The Fruits of Deception

10 October 2006

This week, a surge of denouncements came from various international players —the United Nations, the some of the constiuent countries of the so-called Group of Six, among others— following North Korea’s nuclear test. These denouncements are justified; North Korea’s population has faced decades of famine, minimal civil rights, and international as well as national isolation (the latter from their South Korean family and neighbors). A government faced with such profound difficulties should spend their money on improving its citizens’ lives, and not on weapons of base evil.

Yet what example has my own country’s government given them? What message has been sent? The message sent to North Korea, Iran, and any other country has been the following: if you want a nuclear weapon, develop it, because if you don’t and we perceive you as hostile, we will invade.

Look at Iraq. The main selling point on the war internationally was that the government of Saddam Hussein had developed, now possessed, and continued to produce weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of such utter power and potential evil that one might call them apocalyptic. (At home, of course, members of the administration, most notably the Vice President, continued to suggest a connection, confirmed as non-existant by the CIA, between the former government of Iraq and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.)

It is now clear to all but the most hardened hawks and willfully duped that the Iraqi “WMD” are as fictitious as George W. Bush’s “everyman” persona. Iraq had no such weapons and was not going to develop them, but might do so in light of American aggression and a standing antipathy with the United States. Ergo, the administration invades Iraq to prevent such development.

Witness North Korea, who the administration included in the so-called “Axis of Evil.” The Bush administration, from the first, pushed for negotiations with the Pyongyang government, initially bilaterally and later multilaterally in the form of the “Group of Six” talks. Did North Korea possess a nuclear weapon four, five or six years ago? Whenever they developed nuclear capability, the message sent to all other countries is clear: if the current U. S. administration is suspicious of you, develop a nuke, or we’ll attack.

Consider Iran’s recent increase in nuclear development. Over the last few years, noise has been made that the United States might invade Iran for a number of reasons. If you were a member of the Iranian government, wouldn’t you consider the development of nuclear weapons a matter of survival?

By refusing to witness peace, justice, and truth, the Bush administration has made these very things impossibilities. Why should other countries deal openly and truthfully with a government who does not act openly or truthfully? Why speak peace to a government that seems only to think of war? I choose to believe that the Bush administration truly desires peace and justice to prevail, but how can they think such things can result from bloodshed, suffering, and lies?

All this is rooted in violence, injustice, and deception. Instead of working for real peace and real justice, the Bush administration attempted to bring peace by war, to serve justice by deeming itself capable of using injustice for the greater good, to somehow witness to the truth by lying. The Bush administration’s actions declare that it loves war, hates justice, and holds the truth in contempt.

What arrogance and foolishness. What evil and wickedness. The current U. S. government should not be shocked by the North Korean government’s actions; the Bush administration put them up to it.

Thoughts on Today’s Reading from the Holy Rule

Today the daily reading from the Holy Rule reaches the end of the section on humility. Benedict today writes that, “[t]he twelfth degree of humility is that a monk not only have humility in his heart but also by his very appearance make it always manifest to those who see him.” The Rule goes on to explain that the monk,

should always have his head bowed and his eyes toward the ground. Feeling the guilt of his sins at every moment, he should consider himself already present at the dread Judgment and constantly say in his heart . . . “Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up my eyes to heaven.”

Tough stuff. But, believe it or not, this is not the stuff of self-hate or joylessness. This is the stuff of conversatio morum. The three traditional Benedictine promises of obedience, stability (i.e., staying in one monastic community for the rest of one’s life), and conversatio morum provide a framework of principles for Benedictine life. (You may ask, “Where’s the celibacy and poverty?”; the answer: they’re considered to be part of conversatio.)

An excellent essay on conversio or conversatio can be found here, in an essay by Catherine Mary Magdalene Haynes, Oblate of Saint Benedict, and Father Hugh Feiss, O. S. B., of the Monastery of the Ascension in southern Idaho. The authors fruitfully point out that these two words have often been used interchangeably to talk about the third element in the tripartite Benedictine vows. Ultimately, the Rule’s discussion of the degrees of humility leads us to realize that the goal of humility is constant conversio and conversatio, an unending commitment to changing ourselves, in conversation with ourselves, other people, and God, so that we may become better people. It’s tough to think of ourselves as always needing improvement, but Benedict goes on to say that it’s not about fear or hate.

In the conclusion of today’s reading, we read that

Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore, the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out fear. And all those precepts which formerly he had not observed without fear, he will now begin to keep by reason of that love, without any effort, as though naturally and by habit. No longer will his motive be the fear of hell,
but rather the love of Christ, good habit and delight in the virtues which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit in His servant now cleansed from vice and sin.

What hope! Perhaps this is too good to be true, especially for those just starting out on the Benedictine path, yet a millennium and a half of Benedictine practice seems to indicate that it is not. The Psalms tell us that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” but they do not tell us what the end of wisdom is. Perhaps we find it here in the Rule of Benedict. While we might begin by doing things out of obedience, even fear, as we advance in wisdom and humility (which, according to the Desert Fathers and Mothers and monastic elders, seem to be intertwined) we will begin acting not out of “oughta” but out of love.

The Benedictine degrees of humility are not ends in themselves, but a path to “love of God that casts out fear.” Ultimately, the path of obedience and humility leads to the destination of freedom and love, a paradox on which rest the foundations of monasticism —East and West, Benedictine and non-Benedictine, Christian and non-Christian.

Meta-Wingèd: SPAM!

I’ve just gotten my first helping of comment spam. Mmm. Reminds me of the spamwiches we cooked over the Coleman after Hurricane Andrew in ’92.

Also, yesterday’s post went up quite late because I accidentally kept it as a “Draft.” Scroll down for slightly lighter fare.


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