19 January 2023

Echoing Morris on Russia

And who are they who flaunt in our faces the banner inscribed on one side ‘English interests’, and on the other ‘Russian misdeeds’? Who are they that are leading us into war? Let us look at these saviours of England’s honour, these champions of Poland, these scourges of Russia’s iniquities! Do you know them?—Greedy gamblers on the Stock Exchange, idle officers of the Army and Navy (poor fellows!), worn-out mockers of the Clubs, desperate purveyors of exciting war-news for the comfortable breakfast tables of those who have nothing to lose by war, and lastly, in the place of honour, the Tory Rump, that we fools, weary of peace, reason and justice, chose at the last election to ‘represent’ us: and over all their captain the ancient place-hunter, who, having at last climbed into an Earl’s chair, grins down thence into the anxious face of England while his empty heart and shifty head is compassing the stroke that will bring on our destruction perhaps, our confusion certainly:—O shame and double shame, if we march under such a leadership as this in an unjust war against a people who are not our enemies!
- William Morris, from ‘To the Working-men of England’, 11 May 1877

It is not as a Russophile (though perhaps I may be called that, however reluctantly) that I oppose war with Russia, or more accurately further escalation from the West of the already-devastating war in the Ukraine. It is in the same spirit of William Morris, the true Tory radical and advocate of the advancement of the working classes in Britain, that I oppose the same self-serving machinations of the imperialists at home and the squandering of American wealth on a war abroad that benefits only the war-profiteers in the so-called ‘defence’ sector and their assorted hangers-on. The character of these latter is precisely the same as the gamblers, mockers, purveyors of war-news and rump-parliamentarians whom Morris declaimed in this letter.

Yet I expect many of the same who in our day claim Morris as an inspiration would have been quick to dismiss him then, as they are quick to dismiss leftists now, as ‘campist’ or ‘tankie’ or ‘pro-Putin’ or ‘Russian bot’. Indeed, Morris did face opposition among fellow-‘leftists’ in his own day for his principled opposition to British imperialism, his support of Bulgarian independence and his opposition to Turkish atrocities in the Balkans. In the name of William Morris, then—in the name of the Eastern Question Association of his day, in the name of the good Englishmen and Americans of his day who opposed war and the exploitation that comes with it—this iteration of the Great Game must be opposed. It must be brought to an end before it brings on our destruction as it has already brought on our confusion. And those who flaunt in our faces the faded and jaded banner inscribed on one side rules-based order and on the other side Russian aggression must be called to account and shown for what they truly are!

05 January 2023

Does God take sides?

Sometimes one hears it said in American theopolitical discourse, that God does not take sides in politics. There is one sense in which this is a true and worthy impulse to say. And there is another sense in which this glib characterisation becomes dangerously wrong.

Firstly, I tend to believe that it is fully right and accurate to hold that the God of the Holy Scriptures, the Creator of the cosmos, has little to choose in terms of American politics. I believe it is proper to say that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.

The first reason that such a characterisation is true, is because the agendas of both parties take moral positions which would be thoroughly and irreconcilably repugnant to the early Church. The first-century Apostolic text called the Didachē, to take one example, explicitly condemns the practice of abortion. This practice is, sadly, ‘unequivocally’ countenanced as a ‘reproductive right’ by the official platform of the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party is no better than the Democratic Party—indeed, in one fundamental way it is worse. The Didachē condemns idolatry as thoroughly as, and in fact more often than, it condemns abortion. And the Republican Party upholds, from the very first sentence of the preamble of its own platform, an explicit form of idolatry: the idolatry which exalts the nation-state as ‘exceptional’ and ‘unlike any other nation on earth’, and which exalts the US Constitution as a sacred ‘covenant’. What does God have to choose between one party for which destroying innocent children is a sacred right, and another party which proclaims aloud with the priests of the Sanhedrin that they have ‘no king but Cæsar’?

Although for a long time I have personally refused to support either major party with my vote, I say this not to cast aspersions on the ordinary American Christians who decide to vote with one major party or the other. Most people have independent reasons, driven by pragmatism or by personal and contextual considerations, for preferring, even strongly preferring, one party over the other. I assuredly do not believe that having such reasons makes one evil or an enemy of God. I say this merely to demonstrate that the God Who created the whole of the cosmos, Who revealed Himself by the law and the prophets to ancient Israel, and Who Himself took human flesh from a certain virgin in first-century Galilee, has nowhere to lay His head when it comes to the halls of power in Washington.

But does this mean that God does not take sides in politics, full stop?

First-order, it strikes me as rather presumptuous for American Christians to assume, that simply because the two main Coke-and-Pepsi options in their own particular powerful nation-state are both distant from God, that God must be equally distant from all possible forms of political expression. Yet many high-minded and well-intentioned evangelicals, Catholics, even Orthodox Christians, make an explicit and public point that ‘God is not political’ and that it is the job of Christians to ‘rise above politics’.

However well-intentioned this apolitical impulse may be in its attempt to engender benefit of the doubt between neighbours on opposing sides of the political divide, it nevertheless confuses a particular point. Politics is, at its basis, merely the art of learning to live together with one’s neighbour. The call to love one’s neighbour is a fundamentally political statement, and even the strictest hermits and most cloistered monks in Christian history were enjoined by their vows to uphold this particular substance in their politics. But then comes the question of the scholar of the law to Christ: ‘Who, then, is my neighbour?’

Christ answers this in the immediate sense with the parable of the Good Samaritan. However, He also more generally answers the question of this scholar of the law in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. If nothing else, the Beatitudes tell us, in their apportioning of blessing, the political position of God. In short: God does take sides. God takes the side of the poor; of those who sorrow; of the meek; of those who hunger and thirst for justice; of the merciful; of the innocent; of the peacemakers; of the persecuted.

Worth noting is that these categories are not merely symbolic or transcendental. The Beatitudes are not a parable—in fact, they are one of the few places in the Greek Scriptures where Jesus is not speaking in a way that points primarily to the symbolic. The Beatitudes are specific, direct and concrete. And they have immediate ramifications to present-day political situations.

Would Jesus be found on the side of the Iraqi people who still suffer from poverty, infant deformity and internal displacement—or would He be found on the side of their invaders and occupiers?

Would Jesus be found on the side of the Yemeni people, overwhelmingly children, who still suffer from the attacks of bombs and rockets and the threat of starvation—or would He be found on the side of the Croesuses of Saudi who launch those bombs and rockets and blockade Yemen’s ports?

Would Jesus be found on the side of the Syrian people who still suffer from the effects of war, invasion, religious persecution, starvation, sanctions—or would He be found on the side of the Turkish, Saudi, Qatari, Emirati, Uighur and other CIA-funded Wahhâbi religious extremists who invaded and murdered them?

Would Jesus be found on the side of the Palestinian people whose livelihoods are destroyed, who are evicted from their homes, and who are shot dead and detained on the streets of their own cities and villages—or would He be found on the side of the settlers and military who do the destroying, evicting, shooting and detaining?

Would Jesus be found on the side of the Haitian people who are protesting in the streets against the dysfunction of their state and the theft of their country’s wealth—or on the side of those who would send in tanks and planes to oppress them?

Would Jesus be found on the side of the ordinary people in Donbass who have suffered from nearly nine years of non-stop shelling and from deliberately-engineereed lack of access to schools and hospitals—or would He side with the race-nationalist paramilitaries, SBU, AFU and NATO forces who are doing the shelling?

Would Jesus be found on the side of ordinary Venezuelan people—or on the side of the foreign operatives and mercenaries who tried to overthrow their elected government? Would Jesus be found on the side of ordinary Bolivian people—or on the side of the lithium mining consortiums which foisted a coup on them? Would Jesus be found on the side of Indigenous water and land defenders—or on the side of huge multinational energy conglomerates who use police forces and National Guard to harass and repress them? Would Jesus be found on the side of ordinary Africans—or on the side of the French and British and American governments who continue to siphon off Africa’s wealth? Would Jesus be found on the side of innocent children—or on the side of those who traffic and exploit their bodies, or kill them in the womb?

In my own humble opinion, even to pose these questions in the light of the Beatitudes, is to answer them. Unfortunately, in each of these cases, the considerations and interests of worldly power—sometimes soft-pedalled into the conversation under the guise of soi-disant ‘democracy’, ‘rule of law’, ‘nuance’, ‘impartiality’, ‘objectivity’—serve to cloud and muddy the consciences of those who would otherwise clearly answer in each of these instances. But if Jesus does promise the blessings He did in the Beatitudes, then we must say that He would take the side of the Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Palestinians, Haitians, New Russians, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Indigenous nations, African nations, children—over their oppressors and persecutors. Jesus Himself took just such a political side when He chose to be crucified by the Roman authorities in conjunction with the Sanhedrin and their Herodian puppets… between two bandits. They discredited Him and crucified Him as a political agent, as a would-be ‘King of the Jews’.

Those of us who live in an empire with pretensions of universality, a latter-day Rome, where the primary political choices are between infanticidaires on one side and open idolaters on the other, have a responsibility to choose a radical third option, and to side with those throughout the world who suffer at the hands of Cæsar. And we must do so even at the risk of being called ‘communists’, ‘tankies’, ‘campists’ and worse. To do otherwise would be to betray the Gospel, and the Beatitudes in particular which place God on the side of those who suffer, rather than those who of design and intent inflict suffering.