Video: An Interview with CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou

(27 minute video)

E. Ethelbert Miller has launched “The Scholars,” a television interview series that explores contemporary scholarship. John Kiriakou is the author of Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror. He worked at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1990 to 2004. He is currently an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.

Kiriakou was the first U.S. government official to confirm in December 2007 that waterboarding was used to interrogate Al Qaeda prisoners, which he described as torture. On October 22, 2012, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to disclosing classified information about a fellow CIA officer that connected the covert operative to a specific operation. He was the first person to pass classified information to a reporter, although the reporter did not publish the name of the operative. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison on January 25, 2013, and served his term from February 28, 2013 until 3 February 2015 at the low-security Federal correctional facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

John Kiriakou is a member of a Greek Orthodox Church in Northern Virginia.

George Schmidt: Niebuhr’s Realism in ‘Game of Thrones’

game-of-thronesGeorge Schmidt, candidate for the Master of Sacred Theology degree at Union Theological Seminary, has written a complex and fascinating theological analysis of Game of Thrones. I read all of George R.R. Martin’s books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I loved them and hated them. After reading Schmidt’s essay I think I know why.

When push comes to shove, I usually land in the “faithful, rather than effective” camp. I’m an idealist. If I have to choose between my values and an effective outcome, I generally choose my values. Because life without values is life without meaning — and life without meaning leads to despair and despair separates one from God. (Ask me about this tomorrow and I may phrase that all differently but I think you get what I mean.)

I’m not saying that I avoid effectiveness. I actually value it highly — because if God gives you a job to do, you should do it very well. But the foundational assumption is that the mission is carried out under certain parameters. So when Satan tells Jesus he’ll show him how to turn stones into bread with the implication that Jesus can fill the bellies of all the hungry poor, why doesn’t Jesus do it? Wouldn’t that be a highly effective way of carrying out the practicalities of God’s mission?

No. It wouldn’t. Because turning stones into bread comes with certain requirements. Namely, placing Satan’s name higher than God’s. And one of the foundational assumptions is God is God of all and we shall have no idols before God. Therefore, the means do not justify the end.

So back to Game of Thrones. As Schmidt points out, George R.R. Martin’s books take readers into a pea soup fog between realpolitic, Christian politcal realism ala Neibuhr, and the tragedy of mercy. Read Schmidt’s whole essay, but here’s an excerpt below:

… Placing traditional theodicy aside for a moment, the question after all this misery is simple: Why did Eddard die? At the outset, identifying Eddard’s death as a simple tragedy misses an important point that is often made by Christian realists. Tragedy, as Reinhold Niebuhr observed in The Irony of American History, elicits “admiration as well as pity” for a man like Eddard. We pity him for such a terrible finality while we admire his conviction and compassion for Cersei and her children.

However, tragedy does not account for the way in which, to quote Niebuhr once again, “virtues are vices.” This lack of dialectical thinking, according to which human agency is essentially either virtuous or sinful, is unthinkable in Christian realism. An idealist who quickly classifies an event as tragic fails to take into account the evil that is an “inevitable consequence of the exercise of human creativity”: the evil that is in the good.

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Pope Francis Kicks At the Money Changers

goldencalfYesterday, Pope Francis addressed a gathering of new ambassadors with his first major analysis on the causes of the global financial crisis.

I appreciate how he makes the connection between ethics and God. In our post-Enlightenment world, we are strong on human ethics as separated from religion. But against cancerous market capitalism, ethics separated from human solidarity and God are not powerful enough. Ethics then simply becomes a new thing to be manipulated in the market place.

“…Our human family is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in the our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old (cf. Ex 32:15-34) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

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CITI’s David Deal: This is What Leadership Looks Like

David Deal is the founder and CEO of Community IT Innovators. CITI started in the basement of a house across the alley from me. They’ve been partners and collaborators with Sojourners for many years as Sojourners’ technological needs grew and expanded. As a Mennonite and young tech entrepreneur, David provides a wonderful example of innovative ethical small business leadership. Recently he gave a 14-minute presentation at a D.C.-based TEDx Talk event on servant leadership. Take a few minutes to watch it:

Where do you see servant leadership practiced in organizational structures around you?
What qualities are key to its success?
What elements make a person a servant leader?
Can a business or community organization model servant leadership for the larger community of clients or constituencies?

CITI serves people and organizations working for social justice by enabling them to use technology effectively. David has designed CITI as a mission-driven organization that is also a great place to work and a model for sustainable business practices. He also serves on the boards of the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW), UrbanEd, Eastern Mennonite University’s Washington Community Scholars Center, Carlos Rosario Public Charter School, and Byte Back. These organizations share the goal of building stronger communities by providing opportunities for service and learning.

Check out these books:
Journey to the East by Herman Hesse
Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf
Servant Leadership Models for Your Parish by Dan Ebener

Richard Killmer: Why Torture is Wrong

blackwater1Torture is an assault on human dignity — both the dignity of the victim and the inflicter. While the Obama administration has worked hard to try to reverse the abhorrent policies of the Bush administration on torture, there’s still a long way to go. The Guantanamo detention camp is still functioning. The “black sites” are still hidden and functioning around the world under shadowy CIA-leadership. Rogue dictators and militias still brutalize the innocent. In other words, the insidious underside of human sin is still dismembering people and their families in hidden cells around the world.

Richard Killmer, former head of the National Council of Churches, was profiled in the digital edition of U.S. News and World Report this week. Killmer now heads up the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a leading coalition of faith groups in the U.S. trying to dismantle the torture policies. Killmer was interviewed by Alex Kingsbury in the article The Morality of Torture. This is a great piece to distribute in your church bulletins. It’s short and to the point. It appeals to political conservatives and liberals – and has Bible. Here’s a quote:

Before 9/11, there was national consensus on the illegitimacy of torture. After all, it was President Reagan who made the country a signatory in 1984 to the United Nations Conventions Against Torture, which both banned the practice and called for universal jurisdiction for its prosecution. But the events of the intervening years have changed the nation to the point where Killmer’s message is now that of a radical. “I don’t know what has gone so wrong,” says Killmer, sitting in his modest office across the street from the Supreme Court. “Whatever the political or security issues are, they don’t change the basic moral fact that some things are always, always, always wrong.”

Read the whole article here.

Mario Savio Wrote the Handbook on How to Lead a Successful Student Movement

Mario Savio atop police car.
Mario Savio atop police car.

I’ve always had an interest in Mario Savio, icon of the 1960s Free Speech Movement and a Catholic. When Savio died in November 1996, I wrote a short news item about him in Sojourners.

In December 1964, after three months of student resistance to the curtailing of political activity on the Berkeley campus, Mario Savio climbed atop a police car and shouted the words that became a preamble to the 1960s’ student movement. Savio’s whole life had prepared him for that pivotal moment. He grew up in Queens, New York, in a strong Italian Catholic family; attended Catholic schools; considered becoming a priest. He trained with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi, saying, “I became involved in the Civil Rights movement because of the one moral principle foundational to my Catholic upbringing: Resist evil.”

In 1964, Clark Kerr, president of the University of California, described the university as a “factory” for filling students’ empty minds. Savio, son of a machine punch operator, responded by putting his body “upon the gears” and stopping the machine. He was arrested and served 120 days in jail, with students ranging from Democratic Socialists to Goldwater Republicans. In the end they secured their rights to free speech and political activity; they went from being children of the “factory” to citizens of the nation. Savio was a leader, a movement friend said, “not because of anger or eloquence but because he spoke with an indelible moral clarity that was rooted in his Catholic faith.”

Last year, Robert Cohen published Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s, the first comprehensive biography of Savio. Not only does Cohen lay out the groundwork for the education of this thoroughly American radical, but he also gives a generous look at Savio’s commitment in the second half of his life: against “Reaganite Imperialism” in Central America and the corporatization of higher education.

Knowing Mario Savio’s life, strategies, and motivations is necessary for activists leading the new student movements happening on campuses today. Scott Saul published good review (A Body on the Gears) of Freedom’s Orator in this month’s The Nation. Here’s an excerpt from Saul’s analysis:

By necessity [the new Savio biography by Robert Cohen] Freedom’s Orator is a dual biography of a man and his movement, and almost half the book follows less than four months of Savio’s life, the pivotal fall semester of 1964. The [Free Speech Movement] FSM ran what we might call a textbook student-activist campaign in that interval–if we overlook the fact that the textbook didn’t exist yet. President Nixon’s 1970 Commission on Campus Unrest termed militant student protest “the Berkeley invention,” and rightly so, since the FSM pioneered the use of civil rights strategies of direct action in a university setting, demonstrating how such disruptive tactics could mobilize a majority of students and even win the sympathies of a formerly passive faculty.

The FSM had the benefit of a cadre of experienced organizers, many seasoned like Savio in civil rights work, and a university administration that couldn’t shoot straight. What began as a seemingly minor dispute over civil liberties on campus–could students hand out political literature on a twenty-six-foot strip of land owned by the university?–spiraled quickly into a battle royal in which the meaning of the university and American liberalism seemed to be at stake. The central events have since passed into ’60s legend: the seizure of a police car, wherein thousands of students surrounded a police cruiser holding an arrested civil rights activist, immobilizing it for thirty-two hours while speaker after speaker used the car’s roof as their podium; the December 2 sit-in, wherein almost 800 students were arrested after occupying Sproul Hall, the central administrative building, to protest disciplinary action against four movement leaders; and the December 7 Greek Theatre incident, wherein Savio walked onstage to speak to the assembled student body and was immediately grabbed at his throat and arms by police and dragged offstage–an administration fiasco that UC president Clark Kerr called “an accident that looked like fascism.”

In all these events, Savio played no small part in the theater of protest. It was he who first mounted the roof of the police car, taking off his shoes so as not to dent it–a quite sincere act of decorum, though not one that prevented him from comparing the police to Adolph Eichmann (they all “had a job to do”). It was Savio who, before the sit-in, famously urged students to put their “bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and…make [the machine] stop”–updating Luddism for the age of the Organization Man. And it was Savio who, at the Greek Theatre, publicly offered his own body to the cause, making his “machine” speech seem much more than mere metaphor.

Read Scott Saul’s complete review here.

Are You a Capriphile or a Caprichaun?: Sci-Fi, Ethics, and Religion

Caprica_S1_Poster_01“Some commentators have proposed ‘science fiction’ as the last fictional repository for theological speculation,” wrote Margaret Atwood a few years ago. “Heaven, Hell, and aerial transport by means of wings having been more or less abandoned after Milton, outer space was the only remaining neighborhood where beings resembling gods, angels, and demons might still be found.” (Read Margaret Atwood’s literary history of sci fi here.)

Caprica, the new sci fi TV series in the Battlestar Galactica lineage, is the latest brilliant playground of ethics, theology, and social gumbo on the small screen. After watching the first few episodes, I can confirm that I’m definitely a Capriphile or a Caprichaun or a Capricaner or whatever Caprica fans end up calling ourselves. Apparently, I’m not alone.

Over at Religion Dispatches, commentators Diane Winston, Anthea Butler, Salman Hameed, and Henry Jenkins are blogging on each Caprica episode under a series titled Capricology. The mix of commentators is great in itself. Winston holds the Knight Chair in Media and Religion. Butler is an associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania. Halmeed is an astronomer who also writes about Muslims and science. Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at USC.

They’re covering the cultural intersection of science and religion as well as the interwoven commentary on the body, artificial intelligence, paganism, original sin, immigration, and race. Here are some excerpts from their posts on Caprica‘s first episode:
Whereas most TV dramas are good guys versus bad guys, BSG and Caprica probe the passions that enliven us. The pull of temptation, the cost of obsession, the slog to redemption (yes, yes, and yes) and then the biggest question of all: Do you need to be a carbon-based life form to own and feel these? Teetering between “must-see TV” and bloated soap opera, BSG worked because the melodrama was grounded in the quotidian: model ships, dog tags, and toothbrushes. Now with all the imaginable artifacts that could draw us into Caprica’s odd collision of machines, mobsters, and monotheists, a newspaper—with ball scores, stock prices, and local weather makes it all so mundane, masking (as our own newspapers tend to do) the real stakes behind the stories.–Diane Winston

I was most taken though by the plight of Adama’s daughter, who is brought back from the dead not through an act of self-creation but against her will; who is inserted into an empty world, a purgatory space, which she doesn’t recognize and understand, and is abandoned there, treated as an unnatural abomination, as a monster, by her own father and forgotten by the man who created her. (Shades of Frankenstein, but also some suggestions here of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the series Jane Espenson worked for before Caprica, where Buffy’s friends bring her back from the dead, like Lazarus, and she finds herself experiencing deep pain and trauma at being ripped from paradise and plunged back into our imperfect world. In fact, Espenson wrote “After Life,” a key episode in the exploration of this theme in Buffy. I hope the series will explore more fully what happens to this girl and how her experiences differ from Zoe’s.)–Henry Jenkins

The real genius of Caprica will be the weekly mind game Ron Moore and his crew are going to play with us about when life begins, and ends. Does life continue after physical “death,” and if life is not in a human body, is it really “human” after all? How does a new religious movement gain followers? What are the moral and ethical implications of a society that has lost its moral center and stokes its fear by creating the ultimate “protection force” that will eventually obliterate its creators? Most importantly, what does it mean to have a body? And how do you use it?–Anthea Butler

A belief in some sort of afterlife is central to many religions and it may have been pivotal in the origins of religions in the first place. How will this play out on Caprica, where the boundaries between what is alive and what is not are already getting quite blurry? Does it shape monotheism or polytheism in a particular direction? In addition to all this, we have the monomania (as Diane calls it) of Daniel Greystone that is leading him to create his own version of life-after-death—and the cost that humans will eventually end up paying 58 years later. As Henry pointed out with a comparison with Buffy, the issue of life after death is a fertile area of exploration for this series, alongside the psyche of suicide bombers.–Salman Hameed

Read more from Capricology: Television, Tech, and the Sacred.

A Love Letter From the Pope

charity-in-truthIn July, Pope Benedict wrote you a love letter. Like all love letters, it’s worth savoring.

I say he wrote it to you because Charity in Truth, his third encyclical, isn’t just for Catholics. It’s addressed to “all people of good will.”

I call it a love letter because the opening word is caritas—love. And because any social change worth its salt must spring from love and pursue love as its ultimate goal.

The media says this encyclical is about globalization, international development, transnational governance, and the financial crisis. It’s about all those things. It’s also about fostering sensitivity to life, healthy sexuality, human ecology, and the way technology reveals our human aspirations. But its bookends are love.

If you’ve watched your 401(k) plummet in the last two years or sweated to make your mortgage payment, then there is something in Charity in Truth for you. If you wonder what good it does to dump billions of dollars in aid money to developing countries while we’ve got 9.7 percent unemployment at home, there’s something for you. If you want to know why labor unions are important and why they have to change, or why families are the building blocks of society, or why happiness is sometimes confused with material prosperity, pick it up. The pope is writing you a love letter because his heart breaks at the burdens you carry. He wants your life and struggles to have meaning.

Charity in Truth is about the relationship of economies to human dignity. “Grave imbalances are produced,” the pope writes, “when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.” The marketplace, he says, cannot become a sphere where the strong subdue the weak. In fact, it must be a yeasty mix of the fair exchange of goods and services, judicious redistribution of wealth in service of social justice, and an unexpected dash of profligate generosity. In this kind of economy, businesses that are solely responsible to their investors have limited social value and should be in the minority.

You’ll find mention of the fair trade movement, microfinance and microcredit, the sins of predatory lending and speculative finance, the temptation of aid agencies toward poverty pimping (my language, not his), the “grammar of nature” that teaches us how not to exploit our environment, and a proposal for a “worldwide redistribution of energy resources.”

Some commentators wrongly portray the pope as promoting “one world government.” Don’t be fooled. Christian Zionists have been raising this specter for years as a way to demonize Catholics and Jews. I clarify this to keep focused on the actual point: Trickle-down economics within nation-states is dead. If we are going to direct capital markets toward a global common good, then reform of international financial institutions is mandatory.

You don’t have to agree with what the pope writes. There are sections that will genuinely irk political conservatives and liberals. But Charity in Truth prompts the right questions and opens up a conversation that American Christians, in particular, need to have. We’ve been deadlocked so long in a Religious Right-Secular Left battle that it has warped our brains. This fight has deprived us of a culture that fosters self-knowledge, teaches ethics and values as tools for making personal, professional, and political decisions, and nurtures interiority, soul-making, and reflection.

Charity in Truth is a love letter reminding us that openness to God opens us to one another. Our lives are made for joy and our work for fulfillment and shared satisfaction.

Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, is a Catholic peace activist and poet. This column first appeared in the Sept-Oct 2009 issue of Sojourners magazine.

St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture

nguyenV. Henry T. Nguyen is an Angeleno and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who has “pretty much become a pacifist,” he says. He’s got his doctorate in New Testament and is an adjunct prof at several schools in Southern California. (He blogs at Punctuated Life.)

He’s written a great piece in response to the Pew study on Christians and torture (See Does Wearing a Cross Make You a Torture Supporter?). It was originally posted at Religion Dispatches.

I’m printing the whole thing here because I think it’s an important read.

St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture
By V. Henry T. Nguyen

The recent Pew findings—that churchgoers, especially white evangelical Protestants, are more likely to believe that torture can be justified—have caused many commentators to wonder whether particular forms of Christian theology engender an acceptance of the use of torture.

In a recent article on Religion Dispatches, Sarah Sentilles suggests that Christian theologies and images of Christ’s crucifixion (essentially is an act of torture) have influenced some Christian communities’ understanding of torture as salvific, necessary, and justified. This view of torture is especially fueled by what is known as atonement theology: the view that Jesus’ death provided reparation for humanity’s sins against God.

So what would a Christian theological response against torture look like?

Most Christian theologies are rooted in the writings of Paul, who is particularly celebrated this year by the Catholic church on the bimillenial anniversary of the apostle’s birth; Paul provides the earliest interpretation of the meaning of the crucified Christ. People often forget, or are not aware, that nowhere in the gospels does Jesus himself explain the meaning of his own suffering on the cross. But Paul does.

And I believe that if we were to bring Paul into our current dialogue about whether Christians should support the use of torture, his response would be a resolute “No!”

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