Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Secularist Prayer

In American Society, Current events, Secular Humanism on November 21, 2015 at 6:39 pm

 

I’ve felt a heavy sadness this week that I fear is only bound to intensify in the coming weeks. Events in Paris in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks continue to dominate the news cycle. When there is a break in the coverage, it seems it’s only to introduce another tragedy unfolding elsewhere in the world. Syrian refugees are still  washing up to shore, both dead and alive. At least 27 are dead in the Mali massacre. Kidnappings continue in the Philippines. Palestinians and Israelis are still killing each other on a daily basis. 

Closer to my current home in China, Uighyr separatists, unable to procure guns, rampage through train stations, slashing passengers with long knives. Chinese authorities are accused of retaliating indiscriminately, shooting dead anyone even remotely associated with the attacks.

More violence promised by all parties. 

Even if terrorism didn’t exist, we would still have a 24/7 news stream of police violence, child abductions, grisly murders, school shootings, and other mass killings to look forward to. No need to wait for the evening news or even look for a television – headlines are pushed to our phones round the clock. Videos so gruesomely violent they’d make Dante puke appear in our Facebook newsfeed. Anyone trying to change their profile photo to show solidarity with victims of extremism would need to log on hourly. 

It is clear that secularism – a worldview that espouses the furtherance of human welfare through rational solutions – is, if not altogether dead, certainly mortally wounded. Every time a terrorist or religious zealot takes a life, he emboldens others to join the madness, and elicits vows of revenge from those who worship a slightly different god. Even those who might in other times consider themselves moderates are found shouting threats at city hall or proposing internment camps. 

It’s enough to make a secular humanist cry. I’m sitting at an airport in Beijing, waiting to board a plane home for the holidays, yet my heart is heavy. With all the terrible things happening in the world, even the Pope is having a hard time enjoying the season. How can we sing ‘Peace on Earth’ when it seems the world is on fire? What can we do in this time of troubles?

We can pray.

I’ve heard it said that an agnostic is someone who has a nostalgia for God, and I know I am guilty of this sentiment. I’ve explored the topic before, and I’ve decided that it is difficult to escape the old ways of thinking. I’ve been criticized for posting #prayforparis and #prayforsyria on my blog and other sites. So be it. 

However, perhaps I do need to clarify what kind of prayer I’m talking about. It is not the prayer of the zealot – the one who shouts ‘God is Great’ as he guns down the innocent. I do not propose a fatalist’s prayer, the sort of ‘God’s will be done’ sentiment so prevalent in our major religions. I am certainly not in favor of the Samsonite prayer – let me kill all my enemies even if it’s the last thing I do. And I long ago abandoned the wishful prayer, the one that expects a magic man in the sky – so oblivious to our sufferings thus far – to suddenly make everything ok. 

Instead, what I suggest is to keep these events close to our hearts and uppermost in our thoughts. When I say ‘prayers’ for someone,  it means my heart goes out for them, that I want things to work out for them. I can’t look at someone with stage IV cancer who’s asked me to pray for them and say, “I don’t believe in prayer,” even if I don’t in the conventional sense of the word. 

There is enough heartlessness in the world. I know there is no God – because even a fallible human such as I would stop these heinous events if I could – how could a perfect being do otherwise?

Obviously we must do more than pray – we have to punish those who’ve broken the law, root out those who fan the flames of hatred, and – if we can – eliminate the causes of such mindless violence. But while we’re stunned, hurting, at a loss for words let alone solutions – could it hurt to pray?

Please Don’t Forget Rena

In Current events, Wars and Rumors of Wars on February 8, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Bodies-of-children-wrapped-in-shrouds

I wrote months ago about how the tragedy in Syria is wreaking havoc on that nation’s children, and I fear not much has changed since then. At that time, there was a news story about a 4-year-old girl named Rena had been shot by a sniper while playing near the window in her family’s apartment. She died a few hours later, gurgling blood as she called our her for her mother. Now there are thousands more like her being starved out in besieged cities. Parents brave snipers’ bullets as they search the ruined streets and alleys for something – anything – that might feed their children. But it is estimated that perhaps half of the 100,000 dead in the conflict are children. At first I posted the CNN video into the body of this post, but I decided it may just be too hard for some to watch. Yes, even harder than the photo I decided to post above. So I’ll link to it instead – you can read the news story without seeing the video if you think it might be too upsetting.

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m not a bleeding heart. I am ashamed to say that I, like most everyone else, am pretty quick to change the channel when those Feed the Children commercials start appearing late at night. I wish I could say I didn’t. It’s so easy to get caught up in one’s own problems – even if they are infinitesimally smaller than those so many in the world face. But I don’t know how anyone can read of children being shot in the face or intentionally starved, and think that war in the Middle East – or anywhere – would somehow do some good. I was in Israel during the intifada in the 90s, and my heart grew sick at the site of crying mothers and fathers clutching their dead children. Twenty years later, it is obvious that wanton killing has not led to a solution. Nor has it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, or a host of other countries around the world.

It seems we should have done something in Syria. The cynic in me says we didn’t because there’s no oil there. The realist knows that the American public is weary of war-mongering in the Middle East – for now at least – and the support for another mission there did not exist. I am against the use of drones – at least the way we’re using them right now, as the President’s personal play things – but if we’re going to use them to ‘take out bad guys’ it seems preventing people from starving young children would rank high on that list. I don’t know – I don’t have the answers.

The parties involved in the conflict are supposed to be meeting with each other in Geneva as I write this. I hope that first on the agenda would be a ceasefire and end to the sieges that are causing such misery. I am not an expert on the political situation there, and as always, it seems that what seems like a good solution at the time in that region often comes around to haunt us. But I hope that the kids there will be given food and warm clothing before more of them die.

The videos are hard to watch – you might just want to ignore them. But do me a favor, please. Before you jump on the next war bandwagon that rolls around in the US, come back and watch them. Look right into war’s grim face before you join in a glib chorus of ‘Bomb Bomb Iran‘.

And if you believe in prayer, please pray for these children.

Why Pro-Lifers Should Be Anti-War

In American Society, Current events, Religion and Society on September 19, 2012 at 1:38 am

I’m having a difficult time forgetting this CNN video of 4 year-old Rena. She was playing on the balcony of her family’s apartment in Aleppo, Syria, when a bullet – not a stray, but one fired at random by a sniper – smashed through the window and into her face, dislodging one of her teeth as it pierced her cheek. The last hours of her short life were spent crying out in pain and fear, the blood gurgling in her throat as she called for her mother.

This is the real story of any modern war – the horrific suffering and death of thousands of innocents. Best estimates so far of civilian casualties in Syria are somewhere around 20,000 men, women, and children in the last year or so. The US is not involved in this war – yet – but we’re responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in other wars since the start of this century – at least 100,000 in Iraq alone. Rena’s tragedy was captured on film, but thousands of others have gone un-reported, un-mourned, forgotten.

I don’t understand why the so-called Moral Majority in this country have been in favor of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it hasn’t always been this way. The denomination I grew up in, the Assemblies of God, officially opposed participation of its members in any war until 1967. Now it seems that most Pentecostal / Charismatic churches somehow connect God, guns, patriotism, and warmongering as part of our grand American Christian tradition.

I remember a Christian music video I saw when the war in Afghanistan had just got underway.  I can’t remember the particular singer – she was a young, busty girl, with big hair and tiny cut-off shorts, dancing in front of tanks and American flags. Her rendition of Our God is an Awesome God was interspersed with sound bytes of George W. Bush saying things like “our cause is just”. The British phrase ‘gob-smacked’ is the only phrase that comes close to how I felt watching that video.

When did getting behind the war effort become a Christian virtue? And why is it that pacifism is viewed as un-American, un-patriotic, and somewhat socialist?

What does it mean to be pro-life? In Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he promised to “protect the sanctity of life” yet he clearly thinks that it’s a mistake to scale back our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and would certainly side with his good friend Benjamin Netanyahu should Israel decide to start a war with Iran – or perhaps even involve American troops in such folly. When Christians talk of the sanctity of human life, is that simply code for an anti-abortion stance?

Let’s face it – many Christians get all riled up about the rights of an unborn child – but don’t seem to care much about what happens to that child after it is already born. The hypocrisy is breath-taking. According to what I hear from pulpits across the nation, the current Christian ‘pro-life’ stance goes something like this:

If you get pregnant, you must carry the baby to term, because the life of that unborn child is sacred to God. The Bible makes it clear that God forms a child in the womb, and God’s plan for that child’s life is already drawn at conception – both Samuel and John the Baptist were destined to do God’s work when they were still unborn. The fact that you can’t afford a baby is inconsequential – it’s a sin to end the pregnancy. Once that baby is born, however, you should expect no help whatsoever from society or government in feeding, clothing, housing, or educating God’s little gift; that would make you some kind of pariah, one of Romney’s 47 percent of Americans who see themselves as victims, and are dependent on government. In fact, most Christians seem to be in favor or Paul Ryan’s plan to eviscerate government programs for the weak and poor – not while they might need them, of course, but for those others who refuse to take responsibility for themselves.

It seems that being pro-life is limited to being pro-fetus only, not to believing in the sanctity of any life that manages to emerge from its mother’s womb.

A century ago, most church buildings were simple structures, and much of the tithes brought in were distributed to the needy. Now, Christians busily build cathedrals, gymnasiums, and television studios, contributing very little to the community as a whole. So, while the church has become more miserly in their contributions to society’s most vulnerable, they have also grown dogmatic in their belief that government shouldn’t assist them either.

And in reality, pro-lifers seem to be mostly concerned about Caucasian fetuses, not so much about other varieties. The Far Right wants to make abortion illegal – but worries about Black women having more babies so they can get bigger welfare checks, or Mexican women having babies on Americans soil so they can avail themselves of government handouts. They fear that Muslims and Hindus are trying to out-breed White Americans and Europeans.

If you claim to be pro-life, then you have to be for the sanctity of all human life, not just the unborn. You must do something about the 30,000 children who die every day due to malnutrition and preventable disease. You must do whatever you can to end wars that cause the suffering of untold thousands of innocents. You must be concerned about the sky-rocketing suicide rates among enlisted American soldiers. You must insist that every child in America get at least one decent meal every day, and an education that will allow him one day to improve his lot. If you can’t do these things, you need to call yourself ‘pro-fetus’ or ‘pro-zygote’ or something else; you can’t call yourself pro-life.

So many of us cannot envision a world without war. We think that wars are inevitable, part of human nature – even necessary, perhaps valiant. Doesn’t the Bible say we will always have wars until Jesus comes back? Didn’t Jesus himself say that there would always be poor people?

It’s this kind of thinking that keeps us from changing the world for the better. It’s this kind of thinking that killed Rena.

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