At Easter, throughout America, throngs of Christians will fill their churches enthusiastically singing hymns of “the resurrection of the dead,” while their government’s “Christian soldiers” are “marching as to war,” killing, maiming, and uprooting throngs of faceless Muslim men, women and children and other non-Christians in their name.
Christians of various denominations will lift up their voices and shout, “Alleluia! . . . The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won.” (Words: Anonymous; Music: Giovanni P. De Palestrina, The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989) In the face of the continuing “strife” in Iraq, where well over one million civilians have been killed and some four million more uprooted, as a result of the Easter worshippers’ government’s falsely based illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in their name. (See “Civilian deaths may top 1 million, poll data indicate,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 14, 2007) And in Pakistan, the number of civilians made internal refugees just by the recent US-pressured Pakistani military’s “battle” against Taliban havens is estimated to be between 2 and 3 million, creating terrible humanitarian “strife.” (See “Pakistan’s Refugee Disaster,” by Stewart J. Lawrence, Counterpunch, Dec. 18-20, 2009).
Followers of a “risen Christ” will crowd into sanctuaries across America and sing a favorite resurrection song”:
Love’s redeeming work is done,
Fought the fight, the battle won,
Death in vain forbids him rise,
Christ has opened Paradise.
(“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” Words: Charles Wesley; Music: Lyra Davidica, The United Methodist Hymnal.)
And far away their government’s military’s pilotless drones and Special Forces helicopters continue putting to death civilians of all ages in Afghanistan and Pakistan in their name. But the Easter worshippers may find comfort in the prescribed apology of top US commander, General Stanley A. McChrystal, who said, in response to the latest airstrike that ended any earthly “paradise” for 27 Afghan civilians, “We are extremely saddened by this tragic loss of innocent lives.” His next words also were intended to salve the consciences of the Easter masses more than to reassure the Afghan people: “I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people [italics added].” For good measure, he added, “I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans.” (The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2010.)
“We are here to protect the Afghan people.” It is as if the US military were invited rather than having mercilessly bombed and then invaded Afghanistan. The arrogance of American imperialistic exceptionalism. That redefines invading as invited, killing as “protecting,” destroying as “building” and controlling as “trusting.” Such exceptionalistic words are music to the ears of like-minded exceptionalistic-believing Christians, especially at Easter-time when their “risen Christ” is proof of Christianity’s own uniqueness and superiority.
General McChrystal’s public relations assault on reality makes disappear the violent termination of “a brighter future” for the Muslims who get in the way of or resist the “goodness” of America’s imperialistic foreign policy. A foreign policy whose assumed aim is not “to build a brighter future for all Afghans,” but to brighten profits for America’s military-industrial complex. The other assumed aim is controlling Afghanistan because of the strategic access it provides for the huge oil and natural gas resources in the Caspian Sea area. (See, “The US War in Afghanistan: Another Oil War?,” by David Michael Smith, www.impactpress.com, June-July, 2002) Like Iraq with its enormous oil reserves, America’s mission in Afghanistan is fuel and profits for the political-controlling corporate elite not “the bright future” of freedom and peace for the Afghan people. Facts most Christians do not want to be disturbed by, especially on their holiest of Sundays when they are worshipping “the resurrection of the dead.”
For most Christians, Easter is about a sunrise that brightens an empty tomb. “Lives again our glorious King,” they harmonize, “Where, O death, is now they sting? . . . Once he died our souls to save [italics added], Where’s thy victory, boasting grave?” (Ibid) Faith in an eternally loving god in the face of death especially is very comforting for many people. It meets very human needs. Easter, however, for most Christians, is about individual salvation not interpersonal solidarity. It is about personal resurrection from the dead not community restoration for the living. It is about an “open” tomb that is restricted. It is for believers only not justice for all. It is about eternity not ethics, about right belief not just behavior. It is about the resurrection of the dead not the living. And in its exceptionalistic extreme, it invites those narcissistic voices of the Christian faith to drown out the “sting of death” and the graves and grief of faceless Muslims and other human beings and their loved ones. They are victims of internationally condemned American crimes against humanity committed by the Easter worshippers’ government in their name,
Thus, at Easter, two of the world’s worst war criminals, former president George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, will be warmly greeted in their respective United Methodist Churches, and may even join in singing,
Crown him the Lord of peace,
whose powers a scepter sways
from pole to pole, that wars may cease,
and all be prayer and praise.
`His reign shall know no end,
and round his pierced feet
fair flowers of paradise extend
their fragrance ever sweet.
(“Crown Him with Many Crowns,” Words: Matthew Bridges; Music: George J. Elvey, The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989)
A self-portrayed man of prayer especially, former President Bush “preyed” America into one war after another. (See Alberts, “Faith-Based Deceptions: On Bended Knee,” www.counterpunch.com, Oct. 22/24, 2004) Still cloaking his war crimes in piety, he recently said that his “faith helped in tough times as president.” (Associated Press, USA TODAY.com, Mar. 1, 2010) His “tough times” were when he lied about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify his administration’s criminal war against Iraq. “Tough times” that became deadly and destructive times for millions of Iraqi mothers and fathers and their children—and for close to 4400 American sons and daughters killed and an estimated over one hundred thousand wounded. (See, www.anti.war.com/casualties)
According to former vice president Cheney, all the deaths and destruction in Iraq were worth it. He recently criticized the Obama administration for “wrongly trying to take credit for any progress in Iraq,” when they opposed the war. “If we’d followed the policies they’d pursued from the outset or advocated from the outset,” Cheney commented, “Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Baghdad today.” (The New York Times, Feb. 15, 2010) Probably. And all the dead and wounded Iraqi and American human beings would still be alive and whole. And the UN weapons inspectors would have finished their work, which the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq conveniently aborted, and found that Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction—nor ties to Al Qaeda, which Bush and Cheney repeatedly claimed to justify their administration’s pre-emptive war against Iraq.
“Tough times.” Not for formers president Bush and vice president Cheney. In the face of their glaring war crimes, the United Methodist Church, with some resistance, has created the George W. Bush Presidential Center, with its library and museum, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. And Bush’s “tough times” as president earned him a book deal worth $7 million from Random House’s Crown Publishing Group. (“Bush Book Deal Worth $7 million,” The Daily Beast, Mar. 19, 2009). Bush’s criminal co-conspirator Cheney has also signed a book contract, with Simon and Schuster, reportedly for over $2 million. (“Cheney inks book deal – $2 million plus,” by Michael Calderon, Politico, June 24, 2009) And surely not “tough times” but lucrative times for Halliburton, where Cheney was CEO before becoming vice president. Halliburton is the largest corporate contractor in Iraq, and by 2005 reportedly received over $9 billion in no-bid contracts for providing various support services to the US troops, the total “mounting at about $6 billion a year, according to Army documents and officials.” (“Halliburton: $9.6 Billion in Iraq So Far,” by Pamela Hess, United Press International, Feb. 25, 2005) The fact that Bush and Cheney remain free and receive exceptional treatment is a commentary on the moral numbness of so many Easter worshippers.
The ethnocentric and exceptionalistic “love of God and country” undermining America’s morality and security is also seen in the recent Academy Award presentation for “Best Picture” to The Hurt Locker. This acclaimed Hollywood film provides another measure of America’s immoral temperature. Its portrayal of the bravery of American servicemen who locate and diffuse bombs in Iraq conveniently overshadows the US military’s illegal massive “shock and awe” bombing of Iraq, which indiscriminately killed and wounded tens of thousands of civilians and greatly impacted the country’s life-sustaining infrastructure. The Hurt Locker is assumed to be an extension of the status quo’s guardian mainstream media’s role of covering up rather than uncovering the lies upon which grave injustices are perpetuated by the US government abroad and at home.
At Easter, multitudes of Christians will pack churches and celebrate “the resurrection of the dead.” Tragically, the hearts of many are deadened to the victims of their government’s oppressive policies in their name. They have been manipulated by and bought into political and corporate and religious fear- and war-mongering. Rather than believing in animal sacrifice to ward off evil spirits, Christians believe in human sacrifice, i.e., the sacrificing of other people and their children—and even their own children—to ward off the evil spirits of those their government and its guardian media and corporate profiteers and accommodating religious leaders designate as “terrorists.” Sadly, they are victims of their own ethnocentric and exceptionalistic Christian beliefs. Beliefs that prevent them from seeing other persons as individuals who love and strive and laugh and cry as they do. Their designated enemies are not “terrorists” but human beings whose numbers will grow and whose grief and anger and desire for revenge against America will surely intensify.
America’s strength is not found in military force but in the universally understood Golden Rule. It is in treating others as we want to be treated that we discover a shared way to eternal life. It is about the resurrection of the living. The Biblical story of The Good Samaritan points the way.
A lawyer asked Jesus, “ ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” When Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law,” he correctly replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and your neighbor as yourself.” Then the lawyer, “wanting to justify himself,” asked the question which leads to the resurrection of the living: “And who is my neighbor?” The real neighbor, Jesus said, was not a priest nor a Levite who “passed by on the other side” of a beaten and robbed traveler, but a Samaritan who dared to “come near him . . . was moved by pity . . . bandaged his wounds” and continued to provide care for him. (Luke 10: 25-37)
Easter is about waking up to reality and saying no to the injustices our government is committing in our name. It is about saying yes to and redressing America’s victims—in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq and the Palestinian territories and Haiti and elsewhere. Easter is about drawing near to and empathizing with and binding up the wounds of the fallen and honoring their human rights.
Easter is about the resurrection of the living.
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.