Tuesday, October 09, 2007

christians killing over oil?

I have a friend who serves as a Christian youth minister here in North Carolina. He lived with my wife and I during part of his seminary experience and helped me in my failed attempt to learn Biblical Greek. caraV! He recent wrote a bit about war, about our culture and about Christianity. His words brought up some thoughts I’ve been considering for a while. Wes says,

I find it very disturbing that there are faithful Christians who get deeply offended, and at times angry, when you posit the idea that war is bad, even morally wrong. And I'm not talking about veterans. It is pretty breathtaking when you think about how deeply ingrained war is in our national psyche.

And with that this youth minister has hit on one of the reasons I have distanced myself from organized Christianity of late. There are several reasons, but chief among them is the overwhelming support of American Christians for the imperialistic behavior of our nation. This behavior manifests itself as our government currently killing people in other countries. I mention this not just to point out what I believe to be a morally inappropriate position by many Christians but also to let the Church know that it is missing at least one member who is actually interested in following the teachings of Jesus Christ. Of course I know there are plenty of anti-war Christians, but their objections are far from deafening. There exist both sins of commission and of omission. More from my friend,

Someone in the workshop made a very interesting point about arguments about just war. When we talk about war, we are usually using models of geopolitics that are about 50 years out of date.

He mentions that the notion of 'just war' is out of date but I'll go further and say that such arguments aren't even necessary in the case of Iraq. That country and its leader did not have weapons of mass destruction. That country had nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and yet still I hear mostly silence from the Church about an attack on Iraq that has killed thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including many children. He finishes the thought from above.

The idea of the nation-state is rapidly being superseded by the reality of the multinational corporation. I've read somewhere that WalMart represents the 7th largest economy in the world.

And this is what really piqued my interest. Here’s a Christian minister making the connection between war and big business.

Theologically speaking, we are presented with a new set of questions. The old questions (that we are still grappling with) focus on church-state issues. These are important questions, but we as the church have yet to really explore church-corporate relations. And if you want to talk about systemic sin, greed, and oppression in our world, look no further than your local walmart/taco bell/mcdonalds/exxon...etc. This is a deep, difficult, and important question because it implicates all of us in America. I'm reminded of Jesus' conversation with the rich young ruler about how to get into the Kingdom. Would I be willing to get off of the grid for the sake of the call of Jesus? Would I get rid of my tv? Internet? My car? How far would I be willing to go? I don't like that line of thought because it calls into question some very ingrained parts of my life.

I was excited to hear him address this issue because I think there has been a real failure of leadership in the Church to address the issue of war and its motivations. I have been waiting to hear not only a strong Christian call to end war but also a condemnation of a way of life dependant on war.

It's completely appropriate in my opinion that this minister raises the issue of corporate domination in an age where Nation States are losing hegemony. It's not enough to slap on a bumper sticker that says, "What Part Of 'Thou Shall Not Kill' Don't You Understand." Most anti-war activists support American Imperialism every day. When we drive our cars we support the war. When we eat processed foods we support the war. When we shop at Mal-Wart we support a way of life that is predicated on oil which we are now killing people to acquire. Here in lies a whole host of action points for Christians but largely I see nothing from greater Christianity but support for a lifestyle of consumption; a life style that requires war and so I question the sincerity of a religion that preaches one thing and practices another.

I would expect the Church to point out that we have abandoned our former ways of meetings wants and needs largely though local, even homegrown means. Now we buy everything at Mal-Wart. We don't eat homemade bread, we eat Pop-Tarts. We don't walk to work, we drive our SUV's. And in doing so we support a small group of people who make lots of money selling us what we used to do for ourselves in our own communities. This way of life is not only very insecure and unjust but requires incredible amounts of energy, which comes to us mainly in the form of fossil fuels; most notably petroleum. Petroleum production peaked worldwide in July of 2006. Less oil will be available to us each year from now until forever. Two thirds of the oil that is still in the ground lies under the sands of the Middle East. There is little wonder why we attacked Iraq without real cause. It is a shame that the American business interests mentioned above mean to keep us consuming, or as John Michael Greer recently put it, “turning resources into pollution”, as fast as possible until those resources are gone because that is how those in power acquire wealth. But it is our shame that we continue to let them.

It really doesn’t even have to be about our over consumptive culture supporting an empire driven to war. Our consumption, our greed and gluttony themselves should be enough to turn our Christian stomachs. I know of another bumper sticker on the car of a Christian friend that says, 'Live Simply So That Other May Simply Live,' and I want to ask her why not give up the car itself? Sell it and use the money to help others “simply live.” Why not walk? Why not bike? Why not abandon the idea that more, bigger, faster is an appropriate national mantra? Why not reject the idea that stuff is more important than people? Why not imagine a better American dream? Why not step outside of a culture that has replaced its citizens with consumers? Doing so would not only be in keeping with the teachings of Christ. It would also make us healthier, happier and a better nation- truly evangelical and patriotic ideas!

Let me end by saying that more than one person has already labeled me a copout because I don’t engage directly with my congregation on these matters or at least find a more peace-friendly church. These are legitimate criticisms of my distance from the church. But anyone who has struggled with faith knows that such efforts are complex. And I wrote this not as an indictment of all Christians. I wrote it because I think my friend raises some good points. I wanted to share them and the fact that at least one disillusioned Christian is missing from the fold because he is dismayed that those of fellow faith are not leading the way back to a life of balance, of simplicity; a way of life that wouldn't require war or the use of so much oil on which the current war is based. I'm looking to the Church and the majority of Americans, who claim Christianity, for leadership on issues of energy and the environment and I am mostly disappointed.


Anonymous said...

i am well...thanks for your thoughts...i am sympathetic with your struggle with the church...the issues involved are complex and predate the current situation in the church-government-business triad within our culture. Think: constantine and augustine and you begin to see the complexity and enormity with the questions of politics, commerce, and the Christian faith. Also included are folks like Locke, Hegel, and Adam Smith. Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, etc. Basically what we are grappling with on 2 fronts (yours and mine) is the embedded sin and destruction inherent in western european culture/society. the church was co-opted early on and has for much of its history served as the 'holy' arm of oppressive powers. When the church's influence was strong, it was a more active presence in the propagation of imperial power (the Crusades, the inquisition, the 'church' in nazi germany, etc.) When the church's influence has not been as direct in the actual state apparatus (the US in the 20th/21st centuries), the church has been used (abused) as a mouthpiece for whatever power is in control.

This is done in the US today through 2 means: diversion and nostalgia. The diversion tactic is further divided into two parts: diversion via consumerism and diversion via controversy. Christians (myself at times included), like the majority of non-Christians have been hypnotized by popular culture. Our mania over media (tv, movies, internet, celebrity, music, fashion) borders on communal psychosis. The second prong is the use of controversy. This is the strategy to attract those who may not be victims of the first tactic - usually the working poor who cannot afford luxuries like DirecTV or Roadrunner online or shopping at Banana Republic. Instead, they are hypnotized by righteous anger, using their own religious/moral traditions to lure them into be apocalyptically angry about abortion and homosexuality, for example. Jesus spends much more time talking about money than homosexuality or abortion. Also part of this shell game is the false divisions between republican/democrat, conservative/liberal, etc. These issues, while of some relative importance in our society, merit nowhere near the energy and airtime they receive in comparison to the relative silence concerning peak oil or poverty. So, the government/corporate/media/religious (not just Christian!) machine works in sync to divert the majority of the population from the realities facing their neighbors so that people won't get pissed and (a) stop paying taxes, (b) stop supporting a far-beyond-broken political system, (c) level the current institutions via revolt, etc.

The nostalgia piece, which drives much popular conservative politics, leads people to believe that there was a 'golden age' in American life that can be reclaimed if we: get rid of gays/get rid of immigrants/kill all of the 'terrorists'/make the world safe for democracy/eradicate dissent, etc. The echoes of European fascism in the 20th century are terrifying. If you have not read Umberto Eco's "Eternal Fascism: 14 Ways of Looking at a Black Shirt" - here it is: http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html

Now, I'm not positing the existence of a super-conglomerate of ceo's and politicians. I am making a simple claim: those in power want to stay in power, and they always want more power. Those with wealth want to keep their wealth and always want more wealth. Jesus said as much several times. In terms of the "church", that's also complex, as I've stated. The church is not any one thing. There are plenty of pastors and Christians who see the same things you and I see. I am not learning this in a vacuum. The church is a multi-faceted, highly differentiated thing. It is not monolithic. Granted, in your area of NC, it may seem that way and I often despair of the stranglehold that conservative politics has on my own church. But, I also have to, for the sake of my faith and sanity, make a distinction between the church as human institution and the Kingdom of God. I also, for the sake of my faith and sanity, believe in the judgment of God, in this life and the one to come. The Words of Scripture are not trifling and do not mince words about the consequences of sin (I'm not talking about hell, but about reaping what is sown). I do, however, also believe that the message that the Church carries is its power: the Good News of Jesus Christ. This Good News allowed Dietrich Bonhoeffer to stand up against the Nazis. It allowed Martin Luther King, Jr. to stand up against racism and oppression. It allowed Bishop Tutu to stand in the face of South African apartheid. Tutu tells a story about his time in South Africa during those dark days. One day, he was walking through Johannesburg with a smile on his face. He walked past armed guards at the door of a church, still smiling. Someone asked him, "how is it that you can smile in the face of such injustice and oppression?" Tutu, still smiling, said "I know the story. I know how it ends. We win!" This is indicative of the faith that carries me forward and that allows me to lay claim to that faith. I don't even want to presume about your faith or your experiences in the church. I will tell you not to be completely discouraged. There are people, Wendell Berry included, who are everyday doing the work of God's Kingdom in the midst of a culture that seems determined to dismantle it. The work of subversion and discipleship are slow works, they don't yield easy or quick results. That's why Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a seed. It takes time, energy, attention, and effort to grow. There are millions of Christians who are: speaking out, writing, worshiping, loving, preaching as means of continuing the faith of Jesus Christ. Those acts carry with the seeds of the reversal of the kingdoms of this earth, including and especially those who worship oil or money or war or power. Where the church is implicated in this, I for one repent and have confidence that God's Word will eventually lead the entire church to repentance. What that will require, I do not know. All I have is my story of faith and my willingness to go where God leads. This includes those actions that I spoke of in my blog. Here are some of my new goals in this direction:

1) Grow a garden and decrease my family's dependence on store-brought produce.

2) Cease all shopping at WalMart, which we've already done

The bicycle/car thing is nigh on impossible. The church where I work is 15 minutes away by car. However, our parsonage is right next to Toni Ruth's church, so most days, our van stays parked. Perhaps our next church can provide me with a more achievable to dramatically decrease our fossil fuel intake. I'll keep you posted...

sorry for the ramble...you've sparked some good thinking...

peace and grace,


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. This is just one of the reasons why I no longer attend the horror that poses as 'church'. Jesus never murdered, starved children, tortured or lied. He fed the poor and comforted the cast out of society.

It's good to hear that someone else feels as I do.

homebrewlibrarian said...

One of the reasons I'm becoming an official member of the church I attend is the pastor. He isn't a smiling, peaceful, "Jesus loves you" kind of guy. The war infuriates him and at the same time makes him feel helpless. He sees so much pain and hurt in the world yet has his own pain and hurt. His sermons are energizing not with directions for right living but because he does not have the answers. He struggles to find answers everyday and often as not they elude him. That he shares his struggles with his congregation is literally a godsend in my eyes.

The members of the church are not entirely of one mind but there is a vocal group of peaceniks who are often involved in local community events. I recently heard that there was a massive letter writing campaign within the church a couple years ago that was instrumental in getting federal funding for leukemia research. This week is a health fair at the neighboring elementary school hosted by the church and open to all. While there may be no tradition of church suppers or many social events for church members, there is a dedication to live by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Now, whether they'll willingly give up their cars and trips to Wal-mart? Don't have an answer for that. I don't think many see the connections of war and driving the car anywhere at anytime. And I expect that a conversation to make that connection would be as deeply disturbing to them as it is to others. And to me. I can go without driving but can't always ride my bike so what about taking the bus? Or using an electric vacuum cleaner? Bring it down to that level and no one is exempt. This church hasn't gone that far collectively, yet they aren't blithely unaware either.

Despite our imperfect world, this church struggles with its brokenness and strives to live in a Christ-like fashion. They haven't shied away from the tough questions before and maybe they'll look long and hard at the consequences of their consumption. I am hopeful.