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Turn The Other Cheek -- Then Turn Back And Shoot Them In The Head
The irrational are easily led. It seems many evangelical Christians found a way to reinterpret their beliefs so they were in lockstep with Bush's war plans. American irrationalist, uh, evangelical, Charles Marsh writes in The New York Times:

Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.

Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen by millions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor. "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible," said Mr. Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers." In an article carried by the convention's Baptist Press news service, a missionary wrote that "American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former advisor to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular "Left Behind" series, spoke of Iraq as "a focal point of end-time events," whose special role in the earth's final days will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that "God is pro-war" in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.

The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.

Some preachers tried to link Saddam Hussein with wicked King Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame, but these arguments depended on esoteric interpretations of the Old Testament book of II Kings and could not easily be reduced to the kinds of catchy phrases that are projected onto video screens in vast evangelical churches. The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.

Such sentiments are a far cry from those expressed in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974. More than 2,300 evangelical leaders from 150 countries signed that statement, the most significant milestone in the movement's history. Convened by Billy Graham and led by John Stott, the revered Anglican evangelical priest and writer, the signatories affirmed the global character of the church of Jesus Christ and the belief that "the church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology."

Unfortunately, as, I believe, Bertrand Russell noted, if you'll believe without proof in the existence of God, it's a small step to believing just about anything. Think about it: Is it really such a huge leap from believing "there is a god" to believing "this is what god says"? If somebody tells you, "Amy says she's giving you $1,000," do you first try to check out whether the statement is true before charging a non-refundable ticket to Bolivia to your credit card? Why approach the outrageously silly claims of religion any differently?

Posted by aalkon at January 23, 2006 8:49 AM

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[quote]christian 'just war' theory[/quote]

i know of a just war theory explained by michael walzer in "Just and Unjust Wars." he didn't mention jesus.

i don't think the former exists. at least in parchment form. it's whatever the CEO's @ McChurch say it is.

Posted by: g*mart at January 22, 2006 11:48 PM

Think about it: Is it really such a huge leap from believing "there is a god" to believing "this is what god says"?

I consider Theology a rational discipline, much like Aesthetics. The belief in God can be rational, I think, but quoting God in the way you've described is the ultimate appeal to authority. It has no legitimate place in Theology.

...and you're right to ask how support for the war can flow from the basic tenets of Christianity. I suspect the Evangelicals you're talking about aren't thinking much about the Sermon on the Mount or anything else Jesus is supposed to have said. I think these Evangelicals are Dispensationalists, with their support for whatever war, or whatever point of foreign policy, is a function of their understanding of the Book of Revelation.

As strange and alarmist as that may sound, I think they support the War in Iraq because they see it as net benefit for the nation of Israel, and they think that by hurting one of Israel's enemies, they're making it more likely that the Dome of the Rock will be torn down and the temple will be rebuilt in its place. They believe this is a necessary step to bring about the Second Coming of Christ. ...That's right, believe it or not, they support George Bush's foreign policy, I think, because they think it will bring about the Second Coming of Christ!

Irrational and scary? You better believe it! Let's hope, and, any of you who pray, let's pray that the President himself doesn't base his foreign policy decisions on some weird, Evangelical interpretation of the Book of Revelation. ...Let's hope that not even in the back of his mind, he... If he came out after his Presidency and said he thought his foreign policy was consistent with biblical prophecy, I think that would be bigger than finding out that Reagan had Alzheimer's after the fact.

Posted by: Ken Shultz at January 23, 2006 8:19 PM

"The belief in God can be rational, "


How about the belief in Zeus?

How about the belief that I'm going to grow 400 feet tall and come sit on your house?

A show of evidence proving each, please?

We're waiting!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 23, 2006 8:34 PM

Unfortunately, belief generally trumps evidence. Look at the incredible amount of hard evidence against smoking, yet 50 million Americans still smoke!

Posted by: Bill Henry at January 24, 2006 6:12 AM

What do people do when they're so busy not thinking?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 24, 2006 6:45 AM

You're familiar with the "Leap of Faith"?

As most atheists are happy to point out, one cannot prove a negative with a positive. ...atheists, often, follow up this observation with something suggesting that it's irrational to believe in something for which there is no objective evidence.

I would simply add that when no objective evidence is possible, it is reasonable to go with the evidence at hand, subjective though it may be. Good science is conscious of what it has proven and what it hasn't yet disproved; good Theology is conscious of this as well.

...Once again, please consider Aesthetics or, better yet, consider String Theory. The heart of String Theory can't be validated or invalidated, but that doesn't mean String Theory isn't true. ...and it certainly doesn't mean that String Theory is irrational.

Posted by: Ken Shultz at January 24, 2006 9:25 AM

Amy see this and be heartened-

Posted by: Crid at January 24, 2006 11:19 AM

Thanks Crid...a tiny light somewhere mid-tunnel, but a light nevertheless.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 24, 2006 3:29 PM

>How (can the belief in God be rationalized)? How about the belief in Zeus? We're waiting!

"Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is... If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is."

This quotation is from Blaise Pascal, whom we all read about in our Geometry and Algebra books. There is a lot more to this, involving equations and logical matrices and complicated mathematical proofs that I might have understood in College, but the implication is this: if God does not exist, the atheist and the believer face the same outcome, but if He does, the atheist faces guaranteed damnation and the believer has at least some chance at something better.

This certainly isn't a valid argument for Islam Christianity, Buddhism, etc., in that, supposing God does exist, one is still faced with the possibility of assigning one's self to the wrong faith.

But what it does manage to do is prove logically that atheism is as irrational as faith, since no being operating strictly on logic would deny God when he or she has nothing to gain by doing so and everything to lose.

And don't forget that Russell also said this:

"I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God."

Posted by: little Ted at January 25, 2006 12:13 AM

Here's a question for you: Do you also use Pascal's Wager about the existence of Zeus and a Giant Floating Pink Dog God? Kind of idiotic, huh?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 25, 2006 6:11 AM

That's a silly question. I already said that Pascal's wager doesn't prove the existence of God. It just proves that atheism is no more rational than theism and in some ways less.

I also never said I believed in God. I don't. I just happen to not believe in mocking people for doing so.

Unless one of them does or says something specifically stupid. But the problem there is the idiocy, not the faith. Crazy people will find ways to be crazy, with or without faith.

Posted by: little Ted at January 25, 2006 11:03 AM

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