Thursday, July 05, 2007

Christian Zealotry and the Occupation of Iraq

Faith-Based Imperialism

The very nature of Christianity is imperialistic. A resurrected Christ reportedly told his disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore," he ordered them, "and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey [italics added] everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus' assumed resurrection is believed to be proof of his own unique divinity as the only Son of God and savior of the world. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," he is recorded as asserting. "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) It is about authority and obedience far more than about individuality and equality. Thus Christianity is embraced by most adherents as "the highest revelation of God." In the words of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church: "We believe the Christian Church is the community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ. . . . the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by men divinely called . . . {It} exists for the . . . edification of believers and the redemption of the world" [italics added]. ("Article V ­ The Church," pages 67, 68) Jesus' death on the cross is also central to many Christians imperialistic claim of possessing the global religious truth for all human beings. A favorite authoritative verse is John 3: 16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." [italics added] As the passion of the Christ-makers dictates: Jesus died on the cross "for the sins of the whole world," and whoever believes in his sacrificial act of atonement, as the only pure Son of God, will not perish but inherit eternal life. Thus may an otherwise theologically damned hell-bent humanity escape the eternal punishment of an otherwise loving god.

"The sins of the whole world?" It all started innocently enough, if one believes in the literal truth of the Bible. "In the beginning God created" Adam and Eve and a womb-like Garden of Eden for them. Unfortunately, they committed the "first" or "original" sin: they disobeyed their god by eating from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil;" and their "eyes [were] opened" and they became "wise . . . like God, knowing good and evil," which evidently was taboo. So an obedience-demanding, apparently jealous god banished them from the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3) Thus much of hierarchical and "bibliarchical" Christianity would have us believe that Adam and Eve actually existed, or represent mythical truth, and that their disobedience marks or symbolizes "the fall" of the human race: i.e. all human beings thereafter inherited Adam and Eve's disobedient, sinful nature. The only saving grace for all people is prayed often in many Christian churches: "Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of they tender mercy didst give thine only Son

Jesus Christ to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, who made there, by the offering of himself, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world." [italics added] ("The Great Thanksgiving," Holy Communion ritual, The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, p.28)

"Original sin" of a real or mythical Adam and Eve? Or taking a bite to see the light, and cutting the "umbiblical" cord of patriarchy and moral obliviousness? Disobedience? Or individuation? Religion as power over people? Or as empowerment of people? Mindless? Or mindful of right and wrong?

On any given Sunday in almost any given Christian church one may hear professions of an ingrained imperialistic faith. It may be heard in a call to worship: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, . . . full of grace and truth. . . . No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known [italics added] (John 1).

A similar affirmation of an imperialistic faith, often said in unison in Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches, is the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; . . . rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and he will come to judge the living and the dead" [italics added]. ("Apostles' Creed," Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

Faith-based imperialism may be reflected in the Scripture lesson read at a given Sunday service: "Therefore God has exalted him and bestowed on him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." [italics added] (Philippians 2:9-11) Then may follow "the Word of God . . . preached by men divinely called" to lead "the community of all true believers." Here again the emphasis is far more on believing than on being. Far more on submission and domination than on liberation and equality.

Faith-based imperialism is oblivious to its own self-contradictions. On any given Sunday one may hear the following prayer "For Peace": "Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace [italics added] as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever, Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, The Episcopal Church, 1979 p. 815) Here is unawareness of the "banners" under which people of other faiths may "glory."

At any given Sunday service, the closing hymn may sound an imperialistic note: "We've a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light . . . For the darkness shall turn to the dawning, and the dawning to noon-day bright; and Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light." (Words and Music by Ernest Nichol, 1896, The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 569) And following the hymn, this benediction may be said: "Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time now and forever. Amen" [italics added] (Jude 1: 24, 25)

Faith-based imperialism is especially seen in claims regarding which Christians represent "the one true church." Catholicism teaches it alone possesses "the keys to the Kingdom," since disciple Simon Peter, who became the first apostle, is recorded as recognizing Jesus' unique divinity: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," and Jesus rewarded him with, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven . . ." [italics added] (Matthew 16: 16-19)

Citing the above Scripture as its authority, the Catechism of the Catholic Church stakes Catholicism's claim as the one true church: "This is the sole [italics added] Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." (811, p. 232). The Catechism continues, "The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. . . . This Church . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in commune with him." (816, p. 234) The Catechism then reinforces its imperialistic authority: "The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: 'For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.'" [italics added] (Ibid) The Catholic Church's bottom line: "God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men." (848, p.244) Faith-based imperialism, in Germany, in other European countries, and in America, made it easier for Hitler's fascist Nazi ideology to murder some six million Jews in the 1930's and 1940's.

If Catholics find their imperialistic authority in their Church, evangelical and other Christians find it in their Bible. Many evangelical Christian websites declare that salvation is not through any "church but through Jesus Christ alone." Christian Resources Net, for example, states Catholicism's position: "The Second Vatican Council Decree on Ecumenism explains: 'For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. Vertification: pg. 215, #816" But Catholicism is wrong because, "When checking God's Word on this subject, two critical facts leap out: 1. The Bible never remotely indicates that one must go through a church to obtain salvation. 2. Literally hundreds of Scriptures proclaim that salvation is a free gift from God, readily available to anyone, but only through Jesus Christ" [italics added). Christian Resources Net then proceeds to list at least 20 Scriptures, including, "Neither is there salvation in any other (except Jesus): for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4: 10,12" ("Catholic Beliefs vs. the Beliefs of God")

The historic pervasiveness of faith-based imperialism is seen in United Methodism's invitation to church membership: "The Church is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time, for the conduct of worship and the due administration of God's Word and Sacraments, the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline, the edification of believers and the conversion of the world. All of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies." [italics added] (The United Methodist Book of Worship, 1992, page 106) These words are in keeping with the mission of The United Methodist Church, which "affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and Lord of all." And, "as we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and we defend religious freedom for all persons. . . . We embrace Jesus' mandates to love God and to love our neighbor and to make disciples of all peoples." [italics added] (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2004, pp.87,88)

United Methodists, and other evangelical Christians, appear to want their "cake of superiority" and eat at the table of equality, too. How can one "respect persons of all religious faiths" and "love our neighbor" if the intent is to convert and "make disciples" of them? Such "respect" and "love" for "persons of all faiths" appear to be code words needed to rationalize the very opposite. Such evangelism reveals a subtle, inherent disrespect for "persons of all [other] religious faiths." It represents another example of the obliviousness of an imperialistic faith to its own self-contradiction.

Evangelical Christianity is imperialistic. It presupposes that one's religious belief is better than another's. That one's faith is superior and another's inferior. That one's religion is true and another's false. Here there is not respect but religiously code-worded disrespect and inequality, with ingrained paternalism and arrogance that assume, "My faith is best for you." Here another's reality is unconsciously interpreted rather than consciously experienced. Here there is the negating of another's identity and inherent worth and right to believe as he or she chooses and to be who she or he is.

Faith-based imperialism encourages obliviousness to the rights and well-being of people of other religions. It is believed to restrict an evangelical Christian's capacity to identify with and perceive the reality of people of differing beliefs. It discourages walking in the shoes of different believers or non-believers. It violates the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31) It sets limits on empathy for and caring about what happens to persons beyond one's own "true believers." Where there is caring, it is often with proselytizing strings attached. It encourages an ethnocentric, "our kind" only interpretation of Jesus' commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39) Faith-based imperialism puts people of other faiths out of mind and out of sight, which obliviousness is subtle and pervasive and has deadly consequences.

Here there are prayers by ministers and priests at various public gatherings that often end with, "In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ"-as if only Christians were in attendance. Here there is an unsigned note placed on the altar of the interfaith chapel in a big metropolitan hospital: "A chapel without a cross? Is this what has happened to Christianity in our country? Sad" (underlined three times). Here there is President Bush's United Methodist minister, Rev. Kirbyson Caldwell, ending his Benediction at Bush's January 2001 Inauguration with, "We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names [italics added], Jesus, the Christ. Let all who agree say amen." Here there is evangelical Christian-professing Bush himself justifying a criminal war against Iraq with, "Freedom is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to every man and woman in the world." ("Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates," The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004) A "gift" wrapped in "shock and awe" bombs and brutal occupation. And here Bush's faith-based initiatives also serve to numb Christian consciences and buy support for a criminal war.

Christians, whose faith-based imperialism prevents them from being aware of the Jews and Muslims in their midst, are far more likely to be oblivious to the Jews and Muslims being oppressed around them-or beyond them by their government in their name. Thus can an unchallenged self-professing evangelical Christian President Bush say at a news conference, "I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength. . . . I pray for peace. I pray for peace." (The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2003) And two weeks later unleash 21,000 pound "shock and awe" bombs on the people of Iraq-a war of choice planned by his administration long before the horrific 9/11/2001 attack against America which then served as a pretext for his criminal war.

The faith-based imperialism of many Christians apparently prevents them from perceiving the fear-mongering lies on which this "Jesus changed my heart"-president based his administration's unnecessary war. Belief in a superior faith and country may be preventing them from imagining and feeling the overwhelming death and destruction this falsely-based war is causing.

The facts should be shockingly clear by now. Saddam Hussein did not possess imminent "mushroom-cloud"-threatening weapons of mass destruction nor ties to the terrible 9/11/2001 attack against America. The person practicing a "game of deception" regarding weapons of mass destruction was not Hussein, as President Bush repeatedly charged, but Bush himself. War crimes against humanity, disguised as "Operation Iraqi Freedom," are being committed: hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children dead; the country's life-sustaining infrastructure devastated; some four million civilians forced to become refugees inside and outside their country; a deadly massive civil war raging, triggered by the US-led invasion and occupation; and thus far over 3400 American soldiers killed and tens of thousands wounded in body and mind, along with the terrible waste of our nation's resources.

The faith-based imperialism of Christians is assumed to well serve the Bush administration. A Christian evangelical-professing President Bush can attend an Easter service, where he again "prayed for peace at an Army post that has sent thousands of soldiers to Iraq." ("Prayer for Peace," The Boston Globe, Apr. 9, 2007) A public Easter "prayer for peace" for the ears of his god or for the eyes of Christians? The contradiction between his "prayer for peace" and his insistence that Congress continue to fund his war, with no timetable for withdrawal of troops attached, appears to still fall on many imperialistically conditioned minds and hearts.

The obliviousness of faith-based imperialism to its own self-contradiction was on display in President and Mrs. Bush's visit to Virginia Tech, after the shocking killing of thirty-one students and a professor by another student who then killed himself. A tragic heart-rending massacre in Virginia, leading to memorial scrvices throughout America. People readily identified with the victims and wept with their families, as did Bush and his wife, who hugged and shed tears with families and students. And Bush was quoted as saying, "Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. . . . They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone," he continued, "and they leave behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation." ("Bush offers condolences at Virginia Tech,", Apr. 17, 2007) Reported also was "first lady Laura Bush [who] said she met with two families that had lost their only child." She was then quoted, " ' The idea of that for any parent [italics added] is so devastating that it's hard for us to imagine what they are going through,' she told CBS News." (Ibid)

It is evidently "hard" for many Christians with an imperialistic mind-set to "imagine . . . any parent" in Iraq, never mind "what they are going through" in our name.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi mothers and fathers and sons and daughters "leaving behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation."-because of Bush himself and his neo-conservative advisors. All one had to do was read the headlines before and after the horrible killings at Virginia Tech: "Dozens killed in violence across Iraq" ( The Boston Globe, April 11, 2007); "85 people found dead across Iraq," (The Boston Globe, Apr. 18, 2007); "Bombs Rip Through Baghdad in Wave of Attacks, Killing 171," (The New York Times, Apr. 19, 2007); "Suicide car bomb kills 9 US soldiers," (The Boston Globe, Apr. 24, 2007); "Dozens killed in bomb attack in Shiite Shrine," (The New York Times, Apr. 29, 2007). Tragically, faith-based imperialism fails to make the connection between Blacksburg and Baghdad. "Those who lives were taken, did nothing to deserve their fate." "The idea of that for any parent is so devastating that it's hard for us to imagine."

The failure of faith-based imperialism to recognize its own self-contradiction is especially seen in another response of President Bush to the horrible killings at Virginia Tech. When asked what lesson might be drawn from it, he responded, " 'Make sure when you see somebody, know somebody exhibiting abnormal behavior,' do something about it." ("Bush seeks war support in small Ohio town," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 19, 2007).

When you see somebody . . . exhibiting abnormal behavior?" The person "exhibiting" the most dangerous "abnormal behavior" is President Bush himself:

Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of mass deaths and destruction. Facing the evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof-and the smoking gun that would come in the form of a 'mushroom cloud.' ("President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat," Cincinnati Ohio, The White House, Oct. 7, 2002);

I pray daily, I pray for wisdom and guidance and strength. . . . I pray for peace. I pray for peace. (The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2003);

Tomorrow is a moment of truth [italics added] for the world. ("President Bush: March 'Moment of Truth' for World in Iraq," The White House, Mar. 17, 2003);

I pray for peace. I pray for peace.

Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. . . . Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision, and speed, and boldness the world has never seen before. . . . You have shown the world the skill and the might of the American Armed Forces. This nation thanks all of the members of our coalition who joined in a noble cause. ("Test of Bush Speech: President declares end to major combat in Iraq," CBS NEWS, May 1, 2003) "Mission accomplished."

I pray daily . . . for wisdom and guidance and strength. . . . I pray for peace.

There are some that feel like if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don't understand what they are talking about if that is the case. Let me finish. There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on.' ("Bush warns militants who attack U.S. troops in Iraq," by Sean Loughlin, politics, July 3, 2003)

I pray daily. . . . I pray for peace. I pray for peace.

I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind. . . . I see dangers that exist and its important for us to deal with them. ("Bush sets case as 'war president,'" BBC NEWS, Feb. 8, 2004)

I pray for peace. I pray for peace.

Islamic fascists. Evil doers. All they can think about is evil. Flat evil. Killers. Murderers of women and children. Terrorists. Lenin and Hitler [types]. [A never-ending] global war on terrorism. They want to create a unified totalitarian Islamic state and destroy the free world. A struggle for civilization. The war on terror . . . is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st Century and the calling of our generation.

I pray for peace. I pray for peace.

Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won. . . . It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through. . . . Congress can do its part by passing the war-spending bill without strings [a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq] and without delay. ("Bush Pleads for Patience in Iraq on War's Anniversary," by David Stout, The New York Times, Mar. 19, 2007)

I pray for peace. I pray for peace.

The faith-based imperialism of many Christians is believed to have enabled and accommodated the "I pray for peace" psychopathic insanity of the most dangerous man on the face of the earth. The "I pray for wisdom and guidance and strength" evangelical Christian President who uses "God" and "freedom" and bended knee to murder and maim and displace millions of children of "any parent" in Iraq, who "were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time." The pious President who brings not the biblical "oil of gladness" to Iraq but who seeks to oil America's military-industrial-complex there and to control the oil under its ground. The "war president" whose intent is not to liberate but occupy Iraq and use its land as a military base for his administration's aim to dominate "the darkest corners of our [Muslim] world . . . [with] this untamed fire of freedom." ("Transcript of President Bush's Inaugural Address," (The New York Times, Jan. 21, 2005)

Many Christians have allowed President Bush to get away with mass murder. Their faith-based imperialism is short-sighted and narrow-minded: it apparently cannot see or feel beyond its own kind-unless there are evangelistic strings attached.

Faith-based imperialism is self-deceptive because it is unreflective. An insecure person's overriding need for authority and certainty can lead him or her to give up the inalienable right to think for herself or himself. Here Adam and Eve's eating of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" is interpreted as evil rather than as good. Their "sin" was opening their "eyes" and knowing the difference between good and evil. Here obedience is the cardinal virtue and critical thinking for oneself the cardinal sin. Here religion is about authority not authenticity. Here is where a deluded political or religious leader gets much of his and her power. Here one is told which neighbor to love and which to hate. Here the Jesus of history is kept in the shadows of a resurrected Christ. Here salvation is re-interpreted as an individual matter apart from institutionalized political and economic realities that greatly determine who, in the gospel words of Jesus, may actually "have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)

Faith-based imperialism does violence to the reality of oppressed people-Jewish and Muslim-and obscures what Jesus was really about. He was not about dying for the sins of the world so that believers everywhere could inherit eternal life, but about setting at liberty the oppressed Jews in his country from Roman occupation. (Luke 4:18) The great conspiracy of the early Christian Church was turning Jesus' model of liberation from an oppressive state into one of accommodation to the state. Why? It is safer today, as in the past, to believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world than to join in seeking, as he did, to rid the world of political, corporate and military sins that deny other people their birthright of freedom and fulfillment to be who they are.

It is safer to worship a liberator than to follow in his liberation footsteps. Tellingly, the imperialistic command of a resurrected Christ to his disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," was a Christological formulation of the early Christian Church created long after Jesus and his disciples lived.

The early Christians apparently stood history on its head in order to put a resurrected Jesus on his feet-and give him legs and wings. They transported him from a political to a theological realm in order to survive, evangelize and flourish in the Roman world. (See Alberts, "Decoding the Coders of Christ," Counterpunch, June 14, 2006)

Religion is doing what the prophets worshiped not worshiping what they did. Jesus was recorded as emphasizing an often overlooked way to eternal life: by behavior, not be belief. When a lawyer tested him by asking, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered that the greatest commandments were the way: love of one's god and one's neighbor as oneself. "Do this [italics added] he said, and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus did not say which neighbor to love. Nor specify the neighbor's race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. Which evidently led the lawyer to test Jesus further by asking, "And who is my neighbor?" And Jesus said any person robbed of life and in need of a Good Samaritan. And there were no proselytizing strings attached. (Ibid, 10:29-37) Jesus is quoted as saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9) He warned about "hypocrites [who] love to stand and pray . . . so that they may be seen by others." (Matthew 6:5) "Hypocrites," in our day, who publicly "pray for peace" and really have the power to make peace but use it to make war. "Hypocrites" whose deception is based on their belief that Americans are in awe of authority and stupid.

The Bible says Jesus transcended faith-based imperialism with, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies . . . so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun shine on the evil and the good, and send his rain on the just and on the unjust." And his anti-imperialistic bottom line: "If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing then others? [italics added] (Matthew 5:43-47)

Many Christians do more than love only those who love them. The Jesus of history has inspired people of faith to cross sectarian, nationalistic, and racial borders and embrace people everywhere as sisters and brothers. Such Christians believe that their god's steeple is the aspirations of all people. His alter the common ground on which everyone walks. And Jesus' cross the oppression from which any individual or group is seeking to liberate himself or herself or itself. They are "peacemakers," and oppose our country's criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq. They sing another hymn: "O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee, thy life is still a summons to serve humanity; to make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd, to stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncowed." ("O Young and Fearless Prophet," words by S. Ralph Harlow; Music by John B Dykes) Hymnal of The United Methodist Church, 1989, p.444) These Christians have moved beyond faith-based imperialism to faith-based "humanity." And more movement by people of faith is especially needed now.

Just as state and local governments are passing resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, people of faith should censure them in their own local, regional and general bodies. And The United Methodist Church should be out in front of such a movement as Bush and Cheney are Methodists. People of faith should also urge Congress to impeach them for their war crimes and to really "support the troops" by ending this criminal war now and bringing them home to their loved ones and communities. Religion is about "knowing good and evil" and being "peacemakers."

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain, and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. This article is being presented as an address on May 27, 2007 at The Community Church of Boston where Rev. Alberts was minister from 1978 to 1991. He can be reached at william.alberts

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Specks" and "Logs" and 9/11
America's War on Terrorism Should Begin at Home
The horrific attack against America on September 11, 2001 offered us citizens an opportunity to engage in serious national self-examination about our government's foreign policy in our name, and whether it contributed to such violent aggression. But the Bush administration was not about to engage in or encourage any soul-searching. Instead of introspection, we got projection. We got knee-jerk, flag-waving, distraction-inducing unreflective patriotism. "No threat, no threat," President Bush immediately reacted, "will prevent freedom-loving people from defending freedom. And make no mistake about it," he emphasized, "this is good versus evil. These are evil doers. They have no justification for their actions [italics added]. There's no religious justification, there's no political justification. The only motivation is evil." ("International Campaign Against Terror Grows," Remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Koisumi of Japan in Photo Opportunity," The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)
Self-examination is fundamental to our individual and national security. A healthy response to any personal or nation-wide tragedy or loss includes asking how our own behavior may have contributed to it. Self-examination is one of life's first and most essential lessons: learning from our mistakes and misfortunes and misconduct by being open to our own possible involvement in helping to bring them about. Being guided by cause-and-effect is critical to assuming responsibility for our behavior and becoming responsible, democratic social beings. Self-examination leads to self-understanding and thus helps prepare us to understand, respect and live with other persons in our society and in the world. Conversely, anti-introspective tendencies, i.e. resistance to examining one's own behavior in conflict and crisis, may lead to self-justification with its denial of any personal responsibility and projection of blame on others, dooming a person or nation to repeat and intensify destructive self-defeating behavior.
The fifth anniversary of the violent 9/11 attack on our country is an especially important time for us Americans to engage in self-examination. It can lead us to identify and thus protect ourselves from the "evil doers" close to home.
Since religion stresses soul-searching, one assumes it would be an integral part of the behavior of a self-professed man of prayer and piety like President Bush. When asked during a 2000 presidential campaign debate, "what philosopher or thinker" he most identified with and why, he replied, "Christ, because he changed my heart." ("George W. Bush," Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Bush's "change of heart" involved recognizing that he was a "sinner." In a 2000 campaign interview, he stated that awareness of himself as a "sinner" influenced how he approached government. "I treat people with respect. I don't feel I'm better than anyone else . . . I respect other people, and that's what's needed in Washington, D.C. right now." (, editor-in-chief Steven Waldman's interview with Bush, Oct. 2000)
During the 2000 presidential campaign, President Bush stressed the importance of soul-searching in his "walk" with his god. "I've got a lot of imperfections like anyone else," he told Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steven Waldman. "And the more I get into the Bible, the more the admonition 'Don't try to take a speck out of your neighbor's eye when you've got a log in your own' [Jesus' admonition] becomes more and more true, particularly for those of us in public life. . . . You see," Bush explained, "if you believe that we're all sinners, as opposed to you're a sinner and I'm not, then I think it helps you. . . bring people together, and that's what is needed on some very practical issues that the country faces." (Ibid)
President Bush repeated the same teaching of Jesus on self-examination in another 2000 campaign interview. "A Bible verse that is important to me," he said, "is one that says I shouldn't try to take a speck out of someone else's eye if I have a log in my own. I like that verse," Bush continued, "because it reminds me that we're all sinners. When you admit you're a sinner, it is recognition that there is a need. And that need, for me, was met through Christ." ("God and the Governor," Charisma Magazine interview, Aug. 29, 2000)
President Bush's religious soul-searching was apparently motivated by political vote-getting. Winning the presidency in 2000 evidently proved to be a far more "transforming" experience than his self-professed "we're all sinners," "I don't feel like I'm better than anyone else," humble, "walking the walk with Christ"-on the campaign trail. With the violent wake-up call of 9/11, national soul-searching was thrown overboard and self-justification took over to "stay the course" of the ship of state. Bush became so blinded by the "logs" in many "neighbors" eyes that he declared an unending "global war on terrorism," rather than lead us Americans in examining any "log" in US foreign policy. Evidently the understanding of others he gained from his own "Christ"-inspired conversion as a "sinner" applied only to [voting] neighbors across the street not to neighbors around the world.
The president diverted attention from soul-searching even any national "speck" of our own by telling us Americans how great we are. On September 11, 2001 he said, "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world." ("Test of Bush's address,", Sept. 11, 2001) In his September 22, 2001 radio address, Bush continued to turn our attention away from any national soul-searching with, "I want to remind the people of America, we're still the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and no terrorist will ever decide our fate."
President Bush repeatedly reminded us Americans how great and thus how "speck"-free our nation is. In September of 2002, he continued to take our minds off any self-examination with, "We differ from our enemy because we love. We not only love our freedoms and love our values, we love life, itself. . . . I believe we can cross any hurdle, climb any mountain because this is the greatest nation on the face of the earth, full of the most decent, hard-working, honorable citizens." ("President Bush Calls on Congress to Act on Nation's Priorities," The White House, Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility, Trenton, New Jersey, Sept. 23, 2002) Similarly, in an address to the staff of the newly created Homeland Security Department, resistance to any national introspection continued to be reinforced by Bush: "There is no doubt in my mind that this nation will prevail in this war against terror, because we're the greatest nation, full of the finest people on the face of this Earth." ("President Bush Addresses New Homeland Security Workers,", Feb. 28, 2003) Not even a "speck" here. If we citizens are this great, obviously our political leaders must be great, too.
President Bush saw only "logs" in his apparent attempt to prevent us Americans from becoming aware of the oppressive foreign policy his administration continued to do unto far-away "neighbors" in our name. He quickly discouraged any discussion of what may have motivated the 19 Muslim men to hijack the four passenger jets and use them as missiles to kill nearly 3000 people. In his September 20, 2001 address to a joint session of Congress, he said "Americans are asking 'why do they hate us?'" Bush knew why, without identifying who "the terrorists" and their supporters were or ever talking with any of "them," nor presumably talking to anyone else who has talked to them. "They hate our freedoms," he answered rhetorically, "our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." ("Transcript of President Bush's address," Sept. 20, 2001)
The importance of us American people asking, "Why do they hate us," and entering into a real national discussion was immediately shot down, and still remains in the ruins of 9/11, a victim of stereotyping and demonizing and mindless patriotism. Throwing any cause-and-effect out the window, President Bush declared, "The people who did this act on America, and who may be planning further acts are evil people. . . . They are flat evil. That's all they can think about, is evil." He then further discourage any national soul-searching: "And as a nation of good folks, we're going to hunt them down, and we're going to find them, and we will bring them to justice." ("President: FBI Needs Tools to Track Down Terrorists," Remarks by the President to Employees at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Headquarters, The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)
President Bush stifled any effort to really entertain the question, "Why do they hate us?" He warned, "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." ("Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people," The White House, Sept. 20, 2001) He cautioned, "If you harbor a terrorist, if you aid a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists." ( "International Campaign Against Terrorism Grows," Remarks of President Bush and Prime Minister Koisumi of Japan, The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)
The president's threatening "either . . . or" rhetoric appears to have intimidated many in American mainstream media from investigative studies and reporting on who the so-called "terrorists" really are and the reasons they give for hating us that may have contributed to 9/11. The fact that US government-identified enemies often show up as "terrorists" in newspapers and on the airwaves of mainstream media has helped the Bush administration to use the tragedy of 9/11 to gain support for a "global war on terrorism," which precludes any real national soul-searching and thus prevents us Americans from seeing any "specks" and "logs" in our government's foreign policy in our name, the knowledge of which provides the necessary basis for justice and peace-making. President Bush's constant stereotyping and demonizing of other human beings, and ensuing fear-and-war-mongering in the name of "freedom" and "peace," are believed to indicate that he is the one who "hates our freedoms."
"Why do they hate us?" A reality check is contained in the 2004 report of the Pentagon's own advisory panel, the Defense Science Board on Strategic Communications. The report states that "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather they hate our policies" including America's "one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf States." Thus "when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy." The report cautions about seeing only "logs" in the "eyes" of these "neighbors": "In the eyes of the Muslim world, . . . American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering." (The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2004; "They hate our policies, not our freedom," Canadian Content, Aug. 19, 2006)
Columnist Helen Thomas picked up on the Pentagon's advisory panel's report, revealing its invitation to national soul searching which apparently threatened President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. Thomas noted that former President Clinton's advisor Sidney Blumenthal was quoted in The Guardian as saying "the 102-page report was not made public in the presidential campaign but instead was 'silently slipped on to a Pentagon web site on Thanksgiving eve.'" ("Insurgents Hate Our Policies, Not Our Freedoms," WCVB-TV Boston 5 ABC, Dec. 17, 2004)
Helen Thomas pointed out the "log" in President Bush's eye, represented by the Pentagon's advisory panel's report: "The administration got it all wrong, the report indicated, since the Arabs were not yearning to be liberated except from the authoritarian regimes that the United States is supporting." She continued, "It's silly for Bush to keep saying 'they hate freedom,' referring to the insurgents in Iraq. It makes me think he's looking for a new rationale for the war, his earlier reasons having been discredited." She said that "Bush has played into the hands of the radical jihadists by trying to tie the attacks on the World Trade Center to Iraq." And she ends by encouraging soul-searching: "The reality is that the Iraqis hate the conquest and occupation of their country, just as any people with pride in the world would [italics added]. (Ibid)
"Why do they hate us?" Another "log"-revealing response is presented by Michael Scheuer, a 22-year CIA official who, from 1996 to 1999, headed the bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center, and authored "Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America." Interviewed by Ken Silverstein, Scheuer was asked if the US were "safer or more vulnerable" as "the five-year anniversary of 9/11 attacks" approaches. Scheuer answered, "In the long run, we're not safer because we're still operating on the assumption that we're hated because of our freedoms, when in fact we're hated because of our actions in the Islamic world."
Michael Scheuer revealed the need for national self-examination: "There's our military presence in Islamic countries, the perception that we control the Muslim world's oil production, our support for Israel and for countries that oppress Muslims such as China, Russia, and India, and our support for Arab tyrannies." He stressed, "Publicly promoting democracy while supporting tyranny may be the most damaging thing we do. . . . We use the term 'Islamofacism'-but we're supporting it in Saudi Arabia, with Mubarak in Egypt, and even Jordan is a police state." He concluded by emphasizing the importance of introspection: "We don't have a strategy because we don't have a clue about what motivates our enemies." ("Six Questions for Michael Scheuer on National Security," by Ken Silverstein, Harper's Magazine, Aug. 23, 2006)
"Why do they hate us?" President Bush would have us Americans believe that "we are different from our enemy because we love . . . life, itself." He seems so oblivious to the 12 years of US-controlled UN economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, until the invasion, that resulted in the deaths of some 500,000 Iraq children under the age of 5 between 1991 and 1998 alone. (UNICEF report on the devastation caused by the sanctions, Aug. 12, 1999) Then there is the unprovoked, lies-based invasion and report of ensuing deaths of at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians, mostly women and children, in the first 18 months of the war. ("Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey," by Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, Gilbert Burnham, The Lancet, Oct. 30, 2004) And the US occupation and resulting widespread sectarian violence bordering on civil war, which was recently verified by a Pentagon report and denied by Bush. ("Warning issued on sectarian violence: Pentagon says threat is growing," by Robert Burns, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, Sept. 2, 2006) And Bush recently allowing Israel's air force to devastate Lebanon, even speeding up delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, under the guise of holding out for a "sustainable peace."
"A Bible verse that is important to me is one that says I shouldn't try to take a speck out of someone else's eye if I have a log in my own. I like that verse because it reminds me that we're all sinners." These are the words of a president who resists admitting making a mistake never mind being a "sinner."
"Islamic fascists." Evil doers." "All they can think about is evil." "Flat evil." "Killers." "Murderers of women and children." "Terrorists." Lenin and Hitler" types. A never-ending "global war on terrorism." "They want to create a unified totalitarian Islamic state and destroy the free world." "A struggle for civilization." These are the words of a man driven by projection not guided by introspection.
Similar judgments may be made about President Bush and his administration's policies. In his Hitler-like case, "the big lies" are sanctions-weakened, defenseless, non-threatening Iraq's "mushroom cloud"-threatening weapons of mass destruction and ties to the 9/11 attacks against America. In his case, it is the use of the invaders' "shock and awe" bombs which led to the resistance's use of roadside improvised explosive devices. In the case of many of his evangelical fundamentalist supporters, it is their Christocentric fascism that led them to support the invasion, seeing it as an opportunity to convert Muslims to "Christ." And in his case, it is the use of "freedom" and "democracy" as code words to disguise, for public consumption, spreading American imperialism "to the darkest corners of the world." In his case, we may well be fighting "enemies in the streets of our own cities" precisely because his administration committed state terrorism in invading and occupying "the streets of Baghdad."
In President Bush's case, it is appealing to "a higher Father." As he planned his administration's pre-emptive war against Iraq, he prayerfully said, "We go forward with confidence because this call of history has come to the right country [italics added]." He proclaimed that "the liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity." (The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2003) The war-mongering calling of "a higher Father." Bush continued to declare, "Freedom is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to every man and woman in the world" to justify his administration's war of choice against and occupation of Iraq. (Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates, The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004) Bush used his god for self-justification and not for soul-searching. And we Americans are far less safe because of the enemies our government continues to create in our name.
President Bush is "walking the walk" with "Christ"? Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God." ( Matthew 5:9) Tragically, Bush is waging war in the name of peace. Jesus said, "Love your enemies . . . so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; and sends his rain on the just and the unjust." (Matthew 5:44, 45, RSV and NRSV). Bush has so demonized our country's enemies that it is almost impossible for many Americans to see them as human beings who, as columnist Helen Thomas wrote, "hate the conquest and occupation of their country, just as any people with pride in the world would." [italics added]
The fifth anniversary of the horrible national wound of 9/11, and our own security, call for examining the "logs" in our government's foreign policy in our name. The greater struggle we Americans face is not about "good versus evil" but about "overcoming evil with good." (Romans 12:21) America's war on terrorism should begin at home. The most dangerous enemies we face are those who would have us sell the soul of our humanity for a mess of "national security" potage. It is time to see the "logs" in the eyes of our country's own fear-and-war-mongerers and remove them from office-for the sake of our children and grandchildren and all children and grandchildren everywhere.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Bush administration is adept at saying the obvious to hide the devious. This tactic reveals a deep disrespect for the intelligence of the American people. It assumes that Americans are gullible and, in their patriotic fervor, will believe anything their leaders tell them-no matter how false, criminal, or harmful to them and their children-if it is draped in the American flag or presented in the name of "God." A glaring example is President Bush's recent "surprise" visit to Baghad.

President Bush said "he had come 'to look at [new Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki in the eyes and determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are. . . . And I believe he is,'" he told US troops. Bush also had "'a message to the Iraqi people: that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its commitment,' he said to wild cheers from the 300 American soldiers and civilians gathered in the palace hall." (The New York Times, June 14, 2006)

The palace hall is inside the Green Zone. A four square mile fortress in the heart of Baghdad. Surrounded by high massive concrete blast-proof walls, barbed wire, and military checkpoints. And defended by tanks and armored vehicles on the ground, 50 caliber machine guns above, and attack helicopters patrolling overhead.

The Iraqi people might have had difficulty hearing President Bush's message to them about "America's commitment" to "a free Iraq" even if he had wanted them to. They did not even know he was there until after he had left. So he could not have looked them "in the eyes" either-nor could have Prime Minister Maliki-to see if they were as "dedicated" to the kind of "free Iraq" as he and the "wildly cheering" American soldiers and civilians were. And he did not stay long enough to find out.

After six hours, President Bush was gone. Sneaking away under the same extraordinary secrecy and heavy security that brought him to Baghdad. Most "liberated" Iraqis, who live outside the Green Zone, missed his fleeting and fleeing presence. Many might have seen him as "cutting and running." Many might have wanted to see him "dead or alive."

The apparent purpose of President Bush's secretive visit to Iraq was not to give a message to the Iraqi people, but to use them as a safe PR backdrop for the message he wanted to take home to the American people. Hours after Bush returned to Washington, he quickly called a press conference. A newspaper headline revealed to whom his Baghdad-delivered message was really intended: "AFTER IRAQ VISIT, AN UPBEAT BUSH URGES PATIENCE." And a news story told the rest: The president "blasted Democrats who are proposing to pull US troops out of Iraq, saying it would undermine a mission making steady progress."
(The New York Times, June 15, 2006; The Boston Globe, June 15, 2006)

The apparent aim of President Bush's visit to Iraq was not to win the hearts and minds-and consciences-of the Iraqi people but of American voters once again. The aim is to continue justifying the criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and thus keep Republicans in power come the midterm November elections. The aim it to make sure Republicans "stay the course."
The "surprise" visits to Iraq of US political leaders, and allies, offer a unique opportunity to see just how criminal our government is acting in our name. Such "unannounced" visits show the glaring disconnect between the US-led occupation symbolized by the walled-in Green Zone and the reality of "a free Iraq" beyond it. The continuing "secretive" visits provide blatant examples of saying the obvious to hide the devious, and of the deep disrespect for and disregard of the patriotically-ensnared Americans who are paying the price. And the visits reveal the deviousness of those who are actually doing the "cutting and running."

At Thanksgiving in 2003, President Bush made his first "surprise" visit with American troops in Iraq. He said the obvious to hide the devious in telling the "enthralled" troops:
We are proud of you. . . . by helping to build a peaceful and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, you are defending the American people from danger and we are grateful. . . . We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins." (The New York Times, Nov. 28, 2003) "Liberate 25 million people." Then why President Bush's clandestine act of sneaking into and out of Iraq under cover of darkness? If Bush had showed his face and looked "liberated" Iraqis "in the eyes," he probably would have been shot dead on sight. "A band of thugs and assassins." Does starting a horribly destructive, criminal war based on fear-mongering lies (Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor ties to 9/11, as President Bush and other administration officials knowingly and repeatedly claimed to justify their war of choice), violating Iraq's national sovereignty, and killing well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians with "precision" and "smart" bombs from a great distance make one less a "thug"?
"[You are] helping to build a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East . . . " Saying the right, and then followed the wrong: Abu Ghraib. The apparent Haditha massacre.

The reported rape and murder of a teenage girl and the killing of her mother and father and younger sister in Mahmoudiya. Iraqi security forces dominated by Shiite militias and death squads carrying out sectarian killing sprees, pushing Iraq closer to civil war. The escalating sectarian violence making people prisoners in their own homes or forced to flee and become refugees.

The wrong continues. Lack of US-promised electrical power, sanitary facilities and health clinics. Even President Bush feeling the heat: after returning from his recent "surprise" 6-hour visit to Iraq, he said of the 115 degree temperature, " 'The answer to electricity is, sooner the better. . . . I mean, it's hot over there.'" (The New York Times, June 15, 2006)

Over there, more than 2500 US troops are now dead, and the toll climbing. And tens of thousands are returning home wounded in body, mind and spirit.

A New York Times story by Sabrina Tavernise goes behind the obvious to the devious: "While politics has fallen into place inside the fortified walls of the Green Zone," she writes, "Iraqis outside have faced rising death tolls and even more brutal killings, which in recent weeks have included heads in banana boxes and executions of students." She cautions, "It remains to be seen whether Iraq's new government will be capable of restoring security, particularly in the capitol, where some areas are close to anarchy." (June 15, 2006)

America's criminal war and occupation are especially seen in the reports of US political leaders' "surprise" and greatly protected visits to "a free Iraq." Last Christmas Eve Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "escorted by Apache helicopters to the US regional headquarters in Mosul . . . lent a hand serving troops a dinner of lobster tails and steak," and told them "You folks have helped to liberate some 25 million people for whom hope was never there before."
( 'Freedom prevails,' Rumsfeld tells U.S. troops," Reuters, MSNBC, Dec. 24, 2005; The Boston Globe, Dec. 25, 2005) Rumsfeld left under the same heavy cover of secrecy and security as he entered. "Amid great secrecy" Vice President Dick Cheney "paid a surprise," well-publicized pre-Christmas and ­Chanukah visit to United States troops in Iraq, telling them, "The only way to lose this fight is to quit-and that is not an option. . . . These colors don't run."

Evidently in Cheney's case, they do hide: his reported "trip was arranged and carried out with an aim toward keeping the news from becoming public before he was on his way out of Iraq." (The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2005) A far cry from his pre-war statement to NBC's Tim Russet.: "I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators." Like President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would not have dared to show their faces in public.

The "surprise" visits to "a free Iraq" of other American politicians also speak volumes: about saying the obvious to hide the devious. About real "cutting and running": from the reality of an immoral and criminal war and occupation.

"Surprise" visits to "a free Iraq." What a contradiction! What a commentary! Yet American political leaders keep making such visits. Often accompanied by all the news that's print to fit. With many Americans remaining oblivious to the contradiction between the rhetoric of political leaders and the reality on the ground.

Considerable media coverage accompanied "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's . . . unannounced [italics added] visit to Baghdad April 26 [2006] to consult with Iraq's newly chosen government officials." Rice said the obvious: "We understand the concerns of the Iraqi people, indeed the impatience of the Iraqi people to deal with the security situation, to provide economic opportunities and to make certain that Iraq is on the right road to democracy and prosperity, and we pledge our partnership to do that."("Rice Visits Baghdad To Consult New Iraqi Leaders," by David Shelby, USINFO.STATE.GOV)

Secretary "Rice's trip," reportedly, "was timed to coincide with a surprise [italics added] visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld." She "said it was important for both she and Rumsfeld to be in Iraq in order to coordinate political and military efforts in support of the new government" (Ibid)-- with which they obviously met in the Green Zone.

Three weeks earlier, Secretary of State Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made "an unannounced visit" [italics added] to Baghdad, arriving "in the middle of an overnight thunderstorm." ("Rice and Straw Visit Baghdad, Prod Negotiations," by Jamie Tarabay, NPR, June 18, 2006). The contradiction pervading their "unannounced visit" to "a free Iraq" is seen in the coverage by Newsweek's Michael Hirsh who wrote, "There's nothing like roaring into Baghdad aboard a Rhino. A Rhino is a giant heavily-armored bus that can withstand IED's (small ones), and it is now the favored means of keeping Western visitors from getting blown to bits by these homemade bombs on the dangerous road between Baghdad International Airport and the secure Green Zone at the city's center."

Michael Hirsh then refers to "the surreal feeling one gets in moving from the howling chaos outside the Green Zone into the theme-park-like confines within. You drive through several checkpoints," he says, "leaving behind tracts of litter and rubble and the desperate, dark faces of ordinary Iraqis trying to earn a few dinars." ("Real and Surreal," April 6, 2006)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a "surprise visit" to Iraq, stated to be "the first world leader to visit Baghdad since the national unity government took office two days ago." He "was flown into Baghdad by a Hercules military aircraft," a news story said, "and then a Chinook military helicopter that flew low across the city executing evasive manoeuvres," landing in the "heavily fortified green zone," where he met with new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki. ("Blair visits Iraq, backs new government," Associated Press, MSNBC, May 22, 2006; "Blair visits Baghdad to sketch out timetable for withdrawal," From Greg Hurst and Ned Parker in Baghdad and Michael Evans, TIMES ON LINE, May 23, 2006)

In the midst of reported "car bombs and drive-by shootings kill[ing] 17 people" that "trumpeted" his arrival, Prime Minister Blair said the obvious: "It has been longer and harder than any of us would have wanted it to be, but this is a new beginning and we want to see what you want to see, which is Iraq and the Iraqi people to be able to take charge of their own destiny and write the next chapter of Iraqi history themselves." (Associated Press, Ibid)

The path to the White House seems to be by way of "surprise" visits to "a free Iraq." Along with Senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joseph Biden, there is President Bush's brother, Governor Jeb Bush. He made headlines: "Gov. Bush stealthily [italics added] visits Iraq for Easter." And the St. Petersburg Times headlines continue: "He makes the surprise [italics added] trip with three other governors, and shakes hands among Florida Army National Guards."

The story begins, "Under top security, Gov. Jeb Bush is spending Easter in Iraq with troops from Florida. Wearing an armored vest and helmet while flying in a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter," it states, "Bush visited seven military bases in Iraq and Kuwait."

The St. Petersburg Times story reports Gov. Bush as saying the obvious: "The most impressive part of the trip is the great enthusiasm and morale of the troops. . . . These young men and women are pretty fired up." Bush then reveals the extent of his own callousness and immorality: "We have a great state. But if people could just spend a day here, they wouldn't complain about the things they complain about." (By Steve Bousquet, April 16, 2006)

A final classic example of saying the obvious to hide the devious is Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's recent "surprise" visit to Iraq. The headline for his trip is suggestive: "Romney makes surprise stop in Baghdad: says visit to region wasn't about politics." The beginning of the story contains its own commentary: "Traveling under tight security [italics added], Governor Mitt Romney yesterday wrapped up an unannounced one day [italics added] trip to Iraq to visit troops from Massachusetts, and warned against a 'cut and run' pullout from the war-torn country." (Frank Phillips, The Boston Globe, May 25, 2006)

It is not about "cutting and running," but about redefining an international war crime as an issue of courage or cowardice. It is about "cutting and running" from the truth and world judgment of an immoral war based on lies.

It is about political and military leaders using patriotism to manipulate mothers and fathers into allowing their sons and daughters to be sacrificed on the altar of American imperialism and corporate greed. It is about a country in which the military is the only place many economically disadvantaged young persons can be all they can be.

It is about United Methodist and numerous other Christian leaders "cutting and running" from their own commitment to "object with boldness when governing powers offer solutions of war that conflict with the gospel message of self-emptying love." (Statement of Conscience," adopted by 95 United Methodist bishops in November 2005). It is about President Bush and Vice President Cheney professing to be United Methodists and Christians.

Rationalizing War Crimes
Saying the Obvious to Conceal the Devious
Instead of leading the country to national self-examination, it is about the Bush administration seizing the tragedy of 9/11 to justify manufacturing an endless war of terrorism to keep Republicans in power and advance US global domination. It is not about President Bush delivering "a message to the Iraqi people" that "America will keep its commitment," but about playing politics with the lives of American troops and Iraqi people to make sure Republicans retain control of the the House and Senate in the November elections.

It is about saying the obvious to hide the devious. It is about "surprise" visits to "a free Iraq." It is about "cutting and running" from the truth of a criminal war against the people of Iraq-and of America.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jesus, the Political Insurgent?
Decoding the Coders of Christ

The real conspiracy surrounding Jesus is not the cover-up of his marriage to Mary Magdalene, but his theological transformation into the "bridegroom" of the Christian Church (Mark 2: 18-22). Jesus was a Jew not a Christian. He was not about dying so that believers everywhere could inherit eternal life, but about liberating the Jews in his land from Roman occupation. His crucifixion was not about resurrecting the dead but about reviving the living. His sacrifice was not about heaven or hell for all people in the future, but about release and renewal for the Jewish people in this life. The great conspiracy is the early Christian Church turning his model of liberation from an oppressive state into one of accommodation to the state.

It is safer today, as in the past, to believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world than to join in seeking to rid the world of political, corporate and military sins that deny other people their birthright of freedom and fulfillment. Safer because many Christian denominations have allowed themselves to be integrated into and "blessed" and co-opted by the ruling status quo. The real deception of traditional Christianity is its reinterpretation of salvation as an individual matter, apart from institutionalized political and economic realities that greatly determine who, in the gospel words of Jesus, may actually "have life, and have it in its fullest." (John 10:10)

Ironically, Jesus himself seems to be the greatest threat to Christian Churches: his risky model of intervention-of speaking truth to power structures and acting it out-on behalf of oppressed persons. This risk appears to partly underlie institutionalized Christianity's most deceptive conspiracy: that of immortalizing Jesus in order to immobilize his dangerous model of liberation. The threat his cross poses as a model is removed by turning it into a monument and worshipping it. Vicarious identification with his struggle may be substituted for involvement in similar, hazardous ethical struggles today. Here the power is in the prayer. The stature is in the statue. The right is in the rite.

The personal appeal of saving one's own soul for all eternity replaces the more caring and challenging commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself. A gospel of personal redemption may also protect one from seeing how one's own institutionalized blessings may be another's curse-gained at another's expense.

A further risk for one's neighbor is that a one true and only saviour of the world appeals to insecure persons. Their need for absolute certainty and rightness, and intolerance of ambiguity, differences and complexity, invite and rationalize power over and domination of others. And another conspiracy is born: oppressing one's neighbor in the name of the very person whose mission was to set people free. Such conspiracies depend on rewriting history.

The early Christians' need to transcend the reality of the cross evidently led them to bury history. The historical reality was that the Jews suffered brutal oppression under Roman occupation, and that Jesus was merely one of many messianic prophets crucified Roman-style for political sedition. He was not about dying for the sins of the world so that believers could inherit eternal life, but about seeking to liberate the Jewish people from the sins of the Roman Empire-which had violated their national sovereignty, occupied their country, and crucified thousands of Jewish "insurgents" and bystanders. Belief in the Messiah was grounded not in heaven but on earth: national sovereignty, freedom and peace.

Jesus reportedly saw his mission as having a key political dimension. He was "anointed . . . to preach good news to the poor . . . [and] to set at liberty those who are oppressed." (Luke 4:18) As New Testament historian Paula Fredriksen writes in From Jesus to Christ, Jesus shared a first century Jewish consensus "on what was religiously important: the people, the Land, Jerusalem, the Temple, and Torah. . . . The political situation was of religious concern because," as Fredriksen has "repeatedly noted, Judaism did not draw a distinction between the two spheres: an idolatrous occupying force posed a religious problem."
(Second Edition, page 93, Yale University Press)

The occupying power of Rome, in turn, saw Jesus as a political problem, and swiftly crucified him on a cross after his "triumphant" messianic-like entry into Jerusalem at Passover. A foreboding inscription also was posted above his head: "This is the King of the Jews" (Luke 23:38). Jesus' mission was to empower people not gain power over them-another ethical aspect of his model turned upside down through the ages by evangelistic Christian kingdom builders. They and their descendents have claimed to heed the call of a resurrected Christ: a risen Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28: 16-20) Never mind that The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was a Christological formulation of the early Christian Church created long after Jesus and his disciples had lived.

The early Christians seemed to stand history on its head in order to put a resurrected Jesus on his feet-and give him legs. They transported him from a political to a theological realm in order to survive and flourish in the Roman world.

The Jews believed in a living not a resurrected messiah. The real messiah would deliver them from Roman domination and restore their national sovereignty and freedom. Thus for most Jews, any belief in Jesus as the messiah faded as their oppression continued in the years following his crucifixion. Their ongoing struggle against Roman occupation culminated in a violent insurrection between 61-73, which saw Rome destroy Jerusalem, murder over a million Jews, and made tens of thousands of them slaves and captives.
(Christians and Anti-Semitism: A Calendar of Jewish Persecution)

The early followers of Jesus found it safer to dissociate themselves from the Roman-despised and ­persecuted Jews. Safer to reinterpret Jesus' messiahship in theological and evangelical rather than political and institutional terms. Safer to appeal to the Gentiles because the survival of the early followers lay in spreading a Christian gospel to the Romans. The gospel of a resurrected Messiah and saviour of the world. Whose miraculous resurrection proves, rather than negates, his being the Messiah and also the only Son of God. Therefore, his followers hold the one true religion in the palm of their faith.

The conversion of Jesus from Jew to Christian is seen in his dissociation from Judaism and accommodating appeal to the Romans. This distortion of historical reality involves the shifting of blame for Jesus' crucifixion from Romans to Jews. The anti-Semitism in the New Testament is seen in reputedly cruel Roman prefect Pontius Pilate agonizingly sympathetic to a would-be liberator of Jews from Roman domination; in Pilate dramatically washing his hands of responsibility for Jesus' death, even though he alone had the power of life and death over Jesus. (John 19:10)

The distortion of historical reality is also seen in Jews being set up as "Christ killers." A "whole battalion-backed, yet uneasy, Pilate giving in to the "will" of subjugated, powerless priests, elders of the people, and other Jews who repeatedly cried out, "Crucify him!" (Mark 15: 12-16) Portraying the Roman Empire in such a favorable light in New Testament books written 50 to 100 years after the fact, may have advanced the evangelizing of Romans by the early followers of Jesus, but it cast a horrible curse on the Jewish people by putting into the mouths of their oppressed descendents, "His [Jesus'] blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25)

Around 300 years later the apparent conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine led Christianity to not only be recognized, but favored by the state. Finally, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians ended. But not so that of Jews. Their continuing oppression is suggested in Constantine's support for separating the observance of Easter from the date of the Jewish Passover. Calling the Jews "utterly depraved" and "murderers of our Lord," he also wrote, "It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. . . . let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. (Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Vol. III Ch.XVIII [1]) (Constantine 1 (emperor)-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

"We have received from our Saviour a different way?" From Jewish liberator to Christian Saviour. The oppressed Christians were legitimized and accepted by the state, and, in Jesus' name, joined the state in oppressing the very descendents of those he sought to liberate from the state. A similar conspiracy operates in the present.

The counterpart today is readily seen in the self-professed "Christian" who manipulated his way into the White House. President Bush has used religion to disguise and justify America's criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq. "Freedom is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to every man and woman in the world," he told cheering Republican delegates at their 2004 national convention. (The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004)

The Bush administration's pre-emptive war against Iraq is not about "God" and "freedom" but about lies: Iraq's threatening mushroom cloud-like weapons of mass destruction that did not exist; Saddam Hussein's ties to the horrible 9/11 attacks against America that did not exist; "fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we do not have to fight them here"-so-called "terrorists" who did not exist but do now because of the Bush administration's military aggression against Iraq..

The Bush administration is not about spreading "freedom" but American imperialism, not about "God" "anointing the Iraqi people with "the oil of gladness" (Hebrews 1:96), but about gaining control of the oil under the soil of Iraq, not about rebuilding Iraq but about refilling the coffers of administration friendly Halliburton types. The great conspiracy against the American people is the Bush administration reinterpreting its war crimes against the Iraqi people as an act of "God."

The conspiracy underlying the Bush administration's criminal war against and occupation of Iraq has reached an even more deceptive level. Now unraveling is the cover-up of last November 19's deliberate killing of 24 Iraqi men, women and children civilians in Haditha by US Marines. The apparent Haditha massacre is evidently one of a number of atrocities committed against Iraqi civilians by US troops. These growing horrible disclosures apparently led Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal el-Maliki to "lash out at the American military" in reaction, "denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians." He was quoted as saying the "violence against civilians has become a 'daily phenomenon' by many troops in the American-led coalition who do not respect the Iraqi people.'" (The New York Times, June 2, 2006) The fact that el-Maliki's government is dependent upon United States military for its existence suggests the severity with which he perceives the "daily phenomenon" of violence committed by American troops against Iraqi civilians

The Bush administration's response to the perceived " 'daily' attacks against [Iraqi] civilians" (Ibid) contains its own deceptive irony. The response became headline news: "US orders ethics training for all its troops in Iraq". The "ethics training" consists of "troops be[ing] taught about military values, Iraqi cultural expectations, and disciplined professional conduct," which includes "the importance of adhering to legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefield." (The Boston Globe, June 2, 2006)

If it were about ethics, US troops would not be in Iraq in the first place. This conspiratorial masquerade is not meant to win the minds and hearts of the Iraqi people, but to bolster the flagging support of the American people for a criminal war and occupation that is unraveling. "Ethics training" or window dressing for a corrupt-and corrupting-conspiracy?

The real conspiracy is not the cover-up of Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene but his marriage to the Christian Church-and Christian Churches marriages to the state. It is the corrupting "bond" between church and state that needs to be decoded.

Many Christian clergy often tend not to rock the boat, by speaking truth to power, fearing their own ship won't come in. In institutionalized Christianity, clergy usually get ahead by getting along-which often means going along. Hierarchical structures determine their advancements and thus tend to keep their conscience. You can't have a hierarchy without a lowerarchy.
Similarly, many bishops and other such church executives often tend not to rock the boat, by speaking truth to power, fearing constituents will abandon ship-and not merely Republican church members. The primary emphasis is on evangelism not ethics, on making all people "disciples of Jesus Christ" not doing justice for all people. It is the politics of religion that often keeps religion out of politics-out of risky political issues.

The apparent conspiracy here is turning a prophet into a profit. In other words, a primary characteristic of the successful Christian church leader appears to be the ability to maintain and enhance the institution as it is. Here again the gravest threat to institutionalized Christianity is believed to be Jesus himself-his model of setting the oppressed free rather than evangelizing and oppressing them in his name-or in the name of "freedom."

There are exceptions. One is Jim Winkler, head of United Methodism's General Board of Church and Society, the social action agency of The Church. He recently called on Congress to impeach President Bush, also a United Methodist, for initiating an "illegal war of aggression" against Iraq "based on lies," and contrary to The Church's Social Principles that declare, "War is incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ."

Not surprisingly, Mark Tooley, director of the United Methodist Committee at the Institute of Religion and Democracy, reportedly said Jim Winkler was a front for the "Religious Left," and would make a better "spokesman for a left-wing political action organization like," as he "does not represent the mainstream opinion in the denomination for which he purports to speak." ("Blow-back for Methodist attack on Bush," UPI Religion and Spirituality Forum, June 1, 2006) Tooley himself seems to presume to represent the denomination's "mainstream opinion." Jesus' model of liberation is not about "left" and "right" but right and wrong.

It is time for the bishops of The United Methodist Church especially to follow Jim Winkler's example and speak truth to power more forcefully. Last November, 95 of the bishops signed a "Statement of Conscience" in which they "repent[ed] of complicity in what we believe to be an unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq." They lamented "being silent in the face of the United States Administration's rush toward military action based on misleading information." They confessed "preoccupation with institutional enhancement [italics added] and limited agendas while American men and women are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die." And their concluding commitment was to "object with boldness when governing powers offer solutions of war that conflict with the gospel message of self-emptying love."

The latest "solution" of the "governing powers" is to offer "ethics training" for troops, whose very invasion and occupying presence in Iraq are violations of international law-and that of any "gospel message of self-emptying love." It is time for the 95 United Methodist bishops to present a resolution to their own Council of Bishops, calling for the censure of their two most prestigious and criminal church members: President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The grounds for their censure are contained in the 95 bishops' own "Statement of Conscience."

Jesus is recorded as teaching that eternal life is not something one inherits but does. It is not primarily about belief but about behavior, just as the truth is reflected in what one does. When a lawyer tested him by asking, "Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?," Jesus confirmed that the two greatest commandments were the way: love of one's god and one's neighbor as oneself. "Do this [italics added], and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus did not say which neighbor to love. Nor specify the neighbor's race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. Which evidently led the lawyer to test Jesus further by asking, "And who is my neighbor?" And Jesus said any person robbed of life and in need of a Good Samaritan. And there were no proselytizing strings attached. (Luke 10:29-37)

Religion is about seeing through and overcoming conspiracies. It is about setting people free, not imposing sectarian or political beliefs on them. It is about empowering people, not gaining power over them. It is about honoring people in calling them by their own names, and experiencing their reality not interpreting it. It is about loving one's neighbor as oneself. And one's neighbor is anyone-anywhere. Religion is not worshiping what the prophets did but doing what the prophets worshiped.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday, February 17, 2006

Spirituality: Wellspring and Wastebasket by

William E. Alberts and Amy E. Alberts*

Spirituality reveals not only the infiniteness of divinity but the infinite varieties of humanity. Type “spirituality” in an Internet search service and over 6 ½ million references appear. Follow that with “Christian spirituality,” and you could spend another eternity studying almost 2 ½ million sources. Spirituality may tell us far more about humanity than about divinity. In fact, this brief examination of spirituality is not about tracing the “mysterious ways” in which “God moves. . . His wonders to perform,” as the hymn declares, but about identifying the many and various ways in which the human spirit moves to perform its wonders. Nor do we presume to cover the manifold meanings of spirituality. Still, our study of the human spirit is believed to contain hints of the nature of any divinity.

Our focus is on two human “wonders” of spirituality. Spirituality may be a way to affirm, nourish, renew and empower the human mind, body and spirit. A wellspring of comfort and strength, enabling coping and wellness, and reflection and direction and connectedness with other human beings. A wellspring that overflows into love of one’s neighbor as oneself.

On the other hand, spirituality can be a wastebasket into which an individual or group may dump cause-and-effect understanding of the behavioral and societal and natural-event determinants of health and illness. A wastebasket that may accommodate ignorance and an excessive self-centered need for authority and absolutes that promise a “cure-all,” alleviate feelings of powerlessness, and legitimize anti-democratic beliefs and tendencies and behavior. First, spirituality as a wellspring of self-empowerment and connectedness with other human beings.

Foremost, spirituality is personal. It may be defined by, but not confined to, creed or ritual. It may be explained but not contained, described but not proscribed. It may be entertained but not solely institutionalized. For example, in a discussion about religion, a hospital patient was asked if he were “Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or of another religion,” and he replied, “None of the above. I’m spiritual.” Like many persons, his spirituality did not fit traditional classifications. He voiced a private faith in a personal god which apparently helps him deal with his medical and other realities. He evidently is one of the 6 ½ million representations of spirituality on the Internet search service.

The assumed empowering personal nature of spirituality is seen in the prayer of a woman who has been blind and suffering from a chronic illness for 40 years: “God, I’m sick and thank you anyhow [italics added]. You have helped me through it for 40 years, and given me a loving husband and two wonderful children. I praise You not just for the good times but for the bad times too, which You have led me through.” She was not thanking her god for curing her blindness but for seeing her through it—though she may well have prayed often for a miracle earlier on.

In the face of illness, injury and death, many hospital patients and their families and friends find comfort and empowerment in the prayerful words, “Thank you, Jesus”—not for what has befallen them but for whom they believe is beholding them in love.

“Thank you anyhow” may exemplify studies showing that people with spiritual resources especially appear to possess resiliency in coping with illness and injury, and still enjoy a quality of life in the midst of stress, discomfort and limitations. Spirituality seems to foster a positive, accepting, empowering attitude, enabling people to proactively realize that they help to determine the possibilities of their limitations and the limitations of their possibilities. The connection between spirituality and attitude is perceptively expressed in Lamentations 3:19-23; “Remember my affliction and bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind [italics added], and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:19-23)

Not that attitude is dependent on spirituality for will power and quality of life. One may call to mind inner emotional resources, loving human relationships, and positive experiences and therefore have hope and thrive in the face of adversity. Affirmation, inspiration, love, reinforcement come from a human spirit as well as from a “Holy Spirit.”. Spirituality is believed to be a source of inner strength not the source.

While spirituality is personal and usually perceived as heaven sent, it also moves in horizontal ways. Spirituality has a “human touch.” The wondrous horizontal “ways” of spirituality are seen in a woman who underwent two additional unexpected surgeries, and, when finally ready, and eager, to be discharged developed a complication which continued to hospitalize and depress her. “I had had it,” she said. “I just stopped trying, stopped fighting to get better, gave in and just left it all in God’s hands. I had given up. But later, when I heard my roommate start to hum ‘Love lifted me,’ my body surged upward; and then she began to sing the words. . .”

Spirituality may involve more of a human touch than is readily understood and appreciated. It may be impossible to know where an individual’s emotional and physical make-up end and spirituality begins. For example, an attractive older female pastoral care volunteer visited a very sick-appearing, listless, prone male hospital patient. As she stood next to his bed and engaged him in conversation, his body began to stir. Their exchanges grew more spontaneous, personal, familiar, and even light-hearted joshing, leading him to literally rise up in his bed, his body animated, his full smile reflecting an uplifted spirit. Her presence and their exchange seem to have not only made his day but his hospital stay. Her prayer appeared to be anti-climactic. He had already caught the spirit. Was it agape or eros? Or both?

Spirituality can be empowering. Individual religious experience can alleviate guilt, give peace of mind, certainty and inner strength. It can turn an individual around, lead one to be “born again,” to become sober, clean, responsible, focused, creative. A patient suddenly stopped abusing his body with alcohol and cigarettes when he discovered that someone else loved it and him—and revealed it was a temple of spirituality. That someone was Jesus, whom he accepted as his savior, which acceptance not only helped to save him from years of self-abuse but also inspired him to write songs and sing them for others in churches and on radio broadcasts.

In the face of imprisonment, “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” a Black man newly converted to the Muslim faith. Even in confinement, self-empowerment is obtained in solidarity with people of like-minded realities and beliefs, affirming and liberating the spirit in the face of an oppressive environment and society. The spiritual power of solidarity even in solitary confinement.

While many studies claim to show that spirituality promotes health, Dr. Richard P. Sloan and associates provide their own cautionary research. “Even in the best studies,” they write, “the evidence of association between religion, spirituality and health is weak and inconsistent.” They also cite ethical issues implied by belief in a god who seems to favor the faithful, one issue of which is, “Are the more devout adherents ‘better’ people, more deserving of health than others?” They assume that such a belief suggests “illness is due to [patients’] own moral failure,” and produces an “additional burden of guilt.” (“Religion, spirituality, and medicine,” by R. P. Sloan, E. Bagiella and T. Powell,

The Lancet, Feb. 20, 1999, Pages 664-667, Vol. 353, Issue 9153) It is as if their god plays favorites, which seems contrary to Jesus’ teaching that “your Father who is in heaven . . . makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust . . . and is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” (Matthew 5: 46; Luke 6: 35, 36)

Not that Dr. Sloan and his colleagues disregard the power of prayer. They write, “No one can object to respectful support for patients who draw upon religious faith in times of illness.” But they conclude that “it is premature to promote faith and religion as adjunctive medical treatments.” They say that until related “ethical issues are resolved, suggestions that religious activity will promote health, that illness is the result of insufficient faith, are unwarranted.” (Ibid.)

Dr. Sloan also states that “attempts to make religious activities adjunctive medical treatments . . . come dangerously close to efforts to validate religion by its effects on health.” He says, “Religion does not need science to justify its existence or appeal.” (“Should Physicians Prescribe Religious Activities,” The New England Journal of Medicine, June 22, 2000, Vol. 342: 1913-1916, No. 25)

Mayo Clinic internal medicine specialist and researcher Paul S. Mueller, while more positive than Dr. Sloan and associates about the relationship between religion and health, grounds spirituality this way: “Although the relationship between religious
involvement and spirituality and health outcomes seems valid, it is difficult to establish causality. . . . The benefits of religious and spiritual involvement are likely conveyed
through complex psychosocial, behavioral and biological processes that are incompletely understood.” (

The intrinsically personal and individual nature of spirituality reveals the difficulty involved in trying to determine common denominators. The “spirit” moves one group of worshippers to stand, sway, clap their uplifted hands and say “Hallelujah!” “Amen!” “Thank you, Jesus!”—to the beat of gospel music and preaching. Another congregation may sit quietly, attuned to orderly measures of an anthem and sermon that accommodate and inform their meditative mood. A third group may find their spirits quickened and renewed in chanting, ritual and sacrament. While a fourth may find their spirituality uplifted and community reinforced and empowered in bowing together and facing Northeast toward Ka’bah, the holy shrine in Mecca, and kneeling and praying in unison as equals. And a fifth may find the light of spirituality in silence. Each group might not “get” the other’s access to and expression of spirituality. Yet the legitimacy of each would seem to be obvious. But too often it is not.

Spirituality can be a wastebasket into which an individual or group may dump, deny and even deify insecurities, lack of knowledge and the need for certainty reflected in self-centered, submissive or dominating tendencies. A person who has spent years abusing his or her lungs, liver and/or heart may pray for miraculous healing when confronted with reaping what she or he has sown. Here spirituality may be resorted to in an attempt to hurdle the reality of cause and effect—a very human, but usually futile and despairing tendency. However, it may not just be about choices and self-abuse but also about the health- or illness-disposed genetic makeup one inherits. And lest one fails to appreciate another’s reality: illness naturally makes one physically, emotionally and spiritually centered on oneself.

Certain biblically-guided Christians believe that their “God is able” to perform the miraculous healing of a dying or physically paralyzed loved one (or another) in the face of cause-and-effect scientific medical reality. They believe what is needed, as Jesus said, is enough faith: “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21: 22) When death ensues, or the physical impairment remains, those who “pray without ceasing” may blame themselves, believing their faith was not strong enough to elicit their god’s favor. Such Bible-inspired belief is understandably propelled by love and hope and fear—and denial. But in the end there may be a spiritual Catch-22 of guilt—with a letdown of faith caused by a seemingly narcissistic, reality-denying diety who professes to favor those who favor him. It would appear that spirituality should help one to deal with reality not short cut or deny it.

While people inevitably reap the cause-and-effect they sow, certain people reap what others have sown for them. There remains in America an historic, institutionalized White-controlled hierarchy of access to political and economic power. This hierarchy has enabled White persons to sow far more educational and economic opportunities than people of color—and thus reap far greater health and health care. At the heart of America’s “lingering racial divide” is a job gap that creates a health gap. Black persons continue to reap an unhealthy, discriminatory, White-favored political and economic order sown for those at the bottom of the hierarchy. Those who suffer from lack of adequate paying jobs, insufficient diet, polluted air, an indifferent and often hostile environment, and a tokenistic power structure are more likely to reap hypertension, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney failure, asthma, stroke, cancer, heart disease, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, implosive physical violence, and lower life expectancy. (“Patients With H.I.V. Seen as Separated By a Racial Divide,” The New York Times, August 7, 2004; “Disparities found in health care for blacks,” The Boston Globe, August 5, 2004; “Report finds minorities get poorer healthcare,” by Ron Blakey, March 20, 2002,; “Mental Health Problems Among Minorities,” by Richard A. Sherer,

In a report, the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations in Seattle concluded, “Unconscious racism is so entrenched in the US medical system that the only way to eliminate disparities is to change the rules . . .” Will Pittz, lead author of the report, said, “The healthcare system as a whole provides vastly unequal access and treatment based on race, language, and ethnicity. . . . Racism within the health system is literally making people of color sick.”
The Boston Globe news story on the report also cited former US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, who “found that more than 80,000 black Americans die every year because of continuing disparities in healthcare.” The news story, called “Racism blamed for health disparities,” also cited another study: “Last September, the Sullivan
Commission on Diversity in the Health Workforce found that while Black, Hispanics, and Native Americans make up more than 25 percent of the US population, they represent only 9 percent of the nation’s nurses, 6 percent of doctors, and 5 percent of dentists.” (July 20, 2005)

The health care disparity was used by President Bush, to sell his plan to privatize Social Security, in a meeting with 24 selective African American religious and community leaders. Bush reportedly “told black leaders yesterday that his plan to add private accounts to Social Security would benefit blacks because they tend to have shorter lives than some other Americans and end up paying more than they get out.” (The Boston Globe, Jan. 26, 2005) Why Black people do not live as long as “some other Americans” [italics added] evidently was not discussed.

A recent New York Times editorial called diabetes an “epidemic,… a disease defined by economic disparity,” with “blacks and Hispanics… disproportionately stricken.” Entitled “Declare War on Diabetes,” the editorial warned, “Ignore it, and it can lead to heart disease, strokes, amputations and shortened lives.” (Feb 5, 2006)

Economically speaking, one group’s wellspring may be another group’s wastebasket. Spiritually speaking, one person’s blessing may be another person’s curse. A healthy expression of spirituality would seem to include addressing what in society is unhealthy.

Matters of the spirit can also be recreated in the image of an individual’s or group’s need for certainty, security, rightness, power over others and domination. Spirituality can be a vehicle to authenticate and dictate “correct” theological belief rather than just, ethical behavior. Here spirituality is a means by which to obtain the right experience and belief, not do the right thing—as if that which is perceived as spiritual can be contained, controlled, claimed, patented. Here also spirituality is often about a personal, other-worldly destination, more than about an interpersonal journey with others—unless they are, or become, like-minded.

To claim absoluteness in matters of the spirit is to reveal ignorance of the spirit that matters to other kinds of people. To claim one’s religion has, or religious experience is, the key to the “spiritual kingdom” is to unknowingly confess one’s own spiritual serfdom. Such confinement of spirit may be acted out in an interfaith or community observance or national event at which a Christian minister or priest gives an invocation or benediction “in the name of Your only Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Classic examples are the closing words of Baptist evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham’s Invocation at President George W. Bush’s January 2001 Inauguration: “. . . We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen;” and the conclusion of United Methodist minister Kirbyson Caldwell’s Benediction at the same Inaugural: “We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus, the Christ. Let all who agree say amen.”

A Christian minister or priest who is unaware of or disregards, for example, the Jews or Muslims in an audience before him (or her) is far more likely to be oblivious to the Muslims or Jews being oppressed around him—or beyond him by his government in his name. “Christocentrism,” like egocentrism and ethnocentrism, is threatened by, oblivious to and wars against diversity. Only “in Jesus name” can become like a box one cannot think or relate outside of. Such spirituality may not only accommodate imperialistic political policies but foster them.

Charles Marsh, religion professor at the University of Virginia, writes about “Wayward
Christian Soldiers,” his own brother and sister American evangelicals, whose pre-Iraq invasion “war sermons” had a common theme: “Our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God’s will is for our nation to be at war with Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.” Marsh quotes a Christian missionary who expressed a sentiment shared by certain evangelicals: “American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Marsh says that “both Franklin Graham, the evangelist son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, . . . a former advisor to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.”

Marsh states that “an astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president’s decision in April 2003 [to invade Iraq],” and “recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war.” He writes that their support was not based on “Christian moral doctrine” of pursuing peace and loving enemies, but on “our Faustian bargain for access and power,” which “has undermined the credibility of our evangelistic witness in the world.”

Marsh’s concluding sentence reveals the apparent imperialistic bent of many evangelical Christians: “The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness.” (“Wayward Christian Soldiers,” The Boston Globe, Jan. 20, 2006) Fascism parading as faith “Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before!”

With spirituality, the danger to one’s neighbor comes when one moves from simply doing “good works” to a theological group identity that feels superior and then to domination over those seen as “inferior.” Where does spirituality end and personality, culture, and patriotic national identity begin?

Where does faith end and cause-and-effect begin? Certain religious leaders and their followers need to protect their god—and themselves—from knowledge. The more mysterious their god’s ways, the more they can actually control his movement—with an infallible compass, the Bible. They need to believe that their god’s ways are “unsearchable.” Therein lies these religious leaders’ authority and power over people—and their people’s need to remain dependent and powerless. Such religious leaders can turn to their divinely revealed Bible to interpret their god’s ways and will. Thus a prominent Southern Baptist author reportedly told pastors at a workshop, “The tsunamis that hit South Asia were God’s punishment of a [Muslim] area where Christians have experienced particularly intense persecution.” (“Blackaby says tsunamis God’s judgement; missions experts question theology,” by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press-News, 1/27/2005)

Thus “some religious conservatives (Rev. Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey, and Charles Colson) have speculated that . . . Hurricane Katrina was sent by God as an omen or as a punishment for America’s alleged sins,” especially “legalized abortion.” (“Religious conservatives claim Katrina was God . . . ,” Media Matters for America, Sept. 13, 2005)

Thus “an organization of Christian fundamentalists claims the destruction brought on by Hurricane Katrina is God’s judgement against New Orleans for holiday festivals like the annual gay Southern Decadence party. ‘Although the loss of life is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city,’ said Repent America director Michael Marcavage on the organization’s website.” (“Religious groups link Hurricane to gay event,” Christopher Network)

Thus such divine judgement appears to be shared by Rev. Franklin Graham who said, “There’s been a black spiritual cloud [italics added] over New Orleans for years.” Appearing at Liberty University, a Christian college, “Graham spoke about how some believed God was using the hurricane to spark a religious revival there,” because “New Orleans is a city known for Satan worship, orgies and widespread drinking and drug use.” (“Some US Christians say Katrina was God’s handiwork,” by Paul Simao, Reuters Alert Net, Oct. 16, 2005) What would a white spiritual cloud represent? Goodness? Showers of blessings? The revelation of Rev. Franklin Graham’s own unconscious feelings of racial superiority? To what degree are spirituality and one’s god colored by one’s own racial conditioning and identity?

Thus Rev. Jerry Falwell interpreted the 9/11/2001 attacks as “God’s judgement on America.” “I really believe,” Falwell said, “that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actually trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”
Rev. Pat Robertson reportedly said “Amen!” to Falwell’s prophetic judgement-- which “revelation” Falwell later retracted. (“Falwell apologizes to gays, feminists, lesbians,”, Sept. 14, 2001)

Civilized society punishes people severely for committing a fraction of the wanton and destructive behavior certain Christian fundamentalist and other religious leaders attribute to their god. It would seem that such leaders are projecting onto their god their own unconscious hatred and aggression. Such a destructive god should be restricted to history, or banished to the heavens, or confined to a book, or studied in a laboratory to understand his terroristic nature -- and not allowed to return and “move in mysterious ways” upon the earth and among human beings until his worshippers enjoy the therapeutic touch of a Golden Retriever, or unexpectedly discover the humanizing love of a gay or lesbian son or daughter, or experience unconditional love themselves from another human being.

The attempt to protect one’s god from empirical knowledge (the need to dumb-down one’s god) is seen in the change in the training of ministers in pastoral care and counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The seminary has dropped “secular psychology” from its curriculum and “is taking its Christian counseling department in a new direction, one built upon the sufficiency of Scripture and designed to train pastors to deal biblically with the needs of hurting people.” This “wholesale change in emphasis [is] built upon the view that Scripture is sufficient to answer comprehensively the deepest needs of the human heart” [italics added]. The very psychological knowledge and supervised clinical training, through which ministers gain self-understanding and are thus better able to love themselves and hence, their neighbor, are dumped into a wastebasket. Replaced by “true ‘pastoral care’ as defined by the Scriptures.” (“Southern Seminary Launches new vision for biblical counseling,” by Jeff Robinson, (BP) news, Feb. 15, 2005)

A concerned pastoral psychotherapist, Rev. Dr. Perry Miller, writes that he and other psychotherapists and clinical supervisors of ministers-in-training “have had to pick up the pieces of people’s lives, who have been counseled or supervised by such a limited model.” Miller stresses the importance of clergy gaining insight into themselves and other persons through integrating knowledge of the social sciences under the guidance of a clinically trained supervisor. (“A Threat to Clinical Pastoral Training,” by Perry Miller, Pastoral, The Newsletter of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, Feb. 23, 2005). The spiritual health of worshippers depends in part on the emotional health of their religious leaders.

Religious leaders and their followers who need to protect their god from cause-and-effect, from knowledge are projecting on to their god their own need to protect themselves from self-knowledge. They tend to be anti-introspective persons, not wanting to look at and understand their own feelings and motivations. Paul the Apostle said, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) One might add, faith and works without self-knowledge can be deadly.

Jesus seemed to ground spirituality in self-knowledge and human relationships. When asked which was the greatest commandment in the law,” he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . [And] the second is like it: “You shall love you neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:25-30) It is assumed that love of one’s neighbor depends on love of oneself: one’s ability to experience one’s own humanness and to embrace one’s own worth and rights.

Self-knowledge is believed to be a fundamental qualification of any clergy person—and of anyone committed to democratic values. One has to know where he or she is coming from in order to know where other persons are at. Self-knowledge helps one to avoid getting in one’s own way in living and working with and serving people. The more one is in touch with and accepting of oneself, the better prepared one is to experience and accept other persons as themselves – better able to experience rather than interpret their reality.

Each person seems to have his/her own unique “spiritual fingerprints”—as does each group have its own individual ways of performing its spiritual wonders. The spiritual lives of individuals seem to be as varied as their emotional make-up, physical identities, and cultural orientations and conditioning. The influence of personality, culture and spirituality on each other is believed to determine the various ways in which the human spirit moves to perform its wonders.

If the individual and personal nature of spirituality reveals (inadvertently) anything about divinity, it appears to be the diversity of divinity--and thus the divinity of diversity. Spirituality seems to disclose that any divinity is evidently comfortable with, affirms and embraces humanity’s diversity and connectedness, individuality and commonality, uniqueness and oneness. An apparently spiritually inspired Paul the Apostle declared, “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:26).

Whether the source of one’s spirituality is the “Holy Spirit” or a human spirit, spirituality would appear to include what one does with what one feels and believes. It would seem that one’s spiritual experiences and beliefs would lead to identification and connectedness with all living beings. The bottom line of spirituality, therefore, would seem to be behavior and not simply belief, action and not just awe, outreach and not merely uplift, introspection and not only inspiration, justice as well as joy. The morality of spirituality.

*Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain, and a Diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on religion, racism, war and politics. He can be reached at

Amy E. Alberts, M.A. is a Ph.D. student at Tufts University in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development. She is co-editor, with Dr. Jacqueline Lerner, of Current Directions in Developmental Psychology, a Pearson Prentice Hall book of readings from the American Psychological Society (2004). She can be reached at