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The War Versus Iraq,
and Spiritual Direction

Presented December 1, 2002, by Rev. Dr. Rob Manning.

This talk involves an extremely important issue — the possibility of an upcoming war with Iraq. Yet this will not be a long talk. I have no intention of trying to outline in 20 minutes all the complexities of the United States’ involvement with Iraq and with the Persian Gulf region and give you my opinion about whether we should support or resist what types of actions our nation might undertake against Iraq. There’s not time for that in one talk, and at this point in the semester I am always very tired of talking and giving my opinion on anything. And since my brother Kerry is a political scientist, I cannot even claim to be the most knowledgeable one about American foreign policy in my own family, and I have too much respect for you all to pretend that I am the most knowledgeable one in our community. I don’t presume to want to head you in the direction of my opinion on the subject; but I do want to remind you that we—we Americans right now after the Congressional vote authorizing military actions against Iraq and we are spiritual people trying to live with wisdom and spiritual discernment—we are already headed in a direction, and we need to think about that.

With this Sunday the Christian world is now in the advent season, headed toward Christmas. This is one of the great times of the Christian calendar, a month of contemplation and spiritual preparation. If the birth of Christ is the coming into the world of light, hope, and peace, what are these things in our world today? How do we make room for them within ourselves, among us as people, and among the nations of the world? This is the time, the opportunity, for all of Christendom to contemplate and spiritually prepare for the coming of light, and hope, and peace. It happens every year, you know. Advent is on the calendar every year. But advent as a season tends to be something like the Chicago Cubs World Series: it’s always scheduled but it never really comes. Christmas always comes. The entire economy would be ruined if some grinch somehow managed to make Christmas not come. Christmas always comes, but Advent never comes.

Advent? What’s that? Ask most Americans today what season comes between Thanskgiving and Christmas and they would look at you with consternation: “Don’t you know that that is the Christmas shopping season?” Advent…4 weeks of contemplation and spiritual preparation is, well, medieval. Christmas is American. Advent is for monks in monasteries who have time to contemplate and chant songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Americans today don’t have time for that. This is the busiest time of the year! Advent as a season tends to disappear in contemporary commercialized America and get displaced by the Christmas shopping season. Now I know that our congregation and Unitarians generally are less materialistic and more spiritual than are most Americans, even than most Christian Americans. But I would ask you to ask yourself: During this time of year, from now up to Christmas Day, do things slow down or speed up? Do you have more time for contemplation and spirituality or less?

I’ll tell you something quite honestly: I think every year we Americans—Unitarians and everybody else in our culture—we need Advent more than we need Christmas. But this year—the year of all years, this year more than all years—we need advent, we need time to reflect on light, and hope and peace, and we need to spiritually prepare ourselves for what we wish to come in the future, and for what might come. We need to get ready, we need to prepare—and that’s what Advent is all about.

The reason why Advent is so important this year is obvious, though not as obvious as the Christmas music, the sales, the decorations, the concerts, the parties, all the paraphanalia of Christmas that may crowd out contemplation and preparation. The obvious reason why Advent is so important this year is because clearly the stage is set for another War against Iraq. This is definitely our national direction. The Bush administration has already received Congressional authority to attack whenever he desires. And yes, the administration eventually went to the UN Security Council and it passed the motion requiring Iraq to submit to unconditional weapons inspections, and now that is going on. And it will be going on for several weeks. While we are preparing for Christmas by doing the shopping and hanging the decorations and going to the parties and being very, very busy, all the while the weapons inspections will be happening. And if those weapons inspections for any number of reasons prove unsatisfactory to The United States, well, the Security Council has requested that the US bring back to the UN its reasons for its dissatisfaction. The UN Security Council has requested that the US in that event allow the UN to discuss and take care of the problem in the way it sees fit. But the Bush administration has made it clear that it will lead the UN in this matter and not be led by the UN. If the UN doesn’t handle the situation with Iraq in the way the US thinks appropriate, then in the words of George Bush the UN will “have proved itself irrelevant to the problems of our time.” The Bush administration has given no indication that it will when it comes to Iraq do whatever the Security Council decides. It has made clear to the world that it will do whatever it deems in the interest of our own national security no matter what the UN says.

So there is a very real possibility that not long after the Christmas shopping season and the holidays and the New Year’s and the bowl games and all the parties are over that we as a nation may be at war with Iraq. This has the possibility of this potentially cataclysmic event happening not long after our New Year’s Day hangovers have cleared in our collective and confused American heads. We might actually be fighting a war before we get around to asking the most important questions about whether we want a war in the first place. We might find ourselves not long after the holidays hearing our countrymen and women say over and over again to each other and within themselves: “Well, I’m not really sure if this is the right thing, or if Sadam Hussein is that bad, or if he really has a nuclear weapon, or wants to attack us, or I’m not sure if this is not really more about all the oil we could get if we get rid of Sadam Hussein and take control over there, and I’m not really sure if that is the real reason if that would be a good thing or a bad thing for us to do, but since our boys are already in the field in harm’s way and the war’s already started, we have got to stick together and support our troops. To raise questions and doubts now would be unpatriotic and do a lot of harm.”

The President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Bill Sinkford, has called upon Unitarians and UU congregations not so much to take a stand either for or against the war but to ask the tough questions. Because the stage is set for the war, and because of the Christmas season, I’m afraid that by the time our fellow citizens get around to asking the tough questions, the war will have already started and they won’t be asking the tough questions.

This is why I am saying that this year we need Advent more than we usually do. We need Advent far more than we do Christmas. Advent—a time for contemplation and spiritual preparation, for thinking about light, and hope and peace and about all that increases or threatens them. If the US through its overwhelming military might brought about regime change in Iraq through war, would that increase hope and peace by finally getting rid of one of the great tyrants and murderers on the earth? Would the increase of that hope and peace for the people of Iraq be worth the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in the war? Or would this war really be an exercise in domination, an attempt by the world’s most potent power to make its power more potent and supreme, an act of domination which would simply in the long run sow hatred and resentment in others toward us and make all us—us Americans—less secure and the world considerably less stable and peaceful even than it is now? Would this unprovoked war—forward deterrence as the Bush administration says—be the final proof that America is now really an incredibly powerful empire and must—like all empires before it—brutally squash all smaller rivals to make itself secure?

These are questions not quickly answered and are ones which must occupy us during this season when we are so preoccupied. As the leader of our community, I’m suggesting that we during this holiday season all try to trim down the hubbub and the preoccupations of the season and that we give ourselves an Advent rather than a Christmas shopping season. We need time to contemplate, to educate ourselves, to discuss. And beyond the individual stances we take, we also need to be thinking about what we want our Unitarian Church to do during this time. What can we do to encourage our fellow citizens to ask the tough questions and to continue asking them? George Bush said after the Congressional vote giving him authorization to make war with Iraq that all of America is speaking with one voice. An opinion poll showed that 60% of Americans supported an invasion of Iraq, and that total fell to only 37% if the invasion was not at the behest of the UN and we were doing it without allies. Our fellow citizens are worried and they are asking questions, but if the administration does not get satisfaction from Iraq in regard to the weapons inspections and decides on war, our fellow citizens will be discouraged from asking questions, and there will likely be a great groundswell of patriotism like there was after September 11 and all questioning will go underground. And what should we, we Unitarians here in somewhat less than progressive Quincy, what should we do then? How can we help our community ask and continue asking the tough questions? This is what we should be reflecting upon during this Advent season.

As you know, last weekend I went to Springfield to attend a workshop on peace and war with Iraq. I became aware of a community of Dominican sisters in Springfield who are connected to a large community of Dominican sisters in Iraq. Several of the American sisters frequently go to Iraq. One thing we can do is sponsor an event where these American nuns tell heavily Catholic Quincy about their experiences there, and help all of us put a human face on the problems there.

©2002 Rev. Dr. Rob Manning.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Manning, Robert J. S. 2002. Advent, The War Versus Iraq, and Spiritual Direction, /talks/20021201.shtml (accessed July 16, 2020).

The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
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