultimate and magical brand that can whitewash any tomb. And Christians go along with the charade. Maybe it is because modern American Christianity is only a pale shadow of its Christ. Maybe we have lost sight of what Jesus taught us. Maybe most of us never really knew. I am reminded of something Wendell Berry wrote:

Despite its protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo. Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into heaven, it has, by a kind of ignorance, been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by, while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire. It has assumed with the economists that “economic forces” automatically work for good, and has assumed with the industrialists and militarists that technology determines history. It has assumed with almost everybody that “progress” is good, that it is good to be modern and up with the times. It has admired Caesar and comforted him in his depredations and defaults. But in its de facto alliance with Caesar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of Creation. For, in these days, Caesar is no longer a mere destroyer of armies, cities, and nations. He is a contradictor of the fundamental miracle of life. A part of the normal practice of his power is his willingness to destroy the world. He prays, he says, and churches everywhere compliantly pray with him. But he is praying to a God whose works he is prepared at any moment to destroy. What could be more wicked than that, or more mad?
~ Wendell Berry, “Christianity and The Survival of Creation” (1993)

Before Constantine it took courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it took courage to be a pagan. The Roman empire became the Holy Roman Empire. Conquering by conversions is not quite the same as leading people to truth. But then, once everyone was a Christian, there arose the idea of the invisible church, that is, that group of individuals who were truly “believers” not merely playing the part. Many so-called Christians did not behave as Christians should so there was a need to, in effect, say there are two kinds of Christians, the real and the fake. This is an important distinction. However, it is easy to claim membership in the invisible church. Who is to say you are wrong? If we look for evidence it must come from the outward actions, the visible behaviors that represent the inner heart (I think of the book of James). So we look at each others actions, and what is it we should see? Consider this passage from the book of Isaiah, chapter 1, verses 16 & 17:

Wash yourselves;
make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

These words are directed at a certain people – the “people of God.” Many Americans today would also say these lines describe what the U.S. is all about, along with saying this is God’s country, etc. But they are misinformed. These words are part of a passage calling for repentance. They are so simple and yet they are the opposite of so much that is done in this nation’s name. Think of the genocide of native Americans, or the labor struggles and their often brutal suppression, or the struggle for civil rights. U.S. foreign policy in Latin America alone of the past 50 years is enough to be ashamed for this country. And this is a remarkably un-repentant country. A case could be made that the U.S. is the most prideful country on earth today. I am reminded of President Obama’s inaugural speech where he stated, “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.” We have heard the same kinds of statements from all presidents. Bush said the same kinds of things on numerous occasions. But the true Christian – the one with the eyes to see and the ears to hear – will not be surprised. Just as the religious leader thanked God he was not like other men, so goes the way of the self-righteous nation.

So, is this a Christian nation? Yes, but not of the so-called invisible church – the one trying to live out the example of its Christ in fear and trembling. That church has no nation – only a kingdom for which it waits. This is a Christian nation in the Constantinian sense. And its Christ is now the one with the sword, and the checkbook, and the influence, and the self-righteousness.

There are three problems with my statements above. First is that I am implicated along with all of you. It is easy to point fingers and criticize, but I have benefited from all the good things this country offers and I am glad I was born here. I live in what was once called the frontier – a land taken from the indigenous peoples through force, cunning, and broken promises. And yet I love living here and will continue to do so. I am grateful for the role this country has played in securing freedom, yet I also benefit from many atrocious actions it has taken in securing that freedom. In short, I eat from a morally compromised harvest. The second point is that for all its faults the U.S.A. is not significantly different in its wickedness than other countries. The scale of its influence and global impact is often more staggering than most, but its moral nature is that of others. One cannot point the finger at this country without also pointing the finger all countries. (The reverse is true as well.) But this is the country I know best, and I am confronted by its apparently pivotal role in the world – for good and for wickedness. So I am compelled to criticize. Thirdly is the fact that one cannot really speak of a unrepentant country, for a country is really only a concept, a theory with a tenuous physicality. To speak of a country in moral terms is to get us all off the hook. When we speak of a foreign policy we are speaking of real actions based on real decisions made by real people and supported by other people. A country cannot be held accountable for its actions. For a country does not act. It’s citizens, leaders, bureaucrats, politicians, workers, and captains of industry do the acting. What we see on the whole is an aggregate of actions that, when taken together, appear to be a country acting. But it is each of us, as individuals who must cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause. And as we come together corporately we must create institutions that reflect those same values.

Again, is this a Christian nation? Christianity did not die off in America as many predicted a hundred years ago. In fact it has flourished. And yet, if we take a broad view of Christianity today we see a wildly mixed bag of cultural shallowness, tepid convictions, ignorance, political myopia, and a laundry list of conflicting statements of faith that more or less reflect a shadow of Christ. But we also find people profoundly challenged and changed by the life and teachings of Jesus. Some of these individuals may not fit into the standard, culturally defined aesthetic of our cultural Christianity. They may not fit into the visible church. And they may not (probably cannot) fit neatly into the commonly accepted cultural role of the citizen without challenging many of it assumptions. In other words, that invisible-church Christian living out her faith will likely come into deep conflict with the prevailing winds of this country’s politics, economics, and culture. And if we use that as our working definition of a Christian nation then any nation can be (might be, probably is) a Christian nation – but you’d never know.

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