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Live by the Spirit, live forever

January 25, 2010 6 comments

Something obvious struck me about the way things work “in the spirit” versus how things work in the world.  Repeatedly, I’ve listened to people, Christians, consciously describe the tangible world as “broken” and “fallen”, and, for a while, I’ve been questioning what that meant.  In my mind, it seemed that most, if not all, of the evil in the world could be explained by human action and/or inaction.  Famine, poverty, crime, all of it seemed to be part of some simple, nonspiritual, cause-and-effect relationship, and I felt that 1) thinking it through would lead everyone to that same conclusion and 2) understanding this people would be driven to act.  However, today I believe those two conclusions are false because they really don’t take into account how a lot of people actually feel about the state of the world.  How I currently feel about these conclusions has to do with the way that I view the spirit world.

Put simply, in the spirit world everything works like it’s supposed to (a bold claim, I know).  Good is rewarded, evil is punished, and grace is given as needed (and I don’t just mean forgiven sin, grace includes guidance through a trial, help in a crisis, strength for any scenario).  It is the realm in which fairy tales exist, a realm where the hero prevails, where the innocent are saved, where within each malady, a lesson lies.  I want to go back to the first sentence of this paragraph where I say, “Everything works like it’s supposed to.”  It’s interesting that how many, if not most, people feel, possibly as a result of something implanted into them from the time they were small, about how things “should” be never leaves them in spite of all that they see around them.

Actually, it’s possibly incorrect for me to say that because I haven’t done the real research.  I know there are religions and worldviews that a significant number of people adhere to that teach that the way things are is how they should be because…that’s the way they are.  I can understand how that can bring peace to a mind struggling to rationalize why the world is in the state that it’s in, and, actually, that’s the flaw in Conclusion #2 up above.  By seeing evil simply as part of a cause-and-effect relationship, it might lead to seeing it as a permanent fixture rather than something beatable and forfeiting the attempt to conquer it.   Also, I find it telling that even stalwart atheists who don’t believe in spirits or deities still believe that there’s an ideal that people “should” reach for in spite of disagreements on how to get there.  This brings me back to how pervasive the idea of a broken world is, at least, in Western society.

Now for a detour that will inevitably bring us back on the right route.

I recently read a comic book that explained why the Joker, a famous batman villain, did what he did.  It asserted that the Joker believed that his worldview was the true one and through his actions he could make it apparent to people.  The best example of this is in The Dark Knight where he tells the passengers of two different boats that if one of them did not set off the explosives on the other’s boat then both boats would explode.  It was his attempt to prove to the people what they were capable of if pushed, possibly to make them believe that they were truly capable of anything and that survival mattered more than right or wrong; it was his attempt to bring them closer to his way of seeing the world.  The thing that didn’t square with me about the Joker’s belief system was that if it was the truth then it should be playing itself out without his involvement; he didn’t seem to understand that he was trying to make it the truth rather than simply reveal the truth.  This is fine, of course, because he is a psychotic sociopath and making sense is not a prerequisite.  This got me thinking though.  In spite of what we see on the internet, read in magazines, or encounter in real life, something still seems to tell many of us, “This isn’t the way things should be,” regardless of the way things are.

Somehow, so many of us, rather than just wishing the world played by fairy tale rules believe that the world “should” play by fairy tale rules, but, unlike the Joker, we seem to have no good ideas on how to make that world our reality.  It occurred to me that maybe that was what living by the spirit was all about.   That living by the spirit is stubbornly refusing to play by the rules of a broken world not just because God said so but because it’s actually what a lot of us want.  That living by the spirit isn’t about being perfect because perfect people don’t need grace, and they sure don’t have anymore lessons they need to learn.  That living by the spirit can be our daily, personal attempt to live in utopia without actually being in utopia.  The truth that we want to see and wish to demonstrate is that THE Spirit is superior and capable of overcoming the current state of things.  It makes me reevaluate what Jesus and John and others meant when they proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand because it’s not about perfection.  It’s about good being rewarded, evil being punished, and grace given as needed, and when you, when WE, live like those rules apply who can say that the kingdom of heaven isn’t at hand?

Extra:  The title is a play on “Live by the sword, die by the sword” rather than just a random proclamation.  My understanding of  “live by the sword, die by the sword” is that after choosing to live life a certain way for so long, the consequences of doing so become unavoidable, but choosing to live life by the spirit wouldn’t result in “death by the spirit”.  In keeping with the fairy tale metaphor, it would instead result in a “happily ever after” ending which is why I went with the cute, but bold “live forever”.

Also, I don’t think Christians have a monopoly on “living by the spirit” as explained here, but I do think a Christian attempting to live by the spirit daily can be strengthened in ways that cannot be replicated by someone who doesn’t share the same faith.

Also, read “Bad Intelligence”, the earlier post, when you get the chance.  I have a feeling not many of you read it.

Categories: Faith, Life Tags:

Bad Intelligence

January 20, 2010 2 comments

Unsatisfied with the fact that the United States’ shoddy intelligence work was getting our own people killed and innocent people detained, someone in leadership decided that they needed to take it a step further and get innocent detainees killed, a veritable best of both worlds scenario.  Humble as always though, this person or these people have decided that it would be best not to take credit for their handiwork but instead do their best to make it look as if it was the innocent detainees’ idea the entire time.

A few weeks ago, a man was allowed onto a U.S. base who blew himself up in order to kill as many U.S. operatives as he could with him.  When this happened, I clearly remember people who felt Obama was, to paraphrase, “pussyfooting” around with this War on Terror business.  We needed to get tougher on these murderous fanatics before they got around to burning the entirety of the United States down to the ground.  Of course, by “get tougher” a lot of them meant keep using off-shore prison camps like Guantanamo and all the enhanced interrogation, black-bag-over-your-head pick-ups on foreign soil that it had come to represent.  The terrorists weren’t holding back.  Why in our right minds should we?

For a moment let’s forget the ongoing debate about how far is too far when dealing with terrorists, and focus on how far is too far when dealing with suspects. I started reading this article “The Guantanamo Suicides: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle” http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368 out of sheer curiosity.   It looked like one of those investigative pieces that would make a really good thriller, but it turned out to be one of those investigative pieces that would make for a really depressing movie where you find out about all that’s broken and how powerless you are to fix it.

Let’s start with the detainees who Rear Admiral Harry Harris (real name and title), The commander at Guantanamo at the time, claimed committed suicide as “an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us” (because killing yourself is a real good way to get public sentiment on your side when you’re a suspected terrorist – moving on).  THEY WEREN’T EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE THERE.  All three of these people who allegedly killed themselves, according to the the U.S. gov’t at the time, were not terrorist.  “What were ‘not terrorists’ doing in Guantanamo?” Well let me tell you.

One young man, the Pentagon claimed, had gained “frontline battle experience…from his having been a cook in a Taliban camp” (because cooks are privy to the kind of sensitive information that would really help in our war on terror).  In spite of their initial belief that this 17-year-old cook was enough of a threat that he needed to be locked up for five years, they eventually found that he apparently didn’t need to be in prison.  At the time of his death, he was on a list of prisoners to be sent home.  No harm, no foul, right.  Having five years of your life taken away is no big right.  Plenty more where…those…came…from …NEXT.

This other guy, Mani (not to be confused with the Argentinian basketball player Manu), though…we really had something there.  He was allegedly on his way to do some…humanitarian work, but he had been identified as a person of interest by some guy who the U.S. apparently paid $5000 because I mean, $5000, this guy wouldn’t lie for “Price is Right” money, right.  At the time of his death, Mani was also a few weeks away from being sent back home to Saudi Arabia when he died.

This third guy, who already looked bad because he was an illegal immigrant (dey tuk er jobs!) in Pakistan (huh?) from Yemen (yes, it’s bad enough to make you want to move to Pakistan), was given to us by Pakistani authorities who thought he was a terrorist (because relying on foreign intelligence always works out so well for us), and, being an illegal immigrant, it’s not like they wanted him anyway.  A quote about his status as a terrorist: “There is no credible information to suggest [Al-Salami] received terrorist related training or is a member of the Al Qaeda network.”

These three had received special attention prior to their deaths because they were part of a hunger strike that was really making Guantanamo Bay prison camp look bad.  I mean they might have been partially motivated by the fact that their experience in this place was taking a little bit of the relish out of life, but, really, who cares.  Stubbornness is stubbornness, and is best cured by asphyxiation with a large rag (I’m sure it’s in the “Dealing with an Uppity Suspected Terrorist for Dummies” handbook).

“Asphyxiation with a large rag?  That sure is specific.” Allow me to explain.

According to Shaker Aamer who claimed to survive a two and a half hour beating (which included being “pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears”, choked, pinched, eye gouged, and having his nose and fingers bent repeatedly), when he would cry out in pain during this…session his airway was cut off with a rag and a mask was placed over his mouth to prevent him from getting the rag out (although that would’ve been difficult considering that his head, arms, and legs were already restrained).   I don’t know if you can consider him a reliable source, not just because he’s still in there and those techniques are capable of producing “excruciating pain without leaving lasting marks”, but also because, four years before this event he also claimed that his head was repeatedly smashed against a wall, walling being an expressly approved technique by the Dept. of Justice and who knows how good his memory is now.  According to the article, the three dead prisoners had undergone the same treatment.  By the way, I refuse to call it enhanced interrogation because every one knows that it’s nearly impossible to answer any questions while you’re airway is cut off, your mouth is covered, and your hands are restrained.  No speaking, no mouthing, no sign language, but maybe they were hoping that they would blink some pertinent information.

Taking a little detour, the reason Aamer had to go through this wasn’t playful hazing as one might suspect but actually because, as a suspected terrorist interpreter for Osama bin Laden (because Osama bin Laden was sharing sensitive information with all his English speaking friends), the prison camp Commander thought he was the perfect candidate to fix that whole hunger strike thing because as the popular adage goes “my enemy and the friend of my enemy is my friend when his friends are upset”.  Another random tidbit is that Aamer is a British citizen, and the UK wants him back.  Although “there is no suggestion that the Americans intend to charge him before a military commission” and “have no meaningful evidence linking him to any crime”, Aamer is a “security” concern.  For the record, I would become a security concern if that happened to me too.

Back to the main topic.  The largest bits of evidence that casts doubt on whether these were suicides or death as a result of this harsh treatment are the eyewitness accounts of the guards (one who was decorated servicemen) that were on watch that night and the apparent signs of trauma found on these prisoners that are inconsistent with the kind of trauma that one would expect to find on someone who died by hanging themselves.  Another thing that makes it really hard to believe that these deaths were by suicidal hanging (besides the fact they somehow tied their own hands and feet) was the fact that the throats of these three dead men had been removed.  Although the throat would be what you would primarily look at to determine whether or not someone had committed suicide by hanging, the lack of a response from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology when asked to produce the throats of all three men probably indicates that it’s really not that important in explaining what happened to them.  Details can be found here http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368.

Just in case you haven’t figured out why this whole thing bothers me, here are my top 7 reasons to be upset about this.

1.  Imprisonment of innocent civilians.
2.  5 years or more years of captivity for innocent civilians.
3.  The fact that resources are being wasted rounding up and guarding innocent civilians.
4.  The death of innocent civilians.
5.  How awful our intelligence must be that we have imprisoned innocent civilians.
6.  Nobody caring about the death and imprisonment of innocent civilians.
7.  Innocent civilians with no pertinent information being abused for no reason.

I’ve tried to be sarcastic and clever as much as possible during this write-up, but, honestly…there is absolutely nothing about the death and imprisonment of these people that can allow me to view them as acceptable losses in the War on Terror.  Sure, people have died, sure people have died in attacks, but that doesn’t make making a mistake on this level and of this magnitude okay.

Also something that should pop out to you from this is that there’s A LIST of people who are scheduled to be released, and that third guy that died wasn’t even on the list because of the U.S. dicey relationship with Yemen.  So soak this in.  There’s a list full of people in Guantanamo who don’t need to be in Guantanamo.  Also there are other people who aren’t on the list because of the U.S. relationship with the countries that they would want to send them back to.  I’m unsure what kind of progress has been made on reducing the number of people on that list, but I do clearly remember how upsetting certain people and members of the media found the idea of making it a priority to reduce the number of people that are in Guantanamo particularly and start treating them according to the laws of our justice system as if they were suspects rather than hardened criminals.

Realistically, maybe it wouldn’t bug me if this happening one, or two, or three times, and by “this” I mean people being falsely imprisoned for a night or two.   That’s not the case though.  The reality is that there is an incomplete list of innocent people who have been taken from their homes based on bad intelligence and left to wallow in an off-shore prison with no tangible hope of escaping with families that can do no better than hope that their loved ones don’t die and get returned to them in a box, broken, cut up, throat missing.

To me, national intelligence shouldn’t be a “break a few eggs to make lemonade” type of operation (Eggs not necessary to make lemonade, dead, innocent civilians not necessary to prevent terrorist attacks).  Not only does it seem that we have all allowed injustice to be an acceptable part of our intelligence gathering efforts, but it also seems like resources are being poorly used because of our desperation to find intel.  Being a private citizen without any real power, I’m just hoping that maybe if enough people are made aware, then people won’t get all butt-hurt (technical term) at the notion of treating suspects like suspects rather than enemy combatants before they are actually proven to be enemy combatants as if it’s a personal attack on the way that they see the world.   Maybe then there will be less innocent people in off-shore prisons, less people in off-shore prisons, and less people tasked with the job of watching and/or abusing and/or watching the abuse of these off-shore prisoners.  As in quit wasting money on just being sinister, and use your resources as if you have a conscience.

Added 1/29/10

Today, I found articles and blogs claiming that the article that my blog post was based on is full of holes.  These holes chip away at the theory that this was murder, but the status of the prisoners as innocent civilians, the weak evidence that led them to be interned at Guantanamo, and the signs of trauma inconsistent with suicide are things that these articles neither address nor attack.  I don’t think they were intentionally murdered, though, but it’s obvious they were mistreated and never should have been in that situation in the first place.  Even if they were proven to be suicides, I still believe that someone involved on the U.S. side of this is responsible.  If these were suicides, these weren’t the suicides of men disenchanted with life jumping off a bridge; they were innocent men stolen from their homes and forced to live in a prison from whom hope was intentionally taken.

Categories: Politics