22 February 2012

A Strange Encounter Part 9

The Common Citizen An Agent of Empire

Today with technology and globalization the 'frontiers' are often on the other side of the world. It's not the gritty face to face type of confrontation the American pioneer faced when dealing with the indigenous Indians. Though today it looks different, the war for expansion and new conquests has not abated.

Today, it might be a broker hitting the 'enter' key that just caused a chain reaction leading to several families in Indonesia losing their jobs and homes. Two months later they're selling their kids, and a daughter is forced into prostitution in order to buy medicine and keep grandma alive.

Did the broker mean to do it? Hey, he's just trying to make some extra money to pay his $2500 house payment and save up for his 17 year old to go to college. And, he's still paying off the credit card balance on that holiday cruise he and his wife took last December. Is he wicked? Well, no...and yes.

On the one hand, he's just a guy trying to provide for his family, on the other hand he's part of a system, a cog in a machine that's spreading death and suffering even as it brings life and riches to others. It's the same with my pioneer ancestors. They were trying to live and were made of much sterner stuff than we are today. But on the other hand they were part of a system, a machine that was enslaving and killing people, a system of theft, taking lands and resources from other people. The pioneer and the broker don't believe they're guilty because there's always someone else they can look to that seems more covetous, more aggressive, more grasping. They know they don't mean to hurt others but they have fooled themselves...

They think they're guilt free, innocent, if they just look the other way and don't see the consequences of what they're doing.

We are all guilty of this. And 99% of the American public is guilty of looking the other way. On the one hand it's not their fault. The educational system and the media have not given them the tools to examine these questions.

And of course failed parenting has raised generations of spoiled children pursuing youth culture and materialism. As adults they never question the system, they’ve never been encouraged to look at the world around them. And if they do, it's largely with an Americo-centric mindset. Christian schools and homeschools are often just as guilty in this regard.

The real danger of the public school is not a lack of prayer or the teaching of Darwin. The danger is that it is producing conformists, drones that will follow the establishment order, people who will not think outside the framework society provides. In some ways Christians due to their commitments to Establishment preservation (or recovery) are often even more subject to this than the average public school student.

Conservatism is about rolling the clock back in terms of society and preserving the American model.  If you reject this mindset and I pray all Christians do…then by definition you are not a Conservative. Does that mean the only alternative is to be a pro-abortion, pro-homosexual communist? Hardly. But as a Christian I think it’s essential to reject any kind of restricted model which forces me to see the world through an American lens. The Kingdom of Christ and America are not the same thing. You won’t find any American Christians who will come out and say the Kingdom is America, but it’s hard to find Christians that don’t in some sense operate this way in pragmatic terms. And certainly among the more Biblically minded, they are raising their children to think this way.

Dominionism the present default encourages Christians to think of the world and all that’s in it as the Holy Kingdom, if not now…then in the future. It’s a rejection of Christ’s declaration that His Kingdom is not of this world. And when you talk to most Conservatives they’re pretty clear if it were up to them, they’d make the whole world into America. Looking at Christian homeschooling catalogs is a lesson in itself. It’s very instructive and makes it pretty clear what’s happening with Christian children and how they’re being taught to think about the world and more specifically the United States.

The handful of Americans who are encouraged to interact with the larger world do not come from Christian homes. They become the anti-globalist protestors at G20 meetings and IMF summits. As I often say with regard to protesting groups and counter-cultural movements...they're raising good and valid questions, they just don't have the right answers.

Christians on the other hand have no excuse.

American Conservatism and especially Conservative Evangelicalism have become suspicious of higher education. Just the other day I was in a Barnes and Noble and came across the Patriot's Guide to American History recommended by Glenn Beck no less! Yes, 'Higher Education' is going to say...the title of the book is more than a little problematic. It shows that the author is not approaching history as an attempt to arrange, analyze and interpret facts from the past, instead the author is trying to shape the past in order to fit a narrative. It's not history, it's propaganda.

Conservatives are largely more interested in myth and propaganda than in honest discussion....like what I was just doing with regard to my own family history in the previous chapter. There are more than a few liberals who fall into the same trap, but there's one difference. They're arguing against the Establishment view, or at least the narrative long provided by the Establishment. While I can hardly agree with all their methods or viewpoints, the rejection of Establishment myth is in itself an important step.

Ward Churchill, the now infamous University of Colorado professor did little to help the fight against Conservative anti-intellectualism when he said the people in the World Trade Center on 9/11 were 'little Eichmann's'. Those who remember this will also recall the outrage and backlash from the public. It wasn't the most prudent thing to say especially in the wake of those events.

Others like Chalmers Johnson and even Ron Paul talk about Blowback. This is a more vague and less offensive way of talking about the same general set of ideas...that our policies as a nation even when we the public are largely ignorant of them bring about consequences. Though we feel innocent going about our business, our system is really at war with people in other parts of the world. They have little means to fight back and when they do, we profess shock and outrage. The attackers believe they are responding to evil.

Churchill was trying to express the fact that people sitting in skyscrapers tapping keyboards can still be guilty of murder and other crimes. They're not SS storm troopers gunning down women and children, or forcing people into gas chambers. They're bureaucrats and planners. They're looking at numbers and flowcharts. They're moving money from one account to another. Eichmann wasn't ignorant of what he was doing. As he worked out train schedules he knew what it was for, but he approached it as a bureaucrat. He wasn't getting his hands dirty. He wasn't personally killing anyone. And yet the world acknowledged that he was guilty of war crimes. He played his part and was executed for it.

Brokers and lawyers in the World Trade Center weren't deliberately trying to wipe out populations in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific rim, but they represented one arm of a machine that was deliberately or not...accomplishing that task.

You don't always need Gas Chambers to destroy people. Sometimes you can just look the other way while people are starving. Sometimes you can make the conditions even worse and make it look innocent. Sometimes you can take the long view and instead of destroying a people over the course of a few years, you can slowly bleed them and weaken them over the course of generations. Often the people committing these crimes don't see the whole picture, they're just seeing a small part of it.

But they're still guilty in some sense. For example if you work at a car factory and you (and others) know there are some problems with the design, some potential safety hazard, you complain about it and nothing is done. The management insists it’s fine, you’re mistaken. It bothers you but you say, 'that's not my department,' and you go on building the car. Years later it comes out that dozens of people died because of this. Were you responsible? Certainly not in the same way deliberately blind executives are or the engineers who ignored the problem. But you knew about it. You didn't realize just how serious it was, but you knew. Are you guilt free? What were you supposed to do? Confront the management and get fired? Quit your job? You could have, but the price is a heavy one. You've got a mortgage, your health coverage which includes the medications for your asthmatic daughter is also tied to the job, and they've got a great pension plan. What's a Christian to do? How are we supposed to look at the world and the things in this life?

Churchill's comment was inappropriate in that it applied cognizant guilt to the people in the World Trade Center. I think there's more cognizance than many people realize. I’m reminded of the audio tapes of Enron executives rejoicing over Californian wildfires and what it was doing to their electric bills. Did they start the fire? Did they do something wrong? People found it offensive they were making money on the suffering of other people. It happens every day in our society but few see it.

I do think many powerful people do know something of the effects of their actions...and they simply do not care. But most of the people under them neither realize nor think about what they're doing. They're in their own little worlds.

The guilt comes in the fact that they never stop and question the system they're part of. They never stop and question what the system is doing. They go along with it in the same 'banal' fashion Eichmann did. And like Eichmann they say...I did nothing wrong. I didn't shoot anyone.

Churchill's comment was too simple but not entirely untrue either. To get what he's saying would mean Americans would have to really look at themselves in the mirror...something our culture will not even entertain.


Cal said...

As for Eichmann, the same thing happens.

The Mossad in Argentina were raging with hatred and anger. Some on the team wanted to just shoot him and leave him in a ditch. They were furiously committed to bringing him to justice and when they finally had him on the El Al on the way to Tel Aviv, they were shocked.

He was so pathetic. He had no gusto, no pride, no pure evil. He was a simple, aging, German man who looked like anyone else.

Just like I'm sure some of those groups who try and topple American interests and strike back at taking captives and possibly executing, I can imagine the same shock. These are normal, scared, pathetic people; they are not super soldiers.

Truly, the banality of evil.

Anonymous said...

Proto said:

Are you guilt free? What were you supposed to do? Confront the management and get fired? Quit your job? You could have, but the price is a heavy one. You've got a mortgage, your health coverage which includes the medications for your asthmatic daughter is also tied to the job, and they've got a great pension plan. What's a Christian to do? How are we supposed to look at the world and the things in this life?

At the risk of sounding much like a Seventh Day Adventist, I have struggled with this type of thing before, surely not in as great a magnituded, and I was a single man, but yeah, I think you quit your job and move on. You find another one first, then leave, you do look both ways before crossing the street.

I believe that is the only way to make your point as a Christian, and to dull your consciense by allowing it to stand incrementally damages your ability to "get it" the next time.

My wife and I go round and round on such things. I can find another job, God won't let us starve. He is sovereign, and I think he honors our stand and our shedding some light in our small realm of life, however fleeting, and faint the light may seem.

But there must be pragmatism too.

Just my one cents worth.

Anonymous said...

Yes, JASSBG, I think you're right.
You quit.
But...first you pray. We so often do things from our flesh - thinking we must rely on our own power. If we are the Lord's, He will guide us to do what He wants and though sometimes it doesn't look right to others...we can rest in knowing that we are doing His will. It's like stepping off a cliff sometimes, trusting in Him to catch us.
It seems, however, that no matter what we do...somehow we're killing someone. No matter what we do we're almost always using oil in some way, or some cheap plastic part that came from Chinese prison camps, or something like that. We're caught in the web, it seems.

Anonymous said...

Proto, we agree as always. Yet another great article. I wish I had someone in my own geographic location who thought this way, who I could get with over coffee and discuss and debate these things, as you mention that you had done.

JASSBG, I'm not so sure about the need for pragmatism. To be honest, when I hear someone trying to get around the clear commands of scripture, pragmatism is the thing appealed to most often. It is a stumbling block to wholehearted belief. My grandfather, for instance, toys with the idea of faith, but unfortunately I believe he falls on the wrong side of the line. He'll say things like "God bless" and tells me he prays for me, but if I actually bring up scriptural imperatives - for instance, the the calls to self-sacrifice, other-centeredness, and non-violence - his mind flees. Immediately, I am barraged with pragmatic arguments. We can't love our enemies - chaos would reign and evil would win. All Christians would be subjugated and enslaved or destroyed. We can't love our enemies - we must be willing to participate in war and kill our enemies or the United States would fall to foriegn threats. We can't simply trust the Lord - God helps those who help themselves. And so on and so forth.

But when I read the NT it seems that more often than not being a Christian involved being faithful to the word of God and to the call of Christ over against pragmatism. The wisdom of the world was not the same as the wisdom of God, and in fact, the wisdom of God looked as foolishness to the world. Ultimately, I think that pragmatism is simply assessing things through worldly rationality. It is asking the question, functionally, what seems to work? What provides maximum comfort, or benefit, or the preferred result? But are those the questions that we should be asking? The call to take up your cross (metaphorically to pick up the instrument of your death and march toward the site of executino) was not pragmatic. It was not pragmatic for the rich young ruler to sell all that he owned and give it to the poor. It was not pragmatic for Christians to love their enemies when their enemies rounding them up and executing them under Caesar Nero. I think of Matt 6:25-34.


Anonymous said...

[31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We must not forget the providence or sovereignty of God. God will provide...but we also need to reassess our idea of what provision and contentment looks like. I think of 1 Tim 6:8 - "if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." Perhaps, not what we desire, but even to be left with nothing but those two things are still an evidence of God's providential care and provision.

When I look at the Christians in the NT, I don't see people trying to protect their possessions, or careers, or social status; I see people willing to give up everything (including their very lives) in order to do be faithful and do what is right. There is nothing pragmatic about that.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I guess I should have maybe been more specific, or not even inserted that last phrase. I was merely trying to state that God is indeed sovereign, but I still look both ways before walking across the street, pragmatic in the sense that I believe I stated I wouldn't quit my job before having another.

It's also quit possible the application of that word was incorrect, due to my eigth grade edakachion...... ;)

Protoprotestant said...


Hey, on that note...have you see The Debt? I didn't see the Israeli version, but the newer one with Hellen Mirren. You might find it interesting.

Munich as well if you haven't seen it. It deals with the same issues.

I'm afraid I'm a complete devotee of Nazi Hunter movies. I used to read Simon Wiesenthal and movies like the ODESSA file and Marathon Man have always been some of my favourites.

Is it safe?...if you've seen it, you know what I mean.

That whole story...US and USSR rushing toward Berlin, drawing lines, circling...grabbing up Nazi scientists....and a bunch just get away.

Downfall is a powerful movie about the last days in the bunker. I could watch that over and over again. There's this one great scene where Traudl Junge (AH's Secretary) walks by and he's just completely lost starting at this portrait of Frederick the Great of Prussia! Wow.

I remember the one monastery in Rome where a bunch of them hid on the Ratline working their way out of Europe. Fascinating stuff.

Protoprotestant said...


I agree. But it's not easy is it? I can't tell anyone else exactly where to draw the line. I know people who have jobs and work for companies I wouldn't work for or do.

But they're Christians and their consciences are clear. I think we need to be thinking about these things or we just go to sleep at the wheel so to speak.

We can also make ourselves crazy.

I don't know I wrestle with it all but I guess I'm more concerned that most people just don't even think about it. Not my problem they say....or somebody's got to do it, might as well be me.

Protoprotestant said...

JASSBG and Dave,

I know what you mean about being pragmatic... but Dave I also know what you mean...we're supposed to suffer and give up our lives.

No easy answers. I'm just glad I'm not in a situation where I've got so much on the line that I'm likely to look the other way rather than lose everything I've worked for...the Middle Class Dream.

On the other side it's no fun being poor and there are dangers there as well. The reality is for me...by American standards we're quite poor. By worldwide standards we're quite well off.

We (my wife and I) have to remember that and we often remind ourselves. Yeah it would be nice to have a 2nd bathroom...but good night there's billions that don't even have one. In light of eternity it's nothing. We should just be thrilled we have running water...and hot water at that.

It's all perspective. The Church has completely merged Christian values with American middle class values.

They are not the same in the least!

I know what JASSBG means by pragmatic. At some point we have to draw the line. For example, can I work for people that are obviously hostile to Christ? Depends. I may not want to help them build a business...but can I remodel their room?

I may hate Walmart and I do but can I buy something there on occasion? I respect people who won't step foot in the place...I'm almost there myself, but if I need ABC and there's a Walmart down the road do I need to forego it and drive another 20 miles to get the ABC?

That kind of thing is very possible where I live. Maybe I do need to drive the 20 miles.

I don't know. It's not easy...but I think about it. You guys do as well. Most do not. They only think of themselves.