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Saturday, July 23, 2005  

"Pray without ceasing."  As I ponder in exasperation the ongoing madness of the Middle East and its widening envelope—the bloody annihilation of a people, the threat of more violence and terror, the incredible looming scenario of a shock and awe in Iran, but with nuclear weapons, the impending revelations about the extent of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, but this time with grisly audiovisuals of the rape of Muslim women and sodomy of detained boys—as I pull at the hair on my head over these things and find myself actually rending my garments, in Old Testament fashion, perhaps out of the pointlessness of it all, perhaps because I can't make it stop, I am reminded finally of a scene that Walter Wink recalls in Naming the Powers (Fortress Press, 1984, p. 111):

"When the Roman archons (magistrates) ordered the early Christians to worship the imperial spirit or genius, they refused, kneeling instead and offering prayers on the emperor's behalf to God. This seemingly innocuous act was far more exasperating and revolutionary than outright rebellion would have been. Rebellion simply acknowledges the absoluteness and ultimacy of the emperor's power, and attempts to seize it. Prayer denies that ultimacy altogether by acknowledging a higher power."

This actually gave me some relief, and it reminded me again of the potent strategy each of us as Christians should be engaged in during this time of great foment and fear.

How many of us are there who regularly pray for Messrs. Bush and Cheney? Or for the entire Bushevik clan? I don't mean the disingenuous prayer, where we ask God to transport them to his house for judgment, but rather the prayer, or the like, where we ask the Father to change their hearts, to bring them to a life-affirming faith in Christ, to face the reality of the Cross and the compelling love of Jesus Christ. Imagine, if you would, how we might thereby empower America to do good, not evil, and to restore the better stature of this country before the entire international community. For surely, through prayer, if the Lord is willing, we might so radically change the perspective of these rulers, as the scales are dropped from their eyes, as they are transformed by a renewing of their minds. The United Methodists just can't seem to get their act together to bring Messrs. Bush and Cheney to repentance—they need our help. Paul reminds us to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions" [Eph 6:18] and to "pray continually" [1 Thes 5:17] and we ought therefore to include in our prayers the good transformation of this leadership. Perhaps, God willing, convicted by the Holy Spirit, they will so regret their behavior that they resign their offices, being too ashamed to continue, unable to reconcile faith in Christ with the enormous hurt caused by their heretical, militant, messianic nationalism.

Between now and at least September 11, 2005, let us pray without ceasing [NKJV] for Messrs. Bush and Cheney, that they would experience the life-changing Spirit of Christ and would be brought to repentance, if only for such offenses as international crime, immorality, and disobedience. Let us pray, too, for the victims of our twisted hegemony, and for the intercession of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all Christians in America.

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 12:50 AM |

Friday, July 22, 2005  

Freedom flees fear.  During a press conference with Tony Blair in London yesterday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard unloaded on reporters after one of them questioned him about the Iraq war as a major contributor to the recent London bombings:


To both Prime Ministers, what was your immediate reaction on hearing that some incidents had occurred, was it here we go again? And do incidents like this, coming just 14 days after the horrific attacks, suggest that the war against terror is being lost on the streets? And yesterday an Australian bomb victim of July 7 linked the bombings to Iraq. Does that suggest that the propaganda war against terrorists is also being lost?

Mr. Howard:

Could I start by saying the Prime Minister and I were having a discussion when we heard about it, and my first reaction was to get some more information, and I really don't want to add to what the Prime Minister has said. It is a matter for the police and a matter for the British authorities to talk in detail about what has happened here. Could I just say very directly, Paul, on the issue of the policies of my government, and indeed the policies of the British and American government on Iraq, that the first point of reference is that once a country allows its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it has given the game away, to use the vernacular. And no Australian government that I lead will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats, and no self-respecting government of any political stripe in Australia would allow that to happen.

Howard then goes on to give reporters a history lesson on terrorist attacks directed toward Australia prior to the invasion of Iraq.

The salient point I draw from this is not what others are paying attention to. Howard said no government of his "will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats" and that "once a country allows its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it has given the game away."

Isn't this precisely what the Bushevik administration has done for us—given the game away? Whatever specifically Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda wanted to achieve by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, one overarching success of those attacks (and one could say also of subsequent terror attacks in Lisbon and London, etc.) will be realized as America dismantles many of the freedoms it cherishes as a democracy through that fear-response called the USA Patriot Act. Today, reports the AP, the House of Representatives voted to extend the Act indefinitely and also to renew key provisions that were set to expire at the end of this year.

1.  See the full transcript of the press conference in the The Australian, July 22, 2005.

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 1:25 AM |

Wednesday, July 20, 2005  

Bush vows to safeguard US transits by rounding up the world's terrorists

BALTIMORE - President Bush today pledged to increase protection of US transit systems against attacks in the aftermath of the London bombings and urged Congress to renew provisions of a post-September 11 anti-terrorism law.

"The best way to protect the homeland is to go on the offense, is to find these people in foreign lands and bring them to justice before they come here to hurt us," Bush said during a visit to the Port of Baltimore. He also announced his formation of a new Office of Posse within the Department of Homeland Security.

"You heard me say 'Bring 'em on,'" said Bush. "Well, now I say 'Round 'em up.'" The aim of the new Office of Posse will be to search out and capture every terrorist in the world and bring them to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for permanent detention, he explained. "We're working with people around the world. We're on the hunt and we will stay on the hunt," he said. "My posse will git 'er done!"

He also urged renewal of the USA Patriot Act. About a dozen provisions in the act, which was enacted in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks, are set to expire at the end of this year unless renewed by Congress. Bush repeated his call to renew them, saying they strengthen efforts to fight terrorism.

"The Patriot Act closed dangerous gaps in America's law enforcement and intelligence capabilities, gaps the terrorists exploited when they attacked us on September the 11th," Bush said. "This will allow us to spy on evil organizations in our midst, like the ACLU, Greenpeace, Code Pink, and especially the American Friends Service Committee—those Quakers have got to be stopped."

Satire using a re-written, slightly altered news article published in Reuters, Wednesday, July 20, 2005.


posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 4:10 PM |

Tuesday, July 19, 2005  

We are all free.  My daughter L. turned 18 last month, and it's been as much a change for me as it's been for her, I think. Last night, for example, as she headed out the door, she announced that she was going to the movies—and then she was gone, just like that. Well, I had some things to say to her and some questions to ask, but maybe she thought that she was too mature now to hear any more cautions from me. I waited a few minutes and then called her on her cell phone, and found myself repeating Paul's remarks in his first epistle to the Corinthians. I don't think I intended them, but they came so naturally off my tongue.

I'm still intrigued by the dynamic tension between humanism, existentialism, and our Christian faith. Here's what I mean. One of the great themes of existentialism, as found in Sartre and also in Dostoevsky,[1] is that humans are free to make for themselves what they are and the direction/purpose for their lives—and are constrained only by time, physical limitations, societal constraints, and bad psychology. So when Sartre says that "Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist," he is stating the starting point of the existentialist; it's the attempt to reconstruct the world around reasonable values that makes humanism (or existentialism as a humanism) possible. In Paul, though, we find that this is inverted, almost a mirror image of the existentialist, when he says "Everything is permissible." Both speak about human freedom. In Sartre the freedom is made possible by God's death; in Paul the freedom is made possible by the Cross.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12 what is permissible, what is lawful,[2] is no longer any constraint placed upon us by God, but instead by virtue of our new relationship with him. Having been ransomed, purchased at a price, we belong to God as members of the body of Christ and must care for ourselves as we would a temple, being alert to what is beneficial and what can overpower us. In 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 what is permissible becomes subservient to our station as humans among other humans, with the good of others to be sought over and above our own good. Strangely, we still end with a humanism, but a humanism grounded in the reality of a freedom that comes not from God's annihilation, but from an affirmation of God's existence and his purpose for us. The difference, of course, is that in our brand of humanism, our form of existentialism, we do not make our purpose. If we try to, well, that really is bad faith.

So in my cell phone call to L. I was startled—but finally very satisfied—to find myself telling her that, at the age of 18, she now has a new freedom in her choice of films, that I still expected her to use good judgment in her choices. "Everything is permissible," I heard myself saying, "but not everything is beneficial." Thank you, Lord, for Paul's words.

1.  Sartre explores this in his famous 1946 lecture, "Existentialism Is a Humanism." There he attributes the starting point of the existentialist to Dostoevsky, who had a Karamazov entertain the idea that everything becomes lawful if God does not exist. See Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, Book 11, Chapter 4.
2.  I am not insensitive to the difference that translations make, where KJ, NKJ, NASB, NET, and RSV, etc., all use "lawful" in place of "permissible," as in NIV and others, but that doesn't affect the larger thought here. It is interesting, significant perhaps, that NEB uses "I am free to do anything" and Today's NIV uses "I have the right to do anything."

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 11:25 PM |

Monday, July 18, 2005  

Waxman tutors Bush on how to stop those annoying national security leaks dripping in the White House.  Today Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent the president a letter upbraiding him for failing to uphold his obligation to enforce Executive Order 12958, and reminding him what his obligation is.[1] It's a beautiful letter, certainly so far as scolding goes, and was prompted by Mr. Bush's change of heart about firing anyone found to be involved in the disclosure of Valerie [Plame] Wilson as a covert CIA agent.

Several times in 2003 Mr. Bush said he would fire that person,[2] but today he said he would remove the culprit only "if someone committed a crime."[3] Well, says Waxman, the president can't cower behind a different standard:

Your new standard is not consistent with your obligations to enforce Executive Order 12958, which governs the protection of national security secrets. The executive order states: "Officers and employees of the United States Government ... shall be subject to appropriate sanctions if they knowingly, willfully, or negligently ... disclose to unauthorized persons information properly classified." Under the executive order, the available sanctions include "reprimand, suspension without pay, removal, termination of classification authority, loss or denial of access to classified information, or other sanctions."

Moreover, as per the order, Mr. Bush has an obligation to take "appropriate and prompt corrective action" and, scolds Waxman, "you may not wait until criminal intent and liability are proved by a prosecutor." He closes with a copy of Karl Rove's own Nondisclosure Agreement and a fact sheet on its legal implications. He isn't saying that Rove is the guy—but just in case.

One would think that the president could end this whole thing by just walking over and asking Rove, or the White House staff, as Bob Schieffer suggested in his commentary on CBS News' Face the Nation yesterday.[4]

You know, maybe Mr. Bush has already done that. Good management style would certainly suggest such a course of action. But then he's got a problem: either his staff members have lied to him (and he needs a special investigator to find out who's been leaking national secrets in his own administration) or they didn't lie to him and so he himself knows and is now complicit in the leaking of national security secrets. It must be a rough having to work with all those liars. Do you suppose that's what Mr. Bush meant when he said that being president was "hard work"?[5]

1.  "Waxman: New Bush Statement on Rove Conflicts with Executive Order,", July 18, 2006. Waxman's letter is archived at
2.  On September 29, 2003, Scott McClellan said: "The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." On September 30, 2003, at a meeting with business leaders in Chicago, Mr. Bush said: "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action." He said something similar on June 10, 2004 at a press conference after the G8 Summit on Sea Island, GA. Mr. Bush was asked whether "you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found" to have leaked the agent's name. "Yes," he said. "And that's up to the US Attorney to find the facts." On this see 2004 Sea Island Summit Documents. I owe Daily Kos, July 18, 2005, for tracking down quotes.
3.  At a news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today, he said: "I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts and if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration." See Reuters, July 18, 2005.
4.  On CBS' Face the Nation yesterday Bob Schieffer said: "Instead of appointing a special prosecutor, what if the president had just called in his top people in the beginning of all this and said, 'Folks, we have a problem here. I need to know who's been talking to Bob Novak, and I need to know today by the end of business'? That's what presidents used to do, and they're usually pretty good at finding out when they really want to know." Read the transcript as a PDF document.
5.  Watch an abbreviated video of Mr. Bush speaking his "hard work" mantra during the 2004 Bush-Kerry debates at [Quicktime required]. Or read this transcript of the first Bush-Kerry debate at New York Times, October 1, 2004.

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 11:50 PM |

Sunday, July 17, 2005  

Who will speak the names of the Iraq dead?  It was Gen Tommy Franks who said "You know we don't do body counts," as the US assault of Afghanistan (Operation Anaconda) was underway in 2002.[1] Now the civilian deaths in Iraq are becoming a tragedy that will forever stain America's intervention in the Middle East. It is bad enough that "American Iraq is presiding over a civilian death rate greater than the highest estimates per month per capita for that of the Baath regime,"[2] but it seems that no one is asking the names of these dead, as if they didn't matter, as if they didn't have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, or friends.

In a post today Judith Coburn writes with sensitivity about the "unnamed dead" of Iraq as the real collateral of the conflict:

One reason the war may seem so inconsequential to so many Americans is that the casualties, as reported in the American media, are almost exclusively American and so are relatively modest (though hardly inconsequential, of course, to those who knew and cared for the dead). "Collateral damage" has lived up to its name. Iraqi casualties have been collateral to the story of the war told by most American journalists—just as they have been to the warmakers in Washington and London.[3]

Surely it is important to know how many have died, but when we ask this, it's always the wrong question.[4]

1.  San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 2002. This news story is archived at
2.  This assessment is Juan Cole's, in his Informed Comment blog on July 15.
3.  Read the full article at This is also archived at Common Dreams News Center.
4.  I'm not sure just why, but this makes me think of Henry Reed's "Naming of Parts" poem. His memorable antiwar piece was published in the New Statesman and Nation, 24, no. 598 (8 August 1942): 92.

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 5:45 PM |
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