September 3, 2002
Your Two Cents
-- Martin E. Marty
The two Sightings reporting on reservations about or criticisms of war with Iraq drew by far the largest response in the history of this e-mail column. By design, every one of my columns fits on one printed page. This time I’ll go on longer, to give respondents a hearing and an outlet, and other readers a chance to sample what people have to say. If we don't always have the resources to respond to your e-mail at length, we do always read and profit from the exchanges.
Responses came overwhelmingly from people who in the main shared the reservations and criticisms voiced by Father Andrew Greeley and by ecumenical conferees. Here are some samples: the critiques, first. Greeley assessed the costs of war but “one can only note that there is also tremendous personal cost in the status quo;” after he quoted Winston Churchill on the evils of war, note: “Sometimes the courage required is not the courage to criticize, but the courage to risk loss and even defeat for the sake of a more just peace.”
Peter Steinfels, professor, columnist and religion reporter, reminded us that not all religionists fell silent after the Gulf War started; some Catholic bishops were among them. Some books by religious pacifists came off the press quickly. He alerts us to numbers of religious journals that consistently criticize the unilateralism, the axis of evil terminology, the handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the elastic use of the war on terrorism. We’ll be more alert to them.
Finally: cases for or against military action in Iraq should meet moral standards and not be grounded in or opposed to emotional patriotism. Don’t accept someone’s word just because he or she is courageously dissenting from the status quo and mainstream. Read Joan Bondurant on Gandhi to learn the difference between being non-violent, which Gandhi was, and pacifist, which he was not. “Ahimsa” or non-violence was not an absolute principle but a pragmatic one. That distinction may have a bearing now.
Some were bibliographical responses. One urged us to dust off Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” Will do. Another: Read M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie, the Hope for Healing Human Evil” for an analysis of “evil” and “sin” and relate it to current terminology. Ben Kuipers urges people to track down good writing by a Quaker, Stephen G. Caryon, on the danger of acquiescence that silences dissent in the name of patriotism: http://www.friendsjournal.org/contents/2002/03march/feature2.html.
Some wanted to know where all of Greeley’s column appears; we see it in the Chicago Sun-Times, but for national coverage, you’d do well to consult his e-mail, Agreel@aol.com, or website, http://www.agreeley.com.
A couple of pastors wrote to say that Sightings does not have in its scope the “many pastors out here in the real world who are speaking (very few get to print of course) consistently and faithfully about and against war and violence and calling into question the subjection of discipleship to citizenship.” And they are doing it where it is risky. Sightings pays too much attention to academics and journalists. True. But we try to transcend their boundaries and deal with the local. One pastor berated me for even quoting “God Bless America” instead of saying “God Bless the World.”
A pastor’s spouse confessed that she gulped when he included Saddam Hussein by name in a prayer; would someone in the congregation vocally rebel, or might a “leak” outside the service misrepresent what he said? Must we be THAT afraid of sounding unpatriotic (when doing what the New Testament has Jesus saying followers should do, namely, pray for the enemy). Another pastor: we need more constructive criticism by religious figures of a foreign policy that seems “hell bent. . . .”
“The only gains, if indeed they come to pass, would be a new and unstable Iraq, some progress against terrorism and its development of exotic weapons, and a self-serving justification” for the administration “that the defense build-up was right and justified.”
We were also advised to give more space to figures named Scowcroft, Powell, Schwartzkopf, Kissinger, etc. who may not use religious terms (and thus don’t qualify for “Sightings”) but who have voiced their concerns about war with Iraq.
In response to "A Letter from Jerusalem" (Sightings 7/02) written by Ithamar Gruenwald, (Praying for peace is a challenge to the deity. “For His omniscience is not always a guarantee that His miracles are going to work.”), Alfred Krass at firstname.lastname@example.org offered us several items from the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia.
There were also many responses to a slightly earlier column on theology, irony, and Reinhold Niebuhr, and another on non-theology in evangelical book market lists. On Niebuhr, one suggests that he may not be so often cited because of a paradigm shift in our culture. The Niebuhr’s addressed situations in view of Enlightenment issues, and at a time when national identity was the big framework. Now in post-modern times the churches have to find fresh frameworks and languages.
On evangelical publishing, one reader reminded us that the evangelicals are not alone: the primary publisher of a mainline denomination says that it can’t sell books with “theology” in the title. Anti-theology is contagious. Another wrote that evangelicals produce more best-sellers than others because many are trained to be mistrustful of publications from outside the camp, whereas other religious folk are more exposed to and ready to tackle works from other, often “secular,” sources on themes that parallel those heard in churches.
Numbers of these samples come from people who send personal greetings; I accept them all with thanks. Knowing how busy you will all be after Labor Day let me promise not to go on long again for a long time, and express regrets that we cannot always air samples of the instructive responses Sightings brings.