On December 20 as we Philadelphians were digging out from a 12-20 inch snow storm (depending on where you were and what station you listened to), the Philadelphia Inquirer’s headlines announced that the Senate had garnered the 60 votes needed to move forward on the health care legislation. If passed it is expected to cost $871 billion and cut $132 billion from the deficit over the next 10 years. Quietly tucked away on page 6 was another article that the Senate had passed a defense bill worth $636 billion (of which $130 billion was for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) for the next year that did not include another $30-40 billion needed for the additional troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, Senators who had to be driven through the snow to get to the Senate chambers paused during the health care debate to pass the defense bill 88-10.
I had to stop and wonder why the Senate, so deadlocked on passing a bill that would provide health care for its own citizens, seemed to have no problem passing a bill that continues our war efforts around the world in the name of “protecting” those citizens. How about protecting those citizens from poverty, disease, and death? I had to wonder if these politicians and the President are operating between two different worlds.
During his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech President Obama talked about “reality”. He said:
I am mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago — “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak — nothing passive, nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason. [emphasis mine]
As Brian McLaren pointed out in his recent blog, Obama says there is ‘nothing naïve” about the way Gandhi and King dealt with the world, but he must “face the world as it is.” What world is he talking about? The world where violence begets violence, or where the myth persists that peace comes through war and violence? Is it a world where the hard-nosed reality of evil is confronted with the force of truth (Gandhi’s terms satygraha) and unrelenting unconditional love (King’s favorite term) or where we capitulate to the devices of our “enemies” and thus become no better or effective than them?
So what is the “world as it is” to which Pres. Obama refers? I am reminded of the closing lines in the movie “The Mission”. After the Roman Catholic bishop has consciously collaborated with Portugese and Spanish conquistadors to nearly destroy an indigenous Indian tribe, he laments at the destruction that has been wrought in the church’s name. His Portugese companion tries to console him by encouraging him not to lament the Indians’ destruction for “for the world is thus.” However the bishop responds simply by saying, “No, thus we have made the world.” In other words “reality” or “the world as it is” is a social construct. The assumptions and values we highlight determine what we consider to be “reality” and what is “unrealistic.”
The “world as it is” says war and war-making is a priority and inevitable, but providing health care, eliminating poverty, providing decent education both here and abroad are “unrealistic,” too expensive, and impossible to accomplish.
McLaren quotes the recognized World War II military commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur who said:
In the evolution of civilization, if it is to survive, all men cannot fail eventually to adopt Gandhi’s belief that the process of mass application of force to resolve contentious issues is fundamentally not only wrong but contains within itself the germs of self-destruction.
In other words, we can continue down the “realistic” path that leads to greater polarization and disparity in the world, or we can choose a different way. My prayer this Christmas season, as always, is that one day, we might see that the way of peace, justice, sacrifice and service is far more practical than all the guns and bombs will ever be.