A Protest That Is Also Prophecy?

I don’t endorse all of his politics, but the world today gives Edwin Markham’s classic poem, Man With a Hoe, an eerily prescient ring. He wrote it after seeing the renowned painting by Millet.

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this —
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed —
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More fraught with menace to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in the aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream,
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings —
With those who shaped him to the thing he is —
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world
After the silence of the centuries?


Principled Opposition Or Game Of Thrones?

For those of you who still hold to the myth that there is some meaningful distinction between a “conservative” or right-wing foreign policy and a “liberal” or leftist one, here’s something to think about:

In 2002, a Republican-controlled US government joined a Labour-controlled UK government to launch an unprovoked attack on Iraq, justifying the war with flimsy, perhaps even fabricated evidence of WMDs. They did so in the face of significant push-back from the Democratic and Tory oppositions.

Eleven years later, a Democratic-controlled US government and a Tory-controlled UK government seek to launch an unprovoked attack on Syria, justifying the war with similarly hasty claims. They appear ready to move forward in the face of significant push-back from the Republican and Labour oppositions.

I’d like to repeat a proposition I’ve made before, in spite of the likelihood that it will tick some of you off: the only bedrock principle guiding the foreign policy positions of most American (and many British) politicians is job security/advancement. They don’t give a rat’s whisker for the lives of American soldiers or innocent civilians, except to the extent that their constituents are likely to blame them. They don’t care whether an “intervention” is moral, constitutional, proportional or affordable. They know that war always results in the accrual and consolidation of power in the hands of the executive, and thus they support war when their guy is in and oppose it when the other guy is in. They make decisions that will affect the lives and livelihoods of untold numbers of their fellow creatures based on a despicable and mercenary calculus: who will get the credit, and who will get the blame?

Is The Gospel “Endangered?” Liam Goligher Answers

This past Sunday morning at Tenth Dr. Goligher had this to say:

The end of Christianity has been trumpeted from the beginning of Christianity. People probably imagined that once the apostles were dead – those men who had been the eye and ear witnesses of the risen Lord Jesus – that would be the end of this nascent Christian movement. When Diocletian launched his assault on Christians, people might have thought that systematic persecution by the Romans would have been the end of Christianity. And when, during those long years of the Middle Ages … the Gospel was eviscerated of its core message [and] evangelical dynamism was lost for that period … you might have wondered whether the Gospel was lost. In the era of the Reformation with the banning and the burnings … you might have thought, “This is the end of the Gospel; it’s going to be lost.” And then in the era of rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism, and (currently) secularism, you may throw up your hands in horror and say, “The Gospel will be lost!”

Paul is saying here that [the Gospel] will never die. Rome came and went. The Middle Ages and the medieval Church came and went… Rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism and secularism are already in the process of becoming undone, if only you read the literature. Our western society, which has rejected Christianity (and its own history in doing so) and is trying to purge from memory all traces of that former influence, is well down the road to disintegration and becoming a footnote on the pages of history. But the church, and the Gospel, survives. It will survive the seminary professors who no longer think it credible. It will survive the pessimistic pastors who no longer think it culturally cool. It will survive the popular media that have declared it passé. It will survive!

(Emphasis mine. Listen to the entire sermon here.)

Wow. There is so much to think about here. On one hand, how encouraging it is to be reminded that Divine Providence still rules history, and always will. On the other, what a powerful antidote to the national arrogance that pervades American culture and policy today. I’ve always been bothered by the tendency of many Christians in America to dismiss any concern for our national direction with the airy remark, “God’s in control! I’m sure it will all work out.” Yes, He is in control, and it will work out according to His will. As a Christian, I find that infinitely encouraging; as an American, however, it is rather terrifying. I find no cause for comfort in the squandered blessings, rejected truths and despised boundaries that litter our nation’s recent history.

As I’ve considered these words, I’ve recognized an error in my own thinking. I’ve argued for some time that the unholy alliance between the evangelical church in America and the war lobby (and, of course, the bad theology and worse eschatology on which this alliance is founded) is a grave threat to the global spread of the Gospel. I’ve been wrong. Such a view underestimates the permanency and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the Gospel, but the evangelical church in America, that is threatened by our willingness to combine and corrupt our message with an immoral political agenda.

Perhaps this seems a rather dark and dismal response to an incredibly uplifting and encouraging message. But in the end, I am encouraged, and thankful as well: thankful for the Gospel; thankful for the Sovereign God who orders history and will preserve His Gospel and His church; and thankful for Liam and his faithfulness to “guard the good deposit entrusted to him.” God grant us more men who are willing to speak out for the Gospel and stand unashamed in the face of this hostile culture.

Time For A Declaration Of Interference?

Someone I know and love recently shared a poster featuring Leutze’s majestic painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Eve, 1776. The caption read “AMERICA,” followed by the words, “We will kill you in your sleep on Christmas.” My initial reaction to this sickening boast was similar to the first time I heard Toby Keith’s hit single, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue. It was a combination of disgust, sadness and grudging acknowledgement that the sentiment does indeed speak for much of America.

That last got me thinking. Maybe “a boot up …” really is the American way now. Maybe what I call Americanism is too 19th century. Maybe we need to articulate and embrace a new set of foundational principles, sort of like Romney’s “bedrock principles” – only those were attitudes. Anyway, since we have so carelessly trashed our founding principles as they appear in our Declaration of Independence, maybe we should trash the Declaration itself and replace it with a new and updated document, one that more accurately reflects our position in the world and our modern approach to international relations. I’ve tried to draw up such a document below. With a little editing by legal and PC experts, it should be something any modern patriot could proudly carry in their pocket.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes advantageous for one people to overstep the political boundaries which have separated them from another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, that supreme and arrogant station to which their economic and military prowess entitles them, a pretence of respect for the well-being of mankind requires them to set forth the consequences everyone else may expect from their ascension.

We hold these claims to be above legitimate debate: that America is exceptional; that we are endowed by the fact of our super-awesome existence with certain international obligations; that among these are global hegemony, full-spectrum dominance, and the responsibility to speak and act for freedom-loving people everywhere (whether they like it or not); that to fulfill these obligations, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of Uncle Sam; that, whenever any government becomes inconvenient for, or ill-disposed toward, America, it is our right, it is our duty, to overthrow such government, and to institute a new government; granting its powers to such persons, and organizing it in such form, as to US shall seem most likely to ensure our continued dominance. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that a nation in the enjoyment of peace ought not to engage in war for light and transient reasons; and all experience has shown that empires are more likely to fall prey to their own corruption, arrogance, and sense of invincibility, than to the dangers and bugbears by which they justify their continued expansion. But when a long train of abuses and interventions, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to enrich a few at the expense of the entire world, without provoking any career-ending electoral displeasure or unmanageable foreign crises, it is our habit to take such complacency for authority, and to embark on new adventures for our further enrichment. Such has been the long-standing experience of these states, and such is now the political climate which invites us to double down on our interventionist policies. The unique awesomeness of these United States is so significant that the lessons of history and prior human experience are insufficient to deter us from bossing you around at gunpoint. In this spirit of hubris, let warnings be presented to an increasingly skeptical world.

We may demand that your laws conform to our constantly changing standards, as the ultimate measure of what is good.

We may offer your leaders immense financial incentives to place the interests of the few above your interests and those of your nations.

We may overthrow your national governments when we see fit, by force or subterfuge, at our option.

We may neglect for a long time, after such overthrow, to allow new governments to be formed; the legislative powers meanwhile being left in the hands of ruthless and incompetent bureaucrats, and your national resources exposed to all the corporate interest groups and speculators that follow in our wake.

We may endeavor to make your leaders dependent on our will alone for the tenure of their offices.

We may invent countless new conventions, commissions, agencies, administrations and NGOs, and send swarms of bureaucrats to harrass your people and live at your expense.

We may keep among you, in time of peace (if you are that lucky), standing armies, bribing your leaders with foreign aid packages to ensure their consent.

We may keep our military independent of, and superior to, your civil institutions.

We may combine with others to subject you to the jurisdiction of the U.N. Security Council, or whatever jurisdiction we may invent at the time, giving our assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among you;

For protecting them, by secrecy, complicated regulations, and vicious prosecution of whistleblowers, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on your people;

For cutting off your trade with any or all parts of the world;

For imposing regulations and restrictions on you without your consent;

For depriving your people, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

For transporting you overseas to be tortured for intelligence, or to rot away in prison without trial for alleged offences;

For abolishing long recognized individual freedoms in other nations;

For taking away your national sovereignty, appropriating your most valuable resources, and altering fundamentally the order of your societies;

For disbanding your civil institutions, and assuming the responsibility to redesign them for you according to our wishes.

If you refuse to cooperate in our benevolent makeover of your nations, we will plunder your lands, blockade your coasts, bomb your towns, and destroy the lives of your people.

We will hire large armies of private contractors to assist in the work of subjugation, which will be conducted with a reckless disregard for innocent human life scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of a civilized nation.

We will incite domestic insurrections among you, and when our own people become weary of the costs of war, we will rely on our immense technological advantage to continue the fight with bombs, missiles and drones, whose known rule of warfare is an indiscriminate destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these operations we will pay lip service to diplomacy, democracy and self-determination in the most flattering of terms. Our repeated assurances should not be taken seriously. A nation whose policies are thus marked by such reckless ambition and brutality is best obeyed without question or complaint.

Not that we would be averse to achieving our goals through “soft power” when possible. We will print, from time to time, large sums of money to assist in making our uninvited meddling more palatable. We will remind foreign dictators of the invaluable assistance our military and information sectors can provide. We will appeal to their native lust for power and wealth, and cajole them by our common interests to connive at these usurpations. But if they prove deaf to the arguments of self-interest and influence, we must acquiesce in the necessity which requires our forceful intervention, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, targets in war, in peace, puppets.

We therefore, the representatives of these United States of America, in Washington, D.C. assembled, appealing to the inexhaustible credulity and imperturbable ambivalence of our constituents for the peaceable nature of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this nation, arrogantly publish and declare, that we are, and of right ought to be, the leaders of the free world; and that as such, we have full powers to levy war, conclude peace, impose treaties, obstruct commerce, multiply agencies, commissions, laws and regulations, and to do all other things which previous empires have in general done. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on our immunity from the laws of unintended consequences, we mutually pledge to each other your lives, your fortunes, and our sacred honor lol!

I expect all my patriotic, interventionist friends to be overjoyed at the prospect of a new founding document, one that encapsulates the new and improved relationship between America and the rest of the world, and can form the basis for our future prosperity as the successor to all the previous empires that most Americans have never heard of.

Freedom, God and Right?

My five year old son loves to sing Men of Harlech. He fell in love with the Welsh anthem after hearing a stirring rendition by folk singer Charlie Zahm. He requests the CD every time we get in the car together, and randomly belts out the first verse without hesitation and, generally, without mistakes:

Men of Harlech, in the hollow,
Do ye hear, like rushing billow,
Wave on wave, that surging follow
Battle’s distant sound?
‘Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen –
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen;
Be they knights, or hinds, or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground.
Loose the folds asunder-
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky, now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! ‘Tis our country needs us;
He is bravest, he who leads us!
Honor’s self now proudly heads us –
Freedom, God and Right!

Here it typically devolves into Daaa na naaa na naa naa naa naa – which, considering the gory detail of the second verse, is good enough for a five year old boy. I’m in no hurry to shatter his innocence with the realities of war. For him, Men of Harlech is just his favorite “marching song.”

It happens to be one of my favorites as well, though in a more complex way. I have never heard it sung without having to fight back tears. Men of Harlech is a story of tragedy on so many levels. The image of common citizens rushing to the death against an invading army in defense of their homes and villages is always powerfully moving. From an historical perspective, knowing how the story ends (in a long siege and the ultimate defeat of the Welsh) doesn’t help. For the Christian, the violence anticipated in the second verse is a chilling reminder of the depravity of fallen humanity and the brokenness of God’s once perfect creation; for one who loves his fellow man, it is an equally chilling picture of the effects of war on the better instincts of human nature.

Rocky steeps and passes narrow
Flash with spear and flight of arrow;
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover;
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven,
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And “mercy!” shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike! for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and right!

But what saddens me the most every time I hear this song is the repeated line, “Freedom, God and Right!” Oh yes, these are things worth fighting and giving one’s life for. But how often these words are subordinated to a self-interested agenda that has nothing to do with them! How many American soldiers have died thinking they were defending our freedoms, when in reality they were pawns in a global chess game? How many are killing and being killed in the Middle East, believing that their actions and sacrifices are saving the lives of Americans here at home, when in fact the terrorist threat against us only intensifies? How many soldiers know the obscene amounts of money being pocketed by businessmen and politicians as a result of the wars they are called on to fight? How many American taxpayers believe that the daily killings carried out at our expense are somehow connected to our freedoms, or the survival of God’s chosen people, or whatever cause the war lobbyists have appended to their latest scheme?

Then, too, I can’t help but note the contrast between the circumstances of the Welsh peasantry and America today. The Welsh, like America’s founders, fought an invading army on their own doorsteps. But these days our country is too often the aggressor, making insolent demands of other nations while benevolently extending the twin inducements of billions for the compliant and bombs for the recalcitrant. The America that once was a beacon of hope and a symbol of freedom is now a global exporter of death. The America that went beyond any nation in history to limit executive and military power now claims a lawful right to invade anywhere it sees fit, without even declaring war; to assassinate anyone it sees fit, even its own citizens; to execute citizens of another nation en masse, in peacetime, on their own soil, without even an illusion of due process to protect the innocent.

That, for me, is the foremost reason this song evokes such an emotional response. I can’t help but grieve that America has lost, or rather abandoned, her historic place in the world. Sure, she is still a “world leader” – a superpower – for whatever that is worth. But it was freedom that made America great, and it was a distinctly Christian view of law and government that made America free. Her greatest influence for good in the world preceded, rather than followed, her superpower status. Today, even as America daily trashes her founding ideals, most Americans seem to care only about remaining great. But at what cost? We’ve collectively abandoned the moral foundations, the respect for life, liberty and property, that made self-government possible. We have rejected the proposition that all men are created equal, in favor of arrogance wrapped in red, white and blue. That arrogance, sooner or later, will bring this nation to her knees more effectively than any number of terrorists ever could.

So what of these powerful words? When we think of “Freedom, God and Right” do we think of moral standards by which we should measure our actions on the world stage? Or are they slogans that we get to use because we are America? Do we seek to be right and to do right, or do we presume to define “right” to our liking? Like many empires before us, I fear we are guilty of the latter. That is a tragedy, not just for us, but for the entire world.

Why Do They Hate Us?

I wonder if any question has ever been asked more often with less sincerity. The complete absence of curiosity on this point, especially among my fellow Christian conservatives, is appalling. My head is spinning with the comments I’ve heard just in the last few days from professing believers, some even members of my own denomination, my own church.

“Arabs really are just not nice people,” one friend observed. (Really? Is that as far as your mind is permitted to wander?) “People are people,” I told her. “They need the gospel-” “They’ve rejected the gospel,” she replied decisively.

Who are “they,” I wondered. When did they reject the gospel? What gospel did they reject? Have they ever really heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are the ideas and concepts they associate with Christianity likely to aid in winning them over? Are American Christians doing anything about that? Do American Christians even care?

Put yourself in the shoes of a middle eastern Muslim for a moment. (No, it isn’t an act of treason, and no, you won’t go to hell if you die while doing this exercise.)

Imagine that you were born and raised to believe in one god who expects you to earn your salvation by good deeds and strict adherence to his law. Imagine that every authority you know, from vigilante mobs to religious leaders to the tyrannical government you live under, sees violence as an appropriate response to offensive speech.

Imagine that in your world America is synonymous with Christianity. But you don’t know the America that for so long was a beacon of hope to oppressed people; the America that opened its doors to offer freedom and opportunity to the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses. You know America only as the world’s most powerful and wealthy nation; a “Christian” nation that exports obscenity and imports drugs. You know America as the money behind brutal dictators and the police states they control; as the source of drone attacks that strike without warning and kill indiscriminately; as the proponent of brutal economic sanctions that condemn the poor to a slow death long before the elites in your government feel the pinch. You know America as the land of politicians who think its okay to kill hundreds of thousands of Muslim children to further their own economic interests; as the place where soldiers who kill unarmed civilians in cold blood are protected but soldiers who expose them are mercilessly prosecuted.

Pretend you are an Afghan who survived a drone attack on a wedding that killed your wife and left your child with permanent brain injury. (The US government has since christened your loved ones “militants.”) Or maybe you would rather be a Yemeni whose brother got on the wrong side of local authorities and ended up in Guantanamo. (After four years imprisonment he was cleared but he’s still there ten years out because the US hasn’t found a safe place to release him.) Imagine you are an Iraqi who hailed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein only to watch as professional fear-mongers dismantled your country’s civil institutions and pocketed millions while your society descended into chaos and violence.

Picture yourself as an Iranian father whose daughter is dying because the medication she needs is no longer available. (You’ve demanded an explanation and been told that the US is deliberately using economic sanctions to prevent its importation so that Iranians will die.) Or put yourself in the shoes of a Pakistani whose young son was vaccinated with something by a doctor you later learned was working for the CIA, and he died two months later. (The hospital says it was pneumonia but the talk on the street is that it was the secret substance in the “vaccine.”) “What nonsense!” you say. “Totally irrational!” Of course it is irrational to you and me, but not to someone in that world. They don’t trust their governments any more than you or I would, and they certainly don’t trust our government. Can you blame them?

Imagine … what’s that? You can’t take it anymore? Neither can they. It is true that a crummy you-tube drama doesn’t explain all the recent rage among Muslims. Neither does self-righteous nonsense about Muslims hating us because we’re free. Religion and culture don’t explain it either; while Islamic culture is violent to a great extent, that has been the case for the last 1500 years since the religion was founded. But this visceral anger targeted directly at the west and America in particular is a recent phenomenon – certainly within the last fifty years.

Self-righteous punditry aside, it isn’t the violence that strikes me as senseless. Trying to understand the current outburst of Muslim rage without taking American policies and intervention into account is senseless. Writing off all Muslims for “rejecting” a Gospel they’ve never heard is senseless. Imposing democracy by force on a society that has understandably grown to hate us is senseless. Killing innocent women and children to help dissuade the survivors from becoming terrorists is senseless. Sending American soldiers to die in tribal wars in Afghanistan is senseless. And calling support for such reckless insanity “conservative” is perhaps the most senseless thing of all.