“And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.”
The poverty-smashed country of Iraq was never so grand as its ancestor, that fertile valley between the Tigris and Euphrates from which came the Sumerians, the Akkadians, and the birth of human civilization. The great city of Babylon will always tower over Baghdad itself. The mythical aura never dimmed, in part because this was not just the civilization of Iraqis and their predecessors; it was OUR civilization, human civilization. It was the inevitable migrations of Babylonians and their descendants that gave us Greece.
If Babylon has fallen, and it has, what does it say about civilization and the human values that allow such wanton destruction? The oldest artifacts of civilized society came from Mesopotamia, now in near ruins, the victim of its modern treasure, black oil.
While bodies lay still unburied in the streets of Baghdad, Anglo-American soldiers from the invading armies watched these irreplaceable treasures stolen and smashed, while they guarded oil refineries. The image may possibly become a symbol for the barbarism of the recent invasion.
A further symbol of the nature of this vulgarity lies in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, regarding the looting: “They keep showing the same picture over and over; some guy carrying a couple of vases. There’s not twenty vases in the whole country!” Rumsfeld, of course, knew nothing of what he was saying but added greatly to the picture of a bunch of “good ole” beer-swilling cowboys now running things. No artsy-fartsy sissies, these boys, Rumsfeld may as well have said.
Religious fanaticism is woven throughout this terrible tapestry, as it has been throughout most of the history of our species. Violence is almost always the product of fanaticism. When Isaiah of the Christian bible writes that “Babylon is fallen,” he is not lamenting; his words ring of no sorrow or loss.
In the First Gulf War, for example, an F-16 fighter/bomber had “Isaiah 21:9” written on its bombs. Why Isaiah?
To this writer’s taste, Isaiah was a pretty bloodthirsty fellow, certainly not someone I would have wanted my daughter to bring to dinner. In separate verse, he foretold the deaths of the people of Babylon:
“Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.” (Isaiah 13:15-16)
Yup, it’s all in that bible that George W. waves around at his photo ops. “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes…” the whole thing, in the book that is accepted as proof that George W. Bush is a man of god.
But here is the point: The U.S., in destroying Iraq and the history of our own culture, has clarified its anti-cultural, anti-intellectual, anti-compassionate, anti-inclusive stance in a way that portrays the United States, depicting itself as the white-hatted Christians, with accurate shock and awe. Few times in our spotted history have shown us to be as clearly the bad guys as this rape of Babylon. Old tired eyes can spot all the mud and grime on those white hats in a nanosecond.
In complacent but rather emotional ignorance, many Americans believe that we achieved a great victory by militarily destroying a country that never had a moment’s chance against the military machine that consumes half the globe’s expenditure of materials designed to kill people. It may be that Costa Rica, which has no army, could have defeated Iraq in the state to which it had been relegated by twenty-three years of war and sanctions. A few thousand eager farmers armed with machetes would have provided a truer balance with the “power” of Iraq than the world’s greatest military might, literally sagging with weapons of global destruction.
And here it comes, but it’s honest experience. I notice this daily: There is a direct correlation between the number of flags on an SUV and the pisces/”I ride with Jesus” stickers. These people, who seem challenged to comprehend the simplicity of “Thou shalt not kill,” know that war and fundamentalist religion have a connect like kissing cousins, if only because they both FEEL so damned good.
Of COURSE there are exceptions, but for the most part I noticed no signs of grief at the supermarket on the days when children’s arms were being blown off, not even the day the Anglo-American forces marched into Baghdad, killing thousands of young Iraqi men all on the same day, the vastness of the killing shocking our own soldiers who were THERE without a CNN filter. I watched, on several of the days. I saw laughing people hauling bags and bags of nitrate-jammed, high-fat, processed foods out to their cars. If they saw my anti-war tee-shirt, they pretended not to notice, as they climbed into their cars, so often SUVs with several cheap made-in-China, sometimes tattered flags attesting to their patriotism.
And a further look too often cemented the link. There it would be, on the bumper: “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”
Fanatical religion has been waving an axe at anyone who disagreed with it for centuries, and only the heretics dare ask how one can be so certain that “God said it,” beyond singing the child’s verse of “The Bible tells me so.”
As we count up the dead (or, if Donald Rumsfeld has his way, refuse to count the dead), Franklin Graham, who called Islam a “wicked religion” is massing his militant evangelicals on the Jordanian border to set up new ministries in Iraq (Matt Engel, THE GUARDIAN). These ministries will allow the starving, conquered people to be paid with food and water if they “Praise the Lord” and reject Islam.
The presence of these self-described “Christians” who will first kill, then force their religion down the throats of the vanquished is not a disconnected result of the overthrow of Iraq. Their presence, the violence they engender, is an artery straight from the cancerous imperialism replanted in our country by the cadre of men now breaking world records in the transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the upper three percent. And the sharpest idiocy of it all is that those whose wealth is being transferred to the Bushes and Rumsfelds and Cheneys of the country are in church singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” with flags in their lapels.
With cold hands, I still remember vividly my first exposure to what then seemed only glassy-eyed extremism, so different from the gentle Christianity in which I was raised. (Yes, I knew about the inquisitions, but that — I thought — was the past.) A neighbor I barely knew stepped into my yard as I was planting daffodil bulbs, her face radiant. She had “good news” for me.
Having met only briefly I was honored that she wanted to share what I suspected must be a pregnancy. By the time she finished her fifteen-minute breathtaking account of how Jesus was soon to return and that we needed to prepare for “Rapture,” the ascent into the skies, leaving all the sinners behind to catch the flak when Armageddon came down, I knew we weren’t going to be sharing tea on an afternoon basis. But what I never even guessed at was how DANGEROUS this young woman was.
That happened a year later, when my children became great role-playing buffs and spent hours a day dueling the goblins of “Dungeons and Dragons.” The same born-again neighbor’s son came by one day, saw the Gary Gygax guidebooks with monsters on the pages. Word spread throughout the neighborhood. The Thomas household was harboring evil; a child had entered the house and been overwhelmed by the presence of Satan.
That should have been that, a creepy little incident I should have summarized and sent to Stephen King, but it didn’t end. A while later, the same boy came after my daughter with a b-b gun, shooting through a bedroom window. Fortunately, his god had not taught him good marksmanship.
I should have read Isaiah and I would have understood, but even then, I took my friends’ words for it: “Give it two years, and the craze will be dead.” Now, twenty years later the streets of Iraq are stained with blood, and I have few doubts about the connection.
Begrudgingly, I give credit to the people now running our country and the world for having had some smart people lay the whole thing out. Religion and the media, the keys. I’m aware that Isaiah was there from early on, but I’m also aware that religion is a dynamic force, as much so as language. You pick and choose. “They” chose the Isaiahs. I doubt that the Christians devoting their lives to fighting poverty in Central America have statues of Isaiah on their patios. There’s a skeleton in EVERYONE’s closet.
When the people who designed the new Pax Americana infiltrated religion, they seduced people by the most spectacular rewards imaginable vs. total horror, eternal bliss on a throne or roasting in hell for eternity. When they then took our media, they soaked the country with the message that the far right had the lock on the throne scene, that liberals were headed to the flames. And the larger neo-fundamentalist community has been stocked with leaders and preachers quick to hiss that Bush is doing God’s work, may have even been CHOSEN by God for this role.
Our people have been threatened, bribed, and bought. In the past 25 years the message that intellectualism is bad, freethinking is evil, has permeated the roots of fear in an entire generation. We are now in a situation we could not have fathomed in the sixties. We all talk about the apathy, greed, and shallowness in our country. But I am beginning to see something I couldn’t see a year ago. FEAR. Total ignorance has turned to anxiety.
People KNOW something is wrong. Dale Reynolds of Radio Left recently wrote of it in his excellent rant against Michael Savage and the loss of our media in “What They Really Said: NOT QUITE A SAVAGE NATION” It’s a longish, very thought-provoking account of Dale’s recent visit back to the states and the differences he noted in the past two years. But one line has stuck: “All men of violence put God on their side.”
Where is Alexander Pope when you need him?
“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of Mankind is Man.” (from Pope’s AN ESSAY ON MAN) I’m a staunch defender of our founding fathers’ insistence that we keep church and state separate. But their wishes are not being respected, and as I watch a neo-Christian fundamentalism that seems to make no room whatsoever for the Prince of Peace who was the God of MY youth, perhaps a reevaluation of the role of religion today may be our salvation. It is, after all, in the name of God that the neocons are whetting appetites to kill, conquer and control.
They are doing precisely what the radical Islamic fundamentalists are doing, using their religion to their own purposes and mowing down however many thousands or millions of people get in their way.
They are controlling the poor in the same ways that ancient kings and feudal lords did, by justifying the postponement of equality as something that would come in heaven, if the poor only did as they were told. Same thing now, as the middle class shrinks, all the while believing that cutting taxes on the super wealthy is good for the nation. Those with such faith are probably unaware that the new tax cut will provide nothing, as in zero, to one third of the nation, less than 100 dollars to 64 million citizens, $44,500 to George W. Bush, and $327,000 to Dick Cheney. Tempting it is to think that maybe Bush and Cheney really DO have God on their side in the face of such stats.
Not to go poetry-crazy on us, but the very writing of the above words conjures up old favorites, these from Coleridge:
Beware, beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice, and close your eyes in holy dread For he on honeydew hath fed, and drunk the milk of paradise.
Was Coleridge talking about the young woman whose son tried to shoot my daughter with a b-b gun? I rather think so, and I’m rather serious. I wonder if she, who probably supports the new tax bill, suspects how much her grandchildren will have to fork over to cover the $84,000 tax savings it will bring to Donald Rumsfeld next year. I wonder if she, still of Rapture faith, is curious to know why Cheney needs another $327,000 added to the deficit if he is soon to be heaven-bound.
Religion is (or should be) one of the most personal aspects of our lives. The neocons are no longer allowing that. What is now approved behavior is to wave a bible in the air (Bush on the White House lawn), point your finger (Ashcroft), shout constantly about “evil” (Bush at every opportunity) and condemn those of “other” faiths.
For some of us, the neo-Christianity, fanatic as it is, sticks in our throats with the same bitterness as fanaticism in ANY religion, most certainly including fanatical Islam, which twists the words of its prophet as strongly as neoChristian fundamentalists twist the words of the carpenter who advised us to cast aside our worldly possessions and love all people.
Who ARE the fanatics? We all know: George Bush, Osama bin Laden, Jerry Falwell, the Taliban, John Ashcroft.
The thinking people of this country have either joined sides with those from whom they will profit or they are scared. Possibly, the most powerful tool used to move us from where we were to the darkness in which we now live is the “takeover” of Christianity by the men who would (and probably WILL and maybe already DO) control the globe.
It does not HAVE to be this way. There are 300 million of us against a few thousand of them. In between are those who are afraid, who will follow ANY orders for the gaudy throne and their own 72 angels they expect to hover over it someday. No, I am NOT bashing Christianity. I am not criticizing the leaders of churches that teach Christianity as we knew it a generation or two back. After all, Pope John Paul and the leaders of EVERY major religion in this country except for the Baptists begged Bush to scrap his plans to kill Iraq. They BEGGED. It’s not traditional Christians I fear; it’s the convoluted, politically-shaped, ignorant, twisted versions that are stimulated by the power of emphasizing Christ with a sword in his hand. That image makes heaps of silver for weapons manufacturers and corporations that rebuild countries after we’ve bombed them to dust. That sword that some see Christ carrying is worth billions.
A reevaluation of what has been done to Christianity in this country has never been more pertinent to our survival. I recently asked my eleven-year old: “When you pray at night, do you feel better if you ask God to please help us kill thousands of people so that we can have their land or if you ask Him to bless all the people and animals of the globe?”
He drew back and looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
As Coleridge said, “Beware, beware.” We are lying in a desert right now, and we are dying of thirst. Almost 300 million of us, and we are allowing “them” to use the tools of sacredness to keep us prone upon the sand. All the while, water is within crawling distance.
LISA WALSH THOMAS is a lifelong writer and human rights activist. Her second book, “The Girl with Yellow Flowers in Her Hair,” is now available through Pitchfork Publishing at http://www.pitchforkpublishing.com.
Lisa can be reached at: email@example.com
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