Rejecting Theological Sadism

The bumper sticker on my car.

The country is moving toward fascism.  We see the current administration dismantling beneficial social and environmental programs while expanding repressive police and military functions of government.  Resistance is our only hope, for what we tolerate is what we get.  Besides, standing up to institutional Powers that would destroy life is the right thing to do.  “In times of tyranny, the only way to maintain our humanity is to resist.”

One form of resistance is to expose the ideologies that provide a foundation for tyranny.  Today I critique the theology of the Religious Right, which wields tremendous power in the Republican Party and was able to influence so many white Evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.  My primary purpose today is to refute the “theological sadism” that tolerates and furthers suffering while explaining it away in religious terms.  As theologian Dorothy Solle said, “That explanation of suffering that looks away from the victim and identifies itself with a righteousness that is supposed to stand behind the suffering has already taken a step in the direction of theological sadism, which wants to understand God as the torturer.”

Religious justifications that support cruelty, abuse, exclusion, and hierarchical domination are based on a faulty understanding of who God is and why Jesus died.   Did God send Jesus to die on the cross?  Was this God’s original plan to save people who believe in this story from going to hell?  Is the suffering of Jesus on the cross a pattern that we are to follow by accepting our lot in life?  I say NO, as do most feminist and other liberation theologians.

The idea that human beings need to be reconciled through blood sacrifice to a wrathful God is basic to conservative Christianity and is reflected in popular culture.  A scene from the movie The Apostle illustrates this view.  At the high point of the movie, the main character, a preacher played by Robert Duvall, holds up a baby in front of the congregation and says, “Could I ever drive a nail through the hand of this precious baby?  I couldn’t, but God could.  That’s what God did for you and me.”

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, criticized for its gratuitous violence and anti-Semitism, portrays a similar message through its unrelenting scenes of the sadistic torture of a passive and miserable Jesus.  The point?  That Jesus went through all this suffering (yes, it was God’s plan) in order to save you and me.

But this view substitutes a dogma about Jesus for the reality of Jesus’ life and teachings, and the events that led to his death.  It makes the death of Jesus acceptable, and takes away the “scandal of the cross.”

If I stand by, approving the execution of Jesus as a human sacrifice given in my place to a judgmental God, I stand with the High Priest Caiaphas, who argued that it was “expedient for one man to die for the people.”  If I applaud the crucifixion of Jesus as a good plan, even God’s plan, I place God on the side of the Roman Empire, which crucified subversives, including Jesus, as a matter of course, just as governments execute subversives today.  If I collaborate with those who put Jesus to death by justifying his murder on religious grounds, with theories of why blood needed to be spilt, I put myself on the side of the blood-thirsty mobs who called for Jesus to be crucified and who have engaged in atrocities throughout history.  If I ignore the political context and accept the execution of Jesus as a predetermined event that happened just as God intended, the symbol of the cross becomes a sign of God’s approval of the status quo rather than a symbol of hope for transformation of the world.

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Resisting Cultural Possession

The “Golden Bull” at Occupy Wall Street in New York

All of the kingdoms can be yours,” the devil tells Jesus, “if you will just lord your power over others and take up the sword of the nations. Take charge of the biological weapons, deploy some troops, command the implementation of a ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system. All the kingdoms can be yours—if you will just use the world’s means of power: domination and violence.”       Charles Campbell

There is a call in life to come to terms with who we are in relation to the universe, to give ourselves to something ultimate, to live in right relationship with the Ground of Being, to fulfill our destiny, to enter into the Great Mystery.  But we hear other voices as well, voices that we have internalized from our families and cultures, which we hear as our own.  These voices tempt us.  They present us with a choice:  to be true to ourselves and live as free human beings or to be ensnared by desires that reflect the values of our culture and end up being possessed by them.

Jesus, too, experienced this conflict.  After John baptized him in the Jordan River, Jesus saw a vision in which the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove and heard God saying to him, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).  This revelation led him to a time of testing in the wilderness, during which a spiritually strong but very human Jesus strove to find clarity about his identity and calling (Matthew 4:1-11).  He especially struggled with what it meant to be “son of God.” This was a well-known designation in the ancient world.  The term “Son of God” was applied to the Roman Emperor, who possessed status, wealth, and worldly power.  Jews who awaited the Messiah were hoping for the coming of a king like David who would embody these characteristics.  Not surprisingly, these were the very things that tempted Jesus.

“If you are the Son of God,” said the voice of temptation (the “devil” or “tempter”) to Jesus, testing him.  If you are the son of God, then prove it… by refusing to be bound by human limitations, by ignoring the laws of nature, by choosing a path that will lead to fame, fortune, and power over others.  But each time Jesus refused, choosing instead to be faithful and to entrust himself to the will of God.  We are called and empowered by grace to do the same.

Theologian Walter Wink demythologizes “the devil” or “Satan,” relating these concepts to the “interiority” of a culture at a particular time in history:  “Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good. Satan is the spirituality of an epoch, the peculiar constellation of alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy that characterizes a specific period of history as a consequence of human decisions to tolerate and even further such a state of affairs.”

These words were true of the time in which Jesus lived, when the “Roman Peace” was imposed and enforced throughout the Empire, but they are also true today.  Clearly, the United States is a society that “idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good.”   The present culture of unrestrained corporate capitalism, enforced by mass incarceration and endless war, exalts nationalism, pays tribute to wealth, promotes consumption, bows to worldly success, glorifies violence, and vilifies people who have not attained these things.  The “alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy” that characterize this time in our history are made possible by the personal decisions of many individuals to tolerate or even further this state of affairs.

The temptation of Jesus set the stage for the events that led to his death.  By choosing a path of deep integrity instead of adopting the cultural values of his time, Jesus set himself against the religious, political, economic, and military rulers of his day.  It’s no wonder that the religious elite, who benefited from the Roman occupation, collaborated with the Roman authorities in targeting him, plotting against him, and finally putting him to death.

And it’s no wonder that those of us who live here in the United States are often tempted to submit to cultural expectations.  Today’s ruling Powers have a million ways to reward and punish based on whether or not we comply.  But there is a deeper way to live, which offers immeasurably greater rewards.

There is always temptation, especially in our consumer culture.  It might be easier to come to terms with who we are and who we are called to be if we could go out into the wilderness.  That is what the season of Lent is about—a season that involves taking time out to reflect on what is ultimate and to accept the responsibility and privilege to make a conscious choice.

We do have a choice.  We do not have to surrender to the Powers or be driven by desires to conform and excel in their service, at the expense of other people and the earth itself.  We can refuse to submit to social pressures, resist cultural possession, and live in freedom as fully human beings, as beloved children of God.

There are many paths to freedom, and divine love is universal, offered to all people and all creation.  I choose to follow and live in the Spirit of the one who calls me, Jesus Christ.

Previous post:  A Lenten Call to Resist.     Next post:  Rejecting Theological Sadism.  

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War is Not the Answer

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Arrested at Beale

Today I was arrested for peace with my dear friend Shirley Osgood at Beale Air Force Base, supported by several Veterans for Peace and other peacemakers.  Beale is home of Global Hawk surveillance drones, which identify targets in countries around the world for U.S. killer drones.

Shirley and I walked through the main gate to sprinkle ashes on the base in an act of resistance to our government’s endless wars. The ashes symbolize the innocent people incinerated by our government in faraway lands by drones via remote control.  I think especially of the children.

As movements of resistance multiply around the country and around the world, it’s important to include a critique of the permanent war economy and a call to international cooperation and peace.  The Trump Administration’s approach to foreign and military policy is exemplified by attempts to ban Muslims and other immigrants, alienation of allies, threats to revive torture, promises to raise military spending (again), and the recent Navy Seals raid in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of at least fourteen civilians, including nine children.  The stories told by witnesses of the raid are horrendous.

At Beale today we commemorated the deaths of these people.  Demonstrators will be there again tomorrow.  But we are also mourning the deaths of the fifteen Afghan civilians who were killed by a U.S. drone strike while sleeping in their beds last September.  While Barak Obama was president, he authorized drone strikes in seven countries.  U.S. drones have killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, including hundreds of children.  These extrajudicial killings ignite hate, fuel terror, and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

How has this nightmare come to be reality?  As divided as Congress appears, the Washington Consensus still holds in Deep State matters of finance and national security.  The “experts” that guide the Ship of State in these areas have been there for decades, even as presidents come and go.  The power of the “imperial presidency” has grown under both Republican and Democratic administrations, while the reach and secrecy of the national security/surveillance state has grown, consuming an ever-greater share of the economy.

Now we have a right-wing ideologue in the office of the presidency who is, evidently, uneducated in matters of State, irrational, and unpredictable.  Obama’s drone “kill list” is now in the hands of Donald Trump, as is the authority to use the new generation of “useable” nuclear weapons approved by Obama.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports that the hands of the Doomsday Clock have now been moved to two and a half minutes to midnight.

I am so happy to see people rising up, finally!  In times of tyranny, the only way to maintain our humanity is to resist.  But the answer is not a matter of simply getting Democrats back into power.  If we continue to accept the unacceptable actions of our government, deep systemic change will be impossible.

I chose to sprinkle ashes on Beale Air Force Base because the day after tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a day for repentance and reflection on our mortality.  I chose to kneel and pray for mercy for the people my government is targeting, and to plead for the transformation of the hearts and minds of people in my country who accept and perpetuate these atrocities.  War is not the answer.  God help us all.

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Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

See other blog postings about actions related to drones and Beale demonstrations

Go to Occupy Beale Air Force Base Facebook page to find out more.  

Peaceful and Prayerful Resistance

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Nonviolence Guidelines at Standing Rock.

In my last post, I wrote about how my friends and I were arrested at a peaceful and prayerful action, separated, and taken to different jails.  My next post will be about my experiences in jail, as people have requested.  Today, though, I’m writing about the importance of the struggle for justice and healing that is taking place there.

The courage of the water protectors in the face of historic and current oppression is inspiring people around the world, and people are joining in to support their struggle in many ways.  The struggle continues to intensify as the water protectors refuse to back down, even as they prepare for snow and frigid temperatures.  Day by day, more allies are coming to join in the work.

Last Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers clearly stated that the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) cannot legally proceed without further study and consultation with the tribe and with government agencies.  This is an apparent victory.  But Energy Transfer Partners continues to work night and day.  As of last Tuesday, the company had moved horizontal drilling equipment on to their fenced off drilling pad near Lake Oahu.  Law enforcement continues to harass water protectors and protect DAPL work.  Meanwhile, the pipeline project is in financial jeopardy, with contracts for oil delivery set to expire in January if the pipeline doesn’t go through.

Will Energy Transfer Partners stop construction or will they go forward illegally, hoping to simply be fined?  Will the Obama administration step in and enforce its temporary prohibition on routing the pipeline under the Missouri River?  That would be unusual, since the federal government has not historically protected Indigenous rights.

What about a Trump Administration?  Trump is invested in DAPL.  The CEO of Energy Partner Transfers, Kelcy Warren, contributed to Trump’s presidential campaign, and claims that once Trump is in office, the pipeline will be a sure thing.

The only hope I see in in the “power of the people” standing together in resistance to the institutional Powers that seek to ignore the sacred value of the water, air, land, and life itself, all for the sake of profit.  The institutions and systems based on the primacy of the market (that is, money), have left the waters, land, and atmosphere polluted, and have left people unable to sustain themselves and without hope.

Many people have been seeing this and have been working hard, trying to turn it around.  With climate change alone, we are reaching the end of the road.  With the election of Trump, many more people are recognizing the bankruptcy of the current system, which only exists by the consent of the people.  When we go along and enjoy the benefits of the current system, consider it normal, and close our eyes to historical and current injustices, we contribute to the problem.  When enough of us withdraw our consent, the system cannot stand.

Not all of us can go to Standing Rock, nor do we need to.  But each of us can do something.  Those of us who are committed to justice already know that we need to stand in solidarity with the many groups of people who are being targeted by hate groups emboldened by Trump’s election.   Indigenous people may help to lead us out of the present darkness, and to discover what it means to live in peaceful and prayerful resistance to oppressive Powers.  After all, they have been resisting for over five hundred years.

By joining as allies with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, not only at Standing Rock but also in our own regions, we can gain insight into who we are and what changes we need to make.  By listening and learning we can begin to understand how “settler-colonial” attitudes and behaviors have shaped us and what we can do to turn that around.  By taking a stand as allies in Indigenous struggles to protect the air, land, and water, we may learn what it means to live as human beings in harmony with the earth, from people who did so for millennia on this continent.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.   Find previous blog postings about Standing Rock here.  

 Official website and place to donate to the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.    

 Articles:

Suddenly Time—and the Oil Market—are on the Side of the Standing Rock Sioux:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/suddenly-time-is-on-the-side-of-the-standing-rock-sioux-20161117

Obama Administration Halts Work on Dakota Access Pipeline: http://247wallst.com/energy-business/2016/09/10/obama-administration-halts-work-on-dakota-access-pipeline/

Dakota Access is in Financial Jeopardy: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1595421937418090/1623319824628301/?notif_t=group_activity&notif_id=1479573200580003

CEO confident Dakota Access Pipeline will be completed under Trump presidency: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dakota-access-pipeline-energy-transfer-partners-ceo-kelcy-warren-breaks-silence/

Campaign Nonviolence Action at Beale

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Sharon, Chris, Toby, Shirley, Barry, and Cathy.  All but Barry crossed onto the base.

This morning I was arrested with four other women at Beale Air Force Base after crossing onto base property.   We were taken by military bus to a building on base, given citations, and released.  We may be given an arraignment date and we may go to trial, although in recent months all charges for peace activists have been dismissed.

We were wearing blue scarves and we had #enough written on our hands because we took this action in solidarity the Afghan Peace Volunteers and their blog Our Journey to Smile.  Afghan Peace Volunteers is a group of young people working for peace in Afghanistan.   I became aware of them when peace activist Kathy Kelly came with us to Beale a couple of years ago.  Our blue scarves and the #enough banners and words written on our hands are a response to their invitation “Join us to say #enough.”

Before we were arrested, each of us explained what we have had enough of.  I explained that I have had enough of drone warfare.  (Beale is the home of the Global Hawk Drone, a surveillance drone that identifies targets for armed Predator and Reaper drones.)  I have also had enough of the U.S. Air Force Vision for 2020, which is geared toward “full spectrum dominance” for the purpose of “protecting U.S. interests and investments” as “the globalization of the world economy… continues, with a widening between “haves” and “have-nots.”  I have had enough of the U.S. military enforcing a global order that is enriching the already wealthy, protecting the privileged, exploiting those who are vulnerable, causing massive suffering, and destroying this beautiful earth.  #Enough war. #Enough “accidental” (or incidental) killing of children.  #Enough suffering.  #Enough extrajudicial killing.  #Enough.

We also took this action in coordination with the Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.  Over 700 separate Campaign Nonviolence Actions have taken place in recent days.

If you want to know more about drones or past demonstrations and trials related to Beale, see my past blogs on drones.   Follow my blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.