A War That May Come Back to Haunt Christians
There are many reasons for this faith-based disparity. The devout tend to be socially conservative and deeply patriotic, values which naturally predispose them to look favorably on the President’s policies – especially in wartime. Further, many fundamentalists believe that Israel is still “God’s chosen people,” and that America’s fortunes rise and fall with its support of Israel (and opposition to Israel’s enemies, such as Saddam Hussein). And removing a brutal dictator from power appeals to those who think in clearly defined categories of good and evil.
While I could understand the arguments made in favor of intervention in Iraq, and as much as I respect the honorable way our troops are trying to help the Iraqis build a better life, I did not believe that Saddam Hussein was or intended to be a threat to America’s national security, and that going to war in Iraq was a grave mistake. The events of the last three years have only solidified my initial assessment. And yet most of my Christian friends continue to believe the war was a good idea. After all, how can you be against spreading democracy to those who have been oppressed? I appreciate that noble sentiment, but I believe the issue is more complex than that. If the terms are defined as liberty versus despotism, then support for the war seems reasonable. But what if this war is defined differently – as a war between secularism and religion?
The neoconservatives who prompted the President to go to war have little in common with the religious right. In a widely publicized interview in the New York Times summer before last, Bill Kristol demurred: “I will take Bush over Kerry, but Kerry over Buchanan or any of the lesser Buchananites on the right.” The fact that Kristol would prefer the secular playboy to one of the culture war’s most outspoken conservatives speaks volumes about the principles and priorities of the neocons.
Perhaps the most bellicose of the neocons, Ralph Peters, wrote in USA Today that the “global war on terror” was “a fight over the social, economic and cultural roles of women.” According to Peters, it is the freedoms enjoyed by Western women that antagonize Islamic terrorists, and our troops are fighting overseas for women’s rights, “the titanic struggle of our time.” Not only does this analysis ignore the real root of Islamic terrorism (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), its logical consequence is that we must make war on all other countries that do not afford women the same freedoms as here in America. Woodrow Wilson, meet Gloria Steinem.
Not satisfied to defend a worldwide war for women’s rights, Peters then maligned “our extremists,” pro-lifers. Those who oppose abortion rights in our country are “reactionary forces,” “champions of the small morality of rules,” and participants in a “patriarchal tyranny that would please Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq.” Their “counterparts” are those women in Africa who “demand that young girls undergo genital mutilation just as they did.” Kerry over Buchanan indeed.
At first glance you would suspect that Peters’ antithesis on the political spectrum, Marxist columnist Christopher Hitchens, would be opposed to the neocons’ war. Not so. Hitchens shocked many of his peers on the radical left by supporting the war, yet from the standpoint of his belligerent atheism, his support for the war makes perfect sense. As Hitchens explained to Tim Russert, “Another thing that's very important to me about this war is that it is in effect a war for secularism…I'm for secularism and separation of church and state. Everywhere. I want more of it here, not less, and much more of it there. And it's a perfectly consistent thing.”
Ironically, regular church-goers support a war promoted in part by radicals on the left and right who have only one thing in common - deep-seated resentment of the values and influence of the devout on American public life. Most troubling, how will these radicals wield government power against those they consider the fundamentalist extremists of their own culture? Will they demand that conservative Catholics and evangelicals accept homosexual membership and ordination? Will they insist that these believers reject female submission to male leadership in the home and in the church? Do we have any reason to believe they will show restraint in the lengths to which they will go to coerce others to accept their enlightened tastes?
“Let the reader understand” (Matthew 24:15).