It is assumed that everyone knows what one means when one speaks or writes about “God.” As if one is referring to a commonly understood, supreme, morally absolute, all powerful, good, merciful, just, loving, objective reality. It is not only about speaking to “God,” but for “God.” With these “godly” attributes readily attributed to one’s idealized self and one’s religious—or political– group and mission. In fact, while “God” is as common as human breath, the purposes attributed to “Him” are as broad, and diverse, as human breadth. People often act as if they are talking about the same “God,” when they are actually talking about themselves, i.e., projecting upward and outward their own wishes, biases, insecurities, domination or dependency tendencies, ignorance, and strengths— propensities born of their own developmental, cultural, ethnic, political, conditioning and realities.
Thus “God” often serves as The Great Wastebasket in the Sky, into which people dump and justify and ignore much evil committed by their political, military, corporate and religious leaders in “God’s” and their name. The “Founding Fathers,” for example, believed the United States to be a nation of Biblical proportions, led by “God” to become “the light of the world . . . [like] a city set on a hill [that] cannot be hid.” Thus “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5: 14-16)– an American “manifest destiny”-play on Jesus’ words that led waves of pioneers to let their “light” and “good works” shine all the way to the Pacific Ocean, fueled by the forced labor of The Other, enslaved black persons. With the pioneers clearing out everything in their way, including The Other, the indigenous peoples standing in the way of “progress.” Here, one’s sanctified “light” and “good works” becomes another’s darkness and destruction.
American exceptionalism, with its ingrained imperialism and accommodating Christocentricism, continues to shed “light” and “good works” on The Other of today. The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 21) It should be no surprise that “God” is often the code word used to overcome good with evil. What better way to camouflage evil than with “God.” Thus the subtle, taken-for-granted usage of the word “God” makes it imperative to ask, “God” who?
One “God”-declaring person to be questioned is Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Fox TV talk show host, ABC political analyst and Southern Baptist minister. Huckabee said about the horrific massacre of Newtown, Connecticut’s 20 school children and six teachers and other staff: “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. . . . Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” (“Mike Huckabee: Newtown Shooting No Surprise, We’ve ‘Systematically Removed God’ From Schools,” By Nick Wing & Paige Lavender, The Huffington Post, Dec. 15, 2012) Similarly, in response to last summer’s terrible mass killings in an Aurora, Colorado theater, Huckabee said, again on Fox News, “We don’t’ have a crime problem, a gun problem, or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. . . . And,” he continued, “since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised . . . when all hell breaks loose.” (Ibid)
“God” who? According to Mike Huckabee, a Christocentric god. In 1998, ten weeks after four school children and a teacher were shot and killed by two students at the Jonesboro middle school in Arkansas, then Gov. Huckabee told a conference of Southern Baptist ministers that he did not leave the pulpit for politics “because I thought government had a better answer.” On the contrary, he said, “I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives. . . . There’s not one thing we can do in those marbled halls and domed capitals,” he said, “that can equal what’s done when Jesus touches the lives of a sinner [sic].” To Huckabee, “The nation has descended gradually into crisis, and the solution is simple: faith in Christ. . . . I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” (“Huckabee: U.S. gave up on religion. School shootings were wake-up call, he says,” by Linda S. Caillouet, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 8, 1998)
“We’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations . . . we really shouldn’t act so surprised . . . when all hell breaks loose.” “All hell broke loose in Iraq when a “Christ changed my heart,” “God”-professing, United Methodist-affiliated president exploited the shocking 9/11 attacks against America. President George W. Bush turned himself into “Commander-in-Chief”, militarized America, declared an endless global “war on terror,” falsely accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction, and, with much of mainstream media’s cheerleading assistance, manipulated “onward Christian soldiers” into literally “marching as to war” against Iraq.
“I pray daily. I pray for wisdom and guidance and strength. . . . I pray for peace” (The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2003), President Bush said at a press conference two weeks before his administration launched its long-planned, falsely based pre-emptive invasion and occupation of Iraq. Not enough Christians insisted then, nor have persisted now, in demanding that Bush answer, “God” who? He, and his administration, committed an unspeakable war crime: the shocking carnage of death and destruction visited upon the people of Iraq has yet to enter the mainstream of America’s social, political and religious consciousness. At the most, this murderous international war crime is described as a “mistake.”
And where was Mike Huckabee and his “God” when “all hell broke loose” in Iraq? He made his position known: “We need to leave [Iraq] with victory, and we need to leave with honor. . . . We don’t want to be there for 100 years,” he stated, “but however long it takes to get out of there with victory and with honor, we owe it to those who are gone to make sure they did not go in vain.” (“Mike Huckabee on War & Peace,” www.ontheissues.org)
Regarding those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration manufactured to justify it criminal war against Iraq, Mike Huckabee said, “We owe him [Bush] our thanks that he had the courage to recognize a potential of weapons of mass destruction. . . . Everybody can say we didn’t find the weapons,” Huckabee continued. “It doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Just because you didn’t find every Easter egg didn’t mean that it wasn’t planted.” (Ibid) Huckabee’s predatory and imperialistic Christocentric belief, that “the real answers of life lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives,” accommodates political leaders’ and their corporate military industrial complex benefactors’ use of American exceptionalism to diminish and destroy The Other for purposes of power and profit.
Mike Huckabee represents the tribalism inherent in Christocentric belief. To prove he has an inclusive ethic, he quotes Jesus’ teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (“Mike Huckabee on Finding Answers” Accepting Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” By Austin Cline, About.com Agnostic/Atheism) But in Huckabee’s Christocentric heart, the “neighbor” is one who looks and speaks and believes and loves like he does. In Christocentric belief, it is not really about loving one’s neighbor as oneself, but wanting one’s neighbor to be like oneself.
What would Mike Huckabee’s Christocentric “God” be doing in Newtown, Connecticut schools? The confined and confining world view of an arrogant Christocentric Christian, who believes that the problem is “sin,” and, of course, he has the answer: “faith in Christ.”
In America, “God” has become gun-friendly. The pervasive, religiously blessed and acquiesced, President Bush-intensified, militarization of America, with the use of predatory force to resolve disputes and perceived and manufactured threats, has its own boomerang effect on the Country’s civic life, with school children, theater goers, and college students– and increasing suicides of U.S. troops—as victims. And, now, calls for arming teachers and placing guards in the schools. Another militarizing lesson, on resorting to violence to solve complex interpersonal problems, that will not be lost on school children.
Another political leader who plays fast and loose with “God” is President Obama. He concluded his speech at Newtown’s prayer vigil by listing the first name of each of the massacred 20 school children, and followed by saying, “God has called them all home.” He then ended with, “May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort, and may He bless and watch over this community and the United States of America.” “God” who?
What about the children in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, who are victims of U. S. drone strikes? These nameless Other are not “called home by God,” but blasted into eternity by the Obama administration’s immoral, sovereignty-violating drone policy. In outraged Pakistan alone, a reported 2,562-3,325 people have been killed by U.S. drone strikes from 2004 to late 2012, “of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children . . . [with the] injured an additional 1.228-1,362 individuals, according to the Stanford/NYU study.” (“Drone strikes kill, maim and traumatize too many civilians, U.S. study says,” By the CNN Wire Staff, cpf.cleanprint.net, Sept. 25, 2012)
The nameless Other and their children are actually victims of an American “God.” A “God who will show up at the end of President Obama’s speeches in his words, “God bless the United States of America”– tried and true codes words for American exceptionalism. And “God” will bless America; for America’s unchallenged military power now even fills the skies, allowing it to live in a parallel universe, determining right and wrong, with a “kill list” of who lives and who dies. Subtly, in this ethnocentric mindset, with much verbal and silent Christocentric blessing and acquiescence, there is little distinction between “God” and America. They become one and the same in the for-power- and-profit global “war on terror.”
But there is a moral catch to America’s “God.” As the exploitation and killing of The Other and their children continue, America’s children and mothers and fathers and communities will not be safe—no matter how many teachers possess guns and armed guards patrol the halls. America’s imperialistic, Christocentric-blessed, foreign policy, now as when under President Bush, is making sure the United States will never run out of enemies– nor be safe. (See “The ‘War on Terror’- by Design- Can Never End,” by Glen Greenwald, The Guardian, Jan. 4, 2013) While America burns in “God’s” name, many Christians continue doing their thing.
Having been a hospital chaplain for over 18 years, I’ve been a bedside witness to numerous ways in which patients and their families have been enabled by their faith in a loving god. Thus I do not assume that “God” serves as a wastebasket for everyone. The faith of countless people inspires in them a wellspring of empowerment and love.
The concern here is with the kind of love that encourages people to experience their own humanness, thus allowing them to experience the humanness of people in front of them and beyond them. Love that sees all other people as human beings like oneself, and not as The Other. Love that recognizes the inherent worth and rights of every other human being. Love that begins on earth, with people, and includes everyone. Children are born with the capacity to express such inclusive love. It is in nurturing children to love themselves, that we prepare them to love their neighbor as themselves and to put themselves in another’s shoes, as Jesus and other great prophets of universal love have taught and modeled. Instead of beginning with a “God” in the sky, we might begin on earth, with the flesh and blood humanness everyone shares. For it is through the experience of their own and each other’s humanity, that many discover “God is love.” And for many others, the humanness of love itself is enough. Either way, we are led to each other’s individuality and inalienable worth.
Rev. Wiliam E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His recently published book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, is available on Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.