Gosh, we haven't heard much from God lately, have we? I'm wondering why that is.
His mouthpieces in America - who always seem so sure of themselves, so sure that they alone hear God speaking, and so willing to share His wisdom with the rest of us - have gone strangely quiet of late.
Remember when 9/11 happened and Jerry Falwell put it all into perspective for us? There we were thinking it had something to do with Islamic fundamentalism or US imperialism or something, but Falwell set us all straight, saying to Pat Robertson, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
Mr. Falwell went on to thunder that it is these elements "which have attempted to secularize America, have removed our nation from its relationship with Christ on which it was founded. I therefore believe that that created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812."
Okay, glad we got that straightened out. But it's breathtaking, isn't it, to think of People For the American Way being behind 9/11? So it was Norman Lear all along, not Osama!
This kinda stuff goes on all the time, of course, and George W. Bush as well as legions of his followers believe that he was anointed by God to rule America and the world. To the extent they even think about it, they are startled to learn that others, particularly in the Mid-East, have somehow missed the joy and glory of their grand vision. One of my personal favorites in this all too rich vein is the Middle East peace prescription offered by Billy's son, Franklin Graham, suggesting that Muslims and Jews should simply try "surrendering their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and having their hearts changed by the Holy Spirit." It all seems so simple when you think of it that way. Hey, why can't we get talent like that in the State Department?
Like I said, this stuff goes on all the time. Franklin once inadvertently sent me a fundraising letter which began with the line "Our God is indeed an awesome God!" I know it was meant as a joyous declaration of fact, but why did it seem like he was trying harder to convince himself than he was me? Franklin, whose daddy shared anti-Semitic laments with presidents in between offering them political cover and providing personal relief to their consciences, heavily laden as they were with dirty tricks and war crimes, also gave us the geostrategically helpful line in which he described Islam a "very evil and wicked religion". How many GIs will have to die just for that little bit of anti-diplomacy alone?
Still, without a doubt the finest single exemplar of such thought comes to us courtesy of Lieutenant General William G. "Jerry" Boykin, whom the Bush administration made deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence in 2003, and gave responsibility for tracking down the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
The Bush family is, of course, famous for its loyalty demands, but General Boykin made John "kiss-up, kick-down" Bolton look as irreverent as a fart in church by comparison when he said of W, "He's in the White House because God put him there". Which is so weird, anyhow, because God kept telling me throughout the 2000 campaign that He was a Nader man, through and through. Boy, was I wrong. No wonder these guys are so sure of their direct pipeline to the Almighty.
Nevertheless, that was hardly the General's most controversial statement. This is the guy whose astonishing remarks managed to recruit a whole new generation of terrorists with just two lines. "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Boykin said in a speech discussing his battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia.
Not even George W. Bush manages to say things this dumb. He just hires people like Boykin to do that.
This was the public diplomacy blunder of the century, the perfect narrative complement to the photos out of Abu Ghraib. To get a sense of the sheer reckless inanity of such remarks, imagine if, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK had publically opined as to how the Ruskies were a kinda wimpy lot, and how they would never have the stones to actually use a nuclear weapon...
But here's the other small problem with such nonsense: Didn't we - the greatest military power in human history - get chased out of Somalia, tail between our legs, essentially defeated by a bunch of punky warlords? Do these guys really want to claim that our god was bigger? Bigger, but what...? He was on sabbatical at the time?
Even the likes of George F. Will understands the dangers of these zealots getting their hands on political institutions and nasty weapons. Earlier this year, he wrote that "the greatest threat to civility - and ultimately to civilization - is an excess of certitude. The world is much menaced just now by people who think that the world and their duties in it are clear and simple. They are certain that they know what - who - created the universe and what this creator wants them to do to make our little speck in the universe perfect, even if extreme measures - even violence - are required." Ouch. When a guy like George Will thinks that the bin Ladens and the Bushes of this world have much in common in this unhappy respect, we're really in trouble.
As for me, I must say I grow weary of how would-be spokespersons for God offer themselves up to the rest of us as just that, and I'm especially tired of how their understanding of God's will always seems to reinforce their very temporal and very conservative ideologies and their endless sexual obsessions. Seems like Jesus was always talking about peace and compassion, so why are these guys constantly going off about sodomy and abortion?
What is more, who gave them the right to represent the politics of the Supreme Being of the Universe, anyhow? For some reason, deities never seem to speak overtly. (Why is that? Why can't they just put a big, blazing banner across the sky one of these times, saying something like, "I Don't Like It When You Masturbate", or "Vote Reform Party in 2005", reprinted in six-hundred-and-forty-three languages, with some bearded guy in robes signing for the deaf?) Since, alas, the gods don't speak so directly, Falwell, et al., have taken it upon themselves to record the cover version for the benefit of the rest of us.
But why does their moral logic always change in order to produce the same conclusions, rather than the other way around? Shouldn't the logic be fixed, with the conclusions varying depending simply upon how we act (do these good things and you will be rewarded, do these bad things..., etc.)?
Well, let me see if I can be helpful here. Let's begin by taking these American theocrats at their word. The (very most, I'm sure) Reverend Falwell once said, "I do believe, as a theologian, based upon many Scriptures and particularly Proverbs 14:23, which says 'living by God's principles promotes a nation to greatness, violating those principles brings a nation to shame'".
With that as our guiding principle, let's look at the last five years of American history.
This country was brutally and violently attacked by a foreign enemy on September 11, 2001. Now, it could be that God was fed-up with feminism and horrified with homosexuals, and so he cut loose his terrible swift sword in retribution. But it's been nearly forty years since the modern version of those movements first appeared in America. He would be a strange god, indeed, if He expected us mere mortals to get a connection that remote. Lots has happened in forty years - how could we know what we did to piss Him off? Maybe God was angry that we ended welfare in America. Maybe it was the fact that we pollute so much, despoiling his planetary artwork. Maybe he was sick of the Yankees always winning the World Series. Maybe she was tired of always being referred to in the masculine. Or, maybe s/he was just plain offended by tawdry televangelists using cheap political rhetoric in Her/His name to serve their personal ambitions.
(Alternatively, if the Reverends Falwell and Robertson must insist that God is just as obsessed with (what they define as) sexual perversion as they themselves seem to be, there is another interpretation which could well be made. Since America is the richest country in the world, the most militarily secure and one of the freest, perhaps this is so because God was 'promoting the nation to greatness' and rewarding us precisely for our enlightened progressive attitudes toward sexual equality, abortion and gay rights. Hmmm... I can just see the Time Magazine cover story now, "Can Lesbianism Make Us Rich?")
But I digress. If, as the good reverends insist, 9/11 was God speaking to America - as opposed to just the depraved act of a bunch of very sick (oh, and uh, very, very religious) individuals claiming to speak for God - then let us seek to determine what He was trying to say. Despite the fact that Messrs. Falwell, Robertson and Graham have reaped millions from the practice of religion and I have not, I believe I am equally qualified to determine God's meaning in attacking America that day. And, since my causal explanation is much more tangible and much more temporally proximate than theirs, I would argue that it is also the more plausible.
You see, it seems clear enough that God was punishing America for choosing George W. Bush as our president (or, more correctly, allowing him to be chosen). God obviously knows that Bush is not a pious man, though he (even worse yet) masquerades as one. Given that John Paul II thought Mr. Bush was the antichrist (you think I'm kidding, but I'm not - Google it), what more evidence could one need? Clearly God liked that roguish but lovable Bill Clinton, but became angry when we allowed George W. Bush to become president, especially with the latter doing so by invoking His name as if it was an endorsement from the lieutenant governor of Wyoming.
Not convinced? How about those big hurricanes in the South? Doesn't that prove that God is pissed off about global warming and the destruction of His planet? Or, since the damage is being done to what is ostensively the country's most pious region, couldn't God be saying that we've got it all wrong? For that matter, why is the most religious country in our part of the world getting clobbered, anyhow? Shouldn't it be the ridiculously licentious Dutch or those sexually-liberated Swedes? Is God trying to tell America something? Does it get more biblical than burying a city under ten feet of water?
Then, finally, there is the case of Mr. Bush leading America to war in Iraq, his web of deceit in doing so now as documented as it is gargantuan. (Of course, God, being omniscient, did not need to read the Downing Street Memos in the Times of London to find out about W's lies.) What can it possibly mean that the most fearsome military force in the world is being humbled daily by a bunch of rag-tag malcontents and their hodge-podge, shoestring weapons?
Doesn't it mean that their god is bigger than our god? Or - perish the thought - that their god actually IS our god, and we've offended Allah mightily by not figuring that out, and worshiping a false deity all along?
Or does it simply mean that it was immoral for America to invade Iraq for no good reason (and a lot of bad and false ones), and that God is angry with us for acting like a bunch of good little neoconservatives?
Just once I'd like to hear Mr. Falwell or Mr. Robertson reach that conclusion. Implausible as that may seem, perhaps when Hell freezes over, they will shout it up to us from their frigid bungalows way down Below.
It could happen, you know.
Let us pray.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (email@example.com), but regrets that time
constraints do not always allow him to respond.