Saturday, November 29, 2014

Repressed dignity and the "Liberation Complex"

I took vacation days before the Thanksgiving break to enjoy an entire week of vacation. Enjoyment for me includes reading big and difficult books. This week I read the final installment of Rick Atkinson's World War 2 trilogy, The Guns at Last Light. In light of this week's riots in Ferguson, Missouri after the grand jury conclusion, this observation of Atkinson's struck me.

Liberated prisoners from German work/prison/extermination camps were asked to "'Keep disclipline ...Let your behavior be a credit to your national honor.'"
Instead, starvation, revenge, indiscipline, and chaos often created what Allied officers called a "liberation complex." SHAEF had presumed refugees "would be tractable, grateful, and powerless after their domination from two to five years as the objects of German slave policies." As an Army assessment concluded, "They were none of these things...newly liberated persons looted, robbed, murdered, and in some cases destroyed their own shelter." Freed laborers plundered houses in the Ruhr, burning furniture for cook fires and discarding slave rags to dress in business suits, pajamas, and evening clothes ransacked from German wardrobes. p.599
Domination by their German oppressors did not extinguish their spirits, but capped them, either to die with their bodies or to explode upon their liberation. This liberation complex manifested even more drastically when the Americans reached Dachau.
Other prisoners cornered kapos and suspected informers, clubbing them with shovels. Howling inmates pursued remaining Waffen-SS troops, some of whom were masquerading in prison garb. "They tore the Germans apart by hand," a soldier reported. Rabbi Eichhorn, who arrived at Dachau that afternoon, wrote, "We stood aside and watched while there guards were beaten to death, beaten so badly that their bodies were ripped open... We watched with less feeling than if a dog were being beaten." Inmates desecrated dead and dying Germans with sticks and rocks, crushing skulls and severing fingers. One guard's "body was strewn all over the place," a witness reported, arms out of sockets." p. 612
I believe most, if not all, of my friends on Facebook can sympathize with the response of these liberated prisoners, yet several cannot see how the same "Liberation Complex" is in play in Ferguson, Missouri.

Martin Luther King, Jr. also wrote of this in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," 1963. Every paragraph in this letter is a facet of a majestic jewel. If only every reader of this blog would read King's letter in its entirety. I offer one paragraph here with a few pertinent highlights.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Some of my Facebook friends tell me this mess in Ferguson is not about racism. I think racism, when defined by those with privilege, is never committed. A better term is needed. This is about human dignity. I've been sharing multiple perspectives of black Americans on Facebook so my white friends can hear for themselves why this is a human dignity issue. A majority white grand jury, overseeing a white police officer in a nearly all white police station with a long history of dignity-stripping of a black neighborhood, cannot gloss over this repression of dignity. When a young black man is executed at 150 feet from an officer whose procedural guidelines encouraged rather than discouraged escalation of emotions and instead of clear thinking, injustice is apparent to all who want to change the status quo. The status quo strips dignity from neighbors and their moment when the national press descends enables a "Liberation Complex" in Ferguson, a bubbling up of suppressed human dignity, with mixed results.

Dr. Christina Cleveland, a Christian social psychologist (who is also a black American) observes,
       Yesterday, my neighbor broke down while we talked about the realities of police brutality toward young black men. Her hands trembled and tears showered her face. Experiencing the unique mixture of rage and sorrow that black moms know well, she described the numerous ways in which the local police have already treated her 8 year old son like an animal.
        Based on data from communities all over the U.S., a recent study found that local police officers kill black men nearly two times a week. Beyond this, black men suffer from the crushing indignity of being regularly stopped and frisked, harassed by the police for simply “driving while black”, and generally assumed guilty before proven innocent.
       Seeing the suffering Christ in these young men isn’t achieved by theological gymnastics, deep pity, or altruism. It’s done by listening to their stories, sharing life, standing in solidarity with them, and experiencing their rage.
      I’ve written elsewhere that when oppressed people are angry, privileged people should listen up.

It is hard to listen. If a friend tells us that something we are doing causes them great pain, wouldn't we at least listen? Can we listen to a neighbor who tells us we are hurting them? Can we see Christ among the least of these? If Christ is not asking for a glass of water but empathy, do we tell him to bug off, as the Bible does not literally commend empathy, just water or clothes? Can we invite the stranger in, to hear their story, to acknowledge their humanity, their pain, their struggle, their dignity? See Jesus's teaching in Matthew 25: 40-45. Can we join with protestors in Ferguson and MLK, Jr. and Jesus Christ and be extremists for love?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 10 - women as spoils of war

Dear Johnboy
The extremist Islamic partisan group ISIS, has made headlines for their wholesale slaughter of infidels, defined by them as anyone who does not share their strain of religion. The headline above those headlines is their treatment of captive women and children who are enslaved either for labor or for sex.

Here is a first person account in the Washington Post of a 14 year old Yazidi girl who was captured, enslaved, and rescued.
Here is a video and story in the Daily Mail of ISIS fighters discussing the purchase of captured girls and their prices.
Here is a CNN story with ISIS's theological justification for the treatment of captured women.

Nauseating, isn't it?

As you know from your history reading, ISIS's behavior is not unique to conquering armies. Unfortunately, their behavior is biblical. But then, not everything biblical is Christian.

Here is the biblical case for the capture and enslavement of human beings. When Israel is not attacking cities genocidally, Moses gives them this plan in Deuteronomy 20.
10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
In the next chapter, the instructions for women as war spoils gets more specific. Deuteronomy 21,
10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
Numbers 31 counts virgin women among the spoils to be divided among the tribes. Before the rise of ISIS, the theoretical defense of God-ordained sex slavery was a little easier for Christian apologists. Their defenses of Israelite behavior fill up the first few search engine results when researching Old Testament women as war spoils. The defenses range from, those evil nations were shown mercy by letting some survive to God only allowed that for a certain time. None of these defenses explore the corollary of those assertions, women who "survive" only to live a life of rape/concubinage, often prefer death, and God for a while in his relationship with humanity thought rape/concubinage was not a bad idea.

A commitment to inerrancy, the fundamentalist belief that everything in the Bible is God-breathed, forces good people to explain wicked passages with wicked defenses. But when you read the Bible through Jesus's lens, as he is the full and final picture of God, the Word of God revealed in the New Testament, concealed in the Old Testament, you can say, God would never condone the treatment of women (human beings) that way so God could not have commanded this. You can also say, if Moses did write this, he is revealing his own depraved humanity, not the good and loving God.

None of these conclusions takes away from the value of the Old Testament. The story worth seeing is that God has grace on utterly depraved people. This is why Jesus tells us that loving our friends and not enough. He calls us to love our enemies. He modeled this enemy love when he was lynched, crucified on a cross. Jesus wants us to emulate him. He loves Romans and Jewish religious leaders. He loves invading soldiers, both Israelis with Moses, and insurgents with ISIS. He loves the women who are violated, and the soldiers who violate them. He loves the people who misrepresent him.

Jesus offers salvation to all of them. This is the scandal of God's grace.

The war rules of ancient Israel are biblical, but not Christ-like, because not everything biblical is Christian.

Series review----------------------
This is part ten of the series, Not everything Biblical is ChristianPart one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story. Part nine asks who would Jesus hate?

Friday, November 07, 2014

book response: The Bible Tells Me So... by Peter Enns (2014)

Every book that I have read about critical Biblical scholarship and Biblical theology has been a difficult read until the new book by Enns, The Bible Tells Me So...why defending scripture has made us unable to read it. At points, it is laugh out loud funny. Dr. Enns, a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University practices the Sound of Music maxim, "a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down."

I'd say most American evangelicals like C.S. Lewis so much that he gets a free pass on his non-fundamentalist ways. But that means some of his books are not as popular among us evangelicals, like his Reflections on the Psalms. But Enns wants us to know he is not writing anything crazier than what Lewis wrote, and if we aren't keeping Lewis out of heaven, we shouldn't immediately write Enns off either. Enns opens with a quote from said book of Lewis's.
The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not 'the Word of God' in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its message.  p. vii
If the reader does not fear Lewis, then she need not fear Enns.

Enns addresses three big issues in the Bible apparent to any of us who read it often (and have for a long time): God ordained killing/genocide; unverifiable Bible history, and Biblical disagreements/contradictions.

The first topic is very interesting to me as I have been wrestling with the concept of Biblical genocide for years. Enns reviews the typical evangelical//fundamentalist responses to this problem and the teaching of Christ, who is presented in the New Testament as the clearest manifestation of God. I have heard all these responses. I have even used them. But they do not satisfy. Enns proposal is the command to kill all the Canaanites is not God's command, contrary to the claims in the Bible. Just because Moses or Joshua supposedly say God told them to massacre Canaanites, does not mean that they said it or that God told them to say it. The latter part makes sense in light of Jesus' teaching on enemy love. The first part is riskier for American evangelicals who have made inerrancy creedal. However, Enns gives many examples of why this "creed" is more work than it is worth. Enns is able to do this with humility and humor. He let's us eavesdrop on scholastic conversations across the ages and Bible reading communities.

My book is full of highlights. There is at least one passage underlined every third page in my copy. I can't even begin to pick my favorites to share.

This is the end result of his observations;  the Bible is a collection of conversations about God, sometimes made by assuming God's voice. For Christians, the key to discerning which voice correctly represents God is Jesus and his teaching as presented in the New Testament. Trying to force every statement to agree, even when they contradict, is to miss the forest for the trees.