Onward Christian Soldiers

Onward Christian Soldiers May 23, 2006

The Bible has always presented a schizophrenic view of the Christian god’s attributes. On one hand, he is styled the “Prince of Peace” who exhorts his followers to resist not evil, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies, and to put up the sword lest one perish by it. On the other hand, he is repeatedly called the “Lord of Hosts” – or to use modern terminology, the “Lord of Armies” – who commands his followers to slaughter their enemies unmercifully, who is jealous and vengeful and whose wrath burns hot, who will kill so many people that the land will be soaked with blood, and whom we are urged to fear because he can condemn us to an eternity of torment.

Christian groups throughout history have tended to selectively elevate one side over the other, depending on which better suits their own outlook and beliefs, and today’s religious right is no different. To a large extent, the religious right is motivated by hatred and rage, and accordingly they have drawn on the darker side of Christian teaching to create a god who is vengeful, militaristic, and hates whom they hate. Since most of society still accepts the notion that any opinion derived from religion is above reproach, this enables the modern dominionists to cloak their violent revenge fantasies in a superficial veneer of respectability.

Consider the following excerpt from Glorious Appearing, the twelfth and final book in the best-selling Left Behind series of apocalyptic Christian fiction, in which the second coming of Jesus literally causes unbelievers to be sliced apart like a scene from a horror film:

“Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.”

Do not forget that, in these Christians’ minds, this is not fiction; this is something they expect to literally happen in the very near future. Do people who believe that deserve to be part of any secular, democratic nation’s government? Should they exercise any influence when it comes to governing the rest of us?

This increasing militarization of Christianity is not confined to fiction; symptoms of it are breaking out in real life. Consider the Christian fundamentalist youth movement – even the name bears witness to its aims – “BattleCry“, which has recently staged massive rallies in several cities across the U.S. As recounted by eyewitnesses, these events feature the trappings of a military ceremony, including Humvees on stage, Christians from a group called “Force Ministries” that appear dressed in the uniforms of Navy SEAL commandos and fire blank rounds from M-16 assault rifles at the crowd, and performances by Christian rock groups that sing lyrics such as “We’re an army of God and we’re ready to die”. Ron Luce, the founder of the event, has said that he plans to launch a “blitzkrieg” – his word – against secular society, that Jesus says that “the violent… will lay hold of the kingdom” and that “Christians who just want love, joy, peace” are part of the problem. Teenage crowds in attendance reportedly wore t-shirts that read “Dressed to Kill” and chanted, “We are warriors!” (For eyewitness reports from the rallies, see the diary “A Carnival of Theocrats at Daily Kos, as well as the two-part series Battle Cry for Theocracy at Truthdig.)

In fairness, there is so far no evidence to suggest that the organizers of these events intend to wage war against society in any literal sense, despite what their overtly violent, warmongering imagery would suggest. Most of what they preach is the religious right’s standard catalogue of ignorance, hate and fear, which is bad enough: outlawing abortion and divorce and keeping teenagers ignorant about contraception, banning pornography, forcibly inserting god-talk into public schools, rolling back separation of church and state, and all the rest of it. However, there are chilling hints that their aims may go further than those of ordinary theocrats. Luce leads youth in attendance to pray, “I will keep my eyes on the battle, submitting to [the Bible] even when I don’t understand”. When confronted with the obvious rejoinder that this policy would mean executing adulterers, disobedient children, homosexuals, women who have sex outside of marriage, and basically all non-Christians in general, he refused to disavow those verses or deny that this was his aim.

In addition, the appearance of Christians in military garb at these events may well have been illegal. The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits active-duty members of the military from appearing in uniform at overtly partisan religious events such as this. Conversely, if these people are not active servicemembers, they may be liable for impersonating a member of the military, which is a federal offense. (More information and discussion can be found in this IIDB thread.) Either way, even if what they did was illegal, in a climate where an active-duty general can say that the war on Islamic extremism is a war against Satan and receive only a slap on the wrist, the chances of prosecution seem poor.

The most unnerving, though not necessarily surprising, fact about these rallies is that George W. Bush seems to endorse their theocratic message, sending a letter of encouragement to the Philadelphia rally, following which the attendees were asked to “thank God for giving us George Bush”. (Perhaps it is not surprising that a god whose own scriptures describe his repeated blunders and incompetence would select a president who acts likewise.) As in other cases, the religious right does its utmost to present a mask of friendliness and tolerance to the world, while simultaneously sending covert signals of encouragement to its most extreme far-right allies through channels not meant to be overheard by the general public.

Despite their combative rhetoric, these extremist zealots have not won the public over, and for the most part have only made what gains they have by concealing their true goals. And now, with approval ratings of politicians linked to the radical right plummeting, they are uniquely vulnerable. As I have always maintained, if people of conscience and principle are willing to stand and fight, the standard-bearers of darkness, no matter how angry their hearts are or how militaristic their message is, can never hope to triumph.

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