Sunday, February 8, 2015

We Can Kill Them for You Wholesale

And so I want to thank [NASCAR Hall of Famer] Darrell [Waltrip] for that wonderful presentation.  Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt.  (Laughter.)  I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives -- Jesus, take the wheel.  (Laughter.) Although I hope that you kept your hands on the wheel when you were thinking that.  (Laughter.)
From yesterday's post the obvious next step is President Obama's sermon at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast.  Predictably, liberals have been enjoying the predictable right-wing response of fury that Obama would point to the less-savory aspects of Christian history; conservatives have celebrated Darrell Waltrip's remark at the same venue, "If you don't know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior ... you are going to Hell ... I thought I was a good guy, but folks, let me tell you something: good guys go to Hell."  This is the sort of thing that sends liberals and secularists into how-can-you-say-such-awful-things conniptions, but Obama said it was "wonderful", and you can not go against the word of POTUS.  From what I know of Obama's religious beliefs, he probably agrees completely with Waltrip's theology, which is ordinary mainstream Christianity, nothing to get excited about and certainly not in the context of a prayer breakfast.

What Obama said about Christian history was nothing out of the way either, though most American Christians, conservative and liberal alike, would like to forget the historical connection between slavery and racial segregation and Christianity.  The chief reason the right would object is because Obama said these things, just as the chief reason Obama's fans can ignore his reactionary theology is because it's his.

Obama's remarks were what Roy Edroso called "ordinary, meretricious bullshit," though of course Edroso was talking about the bleats of Obama's critics, not about Obama's preaching.  Take for example: "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."  Obama is quite sure, it appears, that slavery and Jim Crow are incompatible with true Christianity, though mainstream Christians for over 1500 years would have disagreed with him.  Christ himself healed a dying slave and returned him to his bondage, while the apostle Paul converted a runaway and returned him to his Christian master.  In the New Testament, slavery is the model for the relationship between the believer and Christ.  If either of them ever uttered a word against slavery, it hasn't been recorded.  You can claim that despite all biblical and historical precedent, slavery wasn't what Yahweh meant at all, but that's just because believers can invent just about any position they like and ascribe it to their god, as Be Scofield wrote in the post I quoted yesterday, and as Obama said elsewhere in his sermon, cautioning his congregation against "being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others."  But this backfires on Obama, who is sure that God doesn't speak to the religious apologist for slavery, Jim Crow, or "unspeakable acts of barbarism  -- terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions."  Really?  On more than one occasion, Obama's god commanded the children of Israel to invade Canaan and burn its cities to the ground, massacring all the inhabitants and their livestock in some cases, or to leave virgin girls alive in others so that they could be raped by the invaders.  This was justified, in Scripture and by later apologists who claimed the mantle of religious authority for such actions, because the Canaanites were worshiping the wrong gods.  The New Atheists who support the new American-British Crusade against Islam basically agree: they worship the wrong god, they belong to a "death cult" (in Obama's words), so kill them all and let no-God sort them out.

Here's a good example of someone using Christianity to justify war:
The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
That was Abraham Lincoln, draping himself in the mantle of religious authority to justify the American Civil War, the most horrific war in human history up to that point.  (Christian Europe outdid Lincoln fifty years later, also appealing to religion.) "Lincoln wasn't a churchgoer," the commenter who posted the Lincoln quotation concluded, "but I like his God better."  Lincoln's god was Yahweh Sabaoth, the god of battles and carnage, the god of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Revelation and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," who tramples out the vintage of human blood from human bodies -- the same god as the god of ISIS, in fact.  The commenter likes that god better than the pro-slavery god of Alexander Stephens, who'd been quoted by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his post on Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast.  But they're the same god; the god of the Bible has no objection to slavery, or to war, or to atrocities against civilians.

The real problem is not extremism.  As horrific as the atrocities of Muslim "extremists" are, they are dwarfed by the atrocities of moderate, middle-of-the-road Western, mostly Christian but Jewish as well, governments.  That one Jordanian pilot was burned alive by ISIS is horrible, but in all-too-recent history the US has burned thousands of people alive, with incendiary bombs, napalm, and white phosphorus.  Isn't that thousands of times as horrible?  Some of these victims were military, to be sure, but then so was the Jordanian pilot.  Many more were civilians.  Retail violence, the terrorism of small usually non-government groups, is easy to focus on, especially for propaganda purposes, but the wholesale violence of states is harder to see for some reason.  Partly that's deliberate, as when Western media refuse to publish or acknowledge Western state atrocities.  Aside from that there's a will not to know, the discipline of memory through doublethink which ignores that it ignores what we do, and uses the cognitive dissonance to obsess over the crimes of official enemies.

Obama himself is responsible for many atrocities, and has justified others.  When he gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, for example, he said:
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their [King and Gandhi’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.
Obama has also joked about using predator drones to kill innocent people.  I don't wish to single him out, of course.  As Noam Chomsky says, if the Nuremberg principles were enforced, every US president since World War II would have to be hanged.  That's the point: killing civilians in vast numbers, burning people to death, is as American as cherry pie, and as Christian as communion wafers.