Apparently Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi thinks Nigeria should be split up into two: one Christian part and one Muslim part. Aside from the strange source of this advice, Nigeria deserves a better chance than this. As Philip Jenkins’ work in The Next Christendom shows (172-175), Nigeria is a potentially volatile country, with its 150 million people roughly split between Christians and Muslims. But I have hope that here, of all places, Christianity and Islam will want to show themselves to be religions of peace.
The high middle ages may seem an odd place to look for wisdom in our current environmental crisis. St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), however, is renowned for his love of the natural world. So much so that in the Catholic Church he is actually the patron saint of both animals and the environment. What is remarkable is he is also the founder of what was originally an incredibly austere and rigorous monastic order, with its members committed to total poverty. St. Francis refused to allow them to accept money, and so they got by through begging and day labour. This stemmed from his deep and abiding love for “Lady Poverty.”
Toward the end of his life, St. Francis composed a hymn entitled, “The Canticle of the Sun.” It is remarkable for being both the earliest example of Italian poetry and for its naturalist impulses:
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord
To you alone belong praise and glory
Honour, and blessing.
No man is worthy to breathe your name.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creatures.
In the first place for the blessed Brother Sun
who gives us the day and enlightens us through you.
He is beautiful and radiant with his great splendour,
Giving witness of you, most Omnipotent One.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars
Formed by you so bright, precious, and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind
And the airy skies, so cloudy and serene;
For every weather, be praised, for it is life-giving.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water
So necessary yet so humble, precious, and chaste.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
Who lights up the night,
He is beautiful and carefree, robust and fierce.
Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Mother Earth,
who nourishes and watches us
While bringing forth abundant fruits with coloured flowers
Praise and bless the Lord.
Render him thanks.
Serve him with great humility. Amen.
It is said that St. Francis was so enthralled with his song that he ran around singing it to friends, composing his own melody for it. But the really touching part of the story is that, on his deathbed in a bare-earthed cell, he called in two brothers to sing to him this song of earth for a final time:
They obeyed. With voices ready to break down and sob, they intoned one of the most beautiful songs of joy that ever arose from human lips. Did they realize that they were filling the cell with the whole cosmos? Fire and water, earth and air, the four elements, joined with the stars, the moon, the sun, flowers, and grass, not to mention the perpetual and magnificent change of scenery brought on by the clouds, all of this in a grand assembly of all the beauty in the universe. (Julien Green, “God’s Fool,” 268.)
Hauerwas writes a brief response to Obama’s speech here, where he enunciates once again the importance of maintaining our language about war. What, he asks, lets us know a war is a war? Particularly to proponents of “just war” theory, who list a number of criteria that make a war apparently “just,” Hauerwas asks what a war that fails to meet these criteria would be? Would one still call it war? For instance, one of the just war criteria is that it must be declared by legitimate authority. What if a guerrilla group or terrorist organization declared “war” on a certain country? Would one call this war? Another criterion is that the declared intention of a war must not be different than the actual intention. A country, that is, cannot declare a war looking for weapons of mass destruction, but actually be looking for oil. But then, if this is no longer a war, what is it? A point Hauerwas makes elsewhere, but only alludes to here in his reference to Cain and Abel, is that Christians ought to maintain our language of war as murder. If we fail to name war properly, that is, as murder, then we may lose the resources to see when the wool is being pulled over our eyes with the language of a “necessary war.” Because for those who live by the flesh and blood of one who would not take up arms, the one thing necessary is the peace that is given through the cross.
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, recently gave an address on environmental justice and the urgent need for a recovery of human self-understanding: as called to connection with the material world and responsibility for its future. Beginning with a reflection on the story of Noah, he travels “some way from Mount Ararat” to the current ecological crisis and offers some incisive criticism. Here’s a snippet:
So we must begin by recognising that our ecological crisis is part of a crisis of what we understand by our humanity; it is part of a general process of losing our ‘feel’ for what is appropriately human, a loss that has been going on for some centuries and which some cultures and economies have been energetically exporting to the whole world. It is a loss that manifests itself in a variety of ways. It has to do with the erosion of rhythms in work and leisure, so that the old pattern of working days interrupted by a day of rest has been dangerously undermined; a loss of patience with the passing of time so that speed of communication has become a good in itself; a loss of patience which shows itself in the lack of respect and attention for the very old and the very young, and a fear in many quarters of the ageing process – a loss of the ability to accept that living as a material body in a material world is a risky thing.
President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on April 20th to open a UN conference on Racism. Previously he has denied the historicity of the Holocaust and called for the elimination of Israel. Pretty terrifying, but you can read the full text of his UN speech here. The most disturbing section:
After the Second World War, by exploiting the holocaust and under the pretext of protecting the Jews [the UN Security Council] made a nation homeless with military expeditions and invasion. They transferred various groups of people from America, Europe and other countries to this land. They established a completely racist government in the occupied Palestinian territories. And in fact, under the pretext of making up for damages resulting from racism in Europe, they established the most aggressive, racist country in another territory, i.e. Palestine.
The Security Council endorsed this usurper regime and for 60 years constantly defended it and let it commit any kind of crime.
You have increased the number of your merchants till they are more than the stars in the sky, but like locusts they strip the land and then fly away.
Global capitalism, anyone? Thanks to Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw for pointing out this great verse (Jesus for President, 188).
Much of Stanley Hauerwas’ work is directed against the claims of loyalty Western states make on their citizens—claims, for instance, which may require Christians to take up arms to kill others:
No state will keep itself limited, no constitution or ideology is sufficient to that task, unless there is a body of people separated from their nation that is willing to say ‘No’ to the state’s claims on their loyalties [….] Democratic societies and states, no less than totalitarian ones, reserve the right to command our conscience to take up arms and kill not only other human beings but other Christians in the name of relative moral goods. (Against the Nations, 123, 127.)
What about states in the turbulent regions of the Third World? Places where states are in fact not strong enough and order breaks down? What is the Christian responsibility there?
Given the emergence of religion and business as global contexts, we may now have to ask whether the modern state is powerful enough to perform its function in the global order. The weakness of the state in places where resources or people are exploited by business and the breakdown of government in places where religious movements have the capacity to make war are warning signs the state’s place in the new global order is more fragile than it appears to be in Western Europe and North America. (Robin W. Lovin, Christian Realism and the New Realities, 174.)
Might it be the responsibility of Christian communities in these regions to support the growth of more stable, powerful states? Even if it means supporting the deployment of violence against rebel or terrorist groups? How could Christian communities be faithful witnesses to the peaceable kingdom in these weak states?