Illustration by Bob AulRemember when candidate George W. Bush was put on the spot by a reporter asking who his favorite philosopher was? Bush named Jesus, possibly out of utter sincerity or possibly because he couldn't remember those confusing foreign names from his blotto days in college.
Since Sept. 11, Bush has mouthed the timeworn detritus of religion—we're on a crusade to purge evil from the world, don't you know—but not once has he publicly mused or given any indication that he has privately pondered, "What would Jesus do?"
In case they don't have Gideon's in the rarified places he stays, let me offer a quick refresher on Jesus' teachings:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
Jesus didn't leave a lot of wiggle room on the subject of payback. Even at Gethsemane, when his enemies came with clubs and swords to send him to the cross and one of his disciples drew his sword and wounded an attacker, Jesus said to him, "Put your sword into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." According to Luke, who had a whole gospel according to him, Jesus even healed his attacker.
But George W. Bush isn't looking to the New Testament these days. Instead, the rhetoric coming out of the White House surpasses even the "eye for an eye" retribution of the Old Testament, promising a "massive and disproportionate" military revenge upon evildoers.
Truth be known, I don't spend a whole lot of my day wondering what Jesus would do. Whatever part of me is a Christian is not so much so that I don't also seek wisdom from the Buddhist, the Hindu or Henry Miller. I think every religion and mode of seeking has its mystical side, revealing facets of the eternal, and each has its dogmatic side that persons use to cement their fears and prejudices rather than unshackle their love. That is the part demagogues and fanatics rely on, the part that sends every army off to war convinced God is on its side.
I don't think I could live up to the unswerving standards Jesus set. Despite every true word he, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. said, I still crave some retribution that would ensure this horror not happen again.
But what I long for even more is justice, that we don't just smite whomever is handy while also bombing tens of thousands of innocents' eyes out of their sockets. And I desire that we be true to ourselves, that we not be rooting out the specks in others' eyes while there's a log in ours.
And any president such as Bush who rode into the White House on the hem of Jesus' garment—and who, as Arianna Huffington noted, ignores Jesus' admonition to "beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them," to instead turn prayer into a photo opportunity—should at least temper his words and actions with a bit of Christ's compassion and insight.
Instead, the president is quoting Western movie "dead or alive" posters and calling these terrorists "who would slit women's throats" on the hijacked planes "a new kind of evil."
No, it is entirely an old brand of evil—and one we know. Ask the dead heaped in unmarked graves resulting from our incursion into Panama. Ask the victims of the 1980s, U.S.-backed, Central American military governments and death squads, who even murdered American nuns. To add abject irony to the horrors of last week, Congress rolled over and approved G.W's U.N. ambassador, John Negroponte, who has been linked to '80s death-squad activities and to covering up their actions.
Our own Dana Rohrabacher was right in citing the intelligence community's massive failure in anticipating last week's attack on America. Though Rohrabacher generously blames Clinton, the failure began two decades ago, when the Reagan administration—of which Rohrabacher was a part—provided $3 billion in U.S. aid, weapons and training to "courageous Afghan freedom fighters" (some of whom later formed the Taliban) and "new evil" poster boy Osama bin Laden. The weapons we gave them to fight "Godless communism" are the ones they use now to blast religious artifacts into oblivion.
If Christ's teachings are too much for Bush to grasp, what say we lower the bar a little and ask, "What would Captain Kirk do?"
Remember the Star Trek Prime Directive of non-interference with other cultures? Our government has made a career of violating that, imposing our will on weaker states by destabilizing governments or stabilizing tyrants, assassinating elected leaders while propping up any tinhorn dictator who would advance some preferred companies' business interests.
When President Gerald Ford banned assassinations or when Jimmy Carter took the Christian step of linking our foreign aid and activities to human rights, conservatives rolled their eyes at these lotus-eaters who were ignorant of the hard truths of keeping a tumultuous world in check.
But doing unto others isn't just a flowery line in a book. It is a pragmatic truth with perilous consequences. When we as a nation flout our superior powers by not treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, it's no surprise that others see us as hypocritical, self-serving and unjust. When we've helped dictators crush democracy and dissent, it creates a vacuum to be filled by violent extremists. A look at foreign policy failures like Cuba, Iran, Afghanistan, Panama, Cambodia, et al. should teach us something.
But according to Bush, we'll be the one teaching the world a lesson, saying, "Our nation has been chosen by God and commissioned by history."
With such a mandate, we hardly need to ask ourselves hard questions, such as, "Are we racist?" I ask this because our readying for war made some small sense to me until I thought, "If an IRA splinter group had hijacked the planes, would we even once think of bombing Ireland to root them out of their holes?"
The people of Afghanistan have suffered under one fucked undemocratic government after another (the present one largely thanks to us). They're already starving in a drought, and now we may bomb them over something most of them have no say in. If we kill 50,000 of their innocents for our 5,000, will that be "massive and disproportionate" enough? Will their surviving relatives agree that God was on our side and not be led into hatred and martyrdom?
Tough luck. We're going to war with anyone who might harbor, support or feed terrorists. It should be easy to recognize them. Try this little quiz:
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One nation's fundamentalist religious leaders declared the U.S. got what it deserved on Sept. 11, that America is a sinful nation that God will not protect from further terror, of which we've seen just the beginning. These same religious leaders helped put their government in power, and that government gives these religious leaders free rein to raise funds and spread a message of hate. Would we be right to consider that nation an enemy?
If you answered "yes," congratulations: you have just declared war on the United States.
It was Bush buddies Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who said the U.S. deserved what we got for tolerating, in Falwell's words, "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 suppose it is unchristian of me to hope that someday a smart bomb is invented that only strikes the freedom-hating assholes who think God is on their side and leaves the rest of humanity, even the feminists, to live in peace.