Recent revelation that, right before the start of the Iraq massacre, George W. Bush sought to seduce former French president Jacques Chirac into war against the Iraqi people by invoking biblical text, particularly the demonic tales of Gog and Magog, should provide uncontestable proof that religious extremism is not some antiquated practice relegated to the 15th century, but rather an intricate part of the very nature of our present political paradigm. Why else did President Obama have to prove a million times his devotion to Christianity, before many voters felt comfortable enough to accept him as anything but a secret Al Qaeda operative?
In a recent interview, President Chirac recounted an experience that left him deeply troubled. Through a secret phone call, placed in early 2003, George Bush tried to explain how his plans for war were in direct correlation with biblical prophecy: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”
All this, coming on the heels of new allegations that former Blackwater CEO, Erik Prince, purposefully operated his disgraced private mercenary machine as a modern-day crusade battalion against the evil forces of Islam—found dominant in the middle-eastern region. And just a few months after the release of tapes showing soldiers in Afghanistan being told to “hunt people for Jesus” and to “get them into the kingdom.”
Of course, this is hardly surprising for those who watched closely the unfolding and aftermath of the Iraq war. A great number of reasons to justify its moral imperative were put forth, but none took repugnance to a new low more than those provided by the former President, such as claims, on countless occasions, and to countless foreign leaders, that “God” was the driver of his war ship, that “God” had instructed him to “go and end the tyranny in Iraq,” that his 2003 war was, essentially, “the lord’s will.”
Many reports have also detailed private conversations Bush had with foreign Head of States about the “love” of God. And with GQ magazine’s exposé, published March this year, of the biblical quotes former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld regularly laced his top-secret memos with (“Open the Gates that the Righteous Nation May Enter,” “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him to deliver their soul from death”), the implications couldn’t be more startling.
Is it any wonder that those most eager to talk about their love for “God” are often the ones most likely to do the devil’s bidding?
Raised in a firm, Judeo-Christian home, I appreciate the roles spirituality and morality play in providing a young child with much needed structure against the many impurities this world contains; but “religion mis-overstood,” as the rap artist Nas once put it, is “poison.” And religious extremists, who’ve convinced themselves that the only true path to the afterlife is that which they’ve chosen to follow, are no less dangerous than the man who led the whole world into war based on conversations he imagined to be having with his “God.”
Conservative Christianity is chief culprit for a lot of the twisted pathologies our society partakes in today, but bigotry isn’t exclusive to the right only. Books by Sarah Posner (God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters), Bill Press (How the Republicans Stole Christmas: Why the Religious Right is Wrong about Faith & Politics and What We Can Do to Make it Right), and Frank Schaeffer (Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back) have outlined poignantly the right-wing’s co-optation of Christianity for commercial political causes, but not enough has been written on the fundamentalism of religion, and how easy it is for even the most well-meaning of liberals, leftists, or progressives to contribute to the chaotic conditions humanity remains subject to.
In 2009, no one is still left unsure whether religion, and its struggle for supremacy, has been the greatest dividing factor this world has entertained. The results—millions of lives lost (and counting)—is plenty proof. Innocent blood has been shed, and will continue to be shed, for as long as religion remains a deciding factor in the public spaces that govern our everyday concerns and careers.
My faith (small f) is private and I hope it remains that way. And though I believe I’m doing right by my maker, I’m not so arrogant as to proselytize it to everyone who comes my way. I don’t hold anyone to a lesser standard for refusing to commit to the same religion-based belief system I’ve adopted. I chose the prophetic route of theology, which puts at center the burdens of the disenfranchised above all other entities, but I’m not so quick to denounce atheists or agnostics as heathens whose special place in hell awaits them—if they don’t repent and turn from their wicked ways some time soon.
With the increase in church shootings, mosque bombings, and synagogue attacks, the need for inter-faith dialogue is more critical than it’s ever been. Pastors, Imams, Monks, Rabbis, Priests, Atheism Scholars, and all other religious/non-religious leaders must make a commitment, within the next decade, to broaden the discourse of faith, that it may include all those who find inequality distasteful enough to engage it in a way that frees the yoke of the oppressed and brings to justice the oppressors.
At the core of each credible faith is the belief that reciprocity should guide the believer’s actions, reminding him/her that no God is worthy of worship who lets injustice go unpunished or a good deed go unrewarded. For those who truly cherish life over death, peace over war, liberation over imperialism, that should be common ground we can all gather around.