Non-violence’s answer to the question, “What about Hitler?”

The rise of National Socialism and Hitler in post-WWI Germany has become for many the trump-card against non-violent approaches to resolving conflict. The man and the regime were so evil, the argument goes, and so resistant to reason and persuasion, that only a countervailing violence could have brought the evil to a halt and saved untold millions more lives.

(This conclusion is, of course, an example of the power of the myth of redemptive violence, illuminated forcefully in a 2006 essay by Walter Wink.)

Steve Thorngate, in an aside in a recent blog entry on Theolog, points us to a brief essay by Jørgen Johansen exploring the abundant opportunities that existed in the first three decades of the twentieth century to challenge and undermine the Nazis using non-violent means, and points out some of the successes that were achieved in this way.

Johansen identifies four factors that contributed to the rise of Hitler: The humiliation of Germany reflected in the Treaty of Versailles, the economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s, a prevailing racist ideology, and the “Culture of Prussian Obedience” that prevailed in the period. He explores how approaches different from those taken by the international community could have blunted or redirected the forces that National Socialism tapped.

He then points out some of the effective non-violent methods that were used within Germany and Axis countries by the resistance movements, noting that broader support of these movements from the Allies and neutral nations could have undermined the Nazi regime.

With Reinhold Niebuhr, a self-confessed “realist” in international relations, providing theological and moral foundations for much of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, it is good to be reminded that non-violent approaches are not only idealistic, they’re also profoundly realistic.

An opportunity in prison budget cuts?

The Christian Science Monitor editorial board offers a useful and well-reasoned defense of shrinking prison budgets, driven by states’ revenue shortfall, as an opportunity to rethink our approach to treatment and punishment.

The US ranks as the prison capital of the world. In 2008, more than 2.3 million men and women (or 1 in 100 adults) sat in prisons or jails. This dubious distinction comes from a near tripling of the inmate population over the past two decades – and a similar rise in state spending on corrections.

Drawing from the results of a recent study by The Pew Center on the States, the board notes that states can count on public support for rehabilitation, vocational training, and parole reform, while support for sentencing reform is weaker. Even so, the editorial concludes,

The states are imprisoned by their prison budgets. Economic necessity can unloose their chains with a different way of doing things.

Big Food should worry about Mother Nature

Thoughtful blog post by Tom Laskawy on Slate, arguing that despite the policy shifts signaled by the new administration and some changes in public opinion, industrial agriculture, with help from the farm lobby, is largely safe in the hands of Congress:

Big Food feels the ground shifting beneath it. So much so that its acting as if it could lose its grip on the American food system. But Big Food persists in battling the wrong target. While it is indeed locked in an existential struggle with an implacable foe, the government is not the enemy. The enemy is Mother Nature.

Mother Nature is represented by drought, industrial agriculture’s almost complete dependence on petroleum, flat crop yields (even in GMO crops).

Support your CSAs, folks, and plant bigger gardens!

via Big Food shouldnt worry about the government. Mother Nature is its foe. – By Tom Laskawy – Slate Magazine .

A Christian Argument for Progressive Taxation – Diana Butler Bass – God’s Politics Blog

Here’s Diana Butler Bass in her typical even-handed way offering a rebuttal of the “tea-party” tax protests of the last week:

When I handed [my tax payment check] to the clerk, she said, “I hate tax day.”  I replied, “Not me.  I don’t love parting with the money, but I kinda like it.  That check is a bargain — roads, schools, medical care, social security, and the freedom of living in the greatest country in the world.  It is patriotism by checkbook.  Why should I hate it?”  She replied, “Why, I’ve never heard anybody say that  It isn’t such a bad deal when you put it that way.”

Comparing today’s tax protesters to those who resisted the establishment of the progressive income tax in 1913, Bass restates the arguments developed then by progressive Christians to show the positive social and spiritual benefits of taxation that would “increase the overall morality of society.”

Read A Christian Argument for Progressive Taxation – Diana Butler Bass – God’s Politics Blog.

Recent Discussions of Religion and Politics

On Weekend Edition this morning (January 18, 2009), NPR carried a story by Sylvia Poggioli describing the Vatican’s concerns around “life issues” and the positions of the Obama administration. It raises afresh the vexing issues for people of faith as to how to relate their faith commitments to the local, regional, national, and international political orders in which we all participate.

Martin Marty, in the e-newsletter Sightings for January 5, contrasts Obama’s stance on faith commitments and the political order with Rick Warren’s. Marty quotes Obama’s Call to Renewal speech (May 28, 2006) as follows:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.  Democracy requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason.  I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will.  I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all…

(Those of us who had the privilege of hearing Obama address the UCC General Synod in Hartford, Conn., a year later heard him reiterate this point.)

Warren, on the other hand, like the Vatican, asserts non-negotiable values. Again, Marty quotes:

[F]or those of us who accept the Bible as God’s Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are five issues that are non-negotiable.  To me, they’re not even debatable because God’s Word is clear on these issues.

Not surprisingly, these issues are abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual “marriage,” human cloning, and euthanasia, ones where Warren and the Vatican stand rather close together.

In The Christian Century of January 13, Gary A. Anderson, professor of Old Testament at the University of Notre Dame defends Israel’s right to its land by appealing to the promises of God in the Hebrew scriptures:

Christians must also insist that the promises of scripture are indeed inviolable and that Israel’s attachment to this land is underwritten by God’s providential decree. The miraculous appearance of the Israeli state just after the darkest moment in Jewish history is hard to interpret outside of a theological framework.

As with the Vatican and Rick Warren, the assertion is that promises or positions derived from the scriptures deemed holy by a particular religious tradition are to be taken as having extraordinary value (and may even be, in Warren’s words, “non-negotiable”).

Responding to Anderson’s position, Walter Brueggemann offers the following critique:

It strikes me as enormously hazardous to cite a supernatural right in the midst of realpolitik, especially when the right is entwined with military ferociousness and political exclusivism. While such a right may serve self-identity, it makes sense only inside the narrative. Outside the narrative it is no more than ideology, and so offers no basis for the hard work of peace and justice.

Brueggemann’s distinction between “inside the narrative” and “outside the narrative” captures the point Obama makes about the responsibilities of people of faith in a pluralistic society to leave their religious absolutes at the door when they participate in civic discourse. In Christianity, this rejection of religious absolutes has a theological foundation. It is the prohibition against idolatry and the recognition that attributing ultimate value to any human product, even the words of scripture, is elevating something limited, finite, and fallible, to a place of honor that is due to God alone.