The Religious Left, serenely safe in its mostly middle class protective cocoon within the U.S., likes to imagine that global violence and suffering would end, if only America behaved better. This better behavior largely involves unilaterally disarming, responding to terror and aggression with apologies and dialogue, and paying out larger amounts in foreign aid, preferably to repressive enemy states, in atonement for unspecified past national sins.
A domestic version of this remedy would seek the elimination of crime by emptying all prisons, closing police agencies, and quadrupling the welfare state, with hopes that murder, rape, robbery and burglary then would happily recede in the face of such good will.
The Religious Left plans to commemorate the impending 9-11 tenth anniversary with its usual demands that America simply stop defending itself and instead listen more cordially to our justifiably aggrieved enemies. One of the more esoteric, and popular voices, of the Evangelical Left is Philadelphia “Simple Way” pacifist activist Shane Claiborne. Joining with his patron, ice cream mogul Ben Cohen of “Ben and Jerry’s,” Claiborne plans to host a 90-minute “variety show” to air “questions of violence and militarism… and sharing stories of reconciliation and grace.” The “multimedia presentation” will include other “artists and storytellers.” Will it include sock puppets? Will there be paper mache mounted skulls, which have adorned anti-war protests for decades?
Claiborne is a leading younger voice for increasingly popular neo-Anabaptists who erroneously insist that faithful Christianity demands complete pacifism. He authored the 2008 book Jesus for President that apocalyptically likened America to the Roman Empire, the Third Reich, and the Anti-Christ. Oddly, repressive and militaristic police states around the world never seem to merit these unflattering comparisons. Not even Saddam Hussein’s murderous reign is portrayed so darkly.
And Saddam Hussein’s Iraq should be very familiar to Claiborne. As he boasted in a recent column for Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, he was in Baghdad in 2003 with the notorious Christian peacemaking teams. They were focused on ostensibly protecting Iraq from America’s “shock-and-awe” attack. Of course, they were not interested in protecting Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, who killed far more Iraqis than America ever did. Claiborne recalled an Iraqi doctor, confronted by a wounded child, confronting Claiborne: “Has your country lost its imagination?”
Maybe more imaginative dreamers could have explained how better to remove a despot like Saddam, who had already slain hundreds of thousands of his own people and was perfectly willing to slaughter many more. But anti-war pacifists are never willing to suggest plausible alternatives for the real world. Instead, they prefer the illusions of their own moral posturing. “In a country that is going bankrupt as it continues to spend $250,000 a minute on war… it is clear that it is time to re-imagine things,” Claiborne recently penned, explaining his upcoming “Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream” extravaganza.
Based on inspiration from the Iraqi doctor, Claiborne described his pre 9-11 “variety show.” It will include a 9-11 victim who will “share about why she has insisted that more violence will not cure the epidemic of hatred in the world.” And it will include a “veteran from Iraq [who] will speak about the collision he felt as a Christian trying to follow the nonviolent-enemy-love of Jesus on the cross… while carrying a gun.” It will also feature a welder tying an AK-47 “in a knot…while a muralist paints something beautiful on stage.” There will be a “Skype call with Afghan youth working for peace [to] hear their dreams for a world free of war and bombs and other ugly things.” And there will be a juggler doing an “original anti-violence routine,” plus some singing of “some old freedom songs.” Apparently Ben Cohen himself, as co- “ringmaster of the circus,” will stack Oreo cookies to demonstrate how many billions of dollars America needlessly wastes on the military. All of this entertainment supposedly will foreshadow a “world with fewer bombs and more ice cream.”
Amid the ice cream and jugglers, maybe Claiborne should expand the circus with additional acts. There could be a mutilated survivor from Saddam’s torture and rape chambers to explain what continued Baathist rule might have looked like. Various amputees could explain how al-Qaeda bombs crippled them and what Iraq may have endured had the U.S. retreated before the surge. Stretching back some years, Claiborne could invite survivors of the Cambodian holocaust, or Vietnamese boat people, to explain how U.S. “peace” activists surrendered their countries to unspeakable horrors. Aging refugees and veterans from the Korean War might share how U.S. military forces protected them from enslavement by North Korea. Some Taiwanese might recall how the U.S. 7th Fleet spared their people from Mao’s various mass murders and famines. Aging Berliners might explain how the U.S. Air Force rescued them, and most of Western Europe, from starvation and surrender to Joseph Stalin’s gulag ridden Soviet Union. Holocaust survivors could recall how they, and a remnant of European Jewry, are only alive because U.S. tanks liberated their camps, and U.S. bombs flattened the Nazi terror machine.
How might the world look today if America over the last 70 years chose ice cream over bombs, and if America were to treat its military spending, only 20 percent of the total federal budget, as the moral equivalent of Oreo cookies? Pacifist activists like Shane Claiborne would deserve more respect if they acknowledged the brutal reality instead of clownishly pretending the world is merely a circus, interrupted only by the unpleasantness of American militarism.
Unlike rigid pacifism, mainstream Christianity has always readily admitted that evil pervasively stalks the world, and that legitimate governments must defend the innocent, even if always with flawed instruments and tragic aspects. There’s nothing about 9-11 that is circus-like. Claiborne should set aside his jugglers and confections in favor of sober reflection about a potential world in which 9-11’s perpetrators prevail.