Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Spring 2003 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
ILRS Resolution on the Iraq Crisis
War in the Name of God? - Willy Spieler
The Spirituality of Economics Kathy Galloway
Report from the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre

ILRS Resolution on the Iraq Crisis

The Executive Committee of the ILRS, meeting in Amsterdam on 5-6 February, adopted the following resolution on the crisis over Iraq.

The International League of Religious Socialists expresses its grave concern over the looming crisis of war in Iraq. We agree that insofar as the UNMOVIC inspectors find weapons of mass destruction, Iraq must disarm and relinquish these weapons, but the manner in which this is to be done is as important as the end result. The process and method of disarmament must be considered in light of the massive opposition throughout the world to a potential war, and in regard to the social tensions (e.g., Anti-Western, Anti-Muslim feeling) that this conflict has thus far exacerbated in our societies. It is essential that the disarmament of Iraq be carried out in a way that will be seen as fair in the eyes of the international community, with respect for international laws and conventions.

Ultimately, we affirm that in the 21st century, war is no longer an acceptable means to solve disputes. And while at this moment, the possibility exists that the international community may well approve a military action against Iraq, we yearn for the day when human lives will never again be risked over political disagreements. Further, as religious socialists, we must openly fight against the idea that religion can ever be used to justify acts of violence, including war.

However, in the event that the international community decides to support the disarmament of Iraq by force, we insist that the following conditions be met before any such action is begun:

- Any decision to take military action against Iraq must be taken by the UN Security Council, and not by any one nation or group of nations acting unilaterally.

- The UNMOVIC (United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) inspectors must have the appropriate amount of time needed to do their jobs.

- The UN Security Council must be able to justify any decision to act militarily against Iraq by means of its own constitution, the primary goal of which is to secure and promote peace, and to avoid war.

Adopted on 5 March 2003

War in the Name of God?

Willy Spieler

The following is an abridged English translation of an article by Willy Spieler, editor of the Swiss religious socialist journal Neue Wege, and former president of the Social Democratic Party group in Zurich's Cantonal Assembly.

Man kann hier den ganzen Artikel auf Deutsch lesen.

U.S. President George W. Bush has used his State of the Union address not only to prepare the U.S. military for a war against Iraq, but to do so in the name of God. It is believed by Bush that the coming war is being waged to 'defend peace', and that God is on the side of the American military. Bush states that the version of 'liberty' that the American Right supports is not merely America's gift to the world, but that this version of American ideas and values is God's gift to all mankind, and that God has blessed the United States in this endeavour to spread that gift. But what kind of god is worshipped by Bush? And is any less damage done in the world, if Bush ignores his own nation's constitution in order to legitimise an illegal war by the use of religious rhetoric?

Baal or Yahweh?
The Bible knows two names for God: Baal and Yahweh. Baal is the god of the world, in whose image states make themselves, in whose name they prevail, suppress, and exploit. Baal is the sovereign representative of the current world order. Baal promises everything to everyone, full meat pots and/or full oil tanks and stable conditions, even if they are brought by force, so long as all is subjected to him. And naturally Baal has his ideologists and politicians, who owe their 'way of life' to him, whom they call 'liberty'. Which is not completely wrong, if one considers that this 'way of life' called liberty is called by Noam Chomsky 'the liberty of exploitation'.

Without question Baal is also the ideal god for making war. The idea of 'liberty' as 'God's gift to mankind' is intended to be a thorn in the eye of the evildoers. As is unfortunately inevitable, the deliverers of this 'gift' do so with bombs. In addition, the underprivileged minorities are made to suffer, as the 'compassionate conservatism' of Bush's regime cuts the social security benefit, in order to finance the war. These worshippers of Baal cannot be distracted. Their 'civil religion' blesses the ruler, which pulls them into war. (I Kings 22:1-36). Good News magazine, organ of a evangelical group within the Evangelical Methodist Church of the USA, has already last year praised Bush as 'layman of the year', 'for his Biblically justified world view, for his character, his patience, his sympathy and his courage.'

In contrast, Yahweh is the God of the underdog, revealed between manger and cross, the liberating God of the poor, who Himself became poor. He is the God of the Exodus, which leads into the desert, the God of those who are and not those who have. Those who believe in this God, protest today: 'not in our name' and also 'not in His name'. Because Yahweh is a God of peace. His envoys are the prophets, which trust in Him and not in miracle weapons and military alliances. Isaiah would say today: 'Woe to those who go down to Iraq, in order to allegedly re-establish their own security; they trust in their bombers, on the quantity of their tanks and in their numerous soldiers, and they do not turn to the Holy One of Israel, they have not sought the Lord.' (Isa. 31: 1)

Jesus, who rides on a donkey - not even a horse - into Jerusalem, places himself consciously into the tradition of peace given by the prophets of Israel. 'On a donkey foaled by a she-ass, He shall banish chariots from Ephraim, and horses from Jerusalem; the warriors bow shall be banished, He shall call on the nations to surrender.' (Zechariah 9:9) Also, the Sermon on the Mount seems to say to us: 'If someone threatens you with weapons of mass destruction, then answer him by dismantling your own weapons of mass destruction.' This explains the 1982 declaration of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to stand against all weapons of mass destruction as a status confessionis.

Political Fundamentalism or Constitutional State?
The confrontation of Baal and Yahweh demonstrates two types of theology and politics, which occur rarely as purely as they have done with Mr. Bush. (and also with respect to the Bible are not always so clearly differentiated.) That brings us to the example of the Pope, who unfortunately also does not question the USA's weapons of mass destruction, but gives at least a clear 'no' to the war, and George W. Bush, who expresses didactically: 'War is never an inevitable fate. War always means a defeat for mankind.' Even Berlin's conservative Cardinal Sterzinsky answered recently in regard to the 'warrior of God' pose taken by the President: 'If Bush feels this way personally, that is his business. But Bush cannot expect that the international community recognizes him as a prophet.'

Bush represents absolute truth, which is totalitarian at its core and knows only friends and enemies. 'Who not for us is, is against us.' That is political fundamentalism, which seems to be the tradition of Republican Party presidents. Father Bush always assigned God to himself, when he justified his war against Saddam Hussein and 'property against evil, right assembled against injustice.' Ronald Reagan considered that a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, since the prophet Ezekiel had said that God will bring 'fires and sulfur to rain down on the enemies of God'. Reagan had taken on the ideology of the 'televangelists', who told their faithful that they would not have to fear a nuclear inferno, since they would be taken up 'in the manner of the Rapture'.

Such fundamentalism not only contradicts the gospel, it also conflicts with the basic values of a democratic state. A modern state does not appoint itself the sole guardian of an ethical system. Rather, it behaves neutrally in relation to the 'last truths' of a religion or a world view. A Bush may believe personally in what he wants, but in a modern democratic state, in a country which in its constitution separates the entities of church and state, such a leader should not constantly put the words of God in his own mouth as president, neither to support his 'imperial' policy nor to disparage his enemies.

The Spirituality of Economics

Kathy Galloway

On 13 February, Scottish theologian and anti-poverty activist Kathy Galloway delivered the Christian Socialist Movement's John Wheatley Lecture on the topic, The Spirituality of Economics. Thanks to Harry Watson, we are able to publish it here. The entire speech (approx. 6000 words) is available for download as an Acrobat PDF file. The following is the opening excerpt.

I have taken as my title this evening ‘The Spirituality of Economics’. I am not an economist, I am a practical theologian. But I am a theologian whose practice has involved a lifelong engagement with people living in poverty, and therefore, of course, with economics. And increasingly I have become interested, some might say obsessed, with the spirituality of economics. Now these are two words which are not often found together. A friend said to me, ‘I see you are giving a lecture on the economics of spirituality’ and it may very well be that that is what I am doing. But I think they are actually inseparable if we are to truly understand either of them. Spirituality is a word which is understood in a multiplicity of ways, so in the interest of precision, I will give you my definition of it, which will form the basis of what I say. You may not agree with this definition, but hopefully you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s indebted to the Latin-American theologian, Jon Sobrino.

Once, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees about spirituality, or was it economics, and he used the analogy of a cup, saying ‘Did not God, who made the outside, also make the inside?’ (Luke 11,40):

Our spirituality is our profoundest motivation, those instincts, intuitions, longings and desires that move us, animate us, inspire us (lit. breathe through us)…it is the force that moves us from behind or below or before . But it is also our ultimate concern or orientation or goal, that person, object, ideal or value that attracts us, that draws us, towards which we incline… to where we go. If you like, it’s the inner life of the cup.

But our spirituality is not just interiority. It is also our choices and actions; it is where spirit is given flesh, where intention becomes action, where we practice what we preach. Our spirituality shows up just as much in how we spend our money, our time, our abilities, as in how we say our prayers. If you like, it’s how we use the cup.

And our spirituality is also our relationships: with our environment, with other people, with our own most hidden and unknown selves. If you like, it’s who we share the cup with.

To download and read the entire article in PDF format, click here.

Report from the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre

Andrew Hammer
In January ILRS Secretary General Andrew Hammer attended the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. While attracting less media attention than the previous two forums, over 100,000 people from all over the world came to this week-long event to discuss everything from international trade agreements to the plight of indigenous groups in rural Brazil. Andrew's report follows below:

Started in 2001 as a response to the World Economic Forum meetings held in Davos, Switzerland, the World Social Forum has attempted to bring together a coalition of NGOs, activists, and various representatives of the world's poorer nations in order to address the problems facing our world. Where the World Economic Forum (WEF) has crafted the neo-liberal policy that has driven global development over the last thirty years, the World Social Forum (WSF) is intended precisely to confront neo-liberalism and its adverse effects on people throughout the world, in both the North and the South. The WEF consists of a small group of influential world leaders who meet in committee rooms to plot the economic course of the world; the WSF consists of hundreds of diverse seminars, panels, discussions and debates all aimed at changing the course the WEF has so far plotted. The WSF is self-defined as 'an open meeting space for civil groups and social movements that are opposed to neo-liberalism, capitalist hegemony, and to any form of imperialism.'

These are certainly grand goals, and one would think that if over 100,000 people come together to address them, then there might be some clear plan of action put forth on how to achieve them. But at this third World Social Forum, such a plan was nowhere to be found.

For its sheer magnitude, the Forum is certainly an interesting and at times inspiring event, but it gave me more questions than answers. The organisation was quite chaotic, and the overall mood was more one of a festival rather than a meeting where people could make decisions and policy. Indeed, this is a complaint that has been raised more frequently now about the Forum, that it addresses issues, but can make no policy, nor can it provide the mechanisms to make policy regarding the institutions it seeks to confront (e.g., IMF, WTO). Susan George, one of the main organisers of the WSF, acknowledged this difficulty, saying 'Protests do not stop these institutions, binding laws do.'

Another problem is that NGOs, for all of their talk about grassroots democracy, participatory values, and bottom-up development, are notoriously undemocratic and non-transparent in their own operations and structures. John Samuel of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies stated in a panel that NGOs should not be seen as the representatives of civil society, because most of them have been turned into private enterprises and providers of employment. He further cited one example of an NGO being given away as part of a dowry.

Finally, the Forum's own structure, its own rules, and the selection of who is responsible for making the decisions about the Forum are a matter of concern. One basic rule which was very proudly touted by the organisers is a 'no politicians' rule, meant to ensure that the Forum is not swayed or influenced by anyone except the participants. Yet this rule was being openly flouted at the same time it was being enforced elsewhere. The newly elected president of Brazil, Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, was not allowed to attend the Forum directly, but was allowed to address it by video. More significantly, the leader of the Belgian Socialist Party, Elio di Rupo, was involved in a plenary, as was a Socialist Party member of the French National Assembly. This is not to say that these politicians should not have been involved. However, if some politicians are going to be allowed and not others, then perhaps the organisers of the WSF should put aside this rule. One would think that the presence of parliamentary policy makers at the WSF, rather than the WEF, is something that the organisers and participants would desire. Would it not be better to have the world's leaders coming to Porto Alegre than to Davos?

Since we are talking about leaders, it begs the question: who elects the leaders of the World Social Forum? And given the afore-mentioned problem with many NGOs, who exactly do these leaders represent? The intention of these questions is not to delegitimise the Forum, but rather to challenge it to do two things: (1) to move beyond rallies, panels, and speeches, towards genuine interaction and negotiation with those dominant forces who now decide how the majority of us now live, and (2) to more clearly address the question of its own representative legitimacy if it abandons the conventional method of electing political representatives to local and national bodies of governance.

In order for the Forum to become more than just a celebration of the slogans and manifestos of the global left, it must find ways to connect with policy makers in meaningful ways that will actually help the people that these movements claim to represent. As it stands, the bold declarations from the WSF are no more meaningful than declarations from any other NGO or civil society group unless they can be attached to a clear method of action. The comments I heard from most people (even some panel speakers) reflected a sense of confusion about what the Forum was supposed to accomplish. Many expressed that aside from either speaking or listening to speeches, it was hard for people to feel connected to any sense of real work for change taking place.

The WSF has accomplished a significant task by bringing so many people from so many nations together to address global issues. Now that it has done so, the time has come for it to move to the next level, from ideas to actions. The next opportunity will come in Mumbai, in January of 2004.

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