In a recent interview on Religion and Ethics News Weekly, columnist E.J. Dionne lamented the political polarization which divides Americans into two groups—each holding core American values—individualism and community.
Dionne, a Roman Catholic, sees the same division in American religion. Asking people about Jesus, he finds two kinds of answers: “Jesus changed my life” and “Jesus changed the world.”
The answers are not contradictory nor are they mutually exclusive. It is an interesting question for Christians to ask themselves.
Recently, I read a short story, “The Drug Addict and the Bomb” by Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfuiz. The story, written decades ago—probably during the regime of King Farouk—features Ayyub, a 30-year-old Egyptian man stoned on drugs. A crowd of revolutionists erupts into the street where Ayyub sits drowsing. Soldiers appear chasing the demonstrators. One demonstrator strikes the officer in charge and runs off. The street clears of everyone but Ayyub who sits sleepily laughing at the scene. He is arrested and accused of striking the officer. While he protests his innocence, a bomb explodes a few blocks away. Ayyub refuses to confess, is beaten and taken to the police station where he is also accused of exploding the bomb. Ayyub is beaten and tortured to extract a confession, then sentenced to prison.
This story seemed eerily familiar as I recalled the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the round up of any males in the areas where foreign troops invaded. But this time, it wasn’t the henchmen of a corrupt dictator casting a broad net and demanding confessions and information from anyone caught in the fray. This time it was our country and our allies who beat and tortured to coerce confessions or information and then detained prisoners without charge for years at Guantanamo. The photos of American soldiers humiliating and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons followed as we pursued the Iraq War. Now we have WikiLeaks documenting vile, disgusting torture our Iraqi allies perpetrated on detainees while Americans looked on and did nothing.
America has always stood for fighting against tyranny and oppression and for freedom and human dignity. If we adopt the tactics of the enemy—what are we fighting for? Maybe it’s not the economy that is depressing Americans. Maybe it’s our loss of the moral high ground.
George and I watched the movie Doubt on DVD this week and a line from the Meryl Streep character remains with me. Sister Aloysius (Streep), a nun who runs a parochial school with an iron fist, opposes the compassionate new priest who befriends the children. Although she has no evidence, she has a feeling the priest has made sexual advances to some of the boys and enlists a young novitiate to help her spy on the priest. When the young nun objects to her methods, Sister Aloysius tells her, “Sometimes we have to step away from God in order to fight evil.” The film never answers the question of the priest’s innocence, but it shows Sister Aloysius brutally unconcerned about harming others as she pursues her self-imposed duty to find the priest guilty. The young teacher adopts her mentor’s methods—stepping away from God to discipline her students—and ruins her relationship with her own students.
I’m certainly not suggesting that allegations of child abuse should not be investigated, but I question using unscrupulous means to obtain righteous ends. In recent years some worthy goals have been sabotaged by overzealous advocates using dishonest means to promote their cause. The gun control group lost credibility when they enhanced statistics about gun-related deaths. Much of the American public lost confidence in all global warming evidence when a small group of English scientists attempted to suppress non-supportive evidence.
Hugh Nibley made a statement that the purpose of the many detailed war scenes in the Book of Mormon is to show us how awful war is. He also claimed that both sides in a war are serving Satan. I have thought about his words many times in the past several years as our country has launched two wars—bombing an already devastated country into further rubble and attacking a country which had not attacked us. Then our government justified using torture to obtain information from suspected combatants. The photos from Abu Ghraib and other prisons where American soldiers tortured prisoners prove we have stepped away from God.
Ignoring right values in an effort to preserve them defeats our purpose–no matter how noble our intention.