“May our country, on the brink of war, take to heart the final refrain of ‘America the Beautiful’ – “America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967
Talking with a friend about the war madness that seems to infect the thinking of so many Americans: He says the fervor for war is mostly manufactured, hyped up by Bush administration neoconservative ideologues, celebrity Christian Zionist TV and radio preachers, and political operatives in mass media. He says the mania for war is partly illusion, that the animus and bellicosity now so evident in broadcast media are purposefully exaggerated to further the neoconservatives’ political agenda. There is, of course, a great deal of truth in his observation. And, modern weaponry being so hideously destructive, there is something distinctly unseemly—uncivilized—about a people who are far too enthusiastic at the prospect of going to war. Why are so many Americans, especially fundamentalist Christians, susceptible to the manipulations of racist thugs and fanatics who genuinely believe a genocidal war between East and West would best serve their interests?
I’ve begun to wonder if some American Christians don’t simply lack the ability to empathize at any great depth with the suffering of others. The depiction of the typical American as a comfortable affluent snob, a citizen of the manicured suburbs who remains smugly ignorant of the world beyond U.S. borders as he drives his gas-guzzling SUV from home to office and back again, is a demeaning stereotype. But there is a grain of truth in some stereotypes, and, sadly, this one seems to contain more than its share. United States history since the Great Depression is for the most part a history of well-nigh spectacular success in most areas of human endeavor. With the exception of the divisive and disastrous war in Vietnam, the American experience is a strange mixture of thoughtless, careless, and rapacious materialism, social progress, technological advancement, and unprecedented political and military success on the world stage. Should it surprise that a people who are more or less strangers to deprivation, exploitation, oppression, and desperation, who have never evidenced a keen sensitivity to the plight of the American Indian, to whom North America once belonged in its entirety, are experiencing difficulty relating to the suffering of others? What, after all, do most Americans know of the pain of oppression and exploitation? But for members of minority groups, relatively few Americans have ever experienced much of either. What is there in the average American’s experience to augur against the increasingly popular notion championed by neoconservatives, the arrogant assumption that Americans are fated to run the world to suit their own needs and interests whatever the peoples of other nations may think, say, or do? Why wouldn’t Americans follow a president who seems determined to bomb the Middle East into understanding “how good we are,” one relatively poor and defenseless country at a time?
Some American Christians, worried and indignant that the teachings of their religion are perverted by fundamentalists seeking to incite violence with public statements heavy with the odor of racial hatred and religious bigotry, protest the self-aggrandizing apostasy of Old Testament Christians steeped in chiliasm and “Promised Land/Chosen People” theology. The Dispensationalists would foment a terrible battle between the supposed forces of good and evil at the end of the world, Armageddon, according to a schedule proposed or (supposedly) divined by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, and others who are determined to force the return of Jesus in their lifetimes, Christian Zionists who wish to sit, raptured, at the right hand of God, there to look down upon the suffering masses here below. Many progressive Christians are equally unimpressed by the insanity inherent in grandiose schemes of empire based upon militant interventionism, the pre-emptive use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and military aggression in support of national aggrandizement, systematic oppression, and exploitation. With such sentiments, are the progressives really in a minority among all America’s religionists? Perhaps so, but probably not. More likely, despite what all the polls say, it is millions of “evangelicals, many of whom “support neoconservative plans for war to reorganize the Middle East, who actually hold the minority view.
How can so many who are at least nominally dedicated to noble religious and democratic ideals be so thoughtless, so careless of the pain and suffering inflicted upon others in their names? Do they not experience the feelings of indignant emotion with which others of us are increasingly familiar? Or do they simply lack the ability to empathize with the suffering of others? A common form of colorblindness may offer insight into these questions.
Protanomaly, also referred to as “red-weakness”, is one of several color deficiencies. One in 100 males of European origin suffers from this particular vision defect. Any redness seen in a color by a normal observer is seen more weakly by the protanomalous viewer, both in terms of its “coloring power” (saturation, or depth of color) and its brightness. Red, orange, yellow, yellow-green, and green, appear somewhat shifted in hue (“hue” is just another word for “color”) towards green, and all appear paler than they do to the normal observer. The redness component that a normal observer sees in a violet or lavender color is so weakened for the protanomalous observer that he may fail to detect it, and therefore sees only the blue component. Hence, to him the color those with normal vision call violet or purple may look only like another shade of blue. Color blindness occurs in about 8% – 12% of males of European origin and about one-half of 1% of females, or about 20 times more often in men of European origin than in women of European origin.
Could it be that much as some men have deficiencies in color vision, some, for different reasons, have deficiencies in their abilities to empathize and to experience certain higher emotions? If that were the case, how would those who do not experience indignation at injustice suffered by others know that they are deficient, much as the protanomalous man is for all practical purposes oblivious of the color purple, never having seen or experienced it? And how could a normal person explain the deficiency to a man who is more or less incapable of experiencing indignant emotion at the cruel exploitation and malicious oppression of others?
If the analogy seems too demanding, Christians might pause to reflect upon the record of indignant emotion in New Testament scripture. The Jesus who cleansed the temple and castigated the scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers was no stranger to righteous indignation. “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made if a den of thieves” Mark 11:17. “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” Luke 11:52. “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” Luke 12:1. Those who plotted His death seem to have been signally unable to appreciate the indignation aroused in Jesus by their hypocrisy and their sins against God and their fellow men. Far from being an ancillary issue, the inability or refusal of Jesus’s enemies to recognize the gravity of their spiritual blindness, the depravity and wickedness of their refusal to deal fairly, justly, and kindly with their fellows, seems to have been at the very heart of Jesus’s dispute with them. They looked at Jesus, saw His actions, heard His teachings, including His words of righteous indignation, but perceived only a threat to their own illegitimate authority and mercenary interests, much as the protanomalous man may gaze intently upon the color purple, but see only another shade of blue.
One can imagine the amazed horror Robertson, Falwell, Graham, and their Pharisaic Christian Zionist colleagues may experience when–after they have managed to facilitate something very like the Armageddon of their dreams and the terrible “lake of fire” at the end of the world in order to induce the return of the Christ of their scriptural misunderstanding that they might sit at His right hand on high looking down on the suffering below–they find to their great surprise that, instead, they are still here, among the dead and dying, witnessing “up close and personal” the horrific destruction they themselves have demanded and fomented. It may well be their fate to be hated, loathed, and despised by what remains of human civilization as the demented arch criminals behind a Christian doomsday cult ultimately notable only for the catastrophic failure of its primitive theology and the terrible self-defeating success of its malignantly misanthropic ideology. How many will admire Robertson, Falwell, Graham, and their followers then? Indeed, how many will find a way to pity them?
Sadly, ours is a materialistic and spiritually barren age, an age in which some of America’s most influential fundamentalist Christian religious leaders, all of European origin, are proud and arrogant men. They are celebrities beguiled by a racist doomsday theology and a vision of a vengeful God of war whose robes drip blood, whose tongue is a sword, and who rules the world with an iron rod (Revelation 19:11-16). Theirs is a vision every bit as infernal as that they would attribute to Osama bin Laden and other Islamic extremists. It may be the other side of the same debased and violent coin. When the inestimable ability and power of modern mass media to influence attitudes and manipulate public perceptions with disinformation—weapons of mass distraction—are factored in on the side of the alliance between the Christian fundamentalists’ Armageddon choir and the Neoconservatives’ obsession with total political hegemony and pre-emptive wars of conquest and national aggrandizement, perhaps what is most surprising is that so very many Americans have decided to firmly resist the drumbeat for and march toward a never-ending war.
It would seem there could be precious little joy for anyone in these grim days, least all, perhaps, for those who recognize the mad rush toward Armageddon for what it is, a terrible self-fulfilling prophecy. So why are the gathering masses of peacemakers so obviously filled with positive energy? Why is every anti-war protest such a joyful, encouraging experience? Somehow, we know we are not powerless to prevent the looming tragedy.
“Most gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when we address them, we say “PEACE.” — Muslim teaching
“Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, that we may walk the paths of the Most High. And we shall beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation—neither shall they learn war any more. And none shall be afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken.” — Jewish teaching
“Lead us from the unreal to the Real. Lead us from darkness to light. Lead us from death to immortality. Peace, Peace, Peace unto all.” –Hindu prayer
“May all beings everywhere plagued with sufferings of body and mind quickly be freed from their illnesses. May those frightened cease to be afraid, and may those bound be free. May the powerless find power, and may people think of befriending one another. May those who find themselves in trackless, fearful wilderness–the children, the aged, the unprotected–be guarded by beneficial celestials, and may they swiftly attain Buddhahood.” — Buddhist prayer
“Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” — Christian teaching
The appeal of peace is well-nigh universal: Salam, Shanti, Shalom, Mír, Ashtee, Heiwa, Damai, Saanti, Pokój, La Paix, Der Frieden, Barish, Amaní, La Paz, Aman, Pyong’hwa, Hedd, K’é, Fred, Búdech, Vrede, Peace, et al.
The brotherhood/sisterhood of God-knowing men and women knows no boundaries based upon gender, race, creed, or national origin. Now is the time to stand together, in all of America’s many religious traditions, and be counted for justice and peace.
Freelance Investigative Journalist and Commentator Michael Gillespie writes about Politics and Media for Media Monitors Network (MMN). His work also appears frequently in the popular Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.