March 2, 2003

The Nature of Evil and War

George W. Bush lives at the intersection of faith and inexperience. This is not a reassuring address, especially in a time of trouble.

Joe Klein
Time Magazine

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has let stand their June 2002 decision to ban the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in American schools. While initial attention was focused on “One Nation Under God,” it has been subdued in the Court’s latest ruling. This, however, will not end the debate between a religious and a secular definition of America. Attorney General John Ashcroft has vowed to take this decision to the Supreme Court.

Even the California Governor, Gray Davis, a Democrat, has stated: “at the start of every court session, the Supreme Court invokes God’s blessing. So does the Senate and House of Representatives. Surely the Supreme Court will permit schoolchildren to invoke God’s name while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Like all vast empires, many Americans believe God has granted us special dispensation in carrying out our and the world’s affairs. As the Bush Administration prepares us for its race to Baghdad, once again our faith-based moral obligations are propelling our politicians and many of us forward. Patriotism and religion are intertwined. And religion is being used too easily to define good from evil.

President Bush’s use of the word evil gives the war a religious justification, according to Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theological ethics at Duke University Divinity School. “For Christians, the proper home for the language of evil is the liturgy: it is God who deals with evil, and it’s presumptuous for humans to assume that our task is to do what only God can do.” Bush’s War on Evil begins to sound like a crusade. Is it any wonder Muslims believe we are about to embark on a jihad (a holy war) against them?

The Arab portal site, Ajeeb, recently polled its users: “President G.W. Bush Jr. delcared (sic) in a speech to the employees of the recently established Department of Homeland Security that the US is ‘the greatest nation, full of the finest people, on the face of this earth’. Would you descirbe (sic) this as a racist statement?” Eighty-five percent of those responding believed it was.

Despite Bush’s insistence that this is not a war against Islam, the perception is quite different in other parts of the world. I don’t see Bush’s statement above as racist but I can’t deny that fundamental differences exist between Americans’ sense of themselves and how other cultures interpret our motives.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has stated that any attempt to posit the truth about 9/11 was lost when the word war, rather than the word murder was used to describe the events of that day by President Bush. Declaring a war on terrorism turned Osama bin Ladin into a warrior instead of a murderer.

According to Hauerwas:

G.K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush’s use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America… The identification of cross and flag after Sept. 11 needs to be called what it is: idolatry.

Joe Klein, in his Time essay of February 24th, The Blinding Glare of His Certainty, states that Bush’s religious convictions are neither messianic nor hard-edge religious determinist. Klein had many discussions with then Governor George Bush on his sense of faith. He believes Bush’s faith is humble and not dogmatic. When confronted with poverty and despair the President’s beliefs come from a compassionate foundation. However, when suffering becomes an abstraction —a budget item or deposing a despot— Bush loses his sensitivity.

Klein is concerned right now because the present situation does not discomfort Bush enough; “it does not impel him to have second thoughts, to explore other intellectual possibilities or question the possible consequences of his actions.”

Klein continues:

I asked one of Bush’s closest advisers last week if the President had struggled with his Iraq decision. “No,” he said, peremptorily, then quickly amended, “He understands the enormity of it, he understands the nuances, but has there been hand-wringing or existential angst along the way? No.” (This, in contrast to his torturous quasi-Solomonic decision on stem-cell research.)

Hauerwas: “We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans want to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause.”

I have previously raised concerns about the nature of Bush’s American Empire. I’m uncomfortable when moral imperatives and moral imperialism seem so easy to accept. It would benefit all of us, both in this country and in Iraq, if President Bush didn’t appear blinded by the glare of his own certainty. I know I’m not certain.

Related Stories:
Fallacies and War by Dave Koehler
13 Myths about the Case for War in Iraq (via Follow Me Here)
Of God, and Man, in the Oval Office, by Fritz Ritsch, The Washington Post

View Most Recent Story:::Notify me when there's a new missive!

Related Posts with Thumbnails