It’s been a long time since I’ve been immersed in Southern Evangelicalism where a certain brand of interpreting world events looms large. I grew up in the Bible Belt, where Saddam Hussein, Desert Storm, the fall of the USSR, the growing rise of Israeli nationalism, and “slipping societal morals” were all “signs” of the “end times” or “the last days”. I sat through youth group meetings where our senior pastor would talk about how the book of Daniel had coded prophecies about nuclear weapons in space.
(Being in high school, I saw no problem with him making that argument by saying that the book’s “original language” uses the Greek word dynamos from which we get the word “dynamite”; it was only later that it clicked for me that Daniel is written in Hebrew and Aramaic, not Greek.)
Moving to the Northeast, the bastion of mainline Christianity; and attending two different seminaries from traditions very different from this prophecy-interpreting one, I was under the false impression that this whole game of interpreting current events in apocalyptic ways was rightly losing steam.
But then, this past week, the tragedy of ISIS (or the so-called “Islamic State”) beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians happened. I first found out on Facebook, when I saw a procession of ancient Christian articulations of mourning filling my news feed. “Come, Lord, Jesus.” “Lord, have mercy.” “Kyrie Eleison.” I, myself speechless, decided also to lean heavily on old words from our Christian family to find comfort and express lament.
Not everyone went this way, though. After these initial responses, my Facebook and Twitter feeds began to fill with phrases and out-of-context Bible verses that I hadn’t seen in years. People were posting blog posts and verses all of which were trying to say that these deaths amounted to some unique act of “global Christian persecution” that was somehow emblematic of the world’s “last days” or “end times”.
Today I’d like to offer a seven reasons why this is wrong-headed and unhelpful:
U.S. foreign policy as it pertains to ISIS should reflect the reality of what ISIS is: a social movement for which the best course for absolute defeat is a “bottom-up” approach, rather than just “top-down”.
On Monday, the Supreme Court gave a shocking decision to not rule on gay marriage decisions in five states. Some could see this as a defeat for gay marriage, prolonging the costs and time it takes to move the process forward state-by-state.
On the other hand, though, most commentators and gay marriage proponents saw this as giving tacit approval to gay marriage by the Court. And in fact, this does seem to be the case. Unlike most other Supreme Court decisions, it doesn’t take a majority for the Court to agree to hear a case–it only takes four votes. This means that at least a super-majority of the justices did not feel the need to provide oversight to the decisions.
And this is important to remember. The Supreme Court is not intended to be a court in the usual sense. It is an appeals court. It oversees the federal appeals courts’ decisions and only acts when they think the appeals courts are either contradicting one another or are going in an extremely wrong direction. In other words, they are there to clarify when there’s ambiguity, not create out of thin air.
(Forgive the picture. I know it’s weird, but it captures my love for books so well.)
I just wanted to put up a quick post to let it be known (to those few people who might care) that my “The Books” section above is updated again. In the midst of my reading and research for the summer Bible Survey Class, I had to put all personal reading off to the side–and, along with that, that Books page.
But, I’ve updated it now, with my new additions. For personal reading, I’ve added Moby Dick and Stephen Kinzer’s All The Shah’s Men. For my devotional reading, I added the poems of Hart Crane (which are rocking my world). I’ve also changed the formatting on the page for easier reading, and added links to posts in which I’ve shared quotes, reviews, or meditations from my time reading that book. Hopefully this will make this page a little more useful for those looking for book recommendations.
Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, imprisoned for six years for writing articles accusing Iran of ordering political assassinations (from an interview quoted in All The Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer):
The Iranian state is certainly guilty of violating manv of its citizens’ basic rights…. But a military attack is not a just or effective response…. An attack would be calamitous for the innocent people of Iran and the region…. It would foster the growth of fundamentalism in the region [and] reignite the conviction that the Judeo-Christian West, led by the United States, is assaulting the world of Islam, from Afghanistan and Palestine to Iraq and Iran…. The current U.S. military threat has given the Iranian government a freer hand in repressing Iran’s budding civil society in the name of national security, and so eclipsed democratic discourse that some Iranian reformists see themselves caught between domestic despotism and foreign invasion. Political change in Iran is necessary, but it cannot be achieved by foreign intervention….
Most Iranians, I believe, share a broad outlook on American foreign policy…. They think that Iran is valued only for its vast energy resources and its role in regional politics, and that Iranian culture and economic development, and the peace, welfare and basic rights of Iranian citizens, are largely irrelevant to American policymakers….
Iranians will never forget the 1953 U.S.-supported coup that toppled the nationalist, moderate, democratic government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and ushered in a closed, dictatorial political system. Iranian society lost one of its most important historical opportunities for the establishment of a democracy [because of these past U.S. interventions].
I said yesterday that I’m growing tired of my political arguing and whining. I realized that, in what I’ve been writing during this campaign, I’ve mostly been laying criticisms (which is easy) and not offering any real solutions (which is much harder). So as I wind down my political talk, in the interest of trying to helpful and productive, I tried to think of some realistic things that could be changed with our foreign policy.
A lot of times, people with my same criticisms and concerns can come across as pretty paranoid, conspiratorial, and anarchistic. I hope I haven’t. I’m still sleeping fine. These issues are the natural ebbs and flows that every powerful nation in history has gone through. We went through it with McCarthy and eventually corrected (mostly), but people pointing this stuff out and complaining about it is part of that corrective. I guess I’m just playing my part. Here’s hoping it does some good.
One more caveat. This list is meant to be as realistic as possible. My ideal list would be much more development-heavy, pacifistic, and non-interventionist. With that being said, here are my top 10 alternative realistic foreign policy solutions that the President could employ to put us on a healthier course:
Tonight is the last debate before the November election. The topic is foreign policy. I’ve said so many times before (especially in this series of posts), that foreign policy (and it’s domestic implications) is the most important issue to me in this election.
Now, people disagree with me on this, and I won’t pretend to have the historical perspective and political knowledge to be an authority everyone should listen to.
But, there is someone else I would trust as that authority: Dan Carlin.
Perhaps the biggest influence on my political thinking, Carlin’s political podcast (he also has an amazing history show) is the one I’ve been listening to for the longest time. He’s a total political junkie with so much historical perspective to offer to his commentary, it gives you great comfort to know there’s at least someone out there with his mind applied to these issues.
If you have a half-hour to spare, he has this podcast (also above), which he posted the day after the last debate. It contains some of his reactions to that debate, plus his thoughts on the foreign policy issues surrounding the next one, some imminent issues that would be easy for Romney to exploit (and yet he doesn’t), and the impact of these issues on our society today. It’s one of the best of his podcasts ever, and I want to share it with you all.
Really, honestly, it’s just 30ish minutes long. Please listen to it before watching tomorrow’s debate, and especially listen to it before voting. (If you’re absolutely short on time, the real meat begins at around 9:54. Have fun.)
[image credit: DonkeyHotey/flickr]