Christian faith and the politics of war

In 2007, I have been greatly preoccupied by Christian faith, the politics of war, and — above all — torture. I first started hammering away at the issue here, in March.

The Bush Administration, and the Republican Party in general, appeals to the Christian right to support its aggressive militarism, its use of torture, and its refusal to recognize the human and legal rights of detainees in the “war on terror”. The Bush Administration has thereby made its policies a matter of urgent concern for the Church:  arguably the issue for the Church in the present historical era.

An argument in support of American militarism

It is fitting, as 2007 draws to a close, that I have been debating the topic with John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry. John laid out an argument, from a Christian perspective, for going to war. He supports not merely war in general, but preemptive war in specific.

Preventive wars and pre-emptive strikes are typical military strategies. It is ludicrous to suggest that proactive military action is by definition bad whereas reactive military action may be justifiable. There are plenty of reasons for questioning the wisdom of the US-led intervention in Iraq. By itself, its proactive nature is not one of them.

Much of the violence in Samuel-Kings and Chronicles is pre-emptive in nature. You smash them before they can smash you. The anger of the prophet Elisha on his deathbed says it all (2 Kings 13:14-19).


Bhutto’s assassination: brought to you by …

This is a screen capture from a photo gallery at today’s LA Times (click to view full size):

Benazir Bhutto's assassination jpg

I don’t want to pick on the Palazzo Las Vegas hotel:  I’m sure they didn’t choose to sponsor this particular image. And in fact there are several sponsors of the photo gallery; the Palazzo just happened to come up on this image.

But I want people to see the juxtaposition of this photograph and this advertisement and take careful note. This is what Western democracy has sunk to, as capitalism now swamps every other social institution.

At local Junior “A” hockey games, I get a chuckle out of the “Goulbourne Sanitation power play”. A local business, sponsoring the local hockey team. There’s no harm in that.

But this? Where is the moral discernment of the LA Times? Where is our moral discernment? We are so bombarded with advertisements that we have ceased to be conscious of them, no matter what the context. And that’s a very dangerous state of affairs:  it suggests that we have lost our humanity.

What would the Hebrew prophets say if they were active today? They would use every rhetorical tool in their arsenal to try to shock us out of our complacency.

Where is our moral discernment? The things that shock our consciences in most cases shouldn’t; and the things that don’t shock our consciences damned well ought to.

The rot has taken deep hold of Western capitalist-democracy and we had better repent. Disaster looms — I am increasingly convinced of it.

Is it an election or a beauty contest?

Breaking news in the 2008 US Presidential election:  someone has taken an unflattering photograph of Hillary Clinton! The Washington Post reports:

Call them the “hangdog” candidate photographs: They capture the politician with eyes downcast, looking tired, stressed. When the headline is about poll numbers dropping, fundraising tanking or verbal gaffes from soon-to-be-cashiered campaign advisers, the hangdog candidate image is sure to make its appearance.

Hillary Clinton lined faceNo matter that the candidate is saying he or she isn’t concerned about the bad news. No matter that they’re still smiling, they still feel confident, they can still point to positive poll numbers in this state or that. The grim-faced photograph confirms the suggestion, in the story it illustrates, that the campaign is imploding. …

The popular Drudge Report Web site recently ran a particularly notorious picture of Hillary Clinton, showing her face riven with deep furrows and wrinkles. She looked so awful that even some conservative commentators noted the unfairness of using such a manifestly unflattering image.

But the hangdog photograph isn’t just unflattering. … The hangdog image conveys a single, tight visual message:  fatigue, sadness, impotence.

I wonder:  is it more than that in this instance? Is the photo particularly damaging for Hillary Clinton because Hillary is a woman?

Maybe that’s not fair. The Post doesn’t raise Hillary’s sex for discussion. They think any candidate would be treated the same way, and suffer the same consequences.

But I’m not so sure. It is a grave weakness of democracy that elections are so much about image. I think Hillary Clinton is particularly at risk because she’s a woman. Everyone knows it’s OK for a man to show his age:  a lined face is a sign of character. But for a woman, to look anything other than youthful is always a demerit.

And it’s completely phony, nothing but media manipulation. News media handpick photographs which reflect the narrative the reporter is trying to tell. As a result:

The hangdog image — and its opposite, the smiling, confident, top-dog image — also suggests a seamlessness between the news of the campaign trail and the candidate’s emotional state. In many ways, it reduces politicians to cartoons who seem to be dancing mindlessly to the tune of the polls, now frowning and moping, now giddy and upbeat. It also suggests that the media play an intimate role in this dance, piping the tune. In fact, the one thing the media almost never gain access to is the real emotional life of politicians.


A trifle for your amusement. From a Charlie Chaplin movie, The Circus, 1928.

It begins with the Tramp attending a small circus that comes to town, and haphazardly bumping into a pickpocket, who hides his ill-gotten goods in the Tramp’s pocket. This soon leads to a marvelous chase, with the police chasing both the pickpocket and the Tramp.


After a chase through the hall of mirrors, the Tramp accidentally runs into the circus’ center ring, where he is unintentionally hilarious. The circus owner/ringmaster auditions the Tramp as a new clown, only to find out that he can’t be funny on purpose — only unintentionally.

Two wise men and a wise guy

Who could this Christmas greeting card be from? — it’s a mystery!
The source is just possibly the same sister who gave us a rubber chicken as a wedding present.
(The apron says, “… and they lived happily ever after.” Which is more than you can say for the apparently-dead chicken.)

And now, a prophetic word from Simon and Garfunkel

Hat tip, Bridgett, who embedded Simon and Garfunkel’s recording of Silent Night on her blog earlier this week. Looking back at her twelve-year-old self, she comments,

Didn’t know who Lenny Bruce was, didn’t know much about Martin Luther King, Jr, either. But I understood the juxtaposition of a news report filled with bad news up against that perfect little Christmas carol.

I can’t embed the recording on — one of the drawbacks of the site is, it is very restrictive about what you can embed. But I have embedded it on Emerging From Babel, with relevant commentary.

Previous Older Entries