The Whore of Babylon

The Whore of Babylon

*The following post is adapted from Preston Sprinkle’s forthcoming book: Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). Preston’s book is due to release on August 1.

As I was writing the chapter on Revelation for my book Fight, I flipped on the news and was oppressed by the horror: a young man named Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and gunned down twenty-six people, including twenty children. The Newtown massacre produced a wave of rage, confusion, and disgust across America. And it reached Washington DC. Three days after the event, President Obama visited Newtown to mourn the tragedy and comfort the many friends and family whose suffering will continue for years. We will use “whatever power” is in our hands, declared Obama, to stop such massacres from happening again.

As a parent of four children, I mourned this tragedy. I fear that one day I might wake up to that phone call: “Sir, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you need to come down here because …” Ugh. I can’t imagine! My heart goes out to those who are suffering from this horrific evil.

But there’s a bit of irony in Obama’s outrage. As I was googling around to find updates on the killing, I typed in “children killed in …” and before I could tap my keyboard, I was struck by the next thing that automatically popped up. It wasn’t Connecticut, it wasn’t Newtown, and it wasn’t school. The next words that popped up were drone strikes. I was instantly reminded of the horrors of killing children—both in America and abroad. Drones are unmanned aerial combat vehicles. Or in layperson’s terms, they are flying robots armed to the teeth with rockets and controlled by a pilot with a joystick in Missouri. They’ve been used in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East. The genius of drone strikes is that they can kill bad guys without any threat of losing American lives. And Obama has been a major advocate of drone strikes. In one sense, they have been a remarkable success. According to one study, since Obama took office there have been over three hundred drone strikes in the Middle East, resulting in over 2,500 deaths.

But who are these 2,500? Terrorists, no doubt! Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to one Pakistani report, 50 civilians are killed for every terrorist.46 Another report says that of the 1,658 to 2,597 killed in drone strikes, 282 and 535 were civilians (that’s between 10 and 32 percent).47 The CIA, however, says that it has killed over 600 militants in drone strikes and not a single civilian has died.48 Pakistani reports will most probably inflate the numbers, and the CIA will probably reduce them. But even if we take a mediating position and say that 25 civilians are killed for every terrorist—that’s a lot of civilian deaths. The number that I keep seeing from several different sources—including horrifying pictures—is that there have been 168 children blown up in drone strikes since Obama took office.49 If this happened on American soil, we’d call it terrorism. It did happen in Connecticut, and we called it murder. Yet few Americans are outraged over the killing of these innocent children in the Middle East.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” mourned Obama during his speech at Sandy Hook Elementary. “These tragedies must end.… If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that—then surely we have an obligation to try.”50

I appreciate Obama’s concern, but I find it ironic. Can we extend his sympathy to the Middle East? Are the deaths of 168 incinerated children any less a tragedy than the massacre at Newtown? Or does their color, ethnicity, and religion justify their deaths? Better their kids than ours, said Time magazine’s Joe Klein.51 I mourn both tragedies—the death of innocent, beautiful children in Connecticut and of the precious children in the Middle East

Both tragedies are evil. Both will be vindicated. Both will be judged. I also mourn the hypocrisy of the millions of Americans who endorse a military tactic that spares American soldiers at the cost of foreign children. “In her was found the blood … of all who have been slain on earth,” cries the angel in John’s vision (Rev. 18:24). I fear that the whore of Babylon might not live across the pond.

Notes

46. David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald, “Death from Above, Outrage Down

Below,” New York Times, May 16, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/

opinion/17exum.html?_r=3&.

47. Chris Woods and Christina Lamb, “Obama Terror Drones: CIA Tactics in

Pakistan Include Targeting Rescuers and Funerals,” The Bureau of Investigative

Journalism, February 4, 2012, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/02/04/

obama-terror-drones-cia-tactics-in-pakistan-include-targeting-rescuers-and-funerals/.

48. Scott Shane, “C.I.A. Is Disputed on Civilian Toll in Drone Strikes,” New York

Times, August 11, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/world/asia/12drones.

html?_r=1.

49. This number is confirmed by several diverse reports. See for instance, Rob Crilly, “168

Children Killed in Drone Strikes in Pakistan Since Start of Campaign,” Telegraph, August

11, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/8695679/168-

children-killed-in-drone-strikes-in-Pakistan-since-start-of-campaign.html.

50. Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij, “Obama: Nation Must Answer ‘Hard

Questions,’” PBS NewsHour: The Rundown, December 17, 2012, http://www.pbs.

org/newshour/rundown/2012/12/obama-in-connecticut-nation-must-answer-hardquestions.

html.

51. Glenn Greenwald, “Joe Klein’s Sociopathic Defense of Drone Killings of Children,”

Telegraph, October 23, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/23/

klein-drones-morning-joe.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Andrew Wilson

    What a post. What a post.

  • mark

    And then there’s the Christian case for violence–violence is cool when it’s done in the name of God!

    Ethicist examines Old Testament violence.

    In the violence committed by Israel against other nations, God is “setting the stage for the future rulership of His King,” said Bethancourt, director of strategic initiatives for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The violence serves to preserve the line of the Messiah and to provide a pattern for how God will work in Jesus’ death, Bethancourt told public policy specialists, reporters and other evangelicals July 18.

    Four aspects of God’s character — holiness, justice, love and faithfulness — particularly produce Old Testament violence, Bethancourt said.

    Old Testament violence “is actually, at its root, in a sense, a loving thing to do,” Bethancourt said.

    And that’s just a small sample of the really excellent ethical thinking in the article.

  • David Moore

    Cornel West is critical of Obama for voicing outrage over the killing of Trayvon Martin, yet being responsible for killing children abroad.

  • http://azspot.net naum

    …President Obama has very little moral authority at this point, because we know anybody who tries to rationalize the killing of innocent peoples, a criminal—George Zimmerman is a criminal—but President Obama is a global George Zimmerman, because he tries to rationalize the killing of innocent children, 221 so far, in the name of self-defense, so that there’s actually parallels here. ~Cornel West

  • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

    I wonder about this, because the violence has come onto my radar recently, and I am not sure what to make of it. America has adopted a realpolitik mentality for quite some time, now. That mentality exists in departments where we don’t really have any control as an electorate (CIA, namely). Not sure how much we can demand of Obama on this issue.

    I also wonder about the true nature of drone strikes. It would seem to me that drones should be capable of executing strikes with far higher precision than manned aircraft. Why the casualties? Are the operators being careless? Are they using excessive force to ensure they kill their target? Aside from the horrible loss of innocent life, it’s also just strange.

  • ao

    Love this post. It reminds me of Mark Twain’s “War Prayer”.

    Jesus told us to love our enemies, bless them, and pray for them. Almost every week at church we have a prayer for our soldiers asking God to help them fight and protect their lives so they can return safely to their families. I’ve never once heard someone pray that the other sides’ soldiers return safely to their children, or at least a prayer for the safety of our enemies’ children!

    And that’s because, really, we want the other sides’ soldiers to die. We want their children to be made orphans. We want their spirits to break so that they’ll surrender.

  • Susan_G1

    “Yet few Americans are outraged over the killing of these innocent children in the Middle East.” How many is ‘few’? I’m outraged, very much so. And not just over the death of children but of all innocents. Jus in bello. Not happening. But my voice, my concerns, are not popular; they are present in the media, but are in a small minority. There was a striking photo recently of an iraqi woman with the number of innocent civilians killed since the start of the war written on her face. I can’t find it by googling. The number is very high. This is a tragedy.

    But it is also a tragedy of the evangelical mind to label Obama as the whore of Babylon, something that has been happening since he took office.

  • Matthew G. Zatkalik

    George Zimmerman was vindicated – as before his ‘witch hunt’ court case – by a jury of his peers. First, it was by the police involved in the investigation. Zimmerman’s life still in insecure and may well remain insecure for years because of murderous and violent hearted people. Can we expect that a jury of peers will adjudge Obama’s actions as ‘not guilty’ for the drone deaths? I sincerely hope not. Justice for Obama, perhaps, should resemble the present and future state of George Zimmerman.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Truly disturbing, that is.

  • Jared Del Dosso

    Even though the political critique in the book of Revelation is against the powers that rule–and, indeed, the dark powers that energize those rulers–I don’t know if Preston was calling Obama a whore of Babylon. I think it was more to shake up our paradigms to stop thinking of America as the good Christian nation who is justified to do whatever they want against all those other mean terrorist nations. A reading of the critique in Revelation 17-18 strikes huge similarities to America in a much, much bigger sense than just what Obama is responsible for, it reaches into the systems that undergird our society.


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