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A Sad Example of Self-Hatred

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In today’s Boston Globe James Carroll writes a startling column showing the mind of the Christian pacifist left. I have read no better example than this of the mindset that blames America first and foremost for every evil in today’s world.

He begins well enough, urging a more grown-up view of evil on this Halloween day:

But there is another way to think of evil, finding it in the juncture between individual freedom and social context. The story of Genesis posits the malevolent serpent, but what ruined Paradise was not the serpent but the option made in its favor by Adam and Eve. What follows such choice is always unforeseen, but its dynamic is inevitable: Choice leads to consequence, which leads to new and graver choice, which leads in turn to yet graver consequence, and so on. A train of action-reaction is set in motion that quickly outpaces the ability of any one person to slow it.

This phenomenon can take the form of the ”grooved thinking” of a bureaucracy or of the ”institutional culture” that trumps even the good intentions of those who operate within it. Every human choice is made inside a rushing current of prior choices, and the pressure is not good.

Fair enough. We all know that both poor choices (as well as choosing evil) have infinite and unforeseen consequences, and in our lifetime there is no shortage of murderous bureaucracies. But then James drives off the road:

Saint Paul spoke of the ”wiles of the devil,” but his defining metaphor for evil was systemic, not personal. ”For we are not contending against flesh and blood,” he wrote, ”but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness.” For Paul, the enemy was not fallen angels, but ”sovereignties” which are hostile to humanity. He was talking about Roman tyrants and an uncaring imperial bureaucracy. He was talking about politics.

Systemic, yes indeed! Political, no, at least not in this context. This is the very sort of wacky exegesis that Carroll would mock should it be done by an uneducated fundamentalist. He is quoting Ephesians 6:10-17:

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

There is no shortage of political text and subtext in the Bible, but this is a strange text to pick out as political. The New American Bible has a note here, which directly contradicts Carroll’s interpretation, as does the Jerome Biblical Commentary on Ephesians (which is not online). Carroll takes this misinterpretation and uses it to justify his own cultural self-hatred (emphasis mine):

An unprecedented American momentum toward war was unleashed in the 20th century, its destructive energy fueled by the heat of an unchecked nuclear arsenal. That momentum defines the nation now, and, for the first time in history, threatens the very earth. The principalities and powers are us. In the name of the fight against evil, good people established the ”sovereignty” of a militarized culture, laying bare the darkest mystery of all: What we construct to oppose evil involves us in it. Having armed evil with the nuclear bomb, we have made evil more sovereign than ever.

If only there were a devil to exorcise or a witch to burn. If only there were an axis of evil to oppose.

Is it any more responsible to see evil only in one’s own culture than it is to see it only in others? I think not at all. Rather, both attitudes show an appalling lack of perspective. Self-righteousness leads to xenophobia and war-mongering while self-hatred leads to pacifism in the face of evil.

It is inevitable that “what we construct to oppose evil involves us in it” because that is a result of the human condition, not something unique to Americans. Yet as humans, we cannot live without making such choices or passively without taking any actions. Furthermore, Carroll is breathtakingly arrogant in simply assuming the world at large shares his own dim view of his country. I am reminded of Frost writing in the 1920s:

…How are we to write
The Russian novel in America
As long as life goes so unterribly?
There is the pinch from which our only outcry
In literature to date is heard to come.
We get what little misery we can
Out of not having cause for misery.
It makes the guild of novel writers sick
To be expected to be Dostoievskis
On nothing worse than too much luck and comfort.
This is not sorrow, though; it’s just the vapors,
And recognized as such in Russia itself
Under the new regime, and so forbidden.

If well it is with Russia, then feel free
To say so or be stood against the wall
And shot. It’s Pollyanna now or death.
This, then, is the new freedom we hear tell of;
And very sensible. No state can build
A literature that shall at once be sound
And sad on a foundation of well-being.

The Soviet Union Frost wrote of may be gone, but there is no shortage of such regimes today, of which Carroll as an American has the good fortune to not be a subject. Would that more of humanity was so lucky. No doubt most who suffer under real tyranny (not just the vapors) would be grateful for a chance to build their life in Carroll’s Great Satan.

From: Squaring the Boston Globe

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About Harry

  • There’s nothing more peaceful than a cemetery.


  • troll

    Wars are not inevitable – they are matters of individual free choice…as is all killing


  • Too bad that the whole world isn’t pacifist.

    If everyone is was a pacifist this world would be a great place.

    Buth the problem is that as long as we have political borders, seperate cultures and religions and languages we will have war. War is guaranteed.

    Therefore, pacifists have no place and have no use in America or in the world.

  • Justin Berry

    Pacifism is a wonderful thing if you are not dealing with humans. As long as we have borders and cultures to go with seperate economies we will have war. The only way to obtain a utopian pacifist society is to declare war on everyone who is not a pacifist and defeat them through superior firepower.

  • ok..a semi-fascinating bit of sophistry here…

    first thing that caught my Third Eye was the simple redundancy of “Christian pacifist”…and here i had always Thought that all good Christians were SUPPOSED to be Pacifists?

    the whole “turn the other cheek” bit, ya know?

    silly me

    but i digress…

    the Articles mental canyon jump from what was written by the quoted Author and the Poster’s opinion about Carroll’s “own dim view of his country.”

    here i would have to disagree…it is the current “state” of his country, and the actions taken in it’s Name that Carroll appears to have a dim view of…the Poster here hits on this particular GOP point a few times in the article..that somehow Questioning the Authority of any current Regime is somehow hating your country

    nothing could be further from the Truth in most cases

    it is usually those that CARE so deeply about their Nation that usually cast a critical eye…the rest are usually just partisans of a political nature being reactionary

    my own Opinion is that you should be clothed in Skepticism as your breastplate, Facts as your shield, let Thought be your helm and Reason the sword that cuts the Gordian knot of Deception and Greed

    just my one sixth billionths of the World’s opinion…

    your mileage may vary


  • MCH

    “Pacifists of all stripes are social-loafers. They are only free to be “objective pacifists” due to the sacrifices made by “war mongers” on their behalf…”
    – Bobby (RJ) Elliott

    And Chickenhawks of all stripes are phoneys, spouting macho war-speak safely from their homes, while content to send someone else off in their place to the wars they promote.

    Say Bobby, underneath all that vociferous bravado, are you really a pacifist; since you refuse to even try to enlist for the invasion you “support”….?

  • RJ

    Fine writing.

    Pacifists of all stripes are social-loafers. They are only free to be “objective pacifists” due to the sacrifices made by “war-mongers” on their behalf…

  • This is the best of all possible worlds, I assume?