March 04, 2006

Keep the Faith, Destroy the World

It's bad enough that we have Bush's repeated references to his particular religious faith as justification for political and foreign policy decisions -- and it is dangerous and disturbing that his use of the word "Crusade" inadvertently revealed a perspective that invites Armageddon, as James Carroll has explained. (And see Robert Jay Lifton on "American Apocalypse," too.)

And the West's political leaders constantly seek to reassure the world, including approximately 1.5 billion Muslims, that this is not a "religious war." In this context and at this moment in time, it is therefore criminally irresponsible for Tony Blair to make statements like this:
Details emerged Friday of Blair's interview on an ITV1 television talk show where he said God and history would judge his action in joining the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

"That decision has to be taken and has to be lived with, and in the end there is a judgment that -- well, I think if you have faith about these things then you realise that judgment is made by other people," Blair said in the interview with host Michael Parkinson which will air Saturday night.

Pressed to clarify what he meant, Blair, a devout Christian, replied: "If you believe in God, it's made by God as well."
I suspect those "other people" don't include Blair's critics:
"It is a bizarre and shocking revelation that the prime minister claims to have been guided by the supernatural in this matter, especially given the particular religious sensitivities in the Middle East," said Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat member of parliament from the Oxford area, who is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.

"We don't want Bush or Khomeini-type fundamentalism in our politics," he added.
But this is hardly a new element in the foreign policy of the West, or of the United States. From James Hillman's A Terrible Love of War:
Six tenths of the United States "believe that the events of Revelation are going to come true." They believe this mythical annunciation of carnage is the truth of the culture's end. If belief posits the object of its belief ..., then our lives and our works and all the planet shall be burned to nothing simply by the strength of belief. Some call this prophetic foretelling; others the "five hundredth monkey"; others, magical thinking or wish-fulfillment by those who cannot imagine more productively and less nihilistically. If belief sets us in motion, then the push toward annihilation is already going on.

A vision of the end of the world occurs in other myths--the Koran, Ragnarok among the Norse, Great Floods, Nuclear Winter, Black Holes. But where else is it so strongly believed, institutionally authorized, and with such specifically detailed viciousness? Myth, thank the gods, is not fate, nor prophetic of destiny. In this case, however, because so many in our culture do not receive Armageddon as myth but as the word of the Lord, it is believed, not imagined.

"The greatest harm," wrote the Roman Seneca in his book On Anger, "comes from readiness to believe things." "I have read the Book of Revelation and yes, I believe the world is going to end--and by an act of God I hope--but every day I think that time is running out." This from former secretary of defense Weinberger, the man in charge (1982) of the national arsenal of mass destruction. "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns," said President Reagan's secretary of the interior; and Reagan himself said, "I sometimes believe we're heading very fast for Armageddon right now."
Hillman goes on to quote part of Mark Twain's The War Prayer, and notes that this passage is delivered by "a messenger of the Lord's truth," who names "the unspoken implication of their innocent beseeching, laying bare the full import of war prayers: every prayer for victory and every blessing of a nation's patriotic soldiers also tacitly beseeches a loving god to ordain and inspire war's terrible acts":
O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
Bush and Blair have convinced themselves that God as they conceive Him will approve of their actions.

If He is indeed a loving god, I myself wouldn't be at all confident on that point.