Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Christian Minister reflects on Civil Society and Terrorism, An Essay

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” ― Simone Weil

Image result for images of the cross of calvary
Each day is a new and vivid day of prayer as I rise thankful to God for a most bountiful blessing.  I embrace the joy which inhabits this day as each day is a universe of longings and desires unto itself.  Indeed, I receive God’s attention. The aforementioned must be considered an in-breaking of sorts as I encounter one more report of horrific violence, a symptom of the unanswered circumstances and concerns of people long ago frustrated, and now seemingly hopeless, by regimes which deny or outright reject their voice of pain and suffering.  These are the unsettling dynamics which undergird religious, economic and political realities of our day from which the terrorist arises.  Confronted by these complicated realities I am comforted by a profound grace and mercy which abound to me through Jesus Christ.  Thankful for the salvation provided me through his sacrifice, I find this question, “What should be the Christian’s response to the acts of the terrorist which seemingly characterize life today in a civil society for many people in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America?”  Frankly, I have no answers or prescriptions which might sooth my soul yet I believe that engaging these complex and evolving situations expresses some active hope that one-day life would not so much be an exhibition of tribalism and the politics of limitation at the feet of a materialism and its new found expression of technology characterized by some in our day as progress but a profoundly inclusive, sacred and holy imagination, the embodiment of love.  It is to that end that this essay is written.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”       Mk 12:30-31 (NRSV)

The words of Mark 12:30-31 remind us that a love which is rooted and grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is called to console the one crying in the silence, the one consumed by agony and pain, fearful of a wilderness, and the othering of their soul. It is to comfort those who are unemployed, hungry, those who have lost loved ones through personal as well as structural violence of body, mind and spirit, their hopes seemingly dashed.  Beloved, love of neighbor, inclusive of enemy, is not about agreement or allegiance of philosophy and rhetoric but about a common humanity grounded in the love of God.  The logical act is to love and thus overcome, with a lasting power, those interlocking oppressions which would alienate and demean that common humanity.

In this light, those who would love, and this a matter of justice, are called to embrace a politics of care and concern, a narrative of compassion, the embodiment of Micah 6:8.  Their politics, as a means to express a civil society is to love a holy and sacred humanity. Their politics thus seeks to sooth the greatest desire of the soul, that is to experience justice.  Whatever power or policy justice must be its call.  That said, new times, new narratives call for new articulations of justice.  Articulations of justice are strategies employed to express certain desires of the soul.  To provide space for the fulfillment of imaginations formally sequestered.  They are strategies of survival to celebrate an authentic reality of being in the face of difficult concerns.  Articulations of justice are foundational to a social contract which is foundational to a civil society.  That said, justice, a critical element of a social contract, should be received as a means of living out those ties that bind disparate and distinctive cultures together.   Social Contract is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. Theories of a social contract became popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries among theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a means of explaining the origin of government and the obligations of subjects.[1]  That said, a rethinking of the social contract, within the U.S. context, particularly in light of a shifting demographics, within a discourse on articulation’s of justice demands an analysis of foundational elements which are the ground of a social contract.  In light of the processes and functions which seek to promote a civil society such as communities of faith, educational institutions, family, and law enforcement which historically has employed programs such as stop and frisk, a broken windows policy, including the tragic incidents that resulted in the death of innocent people of color dying at the hands of police departments throughout the nation, the social contract should be renegotiated to a more inclusive, holistic reality.

The other was never included or envisioned by those who initiated the contract.  The contract was exclusive to one and not to the other.  Fundamentally the social contract first expressed by Rousseau and other philosophers must be renegotiated and re-imagined towards an inclusive orientation. 

A renegotiation of the current social contract, this includes concerns of theological, ecological and economic import,  does not necessarily mean a wholesale rejection or denial of the status quo but it does mean that the current social contract which initially emerged out of a 17th century European context and adopted in the United States as a means to the viability of a master slave context which gradually evolved into realities of white supremacy and privilege and a denial of the humanity of the ‘other’ must be, in some sense, reconfigured to align with new and revolutionary articulations of justice.  A shifting demographics and a recasting of the grand narrative of love towards an inclusive institution is a tremendous opportunity to re-imagine a civil society that works for all people as a matter of sustainability and not a matter of “king of the hill” as is for some under the current social contract oriented towards the accumulation of wealth and material which have historically sustained a narrative of white supremacy and privilege.

The present state of political, economic and socio-cultural affairs is such that the concern at the root of the social contract, this from an ethical perspective, is the sustainability of as well as within a civil society.  Black Lives Matter (BLM), The Tea Party, and the rise of Donald Trump, including stirrings of racism, sexism, transphobia, bigotry and various forms of hatred, is each a result of a need to address the aforementioned concerns of sustainability as an emerging component of the social contract.  Of course, we don’t address the social contract, and its implications, separate from or absent of a discussion on globalization. 

Globalization has changed the rules, terms and conditions of the social contract necessarily causing significant consternation among those who traditionally and historically have benefited from a social contract which was primarily focused on maintaining their place of support.  The situation, now global, has given rise to extremist who play on the fears and anxieties of many people who seem to have lost hope.  Globalization, a multi-dimensional term defined as a process interconnectedness of the economies driven by investment and capital flows, change in technology and trade and liberation, should be a construct within a discourse on justice.  The question of concern at this point is, “Is Globalization compatible with social justice?”  This is a question posed by Sam Gindin, the Packer Chair in Social Science, Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto.  His question, in light of significant global tension as evidenced by the many people who have fallen for the complicated narrative of terrorism brings into stark view concerns of justice and the need to re-evaluate the social contract.

While this writer does not advocate or condone the actions of the terrorist, it is nevertheless considered that the terrorist should be, no, they must be received as a response to or product of empirical actions dictated by social, political and economic concerns of power inculcated or instilled within the narrow confines of a social contract reflective of wealth and material concerns of those privileged and complicit. The horrific violence which characterizes the actions of the terrorist must be considered a means to communicate, to cause those who hold some allegiance to this social contract to feel the pain and hopelessness that has engulfed their soul, seemingly eclipsing the hopes and dreams which formerly defined the life of the one who is now a terrorist.  How should globalization engage the discourse of terrorism, of the lost and oppressed, the disinherited?  What does this discourse look like particularly within the idea or concept of a civil society?

Reflecting on an interview conducted by Sara Reardon of Scott Atran, a noted anthropologist entitled “Looking for the roots of terrorism” http://www.nature.com/news/looking-for-the-roots-of-terrorism[2]  in the online journal Nature, An International Weekly Journal of Science, the words which resonate throughout the interview are justice, care for the soul, and the criticality of Simon Weil’s words – “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”[3]  Weil’s words, though written in a letter to a friend in April 13, 1942, are no less powerful and no less necessary in our day.  Terrorism, within a discourse on attention and generosity, is a narrative determined by an extreme loss of identity, rejection and the inability to be seen and heard by those whose vision and hearing are framed and contoured by a social contract which doesn’t consider them or their humanity.  The question asked by the terrorist more and more is “Have you seen me? Do you comprehend my pain, my suffering?” Sadly, it would seem that those who benefit from the social contract seldom see or hear the plight of those in pain and suffering except through the actions of terror.

The terrorist exists because of a lack of vision framed and contoured in generosity and expressed by society except as determined by a narrowly determined social contract.  This has been the case particularly as evidenced by the racism, sexism and discrimination practiced here in the United States.  So in some sense terrorism is a product of a society who, for decades, fails to give the attention necessary for the soul and this same society lacks certain generosity towards those who are not beneficiaries of the social contract. That said, this writer does not deny certain responsibility and accountability regarding the actions of the terrorist yet to ignore, neglect or just cast aside the injustice which perpetrated the action would be to deny a particular dialogue that might take shape in pursuit of care of the soul.

The question posed at this moment in time to this writer is, “if a society practices exclusivity and neglect as a means toward economy and privilege is that society civil? This question elicits thoughts of a society brutal towards those who are the other, who are not a part of the social contract as determined. 

Based on the interviews of Scott Atran the terrorist would seem to be a most lonely person, dismissed by a culture and society who have no time for the care and concern of those who are not participants regarded by the social contract.  There is then a responsibility, even an accountability to alleviate this pain, to be free of continual suffering just as there is a responsibility to live out the social contract regardless of the pain inflicted upon those external to that social contract, to be safe and secure in the midst of a world of terror and uncertainty.  Indeed, this would seem to be an impasse.

Matthew 5:43-45

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father in heaven.

How should the Christian respond to the terrorist?  Jesus Christ has given the answer for the Christian.  “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons (and daughters of your Father in heaven.” How do we love, yes, really love as Jesus Christ has called us to love?  Is this love beyond human thought and phenomenon?  Is it practical? It is a truth that when one speaks they do not take their words or the hearing of their words without careful thought and intent.  The words of Jesus Christ are a gift to humanity because we, that is humanity, are capable of the love Jesus Christ espoused. We can love, this with abandon. Yet if humanity is capable of the love Jesus Christ espoused then why the impasse, why the violence which daily strikes at the soul?

There are times when answers deny the depth of the question, the hope intended for a soothing of one’s soul.  This is the case of a love which beckons the soul to a nourishment formerly without.   Love is not just about answers, which tends, because of hubris, to assuage the ego, but more so it is about oneness and healing, it’s about solidarity with the commonality of all humanity. It is more than justice yet inclusive of the same.  The complexities of this life with its many layered dynamics and dialogues demands that love be the primary locution of human interaction for it is love that will make away through the impasse.  Without love what then is a civil society but a mere menagerie of conflicting ideologies and sorted politics.  The horrific violence of the early 21st century make an understanding of love and social justice urgent matters of concern.  

Engaging the issues which so easily beset humanity and her institutions I am reminded of the power that assumes desires and concerns within global constructs.  Power, which should be utilized for the betterment and justice of humanity, to release those better angels is conceived as a destabilizing force necessary for the maintenance of controlling structures.  Power seeks to maintain power.  Institutions are not for the sustainability of a humanity which developed the institution but more so these institutions are a means to express the power of the state and corporate desires. Love, justice and even compassion are necessary fabrications toward a maintenance of those structures.  So, while on the one hand the institutions provide some sustenance to the citizen and the hopefully the refugee the institutions inclusive of the military industrial complex and civilian corporations would seek to be the master of their destiny which is a concern of the terrorist. 

Terrorism is not primarily about the act of terrorizing for the sake of terrorizing but should be received as a denial, rejection or throwing off of totalitarian institutional corporate power.  Terrorism is particularly antithetical to this power as defined by the social contract.  That said, it should be considered a critique for those who would receive such a critique.  As I, a Christian minister, engages terrorism as a critique of this power, a reality of the state regime, I find that terrorism is, for some, a means to hope, even to liberation and a means to heaven.  In this sense the cross of the crucifixion becomes the succinct offer, the embodiment of terrorism, as it is, at least for me, the ultimate critique of the state.  Indeed, to equate the Crucifixion of Jesus with terrorism, for some, might be unsettling.

According to an article written by Steve Mansfield entitled Torture and the Killing of Jesus in the Huffington Post of December 12, 2014, the crucifixion of Jesus was a state terror.  The crucifixion was capital punishment for those considered insurgent, an enemy of the state.  From the perspective of the Roman state, i.e. Pontius Pilate, Jesus, his disciples and by implication the movement were a profound danger, a threat to the regime of the emperor.  That said, there was fear at the highest levels of the Roman power structure that to kill Jesus would make him a martyr thus creating a spectacle that would give rise to a revolt, necessarily destabilizing the power structure in Judea and surrounding areas.  The power of the martyrdom of Jesus, as a socio-political as well as a religious event, cannot be overstated for it was his martyrdom which eventually transitioned the Roman empire by 400 A.D.[4] from paganism to Christianity with Emperor Constantine converting to Christianity in 312-313 C.E.[5]

I find myself somewhat conflicted on the matter.  According to Gerald Seymour in his 1975 book Harry's Game, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I ask then, “Should the crucifixion be received in that light.” Should I re-evaluate my theological position on terrorism and the terrorist?  I suppose in some sense this re-evaluation might be a study in perspectives on power and the critique of power as means towards narratives of control, sustainability, and those hopes which nourish the soul and/or to a lesser extent the ego.   How, then should I look at the terrorist attacks in Europe, Israel-Palestine, Turkey, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Libya; the Middle East, and places formerly of the Ottoman Empire? Difficult indeed as these particular situations emerge from a complex discourse on colonization, remanences of the “white man’s burden” an ode to American Imperialism and its sub-discourse on the strategic, associated economics and displacement of people from homelands inhabited for 100’s or even thousands of years and unsettled grievances. 

In the Wednesday, August 10, 2016 issue of the New York Time Magazine there was an in-depth analysis of issues, concerns, and challenges of the Middle East written by Scott Anderson entitled Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart.  The article delves into the historical reasons for fractured lands and its people and current political-military policy which continue to maintain control over the Middle East begun in earnest by the European powers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Today as I remember my time in the military in support of long standing agreements among the western powers to control the Middle East I am mindful of the ideology and the rhetoric of politicians, and the men and woman of the Military Industrial Complex, the surrogates for concerns of military and economic domination.

Christ calls me to love.  To that end I believe the Christian is called to be a critical thinker, to study and analyze the situation, the context. To express that love, to be intentional, for Christ, himself was one of intention. (Ephesians 1:9)   In that light, I ask, “Can that which was a burden, and in some cases a murderer of a fractured and its people and once again be the hope in the midst of the fracturing initiated by the Western powers?” Mindful of the journey of the Apostle Paul formerly Saul[6], a former murderer of Christians, I am compelled based on the life of the Apostle Paul to say yes, it is possible and very necessary.   

Beginning to think in a different way requires us to take different positions on the subject of knowing: to open up spaces for new ways of thinking and to consider our own thinking in terms of how our goals affect our perceptions.

                                                                                                                                                Ivone Gebara[7]   

I have become convinced through my journey of gender, sexuality and race that a way, a method, if you will, which accomplishes a critical analysis of theological interpretations, the constructs which are the foundation of social, cultural and political policy positions. The goal of this method must be on the one hand a deconstruction of interpretations which deny the full and unmitigated participation of all people in a social contract. To delink modes, notions, and methods of material and production as means towards a fulfillment of the social contract from the supremacy of one group or community. There must be a rethinking of imagination, forms, processes, structures, actions founded and grounded in colonization and the desires of white supremacy.  I suggest that the goal to change the mind and thus make space for a different imagination is one of generational discourse.

As a Christian minister and a transgender woman grounded in Christ, whose theology is life giving, life affirming, seeking to love all of creation, this from a postcolonial perspective, my response is not so much an answer or prescription but a means for you, the reader, to engage your own response, if you choose, to the terrorist.  That said, the terrorist present the well meaning, those who desire to love with serious challenges and difficulties indeed and maybe there is no way, no method to undo the wrong done.  The sobering of this profoundly sad circumstance calls me to prayer and this without ceasing.  

[1] www.dictionary.com accessed August 1, 2016
[3] From an April 13, 1942 letter to poet Joƫ Bousquet, published in their collected correspondence (Correspondence [Lausanne: Editions l'Age d'Homme, 1982], p. 18).
[7] Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 21.