09 October 2014

Resisting the mystique of evil

Signe Wilkinson; source
I'm not sure what is more disheartening--the beheadings videotaped and published by Islamic State, or the utterly predictable responses from world leaders. Yes, there is palpable evil in the premeditated cruelty of those shocking videos, but here's my question: is the effect magnified by the demonstrative shaking of fists by public figures? What might be a more adequate response from believers?

I watched one of the videos from beginning to end, and haven't yet recovered. After a few moments of stunned silence, I flashed back to a piece of film footage from Viet Nam, a few seconds captured by an NBC cameraman when the national police chief of South Viet Nam summarily executed a Viet Cong prisoner during the Tet offensive. The clip was included in the documentary film Hearts and Minds, which I saw as a college student in Canada--and brand-new Christian--in 1975. Those images, too, still remain with me.

Unlike the Islamic State beheadings, the Saigon execution may not have been staged for video. Part of its raw horror was the way the shooting seemed so unexpected, so casual. On the other hand, its inclusion in Hearts and Minds was a deliberate choice. This moment of total ruthlessness drives home the clash of values implied by the film's ironic title. It shocks for a purpose.

Islamic State's video propagandists are also trying to shock us for a purpose. In fact, these crimes really should shock us if we are to hold on to our humanity, our capacity for empathy. In other words, we are absolutely right to recoil with horror--but not with fear. We ought to go on to pray for the victims, their families, and all those who are in IS's captivity. Our prayers also need to extend to the murderers and their commanders. Having unleashed the demons of cruelty so far and wide, they're all in grave danger of becoming spiritual zombies themselves.

But please deny them the pleasure of casting a spell of evil over us. Their victims die only once, the same as all the rest of us, including all innocent victims of all wars, and including the tragic "collateral damage" of political and military miscalculations. Above all, let's not permit the righteous rhetoric of our politicians keep us from seeing how their own actions, financed by our taxes and abetted by our passivity, can incubate such hatred. The cycles of grievance and revenge that feed terrorist groups such as Islamic State could never ever excuse such cruelty, but those cycles are nevertheless a powerful spiritual reality demanding to be confronted with prayer and discernment and bold truth-telling.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:11-18a; context.)

Additional reading: Owen Jones, "Isis is turning us all into its recruiting sergeants."

Also, "Why You Need More Muslim Friends." "Dear Christian, Please Sincerely Love All Muslims."

"Conversations that could change your life." Friends Summit 2014.

Food for thought for Friends in leadership positions: "Is discernment a bureaucratic or a brotherly-sisterly process for Mennonite Church USA?"

Show Me The Money Department: "Norway unveils amazing art designs for new banknotes." And while we're in Norway, "A look at the married couples who have won Nobels."

"Facebook Weighs In on the Ukraine-Russia Takedown Dispute."

And the final link for today: A Christianity Today reviewer leaves you in no doubt about his opinion of the film Left Behind. Teaser:
What’s a bad thing is that Hollywood producers now know that American Christians feel that way about their faith—that Christians so desperately want to participate in the mainstream, that they’re tired of having sanctioned music that’s like other music and movies like other movies and politicians like other politicians but always still being on the outside, that Christians just want to feel identified without having to carve out little alcoves or niche markets that exist alongside the Big Boys. And, now that they know it—that is, now that they know they can make back 5x their initial financial investment—they want to exploit that, by pumping out garbage (not moral garbage, just quality garbage), slapping the “Christian” label on it, and watching the dollars pour in.

Freddie King and his signature song:

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