There are Wars and There are WARS

by: FireTag

September 16, 2012

Unable to sleep a few nights ago, I sought mind-deadening through cable TV. I chanced upon a movie I thought would do the job — a murder mystery set in a mountain abbey in 14th Century Italy. I didn’t get what I expected.

Instead, the movie, The Name of the Rose, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater among the most recognizable actors, made real the horrors of the Inquisition. It made real the personal depravity embraced by the inquisitors, required of those who benefited from it, and inflicted upon those who merely sought to survive it. It was like watching a prequel to Schindler’s List, a totalitarian holocaust in slow motion lacking only the brutal efficiency of a modern state in mobilizing it.

Indeed, the totalitarian impulse that bedeviled the abbey — and there is no other appropriate term — saw itself threatened by seemingly the weakest and least obvious of emotions, the mockery of laughter that drove out the pretense that the totalitarians were superior. To maintain control, the totalitarians would have to suppress joy and replace it with fear and misery, for lesser people could not be trusted to obey without fear. I’ll avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen the movie, but the events of the abbey demonstrated that the totalitarians were just as unable to obey their own rules as those “lesser” people on whom they imposed the rules. Indeed, in looking for graphics on the Inquisition to illustrate this post, I rapidly came to wonder if contemporary drawings publicizing the inquisition tortures were actually socially acceptable forms of hardcore pornography for the educated religious classes.

I have a Facebook friend (who many of you know from her blog as Faithful Dissident) who has become very active over the past year or two in supporting refugees from the Afghanistan conflict within her country. At times, she has posted pictures of women in Kabul taken in the mid-20th Century to show that Afghanistan is not inherently the benighted, uncivilized place it so often seems to Westerners. Once alerted to that fact, it was easy to find such evidence on the web, such as the picture on the right.

Unfortunately, it was also very easy to find evidence that the same totalitarian, pathological culture seen in the Christian Inquisition, Hitler’s Germany, or in today’s North Korea is never far below the surface of human civilization, and the rights of the people of Afghanistan have gone backward, not forward over the last generation. Under the Taliban, women are not educated for jobs, but they can be shot down in the street or disfigured.

As I noted in a post in mid-summer, the competing moral worldviews of progressives and conservatives seem to serve an evolutionary role in preserving us against divergent threats. Progressives protect conservatives against their moral blindness to inflicting “friendly fire” on their own tribe; conservatives protect progressives against their moral blindness to the threat possibilities of new experiences.

But evolution has not extinguished individuals whose worldview stands outside either end of the progressive-conservative moral spectrum of their “tribes”, and who regard others as prey anytime doing so is useful to their own ends. And, of course, the various cultural tribes of mankind have been slowly diverging as long as geography has isolated them from each other, so their spectra are no longer congruent in the first place.

It is the intensity of that separation, magnified by personal or cultural trauma, and the “dominion at all costs” resort to violence it carries, rather than the sheer numbers of such extremists. And as events are playing out in the news this week (ignoring little things like territorial disputes over islands off the Asian coast that are rekindling hostilities predating WW2 between Japan, China, and their smaller neighbors), one of the most intractable moral conflicts emerging seems to be the conflicting worldviews between fundamentalist Islamists, on the one hand, and other Muslims and non-Muslims on the other hand.

Walter Russell Mead noted two days ago that the notion of a possible clash of civilizations (after Huntington?) was looking stronger:

“The biggest bomb in the region right now, and let us hope and pray that it doesn’t go off, involves the relations between Coptic Christians and Islamic radicals (and the mobs they can command) in Egypt. The news is only slowly getting to Egypt that the film — one of the stupidest pieces of hack work I myself have seen — was made by a Coptic Christian in the US. When and if the film is actually viewed in its 14 minutes of amateurism and low production values, its intention to vent the rage and frustration some Copts feel about their treatment in Egypt will be clear. It is an angry, embittered and perhaps not very spiritual Copt’s view of the way Islam treats his community — and a cry of anger and frustration…

“The Islamic value — and it a worthy one on its own terms and would certainly have been understandable to our western predecessors who punished blasphemy very severely — of prohibiting insults to the Prophet of Islam clashes directly with the modern western value of free expression. To the western eye (and it’s a perspective I share), a murderous riot in the name of a religion is a worse sin and deeper, uglier form of blasphemy than any film could ever hope to be. To kill someone created in the image of God because you don’t like the way God or one of his servants has been depicted in an artistic performance strikes westerners as an obscene perversion of religion — something that only a hate-filled fanatic or an ignorant fool could do. “

So, if not paying for a rich woman’s contraception constitutes a war on women, this is a mild picture of what a WAR on women looks like.

If the opportunity for LGBT individuals to marry the person they love is the civil rights issue of our time, then the right of LGBT individuals to avoid imprisonment or execution because of whom they love is the civil rights ISSUE of our time.

If requiring voter identification is an example of bigotry, then ethnic cleansing of regions in Syria is an example of BIGOTRY.

When it comes to politics, there is perspective, and then there is PERSPECTIVE. There are rights, and then there are RIGHTS.

Let us not lose ours.

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18 Responses to There are Wars and There are WARS

  1. Will on September 16, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    “If requiring voter identification is an example of bigotry, then ethnic cleansing of regions in Syria is an example of BIGOTRY.”

    If you require ID, how can Democrats cheat? I mean they can no longer stuff the ballot box with names of dead people (kinda like us baptizing for the dead), use celebrity names, or just make up names. You Bigot?

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  2. FireTag on September 16, 2012 at 10:51 AM


    I don’t know if you understood the point I was making about the difference in scale of the problems we are debating in the current political environment and the scale of the problems that are looming over the world, or if you were being sarcastic because you DID get the point. Smiley or no smiley?

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  3. Will on September 16, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    I got your point :)

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  4. el oso on September 16, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    There are rights and then there are RIGHTS. The basic constitutional rights and others recognized by our founders are also connected to TRUTH. We are children of God who endows us individually with inalienable rights. Good government uses its power to recognize TRUTH and protect these rights that are connected to it. Etc. Etc.
    The historical truth is that a society that aims to liberate and empower as many individuals in it will always be a POWERFUL society where LIBERTY prevails.
    A society that enslaves or degrades individuals and consolidates power in few will be less powerful.
    A 14 minute, poorly made film should not have a big impact among people, especially when not one person in their city had seen it. Maybe I need to be making bombs to take out the local Christian TV station because of their heretical Calvinist and occasional anti-Mormon views.

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  5. FireTag on September 16, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    El oso:

    The film isn’t even a film, as I understand it. The original film was about the situation in Egypt 2000 years ago — centuries before Islam appeared. The 14 minutes were produced by simply dubbing over existing dialogue having nothing to do with Islam to make it appear offensive. It is the same kind of thing as the hilarious lip-sync videos that were appearing about US candidates during the primaries. If it hadn’t existed, anyone looking to cause trouble from within or without Islam could have made it up.

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  6. FireTag on September 21, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    In light of the continuing violence throughout this week, I thought I should add a link to an article by Michael Totten, “The Terrorist Veto”, to indicate how widespread the assaults on freedom of speech already are. Sometimes we see acts in the moment and miss the larger pattern.

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  7. Julia on September 21, 2012 at 7:32 PM


    I put a comment in, but 10 minutes later, I haven’t seen it. Can you check the filter? (It was kind of long. I have most of the quotes I used in notepad and can retune it in two posts if it is too long.) Can you email me if it needs to be rewritten or isn’t in the filter?

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  8. FireTag on September 21, 2012 at 10:37 PM


    I’m sorry, but it isn’t in spam or trash, and neither file has been dumped in the last 24 hours. Sometimes what causes problems is including more than 2 links, and the system will automatically add a link to any LDS scripture citation. The system seldom has problems with length alone.

    I really do want to read your comments.

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  9. Julia on September 21, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    I am heading to bed, but will repost tomorrow. If the scriptures make links then I was probably at over ten with links to comments from other threads and blogs. I don’t need those links. How do you put scriptures in without making it link?

    If it doesn’t go up next time, is there a way to just email it to me?

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  10. FireTag on September 22, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    The link triggers on the chapter/verse citation. You can try giving the scripture itself, without citing where it comes from; I doubt we’ll think you are making it up. :D

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  11. Julia on September 23, 2012 at 3:58 AM

    Okay, I am going to try to do this is relatively small bites. (You will see why I get accused of being short winded, but long fingered. When I debated I prepared boxes of evidence and written argument explanations so that I could pull out just what I wanted, already phrased well, so that I didn’t have to fluster during the round. I certainly am never going to be called shy, but I hate not including all of my thoughts when I write.)

    Comment 1: There is no I or We in team, but there should be

    Let me start with just this one thought, which I will keep coming back to in this comment. Humans like breaking things into no more than three categories. We of course breaks those categories down further, but when we start looking at the world, we see three basic divisions:

    •Self (I or me)
    •Mine (Team, family country; a group that includes me and those I choose to see as like me)
    •Others (Those who are not like me, and who I do not identify with)

    This may seem a little simplistic, but can be very useful when you look at how people navigate within societies, at various micro and macro levels. In any situations, humans have a need to categorize the people around them, access the threat (or lack of threat) and decide how best to stay safe, in that given circumstance. Most of a person’s decision about whether they are safe, what is appropriate, how things should be prioritized, and whether they are on guard, or relaxed, comes from how a situation and people fall into these three categories.

    Let’s start with an easy example from the Book of Mormon. Most primary children could tell you that the Nephites were good, the Lamanites were bad. That is a simple understanding of a two choice system. One choice is good, one choice is bad, and the blame gets put on one of those choices. How that blame gets assigned is what is important. Who a person identifies with in a story or situation greatly impacts how a person assigns the blame, but also HOW THEY CHOOSE who is in which groups.

    So, looking at the Book of Mormon:

    The Nephites are Good; but who are the Nephites?

    (For this comment, we are going to use the pre-King Benjamin Nephites and Lamanites. We will get to later divisions between and within the groups, but since this is trying to put the thought process in the simplest terms, I want to start out with a basic vocabulary of ideas, so that the dynamics in later stories, and in our current society will be less muddled. I believe that to discuss nuanced and complex principles, you have to start with the basics.)

    The simplest definition is given in the beginning of the book. Jacob tells us,

    “But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.”

    In defining Nephites, not by who they are, but rather by who they are not, Jacob tells us a lot about himself and about the society in which he lives. Nephites, in Jacobs world, are a completely distinct group of people, with no overlap or kinship to the Lamanites. The Nephites are friendly to Nephi, essentially in agreement with him, or at least how Jacob’s society defines the beliefs of Nephi. They have taken upon them the name of Nephi, his teachings and his method of government (kings who reign over the Nephites) as their identity. Essentially, to be a Nephite you have to follow the government and religious beliefs of Nephi, and you have to not be someone who seeks to destroy the people of Nephi.

    In many ways, church members today use similar language in describing what it means to be a Latter Day Saint. The Bible Dictionary gives this definition:

    Saint. The word saint is a translation of a Greek word also rendered “holy,” the fundamental idea being that of consecration or separation for a sacred purpose; but since what was set apart for God must be without blemish, the word came to mean “free from blemish,” whether physical or moral. In the N.T. the saints are all those who by baptism have entered into the Christian covenant.

    A Latter Day Saint then generally becomes someone who has been baptised into the church of Christ, known today as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and who has set themselves apart from the wickedness of the world and seeks to become free from blemish or sin.

    Like Jacob’s definition of Nephites, this definition tells who we align ourselves with – Christ as His teachings as have been revealed to be in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. What we do to show that alignment – baptism and striving to become without blemish. And it tells us who is not part of our group of Saints – anyone who is wicked, worldly and who has not chosen the same covenants as we have.

    While not explicitly stated, I believe it is still true that most Latter Day Saints would add that the “world” is constantly attacking the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that anyone who is hostile towards us, or is seeking to destroy us, is not one of us. This may seem self evident, and unimportant, but it is the logical step that we take when we define who we are. We have some characteristics that belong to our group, but oftentimes there are even more characteristics that actively define who IS NOT in our group.

    While in this context, it seems that the inclusive characteristics would be the primary way that we identify who qualifies as a Saint; baptism, acceptance of the Gospel as taught in our canonized scripture, not actively seeking to harm others of our group, and trying to live a life without blemish. I will get to the problems with many of those definitions later, but for this small point, I want to assume that those things are as easy to pick out as eye color.

    So, if we assume Jacob could distinguish a Nephite with little difficulty, and I could just as easily choose out a Latter Day Saint, what would those groups be? Jacob’s society is set up so that Nephites and Lamanites don’t live together. There are physical distances that must be crossed to move from Nephites to Lamanites. He knows the Self, the Mine and other easily. Part of that ease comes in physical separation, and part comes because in Jacob’s time, there is no intersection between between Lamanite and Nephite populations. He knows who he is. He lives among the Nephites. The Lamanites live in a physically different place. Because of those physical differences, if someone is actively seeking to destroy his MINE, there is a physical place to send them, so that they can become his OTHER.

    That physical separation, makes the stories of the Book of Mormon clear and concise. It allows the people in those times to make unambiguous choices, and it allows for the consequences of those choices to be clear. Since the two groups are separated from each other, the consequences of the choices that one group makes only impact those who make them. So, if the Lamanites are wicked, and something bad happens because of it, it is easy to define it as the evil fruits of their labors. Similarly, if the Nephites make good choices, the consequences/blessings from those good choices are also very clear.

    The Pride Cycle, as taught in the Book of Mormon, is able to be clearly seen because the separation between the two groups means that it is easy to show that the “prideful” things that the Nephites did, allowed the Lamanites to be more successful in seeking to destroy them. When the Nephites are humble and following the religious teachings of Nephi and the successive kings and prophets, the Lamanites are not able to destroy the Nephites. The Lamanites, are always prideful and unwilling/unable to act in accordance with the teachings of Nephi (both because they were not taught the teachings, and because they were taught incorrect teachings by their parents) and so the only time that they are successful in gaining the possessions or lives of the Nephites, is when they are wicked.

    So, lets take Jacob, and me, and in the simplest sense, lets figure out the Self, Mine and Others for the Book of Mormon and now.

    Self: Jacob

    Mine: Nephites – Those who live in the same land, who have the same religious beliefs, who have the same governmental structure, and who do not try to destroy my religion and governmental structure, or take away land from those who live in me.

    Others: Lamanites – Those who live in lands that are disconnected from mine, who have another religion or no religion, who do not share the same government or the same kind of government, and who try to destroy the land and lives of those who are Mine.

    Self: Julia

    Mine: Latter Day Saints – Those who believe in the Gospel of Christ as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as constituted in the Standard Works, and who have chosen to be baptized and who do not try to destroy my religion and governmental structure, or take my religious or political freedoms.

    Others: The World – Those who have another religion or no religion, whose religions does not use the Standard Works, who do not believe in baptism, and are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Those who politically or religiously are disconnected from mine, who do not share the same political or religious beliefs or goals, and who try to destroy the land, beliefs, rights, and lives, of those who are Mine.

    So, what have I missed, or did I get wrong? Does this feel like a good starting place to find a consensus in meaning and definition before going into the more complex stuff?

    (I might also ask Fire Tag, does this feel like the right time/place/forum/format for this discussion? The more thought I put into it, and the more I am trying to write clearly, the longer this is becoming. Especially in light of the comment thread on the Obama vs. Romney, it seems that clear definitions and small bites that build on each other is the only way for me to adequately respond. Just because I am thinking that was does not mean that it will fit with what you want to think and talk about here.

    I currently have outlines (some more fleshed out than others) for six “comments” to get to the point where I feel like I am really addressing the real world impact of LDS religious thinking on how I think about the world in this moment where religion and politics are leading to your statement that, “When it comes to politics, there is perspective, and then there is PERSPECTIVE. There are rights, and then there are RIGHTS.”)

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  12. Jon on September 23, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    Before vilifying the Muslims too much I think we need some historical perspective. I aggressive behavior in that region for over the past 50 years has led to many of the ills today. The US has a tendency to want to put in pro-US regimes. In the middle east this has been going on for a long time. The riots going on there for the video are not merely for the video itself but for Western domination in the region.

    The US has overthrown democracies, dictatorships, etc, in the name of pro-US regimes. The CIA has helped foster many of the decent and then blames it on the governments of the that region. In other words, it is known that the CIA has created terrorists to cause a destabilization in the Middle East in multiple countries. It is no wonder that these people are upset. The video is merely the straw that breaks the camels back, it isn’t necessarily the video itself that has caused these troubles.

    Even Afghanistan was corrupted into a fundamentalist country by the invasion of Russia, which, some believe, Russia was goaded into attacking them because the US (CIA) fomented a necessary response from Russia.

    Here is the Cato Daily Podcast that talks about some of the history behind the current melt down in the middle eastern countries.

    A Nonapology Apology from Obama, Clinton

    I think the best position the US could take right is to dismantle the CIA and not replace it with anything, and also dismantle any organization that exists that is similar to the CIA.

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  13. Julia on September 23, 2012 at 12:17 PM


    Do you see the dissonance in foreign policy of who we chose to support coming because the regimes we toppled and the groups we supported use violence, were non-Democratic, were not justified, or something else? If the US, as a country needs to have policies consistent with its morals, which kind of consistency is most important?

    I am not disagreeing with you, but I am asking you to use the Self, Mine, Others model of the US, the country you are talking about, and what you think the model *should* be. :-)

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  14. Jon on September 24, 2012 at 8:27 AM


    I’m not really sure. Never been that good at English, more a math person. :)

    I’m fine with just going by D&C 98 as a guide. If we just lived that I think we would have pretty peaceful world. I’m no historian, so I’m sure these countries might have done bad things, but just because someone is misbehaving doesn’t give us a right to go around the world and tell them what they can or cannot do. We should be more concerned with our own comportment rather than others.

    I think a big problem is is seeing the mote in others eyes while ignoring the beam in our own eyes.

    Let me try doing your mine/others thing again:

    Mine: Those in close geographical approximation.

    Others: Those far from my geographic location.

    Me. Right here.

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  15. FireTag on September 24, 2012 at 3:58 PM


    I am so sorry to take so long to get back to this. We had a power failure here (for no good reason since weather was perfect) yesterday afternoon that disrupted my schedule.

    So let me thank you for your persistence.

    I see what you are saying as “I, mine, other” as sort of a way of stating “us vs. them” on two levels simultaneously. There are boundaries between me and everyone else, there are boundaries between my family and everyone else, there are boundaries between my tribe (church, company, community) and everyone else, there are boundaries between my nation and everyone else, and I suppose there are boundaries between The Federation and the Klingons, if any. So I think I get what you are saying in comment 1.

    I certainly think you are adding to the discussion, and you are not off topic at all, so please feel free to add more.

    I would like to respond initially by pointing out that I am NOT a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was born in the RLDS/CofChrist tradition, so I share much of your canon, some of your covenants, and root for you rather than against you. But our religious “family” relationship is cousins rather than brother-sister. I’ll be very interested in seeing how important the “not wanting to destroy the Nephites” part of the definition turns out to be in your thoughts.

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  16. FireTag on September 24, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    Jon: Re #12

    You seem to be implying that only Americans are responsible for what happens in the world (and, apparently, only a small fraction of Americans aware of all the machinations of their CIA-masters — even the KGB being duped). Isn’t that a bit narcissistic? We act; all others are acted upon?

    Re: #14

    Afghanistan was very far away — so far away that most Americans couldn’t have cared less about that either the Russians or the Taliban did to the people there (see the pictures in the OP). Then, minding our own business a bit too much after winning the not-at-all-cold Cold War and enjoying the peace dividend for domestic spending and dot com bubbles, the Islamists decided to get our attention by driving airliners through the side of my former office. That DID strike me as a bit too personal of them. :D

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  17. Jon on September 24, 2012 at 4:43 PM


    I don’t believe that American’s are the only to blame (as stated in a previous comment I’m no historian, so I’m sure these countries might have done bad things, but just because someone is misbehaving doesn’t give us a right to go around the world and tell them what they can or cannot do., but considering our track record, we should first get rid of our beam before having the audacity to think we can help others. The CIA has a known history of overthrowing governments. This isn’t conspiracy theory (well, it is conspiracy by the strict definition of the word), this is known information. But to say that when someone hurts us we must always retaliate is contrary even to your religion. But even from a logical perspective we can conclude that it is not always good to retaliate.

    FireTag, You are missing the history aspect though. I 100% agree that what was done on 9/11 is completely wrong but that doesn’t in any way excuse our actions. We need to look at the conflicts from a historical perspective. If we read the reasons for the attack that Bin Laden put out there, if I remember correctly, I don’t remember any rationale for attacking us to do with our freedoms, the rationale was for our meddling in the middle east.

    I agree that we should help people that have brutal dictatorships. But I think that thing that would help them most is free trade (i.e., love). There is nothing that will make a dictatorship fall faster than a people that is becoming wealthier through trade and them seeing how a free people act.

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  18. FireTag on September 25, 2012 at 10:14 PM


    It is not that I think we should ignore history. I think you are looking at too narrow a slice of it to be seeing much perspective.

    I really came to my conclusions about the inadequacies of non-violence when I had to think about being drafted in the Viet Nam era. (I got lucky in the draft lottery, and my diabetes would almost certainly have guaranteed me some sort of alternative service, if it didn’t get me classified as unfit for duty, period, but it was a constant topic of discussion for my age group.)

    The Cold War was NOT cold. Millions died when we fought back, and millions died when we didn’t. If we reacted in places like Iran in the early 50’s (and that was more the Brits interests than ours) or SE Asia (again, French interests more than ours) it was because our parents’ generation had been too slow to react to a gathering genocide by both left and right in the 30’s.

    I can find support in the NT, BofM, and D&C for all of the major schools of thought in Christianity regarding violence (in particular because they ALL correctly “postdict” how Jesus should have behaved with no possibility of defeating Rome through non-violence). However, I personally believe Christian Realism provides the best description of how we should behave toward state or other organized aggression. Your mileage may vary.

    However, I do NOT accept that moral superiority is a requirement for self-defense or for the defense of others.

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