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Every Christmas the birth of Jesus is heralded with the hope of peace for the new year: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14, New Testament, New Revised Standard Version). The irony here is that those “whom he favors” with “peace” often use their believed “exceptionalism” to justify making or supporting or accommodating war on those judged to be disfavored. The baby, for whom there was “no room in the inn,” ended up a “Savior,” who denies room to those who do not profess his name. The prophesized “Prince of Peace” is turned into an evangelistic predator.
Jesus taught that one of the two greatest commandments is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39). Conversely, an assumed resurrected Christ commissioned his disciples to make their neighbors like themselves: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 18-20).
Loving one’s neighbors as oneself is about calling them by their own names and thereby honoring them, not seeking to baptize them in the name of someone else. Love recognizes and empowers other people’s right to be who they are, rather than using belief in a “higher power” to gain power and authority over them. The very Golden Rule that guides love of neighbor as oneself is violated by an evangelistic need to do unto others as one would not want done to oneself. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is democratic. “Make disciples of all nations” is imperialistic and divisive. The one creates equality. The other inequality. Jesus, yes! Christ, no!
Most Christians seek to explain as a paradox the contradiction between Jesus and Christ—as if the two complement rather than conflict with each other. Such rationalizing is believed to be necessary to justify chosenness and war that trump humanness and peace. A favorite teaching of Jesus’ is a verse in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5: 9) Yet this revered teaching is undone by a bigger than life “Savior,” who declares that the only true “children of God” are those who believe that he alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “Love your neighbor as yourself” serves to cushion and rationalize belief in an imperialistic Christ. Christianity suffers from a split, self-contradictory, forked-tongue theological personality. “Peace on earth” is embraced as is war on those who are not “favored,” whom today are called “Islamic extremists.”
Thus, a professing “Jesus died for my sins” Nobel Peace Prize recipient President Barack Obama can go to West Point Military Academy and, like former President George W. Bush, declare more war in Afghanistan in the name of peace. To a receptive audience of 4,000, mostly gray-uniformed cadets, Obama got away with telling falsehoods and distorting reality to justify his decision to send 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan. He began, “We did not ask for this fight,” reminded the cadets of the 9/11 attacks against America, said, the extremists “took the lives of innocent men, women and children without regard to their faith or race or station,” and stated, “Only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden we sent our troops to Afghanistan.” (“Full Transcript: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan,” abc NEWS, Dec. 1, 2009). In fact, on October 14, 2001, the Guardian reported, “President George Bush rejected as ‘non-negotiable’ an offer by the Taliban to discuss turning over Osama bin Laden if the United States ended the bombing in Afghanistan.” Matthew Rothschild points out this fabrication and other of Obama’s West Point falsehoods in a telling editorial column on “Obama Steals Bush’s Speechwriters,” The Progressive, Dec. 2, 2009.
President Obama told the cadets that al Qaeda is “a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents,” and talked about a “new beginning between America and the Muslim world . . . that. . . promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity [italics added].” (“Full Transcript: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan”) It is as if the millions of “innocents” killed and maimed and uprooted in Iraq by the Bush administration’s falsely-based invasion and occupation of Iraq never happened. As if the air strikes of US drones and bombers have not “slaughtered” thousands of “innocents” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is as if US-armed and -backed Israel did not engage in “the slaughter of innocents” during its indiscriminate 23-day bombardment of Gaza last December, in which some 1400 Palestinians were killed, 446 of whom were children. Such tragic irony: descendents of the baby for whom “there was no room in the inn” are turning the rooms of Palestinian children into rubble. (See, “Childhood in ruins,” by Harriet Sherwood, foreign editor, guardian.co.uk, Dec. 17, 2009) Like the huge oil reserves in Iraq, it is as if Afghanistan is not “surrounded by the immense oil reserves of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea regions . . . [and] ideally situated for oil and gas pipelines to service much of Europe and south Asia, lines that can deliberately bypass non-allies of the empire, Iran and Russia,” as William Blum writes in the Dec. 10’s Counterpunch. It is as if Christianity, another “of the world’s great religions,” has not been used to bless and accommodate the defilement and destruction of “innocent men, women and children without regard to their faith or race or station.”
Another of President Obama’s statements to the Military Academy cadets does violence to the truth: “Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end [italics added].” (“Full Transcript: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan”) A week after that statement deadly bomb attacks rocked Baghdad, reportedly killing at least 121 people and wounding over 400. (The New York Times, Dec. 9, 2009). How can Obama “bring the Iraq war to a responsible end,” when there is no recognition that the Bush administration is responsible for committing a horrible war crime against the Iraqi people in invading and occupying their country?
Nine days after West Point, President Obama continued to reveal that he had no intention of “bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end.” In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he revealed his disconnect from reality in stating the “first . . . of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace”:
First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior—for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable.” (“Text of Barack Obama Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 10, 2009).
The Bush administration broke international “rules and laws” in launching a criminal war against Iraq. In 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned this unnecessary war as “illegal,” and the vast majority of people in “the international community” strongly demonstrated against it as well. The fact that the Obama administration has refused to bring the Iraq war “to a responsible end,” by “holding accountable” and prosecuting former President Bush and Vice President Cheney and others for their war crimes, speaks far louder than Obama’s rhetoric about the “three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.”
Back again at West Point, President Obama’s attempted rhetorical camouflage of reality became even more outrageous. He looked all those West Point cadets in the eyes and said about United States’ forward-moving partnership with Pakistan, “We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistan people must know America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.” (“Full Transcript: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan”). The United States provided “the guns” for and the pressure on the Pakistani army to attack Taliban strongholds, which has not “unleashed . . . the great potential” of the Pakistani people but the uprooting of well over 3 million of them. A majority of the Pakistani people see the United States not as a partner but as their enemy. (See Alberts, “The Self-Delusionary American Tragedy,” Counterpunch,
Nov. 23, 2009). Such a tall, tragic tale about “stand[ing] up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.”
One of the biggest lies President Obama told the West Point cadets is, “More than any other nation, the United States has underwritten global security for over six decades.
. . . Unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination.” (“Full Transcript: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan”) Tell that to all of the governments the United States has subverted or overthrown, and to the oppressed people under all of the dictatorships the United States has supported and installed. Tell that to the citizens in some 130 countries in which more than 1000 US military bases are located. Global domination under the guise of “global security.” US imperialism that will not protect American security, never mind “global security.” Thirty thousand more troops to Afghanistan will not create more security for America but more enemies—and more war without end, which benefits those for whom war is profitable.
In that West Point Eisenhower Hall, President Obama’s falsehoods co-existed peacefully with the echoes of contradictory words repeated often in the venerable, almost century-old Cadet Prayer:
O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. . . . Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing . . . and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense ever to diminish. . . . Make us chose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. . . . Soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer. . . . All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all. Amen. (www.usma.edu/chaplain/cadetprayer.htm)
“Great Friend” or “Master of all?” “Prince of Peace” or evangelistic predator? New-born baby or heaven-bound “Savior?” Liberator or indoctrinator? Enabler or controller? Good Samaritan or true believer? Jewish insurgent crucified as an “extremist” by Roman occupation forces for seeking to liberate his oppressed people, or “Messiah” resurrected from the dead by a Christian god to evangelize the world as the “Savior” of all? Jesus or Christ?
And beyond Jesus, all the other ways and truths and lives that empower and create community.
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS is a hospital chaplain and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.