A Lenten Commitment to Homeland Insecurity

Katherine Welles/ Shutterstock.com

'If you see something, say something" outside an airport, Katherine Welles/ Shutterstock.com

We clearly live in a world that is filled with risks and dangers, and because the increased availability of modern technology allows for harm to occur at unprecedented rates and levels, one can argue that we live in one of the most treacherous eras of human history. However, while the need for protection from harm is both natural and commendable, we are forced to consider whether protection itself can eventually become harmful, unnatural, and even condemnable. In other words, with such extensive resources invested in the pursuit of safety and security, one is forced to consider: What are the consequences of such “protection?" And what happens when so much time and effort is dedicated toward protecting ourselves from our neighbors that we eventually lose sight of who are neighbors actually are? At what point does the heightened priority of protection lead to the increased inevitability of isolation and ignorance? And finally, in our efforts to build impenetrable walls of protection (often in the name of freedom), do we not eventually incarcerate ourselves from the rest of the world and thus limit what it actually means to live free?

Court Hears Atheists' Challenge to Ground Zero Cross

A cross formed from a fallen steel I-beam at the former World Trade Center towers. Photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger. Via RNS

Atheists are challenging plans to include a 17-foot, cross-shaped beam that became a famous symbol of Ground Zero after 9/11 in a display at the national memorial museum that is scheduled to open this spring.

In arguments before the the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, American Atheists’ lawyer Edwin Kagin said the cross should go back to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where it spent some time on display, not in a museum built with a mix of public and private funds.

Last year, a lower court rejected a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the New Jersey-based American Atheists that said the cross was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

In his appeal, Kagin said his organization is seeking a similar object to be displayed at the museum, something like a plaque that would say “atheists died here, too.”

In the Name of Security

THE SAD RECORD of human history shows that torture has more often been the rule rather than the exception—in criminal justice systems as well as in interethnic, intercommunal, and international conflicts.

The use of torture in such situations—and brutalities that might fall short of torture but are nonetheless brutalities—can have many motivations. Torture demonstrates absolute power. Torture wreaks vengeance. Torture intimidates. Torture punishes. Torture coerces behavior change. Torture harms, and sometimes the sheer (perverted) pleasure of doing harm is enough motivation. And yes, torture is sometimes deployed to elicit information, confession, or “actionable intelligence.” (This was the main ostensible reason why the U.S. tortured after 9/11. But other factors on this list should not be overlooked.)

Torture appears to come all too naturally to fallen humanity. That is a still quite useful theological term that conveys the belief that humanity was created good by a good God but has fallen into sin and thus has suffered disastrous individual and collective damage to its character. Fallen human beings and human communities resort easily to torture.

So one way to talk about the ethics of torture and brutality is to start exactly here—with the historically and theologically grounded claim that torture has more often been the rule rather than the exception in human history, a dark but pervasive aspect of the behavior of fallen humanity. But what if we turn the discussion of torture upside down in what might be a constructive way?

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Calatrava Unveils Designs for Ground Zero Church Destroyed on 9/11

RNS photo courtesy of Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

The church as it stood before it was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. RNS photo courtesy of Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

Twelve years after falling rubble from the World Trade Center towers destroyed St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, images have been released showing the design for an elaborate new building.

“We want people to feel like this is their house,” said the Rev. Mark Arey, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “I do believe what Jesus said, ‘My house will be a house of prayer for all people.’ Even though it is a Greek Orthodox church, it will be open to all people of all faiths, a place of solace for them.”

Santiago Calatrava, the renowned Spanish architect who designed the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub, is designing the new St. Nicholas Church, which will include a nondenominational bereavement center as an open place for rest and meditation.

Originally housed in an old row house, the original St. Nicholas Church was a narrow, largely unadorned building. The new designs, however, show a luminous domed building modeled partly on the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in Istanbul.

The designs had to meet two criteria, Arey said. First, the church had to look like a Greek Orthodox church. Second, it had to fit in with the environment surrounding Ground Zero.

N.C. Clergy Seek Release of Senate Report on Torture

Senator Richard Burr photo courtesy US Senate [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Citing the need for transparency in the U.S. record on human rights, nearly 200 clergy and religious leaders from North Carolina are seeking the public release of a 6,000-page Senate intelligence report on U.S. torture of terrorism detainees after 9/11.

The letter, dated Aug. 27 and released to the media on Thursday, was sent from the North Carolina Council of Churches in Raleigh to Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The letter, signed by 18 bishops, including the leaders of both of the state’s Catholic dioceses, stated that in light of conflicts in Syria and around the Middle East, transparency on U.S. torture practices was needed.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova / Shutterstock.com

Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova / Shutterstock.com

Alexander was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

It's a children's story. I know. A no good, very bad day ... how do you prepare your kids for that kind of day where nothing seems to go right, where at every turn knobs break and we step in puddles and get gum stuck in our hair?

Maybe, we tell ourselves, that we can move to Australia and everything will be better.

Well, no. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days happen there, too. They happen everywhere. Everywhere. It's a great book.

So what do we do about them? The classic children's book doesn't answer the question for us. Not really. It's just a little bit of truth telling with fun illustrations. Some days are just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

But as we grow older, we learn that though these days do simply happen, that there are attitudes one can have, there are approaches to these days one can take.

Iraq and North Korea: The Lies We All Believe

Anti-aircraft rockets, Dejan Lazarevic / Shutterstock.com

Anti-aircraft rockets, Dejan Lazarevic / Shutterstock.com

Today, March 19, 2013, is the 10th anniversary of the “Shock and Awe” campaign that was intended to rid the world of the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As it turned out, the threat was a lie. There was ample evidence at the time to prove that the WMDs didn’t really exist, but were manufactured in Saddam’s imagination for political gain.

So why did we fall so easily for this lie? Answers to this question often come via an analysis of the particulars of the Iraqi situation and include discourse about oil fields, geopolitical calculations, even psychological analysis of the relationship of Father and Son Bush. These are good discussions to have. We can learn a great deal from them about our thirst for security and insatiable appetite for oil, political power, and revenge.

War Without End

Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly.

U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad, in March 2003, in front of the Al Fanar hotel. Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly.

Ten years ago, in March of 2003, Iraqis braced themselves for the anticipated “Shock and Awe” attacks that the U.S. was planning to launch against them. The media buildup for the attack assured Iraqis that barbarous assaults were looming. I was living in Baghdad at the time, along with other Voices in the Wilderness activists determined to remain in Iraq, come what may. We didn’t want U.S.-led military and economic war to sever bonds that had grown between ourselves and Iraqis who had befriended us over the past seven years. Since 1996, we had traveled to Iraq numerous times, carrying medicines for children and families in open violation of the economic sanctions that directly targeted the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society — the poor, the elderly, and the children.

I still feel haunted by children and their heartbroken mothers and fathers whom we met in Iraqi hospitals.

“I think I understand,” murmured my friend Martin Thomas, a nurse from the U.K., as he sat in a pediatric ward in a Baghdad hospital in 1997, trying to comprehend the horrifying reality. “It’s a death row for infants.”