Hiroshima: toward a Greater Light

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Thanks to executive producer Peter Wallace of Day1.org for featuring the podcast of “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” in advance of the August 8 Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Click HERE to sign up and listen on Day1.org.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama  (1929-2009)

This meditation, an excerpt from Be Still!, reflects on Hiroshima  in the greater light of the Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, the Japanese peacemaking theologian to whom the collection of essays is dedicated.

Kosuke (pronounced ‘KO-soo-kay’) Koyama was 15 years old when it happened, and was baptized during the firebombing of Tokyo.

The horror of the bombings led him to see something else about us: the sin of exceptionalism that knows no limits.

nuclear-bombHis last published book — Theology and Violence: Towards A Theology of Nonviolent Love awaits translation into English from the original Japanese.  We wait on bended knee.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 5, 2017.

 

 

You will be like God

“There is only one sin,” suggested Kosuke Koyama, “Exceptionalism.”

Looking again at the Genesis stories of creation and fall (Gen.1-4) through these eyes seems to go to the heart of the story of humanity and the rest of nature.

The Garden of Eden is a natural paradise. All the creatures are living in harmony within the limits of nature itself.

Then, without explanation, a pernicious idea intrudes. The serpent suggests to the humans that they can become the exception to creaturely existence. “You will be like God! You will be the exception to the rest of us. You will know what no creature can know. You will be like the Creator. You will know good and evil.”

There has been no thought of evil in the Genesis paradise before the sin of exceptionalism breaks the unity of all creatures under the reign of the glad Creator who had declared it all ‘good”.

Only two chapters later, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” [Gen. 6:5-6].

In a similar vein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atom bomb, declared, “There are no secrets about the world of nature. There are secrets about the thoughts and intentions of men.”

With a wisdom and passion akin to the Genesis writer, Oppenheimer opined after watching the first nuclear explosion, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

One can hope and pray that the wisdom of Genesis, Oppenheimer, and Koyama will turn those with their fingers on the buttons of nuclear arsenals away from the power of the serpent’s deception, and make a sad Creator glad again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 11, 2017.

America’s Original Sin?

Jim Wallace’s new book America’s Original Sin: Race and White Privilege & the Bridge to New America takes a hard look at the origins of the Euro-transplant nation that supplanted America’s indigenous people. Jim Wallace argues that the United States was born of White Privilege. It is the nation’s original sin: it’s America’s first and enduring sin.

It seems no matter how much things progress, or seem to progress, the original sin is always crouching at our door, as the Genesis story of Cain and Abel puts it. “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it”.

But is the issue race? Or is it class? Or something else, a fatal flaw in the human psyche and the social psyche? Are racism and White Privilege what they seem, or are they manifestations of something more basic?

“There is only one sin, said Kosuke Koyama, and it is exceptionalism.” Born in Tokyo in 1929, Koyama saw in the Japanese Empire the myth of exceptionalism. To his great sorrow, he saw the same myth in the United States, the second home where he finished a distinguished career as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor of World Christiankosuke-koyama-2ity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Beneath White Privilege lies the election doctrine that arrived on these shores with America’s European settlers. Their theology was wrapped around the belief that the true believers, the elect, were exceptional to the rest of humankind. The result was genocide against America’s indigenous peoples followed shortly by the institution of chattel slavery, both the racial sins of White Privilege of which Jim Wallis writes.

In the larger scheme of things in 2016, one can argue convincingly that exceptionalism has been a primary contributor to climate change. The sin of exceptionalism is the illusion that we, the human species, are superior to nature. In  honor of Koyama: Could it be that there is only one sin: exceptionalism?

I wish Jim and Ko could have spent time with each other. It would have been so enlightening to have sat in not their conversations.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 25, 2016.

A New Government of National Concentration

Video

Adolf Hitler rose to power by playing to the fears, anxieties, and anger of the German people. His strategy was to play the strongman who would fix it, make Germany great again. A nation that had regarded itself as exceptional had lost its way, humiliated by defeat in World War I. Hitler focused that anger at the weakness of the post-World War I Weimar Republic whose inept Chancellor and Reichstag (i.e. Congress) he blamed for the nation’s drift. He blames Marxist thinking and Communists. He declares Christianity to be the religion of the German state. By narrowing and scapegoating, he focuses the people’s fears and anxieties on visible targets. It was only a matter of time before Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies joined the ranks of those to be eliminated in a purified Aryan state.

Notice how quietly, how slowly this speech begins. He waits for the crowd to be quiet before he continues to speak. He is taming them. Mesmerizing them. Training them for Fascism. And when he has brought them to heel, he unleashes a tirade that taps into the people’s volcanic desire for a return to national exceptionalism.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 11, 2016.

The President and Kosuke Koyama

“Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

Conclusion of President Obama’s Sept. 10 national address on Syria.

Kosuke Koyama

Kosuke Koyama

By the end of his life in 2009, Kosuke Koyama had concluded that there is only one sin: exceptionalism.

I wish President Obama had been able to consult with Kosuke Koyama (1929 – 2009) before delivering this speech. He might have chosen his words more carefully. Koyama was a world-renowned Japanese Christian theologian and leader in inter-religious dialogue, author of Waterbuffalo Theology, Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai: a Critique of Idols, among other books.

Koyama first heard the claim of national exceptionalism in the Japan of his childhood. Japan was exceptional. The best. Number one. The Empire of the Rising Sun. The Emperor, supported by the religion of the imperial cult, could do no wrong. He was divine. So was Japan.

Dr. Koyama and his wife Lois moved to Minneapolis following his retirement. He shared with his friends his deep sadness that the old Japanese imperial claim had become the American claim.

America’s “leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used” is at stake.

Fact: the worse weapons ever used (nuclear and chemical) have already been used. We used them. We are the only nation on the planet to have dropped the atomic bomb. We dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. We used chemical weapons in Vietnam. Agent Orange is a chemical weapon. Napalm is a chemical weapon.

America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.

We have thought of ourselves as the world’s policeman and we still do. A policeman insures that the law of the land is enforced. The law that causes such resentment in the Middle East is the law of American exceptionalism and prerogatives. For the Arab world, this is what makes America different: the presumption of American exceptionalism expressed by re-arranging the economic-political-cultural landscape to advance Western interests, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, or by imposing and disposing, as in the CIA assassination of the legitimate President of Iran and the installation of the Shah, or our support for Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War.

Very clearly, the U.S. has not sought to right every wrong. Nor should we. But our language is hollow at best and jingoistic at worst when one surveys the history of American intervention into the internal affairs of other sovereign states as the heir of British colonialism. The arrangements in the Middle East have their genesis in deals made by wealthy British and American elites with elite Arab Sheiks and strong men like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi until they no longer were useful.

“But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.”

International scenes of human suffering and terror abound. In some cases we have chosen to act. In others, like Darfur, we chose not to act based largely on the principle of American self-interest. If American national interests were not threatened or affected, we did not act militarily. We acted humanely with humanitarian aid, but we did not act militarily to stop the horror of genocide in Darfur.

The principle of American national security and self-interest is clear in the President’s speech where he ties together the long-term safety of American children here at home with the short-term safety of children being gassed in Syria. That is, arguably, the way it should be. The use of chemical weapons and the threat of them in the hands of those who hate us is an ominous prospect.

Whether we should act is not, however, the question. The question is how America should act? Furthermore, how we decide to act should be informed and guided by the lessons of our own historic use of weapons of mass destruction and our own involvement in the supply of chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, used in the Iraq-Iran War and allegedly used against his own people in Iraq.

It is an essentially moral position to condemn the use of weapons of mass destruction (chemical, nuclear, or biological. It is immoral to use them –an offense against humanity, and offense against all nature, and, for religious people, an offense against God.

Unfortunately there is not an equivalent of confession for nation states when they themselves have acted against their own declared moral principles. President Obama did not drop the bombs on Japan. Nor did he or his Administration supply the chemical weapons that did in Iraq what has happened to the mothers and children in Damascus. He might wish he could wash the blood from America’s hands or erase these chapters of American history, but he cannot. He cannot because the facts are facts, and the rest of the world remembers.

<

em>“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

“There is only one sin,” said Kosuke Koyama,.“Exceptionalism.”

The myth of American exceptionalism dates back to a great hope as the new nation was about to be born. It was spoken in a sermon by Puritan John Winthrop on the Arbella sailing the high seas from the Old World of England to the New World of America. The biblical text of John Winthrop’s sermon was the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew applied to the adventure of establishing an exceptional nation, “the city set upon a hill” (Matthew 5:14) to give light to the world.

Although the word ‘exceptionalism’ is foreign to most Americans except those in academia or those who are especially attuned to American politics, it is the controlling myth of American life and the ground to which succeeding American Administrations and Congresses have turned to justify American ventures – economic, spiritual, political, cultural, and military.

In some way or another it falls to each Administration to uphold the myth, even and perhaps especially, when the myth appears to be false. The aspiration of a city set upon a hill was etched in mind of the Church, not a nation-state. It was and is a call to a different way, and its original spokesman saw that city quite differently from the American military-industrial-technological-corporate complex. This Jesus, a Jewish rabbi living under the Roman occupation of the First Century C.E., was not a warrior or a policeman. He saw to the heart of the human condition and the tragedy of high moral claims that justify all forms of violence.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Gospel of Matthew 7:3-5, NRSV).

There is only one sin.

Koyama’s last work was Theology and Violence: Towards a Theology of Nonviolent Love, published in Japanese in 2009 in Tokyo. There is, as yet, no American translation.

Critique of American Exceptionalism published today by MinnPost

MINNPOST published “In the 2012 race for the White House, Is religion fair game?” this morning. Click THIS LINK to read the piece on MinnPost.com.

The first commenter on MinnPost didn’t like it. Here’s the comment:

September 5, 2012 – 8:21am.

but you’ve overlooked the obvious.

This nation was founded on the principle of religious liberty.  The Declaration of Independence mentions God four times and describes the uniqueness of America in that, unlike Europe, where power flows from God to the Throne to the People, in America “we are endowed by our Creator” … power flows from God to the people and then to government.

The issue of religion in this campaign hasn’t been about whether the Mormon practice of tithing is one this society should consider adopting (“If 10% is good enough for God it should be good enough for government.”  –  Romney gave $4 million to the church last year) or whether Obama’s connection to black liberation theology and its demand for “social justice” is compatible with a free society.  No, it’s been more basic than that.

When Paul Ryan reminded us in his acceptance speech that “our rights come from God,” leftwing websites and TV talking heads took issue with that.  Some even expressed outrage as if they’ve never read the Declaration.  They insisted that our rights come not from God but from Government!

And as if to formalize their party’s transition to secular humanism this week, we’ve learned that the democrats have removed any mention of God from their party platform.

So the discussion of religion IS fair game in this election, but not in the minutiae that you suggest, but whether the majority of the citizenry even understands that our founding was based on religious liberty and inalienable rights and is codified in the Constitution that exists to protect them, because frankly, Reverand, I’m beginning to doubt it.

Leave your own comment on the MINNPOST site or here on Views from the Edge. See previously published commentaries on the intersection of religioin and politics, and American exceptionalism on Views from the Edge for more on the subject

Why is pop culture fascinated with the end of the world?

Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Journalism asked the question after release of the film Seeking a Friend for the End of the Earth. Here’s how I responded.

Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death makes the case that our culture is death-denying.

One could argue that our fascination with end of the world films and stories is an entertaining and objectified way of dealing with one’s own personal destiny. Every death is “The end of the world.” The end of the world writ large on the planetary screen moves the issue into the world of fiction, fantasy and myth from which, like all cultures before ours, we create meaning in the midst of time.

There are other reasons for our fascination, of course. Supreme among them, in my view, is the dualism and the violence that saturate Western culture: God/Satan, Good/Evil, Moral/Immoral, Saved/Damned, Blessed/Cursed.

It is this misreading of ancient Jewish and Christian texts that makes the will to power the central theme of our time. The late Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama said that all “sin” has the same root. It is the claim of “exceptionalism.” Under the banner of nationalist exceptionalism’s shameless stealing of the metaphor of “the city set on a hill” away from its proper setting in Jesus’ nonviolent Sermon on the Mount, we assume Western Culture and the U.S.A. to be the Golden City and the agent of divine will. The exercise of that fallacious conviction results in wars of foreign intervention, occupation, and “pre-emptive strikes” in the name of national security.

We have become a national security state. The “end of the world” fascination in our time is heightened by the knowledge that global destruction – nuclear night – is entirely possible. We fear it. We know it. Yet we are also a culture addicted to entertainment where our worst nightmares get projected onto a movie or television screen where we know that what we’re watching is fiction. The fiction is almost always a high-tech version of the old racist and xenophobic dualism my generation grew up on: cowboys and Indians.

Beneath the question of why our culture is fascinated with end of the world is human nature itself. We human beings, like all other animals, are mortal. We may be exceptional in that we are (more) conscious and self-conscious, but first and last, we are animals. We are born. We live. We die.

As conscious animals, we are capable of great feats. We are also, so far as we know, the only animal capable of self-deception, denial, illusion, and species suicide. The denial of death is the great denial, and immortality is the human species’ great illusion.

The fact of death looms over life for each of us existentially and for the species itself from the beginning and in the middle, not just at the end.  Death is our shared destiny. Death is extinction. Our fascination with the end of the world is a strange Molotov cocktail comprised of all of the ingredients of the human condition, most especially the spiritual terror of annihilation, and the illusion of winning. It is the ongoing legacy of the biblical myth of Cain, humanity’s “first-born” who kills his brother Abel, the myth that describes our time and place in history.

If, like in the movie, you had only three weeks left before the end of the world… What would you do?

I’d do what I’m doing now only more consciously. I’d continue to write each morning. I’d do my best to live gratefully, attending to beauty in nature and in art (classical music and paintings) and to family and friends. I’d pray more thoughtfully. I’d walk my dogs more joyfully, stop yelling at them for barking, and find a place on the North Shore to look out to the horizon of Lake Superior. I’d eat lobster and Dungeness crab with lots of hot butter and salt, rib-eye steaks, garlic mashed potatoes. I would avoid Brussels sprouts! I’d end each meal with a Maine blueberry pie, flan, or Graeter’s ice cream, and a Makers Mark Manhattan.  Then I’d settle down on the couch next to the love of my life, Kay, by the fireplace, turn off the news, see if we can make a little fire of our own, get anchored again in the Sermon on the Mount, and return to sources of joy and laughter in the poems of Hafiz. I’d give up being intentional/purposive. I’d live in the moment.

Follow the Money

money - follow the money

money – follow the money

Eight years as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center, Inc. in Minneapolis confirmed this perspective by Fareed Zakaria.

Money spent on Prisons is rising 6 times the rate spent on higher education  By Fareed Zakaria,  March 25, 2012.

“Televangelist Pat Robertson recently made a gaffe. A gaffe, as journalist Michael Kinsley defined it, occurs when a political figure accidentally tells the truth.

“Robertson’s truth is that America’s drug war has failed and that the country should legalize legalize marijuana. This view goes against the  deepest political, moral and religious positions Robertson has held for decades, so imagine the blinding evidence that he has had to confront-and  that has been mounting for years-on this topic.

“Robertson drew attention to one of the great scandals of American life.
“Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a
fundamental fact of our country today,” writes the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik.
“Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in
America-more than 6 million-than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin
at its height.”

“Is this hyperbole? Here are the facts. The U.S. has 760 prisoners per
100,000 citizens. That’s not just many more than in most other developed
countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany
has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britian – with a rate among
the-highest – has 153. Even developing countries that are well known for
their crime problems have a third of U.S. numbers. Mexico has 208 prisoners
per 100,000 citizens, and Brazil has 242. As Robertson pointed out on his TV
show, The 700 Club, “We here in America make up 5% of the world’s population
but we make up 25% of the [world’s] jailed prisoners.”

“There is a temptation to look at this staggering difference in numbers and
chalk it up to one more aspect of American exceptionalism. America is
different, so the view goes, and it has always had a Wild West culture and a
tough legal system. But the facts don’t support the conventional wisdom.
This wide gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world is relatively
recent. In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000
adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in
the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison.

“That something, of course, is the war on drugs. Drug convictions went from
15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold
increase. More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on
drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on
drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4
of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.

“Over the past four decades, the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion
fighting the war on drugs. The results? In 2011 a global commission on drug
policy issued a report signed by George Shultz, Secretary of State under
Ronald Reagan; the – archconservative Peruvian writer-politician Mario Vargas
Llosa; former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker; and former Presidents of Brazil and
Mexico Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo. It begins, “The global
war on drugs has failed … Vast expenditures on criminalization and
repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of
illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or
consumption.” Its main recommendation is to “encourage experimentation by
governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power
of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.”

“Bipartisan forces have created the trend that we see. Conservatives and
liberals love to sound tough on crime, and both sides agreed in the 1990s to
a wide range of new federal infractions, many of them carrying mandatory
sentences for time in state or federal prison. And as always in American
politics, there is the money trail. Many state prisons are now run by
private companies that have powerful lobbyists in state capitals. These
firms can create jobs in places where steady work is rare; in many states,
they have also helped create a conveyor belt of cash for prisons from
treasuries to outlying counties.

“Partly as a result, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six
times the rate of spending on higher education in the past 20 years. In
2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons vs. $5.7 billion on the UC
system and state colleges. Since 1980, California has built one college
campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a
prisoner costs it $45,006 a year.

“The results are gruesome at every level. We are creating a vast prisoner
under-class in this country at huge expense, increasingly unable to function
in normal society, all in the name of a war we have already lost. If Pat
Robertson can admit he was wrong, surely it is not too much to ask the same
of America’s political leaders.”

– appeared on-line, IllinoisDemNews@yahoogroups.com

Just one country?

Kosuke Koyama – RIP

The late Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama (click HERE for NYT obituary) said, “There is only one sin, and it is exceptionalism.”  Koyama was baptized during the bombing raids of Tokyo in WW II. As the bombs exploded and the building burned around the church, Kosuke’s pastor looked him in the eye. “Kosuke,” he said, “You are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your enemy… even the Americans.”Koyama first saw the myth of exceptionalism in the Japan of his youth where the Emperor and the Divine were hand-in-glove. Japan was an exceptional people that could not fail. In his later years, following his retirement from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, “Ko,” as his friends called him with great affection moved to Minneapolis.

During the 15 years I knew him, he shared his greatest sadness that the ideology of exceptionalism he had experienced as a  boy in Japan he now saw in the United States.

Today in 2012 political candidates cunningly appeal to the myth, believing that doing so  will rally true believers to cast their votes for them as the truest believers in America. Steve Shoemaker sent this piece today.

Verse – Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL May 2, 2012

The U.S.A. actually  is just one

country out of quite many “under God.”

It would be wrong to think the summer sun

shines only on our farms.  In other lands

the children grow as strong and bright as here,

and elders have respect around the world

(in fact, in many places they don’t fear

such loneliness and high cost of health care.)

 

 

Other countries are also free and brave, and have fine soldiers ready to defend

their shores.  It’s sweet and seemly that we give

our lives to save our families,  friends and land,

but we must not think we’re exceptional

and forget, too, the international.

The Germans at the Service Club Meeting

Pledge of Allegiance

Five visitors from Germany were guests of an international service club recently where my friend Steve Shoemaker is a member.After the meeting, they asked Steve some questions.

Why ask Steve?

For starters, he’s 6’8″ and he’s up for Club President soon…unless he’s impeached before taking office for his Letter to the Editor.

Dear Editor,

Five folks from Germany recently visited central Illinois as part of a local service club program to improve international understanding.

At one point they asked me about something they did not understand:  why do Americans begin so many gatherings with a ‘”patriotic” song, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer?

As foreign visitors, of course, they felt excluded from at least the first two–often at events designed supposedly to welcome them…  And if from a non-Christian religious tradition, they felt excluded from all three.

Perhaps especially because they were from Germany, remembering the horrors of two world wars begun partly from excessive beliefs in the superiority of their nation and religion, they were sensitive to expressions of exceptionalism at U.S.A. sports events and service club meetings.

Can we welcome others better by showing the American virtue of hospitality, finding rituals that affirm the equality of all, and treating others the way we wish to be treated?

Steve’s an affable chap and hard not to like. At the next meeting Steve and some of the members had a nice chat. There’d been some conversation, they had a different opinion, they said, and the good thing was they were all free to disagree.

Hmmm.

Click HERE for a quick history lesson on the evolving text of the Pledge of Allegiance.

What do YOU think? Chime in with a comment to expand the discussion. I’ll send them to Steve for the next meeting.