Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ken Burns' Prohibition

I recently finished another great Ken Burns documentary, this one was on the great moral experiment of Prohibition. A writer and recovering alcoholic who has been dry for almost 40 years summed up the reason that moral experiment failed by stating that alcoholism has been destroying lives since 1820, 1920 and still today and that while about 10% of the population has always suffered from this terrible disease, a nation cannot pass a law designed for just the 10% of the population that has a problem. I thought that was a great point. And as I've gotten into the (bad?) habit of doing lately, I want to share some quotes from that documentary.

"The history of the United States can be told in eleven words:
Columbus, Washington, Lincoln, Volstead, two flights up and ask for Gus." - New York Evening Sun

"After prohibition, after everyone had seen how devastating it was to morals and policing, to
government, really a failure; people were picking up the pieces - in fact, trying to make
sense of it. The key thing, though, to picking up the pieces after prohibition is that the
same God that laughs at our folly (there was folly in prohibition) still holds us responsible,
still wants us to build a better society, a better world, and doesn't disdain human endeavor.
I think that past prohibition, you were picking up the pieces and trying to find a new moral
framework for improving America without quite so much pride and arrogance and self-assurance as the prohibitionists had." - Theologian Martin Marly

"Over the years, there have been calls upon congress, by one group of Americans or another
for constitutional amendments that would impose their version of morality upon the rest of their fellow citizens. All have been defeated, at least in part, because of the memory of prohibition and the unintended consequences that accompanied it, remain fresh more than 3/4 of a century after it ended." - Geoffrey C. Ward

"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though
it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious."
- Mark Twain

And my final thought from this great historical documentary is that the more things change in American life, the more things stay the same in American politics. I'll give the examples from the politics of the first quarter of the 20th Century and you all can make the connections to the present state of political affairs.

- Politicians blatantly disregarded the laws they passed, even getting rich off the breaking
of those laws (i.e. President had liquor in his cabinet meetings, bootleggers delivered
to the Capital building and the congressman who had introduced the Volstead Act was later
caught with a distillery on his Texas farm
- One group of Americans set themselves up as "real Americans" in contrasting themselves
with immigrant Americans (i.e. non-German, rural, Protestant Americans said some nasty stuff
about Catholic, immigrant, poor and urban Americans)
- Rampant xenophobia whipped into a war-time frenzy (i.e. the killing of a man for speaking German to a neighbor during WWI,
the slogan, "A vote for booze is a vote for the Huns," and the burning of German textbooks and
the renaming of sauerkraut into something with "freedom in its name
- The government's violent solutions escalating problems (i.e. the shooting of bootleggers
and prohibition entrenching organized crime into American urban life)
- The religious right trying to legislate morality through dirty politics
(i.e. the Anti-Saloon league)
- Big corporations preying upon the poor underclass (i.e. the major beer producers
opening "local" breweries that siphoned off money from the poor)
- Nonviolent movements changing society (i.e. the Woman's Christian Temperance Union)
- Hysterical political rhetoric (i.e. the KKK and the religious right working together
to make wild claims about a democratic, "wet", Catholic presidential candidate)

Friday, February 24, 2012

America and the Eigth Sin: Deadly innocence and theological contradictions

The following article is from the Journal of Religion and Health, Winter, 2006 and was written by Ryan Lamothe.

ABSTRACT: In this article, I argue that the cultivation of innocence in the United States, coupled with policies of free market expansionism, the acquisitiveness of capitalism, rising militarism, the hubris of democratic evangelism, free market fundamentalism, and the immense U.S. militaristic and economic power, is an especially fatal sin. In general, I contend that nurturing innocence involves overlooking the inadvertent and advertent destruction and suering that has resulted from U.S. interventionist policies and actions in the 20th and 21st centuries. Finally, I argue that the cultivation of innocence, which is often supported by Christian theological language, contradicts central Christian beliefs.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Part 4: Deadly innocence and theological contradictions

The cultivation of innocence, when combined with unparalleled military and economic power, is deadly not simply to those countries who dare oppose us, as Bush warned, but to ourselves. Notwithstanding the good the U.S. has done over the decades, Americans overlook the physical and psychological damage that result from U.S. interventions. While there are many examples, I address only a few. Supporting Latin American dictators (Cuba, El Salvador, Guate mala, Panama) and the economic colonization of Central America has resulted in thousands of deaths and economic stagnation, if not ruin. Indeed, Johnson (2004) argued that U.S. economic policies toward third-world countries (e.g., Central American nations) are designed to favor the United States and to keep these countries in debt and hence dependent on the United States. When people in these Central American countries began to rebel against dictators friendly to the U.S., the U.S. government fanned the flames of fear by citing the dangers of Communism. We then trained and armed soldiers who were implicated in numerous and devastating human rights abuses (Chomsky, 2004). Harm is not confined to this hemisphere. The Vietnam War cost 57,000 U.S. lives, but the number of North and South Vietnamese causalities dwarfs this number. The decade-long war also resulted in tremendous physical and economic damage to both the North and the South. In Central Asia, the United States supports, for economic and military reasons, two dictators who have "hopeless human rights records" (Johnson, 2004, p. 170). In cooperation with the British government, the United States secured the island of Diego Garcia after the "British deported the island's entire population to Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they continue to live in conditions of poverty and racial discrimination" (p. 221).

The harm done to other nations is always rationalized and often, though not always, accompanied by actions that result in some good being achieved. Glossing over the deadly consequences of expanding U.S. economic and mili tary power as well as preoccupation with maintaining power through eco nomic and military force have psychosocial, spiritual, and moral consequences. An intense attachment to an empire identity and the glorifi cation of and preoccupation with military and economic power and dominance screen a deep fear and emptiness in the American psyche. This emptiness stems from the tendency to make transcendent what is contingent and rela tive, which is not simply a psychological problem, but a spiritual one as well. A sign of this spiritual emptiness is found in the frantic attempts to return to being a Christian God-fearing nation, which is almost always coupled with maintaining military dominance. The moral (and spiritual) damage comes in two forms. First, denial and rationalization of the harm, done by the United States, represent the refusal to take responsibility, which is a sign of impov erished moral perspective. Also, if one does not take responsibility, then for giveness and reconciliation cannot be realized. Second, the moral and spiritual impoverishment associated with hubris, denial, and rationalization accom panies a remarkable lack of compassion and empathy for those who have suffered. As Baldwin (1955) wrote, "In overlooking, denying, evading (our) complexity...we are diminished and we perish.... [This] formula created by necessity to find a lie more palatable than the truth has been handed down and memorized and persists yet with terrible power" (pp. 15-16).

The physical damage to our society from the cultivation of innocence is difficult to assess. The cultivation of innocence, I have argued, is inextricably yoked to pride and power (military and economic). Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has not decreased defense spending. Currently, we spend more money on "defense" (a euphemism) than all the countries in the world combined. Many poor and low income people in the United States could benefit from social programs. Money diverted from the military expedition in Iraq could have aided African nations struggling with the AID's epidemic. There are, in other words, people who suffer at the lower stratum of society because funds are used instead for expanding military and economic power. It is an especially vicious illusion to think that the poor in the United States benefit from the expansionist efforts of the United States.

Theological contradictions lie at the heart of our cultivation of innocence, which is so deadly. As far as I know, there is no scriptural basis for suggesting that God has chosen the United States for a salvific role in the world. Indeed, I am not aware of any reputable scripture scholar who would suggest this. A related oddity regarding Christian interpretation of America's role in the world is that we seem to forget that Rome was the empire during the time of Jesus' life, ministry, and death. Jesus did not embrace Pax Romana and even went so far as to differentiate between one's duty to the Roman political realm and the spiritual realm. An earthly empire, in other words, was not part of the Gospel message. This said, from a Christian perspective, the idea of the U.S. being a chosen people in salvation history seems odd, considering that Christians claim that Jesus is the savior (and not an empire or nation). Put another way, I cannot find anywhere in scripture where it says that democ racy and free market economies are part of the divine plan of salvation, though this does not mean semantic gymnastics cannot be used to rationalize, theologically, salvific democracy and capitalism.

Even if one wishes to do mental gymnastics to argue for the U.S.s' special role inthe world, there are more fundamental theological contradictions con cerning the cultivation of innocence. Christian theologies all recognize that human beings are sinful and thus not innocent. We may be innocent in terms of being a victim of this or that crime, but we are not in and of ourselves innocent. During WWII, H. Richard Niebuhr (1943) wrote about just war and its relation to crucifixion. He concluded that while no single answer "can be given....one thing will be common in all actions which are based on such an understanding of war: there will be in them no effort to establish a righ teousness of our own, no excusing the self because one has fallen less short of the glory of God than others" (p. 515). Niebuhr was pointing out that even in so-called just wars we are not completely innocent. Killing may be justified, but this is not a reason to proclaim one's innocence before God and others.

Another contradiction with regard to the cultivation of innocence and the making of the U.S. Empire emerges when one faces how early Christian writers understood Jesus in relation to power. In Jesus' conversation with Pilate (John 19), he clearly refuses to use power to fight the Romans. In Philippians (2:6-7), we read that Jesus Christ "did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness." In both cases, the power of Jesus was not found in coercion and violence, which are tools empires rely on to extend and maintain power. Rather, Jesus' power was founded in his love for God and human beings and his compassion for those who suffer. A person can defend the policies that are aimed toward empire building, but one can hardly defend these from a Christian perspective. Thus, the Christian, theo-political rhetoric that justifies American expansionism is fundamentally anti-Christian in the sense that it does not represent in any way Christ's self-understanding of his relation to God and the world and the use of power. As we know in any cursory reading of history, not everyone who invokes Christ's name is from Christ.

The final contradiction concerns the Gospel message?"I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly." The Gospel message does not single out one people for God's grace. To be an empire, however, means being concerned about enhancing our life; this is the aim of the colonization of others. To build and maintain an empire requires the exploitation and coercion of others for the sake of furthering the economic power of the empire. Surely client-states benefit, but the underlying goal is to further the life of the empire. No empire in history, including the American empire, survives by having policies geared toward the idea that others may have life and have it abundantly, except in the rhetoric used to exploit others. The cultivation of innocence overlooks this key Gospel message, and any defense of the American empire using Christian concepts is, at best, misbegotten, and at worst, a slick deception.

In conclusion, these contradictions do not mean that American Christians who support the American empire are not Christian. All Christians suffer some contradiction, which Kierkegaard (1846) noted when he wondered if there were any Christians in Christendom. Yet, in a country that cultivates innocence, often through flowery theo-political rhetoric, we need reminders that all empires are deeply and tragically flawed, that no empire lasts forever, and that no empire offers salvation. This is not a counsel of despair, but a possible remedy through responsibility, forgiveness, and reconciliation

Thursday, February 23, 2012

America and the Eighth Sin: Psychosocial dynamics of the cultivation of innocence

The following article is from the Journal of Religion and Health, Winter, 2006 and was written by Ryan Lamothe.

ABSTRACT: In this article, I argue that the cultivation of innocence in the United States, coupled with policies of free market expansionism, the acquisitiveness of capitalism, rising militarism, the hubris of democratic evangelism, free market fundamentalism, and the immense U.S. militaristic and economic power, is an especially fatal sin. In general, I contend that nurturing innocence involves overlooking the inadvertent and advertent destruction and suering that has resulted from U.S. interventionist policies and actions in the 20th and 21st centuries. Finally, I argue that the cultivation of innocence, which is often supported by Christian theological language, contradicts central Christian beliefs.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4

Part 3: Psychosocial dynamics of the cultivation of innocence

Every sin, one could argue, carries a unique psychosocial signature of moti vations and defenses (cf. Capps, 1987; Schimmel, 1992; LaMothe, 2002). Time and space limit a thorough examination of the cultivation of innocence in terms of defenses and motivations, though I wish to identify several key psychosocial features associated with this sin, namely, adhesive identification, weak dissociation, rationalization, and the refusal to surrender. These psy chological defenses may be further understood as socially shared ways of organizing experience. This said, defenses are usually understood as intra psychic processes and are inherently reductive when applying them to such complex phenomena as social behavior and identity. I do not make any claims that these are definitive explanations, though I believe they are heuristic.

Bick's (1968) and Meltzer's (1975) research into the psychological life of infants coined the terms "adhesive identification" and "adhesive identity," which they argued was a more primitive or earlier form of narcissistic iden tification. Their work with adult patients and observations of autistic infants led them to question the idea of object identification. Infants, they noted, appear to cling adhesively to their mother's body and to other surfaces, which they believed is the infant's attempt to obtain a sense of contact for the sake of psychic integration and avoidance of annihilation anxiety. They also found this concept helpful in understanding some adult patients, though the concept was further differentiated between normal developmental adhesive identifi cation and defective adhesive identification as seen, for example, in schizo phrenia (Grotstein, 1977). Tustin emended this view, adding the term "adhesive equation." "In adhesive equation," Tustin argued, the 'subject' feels the same as the 'object' (no space between them) while in adhesive identifi cation the 'subject' feels similar to the 'object' (there is space between them)" (in Mitrani, 1995, p. 355). What these theorists were identifying was a manner of organizing experience and relating whereby the subject and object were, from an epistemological point of view, inseparable, which is not identical to the psychoanalytic idea of merger. There is, in other words, an epistemological confusion between the subject and the subject's object, which was, in part, motivated by the need for psychic integration, a sense of going on being, to quote Winnicott (1971), and conversely to avoid annihilation anxiety?that is, the loss of the object means a corresponding loss of self or disintegration.

At first glance, then, the concept would not seem to fit well with routine, non-pathological forms of adult social interactions. Yet, I am suggesting, following in the footsteps of Loewald (2000), Mitchell (2000), and Ogden (1989), that if we understand adhesive identification to refer to cognitive processes implicated in a particular pattern of organizing experience (and relating), then one could identify traces of this early form of identification in some adult interactions. In other words, Ogden argued that "human experi ence is the product of the dialectical interplay of three modes (autistic-con tiguous, paranoid-schizoid, and depressive) of generating experience.... Each mode creates, preserves, and negates the other" (p. 4). Adult organizations of experience and relating, then, comprise earlier cognitive process. The pres ence of intense anxiety may hyperactivate one or more modes. In the case of adhesive identification, those cognitive processes associated with perception of the object as inextricably a part of the self are present in normal and patho logical adult behaviors

In terms of the cultivation of innocence, traces of adhesive identification are found in the intense and rigid idealization, if not, glorification of American identity. The belief in America's divine mission or special place in history signifies a transcendent belief that corresponds to an unconscious clinging to a cherished idea that provides people a sense of identity or going on being. Put differently, there is an illusion wherein persons unconsciously believe that the survival of the object (U.S. as a constellation of representations, ideas, and values) will secure their sense of going on being, even if one dies. The object, while rationally viewed as distinct, is, at the unconscious level, one with the subject. Critiquing or challenging the object evokes intense anxiety (trans formed into more manageable affect like rage and hostility) associated with the loss of one's identity and sense of going on being. Contrived innocence is the opposite of critique, ambiguity, and paradox, reflecting a purity or oneness with the adored object to which tenaciously clings.

The underside of innocence and, correspondingly, the underside of intense and rigid emotional identification with a cherished object are hatred and hostility. Consider the bumper sticker, "America, Love it or Leave It," which signifies and communicates a shared and underlying hostility and anger. The bumper sticker is aimed at those who question and critique American policies. The motivation is to split off or get rid of persons who challenge or question the United States, preserving the unblemished ideal of being American. This desire also signifies a form of attachment wherein the object (U.S. as a con stellation of representations, ideas, and values) is identical to or indistin guishable from the subject. Those who question or reject certain shared beliefs are a threat to this prized identity. The notion that one cannot simultaneously question and critique and be a "true" American indicates there is a confusion of the subject with the subject's object. Stated another way, the inability or refusal to recognize the object's inadequacies signifies an unconscious belief that the subject and the object are one. To critique the object is a threat to the subject?a subject entirely dependent on the object. This said, there is nothing inherently pathological about a person's use of this bumper sticker, though in my view it is a cultural artifact that represents cognitive processes associated with adhesive identification and the defense against intense anxiety associ ated with the loss of one's sense of going on being.

Another psychological feature of the cultivation of innocence is weak dis sociation. Dissociation refers to a defense whereby a representation and affect "escape the control of consciousness and develop independently" (Ellenberger, 1970, p. 371) and entails "a contraction of the field of consciousness" (in Me ares, 2000, p. 45). While dissociation represents unformulated experience that escapes consciousness and symbolization, it is important to point out that the person is "organizing his mind in a way that protects the good self and other from persecution and dread of annihilation" (Keylor, 2003, p. 219). Stern (1997) argued that narrative rigidity, which is a complex form of organizing one's mind, is an example of dissociation in the weak sense. An inflexible narration means that other ideas, meanings, values, and affects are excluded and, therefore, remain unformulated. This "passive dissociation...is indirect, because it is a consequence of so insistently turning our attention elsewhere that we never even notice alternative understandings. Focal attention under these conditions is controlled by the intention to enforce narrative rigidity" (p. 132). Hostility and rage toward alternative renderings of American intentions and actions signify the presence of a rigid narrative and narration. In terms of the cultivation of innocence, weak dissociation is manifested whenever persons continue to rely on story lines that protect against inter pretations associated with blame, responsibility for harm, repentance, loss of power and prestige, and loss of an idealized self-image.

Consider the stories told in the U.S. about the reasons for invading Iraq. As it began to be clear that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration relied on the tried-and-"true" American myth of bringing freedom, democracy, and market economy to Iraq and the Middle East. For the most part, the American media, which may have tentatively questioned the reasons for going to war, supported this story. It is not that this story was false. Rather, that it was told and re-told so that it crowded out other inter pretations and perspectives that would contradict more altruistic claims. For example, Iraq was militarily and economically weak as well as estranged from most of its Arab neighbors. Thus, it was a prime target for the United States to further establish military and economic power in a region that is rich in oil (Bacevich, 2005). In a world where oil is the lifeblood of "advanced" (a term also associated with weak dissociation) economies, the most powerful country wants to have influence, if not control, over a region that produces most of the world's oil. In so doing, the U.S. solidifies its hegemony. This interpretation of mere self-interest in maintaining hyperpower status contradicts altruistic claims about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq.

Closely associated with weak dissociation, Stern (1997) argued, is ratio nalization. The function of rationalization "is to render material acceptable, understandable, comfortable, straightforward; to rob it of all puzzling elements" (Bartlett, in Stern, p. 136). Put differently, rationalization simpli fies reality by eschewing anything that would contradict cherished meanings that conflict with an idealized identity. Rationalization undergirds Baldwin's view that Americans "have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, into a proud decoration" (1955, p. 31). Bacevich (2005) also noted that "new American militarism draws much of its sustaining force from myth?stories created to paper over incongruities and contradictions that pervade the American way of life" (p. 97). Our narratives and narrations are inextricably yoked to rationalizations that transform ugly consequences into beauty and wickedness into righteousness.

The power of these rationalizations resides in the fact that they signify, to some degree, truths. For example, the story told about the recent invasion of Iraq was that American soldiers were sent to liberate Iraqis from a despot. Clearly, this is partly true. Many Iraqis were oppressed and were initially happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein. However, this rationalization screens out the fact that the United States does not overthrow all despots. It denies the self-interested motivation to secure Middle East oil production for economic purposes. Rationalization is so powerful because it parleys a small truth into an overarching truth that shields one from other viewpoints that contradict the posited truth. In brief, weak dissociation and it s partner, rationalization, support a contrived innocence, smoothing over anything that would contradict our stories and simplify complex reality.

Adhesive identification, weak dissociation, and rationalization are symp tomatic of the refusal to surrender. The idea of surrender may be a frightening word in a nation that is an empire and for those interested in maintaining the illusion of innocence. Yet, surrender is one's willingness to be open to, moved by, and shaped by the other's subjectivity (cf. Ghent, 1990). It is a willingness to learn from the other person with the aim of understanding him/her, which does not necessarily mean agreement. To surrender also implies openness to correction as well as perspectives and experiences that differ from one's own. This said, surrender does not mean abdicating one's views or submitting to coercive demands. Rather, it means being able to create space to hold other perspectives in tension. The creation of this space helps "us to rid ourselves of the habit of always hearing only what we already understand" (Heidegger, 1971, p. 58).

The refusal to surrender to the other's needs, experiences, and desires is embedded in the cultivation of innocence. To cultivate innocence means holding onto na?ve and simplistic perspectives and avoiding contact with anyone who might raise the specter of error, self-interest, greed, and entitle ment. In other words, the refusal to surrender is a defense against being moved and shaped by the other. For example, in the debates leading up to the second Iraq War, many Americans agreed with Rumsfeld's critique of "Old Europe." There were calls to ban French products and Germany was viewed as having betrayed the U.S. As far as I could tell, there was little evidence of U.S. administration and American citizens listening to and being open to perspectives that differed from the expectations and demands of the U.S. government. Indeed, I recall one gentleman angrily denouncing the French for not supporting the U.S., especially after we liberated France in 1944. Apparently, aiding in the liberation of another country forever binds it to the liberator.

In my view, the underlying motivation for this refusal to surrender to those who differed was fueled by anxiety. Like any refusal to surrender, anxiety is linked to change and an underlying sense that one will have to "surrender" one's control. In other words, the refusal to surrender represents a desire to be invulnerable and the underside of this desire is the wish to dominate the other?to subjugate the other to one's views. If the "other" continues to differ or is viewed as resisting, then one can expect the response to be one of rejection and attack, which makes the possibility of surrender even more remote.

In a country where people understand and accept hyperpower status, the idea of surrender is equated with treason, submission, and loss. Indeed, the very idea contradicts the intended policies of expanding U.S. economic and military power throughout the world (Johnson, 2004). Of course, the idea of surrender and its cognate, vulnerability, are probably inimical to any gov ernment, yet I am suggesting that citizens who adhere to U.S. innocence rely on this and other defenses to secure an indestructible sense of individual and collective identity that is free from the taint of failure, disappointment, shame, and guilt. When people are assured of their innocence there is no hope for the kind of vulnerability associated with forgiveness and reparation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

America and the Eighth Deadly Sin: Sources and characteristics of the cultivation of innocence

The following article is from the Journal of Religion and Health, Winter, 2006 and was written by Ryan Lamothe.

ABSTRACT: In this article, I argue that the cultivation of innocence in the United States, coupled with policies of free market expansionism, the acquisitiveness of capitalism, rising militarism, the hubris of democratic evangelism, free market fundamentalism, and the immense U.S. militaristic and economic power, is an especially fatal sin. In general, I contend that nurturing innocence involves overlooking the inadvertent and advertent destruction and suering that has resulted from U.S. interventionist policies and actions in the 20th and 21st centuries. Finally, I argue that the cultivation of innocence, which is often supported by Christian theological language, contradicts central Christian beliefs.
Part 1 Part 3 Part 4

Part 2: Sources and characteristics of the cultivation of innocence

Nations and national identities4 are supported by collectively held stories and rituals. These stories and rituals comprise the cherished beliefs, values, expectations, and attitudes that people of the nation, in varying degrees, tacitly accept and live out, even though most of the time this is not given much critical thought or deliberation. Elected leaders and the media in the U.S. often refer to and use these shared stories and ideals. I identify four central ideas that are linked to shared myths of the United States' role in the world and that are essential to the cultivation of innocence and its place in the American psyche. These characteristics are not in themselves sins, but instead are manifestations of a tragic and an idolatrous relation that is integral to the cultivation of innocence.

There is a strong strain of idealism in U.S. political life, which has deep roots in our history and in the stories we tell about ourselves. When Ronald Reagan said, "I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between two oceans to be found by people from every corner of the earth who have a special love of faith and freedom" (quoted in Lundestad, 1990, p. 17), he was representing a long tradition of secular idealism mixed with theology. Indeed, Reagan merely echoed Woodrow Wilson's belief in the U.S.'s global mission to democratize the world and bring about the "ultimate peace of the world" (Johnson, 2004, pp. 47-48). Democrats and Republicans alike have believed in the special mission of the U.S., using terms like, "a city upon a hill," "a chosen people," "the Israel of our time," and "God's own country" (see Lundestad, 1990). This idealistic, politico-theological rhetoric was heard in Clinton's reference to the end of the Cold War as "the fullness of time" and the U.S. as an "indispensable nation" (Bacevich, 2002). It continues today in the religious triumphalism and moralism of the Bush administration's justifica tion for military interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere (Ryn, 2003). The ideas that the U.S. is chosen by God and has a special role in history are not simply held by people who are deeply religious. It is rooted in the grand narratives that children learn in school and it is the background presence of media reporting. Bacevich (2002), for example, argued persuasively that Americans hold onto the myth that we are a reluctant nation whenever we go to war and this myth is accompanied by the shared belief that we are bringing both democracy and capitalism to those who are not so blessed. Another example of this mythical reluctance is found in the rhetoric justifying the first and second Iraq wars, which alternated from security as the major reason to bringing stability and democracy to the Middle East. In both instances, we were a reluctant and patient nation having to take leadership, especially in the second Iraq war, when Old Europe, to use Rumsfeld's term, wavered. There is, in this idealistic strain, the pervasive illusion of altruism. In the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary (see Johnson, 2000, 2004), Americans believe and wish to believe that we are interested in only helping other less fortunate countries enjoy the freedoms and wealth that we have acquired through our own hard work.

The illusion of altruism?the illusion that our actions are fundamentally and solely for the good of others?is the first necessary feature in cultivating innocence. In holding onto this illusion, we overlook and deny the conse quences of interventionist foreign policies (Johnson, 2004).5 This is not to gainsay the contributions and sacrifices of Americans who have worked to help those in other countries. However, I am speaking of an attitude and tendency that is integral to the cultivation of innocence and the corresponding denial of the suffering and harm created by interventionist foreign policies. Baldwin (1955), in writing about racism, noted this tendency, saying, "Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradic tions into a proud decoration" (p. 31). We do this, in part, by telling and re-telling the myth in our goodness, in our divine chosenness to spread democracy and free market capitalism throughout the world.

Let me point to two examples of the latent presence of altruism in manifest expressions of outrage and fear. We are often told of the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation and the just war they fought and won. Indeed, if there was ever a just war it was WWII, though a just war, as Niebuhr (1942, 1943) noted in War as Crucifixion and War as Judgment, does not mean we escape responsibility and judgment. Many Americans, as Niebuhr discovered, found and find it difficult to confront and take responsibility for the horror inflicted on enemy populations (e.g., fire bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, and numerous other cities; the dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima), because to do so would challenge the mythic belief in our essential goodness. The attending language of just war theory was and is closely allied with the belief in our essential goodness, which together serves to rationalize and deny harm to civilian populations. The presence of the illusion of altruism can also be seen in the 9/11 Newsweek cover, Why Do They Hate Us. Notwithstanding the horror, pain, and suffering of 9/11, the cover reveals the underlying myth of altruism in the midst of shock and fear. In other words, the disbelief in the question presumes innocence (How Could They Hate Us, would be a more apt title), which I argue is inextricably yoked to the mythic narratives of the goodness of American intentions and actions throughout the world.
The illusion of altruism accompanies the second attribute necessary in the cultivation of innocence, namely a deep sense of entitlement. Cultural observer and critic Lasch (1979) believed that "new social forms require new forms of personality, new modes of socialization, new ways of organizing experience" (p. 50). In surveying the American social landscape, Lasch thought that the concept of narcissism, despite its shortcomings, "provides us...with a tolerably accurate portrait of the 'liberated' personality of our time, with his charm, his pseudo-awareness of his own condition, his promiscuous pansexuality, his fascination with oral sex, his fear of the castrating mother, his hypochondria, his protective shallowness, his avoidance of dependence, his inability to mourn, his dread of old age and death" (p. 50). To this list, Bellah et al. (1985) would add exaggerated individualism, self-reliance, and fear of commitment. These observers of U.S. culture also note a sense of entitlement in the American psyche. The beliefs in the goodness and moral rightness of the U.S. are inseparable from a deep sense of entitlement?the belief that we deserve to have power and riches. This sense of privilege is embedded, as Ryn (2003) and Lundestad (1990) both noted, in American foreign policies and actions. Because we are a special nation, because we are chosen and blessed by God (putative evidence is economic and military power), we have the right to intervene in the affairs of nations and a right to amass wealth and power.

The third factor implicated in the cultivation of innocence is simplification. Human beings, theologian Farley (1990) noted, are fundamentally tragic creatures because in grasping reality by way of language we distort it. Lan guage only captures a tiny portion of life. Simplification is the tendency to believe that my portion stands for the whole. Put differently, simplification is the conscious and unconscious practice of eschewing complexity, ambiguity, doubt, and uncertainty by believing that one's interpretations of reality are the truth. Simplification is seen as the stark division of the world into us or them. For example, the social anger and hostility toward "Old Europe" for dis agreeing with the United States' march toward war is an illustration of reducing complex reality into slogans that shield oneself from doubts or questions about one's view of reality and the consequences of one's actions. George W. Bush's simplistic categorization of Iran, Korea, and Iraq as the axis of evil is another example of this tendency, illustrating what Hall (1991) identifies as a strand of simplism in evangelical Christianity.

Simplification, which Bollas (1992) argued is inherent in the belief in one's innocence and the defense mechanism of denial, is inextricably linked to a belief in the inherent goodness of American policies and intentions and a grandiose sense of entitlement. In combination, simplification becomes a key factor in screening the messiness of our motives and actions in the world and serves to keep dissenters at bay. For example, the rhetoric around the second Iraq War was framed in terms of security and later as our aim to bring free dom and democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East. Even if one sincerely believes in these aims, it shields the historical complexity of the Middle East (e.g., the role of colonial powers and the United States toward Saudi Arabia and other countries), the motives of the U.S. (e.g., securing Middle East oil and insuring military presence in the region), the varied experiences, needs, and desires of Middle Eastern citizens, and of the diversity of religious and polit ical beliefs in the Middle East. This simplification attends a nurtured naivete that the U.S. is simply trying to make life better for "these" people. James Baldwin identified this tendency when speaking of racism in the United States. He (1955) wrote, "(F)or there is a great deal of will power involved in the white man's na?vet?. Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious, and the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity and avoid being called to account for crimes committed by his forefathers, or his neighbors" (p. 166).

The final factor necessary in the cultivation of innocence is pride. The theme of pride or American arrogance has been consistently identified by many who have tried to depict and understand the expansionist policies and actions of Democratic and Republican administrations since the 19th century. Decades ago, Reinhold Niebuhr pointed to this when he noted that Americans tend to see themselves as "tutors of mankind in its pilgrimage to perfection" (in Bacevich, 2002, p. 54). Even before 9/11, it was often heard from politicians and citizens that the United States is the greatest country in the world, which, if measured solely in terms of military expenditures, bellicosity, and economic power, may be close to the truth, though it is a very narrow and hollow truth. Since 9/11, American pride can be seen in the elaborate, triumphalistic, self congratulatory social rituals such as baseball's World Series and the Super Bowl and in the media spectacle of George W. Bush's landing on a U.S aircraft carrier, proclaiming "Mission accomplished." It is evident in the media and in the common speech that refer to all American wounded and dead as heroes, and taking pride in their sacrifice.6 We see it on bumper stickers such as the "Power of Pride," the proliferation of American flags, and the eclipse of any views from public discourse that challenge prevailing myths.

Pride, which is closely associated with entitlement, involves the idealization (if not glorification) of the United States' role in the world. Idealization is a partner of innocence because it includes the tendencies to overlook and deny anything that does not fit within the idealized image. Criticism, doubt, and ambiguity are simply shrugged off or violently rejected. I recall comments made after the easy invasion of Iraq that ranged from statements of pride in our military to outright pugnacious pride in "kicking their butts" (even given the fact that Iraq had a fourth-rate military). These instances of pride reflect the absence of empathy or compassion toward Iraqis who suffered the damage, killing, terror, and humiliation of the war. Someone will no doubt cite the Iraqis who were and are delighted to be free of Saddam. True, but the immediate introduction of this "fact" or other "good" things we have done shields the harm that resulted from U.S. aggression and pride.

These four factors, which are intertwined with and supported by American myths and rituals, are necessary ingredients to the cultivation of innocence. As stated above, with the exception of pride, these factors are not, in them selves, considered to be sin. Yet, together they form contrived innocence, which, when combined with the will to power (Ryn, 2003) as well as economic and military force, is an especially deadly sin because it denies our less savory motivations, overlooks harmful consequences of U.S. interventionist policies and actions, and reserves compassion and empathy only for those who agree with U.S. actions. Indeed, it is a deadly sin precisely because of its relation to pride and power, the use of which has resulted in much harm, though some good (see Johnson, 2000, 2004; Chomsky, 2004).

In terms of the idea of sin, the cultivation of innocence may be understood as disobedience and as a tragic response to human finitude. To believe, con sciously or unconsciously, in one's innocence is to reject the very reality of one's relation to God. This relation, as Creator and created, involves the rec ognition that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and that all human beings, while created good, are neither perfect nor inno cent. Human beings cannot claim they are innocent, not simply because of sin, but because of human ignorance. There is no way of knowing absolutely we are innocent and it is this inability to know that leads to our dependence on God's grace and forgiveness. In addition, to wage war, to argue that one is better than others, to use economic and military means to secure entitlement to power and goods, require the rejection of the equal status of the other?equal in real, measurable, not rhetorical dignity. The cultivation of innocence is a form of disobedience whenever it is accompanied by declarations that as a "chosen nation" we know the truth that will save the world.
Innocence, as sin, can also be understood as a response to human finitude. The anger and hostility directed toward any person pointing out America's destructive actions and self-interested foreign interventions reflects, in my view, a tremendous amount of anxiety with regard to facing and losing a highly cherished national identity. Newsweek's cover may have been an initial step toward mourning this idealized, grandiose, and na?ve collective identity, but it quickly died under the weight of the Bush administration's bellicose hype and further pronouncements of U.S. goodness and innocence. Anxiety, in other words, was channeled or transformed into hostility and anger, which continued to be fueled by the fear that the U.S. would face another attack. Yet, I also argue that the fear and anxiety that underlie the cultivation of inno cence are linked to the threat of other losses associated with being an empire loss of entitlement and privilege, loss of purpose and meaning, and loss of power. To ward off fear and anxiety associated with the limits of human reality (i.e., vulnerability), Americans tell and re-tell stories of their goodness and their divine chosenness in the world, leaving compassion and empathy for others in the wake of glory and greed.

Monday, February 20, 2012

America and the Eighth Deadly Sin: Sin and Deadly Sins

The following article is from the Journal of Religion and Health, Winter, 2006 and was written by Ryan Lamothe.

ABSTRACT: In this article, I argue that the cultivation of innocence in the United States, coupled with policies of free market expansionism, the acquisitiveness of capitalism, rising militarism, the hubris of democratic evangelism, free market fundamentalism, and the immense U.S. militaristic and economic power, is an especially fatal sin. In general, I contend that nurturing innocence involves overlooking the inadvertent and advertent destruction and suering that has resulted from U.S. interventionist policies and actions in the 20th and 21st centuries. Finally, I argue that the cultivation of innocence, which is often supported by Christian theological language, contradicts central Christian beliefs.
Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Part 1 - Sin and Deadly Sins

Over the millennia, theologians have sought to identify and understand par ticular sins as well as the source(s) of sin. For example, Augustine, following the Pauline view that sin was introduced through Adam and Eve's disobedi ence of God's command, understood sin to be a "turning away from God, the supreme good, and turning toward the world or changeable goods in an inordinate way" (Williams, 1985, p. 199). In locating sin in the first act of disobedience, Augustine believed sin to be part of the human condition; we all bear the stain of the first sin. Aquinas continued this tradition, arguing that sin represented the loss of original righteousness, which was present before the Fall (Williams, p. 204). According to Aquinas and others, original sin is passed down to each generation; each child is marked with the sin of the first couple. The mark is evident in the insufficiency of reason and will to choose the good alone, hence the need for divine grace, which builds on nature.

Riceour (1974) critiqued these quasi-biological and quasi-juridical notions of original sin, while at the same time arguing that there are anthropological truths represented in Biblical and theological myths about sin. One of the insights of the myth of original sin is that sin "is my true situation before God. The TDefore God' and not my consciousness of it is its measure of sin" (p. 282). "Before God" means that while human beings are created good, we are, in part, estranged from God and others (Tillich, 1957), which is not sin, but simply a feature of creation. So, an infant is before God and in the midst of his/ her estrangement, which precedes his/her consciousness of God, his/her experience of estrangement, and his/her individual acts of sin.

Riceour was careful to point out that we do not inherit sin. Rather, we inherit the freedom, limits, and ambiguity that attend the reality of being human (Riceour, 1974; see also, Haight, 1991). This human reality, according to Farley (1990), is fundamentally tragic?we must grasp reality, but in the very process of grasping reality we distort it. Corradi-Fuimara (1990) made a similar point when she said, "We are weighed down by the humiliating real ization that whichever logic we use to prevent ourselves from being over whelmed is itself ultimately a bearer of violence" (p. 97). All human beings inherit the propensity to respond to the existential limits of human life and accompanying anxiety by sinning. One could say we sin, in part, as a way of avoiding the anxiety and suffering associated with the limits of life.

The idea that sin is an aspect of the human condition still leaves us won dering what sin is and what is deadly about deadly sins. Aquinas, like Augustine, believed sin was rooted in disobedience. The act of turning away, or disobedience, is a disordered action that has "two inner causes: its imme diate cause is reason and will, but beyond that there lies imagination and sense-appetite" (1989, p. 257). More specifically, Aquinas held that the cause of disobedience or turning away is rooted in ignorance?"not knowing that a certain general principle is a rule of reason, and not knowing that a particular circumstance holds. Clearly however ignorance only causes sin if knowing what we did not know would have stopped us sinning" (p. 258). The will, for example, whether setting itself up as opposing God's will in acts of disobedi ence or as "opposed to the love of charity" (p. 274), is shaped by reason and reason, in turn, is influenced by emotions, desires, and imagination (p. 259), which can distort both reason and will. Ignorance may be the cause of sin, but it does not imply that will and reason are incapacitated.2 Disobedience, then, is turning away from the supreme good and "takes the form of a self-imposed bondage, a free will that binds itself (Williams, 1985, p. 199). Here we note that disobedience results in alienation and bondage.

In the 20th century, the idea that the foundation of sin was disobedience began to be challenged from different directions. Schoenberg (1984) noted, "As long as sin is envisaged entirely within the perspective of commands and prohibitions, justice is not done to human freedom" (p. 1580). Liberation theologians (e.g., Moltmann, 1981; Guti?rrez, 1988) knew well that a person could obey commands and avoid prohibitions, yet still commit injustice. Feminists (e.g., Ruether, 1983; Suchocki, 1995) and other theologians (e.g., Hall, 1991; Volf, 1996) have also called into question the emphasis on sin as disobedience, focusing on the sin of self-denial, violence, and exclusion.

Likewise, Farley (1990, 1996) shifted from sin as disobedience to sin as a tragic response to human finitude. Farley, arguing that classical views sup press the tragic element of sin, stated that human "life is structured by vul nerability and suffering is what effects discontent and anxiety" (1990, p. 124). Put differently, the human passion for subjectivity is contingent and relative, which gives rise to fear and anxiety. To contain or handle anxiety and our desire for securing our subjectivity, human beings tend to absolutize the rel ative and contingent?Neibuhr's (1941) totalitarian tendency. "Sin (moral corruption, oppression, interhuman violation)," Farley (1990) wrote, "arises from a skewed passion for the eternal, in other words, idolatry" (p. 126). In an effort to "transform inescapable vulnerability into something contingent and manageable," human beings "refuse the structure and situation of their fini tude" (p. 132).3 Securing our subjective and intersubjective significance through absolutizing the relative is linked to the distortion of reason (self deception) and passion.

From this perspective, disobedience vis-?-vis the divine law is reinterpreted as a tragic response to the anxiety and fear associated with one's encounter with human finitude and vulnerability. The problem with the idea of disobe dience, however, is that it tends to get confused with human laws, authority, and power, as feminists and others have rightly pointed out. Regardless, sin can be understood in two ways, both of which point to the effects of sin, namely, interpersonal alienation and bondage. First sin is understood as an anthropological category that points to the reality of creation and human existence. This is connected with the view that all have sinned and it is in this reality we find ourselves equal before God. The second aspect of sin is that it is a tragic response to the existential limits of human life.

Given this perspective, deadly sins (greed, pride, envy, lust, despair, glut tony, and anger) are understood as tragic, though idolatrous, responses to human finitude with the exception that they have been identified by Christian theologians as being particularly destructive to human beings, the commu nity, and, I would add, the environment. Greed, for example, moves a person to pursue and hoard objects of value and this leads to further estrangement from God, a growing sense of emptiness, emotional distance from intimate relationships, and deprivation to those who do not have access to the valued goods (LaMothe, 2003). Envy is especially deadly because it involves an intention to deprive the other person of a cherished object, even if it means murder (Schimmel, 1992; LaMothe, 2002). Deadly sins are deadly not simply because they impoverish one's soul and further estrange one from God through compulsive and idolatrous preoccupation with some object(s) or activity, but also because they are implicated in deliberate and unintentional acts of harm to others in and outside of the community. All sin may signify estrangement and harm, but deadly sins are especially destructive to the sinner and others.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Another great historical note from David McCullough

David McCullouogh is one of my favorite historians. I can't get enough of his documentaries with Ken Burns and I've just finished his book, "1776." I'm currently in the middle of "The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris."

The book chronicles the lives of several Americans who spent years in Paris studying art, history and medicine and how that time impacted both their own lives and professions as well as the rest of the US. A few of the influential Americans profiled in the book are James Fennimore Cooper (American aristocrat and author of 'The Last of the Mohicans'), Samuel Morse (an artist who eventually invented Morse Code) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin and influential abolitionist).

The book combines my love of history with my interest in Parisian culture/ 'la vie parisienne."In fact, reading about the Louvre prompted me to take Erin back to the Nelson-Atkins museum last Saturday afternoon.

But about halfway through the book, I found a nice quote that touches on one of my other passions; social justice and nonviolence. So, as I often do, I wanted to share this quote.

"In the nearly twenty years since his student days at the Sorbonne, Charles Sumner had become one of the most eloquent and disputatious figures in American politics. With his imposing height,his rare command of the English language, and his deep, powerful voice, he could rouse and inspire audiences as could few others, and when unleashing his passion for causes, he seldom failed to provoke storms of criticism, even outrage. He had argued for world peace, spoken out fearlessly against the Mexican War and slavery, and with little or no apparent concern over whom he offended.His friends worried for his safety. 'For heaven's sake don't let him do himself harm while trying to help other people,' Thomas Appleton wrote to his father from England.

It was Sumner's continuing part in the 'question' of slavery, above all, that had propelled him to national prominence. He was one of the founders of the Free Soil Party and,in 1851, at age forty,was elected to the US Senate. Having once concluded - while observing how black students weretreated at the Sorbonne - that the attitude toward and treatment of African - Americans at homewas contrary to the 'natural order of things,' Sumner had made plain his hatred of slavery and never gave up on it. 'I think slavery a sin, individual and national,' he wrote, 'and I think it the duty of each individual to cease committing it.'

The assault had taken place on May 22nd, after Sumner, earlier in the week, delivered his longest,most strident and contentious speech yet, 'The Crime against Kansas,' as he called it....He would expose 'the whole crime' of slavery, 'without sparing language,' Sumner told a friend in advance,and he did it [through a two day speech on the Senate floor]. He denounced not only 'the reptile monster' of slavery, and the 'swindle' of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was the center of the debate, but he singled out for acid scorn several members of the Senate who had perpetuated 'human wrongs,' one of whom, Senator Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina, was not present to reply. Sumner likened Butler to a silly old Don Quizote in love with 'harlot slavery.''He cannot open his mouth bout out there flies a blunder.'

To no one's surprise, the speech was immediately denounced in the South and acclaimed in the North.The abolitionists, and especially in Massachusetts, were overjoyed. 'The speech,' wrote Sumner's close friend Henry Longfellos, 'is the greatest voice on the greatest subject that has yet been uttered.'

An incensed congressman named Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina, who was a slaveholder and a kinsman of Senator Butler, brooded for more than a day over what he ought to do to defend the honor of South Carolina in the face of such insults."

Brooks eventually decided to sneak up on Sumner from behind and attack when Sumner was trapped in a bolted in desk and all alone. Brooks attack was so brutal that Sumner never recovered from the bodily injury and brain damage. Brooks was fined $300 and elevated to hero status among citizens in the South.

A few things from that quote stand out to me:1) Sumner, like his other abolitionists friends, is a hero of the Kingdom and of the United States.2) It's incredible how much our acceptance of morality/ immorality is impacted by the group-think around us.3) Travelling to other societies helps us better understand the positives and negatives of our own culture.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Prayers for 2012

Now that I've pretty much recovered from a season of loss and stress, I've now entered into a season of praying, waiting and preparation. In fact, my good friend Joe Kumor even told me in a message the other day that he was excited to see the next adventure God had for me.

I recently read a book by Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, that talked about praying circles around important people and our future. In response to that book, the three circles I've made for this year are: My family/ adoption, justice/peace and teaching/ preaching. While I was already thinking and praying about those things, this book helped me focus my efforts. Here is a bit of info on where I am now with each circle and where I hope to be by the end of 2012.

Family / Adoption I've made more an effort lately to be praying for my wife and my son. I'm also praying about where to begin our next adoption process. Dawson basically fell into our lap, so I'm guessing the next child will take some effort on our part. I have a list of some agencies we can look into, I just need to actually do it. I'm also encouraged by the fact that my employer, Farmers, has a $4,000 adoption credit.

Preaching / Teaching teaching and preaching the scriptures is a gift that God has given to me. Not being in a regular pastoral role, however means I'm not in a regular rhythm of using those gifts, but I'm working into a new rhythm. I will be preaching at IC Gardner every six weeks or so and will be starting a discipleship group for new Christians.
But how will this move ahead in the future? I've been thinking for a couple of years that I'd love to start a ministry that educates people on Jesus' nonviolent teachings and example. I've been thinking lately that it would be great to teach some college level ethics classes. So it might be time for me to pursue some sort of doctoral degree. Yesterday morning, a life-long mentor of mine, Randy Beckum, gave me some great ideas for a doctoral program.

Peace / Justice Clearly, I have a passion to help make this nation slightly less war-hungry (at least among Christians) and slightly more just. Randy Beckum also told me that my alma matter, MidAmerica Nazarene University is starting a Center for Social Justice. I'd love to work for something like that. The educational ministry mentioned above would be a part of living out this passion as would some teaching opportunities at another initiative of MNU.
In the present, however, I'm continuing to read war history and nonviolent Christian teachings and sharing those on my blog. I'm also volunteering, and trying to recruit more volunteers, for the Urban Scholastic Center in Kansas City, KS. I'll write more on that later.

So those are my "prayer circles" for 2012. If you'd like to occasionally join me in those prayers, I'd greatly appreciate it.