Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

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More civilians died in Afghanistan from U.S. bombs while we ate ham and deviled eggs. I did not post often during Holy Week because I wanted to not make every part of my faith about my opposition to war. So I took a week off. But as hard as I try to keep it out, the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection speaks to and stands in judgment of the actions of the United States in Afghanistan.

Nationalist revolutionary sentiment simmered just beneath the surface of Jesus’ society. Before, during, and after Jesus’ time with us, that sentiment sporadically boiled over into insurrections. N.T. Wright:

I don’t find…neat divisions between protesters, prophets, bandits and messiahs helpful. Josephus’ accounts of several of the movements [listed as] ‘protesters’ and ‘prophets’ spill over into his accounts of ‘banditry’…Several of the ‘prophetic’ movements, too, were in fact closely linked with revolutionary brigandry. The followers of the ‘Samaritan’ were armed, and ended up fighting. The unnamed prophets of War 2.258-60/Antiquities 20.167b-8 are subsumed under the general brigandage noted in Antiquities 20.167a. The ‘Egyptian’, according to War 2.262, intended to force entry to Jerusalem, overpower the Roman garrison, and set himself up as a tyrant. The unnamed prophet of Antiquities 20.188 appeared in the context of widespread brigandry… Jonathan the Weaver (War 7.437-50 [not book 6 as in your Historical Jesus p. 451]) had, according to Life 424f., aroused a stasis in Galilee. That leaves, from the ‘prophets’, John the Baptist, Theudas, some unnamed prophets (who are urging the people to stay and fight rather than flee), and the remarkable Jesus ben Ananias.

…Start with the eagle-incident. The young hotheads were egged on by the teachers Judas and Matthias, who were then killed on Herod’s orders (War 1.648-55; Ant. 17.149-66). Continue with the violent revolt the following Passover, which was renewed at Pentecost (War 2.1-13; 39-50; Ant. 17.206-18; 250-64). Of the latter, Josephus says that it involved ‘a countless multitude’ from all over Palestine, especially Judaea itself…They laid siege to the Romans, fought them, and besieged the commander himself in the palace. At this, anarchy broke out in Palestine (War 2.55; Ant. 17.269, referring to ‘continuous and countless new tumults’), including a revolt by Herod’s veterans …and one by Judas, son of Hezekiah…

Then there is Judas the Galilean himself (War 2.118, etc.), whether or not he is the same person as Judas the son of Hezekiah the bandit leader (see NTPG 180). There are his sons, Judas and Simon (Ant. 20.102), who were crucified in the late 40s (presumably crucifixion for insurrection feels much the same even if you’re not a card-carrying peasant). There is Barabbas, and the revolt in which he took part (Luke 23.19; in John 18.40 Barabbas is described as a lestes, ‘brigand’). Presumably the two lestai crucified alongside Jesus count as well. Then there are all the ‘common people’ who were punished along with Eleazar ben Deinaeus; in War 2.253, Josephus says the number of them was ‘incalculable’. Then there are the further outbreaks of brigandage reported in War 2.264f.; these maybe the same ones who are mentioned in 2.271 (whom you note), but in the earlier passage it appears that the revolutionary fervour was far more widespread than a small group.

Then there are the Sicarii (War 4.198, Ant. 20.186f., etc.). …[and] John of Gischala and his followers (refs. in NTPG 177 n. 54). Finally, of course, there is Bar-Kochba.

When all these are added up, what emerges is a picture of widespread revolutionary tendencies across the country, the century, and a fair amount of the social spectrum. Josephus (who might be wildly misleading, but he is almost our only source) repeatedly stresses the large number of people involved…For the most part, protesters and the followers of ‘prophets’ could expect to be involved in violent action, just as bandits/brigands and the followers of ‘messiahs’ would.

I agree, in other words, with two interesting contemporary sources. First, Martin Goodman (The Ruling Class of Judaea, Cambridge 1987, p. 108): ‘There was no separate anti-Roman movement in first-century Judaism; rather, anti-gentile attitudes which originated long before A.D. 6, perhaps in Maccabean time, inspired many different groups, permeating the whole Jewish population and varying only in their intensity’ (my italics). Second, Richard Horsley and John Hanson (Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, Minneapolis, 1985, p. xv): ‘Most of the ideas believed to be distinctive to the Zealots, almost all of them relatively widely attested in our limited source, were probably common Palestinian Jewish ideas… opposition to the Roman rule of Jewish Palestine may have been far more widespread and spontaneous… than previously imagined’ (my italics). This is what I was talking about. This is the basis upon which I have argued, not indeed that Jesus was not interested injustice (!), but that he proposed a very different sort of revolution, which subverted this widespread ideology as well as the oppressive forces to which it was reacting.

In other words, Romans occupiers were engaged in their own version of counterinsurgency. Though many differences exist between the Roman counterinsurgency and the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, striking parallels also exist. The Roman strategy to control and exploit their provinces, especially in Jesus’ region, involved backing a particular claimant to power that would be answerable to Rome and reinforcing that claimant with Roman military force to ensure Roman access to the region’s wealth and resources. Jewish folks watched their elites get rich through association with the Romans and the corrupt system backed by the Romans. Foreign occupation of land they believed was promised them by God was also a deep offense to their religious sensibilities.

Revolutionary factions played on this discontent and demanded from those within their sphere of influence a strict loyalty to the symbols of Jewish distinctiveness (hence the obsession with ritual observances among the antagonists in the gospels).

The Romans worked to keep a lid on this simmering pot by controlling the elites of the culture, and failing that, they used overwhelming military force. (Although I’d note that military force failed to quell the insurgent sentiment until they decided in A.D. 70 and again in A.D. 135 to crush Jerusalem utterly, walling the city in, crucifying tens of thousands, and allowing the residents to starve to death before leveling it…hardly a tactic any Christian could countenance.)

This context is essential to understanding what happened to Jesus on Good Friday. This is what Jesus means when he makes his cryptic statement about (and I’m paraphrasing) buying a sword just before his arrest because he was about to be numbered among the lawless. It’s a warning to his disciples that he’s about to be arrested under the charge of being an insurgent. This is why his accusers try to sell Pilate on the idea that he’s inciting revolution, tax resistance and that he’s claiming to be the rightful king. As Wright points out above, Jesus is crucified between two lestes, brigands, likely insurgents, as an insurgent himself. Jesus Christ died as collateral damage in Rome’s counterinsurgency campaign.

That’s not the whole story, however, and this is where the story takes a dark, holy turn. Pilate offers to free Jesus as a goodwill gesture during the festival. Jesus’ accusers refuse. They ask instead for Barabbas, who had taken part in an insurrection, a man who would kill a Roman given the chance and who has devoted his life to the violent revolutionary sentiment Jesus vociferously opposed. Jesus’ life is literally given to save the life of, not an innocent civilian, but an insurgent.

When we kill civilians, we express regret, declare our intention not to do it again, but note that in war, these things happen. But when we adopt this attitude, we count ourselves among those willing to accept the killing of Christ as an acceptable price to pay in pursuit of our agenda. Jesus tells us, “That which you do to the least of these you do also to me.” When we kill civilians while attempting to kill Talibs, we kill Christ.

That we should avoid killing people who are not parties to the conflict is a non-controversial proposition among Christians. What we often fail to consider, however, is whether the activity in which we were engaged when we killed those civilians is acceptable in light of Jesus’ teachings and example. Jesus died as a non-combatant, but he died in place of an insurgent. Not a doe-eyed innocent caught in a crossfire–a real life, violent insurgent, the ally of those who gave Jesus over for execution. Mountains of writing deal with the various ways in which Jesus’ death and resurrection “save” us. But on Good Friday, the only person literally saved by Jesus’ death was a man who took up arms against a foreign occupation and who may not have minded that someone like Jesus, naysayer to the revolution, died in his place.

The gospel accounts of Jesus death, therefore, condemn not only the collateral manslaughter of innocents in the pursuit of insurgents, but also of the belief that insurgents deserve to die. If we are to follow Christ, then we must not only put our lives on the line to save the innocent; we must also be willing to die in place of an insurgent.

Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan, put down your guns.

Elsewhere: Sean Paul Kelley offers a powerful story about the human costs of our violence in Afghanistan.

CBS News/The New York Times sponsored a poll on the question of troop levels in Afghanistan that shows the number of people who want less or the same number of troops in Afghanistan outnumber those who want escalation.

More Americans want the same or less troops vs. more in Afghanistan

More Americans want the same or less troops vs. more in Afghanistan

These numbers are more consistent with the Harris/BBC America poll I blogged about a few weeks ago than the surprising Gallup poll that showed strong support for the decision to add troops. My hypothesis about the wide variation between the CBS/NYT poll and the Harris/BBC America poll on one hand and the Gallup poll on the other is that the framing of the Gallup poll question had a deep impact on the results.

The Harris/BBC America poll asked:

Do you believe the United States should commit more or less troops to the war in Afghanistan?

Result: 33 percent want more, 21 percent want same, 27 percent want less, meaning more people favor status quo or fewer numbers of troops than want more troops.

This most recent CBS News/NYT poll asked:

U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan should be…? (increased, decreased, or kept the same?)

Result: 42 percent said increased, 24 percent decreased, 23 percent kept the same. Still, a plurality wants status quo or fewer troops vs. wanting more troops sent to Afghanistan.

But take a look what happens when you reframe the question a bit. The Gallup poll asked:

Do you approve or disapprove of Obama’s decision to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan?

Result: 65 percent approve, 33 percent disapprove.

The first two questions only ask about the respondent’s opinion about troop levels. The Gallup question, though, is in past tense (troops are already on their way), but more importantly (I think), it calls the new troop deployment “Obama’s decision.” A significant slice of Americans seem willing to trust Obama even when it goes against their gut. In principle, I’m ambivalent about whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but with regards to Afghanistan, I think that dynamic could be disastrous. The President is out in front of the people on this one, not vice versa. While political advisors in the White House may want to celebrate Obama’s ability to bring the public along on this issue, I’d hold off on popping open any champagne bottles. Because Obama is creating his own political space on this issue, if it collapses, it will cost him dearly in terms of political capital.

I’ve written at length about the strategic problems with our attempt to apply counterinsurgency doctrine to Afghanistan, but my true objection is a moral and spiritual objection: Jesus teaches us to love both our neighbor and our enemy and to reject violence as a means to participate in conflict. Catholic scholar John L. McKenzie wrote:

“If we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus absolutely rejected violence, we can know nothing of his person or message. It is the clearest of teachings.” (as cited here)

Obama campaigned at length on his Christian bona fides after rumors circulated that he was a secret Muslim. The Jesus he loudly proclaimed during the election has things to say about the current conflict, and if I were on the political and strategic highwire he’s on right now, I’d be praying. But more than that, I’d start listening.

Here comes the conflagration:

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Parvez Kayani announced last week that the Pakistani military would no longer allow foreign forces to operate on Pakistani soil. On Thursday, another high ranking Pakistani official, Major-General Athar Abbas confirmed the order, and said the army had been ordered to retaliate against foreign operations. If the Bush Administration was unclear on the sincerity of this position prior to today, it is no doubt clarified as Pakistani troops opened fire on the invading helicopters, forcing them to retreat into Afghanistan.

Both the Pakistani government and U.S. military spokespeople dispute the story, according to Reuters, but there’s a catch:

The U.S. and Pakistani military both denied that account, but Angor Adda villagers and officials supported it.

Following the U.S.’s declarations that “the gloves have come off,” these denials just are not credible.

The U.S. has been warned by experts that giving the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban an excuse to unite would be a drastically bad strategic move, but here we go anyway.  This could be a turning point, and not in a good way, for the war in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are all part of a volatile regional domino trail.  Instability in one can surge into all three.

The U.S. strategy to “rid the world of evil” is fantastically counterproductive, especially in Afghanistan. Right now, we are selling massive amounts of military hardware to the Afghan government and training their soldiers in the art of war (how did that work out for us last time? I seem to remember us also training mujahadeen in the art of flying remote controlled planes wired with explosives into Russian barracks…sound familiar?).  Both presidential candidates plan to flood the region with troops, which they’ve been warned against by people who know better. Soaking the region with violent capabilities will not reduce violence.

Christ warned that those who take up the sword will perish by it. The U.S. government is intent on ignoring Him in its crusade to save the world. In so doing, they play right into al-Qaida’s hands, not to mention seed the region with more animosities, more suffering and more faultlines for violent exchanges. 

Jesus offered another way to counter evil in the world.  Christians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, no matter how they got there, should lay down their weapons and take up their cross.

…and it’s not:

1) You, or you; or

2) The United States of America. If you are going to run around grasping for the “Christian” mantle, please stop referring to the USA as “the greatest force for good in the world (click the link and then click “Trailer”),” or the “last, best hope of Earth.” Kids, that’s called Americanism, not Christianity.

Here’s an example (via Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei) of what I’m talking about – from Senator McCain:

My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God. . . . I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him, that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth.”

Your country saved you? From what? Suffering? Nope – you were a veteran in a P.O.W. camp, certainly suffering at the time. Death? Don’t we Christians already have assurances regarding salvation from even death? What does being “the greatest country on Earth” mean in the context of a Kingdom where the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first?” This is definately religious, but not in the slightest way Christian.

Further, there is nothing of the God revealed in Jesus Christ in warfare. Please stop referring to “sacred obligations” to provide our troops defensive and offensive tools to help them kill people. Please also stop letting your people talk about the Iraq war as a “task that is from God.”

Father George Zabelka:

“Today the world is on the brink of ruin because the church refuses to be the church, because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life and spirit of Jesus.”

Cut it out, please.

It looks like initial reports of very high casualties in Herat, Afghanistan, were valid, despite howling protests from the U.S. military:

The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support. But on Sunday, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, requested that a general be sent from Central Command to review the American military investigation in light of “emerging evidence.”

I will repeat what I said earlier:

Joe Blow on the street might be able to claim blithely that we are “justified” in our war in Afghanistan because “they attacked us,” but the Christian appropriation of just war tradition is much, much more stringent than that. It requires more than a just cause…it also requires just means, which, among other things, must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants (which, by the way, puts it totally at odds with Jesus’ admonitions to love your enemies, but I digress). Out of expediency, the U.S. is intentionally using means that recent events – despite the hype – show do not discriminate. In other words, from [a more permissive] of the Christian ethical perspectives on war, our war in Afghanistan is not a just war and has not been a just war for some time, if ever.

Accordingly, [whether you are a believer in just war tradition or, like me, a firm believer in the] nonviolence of Jesus Christ, if you are a Christian fighting in Afghanistan, you should lay down your arms and refuse to kill for the U.S. government.

UPDATE: News reports indicate that the ’emerging evidence’ is a video obtained by the Times (UK):

The grainy video eight-minute footage, seen exclusively by The Times, is the most compelling evidence to emerge of what may be the biggest loss of civilian life during the Afghanistan war.

In the video scores of bodies are seen laid out in a building that villagers say is used as a mosque; the people were killed apparently during a combined operation by US special forces and Afghan army commandos in western Afghanistan. The film was shot on a mobile phone by an Afghan doctor who arrived the next morning.

Local people say that US forces bombed preparations for a memorial ceremony for a tribal leader. Residential compounds were levelled by US attack helicopters, armed drones and a cannon-armed C130 Spectre gunship.

L.A. Times:

Even as angry protests spread in Pakistan, Pentagon officials said Thursday that the number of cross-border commando missions may grow in coming months to counter increasing violence in Afghanistan…Pakistani officials said U.S. troops flew into South Waziristan by helicopter in the raid and that as many as 20 people were killed, many thought to be civilians. The White House, State Department and Pentagon all moved to clamp down on administration discussion of the assault, but government officials confirmed the broad details provided by the Pakistani government.

UPDATE: Andrew Cochran does not see any daylight between the attitudes of the President, Obama, and McCain on this issue:

I assume that we will mount other such attacks, perhaps frequently, in President Bush’s remaining term in office. That’s a strategic direction of major consequence which the next President will have to review, but I cannot imagine either of the current candidates putting the gloves back on and withdrawing that capability.

Let’s review:

With the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban becoming increasingly distinct, the most promising option from Al Qaeda’s perspective is to foster and deepen its relationship with the Pakistani rather than the Afghan Taliban.

The key to defeating Al-Qaida will be to undermine its local base in the Afghan- Pakistan border area. The Afghan and Pakistan governments must encourage a measure of security and good governance in these areas. Furthermore, it will be important to promote the drift of the Afghan Taliban away from Al-Qaida…The Pakistan government, on the other hand, needs to drive a wedge between tribal leaders and Al-Qaida.

The international community can and must help with this, but it will have to do so carefully. Al-Qaida will fight hard to obstruct the influence of the central government (in both Pakistan and Afghanistan) and will try to discredit it by arguing that it acts on behalf of external interests; it will aim to provoke further intervention by foreign forces, knowing that this is the one thing all the tribes will unite against. In order to be successful, therefore, the key objectives need to be achieved – and need to be seen to be achieved – by local governments on their own rather than as a result of external intervention.

On the other side of the border the Pakistan Government will face as much of a challenge to its stability as does its Afghan neighbour. It too is likely to make mistakes. But these will be easily exacerbated by any obvious foreign intervention[P]ouring more troops into Afghanistan will not help if it alienates the local population and allows both Pakistan and Afghan Taliban to forget their internal differences and combine against a common enemy.

The Pentagon’s push for more aggressive action is a massive mistake. They will give al-Qaida (AQ) what it needs to discredit the Pakistani government at a moment of heightened instability and provide the outside pressure (of exactly the wrong kind) that will reunite the splintering Pakistani and Afghan Taliban factions. If you combine this bad, bad, move with the “Afghan surge” proposed by both major U.S. presidential candidates, what’s lurking on the horizon is a massive miscarriage of foreign policy on the part of the United States.

A flood of troops into Afghanistan and belligerent activities in the border regions of Pakistan (especially when they continue the pattern of non-combatant casualties) will strengthen the Taliban, benefit AQ and worsen terrorism worldwide. The path forward that’s coalescing for the U.S. will only be a win for bin Laden, the Taliban, and the those who make their living producing weapons for the Armed Forces.

I’ve blogged about this previously, but I reiterate: from a strategic standpoint, the use of violent military force is a liability in the struggle to stop terrorist networks. But more than that, we Christians in America must take a step back and realize that the methods our government is using to “rid the world of evil” only ensures its persistence.  Jesus taught us that we are to love our enemies, not kill them.  The only real way to fight evil is to love your enemies so much that you’d die before you’d harm them. That’s a hard lesson to take, but it’s the lesson taught by Christ.