Walter Russell Mead is one of the most compelling interpreters of American foreign policy. Mead, who is the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, helps make sense of complicated matters in an engaging way, and he also takes religion seriously.
A proposal: Let us stop fighting one another, for a season, about issues of sexuality, so that we can focus on what God is saying to the church about our complicity in the violence that is the deepest moral crisis of our time. And let us call the church to fasting and prayer in repentance for the destruction our nation has inflicted upon the people of Iraq.
If you walk south out of Princeton, New Jersey, on Mercer Street for a mile or so you discover how the street got its name. Hugh Mercer, native Scot, friend and physician of George Washington, was a general in the Continental Army who lost his life in the Battle of Princeton.
The myth of American innocence dies hard. It resurfaces even as it is being punctured by reality. President Bush, faced with evidence that American soldiers have tortured Iraqi prisoners, declared that the photos do not show “the true nature and heart of America.” Somehow, according to such rhetoric, the true heart of America remains pure, untouched by the actions of actual Americans.
Medieval mapmakers, with their limited knowledge of distant lands and uncharted seas, sometimes depicted dragons on the far edges of their maps. Hic sunt dracones (“Here be dragons!”), they warned. Dragons do not appear on our modern maps. But bodies on the rail lines of Madrid and the streets of Fallujah leave no doubt that Something Ferocious stalks the edges of our political and religious maps. Nationalism, tribalism, empire and religion mutate in draconian forms, and we sometimes fail to recognize the beastly genes in our own DNA.
In Elisabeth Sifton’s The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War, the author describes how Reinhold Niebuhr, her father, moved away from the pacifism that prevailed among mainline religious leaders in the years after World War I.
Nothing compares to the rush. No other pursuit could be so exhilarating and meaningful, so loaded with the paradoxical sensation of being entirely alive yet also careening out of control on the edge of death. For those who taste its deliciously deadly nectar, there is usually no turning back.
Why, when almost every major denomination on record opposed unilateral U.S. action in Iraq, did most people in the pews support it? In recent months researchers have begun to address that question by examining knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about involvement in Iraq. The findings reveal a deeply disturbing gap between the facts and the public’s beliefs.
During the war against Iraq an interviewer asked me where I got some of the theological ideas that called more for repentance by “our side” than triumph over “them” and theirs. I told him that they came from Martin Luther—though my views are milder than Luther’s were.