Friday, December 21, 2012

Postscript to media catastrophism: Nationalism

Playing in my thinking about the media but not making it into my last post is this thesis: The U.S. media is inherently nationalistic. As such, the bounds of "we" and "they" split along the borders of this nation-state. When tragedies within these social-imaginary borders occur, it is "us" that are collectively shocked, angered, and grieved. But what of tragedies outside these borders?

Amongst American journalists, I find Glenn Greenwald to be the most fearlessly critical of U.S. foreign policy, particularly the drone warfare program that has been greatly expanded by the Obama administration. His latest piece in The Guardian is powerful...

Newtown kids v Yemenis and Pakistanis: what explains the disparate reactions?

It is powerful in not only its critique, but also its sensitivity. He rightly names the real differences between the tragedies of Newtown and the drone war. These are qualitatively different phenomenon, but our national responses (or non-responses) to them are illustrative. He particularly calls out the dehumanization of predominantly Muslim people throughout the global war on terror of the past decade, and how the dehumanization that war necessarily calls for has sedimented into the public psyche. We can now call children killed in foreign countries by U.S. ordinance "bug splat" and no one bats an eye.


After a hiatus, I've just picked up reading again on Christopher Marshall's recent book, Compassionate Justice: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue with Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime, and Restorative Justice. (What a subtitle!) The two parables in question are the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and I'm currently reading his reflections on the former. This is the same parable that I recently preached on, so my head has been inside this parable quite a bit lately, and it continues to inspire my theological thinking. One thing serious consideration of this parable does (or should do) is disrupt the kind of thinking that I describe above - the kind of thinking that leads a society to characterize dead, innocent children in foreign lands (and adults, of course) as "bug splat."

Marshall points out that in the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we have a hated national/religious enemy of the Jews enacting the kind of mercy and compassion that God expects of God's people. He is doing this in Judea, no less, on territory that is extremely hostile to those such as him. Jesus' hearer in this parable is an expert in Hebrew law, a Judean, who would find such a story especially offensive. Even though this parable answers the question of what it means to love your neighbor (and who that neighbor is) - Marshall points out that we also have here a narrative example of Jesus' commandment to love your enemies. The Samaritan - the enemy - shows the kind of love that God calls for. To inherit eternal life, Jesus tells the expert in the law, means to "go and do likewise," like the one you think of as enemy.

If Christians in the U.S. have swallowed too much nationalism - which I'm arguing the media helps make seem inevitable in our imaginations - our ears will be deaf to such lessons as the Good Samaritan. We'll continue to think it's a cute morality lesson about being nice, and not the radical reversal on collective idolatry that it is. If Christians in the U.S. don't cringe at the term "bug splat" to describe the deaths of created-by-God human beings, then we're not ready for the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven and we (i.e. the church) should be praying dearly for a righteous wake-up call.

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