Contra Washington

On Tuesday, the Church of Rome released a little document in preparation for its annual World Day of Peace this coming January 1—number XXXIX in the series, in case anyone’s counting. Titled In Truth, Peace, the document was noteworthy, above all, because through this document, Rome formally reiterated three positions that are so antithetical to the Church of Washington that each of these positions, taken singularly or in the whole, can only be understood contra Washington—the “Father of Lies,” to cite a Biblical phrase the document uses. The lover of falsehoods without peer.

“[H]ow can we fail to be seriously concerned about lies in our own time,” In Truth, Peace asks (par. 5).

A good question. Particularly when the lies are of a kind that associate with power.—The greater the power, the greater the lies.

In Truth, Peace proceeds to draw an important parallel between what it calls “nihilism” and what it calls “religious fanaticism” or “fundamentalism.” Permit me to reproduce two paragraphs in full for you here, while inviting you to turn to the document itself (it’s only a little over 3,000-words long):

9. Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. My predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II frequently pointed out the awful responsibility borne by terrorists, while at the same time condemning their senseless and deadly strategies. These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism which Pope John Paul II described in these words: ”Those who kill by acts of terrorism actually despair of humanity, of life, of the future. In their view, everything is to be hated and destroyed”. Not only nihilism, but also religious fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist thinking and activity. From the beginning, John Paul II was aware of the explosive danger represented by fanatical fundamentalism, and he condemned it unsparingly, while warning against attempts to impose, rather than to propose for others freely to accept, one’s own convictions about the truth. As he wrote: ”To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offence against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offence against God in whose image he is made”.

10. Looked at closely, nihilism and the fundamentalism of which we are speaking share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Despite their different origins and cultural backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God’s existence and his provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving and merciful countenance, replacing him with idols made in its own image. In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given, not only to its political and social causes, but also to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations.

Now. If the so-called nihilists are to the fundamentalists (i.e., those who seek to rule the world by force) nothing other than what Augustine meant by the parable of the pirate and Alexander—

Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled an emperor.”

—then we can dispense with the first half of this pair: The “murder of an appalling number of men and women, wiping out entire families and communities” is the stock in trade of the fundamentalists, for it is they, and they alone, who possess the power to “try to impose on others by violent means what [they] consider to be the truth,” an act that is an “offense against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offense against God in whose image he is made.” On this reading,
In Truth, Peace would be a grossly biased and unfair document. For in its warning to the world, it would be giving as much weight to the pirate as its does to the Emperor.

But I don’t think this is how we should read the document.

Although the word ‘torture‘ is nowhere to be found within the document itself, Tuesday’s statements in Rome at a news conference to accompany the release of the document by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace‘s Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino unequivocally did. As Associated Press was to summarize them (“Vatican calls torture unacceptable in fight against terrorism,” Frances D’Emilio, Dec. 13):

At a news conference about the peace message, [the Cardinal] was asked if torture could be a legitimate tool to gain information that might prevent terror attacks.

The prelate replied that there was no justification for using torture, which is the “humiliation of the human person, whoever he is.”

“The church does not allow torture as a means to extract the truth,” Martino said. Terror suspects “sometimes say what the torturers want to hear….There are other ways to obtain the truth.”

Perhaps alone among the major American print media (at least as best as I can tell at this point), Wednesday’s New York Times reported the release of the Vatican’s document—and the Times missed it significance entirely. “Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday condemned terrorism, nuclear arms and, apparently in a reference to allegations that the United States has tortured terror suspects, lack of respect for international law” was how the Times reported it. Well. Yes. The document does condemn the world’s pirates. But it is only the world’s Emperors who seek to rule by force. And it is their predations—the violent fundamentalism of the Great Powers—that in its destructiveness and threat to international peace and security far outweigh the rest.

Though I can’t predict whether any other States-based news media will report the existence of this Vatican document between now and January 1, let alone focus on its condemnations of the Emperors, don’t you think that it is revealing that the document’s condemnation of torture (by any other name), religious fanaticism (or fundamentalism—and in the United States, it is the secular right-wing kind of fundamentalism that is most deeply rooted and that poses the greatest danger to the world), and the failure of the Great Powers to work toward disarmament (as led by the world’s greatest weapons producer of them all, by now accounting for one-half of the world’s total production, if not more), all such central aspects of the Americans’ way of “being in the world,” has received so little attention from the media back in the States?

After all, when the Church of Rome issued its Instruction in early November concerning the “suitability of candidates for holy orders,” arguing against the suitability of persons with “homosexual tendencies,” I seem to recall the same States-based media having been apoplectic over the document—and rightly so.

Evidently, when a document reflects more poorly on the Vatican than it does the Americans, the Americans will pour all over it.

But when this same frighteningly insular collective whose powers for self-reflection grow fainter with every passing World Day of Peace comes up for rebuke?

Then the Americans will find ways to overlook it.

In falsehoods, war. Or, if you prefer, in war, falsehoods.

The true Church of Washington.

In Truth, Peace: Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI, December 8, 2005
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (Homepage)

Pope says war no excuse for human rights abuses,” Philip Pullella, Reuters, December 13, 2005
Pope Condemns Both Terror And Violations Of Geneva Pact,” Ian Fisher, New York Times, December 14, 2005

The New Boom Industry: Torture,” Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald (Scotland), December 4, 2005
Psychiatrists and psychologists should have nothing to do with interrogating prisoners,” Nancy Sherman, Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2005 (as posted to CagePrisoners.com)
Shocking The Conscience Of America,” John Dean, FindLaw.com, December 16, 2005
‘Never Before!’ Our Amnesiac Torture Debate,” Naomi Klein, The Nation, December 26, 2005

Torture and the Americans,” ZNet, June 18, 2004
Torture and the Americans II,” ZNet, June 18, 2004
‘…interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur’an down a toilet…’,” ZNet, May 19, 2005
Damage Control at Camp X-Ray,” ZNet, June 4, 2005

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