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Religious fervor of war talk is worrisome

One of the oddest arguments for backing our president’s relentless drive for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq goes something like this: “You may not fully agree with his arguments but you have to admit the man is sincere.”

OK. But then we all can quickly recall a plethora of problems that have disrupted our history by the sincerest of people. I suspect Joe McCarthy was sincere when he dispensed with the Constitution as he sought to root out imaginary communists from our midst.

And Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox oozed sincerity as he waved his ax handle at the crowd of African-Americans seeking their rights as American citizens. Who would argue that sincerity toward a cause didn’t guide the infamous Lt. William Calley as he massacred dozens of innocent children and women in My Lai, Vietnam?



Sincerity, by itself, is neither noble nor ignoble. It is, of course, the object of one’s sincerity that matters.

Some of the sincerest people I know are religiously conservative Christians who have, I believe, a very distorted view of history and, far more importantly to our current concern, the future.



Some 50 million copies of author Tim LaHaye’s apocalyptic “Left Behind” book series have been sold in this country in the last few years. One assumes it is a sincere attempt by both writer and readers to understand current events but, I humbly suggest, such sincerity could be catastrophic. 

No matter how sincere one is, the assumption that God destines the world toward a final cataclysmic battle certainly seems detrimental to any hope of peaceful negotiations with one’s enemies.

Certain Christians are convinced that America has been chosen by God to be an instrument of divine purpose. One of those certain Christians is our president. His language in recent months reveals a growing conviction on his part that he is participating in God’s plan of action. 

In January, in his State of the Union address, he announced, “Liberty is not America’s gift to the world. Liberty is God’s gift to every human being in the world.”

Our military action planned for Iraq is, apparently, a divinely ordained destiny. “Events aren’t moved by blind change and chance,” our president said at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast recently. “Behind all of life and all of history there’s a dedication and a purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God.”

Sounds as if God has already chosen sides. Forgive me if I think such thinking may be a tad presumptuous.

When such presumption is coupled with a theological conviction that we are living in the end-times, I think all of us should worry the impending war may have more to do with the fulfillment of prophecy than the liberation of the Iraqi people.

President Bush has made no secret of the influence his evangelical Christian faith has had on his life. Clearly, some of it has been positive. But when that same faith shapes political and military decisions in a manner designed more to pacify God than the world, as I say, I worry.

When an entire nation is characterized as an “axis of evil,” the implication is abundantly apparent: There are good nations and peoples, and evil nations and peoples.

And since God is always on the side of good nations, then there is a divine imperative to eliminate the evil nations and peoples. This is not a political strategy, it is a religious one. This is the kind of religious strategy that has caused millions of innocent people to lose their lives.

The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the annihilation of Hutus by Tutus and Tutus by Hutus are just some of the atrocities that come to mind when such religious language is evoked.

It is not unpatriotic for Americans to question such religious strategizing – no matter how sincere it appears to be. 

Although we may be condemned to eternal perdition for doing so, we just may save the world in the process. 

Rich Mayfield is a regular Saturday columnist. He is an ordained, practicing Lutheran minister.


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