Truth Be Told

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Where Augustine Goes Off the Rails

San Agustín by
Antonio Rodríguez
(1636 - 1691)
For those who have been following my work on the Doctrine of Discovery, you know that I have been offering a critique of Saint Augustine's Just War Theory for some time now. In his writing on the 2 kingdoms, Augustine is quite clear that Christendom is not the Kingdom of God. But the general sense I get from him is that while he acknowledges Christendom is not perfect, he also does not reject it entirely. He seems to take the attitude that the church needs to find a way to work with it. Almost as if to say, Christendom, for all its faults, is at least better than being persecuted.  And his writings on Just War appear to be an attempt to make Christian Empire work.

I do not think it is bad or incorrect for a separate and independent church to prophetically challenge the secular state to be more just in how it engages in the act of war. But I do believe it is entirely inappropriate for a Christian Empire to justify why its Christian citizens can fight in the wars of Christendom by using a doctrine of Just War.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus reacted strongly, often with a rebuke, against anyone who attempted to combine his teachings with the power of Empire (secular or religious).

1. In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist sent his disciples to question Jesus because of the reports that he was healing Centurion's servants and raising widow's children from the dead. These actions were contrary to the expectations that he, and most of Israel, had for the Messiah. They expected a savior, coming in power to overthrow their oppressors, much like what was prophesied in Daniel 7 and Malachi 4.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Luke 7:20-23

Jesus' message was very strong, even to John the Baptist. "God is doing something that even you did not expect. Either get on board or step aside."

2. In Luke 21, Jesus and his disciples entered a Samaritan village to teach. But because they were headed to Jerusalem, the Samaritans rejected them. On their way out of the village, James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them?  This was how God worked throughout the Old Testament. Both through his prophets and the nation of Israel. When there was sin, God sent a prophet. If the people listened to the prophet and repented, God showed mercy. But if they rejected God's prophet, God judged them, at times even by sending down fire from heaven (Sodom and Gomorrah, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Elijah and King Ahaziah).  What James and John are asking Jesus is only what they had learned from the stories of the Old Testament. But Jesus turns and rebukes them, as if to say, "No. That time is over." He then takes them to yet another (most likely Samaritan) village.

3. In John 6, after Jesus fed over 5,000 with a few loaves and fish, the people were so excited that they came to make him their king. But, "Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (John 6:15)

4. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. And Peter identified him as the Christ. Jesus then taught them that he (the Son of Man) was going to be persecuted and crucified. This thought was so contrary to the image that Peter had of who the Christ, and the Son of Man, was that he took his own teacher aside and began to rebuke him.  "But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. 'Get behind me, Satan!' he said. 'You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'” (Mark 8:33)

Every time Jesus was presented with the expectation or temptation to collude with Empire, or create an earthly Kingdom, Jesus reacted strongly. He was not here to establish an earthly empire. He was here to make disciples, plant a church, and offer himself as a living sacrifice. He was here to lay down his life, not save it. And he warned his disciples that they should expect, and do, the same.

So when Constantine, a new Christian, made the decision to Christianize Rome and create Christendom, he was doing so in contrast to the teachings and model of Jesus. The Church needed to rebuke him. But unfortunately, that is not what happened. Instead, the church leaders, thinkers, and theologians sought for a way to make Christendom work. That was what the doctrine of Just War was about. How does the church function now that it has imperial power? Throughout his life, Jesus reacted strongly to this type of thinking, but unfortunately the church did not. Jesus rejected an earthly religious empire. Augustine sought a way to justify it. The actions of Constantine and the collusion of Augustine were "Get behind me, Satan!" moments. But the church was silent.

In my work, I am seeking to understand how the church got from Luke 7 to the Doctrine of Discovery. How did it get from following a savior who was persecuted and executed for his faith, to a church that enacted persecution and executed its enemies in the name of Christ? How did we get from God enabling his disciples to speak the languages of the nations in Acts 2 to Christian missionaries washing out native children's mouths with soap for having the gall to speak their own languages?

It is because of Christendom. The prostitution of the Church to the Empire. Jesus laid down his life. The Empire must save its life. Jesus emptied himself. The Empire must protect itself.

The contrast between Jesus's teachings and Christendom becomes very clear in this quote by US Congressman Clay Higgins. He represents the 3rd district in the state of Louisiana. On his website, Rep. Higgins identifies himself as a Christian who is known “for his refreshing focus on the power of the individual to be redeemed.” But Clay Higgins also believes in Christendom and that the US is a Christian nation. As such, after the recent terror attack in the UK in June 2017, he posted this to his Facebook page.
“The free world... all of Christendom... is at war with Islamic horror.
Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Clay Higgins’s words are the fruit of Christendom. This is where it leads. And this is what needs to be rebuked.

So, I have been looking for the quote. The line of thinking where, when Augustine voiced it, Jesus would have responded with the rebuke "Get behind me, Satan!"  I spent almost a year looking for that quote in his writings on the 2 kingdoms and Just war. But the quote is not there. Instead it is found in his teachings on heresy in the book, "On the Correction of the Donatists".

The Donatists were a schism group that was teaching heresy. They were leading people astray from the commandments of God and the doctrines of the Church. And Augustine was struggling theologically with what to do with them.  In Chapter 5, Augustine accepts the reality of Christian Empire and is questioning the role of a Christian King.
"How then are kings to serve the Lord with fear, except by preventing and chastising with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord? For a man serves God in one way in that he is man, in another way in that he is also king. In that he is man, he serves Him by living faithfully; but in that he is also king, he serves Him by enforcing with suitable rigor such laws as ordain what is righteous, and punish what is the reverse."
In this chapter Augustine concludes that the role of a Christian King is to enforce (with suitable rigor) the commands of God and (by extension) the doctrines of the Church.

In Chapter 6, Augustine makes the argument that it is better to confront heresy, and lead men to worship God, through teaching. But if that does not work, it is permissible to compel them through "fear of punishment and pain."
"It is indeed better (as no one ever could deny) that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word."
These quotes are two very clear examples of where Augustine goes off the rails.  He is concluding that the role of the Christian king is to use the resources of the state to enforce (through fear, punishment, and pain) the commandments of God and the doctrines of the Church.

This is not what Christ taught. This is not what Jesus modeled. When James and John wanted to punish the Samaritans' rejection of Christ by calling down fire from heaven, Jesus rebuked them. When John the Baptist questioned Jesus's anti-Imperial methods, he was told "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." And when Peter rebuked Jesus, telling him he did not have to die, Jesus immediately rebuked him with the words “Get behind me, Satan.”

Augustine’s theological acceptance of Christian Empire, his collusion through Just War and his justification of imperial power to enforce Church Doctrine sets the stage for both the Crusades in the 11th century and, in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas. In his work “Summa Theologica”, Question 11 on Heresy, Article 3 “Whether heretics ought to be tolerated?”, Thomas Aquinas concludes:
“With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”
Constantine creates Christendom. Augustine does not rebuke it, but colludes with it and determines that the role of Christendom and a Christian King is to prevent and chastise “with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord.” And then Aquinas concludes that the Christian Empire, which he calls the church, now has the authority to “not only excommunicate (heretics) but even put (them) to death.”

In the 13th Century the writing of the church begins referring to a sub-human class known as the infidel. And in the 15th Century Pope Nicolas V begins creating the Doctrine of Discovery with these words:
“ invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.”
Jesus's goal is not an earthly kingdom. In his teachings, there is no room for Christian Empire. In Mark Chapter 2, Jesus tells a parable comparing himself to a bridegroom. In Ephesians 5 Paul writes about Christ’s love for the church using the analogy of marriage. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Jesus loves the Church. He laid his life down for it. And he does not want his bride to prostitute itself out to a worldly Empire.

That is why, I am quite certain, had he been physically present to hear Augustine's conclusions about the Donatists, Christendom and the role of a Christian King, Jesus would have responded strongly. He was not afraid to rebuke a man who would later become known as Saint Peter, and I am sure he would not hesitate to rebuke someone we refer to as Saint Augustine.

"Get behind me, Satan! …you are not on the side of God, but of men."

For, as Jesus would later say to Pilate,

“My Kingdom is not of this world.”


Mark Charles
(Navajo)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Fleeting Beauty of Fireworks

Fireworks are cool, but they never seem to last very long. Most public shows are between 20 and 30 minutes. And the grand finale, when the majority of the fireworks are launched to light up the sky in a blaze of glory that can be seen for miles, usually lasts only a minute or two. Because of this, a good fireworks display can be easily ruined. A faulty fuse, wind, an ill-timed sound track, an inconvenient phone call, even a short thunderstorm can ruin a perfectly good, and expensive, fireworks display. Most of us have probably returned home from at least one Fourth of July celebration somewhat disappointed. (above photo from NBC Washington)

George Erasmus, a wise Aboriginal leader says "Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created."

Most Americans don't know this, but 30 lines below the statement "All men are created equal", the Declaration of Independence refers to natives as "merciless Indian Savages."  Over the years I have published two article specifically about the Declaration of Independence. The first is titled "The Dilemma of the Fourth of July" and the second is "The Declaration of Independence, it's not what you think." With these articles, I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on Americans nor am I trying to shame them for our history. But I am attempting to create a common memory by pointing out that much of the history we celebrate is not very glorious and there are many parts of it that are downright awful. The term "merciless Indian Savages" in our Declaration of Independence is nothing to be celebrated.

Most Americans also don't know this, but there are 51 gender specific, male pronouns (he, him, his) used throughout the US Constitution and its Amendments in reference to who can run for office, who can serve as President, and even who is a citizen.

Most Americans don’t know this, but the United States never actually abolished slavery. The 13th Amendment reads "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The 13th Amendment merely redefined slavery and codified it under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. And today, the US incarcerates its citizens at the highest rate of any country in the world. This rate (675 per 100,000) is nearly 5 times the rate of most of our NATO allies. And at 1,344 per 100,000, we incarcerate people of color at 3 times the rate that we incarcerate white Americans (450 per 100,000).

And most Americans don't know this, but between 1839 and 1898 the United States Congress awarded 425 Congressional Medals of Honor to US soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars, including 20 to US Soldiers who participated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee. That is 425 Congressional Medals of Honor for the ethnic cleansing of this continent.

Every year the Fourth of July becomes harder and harder to celebrate. Not because I despise this country, but because this holiday has become an incredible symbol of our national ignorance. Most Americans (I would estimate over 90%) have no idea that the document they celebrate every Fourth of July refers to the indigenous peoples of this land as "merciless Indian Savages."  The term bothers me, but the widespread ignorance of our history, and the resulting blind celebrations, outright depresses me.

This holiday has become a vivid reminder that "We the People" never has, nor does it currently mean "All the People."   And we need to temper our celebrations.

Which is why I am grateful for rain.

Weather forecasters have conditioned us to complain about rain.  Think back to the last time you watched a weather reporter give a forecast for rain before a major holiday or large event. It is almost always negative. I even heard one reporter apologize for forecasting rain. Apologize??? Really?  As if they have any control over it.

The Navajo Reservation is located in the high desert of the Southwest and has an average rainfall below 12 inches per year. But our Navajo people, both today and historically, are dependent upon rain. Corn is sacred to us and is grown by our people, providing pollen for our prayers and ceremonies and food for our families. We have herded sheep ever since they were introduced to us by the Spanish hundreds of years ago and they have become a vital part of our culture, economy and well-being.

But our land has very few lakes and almost no rivers. To this day our people are dependent upon rain. We need it, to sustain ourselves, grow our crops and water our animals.

Because of this, I have worked hard to train myself not to complain about rain. Whenever Creator decides to bless us with rain, I want to be grateful. It doesn't matter what plans are disrupted or what events need to be changed or even canceled. When you live in the high deserts of the Southwest, rain is ALWAYS needed. It is always a blessing. And to complain about it, whenever it comes, is both short-sighted and incredibly selfish.

Two years ago our family moved to Washington, DC, and at the age of 46 I had to purchase my first umbrella. In DC the average number of days with precipitation is 115. And the annual rainfall is over 40 inches. I was surprised to learn that total is higher than both Seattle, WA (37.13 in) and Portland, OR (35.98 in).  In fact, after spending my first year here, I nearly broke my commitment to not complain about the rain.  Sometime last spring, when the rainfall is the highest and there are between 10-12 days of precipitation every month. I remember praying one day after watching yet another rain storm roll through the area "Creator, I am grateful for the rain, but I think I may have reached my limit. This is too much!"  It was a humbling experience.  Creator had outdone me. I needed to re-check my expectations. I no longer live in the desert, but creator is still in charge of the weather. Creator is the one who chooses when it rains and where it falls. Creator knows what creation needs and I am not in any position to question, or complain about it.

One of the exciting things about living in Washington, DC is all the national and historic events that take place literally in your backyard. Visits from foreign dignitaries, Presidential inaugurations, marches, protests, even marches and protests of Presidential inaugurations. They all happen right here. But one of the largest events that attracts Americans regardless of their political affiliation or who is in office, is the annual fireworks display on the National Mall. This nearly 20-minute display of fireworks exploding over the reflecting pool in front of the Washington Monument is a must see. And every year over 700,000 people flock to Washington DC over the Fourth of July Weekend just to view it in person.

For the past several years, because of my work on the Doctrine of Discovery and American History, Fourth of July celebrations in our family have become more tempered. But we do still try to get out and see the fireworks and we definitely wanted to see them in DC.

For our first Fourth of July in DC, back in 2016, because of the crowds, we did not want to spend the entire day on the National Mall with thousands of flag waving citizens. But we heard that a good view of the fireworks could be had from the steps of the Supreme Court building, and that was much easier to get to. So late in the evening we walked there. The sky had been cloudy most of the day and it had been raining on and off. When we arrived at the Supreme Court there was already a crowd gathering. So we found a good seat and waited.

The clouds that evening were incredibly low, in fact it was almost like a fog had rolled in. The Supreme Court is located on the far end of the mall just behind the Capitol Building, quite a distance from the Washington Monument. I did not know how high the fireworks would go in the sky and wondered if we had chosen a bad location to watch. Soon we heard booms in the sky and faintly saw the clouds light up, but we could not see any of the fireworks.  We debated if we should walk closer in order to get a better view. But I doubted much could be seen anywhere because of the clouds. So we decided to just go home.

Soon the rain began falling again. And after we got home, we learned that even those close by the fireworks had difficulty seeing them because of the low hanging clouds. One local network even described that year's show as a "colorful thunder and lighting display."  And several people they interviewed said they were disappointed.


This year, I felt even more blah as we approached the Fourth of July. The current political environment and the daily partisan attacks, tweets, name calling and resulting stalemate has made living in DC exhausting, frustrating and at times agonizing. The night before the Fourth we took a vote and our family was split, some wanted to see fireworks, but others did not want to bother. This holiday has become a conundrum for us. So on the morning of July 4th I sat down and honestly asked myself, "what is it that I really want."

 Do I want our nation to not celebrate this holiday? Is it my desire that the fireworks stop?  Do I want everyone to be miserable and ashamed on the Fourth of July?

No. That is not my goal. But I long for better relationships. And I want all Americans to recognize the dilemma and conflict this holiday, and our history, causes for Native Americans, African Americans, women and other citizens of color. I want to create a common memory because I desire a healthier community.

I think it is fine, maybe even appropriate for Americans to celebrate our freedom from the colonialism of England but I also want us to lament that our country has its own deep legacy of colonialism, racism and sexism. Much of it against our very own citizens.

I desire for our unabashed celebrations of the white washed history we call American Exceptionalism to be replaced by a deep gratefulness for the growing sense of community that comes from the intentional and difficult work of creating a common memory.

In other words, I want it to rain.

For those who are short sighted and selfish, rain will be a disappointment and they will probably complain quite loudly. But for a growing number of us, who are gaining new and different perspectives on our nation and its history, we will enjoy the disruption to our plans and seek to find another way to make the best of our time together. Because we are learning that healthy community and long lasting, honest relationships are so much better than the fleeting and temporary beauty of fireworks.

Mark Charles
(Navajo)