US Policy on Syria: Courage or Cowardice

Press releases from the UN, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and even the front lines of Syria itself, universally signaling Syria’s present instability, make one thing clear:  Syria’s future is not clear.   Should the world do anything to improve this situation?  Or should we cowardly sit back and watch Syria burn?  If world leaders, like the US, have the ability to control situations like this, shouldn’t they also have the responsibility to courageously improve it?

The civil war that now rages in Syria started two years ago when civilian protests and military suppression quickly escalated into bloodbaths killing thousands on both sides.  America quickly took an official but under-committed stand with the rebels, and on September 21, 2013 the whole world resounded with the cry to end Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people.

The reason world powers, like the US, have not come to Syria’s aid is clearer than Syria’s uncertain future.  The conflict that rages within has two divisions:

1) The rebels against the government.  The civilians despise the way Assad brutally mistreats them.  They have therefore taken up arms against him and his regime.

2) The rebels against themselves.  Up until a few days ago the rebellion groups, representing the hostile and diverse nature of Syria itself, fought each other with the same fervor they used against Assad.  For now rebellion groups have framed an alliance contract evidently undersigned by the leadership of 75% of Syrian rebellion forces.

There is little hope for a positive outcome from US intervention.  The US must justified its intervention before it actually intervenes.  Just as the UN employed moral justification to commit to the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons, so too could America justify supporting the rebels on moral grounds, by saying “We protect human life.”

But support a side in Syria does not necessarily protect more lives than the current status quo.  Allying with Assad sends the message that the US cares little for human rights. Assad’s utter indifference for the lives of Syrians sparked the rebellion in the first place.  But allying with the coalition of rebellion forces promises more evils than it remedies.  The rebels’ present alliance in opposition to Assad paints over the rebel differences but does not make those differences disappear.  There is no reason to believe that giving the rebels the victory they want will result in respect for human life.  But there is much reason to believe it will result in a more vicious and sectarian civil war over Syrian power.  The US and other world powers must either leave things as they are or risk worse upheaval and bloodshed by intervening.

We should not charge America with abandoning its courage by choosing not to seek justice against Assad’s violations of human rights.  Such a charge demands a bad form of courage.  In the words of G. K Chesterton, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.  It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”  Yes, the US must be willing to risk life in order to preserve life, even Syrian life.  Nevertheless, as Chesterton points out, courage as a principle has two extremes that are not courage:  living for nothing and dying for nothing.  That is, courage is the midpoint between the two extremes timidity and rashness.  Thus, present conditions matter just as much as the intended end result.  As Obama articulated so clearly to the UN, “The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.”  America has not abandoned courage to stand up for justice in Syria, but it has abandoned “courage” pursued unwisely through rash, unclear decision-making.

The present situation, therefore, stays as it is.  The temptations to err on the side of foolhardiness or faintheartedness also remain.  External pressures discourage the US from true courage by reminding us of an obligation to virtue.  They say that America has the power to both envision and realize a more positive future for Syria.  And that power should not be left untapped.

Still, the idea that we can guarantee an improved future is a self-deception.  The United States can do nothing to ensure Syria’s future improvement.  The future is always unclear, though marginally predictable.  Our work as humans is not to enforce a re-envisioned future, but live excellently given the conditions present to us. Perhaps being a courageous world leader is less about what you do and more about when and how you do what you do. We must pursue good decisions not decisions that try to show how good we are.

We, as well as the people of Syria, must be courageous enough not to be tight-fisted, white-knuckled humans preoccupied with the future’s vast unknown.  Rather we should allow the present realization of our own helplessness, even smallness, lead us to trust in a God that both orchestrates and improves.

To best safeguard our future we must begin with our limited influence upon it.  The temptation to seek justice badly is too great for us to presume clear vision.  We alone cannot see; therefore let us be bold enough to trust in the One who does.

Weekly Roundup

UPDATE:  In case you missed it, Vladimir Putin recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he offers counsel to the United States.  Yesterday “President Obama” responded with his own op-ed for the Huffington Post

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Katelyn Beaty writes at Christianity Today about our Hunger for Outrage (specifically on the internet):

Outrage begins to eat us alive when it is not channeled into creative love. It does not produce the righteousness we rightly seek (James 1:20). And there is only so much love you can demonstrate in 140 characters on a glowing screen.

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Wednesday was the twelfth anniversary of 9/11.  Here are 9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath.

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From National Journal:  Syria Tells You Everything You Need to Know About Barack Obama.

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Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal on Syria and Why America is Saying ‘No’:  “There is something going on here, a new distance between DC and America that the Syria debate has forced into focus.”

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Our fearless leader James Arnold has written an article for Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts on Giving Grace to “Crossover” Artists.

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John Mark Reynolds responds to a friend’s question about Vocation and Money.

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Digital Times argues that Part 2 of the Hobbit trilogy will be better than part 1 (but not by much).  The article is short, snarky and repetitive, so here’s the only paragraph you really need to read:

No, seriously. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is going to be the best part because hello, all the best stuff happens in it. “The Hobbit” Part Three-ie (out on December 17, 2014) is going to be the worst snooze cruise since Helm’s Deep. That’s because certain dragons are going to get whacked in the first of many hours and the rest is just going to be a big battle and then a long walk home.

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Speaking of The Hobbit, here is JRR Tolkien singing “Chip The Glasses And Crack The Plates”:

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One should always be careful about giving too much weight to “scientific journalism.”  Still, these developments are worth noting:  Global warming? No, actually we’re cooling, claim scientists.

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Love it or hate it, the very colorful (and very plastic) new iPhone 5c is probably here to stay:  Forget “Cheap”, The iPhone 5c Is Clearly The iPhone Jony Ive Wanted For iOS 7.

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Book nerds, time to geek out!  “Harry Potter” Gets Seven New Illustrated Covers.

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From The Atlantic:  Why Sequels Will Never Die: Hollywood’s Summer of ‘Flops’ Was Actually Its Best Year Ever.

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Mali, Syria, Obamacare, Detroit;  2013 has seen many debacles…all of which Mitt Romney warned us about during his 2012 presidential campaign.  This recently prompted Buzzfeed to ask:  Was Mitt Romney Right About Everything?  (The truth, of course, is that this is not about Romney.  He was not a visionary or a genius.  He was just saying what conservatives have been saying since long before 2012).

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If World War One Was a Bar Fight…

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Help Kickstart World War III!  Why?  Because Obama:

Weekly Roundup

A good friend of the EO and Biola graduate Renee Bolinger was recently featured on The Huffington Post’s website for her fantastic series of paintings that depict famous philosophers in the style of a famous artist (let’s hope all the fame and riches don’t go to her head):  10 Unexpected Philosopher Portraits In The Styles Of Famous Artists.

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If you’re having trouble following all the debate surrounding a possible US military strike against the Assad regime in Syria, the always dependable wordsmith Doug Wilson has described the whole situation in a single sentence.

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College Crunch recently put together a list of 20 brilliant college professors.  Among the ranks are distinguished, award-winning, internationally recognized scientists, lawyers, writers and philosophers.  The one common factor?  They are all Christians.

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From Christianity Today:  “Many forces can prevent outsiders from seeing what God is doing in New York. The city’s booming media industry, from television to film, to fashion and music, has reinforced for many non–New Yorkers an image of sophistication on one hand or urban grit on the other. But rarely does pop culture capture the religious ferment going on underneath.”  Continue reading Christ in the Capitol of the World.

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In honor of Labor Day:  Disagreeing with Bill Watterson, illustrated in the style of Bill Watterson.

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 Also from Christianity Today:  Why Intelligent People Are Less Likely to Be Religious.

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If you were the CEO of Nintendo, how would you respond to the rapidly shifting landscape of gaming?  The Death Of Nintendo Has Been Greatly Under-Exaggerated.

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If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, sue it. Here’s a story from WSJ about an entrepreneurship-killing new precedent being established by big government bureaucrats.  The bigger the government, the smaller the people.

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 Dr. John Mark Reynolds On Your Little Pony.

“I am told that there may be as many as twelve million adult males who watch the animated children’s show “My Little Pony.”

Really?”

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Kimberly Hall, director of a women’s ministry at a PCA church in Texas, recently posted a blog entitled FYI (if you’re a teenage girl), in which she calls on young women who post provocative pictures of themselves on Facebook and other social networking sites to consider the impact they are having on friends and family (especially boys).  Her post has elicited a lot of reaction, much of it negative.    A few noteworthy responses can be found here, here, and here.

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The Map That Lincoln Used to See the Reach of Slavery.

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What If I Told You that “Flat Earth” Was A Myth of Secularism? 

“It’s taught in school textbooks, it’s a favorite citation of New Atheism, and it’s been referenced by no less than the President himself — Medieval Europe believed the Earth was Flat.  And so it’s fact!  –  Except that they believed no such thing.”

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This Guinness commercial might just melt your heart:

Weekly Roundup

Note from the editor:  Evangelical Outpost has nothing to say or share about Miley Cyrus or “twerking.”  That is all.

 

From First Things:  Buzzfeed as a Cultural Battleground.

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A startling (to some) new development in the Syria affair: U.K. Parliament Votes Against Syria Resolution as U.S. Ponders Going Solo.

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Gay marriage activists have long mocked the silly, reactionary notion of a “slippery slope” from their position towards an acceptance of other formerly “taboo” relationships.  They have assured opponents that there is absolutely no connection between acceptance of gay marriage and, for example, acceptance of polyamory.

In a totally unrelated story, BBC asks (non-judgmentally, of course): How does a polyamorous relationship between four people work?

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Wise words from Pastor Kevin DeYoung:  The Preacher at His Best.

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Everyone In The TV Industry Is Passing Around This Speech By Kevin Spacey:  “It’s all content. It’s just story”

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Matt Walsh has some advice for young people:  Kids, go to college or you’ll die alone in misery.  #BlatantSarcasm

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In light of all the recent hullabaloo over “Millennials” leaving the church, here’s an interesting (and overlooked) question:  Why Aren’t Black Millennials Leaving the Church?

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Bonhoeffer saw a fierce battle in his time between Christianity & “Germanism”.  Are we approaching a similar point in America?: America’s Good Servant, But God’s First?

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A friendly rejoinder to Thabiti Anyabwile’s recent article at The Gospel Coalition from Ron Belgau at First Things:  The Problem with the “Gag Reflex.”

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Behold, the greatest Kitchen appliance of all time:

han fridge

 

 

Evangelicals: For Once, Not Lost in Translation

If you haven’t already read Molly Worthen’s illuminating piece on Evangelical ambivalence to the Arab Spring, you’re missing out. Evangelicals, it turns out, are a lot more like other people than the world tends to expect–and Worthen seeks to explain Evangelical motivations in a way that makes sense to everyone else.

For example, contrary to common stereotypes, (some of them perhaps deserved!) Evangelicals are usually more interested in living in the here and now than in  hastening a coming apocalypse. Worthen rightly points out that, for one thing, Evangelicals’ interest in the Middle East is not always well understood:

Given many evangelicals’ commitment to baptizing the Founding Fathers and praising the cross as a “statue of liberty,” it may seem strange that they have greeted the pro-democracy movements agitating the Middle East and North Africa with distinct ambivalence. But if it’s surprising, that’s only because so many observers of American politics are out of touch with the evangelical worldview, particularly evangelicals’ understanding of themselves as embattled outsiders who have much to lose when democracy doesn’t go their way.

Evangelical interest in world events tends to revolve around concerns about ongoing persecution:

Whenever evangelicals show heightened interest in the Middle East, pundits tend to suspect two motives: evangelicals’ supposedly blind loyalty to Israel, and their view of the region’s population as pawns in God’s great apocalyptic endgame. But grasping for reasons that free elections might delay Armageddon brings us no closer to understanding evangelicals’ true concerns. Their uncertainty over whose side to take in the Arab Spring has little to do with whether Hosni Mubarak should count as one of the heads of the scarlet beast in the Book of Revelation, and a lot to do with the hardships facing their fellow Christians — as well as that malleable ideal and political tool, religious freedom.

Evangelicals spend far more time worrying over the persecution of Christians here and now than they do parsing the Bible’s predictions about the end of the world. And it’s no secret that the Arab Spring revolutions have not done any favors for the roughly 25 million embattled Christians in the region (a precise head count is hard to come by). In the wake of Mubarak’s fall, hard-line Islamists in Egypt rioted against Christians and vandalized churches. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad has hardly been a poster child for religious freedom, but approximately 2.3 million Christians there view him as a protector whose wobbling regime is the only thing standing between them and hordes of Salafists who aren’t so interested in keeping up the appearance of a modern, secular state. And a half-million of those Christians are Iraqi refugees who fled the bloody fight between contending Muslim factions in their homeland and have no desire to relive that experience. “Pray for the believers in Syria …[who] are there trying to bring Jesus into this very dangerous and chaotic place,” one missionarytold Mission Network News, an evangelical missionary news service.

Worthen also takes on some of Evangelicalism’s weaknesses and explains them to the uninitiated in a way that both secular and (most) Christian readers will understand:

…American evangelicals have taken spiritual and ideological empathy with the persecuted to new heights. Despite centuries in the American mainstream — and the fact that there are about 100 million of them today — many conservative evangelicals in the United States think of themselves as a persecuted minority. They are the few faithful who refuse to bow down before Obamicus Maximus (or Sultan Barack the Magnificent, as a disturbing number of crazies believe). The war on Christmas is old news; now half of Americans also believe that Christians are “being persecuted” at the hands of advocates of same-sex marriage. It’s little wonder they are reaching out to Christians thousands of miles away (the ones who are actually being tortured — in places where torture means more than being forced to watch a gay pride parade).

This is not to say that American evangelicals publicize the persecution of Christians abroad and work to advance their rights only to bolster their own self-image. Evangelical concern for persecution overseas is completely genuine — though too often lumped together with more dubious causes. “Religious freedom” has become a kind of shorthand in American political rhetoric, useful for prescribing some domestic policies (prayer meetings in public schools, intelligent design in the curriculum), decrying others (same-sex marriage, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”), and contributing to an ambivalent view of democracy — whether in the United States, or in the Muslim world — if the principle of “one voice, one vote” happens to threaten evangelical priorities. Every time evangelicals indulge in hysterics about the persecution of American evangelicals and “how liberals are waging war against Christians,” they weaken their own case against the tyranny of the majority in the Middle East and insult those congregations huddling behind drawn curtains in Egypt and Libya.

Read the rest of Molly Worthen’s piece here, and tell us what you think.