Instead of God “creat[ing] man in his own image,” as the Book of Genesis states, “man” often creates god in his own image. The god many people worship appears to be a reflection of their own wishes and needs, cultural and ethnocentric conditioning and biases, their unresolved and often unconscious sexual urges and aggressive and submissive tendencies. Their unacceptable and guilt-producing impulses, and not Adam and Eve, cradle the “original sin” for which a righteous god sacrificed his “only begotten son” on a cross to save them– and everyone else– from eternal damnation in hell. Their pent-up, hidden anger is echoed in the thunder of a judgmental god who uses national disasters to punish and bring sinful people to their knees.
The insecurity of many Christians, and related need for the authority and certainty of absolute biblical or hierarchical truth, is the driving force behind their resurrected saviour’s imperialistic commission: “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). Their anti-democratic submissive and aggressive tendencies fuel their need to impose their beliefs on rather than affirm and empower the beliefs of others. The prevention of their own elaborative, diversified development leads them to violate rather than validate the right of other persons to unfold their own lives. And their anti-introspective tendencies, i.e. their resistance to real soul-searching, prevent them from realizing they often attribute to those they pray for and fear and seek to convert the very wishes and motivation they and their political and religious leaders harbor within themselves. They are fair game for those who seek power and domination in the name of god and country.
“God of Our Fathers”: American, white, Christian, imperialistic, heterosexual, male. The same god who led the “Founding Fathers” to a “new land” and inspired them to build a new nation on the bones of Native Americans and the backs of enslaved Africans. It is important to cut the “umbiblical” cord of and exorcise this god, for war, murder, conquest, domination and exploitation abroad and discrimination at home continue to be committed in his name. The prayerful projections of his “followers” give him—and them—away.
Rev. Arnold Conrad, for example, was talking about himself and not his god during his invocation at a McCain presidential campaign rally:
I would also pray, Lord that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god—whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah—that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons. And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day. In Jesus’ name.
Evidently, Rev. Conrad’s “Lord” did not “step forward and honor” his “own name” by willing victory for Senator McCain. Thus the minister may be wondering, uneasily, about just how “big” and “reputable” his god and he are.
Since Rev. Conrad worships such a god, one could assume he, like many Christians, believes in “signs.” There may have been a couple of heads up from heaven during the presidential campaign that he might have picked up on before putting his “faith” in his mouth. The first sign came, unwittingly, from Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian pro-life and anti-gay marriage, and thus pro-McCain-Palin group. Focus on the Family briefly carried on its website a video of Stuart Shepard, the group’s digital media director, “ask[ing] people to pray for ‘rain of biblical proportions’ during Barack Obama’s Aug. 28 appearance at Invesco Field at Mile High to accept the Democratic nomination for president. . . abundant rain, torrential rain . . . flood advisory rain . . . umbrella-ain’t-gonna-help-you rain . . . Rain that would create flash flood warnings and ‘swamp the intersections’ . . . Rain that would start ‘two minutes before the acceptance speech begins.’”
The sign: CBS Evening News reported, “Obama’s speech in front of 80,000 people at Invesco Field at Mile High was the biggest acceptance speech in history, topping the nearly 60,000 people who came out to see John F. Kennedy accept the Democratic nomination at the L.A. Coliseum in 1960.”
The second sign came in the form of a hurricane, and was reported by POLITICO: “John McCain said the Republican National Convention may be postponed, after federal officials said Hurricane Gustav was gathering to a devastating Category 5 as it headed toward star-crossed New Orleans.” 4 Not only did Hurricane Gustav delay the Republican Convention, it was a foreboding reminder of the Republican administration’s glaring failure in response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. What the world needs are not hurricanes as signs of a punitive god but rainbows as reminders of the diversity of divinity and the divinity of diversity.
President Bush is the worshiper-in-chief of the American, white, Christian, imperialistic god. Following the terrible 9/11 attacks against America, he preached, “I want to remind the people of America, we’re still the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.” He began his administration’s knowingly falsely-based, criminal, pre-emptive war against non-threatening Iraq with the prayer, “I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength. I pray for peace. I pray for peace.” And when his lies were exposed (Iraq had no “mushroom-cloud” threatening weapons of mass destruction and no ties to the horrific 9/11 attacks against America), he diverted attention from his administration’s war crimes by repeatedly preaching, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” It was not about spreading “freedom” and “democracy” but about pursuing oil and empire—and the profiteering of the military industrial complex.
Over one million Iraqi women and children and other civilians are dead. The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq also provoked a bloodbath, with thousands of Sunnis and Shiites killing each other in a civil war. Some four million Iraqis are refugees inside and outside their country. And the Bush administration’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has devastated the country’s life-sustaining infrastructure. On the American side: more than 4100 of our country’s men and women are dead, and estimates of from thirty thousand to one hundred thousand are wounded in body and mind and spirit. And as our nation’s national resources continue to be wasted in an unnecessary criminal war, our related economic crisis grows worse.
President Bush is certainly projector-in-chief of the American, white, Christian, imperialistic god. In the run-up to his administration’s war of choice, he continually accused Saddam Hussein of playing “games and deceptions” with his weapons of mass destruction: “How much time do we need to see clearly that he is not disarming. . . . The game is over.” It was Bush who played the game of deception. He also repeatedly projected his administration’s unprovoked murderous aggression on to the enemy:
Our enemies murder because they despise our freedom and our way of life. . . . They kill women and children. . . Terrorists are coming into Iraq because they fear the march of freedom. . . . We’re fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, striking them in foreign lands before they can attack us here at home. And we’re spreading the hope of freedom across the broader Middle East.
Another classic projection of American imperialism is exemplified by Vice President Cheney. He reportedly “used the deck of an American aircraft carrier just 150 miles off Iran’s coast [italics added] as the backdrop yesterday to warn that the United States was prepared to use its naval power to keep Tehran from disrupting oil routes or ‘gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.’”
The projections of the president and vice president were intentional: designed to create fearful projections in Americans, and play on them to divert attention from American imperialism. What better way to hide aggression and domination than to wrap them in “freedom” and interpret as “terrorist” the reactions of its victims.
Similarly, the Guantanamo Bay prison camp nearby the US mainland is designed to manufacture and manipulate fearful projections. The administration-proclaimed dangerous incarcerated “terrorists,” so close, are a constant reminder of those who, in President Bush’s words, are a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life.”
The greatest threat to America’s way of life comes from within not from without. Loss of jobs, home foreclosures, shrinking pensions, deteriorating schools and infrastructure, inadequate healthcare, the higher cost of food and other basic necessities, the growing invisible poor. America’s imperialistic, hate-producing reputation around the world, caused by the Bush administration’s UN-condemned illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, indiscriminate rounding up and imprisonment of so-called “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay detention center, the denial of due process to those imprisoned, the use of torture and abuse of prisoners in violation of the Geneva Conventions. These realities are a major part of the legacy of a president who used prayer and his god to wage a war of terror in the name of peace, in our name.
President Bush is now engaging in a series of exit interviews with mainstream media in an attempt to redefine reality once again and thus refurbish his legacy. The first interview was on December 1 with accommodating ABC Evening News anchor Charles Gibson who asked, “As you leave, what do you think the country’s feeling is about George W. Bush?” The president spun reality his way:
I hope they feel that this is a guy that came, didn’t sell his soul for politics, had to make some tough decisions, and did so in a principled way. … The thing that’s important to me is to go home and look in the mirror and say, I did not compromise my principles. And I didn’t.
An obliging Charles Gibson followed with, “Was there a time when you thought, if I do this I will be compromising my principles?” President Bush ran with the question:
The pullout of Iraq. It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids in harm’s way, you go in to win. And it was a tough call. … I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I’m not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I’m going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.”
When congenial Charles Gibson asked if there were anything he would do over as president, George Bush replied,
“I don’t know. The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein.”
Charles Gibson then flirted with President Bush’s war crimes: “If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?” Bush repeated the big lie: “Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the UN resolutions were being upheld.” Here Gibson permitted Bush to continue distorting the intelligence. Hussein allowed the UN weapons inspectors to go in, and they followed US intelligence leads; and, as chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reported, they found no “smoking gun.” And their inspections were abruptly ended when Bush launched his administration’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.
President Bush obviously had something else on his mind when he said, “I wish the intelligence had been different.” For he “put kids in harm’s way”needlessly, and they continue “to die in vain.”—not because of “the intelligence failure in Iraq” but because Bush ignored the intelligence that revealed Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Bush’s greatest regret is that the intelligence failed to justify his administration’s criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq.
President Bush ended his legacy -enabling exit interview with non-challenging Charles Gibson on an upbeat note. He is going “to write a book,” and “build an institute at Southern Methodist University, along with the library and archives,” and “will leave the presidency with my head held high.”
In January, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, two of the worst war criminals in the world, will leave office as free men. Rather than censoring them, The United Methodist Church, of which both are members, is preparing to house the Bush library at Southern Methodist University. Some United Methodist bishops and ministers and lay persons protested housing the Bush library there, but not enough. And The United Methodist Council of Bishops did protest the Bush administration’s pre-emptive invasion and occupation of Iraq. But their “Statement of Conscience” against the war, which called on “all United Methodists [to] object with boldness,hjk” was measured not “bold.” They called for prayer not protest, and they avoided naming the two men most responsible for the death and destruction visited upon the people of Iraq and America: their own church members, President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Their public statements followed, rather than led, public opinion against the war. Political– and many religious—leaders don’t care if people pray all day—as long as they keep their hands folded.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that two conditions are “incompatible with Christian teachings”: war and homosexuality. Gay and lesbian persons, who pursue their natural sexual identity, are not allowed to be ordained as United Methodist ministers—and ministers face expulsion if they come out of the church closet and profess their love and commitment for another same sex person. And United Methodist pastors who perform marriages of loving and committed same sex couples have their ministerial credentials revoked. Yet a self-professed “war president” can commit mass murder and be embraced as a celebrity by the dominating hierarchy– and lowerarchy– of United Methodism—a hierarchy that controls its ministers’ appointments and advancements and thereby keeps the consciences of many– the corrupting power of a hierarchy. The greatest threat to hierarchical Methodism is apparently not hatred that leads people to war but love that brings certain of them together in marriage.
There is, however, a growing movement within United Methodism to fully affirm and embrace gay and lesbian persons—a movement enjoined by retired ministers in the New England and other Methodist Conferences, who are committed to performing gay marriages and to the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in The United Methodist Church. While there are important exceptions, the god of hierarchical United Methodism is mainly American, very much imperialistic, and ever heterosexual.
The worshipper-in-chief of the all American, white, Christian, imperialistic god inspired similar godly projections across the evangelical horizon. President Bush’s war of choice, wrapped in “I pray for peace,” elicited strong evangelical support. The Pew Research Center for the People surveyed the religious views of a potential war, and found that “80% of evangelical white Protestants support the war, the highest tally of any group measured.” Charles Marsh, evangelical and University of Virginia professor of religion, elaborated on this support. “The war sermons of influential evangelical ministers,” he wrote, “rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87% of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president’s decision in April 2003.” It was about projection: Marsh states, “The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God’s will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq [italics added], we shall gloriously comply.” It was also about the imperialism at the heart of evangelical Christianity. Marsh quoted a missionary whose article appeared in the Southern Baptist Convention Press: “American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Marsh continued, “As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marion Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former advisor to President Bush, echoed those sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.”
Not Jesus, the Jewish prophet, who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). Not the one who, like numerous other Jewish insurgents, was crucified on a cross by Rome for seeking to liberate the Jewish people from Roman occupation. But the three generations later resurrected Christ of the just formed Trinity, whose disciples used Christianity’s newly obtained power, as the official religion of the Roman Empire, to “go into all the world and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, i.e., do unto the Jews what had been done to the oppressed Jews in Jesus’ day.
The American, white, Christian, imperialistic god is seen in sincere, but sadly unreflective patriotic prayers. Typical is a Real Estate Blog entitled, “Hot Weather in Iraq. Please Pray for Our Troops.” The Blog states, “You think you have it bad, according to the weather report, it is 122 degrees in Iraq right now—and the low will be 95! Our troops,” the appeal continued, “need our prayers for strength, endurance, and safety. Of all the gifts you could give a US Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and others deployed in harm’s way [italics added] prayer is the very best one!”
“In harm’s way.” The US troops were put “in harm’s way” by the Bush administration—as were the non-threatening Iraqi people. “In harm’s way” is a projection on to the Iraqi people the harm created by Bush administration lies on which the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq was based. The lies of a “freedom-loving” American, Christian, imperialistic god.
So many earnest but ethically hollow prayers, in sanctuaries across America and on countless websites, for the protection and safe return of US troops in Iraq. How biased is such a god to whom many pray! To pray for the safety of American troops invading and occupying Iraq is to ignore their ordered violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and the safety and rights and suffering of Iraqi sons and daughter and mothers and fathers, whose lives are just as precious and sacred as those of America’s sons and daughters and mothers and fathers. To offer such prayers is to ignore—and sanctify—the international war crime committed by the Bush administration in our name. To worship such an ethnocentric god is to seek favoritism and exemption in the face of injustice and truth. It is understandably safer to pray for the troops and for peace than to pray and protest truth to power. For truth does not exempt. Nor love exclude or play favorites. Not “support the troops” but America’s sons and daughters, by refusing to allow elected leaders to use patriotism and piety as camouflage for sacrificing them on the altars of corporate greed and political domination.
From liberating people to evangelizing them. From empowering them to gaining power over them. Christocentrism and ethnocentrism worship at the same imperialistic altar.
What if Christians controlled the world in the same way they biblically believe they control the gates of heaven. The recent anti-democratic votes in California and Arizona and Florida denying marriage to loving and committed gay and lesbian couples are merely indicators of what could happen to “the unsaved.” How many other legal ways might be used to make “perish” those who believe that the god of John 3: 16, who supposedly “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” is obviously not big enough to love everyone in the world? What kind of hell would they create on earth for those who do not believe in their “heaven”? If they had the power, what kind of holy holocaust might they create with their unexamined aggressive and submissive tendencies? The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of god is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). How frightening if “true believers” had the power to define and punish “sin” on earth as they preach knowingly about the “sin” their god in heaven condemns. The belief in “The Rapture,” during which only those who accept Christ as their saviour will be resurrected to join him at his second coming, and in the horrible “Tribulation” that will befall everyone else “left behind” at “the end times” reveal a god who is capable of committing genocide of unimaginable magnitude.
Any god worth worshiping is far more than American, or White, or Christian, or heterosexual, or male. Perhaps divinity is revealed in our humanity. We do not look alike, nor speak alike, nor think alike, nor even worship alike. But we do laugh alike, and cry alike, and love alike, and mourn alike. Not a god “bigger” than other gods, but big enough to love all people, and inspire them to see each other’s tears and laughter—with no proselytizing strings attached.
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. 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.