War Journal: Drones, Religion, & Good Faith

Andrew Sullivan points to Paul F.M. Zahl, Episcopal minister, who points to George Bell, WWII-era Anglican Bishop of Chichester. Whew. This is a break from the WDIMTOAUU series, though I think it’s linked to the next discussion of congregational polity.

Specifically, we are asked to consider Bell’s speech before Parliament on the Allied area bombing of German targets, and how this applies to drone aircraft bombing Afghan and Pakistani targets today. The text of the debate on Feb. 9, 1944 is here. Go read it. Zahl offers an overview of the discussion and outcome. In short, Bell lost. But still go read it, since nothing substitutes for actually reading what Zahl and the other Lords said that day.

That said, Zahl wonders where the voices opposing drone bombing are in today’s world. I’ve been struggling to write this post all week–it keeps getting away from me. There are a lot of things to consider–for instance, Bell took his position, and was welcomed to present it (and did so it despite knowing he was going to lose) because he was a well-respected priest. His was the voice of religion in that discussion. Religion lost.

My question for myself is: does my religion, Unitarian-Universalism, offer me any guidance in developing a position on the drone bombers question? (It does, but not directly–there isn’t a UU position for me, as a UU, to ascribe to because it is the UU/UUA position.) Here’s the struggle: my gut says drone bombing is bad, but if I find a support for that from a UU religious perspective have I simply found a post-hoc justification for my biases, or have I discovered consonance among my religious facet and other facets of my, ummmm… me-ness?

The 7s and 6s give me the religious framework to use. The UUA offers a helpful small group guide. But there is no singular answer, alas. The answer in this instance is the same as the answer to the Bishop’s questions, as it is to the question of dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 

But the 7s and 6s aren’t enough. That’s why those other resources are important. The 7s and 6s are about how the member congregations of the UUA have agreed among themselves to behave. They don’t directly bind me, except as I am a member of a congregation. If I make a good faith searching, really do the hard work of reading up on the mechanisms of, say, just war doctrine, and really engage with the valid counter arguments such as, “this method prevents other suffering of third parties,” and come to a conclusion, then it’s not a mere justification of my gut. I haven’t done that work, and I’m going with my gut. Here’s why–in this world, all I can really do it talk about this with people I know (like you), and send a letter (or some equivalent) message to my elected reps in the House, Senate, and White House.
I don’t like it, but I cannot give passionate attention to everything thing I do not like–and I cannot give passionate attention to everything I do like. Even Jesus had to retreat from the crowds sometimes. And though I haven’t done the work to figure out what my religious beliefs on the drones are yet*, the way to do that in this religion is in community. In the congregation.

*That said, I do know my political beliefs. The answer is: it depends. It depends on where one draws the line about the objectives. If you accept that sometimes actions are OK and sometimes they’re not, then if they’re OK in any given instance depends. Depends sucks.

It depends on if you draw the line at the direct targets of the bombing. Or if you draw it at their families who aren’t at the target sites, or at their communities, or larger families, or their larger political units. Or if you draw it at those who are the targets of those we target–the enemies of our enemies. This is at the heart of recent discussion of the US/NATO-led incursion in to Libya.

Specifically, I draw the lines pretty narrowly, and think that the tactical gains of drones are far out weighed by the likely long-term damage to our interests through the perception on the ground that we’re a bunch of  bullying chuckleheads. Our interests? Stable, peaceful, self-governing countries whose policies lean no further away from the USA’s than, “we don’t want to harm the citizens of the US.”

(Note on old UU posts.)

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