IMES welcomes guest contributor Matthew Lumpkin.
This painting is about the deep unrest I feel about my government’s increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s or drones) to assassinate people we assert are a threat to us and our interests. We assert that we have intelligence linking them to the Taliban or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet my government takes these actions in secret and doesn’t publicly acknowledge that they are taking them.
There appears to be no check on our government’s executive power to kill anyone, anywhere in the world who we deem a threat.
I completed this piece in response to a series of lectures hosted by the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts at Fuller Seminary, Calif. The day after I completed it, Israel launched an offensive near Gaza. Not only did they make use of UAV missile strikes for targeted assassinations openly, but they used twitter to post links to video from the drone strikes and Photoshopped images of people they had killed listing the alleged crimes for which they have been judged and executed – their faces rendered in on a blood-red background.
During the Brehm lectures, Shane Hipps, Barry Taylor and Ryan Bolger discussed 20th century sociologist, Marshall Mcluhan’s assertion that all technology is an extension of one or more human senses. I see the drones as an extension of not just our senses but our agency to kill, much as the sword extends the killing reach of the hand. The fact of our being able to carry out these targeted killings is being mistaken for a value or moral imperative to do them. The minimized “collateral damage,” to nearby women, children and other unintended targets is used as a supporting argument.
As a follower of Jesus, and a human being, I object to people killing people. When Jesus’ own friends resorted to defensive violence on his behalf he stopped Peter’s swordplay and healed the damage done. Jesus was on the receiving end of individual, political and religious violence mediated through the technology of the cross. On the cross Jesus showed us powerfully and eternally how cycles of violence can only end by refusal to participate.
As an American, I especially object to my government killing people. I object even more when they do it without any check on that power and without transparent oversight. Secret courts don’t count as a check precisely because they are secret.
I singled out Israel above, but my painting is a critique of all those who would turn their human brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons into “collateral damage,” “monsters” or any other mask that makes them easier to kill –to erase. To say that Israel has had to adopt the tactics of terrorists (assassination etc.) to fight terrorists or that America has had to do the same is to admit that we are becoming what we most fear and deride.
No matter how far we distance ourselves through drones, rockets or bullets, the use of violence transforms and deforms both the giver and the receiver. We have extended not only our senses, but our own violent selves out into the world, to our great moral, ethical, economic and human peril.
Matt Lumpkin is an MDiv graduate from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California where he now works at the intersection of theological education and technology. He is also the founder of read-together.com , an experiment in social reading designed to bring people in very different parts of the world into conversation around the bible to see how the people you read with change what you read. More at mattlumpkin.com