Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Revelation’s White Horse Warrior on Obama/Osama bin Laden?

Following on from what Augustine and Bono might say to Osama bin Laden, I think for the sake of honesty, Christians must also ask what Revelation’s White Horse Warrior might say to Osama/Obama?

The Bible book of Revelation ends with the Rider on the White horse, who comes to pour out God’s wrath (Revelation 19:15). In response, the saints gleefully cheer (Rev 18:20). It is easy to claim an Old Testament God of vengeance and a New Testament God of love. Revelation refuses to allow us this luxury.

What to do with these Bible texts in Revelation? What to do with those who suffer violence in the name of Divine? Miroslav Volf, theologian at Yale and native born Croatian, puts the question this way: “Why must God say the unrelenting “no” to a world of injustive, deception and violence in such a violent way?” (Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and ReconciliationChristianity Books) 296)

Volf argues that much talk of non-violence has “the sweet aroma of a suburban ideology” (296).

“A “nice” God is a figment of liberal imagination, a projection onto the sky of the inability to give up cherished illusions about goodness, freedom, and the rationality of social actors. (298)”

Ouch! Volf argues that in reality, patient appeals to reason do not always work. Thus the texts of Revelation are, in my words, reality texts. That some people and situations will not change. They refuse to “shy away from the unpleasant and deeply tragic possibility that there might be human beings, created in the image of God, who, through the practices of evil, have immunised themselves from all attempts at their redemption.” (297)

Obama and religious fundamentalism (of any persuasion) become contemporary examples of this.

In such reality, the White Rider in Revelation functions to keep open a God who is indignant at injustice, deception and violence. This does not mean that God is schizophrenic, a wierd mix of suffering Messiah and justice-seeker. Rather it is the preserver of true and radical human freedom, that people have the choice to say no to redemption and reconcilation – whether a fundamentalist or a Christian refusing to face their sin.

These are tough things to consider. But it does provide a way to understand what Volf calls “the symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God’s suffering love … not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury.” (299)

To be honest, part of this makes my blood chill.

But another part warms toward a God who cares enough about justice to engage the world in reality, in truth, in freedom whether in good or bad.

Volf has not finished. He then asks “who” – who can enact such justice? Can Obama and a group of US Seals? Volf notes that in the New Testament, the “who” is the suffering God and the White horse rider, “partners in promoting nonviolence.” (302) Humans are freed to renounce violence because of future hope in God’s passionate justice.

“the only way in which nonviolence and forgiveness will be possible in a world of violence is through displacement or transference of violence, not through its complete relinquishment.” (302)

Further posts:
see Christian Jihad or what sort of God killed the Canaanites?

Posted by steve at 12:53 PM

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Saint Augustine and Saint Bono on Osama Bin Laden?

“Let your desire for him [your enemy] be that together with you he may have eternal life: let your desire for him be that he may be your brother. And if that is what you desire in loving your enemy (that he may be your brother) when you love him, you love a brother. You love in him, not what he is, but what you would have him be.” (Augustine, Eighth Homily, in Homilies on the First Epistle of St John)

And even more clearly, “You are to love all men, even your enemies – not because they are your brothers, but in order that they may be.” (Augustine, Tenth Homily, in Homilies on the First Epistle of St John).

Thus the death of Osama is a tragedy, for in a sinful world, we are facing the fact that “Your Kingdom” has not come, that an enemy has not (yet) become a brother.

Two further things I find intriguing in these quotes. First, I would want to interpret the phrase “eternal life” through the lens of John 10:10, abundant life to the full, as both a current hope and a future reality. In other words, the (costly) call to love our enemies must start now.

Second, “not because they are your brothers” suggests a theology of difference, that the love of others does not start by expecting them to be like us. Or in the words of Charles Taylor (in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of RecognitionCultural Anthropology Books)), a politics of recognition in which the distinctiveness is appreciated rather than homogenised and unified (rather than a politics of equality).

And finally, a line from Bono, in the song Cedars of Lebanon, from the No Line on the Horizon album.

Choose your enemies carefully
Cos in time they will define you.

For further posts:
see Revelation’s White Horse Rider on Osama?

Posted by steve at 04:47 PM