Chris Hedges: Sermon for Gaza

This is a sermon the author gave Sunday, April 28 at a service held at the encampment for Gaza at Princeton University. The service was organized by students from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Staying Power by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges
in Princeton, N.J.
Scheer Post 

In the conflicts I covered as a reporter in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, I encountered singular individuals of varying creeds, religions, races and nationalities who majestically rose up to defy the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed. Some of them are dead. Some of them are forgotten. Most of them are unknown.

These individuals, despite their vast cultural differences, had common traits — a profound commitment to the truth, incorruptibility, courage, a distrust of power, a hatred of violence and a deep empathy that was extended to people who were different from them, even to people defined by the dominant culture as the enemy.

They are the most remarkable men and women I met in my 20 years as a foreign correspondent. I set my life by the standards they set.

You have heard of some, such as Vaclav Havel, whom I and other foreign reporters met most evenings, during the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, in the Magic Lantern Theatre in Prague.

Others, no less great, you probably do not know, such as the Jesuit priest Iganacio Ellacuria, who was gunned down by the death squads in El Salvador in 1989.

And then there are those “ordinary” people, although, as the writer V.S. Pritchett said, no people are ordinary, who risked their lives in wartime to shelter and protect those of an opposing religion or ethnicity being persecuted and hunted. And to some of these “ordinary” people I owe my own life.

To resist radical evil, as you are doing, is to endure a life that by the standards of the wider society is a failure. It is to defy injustice at the cost of your career, your reputation, your financial solvency and at times your life. It is to be a lifelong heretic.

And, perhaps this is the most important point, it is to accept that the dominant culture, even the liberal elites, will push you to the margins and attempt to discredit not only what you do, but your character.

When I returned to the newsroom at The New York Times after being booed off a commencement stage in 2003 for denouncing the invasion of Iraq and being publicly reprimanded by the paper for my stance against the war, reporters and editors I had known and worked with for 15 years lowered their heads or turned away when I was nearby.

They did not want to be contaminated by the same career-killing contagion.

Ruling institutions — the state, the press, the church, the courts, universities  — mouth the language of morality, but they serve the structures of power, no matter how venal, which provide them with money, status and authority.

All of these institutions, including the academy, are complicit through their silence or their active collaboration with radical evil. This was true during the genocide we committed against native Americans, slavery, the witch hunts during the McCarthy era, the civil rights and anti-war movements and the fight against the apartheid regime of South Africa.

The most courageous are purged and turned into pariahs.

All institutions, including the church, the theologian Paul Tillich once wrote, are inherently demonic. And a life dedicated to resistance has to accept that a relationship with any institution is often temporary, because sooner or later that institution is going to demand acts of silence or obedience your conscience will not allow you to make.

The theologian James Cone in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree writes that for oppressed blacks the cross was a “paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.”

Cone continues:

“That God could ‘make a way out of no way’ in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross. Christ crucified manifested God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the ‘troubles of this world,’ no matter how great and painful their suffering. Believing this paradox, this absurd claim of faith, was only possible in humility and repentance. There was no place for the proud and the mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”

Sublime Madness

Reinhold Niebuhr labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression “a sublime madness in the soul.” Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ”

This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

The prophets in the Hebrew Bible had this sublime madness. The words of the Hebrew prophets, as Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote, were “a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.” The prophet, because he or she saw and faced an unpleasant reality, was, as Heschel wrote, “compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what their heart expected.”

This sublime madness is the essential quality for a life of resistance. It is the acceptance that when you stand with the oppressed you will be treated like the oppressed. It is the acceptance that, although empirically all that we struggled to achieve during our lifetime may be worse, our struggle validates itself.

The radical Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan —  who was sentenced to three years in a federal prison for burning draft records during the war in Vietnam — told me that faith is the belief that the good draws to it the good. The Buddhists call this karma. But he said for us as Christians we did not know where it went. We trusted that it went somewhere. But we did not know where. We are called to do the good, or at least the good so far as we can determinate it, and then let it go.

Surmounting Despair

As Hannah Arendt wrote, the only morally reliable people are not those who say “this is wrong” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t.”

They know that as Immanuel Kant wrote: “If justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.” And this means that, like Socrates, we must come to a place where it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. We must at once see and act, and given what it means to see, this will require the surmounting of despair, not by reason, but by faith.

I saw in the conflicts I covered the power of this faith, which lies outside any religious or philosophical creed. This faith is what Havel called in his essay “The Power of the Powerless” living in truth. Living in truth exposes the corruption, lies and deceit of the state. It is a refusal to be a part of the charade.

James Baldwin, the son of a preacher and briefly a preacher himself, said he abandoned the pulpit to preach the Gospel. The Gospel, he knew, was not heard most Sundays in Christian houses of worship.

This is not to say that the church does not exist. This is not to say that I reject the church. On the contrary. The church today is not located in the cavernous, and largely empty houses of worship, but here, with you, with those who demand justice, those whose unofficial credo is the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Killed as an Insurrectionist

Jesus, if he lived in contemporary society, would be undocumented. He was not a Roman citizen. He lived without rights, under Roman occupation. Jesus was a person of color. The Romans were white. And the Romans, who peddled their own version of white supremacy, nailed people of color to crosses almost as often as we finish them off with lethal injections, gun them down in the streets, lock them up in cages or slaughter them in Gaza.

The Romans killed Jesus as an insurrectionist, a revolutionary. They feared the radicalism of the Christian Gospel. And they were right to fear it. The Roman state saw Jesus the way the American state saw Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Then, like now, prophets were killed.

The Bible unequivocally condemns the powerful. It is not a self-help manual to become rich. It does not bless America or any other nation. It was written for the powerless, for those James Cone calls the crucified of the earth. It was written to give a voice to, and affirm the dignity of, those being crushed by malignant power and empire.

There is nothing easy about faith. It demands we smash the idols that enslave us. It demands we die to the world. It demands self-sacrifice. It demands resistance. It calls us to see ourselves in the wretched of the earth. It separates us from all that is familiar. It knows that once we feel the suffering of others, we will act.

“But what of the price of peace?” Berrigan asks in his book No Bars to Manhood.

“I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for the peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm … in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans—that five-year plan of studies, that ten-year plan of professional status, that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise.

‘Of course, let us have the peace,’ we cry, ‘but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties.’ And because we must encompass this and protect that, and because at all costs—at all costs—our hopes must march on schedule, and because it is unheard of that in the name of peace a sword should fall, disjoining that fine and cunning web that our lives have woven, because it is unheard of that good men should suffer injustice or families be sundered or good repute be lost—because of this we cry peace and cry peace, and there is no peace.

There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war—at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”

Bearing the cross is not about the pursuit of happiness. It does not embrace the illusion of inevitable human progress. It is not about achieving status, wealth, celebrity or power. It entails sacrifice. It is about our neighbor. The organs of state security monitor and harass you. They amass huge files on your activities. They disrupt your life.

Why am I here today with you? I am here because I have tried, however imperfectly, to live by the radical message of the Gospel. I am here because I know that it is not what we say or profess but what we do. I am here because I have seen that it is possible to be a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu or an atheist and carry the cross. The words are different but the self-sacrifice and thirst for justice are the same.

These men and women, who may not profess what I profess or believe what I believe, are my brothers and sisters. And I stand with them honoring and respecting our differences and finding hope and strength and love in our common commitment. At times like these I hear the voices of the saints who went before us.

The suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who announced that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God, and the suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who said, “The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”

Or Henry David Thoreau, who told us we should be men and women first and subjects afterward, that we should cultivate a respect not for the law but for what is right. And Frederick Douglass, who warned us:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

And the great 19th century populist Mary Elizabeth Lease, who thundered: “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master.”

And General Smedley Butler, who said that after 33 years and four months in the Marine Corps he had come to understand that he had been nothing more than a gangster for capitalism, making Mexico safe for American oil interests, making Haiti and Cuba safe for banks and pacifying the Dominican Republic for sugar companies. War, he said, is a racket in which subjugated countries are exploited by the financial elites and Wall Street while the citizens foot the bill and sacrifice their young men and women on the battlefield for corporate greed.

Or Eugene V. Debs, the socialist presidential candidate, who in 1912 pulled almost a million votes, or 6 percent, and who was sent to prison by Woodrow Wilson for opposing the First World War, and who told the world: “While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

And Rabbi Heschel, who when he was criticized for marching with Martin Luther King on the Sabbath in Selma answered: “I pray with my feet” and who quoted Samuel Johnson, who said: “The opposite of good is not evil. The opposite of good is indifference.”

And Rosa Parks, who defied the segregated bus system and said “the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” And Philip Berrigan, who said: “If enough Christians follow the Gospel, they can bring any state to its knees.”

And Martin Luther King, who said: “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ And there comes a time when a true follower of Jesus Christ must take a stand that’s neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take a stand because it is right.”

Where were you when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there to halt the genocide of Native Americans? Were you there when Sitting Bull died on the cross? Were you there to halt the enslavement of African-Americans? Were you there to halt the mobs that terrorized black men, women and even children with lynching during Jim Crow? Were you there when they persecuted union organizers and Joe Hill died on the cross?

Were you there to halt the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II? Were you there to halt Bull Connor’s dogs as they were unleashed on civil rights marchers in Birmingham? Were you there when Martin Luther King died upon the cross? Were you there when Malcolm X died on the cross?

Were you there to halt the hate crimes, discrimination and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queers and those who are transgender? Were you there when Matthew Shepard died on the cross? Were you there to halt the abuse and at times enslavement of workers in the farmlands of this country?

Were you there to halt the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Vietnamese during the war in Vietnam or hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan? Were you there to halt the genocide in Gaza? Were you there when they crucified Refaat Alareer on the cross?

Where were you when they crucified my Lord?

I know where I was.


With you.


Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor and NPR.  He is the host of show “The Chris Hedges Report.” 

This is from the author’s Scheer Post. Republished with the author’s permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

22 comments for “Chris Hedges: Sermon for Gaza

  1. May 2, 2024 at 01:58

    As Hannah Arendt wrote, the only morally reliable people are not those who say “this is wrong” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t.”

    The late writer and psychotherapist Alice Miller in her now online book titled For Your Own Good with subtitle Hidden cruelty in childrearing and the roots of violence has a very interesting passage which describes what is perhaps the crucial factor which enables a person to do that difficult and perhaps dangerous but right thing that the person needs to do.

    Morality and performance of duty are artificial measures that become necessary when something essential is lacking. The more successfully a person was denied access to his or her feelings in childhood, the larger the arsenal of intellectual weapons and the supply of moral prostheses has to be, because morality and a sense of duty are not sources of strength or fruitful soil for genuine affection. Blood does not flow in artificial limbs; they are for sale and can serve many masters. What was considered good yesterday can–depending on the decree of government of party–be considered evil and corrupt today, and vice versa. But those who have spontaneous feelings can only be themselves. They have no other choice if they want to remain true to themselves. Rejection, ostracism, loss of love, and name calling will not fail to affect them; they will suffer as a result and will dread them, but once they have found their authentic self they will not want to lose it. And when they sense that something is being demanded of them to which their whole being says no, they cannot do it. They simply cannot.

    This passage can be found here:

    hxxp:// (scroll to about halfway down the page)

    Her entire book is at:


    The thesis of her book is that having been abused or mistreated as a child, and having repressed one’s feelings as a result (which is the case with the vast majority of people), a person will not have access to one’s “true self” or true feelings. What is necessary for a person is to become aware of one’s childhood feelings, emotionally as well as intellectually, and to do what is necessary to process one’s feelings.

  2. John Z
    April 30, 2024 at 17:48

    People are a mixed bag, capable of wonderful and horrific deeds, but atheists, by and large, are a bitter, glass always half empty group, and intellectually dishonest. It is impossible to disprove the existence of God, or of anything. As Carl Sagan was wont to say, the things we do not yet know are intriguing possibilities. For the same reason, Robert’s Rules of Order wisely headed off an entire class of arguments by making it obviously out of order to make a motion to not do something. Agnostics I can respect, for they have the honesty, as Sagan, to say “I don’t know.” Taking the church to task for its bad deeds and discarding the good is simplistic and tells but part of the story, pretending that it is possible to live a perfect and untainted life. Good luck with that pipe dream.

  3. Gregory Kruse
    April 30, 2024 at 12:51

    This is the true Christian theology.

  4. Carolyn L Zaremba
    April 30, 2024 at 11:50

    I don’t listen to sermons because I am an atheist. Really, Reverend Hedges, stop proselytizing religion as a solution to anything. That takes us back to the dark ages, not forward into the future.

    • John Z
      April 30, 2024 at 20:02

      No one really cares what you do not believe. Please tell us what you do believe, so we might discover points of mutual interest so we may work together to promote justice, kindness, and peace in the world.

  5. John Elsbree
    April 30, 2024 at 11:48

    Thank you for this Chris. My father was a P.O.W. in Germany in WWII. He didn’t talk much about the awful things. He seemed to like telling about the people who did good things. They included other prisoners, a French priest who gave the prisoners Comunion, and even a couple of German guards who treated the prisoners decently and helped some of them get away. Long after that war, he was still and alway on the side of peace.

  6. lidia
    April 30, 2024 at 10:59

    Havel was a NATO lackey, Pinochet lover and did all he did only to get back nationalized by communists buildings of his family. And, by the way he was a Zionist lover too. He invented “humanitarian bombing” for NATO whitewashing.
    Palestinians are victims of Havel and his pals.

  7. April 30, 2024 at 10:54

    Compassion demands you act when you see suffering. The opposite of love is indifference. “Bad things happen when good
    people are silent.” The massive protests all over the world against the genocide in Gaza gives me hope for humanity !

  8. Henry Jones
    April 30, 2024 at 08:52

    The Church condemned the 2003 Iraq Invasion before you did.

    • April 30, 2024 at 18:04

      What Church?? FYI there is not any monolithic body that is “The Church”. There were many Christians, especially of fundamentalist persuasion, who were in favor of the Iraq invasion.

      This included a long time friend of mine, with whom I ended my friendship in 2005 after he indicated, without any hesitation or any sign of doubt or any second thoughts, that he was going to be voting for GWB a second time, in 2004, and that he was very much in favor of the Iraq invasion. He felt that we needed to take down Saddam Hussein, just like we had needed to take down Hitler during the 1930’s. And he was not bothered that we did not find the purported weapons of mass destruction because, he said, Intelligence is not an exact science.

  9. Tony
    April 30, 2024 at 08:51

    “And General Smedley Butler…”

    In the 1930s, Butler was chosen by a group of prominent businessmen and political figures to spearhead a coup against President Roosevelt. Prescott Bush is thought to have been one of the conspirators.

    As Congressman John McCormack later stated:

    “If General Butler had not been the patriot he was, and if they had been able to maintain secrecy, the plot certainly might very well have succeeded … When times are desperate and people are frustrated, anything could happen.”

    The episode goes under several different names: The Wall Street Putsch, The Business Plot and the White House Putsch.
    Most of the news media, including the NYT, dismissed the idea. But it is important to remember that Butler’s testimony was given under oath.

  10. Barbara Christiansen
    April 30, 2024 at 08:35

    Chris Hedges words always profoundly touch my heart and soul as only a truly enlightened man can – no doubt because he lives in the peace that passeth all understanding.

  11. Brad Wolf
    April 30, 2024 at 07:57

    Outstanding sermon. As Daniel Berrigan’s brother, Philip Berrigan said “Christianity and revolution are synonymous.” (Quoted in the new book “A Ministry of Risk: Philip Berrigan’s writings on Peace and Nonviolence.”)

  12. Michael G
    April 29, 2024 at 23:38

    When I was a kid, going to church on Sunday was uncomfortable.
    What I saw during the week didn’t match what I was being taught on Sunday.
    I didn’t know the word hypocrisy when I was a child. Children believe what they are told.
    That discomfort with family members hasn’t changed over the years.
    Sitting with those Students, listening to that sermon from Chris would have been a comfortable way to spend an hour.
    Made me happy reading it.

  13. James Duarte
    April 29, 2024 at 20:13

    Again, you fail to include the Chicano People?????

  14. Tom
    April 29, 2024 at 17:07

    I don’t believe that all these protesters have any idea what they are protesting, as I found out in the 70s. Prayer and peace are the only saints.

    • Andrew Nichols
      April 29, 2024 at 21:45

      What? How about you go and ask them if you can or choose to? What a snide put down. Shame on you.

    • Dennis L Merwood
      April 30, 2024 at 05:22

      Jesus is only a myth in a very old book of fiction my friend.
      And the Christian God started all this killing and genocide in Gaza many years ago.
      When one party comes armed with their Bible and a 2,000-year-old promise from their imaginary GOD, rational thinking goes out the window.
      The issue will only be settled on the field of battle with iron and rivers of blood. As we are seeing on Al Jazeera TV every day.
      Thousands slaughtered in the name of imaginary GODs.
      As it has been done since man invented GOD’s.
      There will be no winners.

      Every religion claim’s that theirs is the only true God!
      What evidence do Israelis have that their religion is not just other false religion?
      Why is their “God” real and all the others are not?
      When they understand why they dismiss ALL the other possible “Gods”, only then will they understand why we atheists dismiss theirs.
      “Religion poisons everything” – Christopher Hitchens

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      April 30, 2024 at 11:51

      This is why I despise religion. Hedges is reverting to the past instead of living in the present and looking to the future.

  15. firstpersoninfinite
    April 29, 2024 at 16:41

    Beautiful and timely sermon from Chris Hedges. He easily recognizes the mountain we now stand upon, and the depths we shall face should we descend again unmarked and unscathed.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      April 30, 2024 at 11:51

      Let Hedges start his own church, then. I will cut him off forever.

      • Portia Elm
        May 1, 2024 at 11:22

        I agree. When I worked in accounting, I was constantly stressed about being asked to do things that would land me in jail if discovered or hurt other people. My therapist said, “Just keep your end clean.” Strangely enough, this was a revelation to me. Non-participation is something I can readily do, and I have been punished many times for that, but I was at peace with it. Sticking to principles and refusing to betray your spirit will derail injustice as efficiently as anything else.

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