The Ten Commandments begin thus: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them . . ." (Exodus 20:2—5a).
How I wish that Christians who are outraged over the removal of a monument of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse would instead concern themselves with their own fealty to the commandments! If they did, these same conservative Christians would realize that they do indeed worship another god — one that they put on an equal footing with, if not above, the God of the Bible. That god, of course, is the United States government; and the idol of many of these Christians is George W. Bush.
How else can one explain the willingness — even eagerness — of so many Christians to accept the mass murder of their fellow human beings by their own government while harshly criticizing foreign governments or terrorist organizations for doing, or even contemplating, the same thing on a much smaller scale?
For example, Joseph Farah, a professed Christian, recently endorsed Congressman Tom Tancredo’s suggestion that terrorist attacks on the U.S. by al-Qaeda be met with nuclear attacks on Muslim cities from Mecca to Damascus, thus consigning millions to certain death as a result of the actions of a few who may or may not even reside in the cities which Farah wishes to bomb. Farah rightly condemns the murder of innocent civilians by Muslim terrorists but then turns right around and proposes that the U.S. government murder many times more innocent civilians in retaliation for terrorist attacks. If Farah is willing to allow his own government to play God with the lives of people in other countries, then he must consider that government to be the equal of God. Talk about bowing down to idols!
The Catholic Sean Hannity, for his part, has expressed dismay that Michael Vick might serve only a year in prison for torturing dogs yet continues wholeheartedly to stand behind the U.S. government’s policy of torturing human beings. One suspects that Hannity would not condone the torture of dogs even if the government repealed the laws under which Vick is being prosecuted or, worse, actually encouraged or paid Vick to torture dogs. Somehow, though, when the government says that torturing certain human beings is permissible and possibly even a patriotic duty, Hannity suddenly drops all his objections to the practice and excoriates those who continue to object.
The Bible clearly holds governments to the same standards as it does individuals (see the story of David and Bathsheba in II Samuel 11 and 12), but the alleged Christian Hannity does not. The only explanation is that Hannity considers the U.S. government the equal of God, possessing the authority to make its own rules of conduct. (Needless to say, Hannity is also in favor of our government’s continued occupation of Iraq and its impending military actions against Iran.)
The agenda-driven pundits are, unfortunately, not the only ones who have conflated Uncle Sam and Father God. I recently received an email from an acquaintance which requested that I say the following prayer: "Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in our time of need. Amen." It’s misguided and sickening. The troops are not protecting us from anything; they are invading and occupying foreign countries that have done us no harm. We are in far more danger from the regime in Washington, D.C., which controls the troops and could easily use them against us, than we are from the regimes in Tehran, Damascus, or Pyongyang. Why should God bless invaders who have brought death and destruction to millions of innocent people?
The clear implication is that God is the power behind the U.S. military, which is doing his work throughout the world — you know, bombing, killing, maiming, and all those other wonderful things that the God who is described as the embodiment of love (I John 4:8) would be doing if he weren’t so busy doing bleeding-heart liberal things like showing mercy and forgiveness.
Furthermore, the Ephesians passage is blatantly misapplied to a flesh-and-blood struggle for power in the physical world. The passage is, in fact, part of the Apostle Paul’s description of the "full armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11), which he clearly states is not for use "against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). Turning that passage into an endorsement of the U.S. military’s imperial adventures is to make a liar of Paul and, by extension, God.
Here we have the cross, the very symbol of love, redemption, and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, juxtaposed with the flag, the symbol of the U.S. government and its world-girdling empire built on violence and bloodshed. Without doubt, the irony of the association of an implement of state-sanctioned torture and execution with Old Glory is lost on the person who came up with this piece of blasphemy. The federal government, like all governments, subsists on theft and retains and expands its power through force and the threat of force. Jesus, on other hand, forces himself on no one and, as Joseph Sobran recently noted, rejected the kind of power we now invest in our presidents and, I add, which so many Christians worship as long as it is in the hands of George W. Bush.
Further proof of the complete lack of a sense of irony on the part of these worshipers of Uncle Sam’s "benevolent global hegemony" comes in the form of this last image from the email (right).
A boy attends the funeral of his father, a U.S. Marine, and struggles to hold back the tears. Now if that doesn’t make you reconsider the whole imperial project, which is directly responsible for thousands of such scenes across America, then you either have a heart of stone or are so blinded by state worship that you consider the death of a father and resulting instability in his family a sacrifice worth making to your god. If the latter is the case, you’re in good company: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright considered the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a result of U.S. bombings and sanctions to be a worthy sacrifice to Moloch, too.
So, dear Christian brother or sister, which is it? Do you genuinely try to obey the Ten Commandments; or are you merely concerned that they be displayed somewhere, preferably on government property where, perhaps, they will add a sense of legitimacy to the state? Does God make rules that apply to both individuals and governments, or are governments free to write their own rules if doing so makes you feel safer? Is it the crime of the century for Osama bin Laden to engineer the deaths of 3,000 Americans but a boon to humanity for George W. Bush to take actions that have resulted in the deaths of another 3,000 Americans (and counting) and untold thousands of Iraqis and Afghans?
Be careful how you answer those questions. You may find that you do have another god, the U.S. government, before the one you claim to worship "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).
Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.