– Hendrik Hertzberg says in today’s New Yorker that the big difference between this war and others is that there is no antiwar movement to speak of.
– Amazing transcript of a satellite phone call from a Time correspondent 200 yards from the fierce fighting in the Afghan jail: a mere dozen U.S. and British troops fighting alongside the Northern Alliance against 800 Taliban; dramatic rescues from the jail; explosions going off as he tells the tale.
– A fine Matt Welch column in Reason on 9/11’s impact on the right: “Long after the brief ‘national unity’ has given way to the usual political squabbling, newly warmongering liberals and libertine conservatives may remember how much sensible common ground they found after September 11. It will be harder than ever to demonize one-half of the electorate, and surprising new coalitions may be possible.”
– Welcome back from Thanksgiving. I didn’t take off from blogging, so there’s plenty new below…
– I was thinking yesterday about religion and the war, because it was Sunday (and, of course, that’s the day for it), because I posted the brief screed on fundamenatalism below, and because I got some email on the topic.
I believe that maturity — as a person or as a culture — comes down to knowing how to be flexible, or call it open. To be a fundamentalist — religious or ideological — is to be inflexible, dogmatic, bound and ruled by one’s rules, unable to see or act beyond them. We’re all inflexible when we’re young; life’s easier that way. As we begin to grow, we can still be inflexible — dogmatic now — but about haughtier topics; I was dogmatic (and not wrong) about the Vietnam war and pacifism and racism and all our ’60s causes. But as I grew yet older, the causes faded from black to gray and the everyday issues I faced, especially in work but also in my communities, were never so obvious; life became a matter of compromise, of finding peace, of doing what was necessary to accomplish goals. Call that politics, fine; that flexibility is also a mark of maturity in individuals, a mark of modernity in cultures. It’s what people and communities and countries need to do to live together. The key, of course, is to be able to compromise and bend and be open and flexible without losing one’s moral compass, one’s standards, one’s soul — to know what rules can and cannot be moved, but the rules do change. That’s not fundamentalism.
I’m not good at this. I struggle with religion. I stayed away for 25 years and returned because I had kids and wanted to give them the same choice I had. I left one church when it proved to be a bastion of homophobia; I left another when it became a laboratory for hate; I landed at my new, small, open church and got drafted into all manner of alien activities (committees, bad bass singing, even giving amatuerish summer sermons about obvious topics: evil — which I would update now — and the word). I’m actually embarrassed about this. But just as I find September 11 suddenly making me a patriot (complete with lapel pin), I find these events making me want to at least admit to religion (though not to proseletyze!) so I do not cede the turf to the fundamentalists.
Last night, I got email from Ray Eckhart about all this and pointing me to a very good column in the Washington Post by Henry Brinton, pastor of the Fairfax, Va. Presbyterian Church, who’s struggling with all this. Read on:
In response to an attack on our country that was perpetrated partly in the name of religion, people have been turning to religion in droves. Most worshipers are coming to Fairfax Presbyterian in search of hope and assurance and a supportive community as they struggle with what it means to live with constant tension. But they are also coming with some more complex concerns: Many are seeking solace in a faith that preaches forgiveness, for example, while expressing their conviction of the need for a punitive military response. Members of my congregation are talking more openly about their faith, asking questions about justice, the morality of violence and the role of the church in responding to conflict….
So, much of what my parishioners and I are doing now is trying to find a context for dealing with — and responding to — evil… Exploring the morality of warfare has been the biggest of these challenges for me — and the area in which my own thinking has changed the most as I try to guide my congregation. Until Sept. 11, I would have described myself as a pacifist. I grew up inspired by the nonviolent teachings and strategies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and my preaching consistently opposed the use of violence. That is, until I learned about the passengers who downed the hijacked airplane in Pennsylvania….
In an effort to bring greater clarity to my own thinking as the United States engages in war, I’ve been asking colleagues how they believe such notions fit within their understanding of theology. A divinity school classmate, John Lentz, who is now a pastor in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, persuaded me that “violence is always an immoral act.” John argues, though, that there may be times when immorality requires an immoral response. That reminded me of what Martin Luther wrote 480 years ago: “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” A realist, Luther believed that every one of us is destined to sin, no matter how hard we try to avoid it.
So I’ve begun articulating the notion that a faithful response to terrorism is to sin boldly, never forgetting that violence is sinful, and that true righteousness lies beyond the realm of human effort: No matter how many bombs we drop or bullets we fire, international harmony is not going to be realized by military action. War cannot, by itself, create a lasting peace. In an imperfect world, I say, resisting evil through violence may sometimes be a necessary evil.