Sunday, July 15, 2012

Julian Assange, and the practicality of biblical morality

I woke up this morning remembering that Julian Assange of Wikileaks is now holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, and the chances are he's not going anywhere soon - if he's lucky.  And just how did that happen? Well, on a trip to Sweden, he entertained a couple of ladies in his bed that he did not know.  The Bible explains what happened, "The immoral man sins against his own body."

Not long after he zoomed into this honey trap - turns out one of the ladies has CIA connections - they found a prosecutor to say they wanted to talk to him even though they weren't actually charging him with anything.  And, what is generally unheard of, the British courts ruled that he be extradited to Sweden although he isn't even charged, and even if he were, what the Swedes are making noises about is not a crime in Britain.  Finally, if they wanted to talk to Assange, nothing was stopping a Swedish prosecutor from saving a lot of money and trouble by just coming to Britain to see him..

What's pretty obvious, and what people have focused on, is that the British and the Swedes are doubtless acting in this weird way because the Americans want him in order to avenge his disclosures of their conduct.  If Assange winds up in Sweden, the Swedes will doubtless let the Americans kidnap him, and he will disappear into the American gulag without any due process or through some bogus indictment, as so many others have.  However it is, for sure Assange will disappear forever into some hole - American law, the Constitution, or anything else be damned.

But the real takeaway is that in this senseless caper, Assange in the most literal sense sinned against his own body, which is now trapped indefinitely in the Ecuadoran embassy in London.  He was warned and fully knew that the Americans were trying to catch him in a honey trap.

What this incident clearly teaches us is that Paul's warning against sexual immorality is not really about morality and virtue.  It concerns the hard, practical realities of tradecraft.  As Sun Tzu wrote, "Do not gobble proffered bait!"  As any intelligence agent is warned, "Avoid honey traps!"

If we think the Bible is primarily about virtue and moral excellence, we're just not getting it.  It's how to live in a world which is not looking out for your spiritual health.  Jesus said, "The world hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil," which is exactly why the American government hates Julian Assange, and if we're disciples of Jesus, the world will hate us the same way, and for the same reason.  If we don't want to get in a jam like Julian Assange, let's take God's advice: "Stay away from honey traps!" (Proverbs 7).  If we blow off that advice, it's our own stupidity, not the injustice of those that caught us, that we need to keep in view.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

July 4 - Frederick Douglass, 1852

Full text of Fredrick Douglass's speech to the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, NY, July 4, 1852: 

An excerpt:

"We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival."

Today I heard at a 4th of July parade someone singing the National Anthem.

And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

Yes, the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places tormented by American bombardment know very well how true this is, but is it something to boast about?

If Americans had paid attention to Frederick Douglass in 1852, hundreds of thousands of Americans would not have had to die in the Civil War.  It would be good to learn from their mistake now, but I think this generation will follow in the path of their fathers who blew him off.  But God is not mocked.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Leaving all to follow Jesus

I was reading in Luke yesterday concerning the rich young ruler who couldn't walk away from his dough.  As Stephen King observed a few months back, rich folks like him like to hold on to their dough.

Well, I perceived reading this story that  I'm not better than that rich young ruler.  And as I reckoned with this, I considered it not coincidental that this account immediately follows the Pharisee and the tax gatherer praying in the temple.

Jesus told the rich young ruler that to inherit eternal life he had to part with his dough.  But the tax gatherer went down to his house justified, without walking away from his dough.  He walked away from his spiritual pride.

It occurs to me that until you're ready to walk away from your pride, you can't expect the power from God to walk away from anything else.  It's better to be a tax gatherer, enslaved to money, than a Pharisee, enslaved to self-righteousness.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Bible and Sun Tzu's "Art of War"

Defending kids in Edworld calls for some fighting, and so I study Sun Tzu's The Art of War, as well as Mao Zedong's On Protracted War and anything else that gives guidance on how the weak may thwart the strong.

The second of Sun Tzu's 13 Chapters, "Waging War," begins thus:

Generally, operations of war require one thousand fast four-horse chariots, one thousand fast four-horse wagons covered in leather, and one hundred thousand mailed troops.

That was doubtless good advice in China 2500 years ago; it wouldn't work too well for any modern army today - not just as written.  However, if we see how this advice fits in Sun Tzu's world, the universal principles expressed in these time-bound particulars will be as applicable as those stated in more universal terms.

For instance, these opening words of the first chapter, "Estimates" or "Calculations," applies today without change:

War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin.  It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.

And especially so, Li Ch'uan's comment:

Weapons are tools of ill omen.  War is a grave matter; one is apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflection.

It struck me the last time I read this that it gives guidance on how to read the Bible.  For instance, the advice in 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman's head should be covered was written to people in Corinth, where at that time women without veils were prostitutes showing their wares.  That's not how it is in most places in the world today.  Where it is, it applies, but elsewhere, the principle will apply with different specifics, just as Sun Tzu writing today would not advise going to war with one thousand fast four-horse chariots.