American presidents reverently end their speeches with the audience-approving Benediction, “God bless America.” What they are really communicating is that God favors America. That, today, America is God’s chosen people. Even more! They are equating America with God. Which— in the magical twinkle of a rationalizing mind’s eye—means that America is God—white America, that is. As political leaders like to assert: America is today’s embodiment of Jesus’ teaching that “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” and by inference, his followers, “are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5: 14-16) With a “manifest destiny” that swept our white forefathers across the American continent, over the bones of indigenous people and on the backs of black persons forced into slavery—today’s continuation of which includes a trail of bodies, citizens killed by police “while being black.”
America also sees itself as “the leader of the free world,” possessing the gold standard of morality, and thus determining which countries need to be liberated and which are state sponsors of terrorism. America’s unmatched military force allows it to live in a parallel universe, and assume the role of judge, jury and executioner over much of the world with its economic power, sanctions and “kill lists.” A dominant majority of its citizens are conditioned to believe that they are the “good guys” and those who resist America’s policies “the bad guys.” All of which means that other people worship lesser gods, and therefore don’t count, and are disposable.
A classic example of America’s God complex is the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. An unnecessary, horribly destructive pre-emptive war against the Iraqi people, which author, political commentator and social justice activist Noam Chomsky calls, “The major crime of this millennium.” (“’Any reader of Orwell would be perfectly familiar’ with US maneuvers—Chomsky to RT,” rt.com/usa, April 17, 2015)
A “Christ changed my heart”-President George W. Bush said, at a March 2003 news conference on Iraq, “I pray daily . . . for peace.” Two weeks later, America was hell-bent for war against Iraq. A war based on trumped-up lies accusing President Saddam Hussein of possessing mushroom-cloud”-threatening weapons of mass destruction and ties to the 9/11 attacks against America. And “God” was reverently woven into these manipulating falsehoods.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, a preying President Bush declared, “We seek peace. . . . And sometimes peace must be defended. . . . If war is forced upon us (italics added), we will fight in a just cause and by just means.” The “just cause?” “If Saddam does not fully disarm, for
the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him,” Bush declared to applause. And that “coalition” included a divine Partner. “We do not claim to know all the ways of Providence,” Bush asserted, “yet we can trust them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.” (“State of the Union-President George W. Bush,” The White House, Jan. 28, 2003)
The “ways of Providence” led to the horrible war crime against Iraq, which was marketed for American consumption as “Project Iraqi Freedom.” And a devout President Bush continued to remind red-blooded, white evangelical Christians especially and other believers that, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; freedom is almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” (“Text: President Bush’s Acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention,” FDCH E-Media, Inc., The Washington Post, Sept. 2, 2004)
Many God complex-motivated white evangelical Christians got the message. Their faith leaders were reported to have preached “war sermons” with a “common theme,” which was, “Our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned (italics added) that God’s will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.” (“Wayward Christian Soldiers,” By Charles Marsh, The New York Times, Jan. 20, 2006)
Besides, supporting the pre-emptive war against Iraq had other faith-based benefits. While American-led multinational corporations were coveting the enormous reservoir of oil under Iraq’s ground, evangelical Christians, with their God complex, saw the invasion as a “unique opportunity” to convert Muslims fortunate enough to survive above ground.
Not that all faiths accommodated President Bush’s criminal war against Iraq. Numerous faith groups and their leaders protested early on. Some strongly. But, in time, with American boots on Iraqi ground, and most of mainstream media cheer-leading the war, the prophetic voices of faith lessened in intensity, and then became silent. The United Methodist Church, the country’s second largest Protestant denomination) is a classic case in point—especially with President Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, being United Methodists.
On November 8, 2005, over two-and-a-half years after the invasion of Iraq, the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops released a “Statement of Conscience” against the Iraq war. The 94 Bishops began by “repent[ing] of our complicity in what we believe to be the unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq.” Then vagueness took over. “In the face of the United States Administration’s (italics added) rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent.” The Bishops committed themselves “to peacemaking . . . without being so cautious in confronting evil (italics added) that we lose our moral authority.” They issued a call to “all United Methodists to “object with boldness when governing powers (italics added) offer solutions of war that conflict with the gospel message of self-emptying love.” (“94 Methodist Bishops Sign Statement of Conscience Repenting Complicity with the Iraq War,” www.worldcan’twait.net, Nov. 8, 2005) (For a fuller discussion of the Bishops’ “Statement of Conscience , see Alberts, “Jesus, the Theological Prisoner of Christianity: Time to Stop Evangelizing and Start Liberating, Counterpunch, Aug. 25/26, 2007)
“The United States administration?” “Without being so cautious in confronting evil?” “Governing powers?” The 94 United Methodist Bishops could not even bring themselves to name the two “governing powers” most responsible for the horribly “evil” deaths and destruction unleashed upon the people of Iraq—and America—their own church members: President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
No problem. Today, The United Methodist Church has created the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University. Here is seen the rationalizing power of the God complex: a Christian denomination creating a noble monument to the war criminal most responsible for “the major crime of this millennium.”
Here is also seen the moral bar for the selection of United Methodist Bishops: most clergy-candidates for bishop have demonstrated their creativity serving as chaplains of the status quo, rather than confronting political and corporate power with reality and moral truth. Which means that more prophetic United Methodist ministers are often passed over for bishop, or their candidacy undermined.
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum needs to be viewed in the light of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies’ “gruesome” findings on Iraq. In “looking back on ten years of war, trauma, death and displacement,” the Center qualified its findings with, “These are the results of the war that we know. And the overall figures are stunning. The findings: “4.5 million displaced, 1-2 million widows, 5 million orphans, about one million dead—in one way or another, affecting nearly one in every two people in Iraq with tragic life-altering (or ending) impacts.” (‘IN THE BUSH PRESIDENCY; HOW MANY DIED,’ Iraq: the Human Cost, web.mit.edu) And the Bush administration’s “major crime of this millennium,” with its horrible brutality, has fathered the birth of the brutally vengeful Islamic State, or ISIS.
Those possessed with the God complex, or the related ethnocentric disease of American exceptionalism, need to hear the message of MIT’s study: “The American public still for the most part has no idea what the United States did to that country, and until we Americans take responsibility for the harm we do to others with our perpetual wars, we can never recover from our war sickness, which drives us to resort to violence in international affairs in a way no other democracy routinely does.” MIT’s message continues: “The news media rarely describes the ruinous consequences of U.S. policy and war-making for Afghanis and Iraqis. Few, if any, novels, films or other cultural expressions attempt to capture the suffering either.” (Ibid)
But the suffering of American victims of our government’s “perpetual wars” is greatly lauded and publicized as a noble sacrifice in defense of our country’s freedom. An American soldier is killed in Iraq, or Afghanistan, and the media carry stories of people lining the streets as the hearse passes slowly by, carrying his or her body to the house of worship, where he or she is lovingly eulogized. A tragic ritual repeated countless times in cities, towns and villages across the country—of precious American lives needlessly sacrificed in our government’s immoral “perpetual wars.” Immoral wars masked by political leaders, and accompanying mainstream media, as defensive, to protect Americans, but, in reality, are launched to control other countries and their energy resources—for the benefit of America’s military, industrial, energy, intelligence complex.
In a like manner, blow back violence against Americans is reinterpreted to accommodate our country’s God complex. The massive publicity surrounding the victims of the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon bombings illustrates just how sacred America lives are portrayed in relation to the unknown, nameless millions killed and maimed and widowed and orphaned by their government– in their name.
The heart-wrenching stories of Boston Marathon victims, presented at the recent penalty phase of the trial of accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, made headlines. Like, “Jurors hear of lives torn apart by bombings.” (By Milton J. Valencia and Patricia Wen, The Boston Globe, April 21, 2015). And, “In Boston courtroom, a procession of heartbreaking loss in Tsarnaev sentencing,” (By CNN Wire Service, Fox6now.com, April 22, 2015) Heart-wrenching testimony of victims’ families that led several jurors to “wipe away tears.” “She was the light of my life,” said the father of Krystle Marie Campbell, one of three victims who died in the bombings. (By Milton J. Valencia and Patricia Wren, Ibid) The courtroom testimonies greatly humanized all of the victims, portraying their loss and injury and aspirations—and “the light” they provided for their loved ones lives. As prosecuting attorney Nadine Pellegrini “told jurors in her opening statement . . . ‘you know how Krystle, Lingzi, Martin and Sean died. . . . Now you need t know how they lived. You need to know and understand why their lives mattered.’” (Ibid)
Along with deeply moving stories of loss and injury, there are much publicized stories of courage and perseverance. Like ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost part of one leg in the bombings. At Dshokhar Tsarnaev’s trial, “she testified that she thought she was dead when the second bomb exploded because she couldn’t hear herself scream.” Last year, she told the Huffington Post, “I absolutely want to dance again and I also want to run the marathon next year.” She did both this year, telling “the news outlet that it was an ‘incredible cathartic’ experience.” (Boston Marathon Survivor with Prosthetic Leg Dances the Foxtrot at the Finish Line,” By Caitlin Keating, www.people.com, 4/29/2015)
And, now, Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg, originally from Dorchester, Massachusetts, is planning to produce a movie on the Boston Marathon bombings, called “Patriots’ Day.” Our bipartisan political leaders could not ask for a more favorable script for its “perpetual wars.” Tony Press, CBS Film President, put the movie this way: “There is nothing more compelling than a real story populated by real heroes . . . . The team that we have assembled for this project is determined to give audiences a very personal look at what occurred during the days when the eyes of the world were on the city of Boston and how a group of contemporary patriots faced this crisis.” (“Mark Wahlberg to produce Boston Marathon bombing movie,“ By Jessica Derschowitz, CBS News, April 1, 2015)
Those “patriots” include Boston area faith leaders, whose voices and visibility were sought after the Marathon bombings and given much coverage by the dominant press. The same voices that are rarely heard confronting bipartisan political leaders with reality and moral truth for needlessly creating enemies and causing such blowback violence with their “perpetual wars.”
The references to Boston Marathon bombing victims is not intended, in any way, to minimize their suffering and courage and perseverance. The intent is to focus on the immorality of bipartisan political leaders’ “perpetual wars,” which are a primary cause of the blow back violence against the Marathon bombing victims and other Americans. Blowback violence that will continue with more victims, if we allow our bipartisan leaders and dominant media to continue justifying their “perpetual wars” by glorifying American lives and negating the humanity and existence of the wars’ countless victims.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald goes to the heart of America’s God and exceptionalism complexes, writing, “American and Western victims of violence by Muslims are endlessly mourned, while Muslim victims of American and Western violence are completely disappeared.” He continues, “When there is an attack by a Muslim on Westerners in Paris, Sydney, Ottawa, Fort Hood or Boston, we are deluged with grief-inducing accounts of the victims. We learn their names,” he goes on, “and their extinguished life aspirations, see their pictures, hear from their grieving relatives, watch ceremonies honoring their lives and mourning their deaths, launch campaigns to memorialize them.” Greenwald has a name for it: “the ugliest propaganda tactic on which the War on Terror centrally depends . . . toxic tribalism that repeats itself over and over throughout the West. Western victims are mourned and humanized, while victims of Western violence are invisible and thus dehumanized.” (‘THE KEY WAR ON TERROR PROPAGANDA TOOL: ONLY WESTERN VICTIMS ARE ACKNOWLEDGED,’ firstlook.org/theintercept, 4/24/2015)
Glenn Greenwald applies the God complex mentality to President Obama, who recently said that he “profoundly regretted” and “took full responsibility” for the drone strike deaths of two Al Qaeda hostages: American veteran aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto. “We all bleed when we lose an American life, Obama stated. “We all grieve when any innocent life is taken.” (“Hostage Deaths Show Risk of Drone Strikes,” By Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The New York Times, April 25, 2015)
In response to President Bush’s apology, Glen Greenwald quotes “Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represents 150 victims of American drones and was twice denied entry to the U.S. to speak about them.” Akbar told Greenwald’s ”Intercept colleague Ryan Devereaux how two of his child clients would likely react to Obama’s ‘apology’ yesterday:
Today, if Nabila or Zubair or many of the civilian victims, if they are watching on TV the president being so remorseful over the killing of a Westerner, what message is that taking? The answer, he argued is “that you do not matter, you are children of a lesser God, and I’m only going to mourn if a Westerner is killed.” (‘THE KEY WAR ON TERROR PROPAGANDA TOOL: ONLY WESTERN VICTIMS ARE ACKNOWLEDGED,’ Ibid)
Prosecutors and mainstream media made much of the “incendiary photo” of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev giving the finger to a security camera in his cell “three months after the bombing.” (“After Jury Sees Gesture by Marathon Bomber, Defense Tries to Blunt Its Meaning, By Katharine Q. Seelye, The New York Times, April 23, 20015) With their “perpetual wars” creating endless enemies and blowback violence. Their investment of America’s resources in destroying countless lives for the profit of those making money and maintaining political power off the wars. At the expense of countless citizens of color in Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, North Charleston and elsewhere in America. Citizens whose own neighborhoods are occupied, rather than protected, by the police. It is far past time for far more Americans to see that, while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may appear to be giving America the finger, our bipartisan political leaders are giving America the shaft with their “perpetual wars.”
I was privileged to work as a hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center for 22 years, over 18 full-time. With its diversity of patients, BMC is like a global neighborhood. And the sacred worth of every patient is seen with the sounding of Code Blue, signaling that one is in distress. When that alarm sounds, doctors and nurses and supporting staff rush to the bedside of the patient in crisis. Whatever the patient’s religion, race, nationality, economic status, or sexual orientation , his or her life matters. All deserve “exceptional care, without exception,” which is Boston Medical Center’s mission statement, and the commitment of other hospitals as well. America desperately needs revelations from the faith community of a global neighborhood god who cares for everyone—without exception.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.