Letters | American intervention in Ukraine and theology in hip-hop

 

A BRIGHT CANDLE

Paul J. Griffiths’s “A dissent” (September) seems more like an assent—to the end of Ukraine as a sovereign nation of free people. The Ukrainians, he proposes, should have submitted to the Russian invasion of their country and the dissolution of their democracy since “slaughtering people…in the service or defense of democracy, sovereignty, or temporary strategic geopolitical interests, is a game never worth the candle.” He is particularly upset that the United States has supplied the weapons to perpetrate this “slaughter,” reasoning that without them the war “would very likely be over already.” Very likely, indeed—and the Ukrainians would now be living under the boot-heel of a brutal dictator. Instead of sending arms, Griffiths argues, the United States should be sending more humanitarian aid, including a magnanimous invitation to come live in America.

Well, here’s the thing: The “people” being “slaughtered” are in fact Russian soldiers bombing schools, hospitals, churches, apartment buildings, and other civilian targets, while committing thousands of documented war crimes. When Griffiths speaks of slaughter, he might redirect his gaze to Izium and the 440 unmarked graves holding Ukrainian corpses, many showing signs of torture. He might consider that the possibility of “hasten[ing]…the end of the Ukrainian state as an independent entity” is more than a “regrettable outcome.” Much more. He should know that people who love their country enough to die for it have no desire for “resettlement” in America or anywhere else. And I hope he will rethink the notion that a free, independent people fighting to defend their country, their children, their freedom, their dignity, their right to live as they choose—is “never worth the candle.” The courage, strength, resilience, and character of the Ukrainian people is a candle, a bright one, and it would be a sad day indeed to see it go out. 

John Cadley
Fayetteville, N.Y.

 

A WORLD OUT OF JOINT

In an age disfigured by palpable division and groupthink, the urge for moral certainty is understandable. Yet as Paul J. Griffiths bravely suggests, unexamined support for Ukraine’s resistance to Russian domination is itself fraught—in large part because no nation, including the United States, should ever assume its geopolitical history and present motivations make involvement in modern war, however compelling, above reproach.

This is a hard truth, especially as Putin appears the classic villain, unrestrained and dangerously unpredictable, while Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky seems noble and patriotic. But even if these standard Western assessments are accurate, Griffiths challenges us to remember war is inherently costly and its aims and outcomes terribly uncertain.

Perhaps the writer’s essay underscores the nagging Christian quest for meaning: a task made harder when, as Hamlet said, “The world is out of joint!” At such times, dissent is often discouraged. Consider, just before his execution by the Nazis, Fr. Alfred Delp wrote, “One who is completely satisfied with things as they are and has no desire to rise above his limitations is spiritually mediocre and self-centered.” Even when we’re sure our deeds are righteous, we must still pause.

R. Jay Allain
Orleans, Mass.

 

A GOD OF LIFE

Paul J. Griffiths’s article is brutally truthful. What is not emphasized is that we cannot rely upon our government to reform itself. As American Catholics, we should lead and begin the necessary repentance and metanoia. It doesn’t seem possible, but all things are possible for the God of life. We should also help Ukrainians to resist nonviolently. They already have shown the ability to do this with great creativity. Yes, it is dangerous to do this, especially as so many people have been killed on both sides, but it is the course of action most likely to succeed. There is a strong history of effective nonviolent resistance to evil. And of course, Scripture recommends this: “But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Our ways have not worked nor are they likely to. Who are we to pretend God’s way won’t bear astonishing fruit?

John O’Neill
Cedar, Mich.

 

TUSSLING WITH GOD

I read Alejandro Nava’s article on the theology of hip-hop (“Counter-Spells,” May) and was happy that Commonweal published a piece about the expression of spirituality from some of my favorite artists. Underneath the rhymes, I hear Church and the struggle of the sinner. Like Nava, I hear the instinctive chords of liberation theology and the invocation for God to see the failures that are already known and being confessed.

In addition to feeling the spirituality in hip-hop, I note the role of the woman and mother in this music. In Kanye’s “Jesus Walks,” it is his mother’s voice that creates the refrain and reminds him of his folly. Lauryn Hill is the prophetic woman who is speaking directly to the listener, her peers, and convicting them of their idolatry.

I agree with most critics of hip-hop and rap that it is easy to miss the spirit among the explicit lyrics, but Nava is right that once the listener pays close attention, it is obvious “how rappers tussled with God, how they turned seemingly profane verses into sanctified oratory.” Even the blasphemous Jay-Z eventually turns to his grandfather’s god to acknowledge what he couldn’t grasp in his youth in “Legacy” and shows the fruit of true forgiveness in his latest album with Beyoncé, EVERYTHING IS LOVE.

Today I picked up the dog-eared and pencil-marked copy of the article and made a playlist from the cited albums. Thanks for putting these tracks together for me.

Alycia Silman
Winston-Salem, N.C.

Published in the December 2022 issue: 
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