Where Theology’s “Cutting Edge” Can Be Found: Disability

For someone who has written a book about “neoliberalism”, it might seem fanciful to claim that I try to avoid theological fads. I arrived at neoliberalism because I was taking up a conversation that has been running in the church for at least 1800 years. It’s not that I am opposed to innovation in theology, but I suspect that the cutting edge might as often be found on the margins, or in the forgotten past as in the hip and well-funded, widely-publicised projects of the elite universities.

To whatever extend theology can have a “cutting edge”, I want to propose it is found among the conversations around disability. Over the last generation, a body of writing has built up which is deeply informed by the biblical tradition and profoundly subversive to the trajectories of our societies. I personally have found a tremendous spiritual vitality in considering the Gospel from the perspective of disability. It felt like blinders were removed from my eyes when I heard John Swinton muse that Jesus could be on the autistic spectrum. My reading of Vanier showed me how this deeply pastoral theology was also profoundly political. Preaching and teaching from this perspective has, in my brief experience, been earth-shattering for those listening.

With that in mind, I take this blog out of its perpetual hibernation to alert you to two significant works of disability theology just published. Grant Macaskill (who I think has published three books this year!!!) has published a major piece on autism and Brian Brock’s long awaited Wonderously Wounded is now available. I could quote extensively, but I realise that in this age of Twitter, no one reads full blogs anymore. But a representative sample must be shared which demonstrates how fertile and thought provoking are these conversations.

Anyone who knows me probably knows that the early church had a lot of time for people who were poor and the dude who was most eloquent about this was “Golden Tongue” John Chrysostom. Brock takes up Chrysostom’s extolling of the virtues of people who are poor and extends them:

Chrysostom’s fatal error is his equation of gift and social role. … The problem is that Chrysostom get there by apparently ruling Christian beggars out as conduits of the much more diverse gifts Paul has enumerated. By reducing the spiritual gifts of the poor to their ragged clothes, the gesture of the outstretched hand and their social location outside the church doors, Chrysostom reifies the poverty of the poor as their spiritual gift. He has locked them into the roles thrust upon them by the gaze of the ‘normal’ masses. Their social disablement has been operationalised for theological ends.

Brian Brock, The Peculiar Togetherness of the Body of Christ, Wonderously Wounded (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2019), 219.

Disability theology, my friends. It is what you need to be reading. It will crack open your heart to the ways in which you have been blinded by the violent assumptions of our age and it will relocate your political attention to questions that more fully resonate with the Kingdom of God.

Recognising that this conversation is too rich to leave in the academy, Brian and his friend, Paul Shrier (of Azusa Pacific University ) have established a YouTube channel which seeks to introduce the questions they research into the conversation that the church should be having.

I cannot tell you how unlikely it is that Brian would create a YouTube channel. The man still operates (unironically) a flip phone that he probably inherited from his grandfather. He vaguely knows what social media is, because I send him clips when politicians from his hometown do stupid things in public (which happens on the regular). He writes his books longhand, in hard-backed copies, in the one corner of the one library in Aberdeen University that doesn’t have wifi or data coverage. It’s worth watching these videos if only to see what it would be like if someone from 1919 was asked to make video tutorials! More seriously, it is worth watching these videos because these are two men whose lives have been transformed by the love of those labelled as disabled.

It is a conversation that demands everyone’s attention.

Your Correspondent, He liked; he subscribed

Interrogating Stanley Hauerwas Symposium

When I was doing my PhD in Aberdeen I got involved in lots of excellent side-projects. We initiated a 6.30am indoor soccer game every week called “No-Dicks Football” which invited people to enjoy the beautiful game without suffering the beautiful egos that often mar matches featuring 30-something failed maestros. There was “Whisky Fridays” in our office once a month, which invited people to enjoy the beautiful Scottish beverage without worrying that the people you were talking with would be bored by your effusive discussion of theology. I also put a book together with my teachers and friends, Brian Brock and Stanley Hauerwas.

 Beginnings

I promise you, the content is more interesting than the cover.

The book took a few years to put together. It takes the form of a long-running conversation between Brian and Stanley. Stanley is one of the most significant theological figures of the last four decades and his work is commonly mis-read, as much by his fans as by his critics. This book represents a unique attempt to probe the gaps that mark Hauerwas’ work and to discern connections that are easily missed because of the non-systematic way that Stanley has gone about writing. I am obviously biased, but as long as Nicholas Healy and Sam Wells aren’t in the room, I am happy to declare that this is the definitive guide to reading Stanley’s work. Brian is not nearly so well-known, but that, my friends, is a matter of time, and for those who want in close to the ground-floor, this text shows you how remarkable a reader Brock is. Most fundamentally, the work is notable because of its form. It is a conversation. It takes place over years. It is a testimony of friendship and it demonstrates the sort of generous listening that should mark theological deliberation. Even though the Academy insists we all play alone, theology is not a solo sport.

All these ideas and more will be explored on June 30th at the All Hallows campus of Dublin City University at the symposium and book launch the theology department are hosting in honour of this book. It is the first time that Brian, Stanley and I have been on hand to do our “Theological Pals” act outside of Aberdeen. There’ll be 2 short papers by Brock and Hauerwas, lots of time for Q&A, the book will be launched by Enda McDonagh, and we’ll pour wine and toast the joy of theology, friendship, and theological friendship together. Anyone reading this blog should know that they are most welcome to join us.

Hauerwas event

All the information you could possibly need is here. Should you need any further information, feel free to contact me.

Your Correspondent, He’s getting the epiphany sweats!

ISIS, America, and the Return of Jesus

The cover story for The Atlantic this month is a 10,000 word piece by Graeme Wood about the religious motivations behind ISIS. What they really want, Wood asserts, is the end of the world. And this is an Islamic desire. So when people like Islamic leaders or Muslim intellectuals or the first Muslim President of America Barack HUSSEIN Obama say that ISIS is not Islamic, they are all talking out of the side of their mouth. Wood knows, because he talked to lots of people before writing his article. Some people were in ISIS. Another chap is an expert in Islam at Princeton.

It is important that we learn about the inherently Islamic nature of ISIS’ beliefs because having that knowledge will “help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.”

Wood has lived an interesting life, it seems. He is Canadian, and a graduate of Harvard, having first attended the prestigious, elitist anti-school Deep Springs College. He has lived and worked in the Middle East and Cambodia. He lectures now at Yale. He is a clear, cogent writer. And yet he blithely assures us that “Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes.” The validity of that sentence depends on where you think theology ends. If you grant that theology is involved in idolatry, then World War II starts looking like a pretty arcane theological dispute very quickly, as does the homelessness epidemic in Athens and Thessaloniki right now. The German finance gurus explicitly talk in religious terms; sacrifice and redemption.

My point here is not just that NAZI-ism might profitably be understood as a pagan religion. My point is that you need to be pretty sure of yourself to situate yourself as part of a society that used to kill over arcane theological issues but has seen the error of their ways, while talking about a society you claim still does that. You are necessarily setting yourself up as superior. You are offering an understanding of theology that is paper thin, almost as if you want to pretend theology isn’t alive and kicking in the cultures descended from a peace treaty signed in Westphalia in 1648 (the notional end of the religious wars).

Wood thinks that the West is beyond such religiosity and that we then export our assumptions to the Arab world, under the mistaken belief “that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.”

This is a critical sentence. Wood’s argument is:

    ISIS is religious.
    The West mis-reads ISIS by downplaying its religiosity.
    This mis-reading is dangerous.
    This mis-reading is caused by the fact that religion isn’t a big deal in the West.

Does this seem credible to you? Is religion not a big deal in the West? If that is true, then why have “tens of thousands of foreign Muslims” left “France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Australia, Indonesia, the United States, and many other places” to go fight for ISIS? It seems that if ISIS is religious, then large numbers of people in the West share that characteristic.

So a critical question we need to ask is: why are they not included in Wood’s understanding of the West?

Recall that list that summarised Wood’s argument up above. We have to flesh it out because the kind of religiosity that he claims ISIS represents is “apocalyptic.” Wood’s claim is that ISIS’ apocalyptic Islam leads them to hope for an “epic good-versus-evil battle” that will bring an end to the world. This might be true, but it is unfortunate that he doesn’t dwell more on this category of apocalyptic. Apocalypse literally means unveiling. It is a tradition present in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. When Jesus tells you to turn the other cheek, it can be read as an apocalyptic teaching; he is revealing the true nature of reality. Much of the apparently palatable teaching of Jesus relies on a claim about the secret nature of reality: the guys with the biggest sticks won’t win in the end, instead the grain of the universe goes with those who carry crosses.

The world teems with variety. And just as there are a bunch of different ways you can draw the globe, and there are South Korean versions of popular American sitcoms, your apocalypse might be different from mine.

And that is really my killer point. Woods can talk casually about people killed by America as “drone-splats” and he can carelessly throw it out there that Mohammed, “whom all Muslims consider exemplary,” also owned slaves. Did not the prophets of America own slaves? Jefferson, Washington, Ulysses S. Grant who was president as recently as 1877 – they all at one time or another “owned” people. Wood’s piece reflects practically everything I have ever read about ISIS. It dwells on their frightening and depraved violence, while sliding over our frightening and depraved violence. It stands aghast at their setting fire to people, while forgetting (or never learning) that America dropped 388,000 tonnes of napalm – a chemical weapon in the form of a gel that sticks to human skin and then incinerates – during the Vietnam war. I do not mean to make ISIS and America seem like equivalents. Such moral calculus is beside the point. Instead, what I want to suggest is that Jesus has many hard things to say to people who judge out of their self-delusion.

Ms. Entropy

Everyone who holds the Bible as their scripture is apocalyptic in some way because the Bible claims to tell you that the meaning of history will be revealed with the return of Jesus. My Christian faith is apocalyptic. If ISIS’ belief system is apocalyptic, that neither proves it is Islamic, nor demonstrates why that question matters. America is undoubtedly apocalyptic. It believes the meaning of history was prophesied in their Declaration of Independence and came to fruition with the collapse of the Soviet Union. History has ended. The perpetual present is our future; a world of neo-liberal capitalism, rhetoric about freedom, and increasingly rampant self-determination as our heavenly vision. The apocalyticism of Jesus tells you to forgive 70 times 7, to love your enemies, and to pray for them. That bears as little resemblance to America’s unveiling of the meaning of history as your local Mosque has to ISIS.

But when that fancy American magazine tells you that ISIS is religious, that ISIS is Islamic, that ISIS is apocalyptic, you should believe them?

Theology is not something that happens only in university departments and old-fashioned pulpits. It happens on battle-fronts and in war propaganda. That holds for ISIS and for NATO. If Christians do not learn how to read the ways in which their nation states are parasitically robbing and perverting their vocabulary, then they will never be able to see the world accurately. That blindness will be lethal.

Your Correspondent, Slow down sir! You’re going to give yourself skin failure!

Stephen Fry and the gods No One Believes In

For those of you not from the British Isles, Stephen Fry is an English comedian and gameshow host who is very erudite and much loved. Gay Byrne is an Irish talkshow host and road safety authority who is very skilled and considered a sort of historic cultural figure in Ireland.

They feature together in an episode of a series Byrne hosts for the Irish state broadcaster called “The Meaning of Life”. I don’t think they ever invited Terry Eagleton on, which is unfortunate because he is funnier and smarter than Fry and more skilled than Byrne, and he literally wrote the book on the topic.

Anyway, if you missed the controversial bit, here it is:

Many people believe that Fry hit the nail on the head. He spoke the truth. How can the delusions of faith stand in the face of such articulate and elegant reasoning? I watched it and thought, “He’d never say that if he was around for dinner with me and my friends.” Well, of course he wouldn’t. It would be rude. Wife-unit and I would have made him a lovely aubergine parmigiana and some brownies. How churlish it would be. But it would also be laughable. Maybe he would still think it, but such pomposity doesn’t play well when you are dining with atheists who became Christians.

That is all Fry’s comments are: pompous bluster. There is no god that he is referencing, except that vague god that atheists sometimes think Christians and Jews worship. (Have you ever noticed that for all their talk about how heinous Islam is, atheists still seem to think that Muslims worship a different (worse) god (that doesn’t exist) than Christians?) There are many philosophical problems with what Fry lays out and I am sure there are hundreds of pieces already written that enumerate them. One such problem is that putting God in the dock requires an expectation of God that seems to demand a metaphysical explanation for goodness. In other words: if we fail God for not being good, where does the standard of good come from?

Just as a side-point: that is not the same thing as saying that we need a god to generate good. The knotty problem I have alluded to doesn’t get resolved quite so simply. It is a variety of Augustine’s contention that the problem that the human is faced with isn’t why is there suffering, but why is there joy? The grand puzzle of reality is not so much the horror of the burrowing insect as the satisfaction of a cold glass of water on a hot July day. That and why did I not enjoy that film “500 Days of Summer” because looking at Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt for an hour and a half sounds like something only the blind could find boring.

My interest isn’t (any longer) in such philosophical tinkering. It has its place, but that place isn’t at my dinner table. In our gaff, we’re very, very interested in Jesus.

When Christians talk about God, they are talking about Jesus. Jesus reveals who God is. God reveals Himself in Jesus. The God that Christians expect to meet when that time comes is a God who comes to us as, in one particularly disturbing image in the New Testament, as a slaughtered lamb. He comes to us as a Palestinian tradesman with a gash caused by a Roman sword down his side, and nail holes in his arms and ankles, his forehead scarred by a cruel joke and his back lacerated by a whip. That God, that Christians worship, is not a God who will be impressed by rich white Englishmen saying “How dare you?!” The 1st century equivalent of rich white Englishmen hung him from the tree. That bunch of men encountered this Godman and decided that if they banished him, their life would become “simpler, purer, cleaner, and more worth living.” It didn’t. They didn’t know what they were doing. That pattern continues. Always expect the powerful to prefer their gods like the Greek deities. Those titans supported power instead of subverting it.

There are many problematic things about Christianity, perplexing and troubling things. Early on, the church developed or adopted big words to cope with all of them. Election. Trinity. Incarnation. Personhood. Kerygma. Parousia. Eschaton.

It is very significant that it was well into the Englightenment before we had to come up with the word theodicy, that Fry references at the beginning. Still, most of us prefer the simpler word suffering. Contrary to the widely propagated myth, Christian people are not running from suffering. The torture device they use as their visual calling card should remind you of that.

There are many problematic things about Christianity. There are weak points where opponents can score points. Suffering isn’t one of them. The God that the Christians declare is one who revealed his divinity in momentous suffering.

There is a basic rule of argumentation that holds that you cannot be making a good point if your opponent cannot recognise her viewpoint when you describe it. Fry makes the mistake of the new-atheists. He does not respect his opponent enough to hear them. Ironically, this is the mistake Christians made when they were in the cultural ascendancy in an earlier age. The kind of “gotcha!” argument that Fry deploys is the kind of argument that swallows itself. It works when you are up against Gay Byrne on a tv camera. It falls to pieces when you are sitting across from the people in my congregation who can testify from their suffering to their conviction that no human has ever been more human than when the Godman suffocated under his own weight.

The new-atheists never try to kill that God. He’s already died. He sides with the suffering and the broken, the oppressed and the downtrodden. He is most welcomed by the people oppressed by men bearing Union flags, Stars and Stripes, and the 12 golden stars of Europe. He is many things, and in many ways confounding, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about him being defeated by suffering. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Your Correspondent, Young, rich, and full of sugar

‘Review’ of Captive to Christ, Open to the World by Brian Brock

Reviewing a book by a friend is a difficult thing, because you are already pre-disposed to like it. Reviewing a book by your PhD supervisor is practically impossible, because even if you don’t like it, you have to pretend you do (for a few years at least). So don’t think of this as a review. Think of it as an introduction to a book I think you should read. Because I really do like it.

Brock - Captive to Christ, Open to the World

In the introduction to Captive to Christ, Open to the World, Kenneth Oakes, the editor, shares one of the questions that Brian introduced him to: Who, exactly, owns the moon? Oakes beginning with the question about who owns the moon is totally appropriate. Conversations with Brian can be dangerous things. He reminded me with glee this week how one time last year, in a class full of undergraduates, a conversation with him ended up with me espousing an especially insane position whereby I advocated the murder of all the deer in Dublin. I never had any problem with deer, but I had serious problems with how I thought of animals. Brian’s conversations revealed that.

So the great strength of this book is that it is a collection of 8 conversations that we get to listen in on. The first two are conversations with Dutch theologians. The final 6 are conversations with Jacqueline Broen, who is now one of Brian’s doctoral students but back then was doing a masters in environmental theology. Like a conversation with Brian, this book is entertaining and illuminating and connections are made that you never realised were there.

The first chapter is a sort of introduction to the Brockian theological project, rotating around questions about his first book Singing the Ethos of God. I very much appreciated these sentences as a sort of summation of the key problem to be addressed by Christian ethics:

the way the theological academy teaches us to conceive our relationship to Scripture makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find our way from Scripture to the ethical questions of our real, lived lives, and conversely, we are taught that the people who are quite obviously doing this (like the Bible-believers I grew up with) were not doing so in an academically respectable manner.

So our job as theologians is to retrieve what we have lost. Earlier Christians could read Scripture and do theology hand in hand, they did their ethics as a form of theological commentary.

In the second chapter the conversation moves on to the topic of Brian’s second book Christian Ethics in a Technological Age. That is a sprawling giant of a text, full of meandering, illuminating conversations with philosophical and theological heavyweights. But in the new book, you get a sort of heavily compressed, verbal account of what is going on in that book. Technology is the repetition of the gesture by which Adam and Eve fashion coverings out of fig-leaves. It is our response to feeling the world is chaotic. Modern technology is a “fig-leaf reflex.” That is some deep theology pressed into a phrase.

This second chapter sees Brian speak about his relationship to Stanley Hauerwas, the technological wonders that mean that his son has survived leukaemia and the sharp end of our technological age. That sharp end is revealed when we consider how it is increasingly difficult to even conceive of the question that Christian ethics is about, namely: “How do we receive God’s sustenance?” My office-mate Taido joked yesterday that all the food in our local Tesco comes in plastic pods. In a world so habitually specialized, it is an imaginative effort to pray “Give us this day, our daily bread” and for those words to have meaning.

Chapters 3 through 8 are more general in nature, often discussing issues local to Aberdeen or St. Andrew’s and mostly hovering near an environmental agenda. But the range of issues touched upon is sort of staggering. What does it mean to do theology in a secular society (“in a public context you don’t have to make theological arguments all the time”), how church should relate to the world (“God does have something to give to us … the world needs the church to know who that God is.”), the utter dependence on cheap energy that gives our life shape, and how the false freedom of the market is revealed by a trip to Burger King are just some of the branches explored.

This book isn’t quite “Brian Brock for Dummies”. As I say, it is like over-hearing a conversation over coffee between him and other academics. As such, Nietzsche and Kant are referenced in answers. But so too are Donald Trump’s scandalous Aberdeenshire mis-adventures in environmental devastation for the sake of golf. It will tax the average Christian reader, but it will be richly rewarding. You’ll get a sense of how theology is done in Aberdeen: in worship, in dialogue with the world, in humility. You’ll better understand why my thesis or subsequent work won’t “solve” the problem of being wealthy westerners. And the reason why it won’t offer solutions isn’t just that I am nowhere near smart enough to do it. Rather, you’ll begin to see that to expect a “solution” falls short of what it means to be Christian. The theological ethicist’s job is “to allow theology to generate a different set of questions.” You’ll begin to see how the quest for Biblical principles that is so rampant in Christian discourse can be a way to evade God. After all, once we have the principles, we can discard the Bible and the living, active God. You’ll come to better understand what Brock means when he says that the core responsibility of the theologian is:

to teach students how to think and speak with one another as Christians.

Theology is no mere study. It is service to our neighbour as an act of worship. The goal is not to discover some ineffable truth and make it merely effable! It is truthful speech in love. It is action. It is service. It is worship.

Captive to Christ, Open to the World is, as such, a strange, different, curious little gem of a book.

Your Correspondent, His parents missed Woodstock, and he’s been making up for it since.

Asking In Your Neighbour, Praying in the Rain

Doing theology without friendship would be like making those little World Wildlife Fund toy pandas in a factory that pollutes rivers with mercury. It would contradict itself. Thankfully, Aberdeen is a place where the practices of making friends is woven into the day-to-day schedules of our lives so that we pray together and study together but also eat together and drink together and play football together.

The teaching staff are in on the act too and it has been a surprise to me that they actively pursue friendship with students – not just graduate students but even the lowly, meager, humble undergrads. My supervisor, Brian Brock, recently recorded an interview with a friend who started out as a student of his called Arni Zachariassen. Arni is Faroese and studied theology at Aberdeen. In the interview he and Brian (primarily) talk about disability theology. It is well worth 52 minutes of your time. You can get it at Arni’s website Theologues.

The conversation notionally begins with an explanation of Brian’s latest book which was intended to be a “critique of academic ethics as a sort of ivory tower discipline.” I’ll get around to writing a proper review of that book here before long, but even better than reading my waffle is listening to Brian and Arni.

When explaining the Christian response to disability in the interview, Brock has a lovely sentence:

The presence of those who can never aspire to be the icons of perfection and beauty for various reasons, actually draws us back to the essence of the Gospel.

This reminds me of my favourite sentence in the new book:

I would be very pleased to see the language of leadership drop entirely out of Christian discourse as well as executive management models, and I hope I’m not the only one who finds the language of ‘executive pastor’ physically nauseating.

– Brock, Captive to Christ, Open to the World, 105.

Very often, church members and even church leaders avoid “serious” theology because they think it is removed from their daily life. The thought processes at work make a sort of sense. They only have a set amount of time and energy and attention which is taxed and tempted and seduced from all sorts of angles. In such a world, simple, targeted books offering a 7 step guide to success or the distillation of Biblical principles seem like wise investments. (Even worse, some people skip books entirely and live off blogs.)

But the danger of such an approach isn’t just that those 7 steps lead you nowhere or that those Biblical principles are inventions, but that by reading things off the shelf we never get around to exploring the questions we need to wrestle with. The kind of “wrestling” we do is just short-circuiting. Too often, if we’re honest, we find ourselves asking the wrong questions, in the wrong way, and getting the wrong answers. The aversion to theology may be understandable from one perspective because so much theology is artlessly and obtusely written. It can be dry. But without theology, we end up swallowing crap.

For example: just trusting the best-selling authors that write for Zondervan (for example (a subsidiary of a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire)) to help you navigate what it means to live as a Christian here and now will leave you blind to the connection between the (bogus) obsession with “leadership” and “management” and the inability to address disability in our midst. In that blindspot, we cannot see the disabled in our midst. In other words, in that blindspot, we are disabled. There is something about admitting that we aren’t able to manage on our own, that we have to be led, that we are not icons of beauty, perfection, or holiness that is a pre-requisite for Gospel transformation. Brock finds language of executive management leadership “nauseating”. It’s a funny exaggeration. Or it is the truth – we are reeling and incoherent as Christians in part because we value things that are value-less and leave our treasures neglected.

So listen to this podcast of two thoughtful Christians talking about disability, technology and the Christian life. Then consider whether it might be really wise to pick up some theology at its source. If you’ve never read Hauerwas, go buy A Peacable Kingdom. If you’re interested but terrified by Barth, check if the library has Dogmatics in Outline. If you really don’t have the energy, pop down to your local Veritas shop and pick up Michael Paul Gallagher’s tiny, explosive “The Disturbing Freshness of Christ“.

None of that theology is dry. And all of it will help you identify the crap.

Your Correspondent, Savours the joys of mortgaging his future

Does The Pope Drink Tap Water?

As part of the terms of 2010 IMF bail-out that Ireland was pressurised into taking, water charges have been introduced. The scandal of how this scandalous decision has been implemented is too depressing to recount but I have been deeply heartened to see that hundreds of thousands of Irish people have taken to the streets in peaceful protest.

Ministry of Thirst

Water, after all, falls from the sky.

There has been a tremendous backlash in the media and from politicians who are now running scared. One government minister said yesterday that the water protests were being orchestrated, in part, by people who intended to establish a Marxist-Leninist Republic. What can we say except that the world is full of stupid people in powerful positions?

Wicked people too.

Marx and Lenin have had influence in times and places, but that place was never really Ireland and that time is not now. Groucho Marx and John Lennon won more adherents here.

What is curious is that the reactionary backlash is driven by people who in many instances, like our Taoiseach Enda Kenny, claim to be Roman Catholics. Now I haven’t been in communion with Rome for quite a while but I always thought that Catholics in the public sphere were meant to seek to implement Catholic Social Teaching. And Pope Benedict XVI in his excellent encyclical Caritas in Veritate lays out a very clear principle of Catholic Social Teaching:

The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.

– Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, §27.

If you are an Irish conservative Catholic, you surely must take the Pope as a firmer authority than Timothy Geithner. Furthermore, Benedict is very clear that the access to water is a component of “the fundamental right to life.”

Catholic teaching is very clear: Opposition to abortion or euthanasia means support for freely accessed water.

Your Correspondent, He’s getting the epiphany sweats!

My Plans For Sunday

My church meets in a beautiful, modern building, nestled into a housing estate on the northside of Scotland’s greyest city. It is an ordinary suburban congregation, which will not give rise to a missionary movement, or a hit worship music cd or a preaching philosophy anytime soon. We gather, with quite a few empty seats, every Sunday; a strange multi-cultural, ageing group of people struggling to be human. We sing about the presence of an invisible God and we read ancient texts written by desert nomads in a language that is no longer spoken and we eat bread and drink juice and say that is the centre-point of all of creation, even though none of us know what that means.

In other words, I am part of great little church.

On Sunday however, Wife-unit and I are going to get up and make some coffee and eat toast down by the sea and then we’re going to make Christmas cake. We’re not going to church because Sunday is “Remembrance Sunday” in the UK. There is a special notification in the seasonal church magazine that says that the scouts will be joining us in worship, so too will a brass band, and various civic figures too, I expect. Everyone will wear a poppy. At 11am there will be silence around the country. Soldiers killed in battle fighting for Queen and Country will be remembered.

What, especially on the centenary year of World War I, could be wrong with that?

Let me try, once again, to explain why we should be sceptical of remembrance campaigns, whether organised around poppies in Britian, lillies in Ireland, or… I don’t know, fireworks and little American flags in the US.

Remembering is a very difficult thing for human beings to do. Even defining what memory is is something that we struggle with. To put it recursively, we have forgotten how our ancestors remembered. We are alarmed by neuro-scientific experiments that indicate that our memories are full of holes, but we have forgotten that earlier ages didn’t imagine remembering with the metaphor of recording devices (as one example).

In Act I of Macbeth, after he is told by the witches that he will one day become king, he begins to muse about having to commit regicide. He hopes that he might avoid this act: “If Chance will have me King, why, Chance may crown me / Without my stir.” Yet he is aware that his victory will probably come with his spilling blood. Calling his imaginings to a halt he apologises and says:

Give me your favour: my dull brain was wrought
With things forgotten. Kind gentlemen, your pains
Are register’d where every day I turn
The leaf to read them.

Shakespeare didn’t need neuro-science to know that memory is deceptive. Macbeth’s brain is wrought with things forgotten and at the same time he promises to daily recall the virtues of the very men he intends to kill.

Memory is a difficult thing. That is why the story of Exodus must be told at Passover. That is why Jesus says that we are to break bread in memory of him. For Plato, the whole of human life is a wrestling match with anamnesis, the mystical task of remembering rightly.

Einstein said that “Memory is deceptive because it is coloured by today’s events.” But on Sunday our memories are deceptive because they are not coloured by today’s events. Since Britain’s declaration of war against Germany in August 1914, not a year has passed without its forces being involved in conflict. Since the foundation of the British army in 1707, a year has not passed without Britain sending men with guns to kill and to die for something called “the nation” (earlier, the even scarier “Empire”).

Britain does not just need to remember past wars. It is currently involved in two live wars, that have each dragged on for over ten years. They presumably have soldiers on active duty in operations that we are not allowed know about. The legacy of Britain as a nation is one of constant war. That reality persists today. Britian has invaded 90% of the nations on planet Earth:

Countries not yet invaded by the UK

I am not trying to be anti-British here. If I lived in America, I would have written something like this back at Memorial Day. When Ireland begins its centenary recollections in 2016, I will be trying to publish things like this in newspapers and academic journals. The task of remembering rightly is the task of the Christian church and we are tempted into unfaithfulness when we let our allegiance to the nation state, even relatively “peaceful” nation states like Ireland, recall human murder and call it fate.

In the centre of Aberdeen there is a statue of a lion that reminds us to remember “Our Glorious Dead”. If Remembrance was Christian, we wouldn’t call the men who died on the fields of Flanders “glorious”. Human life has rarely been less glorious. If Remembrance was Christian, we wouldn’t dare use the word “our”, because “their” dead matter as much to God.

Aberdeen lion

In the theological journal Theology this month, Paul Oestreicher writes about Remembrance Sunday last year:

On Remembrance Sunday last year I took a German Lutheran pastor to the Cenotaph in Whitehall to see the parade of old veterans. I was moved. He was shocked. No such military ceremony is acceptable in Germany after two lost world wars, lost in disgrace.

The German Christian was shocked. You agree with that. Germans shouldn’t have a Gedenktag because they were the baddies! (As it turns out, Germany does have a number of remembrance events in their calendar including: January 27: Holocaust Memorial Day and 8 May: Liberation Day – but they are utterly different in tone, intention, and liturgy). Yet if we agree that soldiers are not responsible for the fights begun by their politicians and their generals and their captains of industry (no one can disagree with that!), then why are German soldiers not remembered like the British recall theirs?

Is it a lack of gratitude for the “ultimate sacrifice”?

Is it a disturbing lack of patriotic fervour?

Or is it a chastened and disciplined collective intention to talk about war and the past in a way that minimises the chance of war in the future?

On Sunday, Wife-unit and I will read from the Gospels and pray for peace. We will look for the day that the Prophet Micah told us to anticipate: “They will beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.”

May that day come. Till then, let no Christian kill.

Your Correspondent, His major malfunction is that he cares too much

Co-ordinates To Help Irish Christians Think About Water Protests

Introduction
Old habits die hard and so I sometimes still visit Christian blogs and I have noticed that people respond well to 1) numbered lists and arbitrarily putting some sentences in bold. I am disinclined to follow those patterns and I am effectively allergic to the kind of blog posts that hide the argument behind a “just throwing this out for y’all to consider” tone.

In the 30+ years I have been on this planet, I have accumulated a very tiny amount of self-knowledge. It could easily fit on a floppy disk. Actually, it could fit on an ice-pop stick, written in Sharpie. But one of the things I have learned is that I lack guile. My creativity evacuates me when it comes to phrasing things as if they don’t really matter to me (even here I can’t find a tactful way to describe the “I am not het up about anything” tone it seems one must adapt!). I have no rhetorical poker-face. I don’t think it is strategically wise to be strategic about conversations you have. “Play it as it lays” is the only thing I have ever learned from golf, and to be honest, I learned it from a Joan Didion book. Nobody can learn anything from golf, except that humans like to be part of elite groups and don’t care about destroying the environment.

There I go again. I’m losing you with my inflammatory anti-golf position. Guileless.

Yet I am going to attempt to keep up with fashions and instead of just telling you what I think about the protests against Irish water charges, I am going to offer five considerations that Christians should weigh before they decide to commit to the same position I have, which is of course, naturally, the right one. There’ll be numbered lists, there will be emboldened phrases, and there won’t be any swearwords, so you can share it on Facebook too. Mostly though, it will help map out some of the key issues about Irish Water, so you don’t miss it entirely.

View post on imgur.com

1. The Economics of Shared Resources
Economists of a certain ilk talk about a phenomenon they call “the tragedy of the commons”. The world is full of resources that we share, in that no specific person owns them all (such as the fish in the sea or the water that falls from the sky) and the tragedy is that individual self-interest encourages people to recklessly tap into those resources without consideration for how to sustain or develop the resource.

So the classic example of this is fish-stock in the seas. If you could catch the fish, you could keep the fish. Nobody owns the sea, not even Elizabeth Windsor (actually she does own some of the sea bed around Britain but that is a fight for another day). Hence, everybody took as many fish as they could carry back to market. And the fish-stocks started to deplete. That accelerated the need for those who made their living out of fishing to catch more fish, because they couldn’t be sure they could still fish these waters in a generation.

The common resource was utterly depleted. This is the tragedy. This happened with seals and whales and it is happening with fish off the western coast of Europe right now, even though the common resource is now regulated by common quotas.

Water in Ireland is a shared resource. Nobody owns it, so nobody has the rights to ration it or re-distribute it. There is no motive for you to turn the tap off, or to fix the leaky pipe, or to leave the shower after 45 minutes (most people take that long, right?). If you wanted to cultivate the habits that maintained and developed water supply in Ireland, then economists would recommend putting a unit price on the water. This is the great creative leap of economics: it gives us a means by which to abstract our concrete world and represent it as a number. When it is thus represented, it gains a certain shared value that it didn’t have before. Economics is one of the myriad ways we have of creating value. If we don’t value water, then we should put a price on it and that will approximate value.

So far, my argument is right on track to encourage the Irish Times to give me a weekly column or for RTE to invite me on to Prime Time. But there are three questions that Christians need to ask before they accept the common argument that charging for water creates responsibility.

a) How was water free up till now?
b) How is water depleted now?
c) Is water like fish?

Simple questions. Here are the answers:

a1) Water charges are being introduced but up till now, they were paid for by various taxations. I don’t pay water charges in Aberdeen. I pay rates (actually, Wife-unit pays rates since I am absolved of them because I’m a full-time student) that go towards water, streetlights, garbage collection, parks, lawn-cutting, tree planting and various other services I take for granted that make my life lovely. So before 2014, Irish water services were already being paid for. The people who manned the waste treatment plants weren’t volunteers. They were paid by an arrangement of central revenue generation through taxation. This is not a small point. The old funding mechanism successfully funded water provision. So why the change?

b1) Water literally falls from the sky. In Ireland, it falls from the sky over 300 days a year. In climate change predictions, it will continue to fall. Water, unlike other hypothetical tragic-commons-resources is not being depleted.

c1) Water is not like fish. This is a deep philosophical point. Water’s difference from fish is one of the reasons why fish like to live in it! Water is the fundamental necessity for human life. Without, we die. So describing it as a common resource like fish or pasture is a profound ethical mistake. I am ambivalent about Christians using the language of rights, but if ever there was a fundamental human right, it was the right to water. This is why the foremost Irish Christian NGO dedicated its major annual appeal to that topic this year. Economics is very good at some things, but it is not efficient (its own favourite category) at demarcating foundational, universal needs.

Economic rationale might be mis-applied if it is straightforwardly applied to the provision of water.

2) The Importance of Conservation
The 20th Century saw the Christian church develop in a number of very significant ways. Christians don’t recognise that enough but we did some good work. To cite just three:

1) We started hospices and that helped us think through what it means to be old and to die in a whole new way, because a lot more people are old when they die now.

2) We grappled with what it means that humans are disabled and how that shows us what it means to be Christians.

3) With the help of a pipe-smoking Swiss man we rediscovered the strange, new world of the Bible

We also remembered that “creation” means that God thinks the Cosmos is very fine. It is our job as his stewards to tend the gardens he has created. In the last few decades we have remembered that our calling as human beings is to steward the world. So water conservation is something we are actively interested in.

The Irish water infrastructure is inherited from the colonial days and is in widespread decay. It leaks at a million tiny points. It fails to deliver cleanliness in large parts of the island. It is a shambles. Christians are invested in seeing this improve. We should be buying water butts for our gardens and making sure we turn off our taps and take shorter showers, if only as a practice of solidarity with the shockingly large number of people on planet earth who still don’t get access to tap water.

But if the Irish Water scheme only talked about conservation and never actually moved towards conservation, then Christians would be well placed to protest. This is not selfish self-concern. As a small island nation, Ireland needs to prepare for the changes in climate coming over the horizon. We might have reason to think that conservation is not near the top of Irish Water’s priorities.

3. Politics, not Economics
One of the things I have realised in my study is how similar economists are today to priests 100 years ago. In Ireland in 1914, public opinion was swayed by anyone who could claim to represent Catholicism. This was very bad news for actual, serious priests. It gave them the wrong kind of power. Instead of poverty, prayer, and service, they got social capital, political capital, and actual capital. As a minister-in-training, I hope Irish clergy never again make the mistake of allowing political discourse to adopt our modes of speech. They bankrupted us.

Today, economics is a valuable component in the modern university that offers ongoing excellent research into a stunningly wide and diverse range of human activity. Then that credible and meaningful intellectual activity gets boiled down into a PR exercise for a real estate agent who uses that to lever pressure up against a politician to achieve some benefit in their industry. Sometimes there is no middle-man, and the politician just takes the research and perverts it for their own ends, applying it in a slapdash fashion to make sure a high-rise apartment complex is blocked here and a multi-storey car-park gets built there.

The arguments about Irish Water are not economics. They may be economical. They may use the thought structures of economics (with greater or lesser fidelity) and they will certainly use the brand of economics, with graphs and acronyms, numbers represented with decimals. But the decision to develop Irish Water was forced on Irish politicians as a result of the 2010 bailout. That was a political decision that our politicians didn’t make but ceded to.

It might seem like a small point, but Christians need to be alert to the ways in which the wolf of political argument dresses like the sheep of economics to encourage our passivity. Economics, like all the academic disciplines (from astrophysics to theology) is essential for informed practice but it doesn’t compel application. The physics of gravity give rise to the engineering of bridges, but we can build bridges in a million different ways. The theology of Scripture gives rise to preaching but we can preach a passage a million different ways. In the same way, the economics of state liquidity might give rise to a bailout, but the shape of that decision is political.

Ethics is about description as much as decision. Don’t let politicians, journalists or talking heads tell you that something is inevitable from an economic perspective. To collapse things that way is to give up because things are hard.

4. How Just Is The Implementation?
If we do have to have unit-price water charges, then we need to recognise that this might be the harshest kind of taxation. If everyone pays the same, we are automatically creating an injustice because “the same” means different things based on how much you have. If I earn €165,000 then the water charges are a negligible blip on my annual budget. If I earn €16,500, the water charges have just made a serious dent in what is possible for me.

And that just considers the outgoing aspect of the water charges. Let us consider the incoming aspect – the need to consume water. It is an agreed upon reality that the people who are in the most need need the most water. I have a friend who is autistic and has Down syndrome. One of his great pleasures in life is to take a bath, which he does every day without fail and sometimes twice. Luckily, he doesn’t live in Ireland. The idea that households have quotas for water consumption assumes that our bureaucracy can keep up with the changes of life and health and well-being that shape our water needs.

5. Trajectory of Society
During the Celtic Tiger, there were plenty of preachers I knew who addressed the topic of consumerism and consumption. I know of no preacher in Ireland today who is offering people Biblically-informed support to cope with austerity. I would love to subscribe to the sermons of the people who are addressing full on the kind of society Ireland is becoming.

Ten years ago, people were losing themselves in Mammon. The same is happening today but we aren’t preaching about it. Whatever way you count it, Ireland has been subject to the most tremendous theft of common goods. Things that are needed are now gone entirely. Things that are needed that we still have are deeply diminished. Ironically, the funding for water infrastructure has been cut by 70% since 2008! The museums are close to shutting down. The teaching assistants have been let go. We no longer have accessible third level education. We no longer support young people who are unemployed. We have done nothing to stop emigration. We keep asylum seekers in a strange and hellish captivity. But all the while, the figures for wealth accumulation among those at the top of our society continue to rise. Our Minister for Justice owned 14 properties! Square that with Isaiah 5!

No Christian is advocating for a return to the Tiger Economy. But the challenge of Austerity Ireland is far greater and far more pressing than prosperity ever was. The prosperity is still there. It’s just joined now by collapsing poverty.

6. Jesus and Water
How cliche is it for an evangelical Christian ethicist to end his diatribe with a reflection on the Bible? But in this case, it isn’t forced or artificial. The well is a recurring location for the action of the Old Testament. The judgment of YHWH often involves promises of drought. The promises of YHWH often involves surplus hydration. Throughout the Bible, the well is a communal resource. It is shared. We use it together. In the New Testament, it is by a well that Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and tells her of the springs of eternal life. And it is in the act of handing a cup of water to the one who thirsts that Jesus promises we will encounter him.

The Scriptures can’t be read off for a “principle” or a set path to “Biblical approaches to water”. They are far too interesting to be turned to raw material for our casuistry. But what we can say is that the people of God are depicted throughout the Scriptures as people who recognise the centrality of water for life. That we have to write out such banal truisms speaks to how desperate our political situation is.

Jesus literally tells us to give water to the thirsty.

Your Correspondent, Will not belch the national anthem

Some Thoughts on Christological Non-Violence (Pacifism) and Just War Practice

My most excellent friend Richie Cronin took me to task over the belligerence, if I can use that phrase, of my “pacifism” this week. Here are some stray thoughts that might try and wrap up that conversation.

It Is Not Realistic
Non-violence doesn’t elicit a peaceful response. People are annoyed when you insist that you are against war. “All war?” You assure them that it is all war, even the so-called good ones. Then the annoyance begins.

Pastorally, when people get annoyed (and there isn’t anyone flicking their ears or snapping their bra-strap or breathing loudly through their nose or checking their phone while standing in a public doorway), it is usually a sign that sensitive emotional nerves have been touched. “Don’t meddle with my dishwasher organisation scheme!” (because it is one place in the chaos of my life that I can implement order and so on).

One of the expressions of annoyance that follows after you admit to agreeing that war is good for absolutely nothing, is a line of incredulity that takes the form of “You can’t really believe that!” As a Christian, I believe at least 66 incredible things before breakfast, including the claim that the Creator of the world was born of a Jewish teenager only to die at the hands of a smalltime Roman bureaucrat. The idea that people should refrain from killing other humans is smallchange after that set of commitments is brought into play.

Before long, the incredulity will turn to moral dismay. After all, HOLOCAUST. That the Germans who implemented the systemized and industrialised murder of millions of Jews, Catholics, homosexuals and disabled people also wore belt buckles that read “Gott mit uns” doesn’t appear to be relevant to the calculus, sadly. I should commit to memory this interaction between the 10 year old boy on his way to Germany and his father in Aidan Mathew’s great short-story “Train Tracks“:

“If anyone annoys you, just tell them this: in the middle of 1944, the Allies precision-bombed a munitions factory outside Auschwitz. Precision-bombed it.

Pulverised the whole complex. But they didn’t bomb the train tracks leading to the camp. They knew perfectly well that the camp was there; they knew perfectly well what was happening inside it. Flame-throwers turned on pregnant women; newborn babies kicked like footballs. But they didn’t bomb the train tracks. And now after twenty years, they talk about preserving the otter.”

Stanley Hauerwas and Enda McDonagh might be mocked for their “Appeal to Abolish War“, but people told William Wilberforce that his bill would bankrupt Britain. That the law passed didn’t mean slavery ended in the Empire. But it definitely helped reduce it.

This insistence that pacifism is unrealistic is so curious for Christians who have spent the last two millennia changing what is considered realistic. Remember that the belief in a Creator God seemed borderline crazy among the intellectual elite of Rome. Hospitals and orphanages, care programs for widows who then implemented care programs for the homeless, and a range of other costly social interventions by centuries of Christians literally changed the world so that compassion seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Wilberforce read the Scriptures and stood up to the slave-traders. It is not inconceivable that you might read the Scriptures and stand up to the weapons manufacturers.

Luke Bretherton, in Christianity and Contemporary Politics talks about how the Canon laws of sanctuary changed the social imagination of the world. Christians read their Scriptures and decided that the Christ-event meant we could never despise a human being because the state found them guilty. The monastic practice of sanctuary was our unrealistic response. As Bretherton unpacks it: “Theologically, if Christ is King, then no earthly sovereign or community has the power or right to utterly exclude or make an exception of anyone from the status of a human being.”

It was the duty of every man in eleventh-century England to pursue an outlaw, ravage his lands, burn his house, and hunt him as prey for he was a caput gerat lupinim – a friendless man, werewolf, wolf-man – in other words, he was bare life. Yet at the same time, the right of sanctuary and liturgical processes of giving satisfaction provided a countervailing injunction to enable the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.

– Luke Bretherton, Christianity and Contemporary Politics, 157.

The determined and costly practice of Christians made lepers human, made the sick human, made the orphan, the widow, and the embryo human. It gave the outlaw sanctuary and the slave liberty. It is not unrealistic that the God of Resurrection would honour our determined and costly practice of non-violence and save the soldier from the battlefield.

Sanctuary was so successful a practice that when it was officially abolished by statute in 1624 its decline was “not lamented but viewed as part of the proper triumph of the modern secular state.” The polis was converted by the ekklesia.

Christological non-violence is not unrealistic because the miracle of conversion does actually happen.

Calvin and Hobbes

It IS Realistic

My friend Richie thinks there are only two options for Christians: Just War or pacifism. I think there are an infinity of ways to try to work out what it means to be a Christian but non-violence is the right answer. An analogy: on the spectrum from “Jesus was a great moral teacher” to “Jesus is the long awaited Messiah of Israel” you can find a bajillion gradations. Only one of those two options is correct however, and to whatever extent it is correct, it assumes the best of the wrong answer too. So the truth is found when we say “Jesus is Israel’s Messiah” and saying that commits you to also thinking that Jesus was a great moral teacher. Similarly, non-violence is the right response to the Messiah’s death on a cross, and that means that reasoning about war must be just.

G.K. Chesteron quipped that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” The same might be said in the modern era for Christian non-violence. But if the argument against pacifism is that it is unrealistic, the arguers must believe their alternative is realistic. But if it turns out that Just War thinking has been held and advocated by the majority of Christians and it has functionally offered moral under-writing to unjust aggression, then the reasoning is not just.

Those last two, dense paragraphs can be summed up as: Can we take it for granted that Just War practices are realistic?

Let’s consider that question. I propose we take the last century as our sample, because humans are physically inclined to think in multiples of ten and because 100 years ago a very big war began which should be called the First Iraq War but because we are collectively insane, we call it the Great War.

Just War thinking is broken into two phases. We need to consider the justice of a proposed war before the battle and we need to consider the conduct of our war forces in battle.

The questions that must be answered before war are:

    Just cause
    Competent authority
    Right intention
    Probability of success
    Last resort
    Proportionality
    Comparative justice

The questions that must be answered during war are:

    Proportionality
    Minimum force
    Exclusive combatant engagement
    Respect for international law

There is no war in the last 100 years that I am aware of that meets either the prior or direct requirements for just war. Even the war I most directly benefit from fails under both tests. The Irish revolutionary forces of 1916 did not have competent authority and they did not distinguish their targets. The Allied forces in World War II come closest, although any serious reading of that history which accounts for the role of the Versailles Treaty would call right intention into question. However, their means of fighting jus in bello fails on every count.

Modern warfare, especially as the West fights it, cannot possibly meet Just War standards. Bombs cannot distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. When they can, that algorithm will still be programmed by human beings intent on killing people. International law cannot be honoured when France or the UK or Germany sell Israel or Colombia or Burkina Faso weapons that are outside the pale in terms of what is warranted. Augustine, Thomas and Grotius could never have imagined surveillance or drone warfare but neither of those developments make things easier for the majority Christian position. In the years to come, things are going to get messier still with the augmentation of soldiers through biotechnology or their replacement by robotic substitutes. I haven’t even addressed the issue of atomic weaponry, whose mere invention was so astoundingly stupid that their continued existence serves as proof for the Satan’s reality.

If there are only two options for Christians: Just War or pacifism, then a considered look at the world we live in removes one of those options. The existence of dark evil like Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany or our modern-day ISIS ought not to be news to people who read about Herod. If John the Baptist and Jesus the Redeemer were peaceful in the face of that maniac, we know the way to go. Just war theorists give licence to maniacs like Tony Blair to rub his chin an go to church and bomb Iraq into the ground with a clean conscience. There is only one option. Because Christians live in a world of war, they cannot imagine being anything else than non-violent. If modern-day Just War advocates only sanction lethal violence when the terms of the theory are met, then they will be functional pacifists.

These may seem like strong words, improportionate and without warrant. But pacifists have committed to only fighting with words. Forgive us if they are sometimes very sharp.

Conclusion
Richie sometimes feels frightened by the claims of pacifists. His fears are misplaced. God sees every action and will judge them. The spilling of blood in Syria and Gaza, in Kurdistan and Missouri… it all flows as a result of military commitment. Jesus’ birth was met with the slaughter of the innocents. His death was the slaughter of The Innocent. If his victory is won by the subversion of the Empire’s military, then we should quake with holy and reverent fear to find ourselves on the side of war.

Drone victims are people too

Your Correspondent, He tries to be on time for his appointments, so as to be late for his disappointments.