October 4, 2010 / Perspective
Brett McCracken. Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010. 255 …
October 10, 2004
Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (Basic Books, 2003) is Jean Bethke Elshtain’s response to critics of American military action in Afghanistan and the Bush administration’s War on Terror more generally. Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at The University of Chicago and has published numerous other writings on democracy and war. The goal of her research and writing, including her most recent work, is to call us to consider carefully the connection between our ethical convictions and political choices. Leah Seppanen Anderson recently spoke with Elshtain about Just War Against Terror and its application to more recent US involvement in Iraq.
TOJ: A significant target of the criticism in your book Just War Against Terror is toward the academic community, which you suggest is ideologically driven, and refuses to acknowledge facts or supply evidence to support its position. But it seems that this criticism could also be lodged against some supporters of the war on terror. So, is this a particular problem of the academic community in this situation or is it really a broader problem with American political dialogue?
JBE: Well, I think it’s a particular problem in the academic community for a couple of reasons. It becomes more strikingly problematic in the academic community because this is a community that prides itself on being rational and being oriented to making decisions based on the best possible evidence, and so on (that’s post-modernism aside, because there are also some people as I point out who don’t believe in facts at all, so that’s another problem).
So, we’ve got two kinds of issues: 1) you have people (and there are very few folks outside the academy who believe this) who are insisting that there’s no such thing as a fact and we just make it up as we go along. So, those folks have given themselves permission not to pay attention to anything, other than what they want to highlight. And 2) that People, because of the overwhelming political orientation of the academy (and I’m sure you’ve seen the data on this), everything is geared a certain direction and ground through, if you will, a particular ideological mill. And I think what happens is the fact that because people are constantly surrounded by people who think the same way they do or have the same politics that they do, they aren’t often challenged in their views. Which again is very odd, because in the academy, we’re supposed to challenge each other’s ideas and we’re supposed to be open to debate.
But, in fact, there’s a surprisingly ill-liberal liberalism — a kind of closed position that can only can only interpret people who approach things in a different way, whether it’s on the issue of the just war tradition or a whole range of other issues. For example, even people who actually take their religious beliefs seriously and believe that those beliefs should reasonably and quite legitimately enter into political argument, they also come to seem very odd because the academy also has disproportionate numbers of people who aren’t associated with any faith tradition — if you compare the academy to the American population as a whole. So, I think there are a lot of reasons why it’s a particular problem in the academy, and since that’s the world I know best, it made sense for me to focus on that.
I mean the wider question that you posed about American political life I think could be said of political life anywhere. That is to say that it’s unsurprising that people who are openly partisan are going to focus on the facts and the interpretation of the facts that best suits their interpretation of the events. That’s absolutely unsurprising. That’s what politics is about. But in the academy, where you have the pretense that something else is going on, people insulate themselves from criticism. So, that’s really what I was trying to get at.
TOJ: I have a question specifically about Afghanistan, before we move onto Iraq, since that’s really what you were responding to in your book. Is the goal of a just war on terror simply to punish those who perpetrated the terrorist acts or is there also a more positive component to a just war on terror? For example, in Afghanistan there is now, by many accounts, either a shortage of troops and/or funding necessary to meet basic security or development needs, especially outside of major cities. So in waging a just war against terror, do we have any requirement for long-term financial or military commitment … is there anything that the Just War tradition can tell us about that?
JBE: Good question, I think so. But, it must be said that this is the least developed aspect of the Just War tradition. I have suggested in some of my writing that we have to pay attention to “jus post bellum,” you know you have “jus ad bellum” and “jus in bello” but what about “post bellum.” I think that is an area that has to be paid a good bit more attention to.
The situation on the ground in Afghanistan, depending on whom one talks to, is either shaky or solid and getting better. It’s hard to know which evidence to pay the most attention to. I tend to rely quite a bit on the first hand observations from people that I know who are on the staff of the National Endowment for Democracy and who regularly go back and forth between the states and not just Kabul but some of the other outlying areas. The picture they bring back is actually a pretty positive one about schools going up, about schools and women back in school, women teaching. A lot of the Afghani émigrés have returned to Afghanistan, many of these were professionals including professional women. So all of that is I think a good thing.
The US is in a very difficult position in all these situations. You’re sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you do too much you’re trying to control the country and you’re accused of being colonialists and you’re trying to dominate their politics. If it seems as if you’re doing too little, then you are throwing the situation down the drain and you’re not focusing on it and it shows you didn’t really mean what you said. So I’m not sure the US at this point can, at least in the eyes of some of the world, can do anything right to tell you the truth. And that makes it very difficult, because the question is how much can or should the US do.
My view is that the Just War tradition requires tending to the post-war situation in a way that keeps the question of Justice first and foremost. You really have to think about what a more just situation is than the one that pertained before hostilities commenced. Now in Afghanistan obviously almost anything would be better than the Taliban. So the bar is set kind of low. But I don’t think that one should let that determine one’s own actions. Certainly, the civilian affairs teams, as they’re called, in the Army are the ones who do a lot of rebuilding of the schools and the infrastructure and there are medical people in there and so on and so forth. I think this is also where the international community, so called, has to put its shoulder to the wheel and play a part. And there are tons of different organizations in Afghanistan, as you know making commitments of various sorts. But it also has to be said that there are really some people especially in “Old Europe” who would like to see the US fail no matter what the fate of the Afghani or Iraqi people is should that happen, and I think that’s just a nasty reality we face at this point too.
Let me just sum up my position, I don’t think in the Just War tradition enough has been done about the post war situation or said, that it does have to be looked at in and through the categories of Justice, that’s one of the criteria before you commence the hostilities, which is on the balance of will this make the situation better than worse, save more lives than it will cost and so forth. The implication of that criterion stretches one into the post-war period as well. That is, you can take some of the ad-bellum criteria and just carry those forward into the post-bellum situation and Just War thinkers have a real responsibility at this point to do more of that work that they have in the past.
TOJ: Since the writing of your book, obviously President Bush has led an invasion in Iraq in the name of the war on terror. So would you support this military effort just in the same way you did with the Afghanistan war?
JBE: I as you probably know did support the war in Iraq. The grounds that I supported it on were rather quite the same as a lot of other people who have written about the war and supported it: the writer, who is on the left who is a democratic socialist, Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff who is human rights liberal… that is to say, there are people who cross the political spectrum who supported the war really on the grounds of Justice. That is, the war against Saddam Hussein really is in a powerful sense an anti-fascist war. I supported it on those grounds. If you look to the number of lives lost on a given year to the systematic terror of the Baathist regime, civilian causalities boded to be considerably less than that, that in any given year and then when you tote up continuing years of this regime, it’s sort of a horrific prospect. It’s sort of on those grounds, more than on the presence of weapons of mass destruction, OR, helping to create a stable democratic regime in the Middle East, which would hopefully become an outcome, but I didn’t think that was a sufficient ground to commence hostilities.
So it was really on the issue of the question of prevention of continuing harm… which comes out of this sort of Augustinian argument that sparing the innocent from certain harm is a legitimate, cassis belli, a legitimate occasion for war. So my argument was geared in that direction. On the weapons of mass destruction, whether they constitute an imminent threat, it’s certainly the case that the Clinton administration thought so. She passed in 1998 an Iraq liberation act calling for a regime change. Madeline Albright, the secretary of state, said he had enough weapons of mass destruction to destroy the world. So everybody believed that who was in a position of responsibility. So when the Clinton people were saying it, I didn’t doubt what they were saying, and I didn’t doubt it when the Bush people repeated it.
So the question there, does one think there really was an imminent threat, as far as I can figure the only imminent threat was twofold: The first would be if international terrorist entities got hold of this stuff assuming it existed and the other would be use against Israel, even though Saddam would know that it would mean his demise. He has stated that his only mistake in invading Kuwait was that he should have waited until he got nuclear weapons, that he had done it too soon, before he had operational nuclear weapons in which case no one would have dared to attack him and he could also take out Israel. I don’t think that anybody made it up. I think the questions are: was the intelligence any good, and if not, why? And if the intelligence was good in many respects, where has the stuff gone, is it still floating around out there? I’m mentioning that, though, even though it wasn’t my primary argument.
TOJ: That raises sort of two questions. How does the just war tradition then help us distinguish then, there are lots of human rights abuses in the world…
JBE: Yes there are.
TOJ: So how does that help us distinguish when we should intervene and when we shouldn’t? And a second question then, do you think it’s fair to link the Iraq invasion, which you are arguing for on the basis of human rights, to a war against terror, which is somehow implicitly linked to the 9/11 attacks?
JBE: Well let’s do the first part first because I know one of the things I hear every time I speak about this is, why Iraq, is this random, why didn’t we go after North Korea? I always put the question to the audience, why could we not? Because arguably the North Korea regime is the most brutal of all the brutal regimes in the world today, with a vast system of gulags, millions of people, it’s just grotesque. I mean we can see the prison camps from the air with satellite imagery. I’ve read the testimonies of some of the few people who have escaped, because the life span of a person who goes into those systems is about 3 to 4 months. So why not, I say “why not?” Sometimes everybody is just sitting there silent, and I think to myself, has nobody ever taken a course in international relations? Usually someone raises their hand though, and says “because they’ve got nuclear weapons” and I say, exactly.
One of the just war criteria is the prudential one. Can you arguably do more good than harm by embarking on this course of action? And when a power has nuclear weapons and appears to be quite prepared to use them, it’s very difficult to make that prudential argument. In the case of North Korea, they’ve already said, “look, we’ll just take out Seoul, if you want to come after us, South Korea is doomed its major population center is.” So that means, no reasonable person would make the argument that the Baathist regime in Iraq was worse than the North Korea Regime, but there are differences in the situations. It also alerts us to the fact that once you have one of these rogue states in possession of nuclear weapons, it really ties the hands of the international community, as far as attempting to do something about the situation. I think you could go through the various nasty regimes and take them case-by-case. You could think about whether an intervention would or would not be justified. The prudential argument is one that sometimes people forget is part of the just war argument. On the grounds, absent that prudential concern, all the ducks are in a row it seems to me as far as, let’s say with going against North Korea. But you can’t forget that prudential dimension, and I think that’s absolutely critical. And that’s where the just war tradition links up, in a very interesting way to the so-called, realist or “real politick” tradition. Where they say, look, you have to make the calculation here about what the possible, probably outcomes are. That’s a feature of the just war tradition too which I think some of the hardcore realists just don’t seem to understand. They think the just war tradition says these people are bad let’s just blunder in everywhere, and that’s just not really the case.
The second part of your question. I saw the headlines this week that the 9/11 commission not finding this evidence (of the link of Iraq with the war against Terrorism) although there was immediately a huge amount of backtracking by both Hamilton and Tom Cane, who are the co-chairs, Democrat and Republican, saying no the final commission report is not going to say that but this is the staff member who had done a preliminary something. But the 9/11 commissions have been kind of out of control in any case; it’s been so heavily politicized and adversarial I’m not sure how reliable the final report is going to be.
I think that the preponderance, I mean I get tons of this stuff coming in everyday from the various sources, I think the preponderance of the evidence suggests that some al-Qaeda operatives were in and out of Iraq. I don’t think we know how much was going on as far as aid and comfort or material assistance. I don’t think we know that yet, I don’t think it’s farfetched to think that there is some connection but I believe, finally, that on those grounds alone, you cannot make an argument about going to war against the Hussein regime. I think there had to be a lot more than that to justify an intervention. Certainly, President Bush emphasized a lot more than that as well.
So is it part of the war against terrorism? Well, yeah. I mean to the extent that the combination, as Tony Blair said, of rogue states or failed states, international terrorisms, and WMD is the deadly combination in the world today. This is also a point that Samantha Power made in her book on genocide. That being the case, one has to really worry when you’ve got the case of Iraq, a rogue state not a failed state. What’s going on there? So it’s a legitimate worry, but I don’t think it’s enough, that worry, would be enough in and of itself to justify an intervention.
TOJ: So if there hadn’t been documentation of the human rights abuses, that alone wouldn’t have been enough?
JBE: I don’t think so, no. Because then I don’t think that then you could make the imminent threat argument, the human rights issue, those are the grounds that Michael Ignatieff, who heads the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard, those are the grounds for which he supported the war, the grounds on which I supported the war, and a number of others.
TOJ: How do recent incidences on Abu Gharib prison affect the justness of the war and how we think about that?
JBE: Well I think, does it not, take us back to the question about the post bellum situation? I don’t think it affects the justness of the intervention at all, but I do think that it raises questions about if the US was fully prepared for the post-war situation. What seems to have happened in Abu Gharib, so far as I can tell at least in that one wing of the prison, where there seems to have been some very bizarre and sadistic characters running around, that there was a real breakdown of any norms of discipline. These people seemed to have a free hand to really carry on in grotesque way. One of the things that struck me about the posing of people for these pictures is how much they seem to be dominated a kind of pornographic imagination, the bondage and discipline dimensions of the photographs. And I think that’s really weird. I think what that shows is that anytime you have some kind of breakdown in command in control, and I don’t think we know yet if it was sort of, we don’t want to know what’s going on in there so we’re looking the other way, if it was that or, it was really that these folks had not been weren’t properly trained, which seems to be the case, because they’re not regular army, not under the regular command and control structure, and you get a few bad eggs, and it’s amazing how much you can get people to go along with them once they have some folks who are helpless and powerless before them.
Now a lot of these people may have been bad guys, but that doesn’t matter it seems to me, it doesn’t justify this kind of grotesque abuse. I think it is shameful, certainly the President said he felt shamed by it, I think we all should. It needs to be brought under control as quickly as possible and the perpetrators punished. I think when you bring these people to the bar of Justice, and it’s demonstrated that the US will not put up with this behavior, that that would altogether be a good thing. I hope that they’ll go through with this process as soon as possible, as long as all the rights are protected for the defendant and so on. In any war as you know, in any post-war situation, there are going to be some incidents that are ugly, I mean there is just no way of getting around it. I think that what any decent army should do is when it finds out about this is investigate and bring the interpreters to Justice. You can’t have this sort of stuff going on.
TOJ: What would you say more generally to Bush’s critics, maybe the most recent Michael Moore and his film Fahrenheit 9/11, who suggest the motivations of the war in Iraq were not to counter terror but to accrue oil or exact revenge? More specifically, if motivations are important in waging a just war, in that you can’t be doing that out of revenge, then how do we determine what the true motivations of a state or even its leaders are?
JBE: Well that’s a very good question. I think Michael Moore is a well-known fraud and a liar. I don’t trust anything he says; I think he’s, well, an idiot. He’s a publicity-seeking idiot. You know, he’s getting his 15 minutes of fame, which is what he was out for all along. I basically discount anything he says. The other stuff he has done has been so profoundly critiqued and criticized as fraudulent that I don’t know why anyone… well I do, there’s so much Bush hatred that some folks will line up for anything.
So discounting the Moore thing, let’s go to the really serious question that you asked, because it’s a good one, which is the whole issue of how does one assess motivation. Because one of the criteria in the “ad bellum” front is to go in with the right intentions. And the right intentions cannot be aggrandizement, the right intention cannot be just glory. It cannot be a holy war, or a crusade. So there are all sorts of things it can’t be.
That said, obviously none of us can penetrate the full intentionality of any other human being. So what we have to do I think is to look at what people say, their statements about their motivations, and then see if their deeds seem to be in line with their proclaimed intentions. I have had this discussion before with some of the really realist types, who are similarly cynical about stated good intentions. Like, it’s all about this, or it’s all about that, and it’s all about national interest and this is just a pretense. In fact, to one of them not to long ago I said, look, any complex human activity is going to have complex multiple motivations and intentions. And if you are an Augustinian as I am, nothing in this world is pure, it’s just not. The notion that there would be pure selflessness is I think unreasonable. Especially on the part of the leader of a state. Because their primary responsibility after all, it’s what they’re charged with, is to see to the security or well-being for the people for whom they are most directly responsible. So in the case of the US government, that is Americans. And that leads to a complex set of considerations.
Certainly, the notion that it is all about oil doesn’t make a lot of sense. First of all because the US oil interest in Iraq was certainly not as high as that of France and Russia, for example. So one could as well say that the reason they said why they didn’t want the war is for oil. My hunch is that it was probably part of it but there are other reasons to.
Oil is not a minor consideration. I think that it’s one, for example, let me mention one of my great political heroes, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, someone that I think is one of the most wonderful human beings the west has had to offer the world over the last quarter of a century. His work and political essays are wonderful. At the height of the 1991 gulf war, which he and the Czech Republic supported, and even as he supported this last one, there were a lot of people angry at him personally in the US because he had become a kind of darling of the literate’ in NY. He said 2 things: 1. Without US support and determination throughout the cold war, we wouldn’t be free today. We know what it means to be under a tyranny. 2. We are completely dependent on oil, in our struggling economy. If the oil supplies are completely shut down, it would destroy the struggling fledging economies of the new democracies where we might fall into another terrible counter reaction, where we would fall back into a more authoritarian type of reaction. Oil is not about a few people lining their pockets; it’s about the well-being of all of us. I don’t think we should mock that as an issue.
That said, we were never dependent on the Iraqi oil supply in the way other places were, so I don’t think that argument works in this case.
TOJ: So you’re sort of suggesting that you look at the stated motivations…
JBE: Right the stated motivations. Either you’re a complete cynic and you think that politicians lie all the time. My view is I don’t think they fabricate any more than anyone else does. I always liked politicians because they at least have to stand up before the public and be held accountable for their words, which is something that academics don’t have to do. So I don’t think there is some unusual tendency to prevaricate in political life. I think one needs to listen to politicians; I don’t care what side of the aisle that they’re on, with a certain charity of interpretation. And then, if there is a huge gap, that you see between their words and there deeds, then you can start to get cynical about what they are saying. It think that’s the only way we have of gauging intentions because we can’t penetrate the human heart, I mean we can’t penetrate into the inner-working into the minds who are states people. The only ground that we have as citizens that we have to gauge is that relationship between openly stated intentions and the deeds linked to them.
TOJ: I would like to ask you some questions about religion, in this case Islam. You mention several times in your book that fundamental Islam is relatively recent, 20th century phenomenon. You also dispute the notion that terrorism is fueled at least primarily by material conditions such as poverty. So do you have any ideas about what has facilitated this recent development of fundamentalist Islam?
JBE: Another really good question, you have done your homework. As far as I can tell, and I’m also going by a three day meeting that I participated in a month and a half ago on the island of Malta with 15 Arab intellectuals from throughout the middle east, all of them anti-Islamists. They said something very interesting, and I was relieved to hear what they were saying because it confirmed my position in part, but many of them had signed on at one point with what they called the god that failed. Namely, socialism.
In Syria and some of the other countries, because of the alignment of many Arab countries with the Soviet Union, a lot of them had gone to Moscow to be educated, they had bought into a kind of centralized, heavy handed powerful state model as the instrument that was going to modernize and so on. And that all collapsed. And their view is, because the terrorist operatives tend not to be drawn from the poorest of the poor, tend not to be people who have no education but people who are relatively well educated. Like Mohammed Atta who got radicalized when he was in Hamburg.
There is a huge sort of gap that in a way needs filling. And then here is this 20th century tradition of radical Islamism which is a very strict form of fundamentalism but more than that, that is it looks like 20th century totalitarian ideology, in the way it has developed and the kind of arguments it makes. So if Nazism had the Jews it had to get rid of, and communism had the bourgeoisie it had to get rid of, here you’ve got all the infidels you have to get rid of. That it functions very much like that. In a sense it rushed in to fill this gap. So they feel, these intellectuals, many of whom are not particularly religious it must be said, some of whom are but in a mild generic Muslim way. First of all they are terrified because they think they’re losing the battle to these folks. Second, their view is that this seemed to be the only available alternative because the people in the Arab Middle East had never any experience of constitutional democratic systems, and the one that came closest, namely Turkey, had been modernized under Atta Turk, and he had taken a very hard line against religion. Rather like the French republican tradition, the French post-revolution tradition. Which we can see being played out in the no headscarves tradition. So it was that kind of tradition, a situation where you kind of repress religion rather than permit it some room to operate. And that was seen as the only way to get some kind of semi-constitutional system up and running. So I think that people will be studying this for many decades to figure out exactly how all of this came together at this moment. But, a good bit of what they had to say made some sense to me. It certainly did confirm the position that some of us have been articulating that there is a huge gap between ordinary Muslim piety and this very vicious ideology of Islamism. It doesn’t mean that the religion is just a cover for everything, but that it’s a virulent form of the religion that functions like a totalitarian ideology.
TOJ: You criticized Tony Campolo in your book as referring to the crusades in a form of self-flagellation. Why do you think the Evangelical community would be more comfortable with self-flagellation than with honest dialogue with Christian responsibilities in the war on terror? Where do you think this guilt comes from?
JBE: It’s an interesting question and I don’t want to take Tony Campolo as singularly representative. That speech struck me and seemed to me to express a view that I associate with the protestant mainline and actually with some of the stuff coming out from time to time with the Catholic sources, where there is a huge pool of western Christian guilt about having done this and having done that and having done something else a thousand years ago. And I can understand, acknowledging guilt for past sins that go back a thousand year I think can be done in a way that has some dignity, like Pope John Paul II did in the millennial year when he went back over the whole history of the church. And of course it is his office in a way to do that. To call the church to its better angels, if you will, and look at that whole history and that whole span of time.
But I think there is also a way that, it’s not just a kind of self-flagellation that makes you feel that your own motivations are pure because you engaged in this kind of self guilt. But it’s also, and I mentioned this in my book. Because oddly enough it can become very paternalistic towards Arab Muslims. That they, well we’re past that history, but they’re not, they still focus on what happened a thousand years ago, it’s still a grievance to them. So that’s why I suggest in my book that if a Christian stood up and said those blankety-blanks kicked us out of the holy land and by God we were right to go into the crusades and get it back because they had slaughtered us and kicked us out, the entire Christian community would come down on such a person and say, what are you talking about? That was a thousand years ago?
So why should one in any way consider this a legitimate position? That you go back a thousand years and that’s the reason why people are supposed to be slaughtered today. The fact that Osama bin Laden uses this is should be good reason for us to challenge it, and say, come on, this a way to cover up the very real problems that people face in Muslim majority Arabs societies where they have had corrupt decadent societies, where they have had corrupt decadent governments, governments that have suppressed human freedom, governments that have especially not supported development for women, governments that have in many ways been a burden on their people. Because they have fallen behind in almost every index of social well-being, they’re looking around for scapegoats and going back a thousand years for the crusades is the way they do that. I just don’t think Christians should be in the business of sanctifying that kind of argument.
Now the reasons for it I suppose would have something to do with the fact that after all Christianity is a religion that constantly calls you to self-examination. I think there is a strong, good way, legitimate way to do that; an authentic way to do that. And then there is a way to become this kind of weird, morbidity, where something is always our fault. Which becomes an odd way of saying that we’re so powerful that we determine almost everything and we should feel guilty about it. There’s a complicated psychodynamic going on there that I think really needs to be brought forward and confronted more honestly than Christians have been doing. It’s interesting that Bonhoeffer picked up on some of that self-flagellation stuff and argued in fact that Christ does not call us to weakness but calls us to strength, you know he calls us to a kind of robust engagement to the world. I think that a lot of this mea culpa stuff suggests that Christians would do best to not engage the world because if we do we get our hands dirty.
TOJ: In the Hauerwas and Griffiths article in First Things, which you’ve already had a chance to respond to, they mentioned that Reinhold Niebhur himself thought that going to war was to become “less Christian.” Is there something as Christians that we should be concerned about with participating in war? Do the pacifists have something right when they warn Christians about this and emphasize peace and not becoming co-mingled with America or involved in its military operations?
JBE: Well I think that much of a certain kind of an almost fashionable neo-pacifism is not so much a call to responsibility but a justification to irresponsibility. It’s a way to say that the world is so wicked and so evil and as soon as we start engaging it, except if it is in total opposition, then we’re going to muddy ourselves in the world and cease to be Christian.
There is a peace tradition, obviously, which is a minority tradition in Christianity historically because if you look at the overwhelming preponderance of the Christian tradition and the argument historically, it was that what may be mandated at the individual level, namely non-resistance, that there is a reversal when it comes to the level of the office of statesmen, the vocation of politics as Max Weber put it. I think there is obviously room within Christianity, as H Richard Niebuhr pointed out, in his classic Christ and Culture. For different orientations of Christians to the world because Christian tradition is a contested one, and because so much of it is so ambiguous, it’s open to all kinds of multiple interpretations. What did Jesus say when he said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword?” How do we understand that? How do we understand other passages that seem to contradict that? So I just don’t think any Christian should be in the business of wagging a finger and saying that another Christian really isn’t a Christian. You might say I think my Christian brother or sister is mistaken and here is why, but to arrogantly set yourself up as an orator of what’s Christian or not, just strikes me as, well I’m flabbergasted that anyone would be so self-certain and prideful as to do that. Which is precisely what Hauerwas and Griffiths did. And I thought that was, well it was cruel, but it was extraordinarily arrogant and I don’t want to have any part of that kind of game.
I appreciate that there are sincere Christian pacifists in the world who are prepared to pay the price for that, which means that if some nasty invaders start to take over the country, you offer yourself up basically to be slaughtered, I mean you don’t resist. But I would hope and pray we never have people in Washington who would have that view, because I would like to see my grandchildren to grow up and have a decent chance at life. So I think that what I might accept and mandate for myself or even my family and particular peace tradition I cannot impose on the rest of society. I cannot say we should all as one be prepared to lay down our lives and not offer resistance. And I know the comeback would be, no it’s not that we don’t offer resistance and but its non-violent resistance. I think there is a time and a place for that. It usually works best when you’ve got an already relatively decent society like the US, and you are fighting a domestic battle like the civil rights movements. There you can say you are not living up to your own laws and your own premises, here’s the gap and you have to do something about it, which was (Martin Luther) King’s genius and the genius of other militant non-violent resistances historically. What if you are dealing with totalitarians? You can’t say you’re not living up to your principles, because they are, when they slaughter people en mass. So I think that we need to be at every point aware of the complexity of the situation and try to respond appropriately and according to our office. I mean, we have different offices and I am trying to think about the office of the stateswoman and statesman and what their responsibilities are, their rather harrowing responsibilities. I just don’t Christians should run around saying who is or isn’t a Christian. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
TOJ: This is an election year and readers are trying to make decisions between Bush and Kerry. What do you think about the president’s performance in striving for a just world? What should readers look for in candidates in trying to evaluate the candidates?
JBE: At this point in time, politically it’s a very interesting moment at many of the beginning and end of life issues like abortion, euthanasia, even the stem cell debate, for reasons that I do not understand because I don’t think of why this is a left/right issue. I for one am much closer to the official position of the Republican party than the Democratic party because the Democratic party has been overtaken (and I don’t mean all Democrats nationally, I mean I’m a registered Democrat myself I think) as far the inside operatives by a very hard secularist group. Kerry said this the other day on the stem cell debate, that what has happened on the Bush position on this is that ideology has overtaken a reasonable commitment to scientific research, which means that religious conviction is ideological. And it means that any reluctance to have an industry in embryo creation and destruction is ideological. So that’s really unfortunate because I think Christians are more likely to look at these beginning and ending of life issues and to make some assessments accordingly. I think that’s a totally legitimate thing to do.
On the national level, it’s simply the case that no major democratic candidate can say or do anything that goes against the National Abortion Rights Action League and so on, not even against partial birth abortion. And that for me is a tragedy. It’s a horrible situation for the country when the parties wind up split in that way.
So when casting one’s vote for president you want to look at those issues. You want to look at the issues of social and economic justice. Do you think that either party has a better policy or position on that? I must say that I never know what to do on economic policy because there are always economists on both sides of the issue; I never know what’s better or worse. But certainly how do we make sure people get minimally decent health care, those are entirety legitimate questions that voters need to take into account.
Also on the major social concern questions, like the support for child rearing families, what are the policies of the candidate of the two parties on that? How do we support or sustain families, or to the contrary put pressure on families and make it more difficult for husbands and wives to stay together and support their children and so on? To the extent that the candidates have weighed in on those issues, those should be taken into account.
Then when we go to the international level, if your conviction is as mine is that there is no more important question that we face than the combination of rogue states/failed states, WMD, and international terrorism, then you need to evaluate the candidates their position on that and how to most effectively combat it. So those are the kinds of questions that are the most salient in making up one’s mind about for whom one should vote. I always vote a split ticket myself, I’m not a straight party line person, and I used to be a straight party line person voting the democratic ticket. I ceased to do that a long time ago. I mix it up. I’m registered here in Tennessee not in Illinois, the local offices and some of the congressional offices; the Republican Party historically almost disappeared in the south, as you know. There are a lot of Republican candidates now but there are a lot of democratic candidates that have been in for a long time who are doing a great job. It’s when you get to the national level that the issue often reverses itself for me. But those are the criteria that I would take into account in making a decision.
TOJ: Thank you so much for your time.
JBE: My Pleasure. Thank You.
Leah Seppen Anderson