Onward Christian Soldier

December 1, 2006 | By | 7 Replies More

I saw a bumper sticker the other day. “Caution: Christian On Board”

I thought, yeah, I’ll be careful. These days christians can be dangerous.

What follows may be a bit on the intolerant side, but I’m sometimes convinced our condemnation of intolerance makes us too unwilling to be simply impatient.  We “tolerate” a lot of nonsense because we don’t want to be accused of intolerance. 

Rumsfeld is gone now, and I’ve been thinking about unanswered questions, assumptions made on our behalf which led to a holy mess.  I remember when Abu Ghraib broke.  I’m thinking about the obscenities from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. People expressed shock, outrage. The president, Rumsfeld, the generals, they were all duly unhinged. They did not approve this. They did not order it or condone it. Congress has them answering questions now as to how such things could happen.

Frankly, the wrong questions were and are being asked. Senators wanted to know who to blame for either condoning it or for “allowing it to happen”–a phrase I find ludicrous in practical terms. It’s like the phrase you hear lawyers and legislators use, you know the one “You failed to do such and such.” Every time I hear that phrase I think “No he didn’t. He didn’t fail. To fail implies that at some point an attempt was made to do something. The attempt failed. He didn’t fail to tell the truth–he simply didn’t do it. He succeeded in not doing it. Failure was entirely part of getting caught. He failed to keep it secret.” Same goes for “allowing it to happen.” It implies a conscious choice. There was none. At least, most of the time–and if there was a conscious choice, then “allow” is the wrong word–“cause” would be the right word.

I was not surprised at Abu Ghraib. Shocked, sure, but that was a visceral reaction to ugliness. I’d been waiting for something like that to happen. And maybe in that respect, “allow” becomes more relevant. Maybe if Senator Kennedy et al asked Rumsfeld and the others “Didn’t you expect something like this given the culture of this administration?” then they would have been on the right track.

What has been “allowed” to happen, though, is something a bit deeper, a bit more insidious, and has profound historical roots.

In his superb history of Catholicism and anti-semitism, James Carroll writes in Constantine’s Sword: the Church and the Jews: “…Since the end of World War II, there have been the theological revolution of Vatican II, with its rejection of the deicide charge and its affirmation of God’s ongoing covenant with the Jewish people; the remarkable grass-roots flourishing of Jewish-Catholic dialogue; and the serious effort of the Polish pope to confront the legacy of Catholic anti-semitism, But there remain rigid lines drawn around beliefs that may not be changed and around questions that may not be asked. Already we have seen the deeply problematic legacy of Jew hatred in foundational Christian texts, in the implicitly anti-Jewish Christian idea of revelation as prophecy fulfillment, and most damaging of all, in the dominant Christian theology of Jesus, not only as the enemy of the Jewish people but as the son of God who obliterates the integrity of all other ways to God.”

The story Carroll tells is how the church hierarchy defined the status of Jews throughout the Middle Ages, starting from Augustine, as a people deserving of disrespect.  I wrote about some of this in When In Rome. To the church elders and prelates, what was intended was an intellectual stance, akin to turning one’s back on the Jews. The Jews were not to be respected–but they were not to be harmed, either. Carroll shows how this incongruity of postures failed to translate into the common world of peasants and shopkeepers, who did not “get” the nuance. In explosive times, disrespect turned to violence.

There are stories of local priests putting themselves physically between groups of Jews and the mob bent on killing them. Yet they failed to understand how the violence was inevitable given their moral and intellectual stance regarding the Jews. The Blood Libel was not mere theory to the average Christian of 1100 A.D. It was justification for abuse.

What we’re seeing now is exactly the same thing. We have an administration more overtly religious than any in recent memory. Bush’s power base is rooted in the Christian Fundamentalist community, who do see this war in terms of revelation and prophecy. It is the culture of this administration that has “allowed” this to happen.

I believe Rumsfeld when he says this was never intended. I do. He’s the equivalent of a high church prelate who has an abstract intellectual posture toward Islam. How does this translate to the field, though? We have sent strong, homegrown, christian soldiers to a foreign land populated with Unbelievers. The president said this is not about Christian versus Muslim, but the fundamentalist preachers have been stoking that furnace for years now and the air being breathed by this administration is pure Isaiah. Look at the pattern of appointments (www.commondreams.org/headlines01/0113-02.htm) . This is a Christian nation. The enemy has been identified. (www.religioustolerance.org/reac_ter18c.htm)

Do I believe most of the soldiers in Iraq are predisposed toward this view? No, not at all. Most are decent, honest young people trying to do an impossible job within a context not of their choosing–and, I believe, partially not of their understanding. But how many does it take to foul up the whole thing? Seven, so far.

As far as theology…

Not one dime of federal money earmarked for Bush’s faith-based initiatives has gone to non-christian groups.  (And, as it turns out, a lot of christian groups are getting short-shrifted.) This only surprises people who were fooled by Bush’s campaign based on compassionate conservatism. (Www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=15801)

He fooled a lot of us into thinking he was a moderate, slightly right-of-center mainstream politician. Many Americans thought “how bad can this be?” and went home–miffed if you voted for Gore, slightly annoyed at the sleazy way the election turned out if you voted for Bush, assuming you were a so-called mainstream American–thinking that the rhetoric would become slightly more Reaganesque, but by and large most of our lives would be unaffected.

My problem with Mr. Bush is not the lies. All presidents lie and depending on your political bent, you either decry them or justify them. It’s not what Bush has hidden–and he is hiding a lot, but security is a dicey point to judge an administration on (internal security, having to do with leaks and public access). No. What bothers me is right on the surface for anyone to see if they care to look.

He tried to remake my country along theocratic lines. It’s not hidden, it’s not hard to see, it’s not a policy they have kept from anyone.

A lot of people approved. I mean, consider–these soldier at Abu Ghraib took pictures of what they did. You don’t do that unless on some level you think it’s all right, that what you’re doing is within acceptable bounds. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these soldiers are a bit baffled at all the fuss. As I say, a lot of people approved.

I don’t. To my way of thinking, the problem of theology is that it does not lend itself to compromise or logical analysis. You can’t put God on the witness stand or swear Jesus in before the Senate Committee hearings. You can’t cross-examine the Holy Ghost. And Mary–well, according to St. Paul, women have no business speaking in public. Theology has no place in government, at any level. Government is entirely a human enterprise and must be subject to all the powers and abilities of human oversight and discretion and accountability that can be brought to bear. When a politician professes to follow God’s word, he or she is letting us know that our system of accountability does not apply to them. They should be fired, voted out of office, impeached, or otherwise censured.

Because the unquestioned following of religious principles in a time of crisis at the national level–like now–leads to Abu Ghraib.

See, Bush et al Inc. can tell us that we should respect Muslims till his lips freeze. But out of the other side of their mouths, they have characterized this war in religious terms, and the average Joe or Jane who just might happen to be a fundamentalist christian is going to take that part as permission to look down on the enemy–culturally. The abuses in those prisons are the result of a decay of secular ethical restraint. They are the tip of the ice-berg of religious absolutism.

As I said, I was not surprised. I’ve known fundamentalists. They lack a certain sophistication for the most part–there are exceptions–and they see everything starkly, without nuance. As Bush proclaimed quite proudly “I don’t do nuance.” Obviously.

Prophecy, in the hands of the true believer, is always self-fulfilling. So now if indeed we are headed for a kind of Armageddon, we need not look to supernatural forces, but to ourselves, for “allowing” an administration to make us into something we don’t want to be. Most of us anyway. There are, unfortunately, a lot of Americans who really want this. They hunger for the End Times, for the Second Coming, for the conflagration. Maybe it’s easier than the hard work of actual problem-solving. Certainly it’s sexier.

So just to make the point sharp and obvious, you might wonder what James Carroll’s ruminations about Catholic antisemitism has to do with our incursion into Iraq. Simple. It’s all part of the same sad human story. Intolerance of those who do not believe as we do, driving us to convert by the sword. Pick your religious group, pick your antagonism. Al-Qaeda knocked down our twin towers because they see us a Shaitan, the Enemy. We were  going to go kick some Muslim ass because they aren’t christians.

What’s the difference between the two?

The difference here is that America is a democracy and we are not simply led by those in power to do things we may later regret. We choose our leaders, we “allow” them to give us direction. If we “fail” to stop ourselves before we embrace the whirlwind and trigger the catastrophe, just who do we have to blame other than ourselves?

But now Rummy is gone.  The new guy, Gates, looks to be the sort of thinker who should have been in that job all along.  Someone not guided by prophecy, but by reality.  However, we should not be lulled by Rumsfeld’s departure or the last election.  It will take more than one election to take the power away from the prophet-driven supporters of the neocon movement.  We may think it’s settled, and that’s because, I think, for most of us we just can’t quite believe that people really think that way.  We don’t get how someone can be more dedicated to bozo-theology than to the democratic processes that have given us the freedom to be–among other things–religious according to our wishes.  They don’t seem to get that if they win their program, that freedom disappears.

Caution: Christian On Board. Well. Let’s just hope in future the christian isn’t doing the driving.


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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Civil Rights, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Current Events, Good and Evil, History, Iraq, Military, Politics, Religion, The Middle East, War

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (7)

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  1. C. Kringle says:

    This article lists 10 examples of why ATHEISM is NOT a RELIGION.


    It also captures the way I feel when people tell me that Atheism is a religion. I was getting to the point where I had begun to question whether it was worth calling myself an Atheist, because people (Christians) don't seem to share the same definition of Atheism as I do.

    here is an excerpt: "There is a fundamental difference between faith and atheism that cuts to the essence of what religion is. A scientific-minded atheist believes that science can explain the world and the universe. This does not require that it already has explained everything; only that it can. This is a world view based on hypothesis and evidence. For most religions, on the other hand, faith in the absence of clear evidence is a virtue."


  2. We are not serving christian principles by being in Iraq, we are serving judeo-christian principles. The judeo-christians are acting out the role of Judas trying to force Jesus to do what they think he should do just as Judas betrayed Him into the hands of those who wanted Him crucified. He figured if Jesus was arrested He would call down ten thousand angels and throw out the Romans and set up His kingdom with the apostles helping Him run things. Judeo-ism is a political force serving Jewish interests via religious indoctrination.

    The US government's {in}actions have encouraged the Israelis, who know that they can literally get away with murder, knowing that the US will back their "right" to oppress and kill Palestinians in the name of war or security.

    It has always been the unofficial Israeli government policy to make life as miserable as possible for all Palestinians, so that they will leave on their own accord. Once they leave, they are forbidden by law ever to return. Most Palestinians stay, of course, mostly because they have no other place to go. And so Palestine continues to compete for the title of Most Wretched Place on Earth.

    Some do fight back, of course, and these are then labeled "terrorists." How dare they fight back! Do they not know that the Israelis have a right to security and self-defense? Those who fight back are thus used as "proof" that the Israeli policies are necessary to keep law and order and to keep Israeli citizens secure.

    The most recent Israeli incursion into Gaza is just another of a long string of war tactics designed to kill more Palestinians, keep the pot boiling, and ensure that more Palestinians will finally lose all hope. Out of despair and hatred, they will turn themselves into suicide bombers, which in turn will provide the Israelis with more "proof" that they were right all along.

    With such a policy of expulsion by oppression, the world looks on aghast at the partiality toward the Israelis and cannot understand how we can talk about human rights everywhere except in Palestine. Our partiality in judgment shows the world that we are a hypocritical nation that bases its foreign policy on the idea of Jews being God's Privileged People.

    It may be true that "not one dime of federal money earmarked for Bush’s faith-based initiatives has gone to non-christian groups" but that certainly does not mean that judeo-christian groups are unsupportive of jews. We should also mention the billions of dollars that go directly to the Israelis every year via "foreign policy" and direct gifts of arms.

    Now, all that said, do you know the difference between anti-shemitism, anti-jewish, and anti-Zionist?

  3. Chris says:

    We don’t get how someone can be more dedicated to bozo-theology than to the democratic processes that have given us the freedom to be–among other things–religious according to our wishes. They don’t seem to get that if they win their program, that freedom disappears.

    I was right with you up until this. They get it, alright. It's what they desire above all else (except maybe the end of the world) – that they will finally recover the legal right to persecute and destroy anyone who rejects their faith. It's why people call them the Christian Taliban – because they approve of the Taliban's methods, just not the specific choice of god in whose service they use those methods.

    The religious right is sometimes described as wanting to roll back the Enlightement. This is true but incomplete. They want to roll back the *Renaissance* and create a Second Age of Faith. The fact that the first Age of Faith is not-so-coincidentally also known as the Dark Ages doesn't bother them a bit – they have the Bible to light their way.

  4. They may "have the Bible to light their way" but they are not using it. Judeo-christian beliefs are based on Talmudism using christian terms. The Talmudists developed all types of contorted arguments to set aside God's Law and do whatever they wanted to do anyway. The idea of Jews being the "elder brother" of christians came from, guess who: the Jews.

    "What follows may be a bit on the intolerant side, but I’m sometimes convinced our condemnation of intolerance makes us too unwilling to be simply impatient. We “tolerate” a lot of nonsense because we don’t want to be accused of" – antishemitism. Yea, it's safe to whack christians all day, but start talking about the self-Chosen and quoting their "holy-book" and see what happens. What you don't seem to understand is you are talking about quasi-jews {judeo=christians} but calling them christians.

    "We have an administration more overtly religious than any in recent memory. Bush’s power base is rooted in the {{my translation = judeo-christian}} community, who do see this war in terms of revelation and prophecy. It is the culture {{talmudic}} of this administration that has “allowed” this to happen."

    This is the reason you hate christians so, because they are ignorantly acting out Talmudism. But the Talmudists have garnered incredible political power, so we can't be intolerant of them. There are people in prison right now for telling the truth about what happened in WWII, as our soldiers serve as Jewish mercenaries in the Middle East.

  5. Jason Rayl says:

    I do not hate christians, Larry. One can despise an ideology without tarring and feathering its grunts. That, of course, was one of the points I wanted to make from quoting James Carroll–a book I heartily recommend.

    I hate the harm that comes from adherence to ANY dogmatic religious doctrine which presumes and authority "above" human law. As far as your distinction between "judeo-christians" and "christians"–and I perfectly well understand what you're talking about–I could care less. One religion is as potentially dogmatic as any other.

    I would point out though that Christ likely as not did not intend for his followers to become "christians"–he was fulfilling Jewish prophecy, after all, and so probably thought to add another layer of reform on Judaism itself.

    For that matter, I don't think America's support of Israel has ever had any direct relation to Judaism itself–we invested in Israel as a cold war player and never mind what they were, not to mention doing something about this group that had been a sacrificial pawn throughout the last two millennia, becoming ultimately the lightening rod of WWII. (There was some consideration given, I don't know how seriously, to exiling Germans from Germany–a second diaspora, since they had been the cause of so much crap since Bismarck turned them into a unified nation.)

    I scenting a whif of "the international Jewish conspiracy" in some of your claims. Vesting in anything that smacks of "destiny" or "god's plan", resulting in more of this kind of paranoid nonsense has been the bane of the 20th Century. We need to get over it.

    And so, to my, all religion is essentially the same–an intellectual mobius strip that occasionally leads people into hell. I have no use for any of it.

  6. Chris says:

    That last sentence of Larry's is a hair away from Holocaust denial – which I don't think should be a crime, as some European nations make it, but I do think it requires a pretty monumental amount of stupidity. Who does he think is in those mass graves?

    In case it wasn't obvious, I was being sarcastic when I said "they have the Bible to light their way" – the only way for the Bible to light anyone's way is to set it on fire and use it as a torch. Religious zealots, of course, don't realize that; they can't tell truth from fiction, if that fiction has a cross on the cover.

  7. I would have to define it before I would be able to deny or believe it. I wasn't there. I don't think it should be a crime to examine the claims of anyone's faith.

    The "Holocaust" has been made into an item of faith. Temples are built to commemorate it. Jews are not the only ones in those mass graves. And there are many more that died after peace was declared under the Allies and the Bolsheviks. http://www.louisbeam.com/holocaust.htm

    In the huge open-air-mind-control-experiment commonly known as America, you will only hear the part that serves the experiment. When the subjects {grunts?} are made uncomfortable they have been provided trigger-words {conspiracy, paranoid, nonsense, denial, antishemitism} to regurgitate which allows them to go into ignore/ridicule mode.

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