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Ministers of War, Criminals of the Cloth
Perhaps we have not paid enough attention to Exodus and have lost, therefore, the import of General "Jerry" Boykin’s words to the evangelical Christians as reported in the LA Times on the 16th, "We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this." Exodus states it clearly enough: "The Lord is a man of war"(15:3). Lt. Gen. Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence (sic), no doubt speaks for Bush and Rumsfeld’s forces in the field as he takes up his position as fourth in command under Lord General God. It is comforting to know that we are under the command of the Head Man in Heaven as we enter the lists against the infidels led by their god, a mere pagan "idol." Boykin, who has probably met "face to face" with that other general, places the US squarely in God’s "house," indeed, in His "Kingdom" as we "take up the cross" to fulfill His divine commands, our army having been "raised for such a time as this."
One wonders if all the other ministers of war sat enthroned behind the General as he expounded on God’s words: Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, to name a few. Did they cheer him on? Did any of them suggest, perhaps, that his invocation to the God of War had imbedded in it yet another prayer, the one Mark Twain penned in his caustic satire that turned such fawning gibberish into nonsense, "The War Prayer." Let me paraphrase: "Dear God who counseled ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ bless our cause and curse our enemy, destroy their children, leave their mothers’ barren and homeless, let the old and infirm weep alone as they await death, devastate their land, burn their fields, and destroy even the memory of their existence, in God’s name we pray!" These evangelical Christians listen in rapture to the general who has become their instrument to effect Armageddon even as they curse those who give the appearance of appeasement against the Islamic hordes, including that former general, Colin Powell who should be "nuked" according to Robertson.
Consider the import of this scene, the general garbed in full combat regalia, spit shined shoes, epaulets ablaze with glistening brass, marching before the attentive congregation declaring that "radical Islamists hated the United States ‘because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and roots are Judeo-Christian …’" And more, "He’s (Bush) in the White House because God put him there." This man, now in charge of "intelligence" in the Defense Department, enlists his Christian warriors to take on "Satan." He becomes the embodiment of the Tele-evangelists prophecy, those who proclaim "end-time theology," the means by which God will bring about prophecies present in the Book of Revelation. This scene contains two important revelations, neither of them resident in the Book of Revelation: the ministers of war enlist once again the myths of Revelation to achieve power in the secular realm and the myths that proclaim America’s roots as Judeo-Christian rise once again as fact when, in fact, they are anathema to the concept and purpose of democracy.
The rising chorus of evangelicals decrying Islam as the sole source of terror, the increasing volatility of their wrath, and their visible displays of displeasure and impatience with the policies of government in a democracy threaten the very basis of a government based on separation of church and state. Dennis Prager (October 7, 2003), prophet of the right wing airways, attempts to defend America’s need to go it alone against Islamic "terror and tyranny" in this "war of civilizations." He notes that the world is not supportive of the "American mission" to fulfill God’s word, and this explains in good measure why they dislike George W. Bush, "the believer in the biblical God and in an American mission." "We cannot defeat the Islamist threat," he proclaims, "without the same degree of faith fanatical Muslims have." Here he notes, Israel and America are one because both nations have fanatical believers who can stand against the infidels. "One civilization believes in liberty and one does not." Prager fears that Europe and non-believers in America can jeopardize the fulfillment of God’s mission. "It is between those who fervently believe in America and in Judeo-Christian revelation and those who fervently believe in neither." Those who do not believe are, in Prager’s mind, "the Left, many Democratic Party leaders, pacifists, the cultural elite and academia…" This type of thinking pits religious denominations against the political system because the government must become the instrument to fulfill their interpretation of God’s word. Add to Prager’s views those of Pat Robertson who beseeches God on public television to intercede to change the make-up of the Supreme Court and declares that only devout Christians and Jews are fit to hold public office, and the casting of America as a theocracy takes form.
According to Philip Lindsey ("Are the Neo-Cons Conning Us") "All the major figures of the Christian right have joined the new crusade to defend the Israeli state and spread Jewish settlements around Jerusalem and in the Occupied Territories. The Reverend James Hutchins, president of Christians for Israel/US, proclaimed that this support was in order to fulfil a ‘divine calling to assist the Jewish people in their return and restoration of the land of Israel.’ A quarter of a million US Christians have sent over $60 million to Israel while Hutchins’ organization has financed the immigration of 65,000 Jews. For both the Christian and Jewish right, Islam is the new ‘evil empire’ and Yasser Arafat is Israel’s ‘bin Laden.’" With the three prominent Tele-evangelists urging their flocks to reject the rights of Palestinians to a homeland because the Jews have a covenant with God, with their active and visible intervention in political affairs directly affecting this nation, with the financial support they provide to terrorists in the settlements, with their politically motivated sermons directing their congregations to vote for born again Christians and Zionist Jews, with their loud condemnation of non-Christians and Christians not supportive of the Zionist right wing, they have created a fissure of intolerance in America that threatens not only the pillar of separation of church and state, but the rationale that under girds this nation’s tolerance of all religions in favor of the fanatics that demand obeisance to the ministers of war who interpret God’s word for him in the Book of Revelation.
The actions of the Christian Zionists are arguably anti-American in their attempts to gain control of the democratic system, anti-American in their efforts to impose a right-wing Christian theocracy upon all Americans, illegal in their incitement to ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, who have done nothing to Americans, through their support of Jewish settlements that terrorize Palestinians, and illegal in their active promotion of right wing factions in Israel that oppose American foreign policy that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. These militant actions of the Christian Zionists stem from their belief that the on-going crisis in the Mid-East is prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Belief in Revelation compels them to incite their congregations to destroy the infidels. Ironically, this is not the first use of the Book of Revelation on this continent by militant ministers of the Almighty that has resulted in the slaughter of innocents. In 1500, as Columbus ravaged the "new world" with the help of the Franciscans who were set to build "the Kingdom of God on earth," a similar intolerance of other religions took hold. "There had always been a millenarian cast to the followers of Saint FrancisºMany believed that their founding saint was the angel of the apocalypse who had unlocked the seal of the sixth age of revelation; the gospel would now be preached throughout the new world and then would come the Anti-ChristºWas not Charles V the prophesied world emperor? And had not Mexico fallen to Catholicism just as northern Europe fell to the Lutheran heretics? Were these not signs that the hosts of good and evil were assembling for Armageddon? º On New Year’s Day, 1525, the friars drove the Mexican priests from their temples and began the ‘first battle against the devil’" (Ronald Wright, The Stolen Continent, 1992). The Franciscans, driven by their fanatical zeal and bound in allegiance to the Spanish Conquistadors to affect the fulfillment of their prophecies, lost sight of the humans they killed in the name of their God. They were the Christian Zionists of their day!
If this was the first abuse of Revelation on this continent, it followed 20 others in Europe dating from 1186 to 1492 and yet others in preceding centuries. Not all resulted in slaughter of innocents, but many did, including the crusades initiated by Urban II who used other myths to enlist peasants and knights to the slaughter of the Jews and Muslims in attempts to reclaim Jerusalem for the Church. Does not the shear number of pseudo-prophets who have proclaimed the imminence of Armageddon require us to declare our current crop benighted idiots?
Have we learned nothing from history? Does superstition guide civilized people in the year 2003? Must we fall prey to denizens of myths who find power in prophecy and ego enhancement in incitement to riot? Must we repeat what we have seen in our own past, that fanatics maliciously use their positions of respect to drive their believers to actions diametrically opposed to the teachings of their supposed leader, Jesus Christ? Are not these religious zealots criminals, exhorting their legions to engage in illegal behavior when they call on them to give millions of dollars to settlements damned as illegal by the UN and the worlds’ communities of nations in numerous resolutions? Are not their rabble-rousing harangues designed to justify acquiescence and complicity to the terrorism inflicted by Ariel Sharon on innocent civilians in Palestine in the name of the God of Revelation? Yet these ministers of war know no more of that God than all the previous prophets of doom that preceded them, but they should; they hold doctorate degrees in theology; they have the scientific evidence that tracks the biblical writings of Revelation to an unknown source on Patmos; they know no one knows the authors of the New Testament; they know they cannot speak for God anymore than the pseudo-prophets of the dark ages, yet they prophecy, they prophecy for profit and power, the true ends of their proselytizing!
With what absolution then do they preach death and destruction? Shouldn’t this administration find these false prophets enemies of the people? Do they not incite to riot and enlist their minions to support illegal activities that are detrimental to the peace of America? Have they not brought America more insecurity by confirming in the minds of those fearful of a clash of civilizations that indeed America is on a crusade to destroy Islam? Have they not given aid and comfort to Osama and his hordes by demonstrating the truth of what he says, the Christians are out to defeat Allah?
Consider the power these men wield over American policy. Not only does the "General of Intelligence" preach before the evangelical hordes, but Tom DeLay, the anointed leader of the Republican majority in the House and a rabid Christian Zionist, addressed the Israeli Knesset on July 30 urging Israel "to ignore the truce and go on killing Palestinian activists." Benny Elon, Sharon’s Minister of Tourism, appeared with DeLay at the Washington convention of the Christian Coalition where he called for the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland claiming that land for Israel since it was guaranteed them in the Bible. The ethnic cleansing is authorized in that same Bible according to Elon, and confirmed by no less an authority than Richard Army who called for removal of the Palestinians, despite the presence of an indigenous population of Arabs in Palestine for the last 1900 years! Even now, this month, 500 evangelicals visited Israel in support of Sharon’s divisive actions against Palestinians. The yoking of the Christian Zionists, the right-wing Jewish Zionists and the pro-Israeli neo-cons has undermined the foundational concepts that guarantee American freedom of conscience and religious tolerance. Perhaps Melchior Grimm had it right when he declared in the mid 18th century: "It has taken centuries to subdue the human race to the tyrannical yoke of the priests; it will take centuries and a series of efforts and successes to secure its freedom."
We need only pay heed to Thomas Jefferson’s words to Dr. Benjamin Rush in his letter of April 21, 1803: "It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may … become his own." Freedom of conscience cannot exist in a climate of fear or in a nation that dictates truth. For the Christian right to impose its beliefs on this nation by controlling the ballot box to ensure the election of radical "end time" believers, to impose their religious beliefs through legislation that all must accept, or to align themselves with groups like the neo-cons who desire a similar goal and would willingly subvert the rights of the people as stated in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights to attain it, can and will result in the erosion of the principles that ensure our freedom. In that same letter to Rush, Jefferson noted the corruption of Jesus’ teachings as "doctrinized" by denominations, extolling instead Christ’s undiluted teachings: he taught "universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids"(Italics mine). How different in concept this understanding of Christ’s teachings that provides tolerance of all as members of one family from the teachings of the Christian Zionists and right-wing Jewish Zionists who would purge a people from their homeland by superstitiously interpreting words that allow them to determine the fate of millions.
How brilliant does the wording of the Declaration seem now, "endowed by their creator with unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," a prescription guaranteed in the Bill of Rights that indelibly marks each and every human with the same rights to live in a free society unencumbered by the dominance of another’s infallible thoughts! Jefferson understood that religions are not tolerant or democratic; indeed, they are inherently neither, since ministers serve as intermediaries to the divine and become the conduit of doctrines and dogma that determine thought for the believer. It followed logically for Jefferson that church and state must be separate if all religions were to exist in the new country. America does not rest on Christian principles; it exists, as all democracies must, in tolerance of Christian beliefs as it exists in tolerance of all religious beliefs precisely because it was not founded on beliefs expounded by one religion. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine, the principal exponents of the foundational concepts upon which this country rests, were Deists who accepted the genuine precepts of Jesus, not those that have evolved in the various denominations over the course of centuries. Love, charity, and compassion define Christ’s precepts; love of all, charity toward all, compassion for all, that all may live in peace. How anathema to General Boykin and the Christian Zionist teachings as they incite their congregations to war!
William Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His new book, Psalms for the 21st Century, was just published by Mellen Press. He can be reached at: cookb@ULV.EDU