Thursday, February 21, 2008

christians & realism?

Whether a Christian can follow the Bible and be a Christian Realist:

Objection 1. Christian realists (especially Reinhold Niebuhr) say yes, in our day and age the only righteous way to be a Christian is as a realist. The Christian Scriptures clearly state that we should be nonresistant to evil, but that these words were written in another time and place and are not meant to be followed literally today. Instead we need to be willing to fight in defense of God's values and God's people.

Objection 2. When the Christian Scriptures were written, Christians were a persecuted minority. Our actions must change now that we have been given the authority of running nations.

Objection 3. To see evil being done and to do nothing about it is worse than breaking God's law of not harming others. We cannot sit idly by and watch injustice happening. It is better to use some evil and ask forgiveness than allow a greater evil to occur.

On the contrary, peace churches across history have upheld the Jesus' command to not use violent force, and to instead actively work for peace in whatever time and place in which they find themselves.

I reply that for Christians, there is no justification for intentionally breaking God's command to not harm others. It may be more "realistic" to fight wars that seem to bring about a good end, but taking this decision into our own hands is attempting to do God's work. Christians are not called to be effective: we are called to be obedient. At the same time, doing what is obedient is often effective in bringing about good ends without recourse to violence. Nonviolent direct action works at least as well as war in bringing about good ends, and usually there is less bloodshed. The realist position assumes that war actually succeeds in bringing about good ends, which is a position which is fairly suspect. War may succeed in stopping some evil from happening, but rarely does it leave a peaceful situation where a community can easily return to a normal, pre-war state. Christian realists assume that in this world where humans are always going to make evil choices, there will always be the necessity to stop them, and this will require the use of violence. I believe that, on the contrary, we are called to live in the Kingdom of God here and now, and make that our witness to the world of what God's Kingdom is like. If we act in the same evil, violent ways as the world we are not bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth, no matter how just our intentions.

Reply to objection 1: If the Christian Scriptures clearly state that Christians are to be nonresistant to evil, but to instead show up evil by staying in the good, who are we to decide when we should go against that teaching? If God told me directly, "You have heard it said that you should no longer use violence, but I say to you that now it's time to fight a holy war again," perhaps I would do so. But I'd have to be pretty sure it was God (we're talking an actual voice from the clouds and miracles, etc.) before I would go against clear biblical teaching. Some things in the Bible do seem cultural and meant for only for a specific time and place, but this doesn't seem like one of them to me.

Reply to objection 2: One question we might ask is whether Christians should be willing to be involved in running nations if it causes them to compromise principles Jesus laid down for us. For Jesus and his early followers, persecution was a way of life not because they lacked the skills for national leadership, but because their teaching was so foreign to the ways of the world that they were ridiculed, seen as a danger to the (unequal and unjust) status quo, and many were persecuted. We might ask ourselves why it is that our brand (or is that "bland"?) of Christianity is so acceptable to our culture. It would be a wonderful thing if Christians actually ran a nation as Jesus asked his followers to live: if we gave food to the hungry, showed active love to our enemies, and lived with the humility of "the last shall be first and the first shall be last." But our country's government (USA) and other governments with a large Christian population do not conduct themselves in this manner, and thus are not following Christ. Christians in power should not act differently from Christians who are a persecuted minority.

Reply to objection 3: With this objection I whole-heartedly agree. This is the single greatest criticism of pacifism, in my opinion. We CANNOT sit idly by and allow injustice to be done while we do nothing to stop it. It IS better to resort to violence in order to stop injustice from being done, rather than to do nothing. But it is even better to do something nonviolent that will diffuse the situation without the loss of life, or that will show the injustice of the situation in a way that the oppressor cannot ignore, even if that requires loss of life. If pacifists are really serious about this belief, we should walk our talk: we should be as willing to lose our physical lives for the sake of bringing forth God's Kingdom as so many are for the sake of defending the honor of their earthly kingdoms.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

christians & the just war?

I've decided to do a little series on issues related to war and peace, and put them in the style of Thomas Aquinas. He was a 13th century theologian whose Summa Theologicae is set up in a very distinct style. He asks a question, gives 3-4 reasons some people believe one direction (but this is actually the opposite of his opinion), then he gives a contrary argument from the Bible or another authority. Then he says, "I reply..." and gives his opinion, and he concludes with stating his replies to the objections in each of the first 3-4 points. It's a good way of laying out an argument briefly and concisely, giving voice to the other side but still stating your own view clearly. So here goes.

Whether a Christian can follow the Bible and be a just war proponent:

Objection 1. Many Christians say yes, we can and should be just war proponents because God desires justice, and as Christians we should always aid in bringing justice to the world.
Objection 2. There is the case of ancient Israel, where God commanded the Israelites to go to war, and they were God's chosen people. Now that Christians are God's chosen people we should fight the wars God asks us to, namely, those that bring about God's desire for justice in the world.
Objection 3. In Roman 13 Paul says Christians should follow our government, and sometimes our government demands us to go to war.
Objection 4. There will always be “wars & rumors of wars,” so we must have a way of choosing which wars to be involved in.

On the contrary, John Howard Yoder (pacifist) & Reinhold Niebuhr (Christian realist) say the Christian Scriptures clearly state that Jesus wants us to always be nonresistant toward evil people. Yoder says we should never be involved in war or the use of violent force, while R. Niebuhr says the Bible is not meant to be taken literally on these matters, because Jesus lived in a different time and place than we do, and so sometimes we will be called to war as the most realistic solution, whether it follows "just war" theory or not.

I reply that it is not possible to follow the Bible and be a just war proponent. The just war theory is not in the Bible and is not based on the Bible--Jesus didn't say, "Turn the other cheek, unless you're being treated unjustly, in which case you can hit back, but only with the amount of force you were hit with..." Pacifism is based on the Christian Scriptures, and if we believe God asks us to follow the Christian Scriptures we should be pacifists.

Reply 1. God desires for justice to happen, but not through our violent actions. We are asked to bring about justice through bringing good news, sight to the blind, visiting people when sick and in prison, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19). Romans 12:17-21 says vengeance belongs to God alone, and to combat evil by staying firmly in the good.
Reply 2. Ancient Israel (whether taken at face value as historically accurate, or taken as a semi-myth meant to teach various truths) was a theocracy, ordered by God. The Israelites were a people chosen by God to enact God's justice in the world. No nation has been given that right today, except perhaps the nation of Israel if it was attempting to live as a theocracy, which it is not. Christians are God's chosen people, but Christ said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you, 'Do not resist an evildoer.'" He said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5). This cannot happen by going to war.
Reply 3. Paul, who wrote Romans 13, is known to have disobeyed his government when it went against his understanding of what God was asking him to do. He was thrown in prison several times for preaching the good news. He submitted to the civil magistrate in that he went to prison without using violence to escape, but he did not follow the magistrate in doing things against God's command. Civil disobedience is, therefore, an important part of being a Christian, and this undoubtedly reaches to the problem of war. The first 300 years of Christians understood Jesus & Paul this way and lived as pacifists.
Reply 4. There will always be “wars & rumors of wars,” but this does not mean Christians must be involved in fighting them. This is like saying, “There will always be people who cheat on the spouses, so I have to decide what is the most justifiable way to cheat on my spouse.” We are instructed to overcome evil by staying firmly grounded in the good (Romans 12:21). If we become evil ourselves, we have been defeated as Christians.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

book reading meme

OK, so there's this concept called a "meme," which means it's sort of like a game that people do on their blogs, and they tag people and those people can choose to play the game, too. So this particular meme is about books. I don't think I'd do most other memes but I'm just nerdy enough for this one (much like my friend Michael, who tagged me!).

The rules of the meme:

1. Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. No cheating!
2. Find page 123
3. Find the first 5 sentences
4. Post the next 3 sentences
5. Tag 5 people

My closest book happened to be "Holy Writings, Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity," by John Barton. I realized half an hour ago that I was supposed to post two questions to our class discussion board on this book before midnight tonight (well, yesterday at this point), and while I was still up I figured I'd check a few here I am not sleeping and playing this meme. =) So the three sentences after the first 5 sentences on p. 123 are:

"Now it may be that the Christians who devised the system of nomina sacra were engaged in the task of 'reinvent[ing] the sacred institutions of Judaism'--providing a Christian equivalent for the Name in Judaism. It would be characteristic that the equivalent is a kind of inversion, so that sanctity is marked by contracting a word, where for Jews it is registered by the care with which the whole word is copied. Whatever the explanation, the existence of the nomina sacra indicates that for Christians as for Jews there were features of the text as a physical object that were used to express its sacredness, and which were not connected with its semantic content in the sense of its 'message.'"

You got that? I don't even really know what it means yet, because we haven't quite gotten to that section yet this term. Maybe I'll let you know what it means when I find out!

So I tag:

Monday, February 18, 2008

the lion & the lamb

I just got done with my small group discussion session for my "War & Christian Conscience" class. In my discussion group, I'm the only pacifist, or at least the only pacifist who talks. (I think there is one other but that person hardly talks during the group time.) Anyway, so I get to defend the pacifists we read--or try not to defend them, just state more clearly what they're actually saying instead of the distorted ways others read them--and also poke holes in the just war theory. But of course I can't respond to everyone's comments because then I would be talking too much, so you all will get to hear my further thoughts that I didn't get to share in class.

Our group leader today (leadership rotates) said at the very end, when no one could respond, that a lecturer he heard on the just war theory said, "Pacifism is a nice ideal, but it just doesn't work. And pacifists always, whether they like it or not, have to rely on the Gentiles around them to keep them safe, so they're really not pacifists at all." Our group leader also referred to a quote that was in one of our readings, a quote by either Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr., I can't remember which and I don't have the book with me. Anyway, the quote is something like, "The Bible talks about the lion laying down with the lamb, but if we live like that in this world, the lamb will have to be replaced frequently."

So: to discuss this last quote first, what I wanted to say but couldn't because class was over, is that, "Yes, the lamb has to be replaced frequently, but it has to be replaced frequently even if it comes at the lion with weapons, assuming the lion also has weapons." The funny thing about just war theory and other theories when discussing pacifism is that they assume that 1. war works to achieve its ends, and 2. pacifism doesn't work because people might die. Well, if not dying is the desired end, war does not work any better (and sometimes worse) than it would if we did not resist at all, or resisted using nonviolent methods. In war, each side feels justified to continue fighting because the other side is using violence against them, so they have the "moral obligation" to continue defending themselves. This leads to more and more violence and loss of life. If we didn't resist at all when someone tried to invade our country (not that I'm saying that would be a good thing), it is likely that not that many people would die. Of course there are cases where this is not true, where genocide is occurring or where (like the Europeans when we came to the New World) desire for land and conquest means it is necessary to kill those living on the desired land.

But if we resist nonviolently, the justification for reacting with violence is taken away. If the enemy has any sense of decency and justice they will not shoot an unarmed civilian, or at least they won't shoot thousands of unarmed civilians, who are intentionally putting themselves in a position to show the injustice of what is occurring. Soldiers might kill thousands of unarmed civilians who are not resisting (e.g. Nazis killing Jews), but they are not likely to kill those who are nonviolently resisting in an effective way so that the soldier must face directly into the injustice of his/her action.

I think pacifism is a good idea, and I think it WOULD work, if we actually tried it. There are many examples of nonviolent resistance succeeding, from the Civil Rights Movement in the American 1960s to the Indian salt incident with Gandhi, to lesser known examples of groups resisting Nazism and succeeding as well as labor unions resisting communism and succeeding in receiving fair wages, etc. Had these groups resisted violently they would have been wiped out by superior military forces. But by showing the superior morality of their situation, the other side couldn't get anyone to fight for them.

The other question is where I think it gets the most problematic, and yet I don't think it's fair. To say that pacifists must always rely on Gentiles to fight for them is not a fair way of looking at it. First of all, if we had a state of pacifists who did all they could to show love to other nations and to pre-emptively (and nonviolently destroy the causes of war, would this nation need to be defended by "Gentiles" who were willing to fight? Perhaps other countries would invade it, but this hypothetical pacifist state would be organized and committed enough to resist nonviolently so that the other nation may succeed in taking them over in some ways, but would never succeed in taking them over mentally and spiritually, and would probably eventually give up.

The fact that there is no such state means that those of us who are pacifists must live in the world in our various states, which do not live in a pacifist manner, so they must defend themselves violently because they have not shown love to others and have instead acted selfishly, so other nations respond in kind. We have no choice but to live in these states (or I suppose to kill ourselves...), and I don't think it's a good idea to separate ourselves out into a pacifist state anyway. But the argument that we have to have others "do our dirty work for us" is unfair, because the nations that are "defending" us are also creating situations from which we must be defended.

So there, there's my refutation, too bad we didn't have an extra 20 minutes of class so I could lecture on all these things. Someday I will have a captive audience and my students will have no choice but to listen to my opinions! *evil chuckle*

Sunday, February 17, 2008

batman & the american supermyth

For my "Faith, Film & Spiritual Formation in Young Adults" class last week we watched "Batman Begins." It tells the story of traumatic events in the life of young Bruce Wayne, his young adult years, and how he came to call himself "Batman." It's a pretty decent movie if you like superhero movies. A New York Times article I just found sums it up well: "In an uncertain world, one the director [Christopher Nolan] models with an eye to our own, [Batman] is a hero caught between justice and vengeance, a desire for peace and the will to power."

The discussion for this week centered around the idea of the American superhero as the cultural myth we tell ourselves about who we are, and what is good and right and true. We're reading a book called "The Myth of the American Superhero" by Lawrence & Jewett. It talks about the cultural monomyth of the hero:

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” (p. 5-6)

(Editorial note: this says "fellow man" because the hero is almost always male. When there is a female heroine she has a different sort of myth, usually involving staying home, finding a home, or returning home, the classic in our culture being Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: "There's no place like home.")

This cultural monomyth, according to Lawrence & Jewett, is very similar across cultural, ethnic, and historical boundaries. The American superhero follows a similar trajectory, with slight differences:

“A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisaical condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.” (p. 6)

The American superhero myth is different in that there is an Edenic community at the beginning--either a family or a town or a relationship--and that perfection is shattered by an outside force. Lawrence & Jewett say this is partially based on Judeo-Christian mythology's influence on our culture, and partially on the early American dream of a perfect land, unspoiled, where everything was going to be wonderful. When the early pilgrims and pioneers got to America and realized life was still hard, they blamed it on outside influences because obviously nothing could be wrong with this perfect place! This kind of desire for the perfect community and disappointment at its inaccessibility has made its way into our cultural psyche and comes up again and again in the metanarrative of our cultural stories (mainly film).

Another difference is that the American superhero is not really human. He may be completely human in terms of the story, but he doesn't act human. He is selfless, sexless, and lonely, all while defending a culture whose main values are selfishness, sexual liberation, and friends at every turn. The superhero defends these values but lives outside of them. When he achieves the goal of saving all the normal people he must leave. He cannot actually be part of the society he is working to save. This is true for Batman, because he's Bruce Wayne by day, but has to play a party-boy rich kid with too much time on his hands. This is true for Spiderman, who cannot have his precious MaryJane because if he loves anyone, their lives are in danger. This is true for Superman who isn't human at all, who gets only fleeting moments with Lois Lane, and who can't return to his home. This is also true for Neo in "The Matrix," who has to ignore feelings for Trinity and finally sacrifice her for the good of humanity. And although Lawrence & Jewett say this is the American myth, I think maybe it's more like a Western 20th century myth, because characters like Frodo and Aragorn in "Lord of the Rings," where Frodo can no longer be part of his happy hobbit community once he knows so much of the world, and Aragorn must always be a distant, tormented character even once he becomes king.

One of the most interesting things to think about in all of this is how similar our present understanding of Jesus is to this superhero ideal. One main difference is that most people don't think of Jesus using violence to attain his ends, but they are totally OK with superheroes using violence as a means to a good and just end. Other than that, however, we generally think of Jesus in similar ways: he's a person, but he's more than a person. Only he could overcome evil and save the world. He has powers that ordinary humans don't, and if he wanted he could undoubtedly leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc. He's ostracized by his community and killed, but he does all this for selfless reasons, for the good of a human pop culture which he cannot be a true part of. After saving the day he recedes, making it possible for people to live in a harmonious world (at least after they die).

Do you think American culture got its superhero from its ideas of Jesus, or that our ideas of Jesus have morphed because of our exposure to the American superhero? In what ways do you see Jesus similarly or differently from this superhero template?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

just authority

As an addition to my last post, I'll also say briefly that not only do we disagree with just war proponents on whether it is ever right to harm others, but we also disagree on the issue of authority. And perhaps this is more important, because if we say God has given power over life and death to those in authority in civil governments, then we can follow those governments when they say, "Now it is necessary to override this prima facie obligation against harming others."

But if we say there is no higher authority than God, or some moral force that we feel and know to be true, and the government is not higher than my own conscience's understanding of what is morally required of me, then we cannot override this internal command against not killing.

That's all I'm going to say for now, because I'm in class...don't tell my professor I'm actually interacting with this stuff while he's talking about it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

prima facie obligation for nonmaleficence


In my War & Christian Conscience class we're reading a book called "War in the Twentieth Century," edited by RB Miller, and today I read a chapter by JF Childress entitled, "Just-War Criteria."

So Childress says there is a prima facie duty of nonmaleficence, which, in plain English, means that we have a moral duty toward every human to not hurt, kill, or cause them inordinate suffering. HOWEVER, just war theorists (and anyone who thinks war is sometimes or always necessary) believe that although we have this obligation, sometimes other things trump that obligation. For example, it may be right to kill others in a just war whose actions are being handled justly, for the greater prima facie obligation of justice, or protecting innocent people, or keeping some greater evil from happening.

This is, of course, where pacifists differ from just war theorists, because we believe that there will never be an obligation which will trump the prima facie duty to not kill humans (except in cases like when someone is brain dead, or someone is dying anyway and we put them out of their misery perhaps, or maybe there are a few other mercy kinds of killing--so maybe pacifists believe that violent killing is always wrong).

I think this is an interesting way to think about the whole issue of war and peace and what actions are justifiable in order to bring about good ends. Childress says that there will always be conflicts of prima facie obligations, and we have to decide which ones are more morally binding.

For example, imagine you make a promise to a friend to have lunch with them tomorrow, but then your child wakes up sick. Obviously your prima facie obligation is to care for your child, and break the promise to your friend.

This doesn't mean the prima facie obligation to keep promises has no effect on your subsequent actions, however, because you aren't likely to just not show up to lunch with your friend. Probably you will call or email that friend and explain the situation, and try to reschedule. You will show regret for breaking the promise. Your friend will be disappointed that you can't have lunch that day, but will understand your higher obligation to care for your child.

We probably make choices like this every day without thinking about it, in effect putting the duties to which we are morally bound on a hierarchical scale, but it becomes more difficult to decide what to do when the decision becomes a matter of life and death.

So what do you think? Is there ever a time when it's OK to go to war? Does the justice of some other motive ever trump our obligation not to inflict harm on other people? Are there ever times when, because action has not been taken earlier, the most just course of action is to become involved in physical aggression (e.g. cases of genocide)?

For me the obligation not to kill stems from my belief in a God who created all of us as precious people, none of whom are better or worse than another. My belief is in a God who asks us not to harm one another as best we can, and asks us to leave vengeance to God's self. Because of my commitment to this God, and my firm belief in the equality of all people, the prima facie obligation to not kill overrides pretty much all other obligations--but that doesn't mean that the other obligations shouldn't change the way I act! I cannot sit by and just not fight people, because I agree with just war theorists and Christian realists alike that to know that evil is happening and to do nothing to stop it is worse than trying and doing the wrong thing. So my intention is to act in ways that bring forth justice and make war unnecessary so that other obligations do not collide with my obligation of not killing--or more concretely, so that I am acting in loving and caring ways for all the people God has created.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

on the other hand...

I posted last week about early Anabaptist martyrs and asked how many of us would be willing to actually die for our beliefs if the need arose.

For my Medieval Women Leaders of the Church class today we read the story of Perpetua, a young woman from near Carthage who was martyred for her Christian faith by the Roman Empire in 203 CE, along with several others. Obviously she's not a leader of the Medieval church because she lived several centuries before the Middle Ages, but she was someone that many Medieval women looked to as a model to imitate even though there was no longer a hostile state to stand up against.

Here's where "on the other hand" comes into play: Perpetua and the others with her were excited about their martyrdom. They couldn't wait to be put to death for the sake of Christ. In fact, one of the other women, Felicitas, was pregnant in jail and she kept praying that she'd deliver her baby in time so she could join the others in martyrdom (which she did). Several others weren't arrested with this group so they voluntarily showed up at the jail so they could be killed for Christ, too. Perpetua had a two-month-old baby but she rejoiced that she loved Christ enough to leave him behind.

So where is the line between martyrdom and an unnecessary act of suffering for no good reason? When does it become selfish to allow oneself to be killed, even if it's for the name of Christ? These are difficult questions which I don't pretend to be able to answer completely, but here are some thoughts.

I think when it's necessary to show up an unjust system through civil disobedience (which in the case of Perpetua was just openly being a Christian), that after seeking God it could definitely be the right thing to do to submit to martyrdom if one is arrested. I think this would be preferable to compromising one's beliefs and renouncing one's faith just in order to live.

But if the goal is to be martyred, I think that is definitely not a worthy choice. If the martyrdom points to an injustice that those who witness it might do something about, then martyrdom has a purpose. If people are recruiting other Christians saying, "Come join us and die!" I think that is not what Christianity is about.

And then there's the question about children...but like I said before, I'd rather have my son grow up knowing I stood for what I believed in than to have me around but know that I'd compromised my principles. But maybe that's selfish of me, I don't know.

The important thing to me is whether it is necessary to die, whether it will show up the injustice of an evil system, and whether one stands for one's beliefs firmly to whatever end happens.

Monday, February 11, 2008

into the wild & the bourne ultimatum

Last week for my "Faith, Film & Young Adults" class we watched Into the Wild but I won't post my whole analysis so I won't give away the movie, since probably most of you haven't seen it. It just came out of the theaters and isn't on video yet but my professor managed to get it for us (legally). I recommend it. A young man just after college decides to leave the security of his upper-middle-class life, and sends the money he was supposed to use for law school to a non-profit. He heads off “into the wild,” at first traveling around the lower 48 United States (with a sojourn in Mexico) penniless, and then heading up to Alaska to live off the land for as long as he can. Along the way he meets interesting people with whom he connects, but his ultimate dream is to prove himself by making it on his own in the wilderness. I, too, have been drawn to this romantic ideal of living off the land, and I think it's common as Americans to want to make it on our own, to show we don't need anyone else, to go off in the woods by ourselves in order to find out who we are without all those pesky people who try to shape us one way or the other. This movie shows the romantic side of this dream as well as the not-so-romantic side. It was well done and I felt like it was a good movie.

For one of my "choice" movies I watched The Bourne Ultimatum with my husband. I'd seen it before, but we own it so we watched it again. It's not my favorite movie, or my favorite genre (action, violence...) but I had a lot more to say about it than I thought I would. (I'm going to give away pretty much this whole movie, so if you haven't seen it and want to, you probably shouldn't read this part.)

“Jason Bourne,” who has been a top-secret agent for an undercover government agency that assassinates world leaders for the US government, has been on the run for several years. This is the third movie in the trilogy. In the first movie he had amnesia and had to figure out who he was and why people were trying to kill him, and in this movie he is attempting to fit together the last pieces of his identity and show the injustice of the agency he was working for by making it known to the country. The agency is still trying to kill him, but they have trained him well enough that he's smarter than them, and he eventually gets the documents he needs and has the agency exposed. He also goes back to the place where he was “trained”: where his identity was erased and he was made into a machine to do the bidding of this agency. He confronts his father figure there, and refuses to kill him or others (as much as possible) even while they are constantly attempting to kill him. He learns his true name, escapes, and is able to, presumably, live a fairly normal life from then on, since the agency he worked for has been dismantled. The film deals with the themes of identity formation, seeking roots, and uncovering “lies” one has been told or ways one has been coerced into living that it turns out are not just.

This film, like many others, is about the issue of authority, and the misuse of power. Specifically this is about the misuse of power by the American government, which is a fairly common plot in our culture. It speaks to our culture's uncertainty about whether it can trust its own government, but it also speaks to us about how we view those in authority over us in general. “Jason Bourne,” whose real name is David Webb, trusts this government agency and gives his life to it. Then one day he wakes up and realizes what's going on. He can remember the face of each person he's killed, but can't remember their names. He wants to apologize, but he can't find words or actions deep enough. He doesn't know who he is apart from this evil system, but he knows he is better than it, that he can beat it, and that it is evil. He has a sense that he needs to go back to the beginning of it all, confront the ultimate authority figure, and show up the evil system by his own goodness and sense of truth, right and wrong. I found it interesting that in this film, the “good” is represented by the young, the intelligent, and women. They are less willing to be coerced into using evil means to attain a good end. The personifications of the evil system are all old men.

I liked the suspense, the fact that good was fighting evil and good won, and the criticism of the abuse of power. I didn't like all the violence. It's too bad it seems impossible for our culture to show a powerful overcoming of evil without the “good” side using violence—even though it's less violence than the other side uses. I liked that women were shown as being less coerced into “ends justify the means” thinking, but I didn't like that the women were still powerless to stop those who were thinking this way. The women could help Jason Bourne, but he was the only one who could “save” them and show up the injustice in the system. He also literally saved the lives of women who could only stand by passively, trying not to get shot.

A "holy moment" occurs in Bourne's moment of honesty that he could remember all the faces of those he'd killed, but not their names, and his confession of feeling powerless to be forgiven of those acts. His ability to admit his powerlessness was a holy moment, a moment of paradoxical forgiveness and redemption. Also, the fact that he was not willing to stoop to the level of those who were trying to kill him was a holy theme. Of course it's necessary to do this with the protagonist—it seems that filmmakers know the Just War criteria better than those who run real wars, and they use these criteria to make the protagonist look good: he doesn't use force unless necessary, and then only in proportion to the threat. He doesn't kill innocent people, he doesn't even kill those who aren't innocent if there's another way. He only uses violence when he is threatened, not before. Although in some ways he is seeking revenge, it is not a revenge that requires the lives of everyone who has wronged him. Instead he seeks justice: the exposure of the unjust agency for which he was working. He seeks, as Romans 12:21 puts it, to “overcome evil by staying in the good” (my translation). It is also perhaps a “holy moment” to think about how and when we have trusted an authority figure/institution and then realized they were abusing their power—even authority figures in the church.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

anabaptist martyrs

For my Radical Reformation class, unfortunately, we're apparently just going to be focusing on the 16th century Radical Reformation in present-day Germany & Switzerland (mainly), so we aren't going to do anything with Quakers. Oh least I'll get to study our spiritual "cousins." So far we're learning about the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland, mainly with several (Felix Mantz, Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock) having a public disputation (like one of the presidential debates) with Ulrich Zwingli (leader of the Swiss Reformation in Zurich) regarding whether or not infant baptism was biblical. Zwingli won, so the others decided they were no longer going to follow the state church, and they met together on January 21, 1525 and decided they were just going to do it: they rebaptized each other in "believer's baptism," as rational, thinking adults.

This made the powers that be very angry, especially when these people decided to go around preaching that what Zwingli and the Zurich city council were saying was unbiblical. So the Anabaptists (as they were dubbed by their enemies--like the name Quakers) got thrown in jail and threatened. Anabaptists also didn't want to pay tithes to the church/state for pastors who they didn't believe were following God, so that got them in a great deal of trouble. They also chose not to bring in their infants to be baptized.

So, like early Friends, these first Anabaptists were persecuted fairly harshly: they were thrown in jail, beaten, and eventually martyred in various ways including drowning ("Is that enough water for you?"), and being locked in a room with several other people and burned, and burned at the stake, and tortured, and many other unpleasant things. A few recanted in order to not be killed, but many died for their faith, for attempting to live out what is actually written in the Bible instead of traditions that had grown up in Christianity.

As I was pondering these Anabaptist martyrs and their Quaker counterparts over a century later, I was wondering how many of us would actually be willing to die for things like being baptized as adults (or not at all) now. How many of us would die to prove the point that icons shouldn't be used in worship? Maybe these things aren't of so much importance to us now--now we have more of the opinion of, "If it works for you, do it," but how many of us would actually die for our faith? How many of us would even be willing to be persecuted or made fun of for our faith?

How many of us, especially as Friends, are willing to take a stand and say, "This is what I believe in because I know in my heart of hearts that it is Truth"?

(The website where I found the photo says it's Annekende Vlasteran, but I don't know anything about her...yet.)

Saturday, February 02, 2008


For my Faith, Film & Spiritual Formation of Young Adults class we have to watch 15 movies this semester and write about them. It's a tough assignment, but somebody's got to do it! =) We watch 11 assigned films and then we're supposed to pick 4 others to watch and review. I watched the movie "Once" the other day and decided to use it as one of my 4 extras, so here's a bit about what I thought of the film.

The film portrays a male and a female musician in Dublin, Ireland who meet and build a friendship through playing music together. The man has recently broken up with his long-time girlfriend, and the woman has left her husband in the Czech Republic and
moved to Ireland with her 2-year-old daughter. There is sexual tension as the two work together and connect with each other through music while trying to decide whether to return to their exes or get together.

Many aspects of the young adult experience are portrayed, such as: can a man and a woman be “just friends”? Where does loyalty lie in relationships? How long should one try to make a relationship work? What is more important: connecting with someone through a shared interest/passion, or through commitment and love? Where is the line between friendship and love?

In many ways, although this film has a definite plot, it's basically a film made to showcase a certain set of songs. It's almost an extended music video with a plot that draw the songs loosely together. I liked the music, and the way that the music told the story without being a “musical.” The music told the story more with emotions than with words.

I liked that in this story, the two musicians decided to stay loyal to their partners and went back to the ones they had committed to rather than throwing out the past and trying to start something new. Although in the film you're not sure if that was the right choice because in some ways you want them to get together, it's encouraging to see a film that doesn't encourage adultery/promiscuity--and it's fairly common in real life (at least in my experience) to not be sure if one made the right decision or not.

Even though I did like that they went back to their previous relationships, I also didn't like this, because their previous partners didn't seem as good for them as they would have been for each other. But especially for the sake of the child this seemed like the best choice. It was a choice, perhaps, between continuing to be “emerging adults” (the stage we're focusing on in my class, roughly ages 18-30) and moving into the stage of actual adulthood. They were unconsciously asking questions like: do we make the choice that feels right but is more transient and self-serving, or do we make the more mature decision and stick to our commitments and do what's right for the child? This is something I'm learning to deal with, since I have a one-year-old, and I have to learn to make good choices about what is best for him, so I think I struggled with whether this was the right choice for the characters because I'm struggling with these kinds of choices (not to cheat on my husband, but how to put my family first while still doing what's right for me) on a daily basis.

For the class we're supposed to talk about some "holy moments" in the film, and there were several in this film. The characters were able to provide each other holy moments for the absolution and healing that needed to happen in their lives before they were ready to reconnect with their former partners. They both needed to be seen as beautiful people on their own before they could go back into a relationship where they tried to receive affirmation of themselves through their partner. They were able to give this affirmation to each other, encouraging one another's art, loving each other without a need to take that to any sexual level, and listening to one another's music for the truths it said about the hurts they'd received and the places where they truly wanted to be. They were able to do what was right for one another, to truly hear each other's deep needs, and to make choices that spoke to those deep needs rather than to the transient felt-needs that each of them may have liked to have fulfilled instead. They gave this gift to one another, which was a more important gift than a romantic relationship with one another would have been.