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Under which god?


Recently, I was asked by the Christian Coalition to attend their conference with the rather unwieldy name, the “Road to Victory-God Bless America-One Nation Under God Conference.” It seems everyone from Dick Armey to Zig Ziglar is invited. And everyone, I imagine, thinks she or he knows exactly which “God” America is “under.”

I’m not so sure.

I was talking with the pastor at one of the Catholic churches in New York a few days ago. The parish had decided to remove a war memorial from the grounds of its parish school. This prompted somewhat of an outcry against such unorthodox behavior. At one point, even one of the high-ups in Homeland Security -- a “friend of the parish” -- called to ask about it. He wanted to see uniformity of support for the president and the ongoing and planned military attacks. He wanted to know why the parish was doing such antiwar, pacifist things.

This concern that Christians might stand for peace and against war is not as outlandish as it might initially seem. The God whom Jesus proclaims is so clearly nonviolent that everyone, according to Gandhi, recognizes it except Christians. If you want to hear priests and even Protestant ministers become positively “Jesuitical,” ask them to explain how a person can obey Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies,” and kill them too.

And if you want to find out more about the “god” that really seems to be running things, I suggest investigating our policy toward Iraq.

What god was in charge when we supported the rise of Saddam Hussein to power? “He’s an s.o.b.,” observed one American official, “but he’s our s.o.b.” What god commanded U.S. support for Iraq’s war against Iran -- even altering our laws so that U.S. companies could sell Iraq the resources for weapons of mass destruction, and helping Iraq with satellite targeting for chemical warheads.

In 1990, Iraq attacked a country the U.S. didn’t want them to attack. What god, I wonder, was in ascendance when U.S. bombing completely destroyed the civilian infrastructure during the Gulf War? What god called for us to unplug every hospital drug and blood refrigeration unit, every life support machine, every incubator in the country? What god demanded that we poison Iraq’s drinking water, “leading to epidemics of cholera, typhoid fever and gastroenteritis, particularly among children”? (New England Journal of Medicine, 1997)

What god now insists on keeping these genocidal sanctions on Iraq? Back in 1999 UNICEF estimated that the sanctions were taking the lives of 4,500 Iraqi children under the age of 5 every month. Multiply that by 12 years now, to get a glimpse of the face of that god.

And what god dupes us into thinking that an Iraqi can live on the 51 cents a day provided by the “oil-for-food” program? U.N. overseers have repeatedly verified that there is no hoarding or diversion in the distribution system. It is the sanctions themselves that continue to wreak starvation, disease and death upon unimaginable numbers of Iraqis. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter observes that the sanctions have taken more lives than all the weapons of mass destruction ever used in war.

When Americans Bert Sacks and the Rev. Randall Mullins -- a Jewish American and a Christian American -- brought medicine to suffering Iraqi children, the U.S. government responded by levying heavy fines and threatening prosecution. What god, I wonder, stands so violently opposed to works of mercy?

While Congress and much of America debate the merits of the 1954 inclusion of the phrase “under God,” I wonder: Is it Ares, the god of war, who now has our pledge of allegiance? Or is Isaiah revealing this god most starkly of all: “You boast: ‘We have made a covenant with Death. …When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made lies our refuge and false gods our hiding place’ ” (28:15).

Jesuit Fr. G. Simon Harak recently resigned his teaching position at Fairfield University in Connecticut to work full time as a peace activist.

National Catholic Reporter, September 6, 2002