Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Theology Matters

Martin King said that we must develop the capacity to forgive, for without that we cannot claim the power to love. Forgiveness begins, he said, when we recognize that the evil actions of our enemies do not express all that our enemies are. “This simply means,” he said, “that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.”
That vision, which seeks as its goal forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, sets a standard most of us don't care to aim for. After all, it demands that we consider the humanity of those we oppose. It stands in stark contrast with the notion, given voice by the leader of our nation, that we are engaged in a war to “rid the world of evil.” Of course, at the same time, it demands that, even in opposing that leader, I look for what is good in him.
At the very least, it that standard demands that opposition focus on policies and not on persons. Predictably enough, the policy of waging war to rid the world of evil has unleashed the worst in those who pursue the policy in the first place. One does not have to wage an attack on personalities to see the necessity of steadfast opposition to such policy and its makers.
U.S. Army soldiers examine the wreckage from a car bomb attack that injured a woman in the Harithiyah neighborhood of western Baghdad, Iraq Monday, July 9, 2007. Attacks in Baghdad killed 13 people Monday as prominent Shiite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence. (AP Photo / Khalid Mohammed )
As James Carroll noted a few years back, “evil, whatever its primal source, resides, like a virus in its niche, in the human self. There is no ridding the world of evil for the simple fact that, shy of history’s end, there is no ridding the self of it.”
Indeed, the notion that this nation, or any nation – no matter how nobly conceived or dedicated – could of its own actions rid the world of evil is perhaps the fundamental heresy upon which so much of our current foreign policy rests.
We cannot rid the world of evil when we so clearly participate in it ourselves. We cannot; any more than we can bring justice to the world by means of an unjust war; any more than we can bring democracy to the world by means of a war that the vast majority of the world’s people oppose. No surge of troops will change this fundamental reality. And the further into the morass of this war we go, the more we become like the very thing we hate.


Some 35 years ago, Martin Luther King said that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

I've lost track of just how much we're spending on the war now, but it's too much. The release of Sicko this month stands as a vivid reminder of what is lost in spending priorities weighted toward war.
It is not the job of the church to correct the state’s political and military strategies, but it is most certainly our job to correct errors of theology. It is also quite clearly our role to warn of the approach of spiritual death.
In this case, the two are so closely related. We lie and deceive ourselves at peril to our souls. We follow the false gods of power and security, and develop theologies of nationalism to honor them, and we wonder how it is that we become the very thing that we hate.
Theology matters. Show me your image of God, and I will show you your image of humanity. From those images of God and humanity grow the strategies of nations. And when those images are skewed by heresies, and those strategies perverted by false premises, from them develop the images of death that dominate the news in days of endless war.

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