Have Yourself a Bloody Little Christmas!
van from a Christian church recently passed me on the street. On
its rear bumper was a sticker bearing a picture of the American
flag and the words "United We Stand!" In my view, no message
more clearly epitomizes the utterly confused state of religion in
Those who are familiar with my writings know that, in matters of
a religious nature, I am an agnostic. I believe that each of us
has a spiritual need for transcendence, a desire for a sense
of connectedness with the universe. In the words of George
Ripley, it involves the search for "an order of truths which
transcends the sphere of the external sense." I also believe
that this need can be satisfied only through an interminable process
of exploration, of constant questioning and openness
to experiencing new patterns of life’s enchanted nature. The key
words to this spiritual sense, in my view, are "process"
and "exploration," words that connote continuing inquiry,
rather than adherence to doctrines and dogmas derived from the revered
insights of others. My approach to religion has been the same as
it is for philosophy, politics, the sciences, art, and all other
forms of human expression: an abiding skepticism of anyone’s
professed "certainty" regarding the ways of nature.
If one is to feel connected to the rest of the universe, one must
discover how to live without contradiction or division.
One can hardly experience a sense of wholeness with others
when relationships are grounded in separation and the conflict
inherent in divisive thinking. When we are able to transcend
our personal experiences by discovering our connectedness with others,
we generate social integrity: our individual differences, preferences,
and behaviors unify rather than separate us. We learn
to tolerate one another’s uniqueness, and to discover the
benefits to us all of diversity and pluralistic practices.
But as I developed more thoroughly in my earlier book, Calculated
Chaos, institutions insinuate themselves into our social
relationships and insist that we identify our individual selves
with their exclusive systems, a practice that has produced most
of the division and conflict we witness all around us. Nowhere is
this more evident than in political systems, all of
which are premised on separating human beings into mutually exclusive
categories of "us" and "them"; with the state
– which has helped us learn to see ourselves in such ways – invoking
its coercive mechanisms on behalf of constantly shifting constituencies.
Organized religions have long involved themselves in such conflict-ridden
practices. For some two centuries in America, however, the doctrine
of "separation of church and state" has shielded much
of this discord from the realm of politics. There has been a healthy
sense that, as the search for spiritual expression will take men
and women in a multitude of directions – from religious and philosophic
speculations, to the sciences, to poetry and the arts – the coercive
machinery of the state ought not be available to impress upon either
the minds or bodies of others anyone’s particular visions of universal
order. Just imagine how beneficial such thinking would be if its
logic was extended to the separation of individuals and state!
But with the increased politicization of the world – wherein no
form of thought or behavior is regarded as beyond the reach of the
state to either regulate, mandate, or prohibit – our individual
needs for a spiritual connection with the rest of the world have
been conscripted into the service of political agendas. We have
allowed our personal needs for transcendence to be taken over and
dominated by institutions. In so doing, we have furthered the very
sense of separateness and hostility that it has been the spiritual
dimension of our being to overcome.
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland to the struggles between
India and Pakistan, organized religions, in service to the state,
have made a deadly mockery of the sense of spirituality that is
innate to us all. While I neither believe in nor support any religion,
I have had a good deal of respect for the teachings of Jesus. His
appeals to peace, love, tolerance for one another, and personal
responsibility, form the basis of any decent society. While I make
no pretense of being a Jesus scholar, I am unaware of any of his
teachings that advocate the use of state violence to accomplish
This is in sharp contrast with various make-believe Christians who,
in great numbers, are lining up in support of President Bush’s appetite
for endless wars against endless enemies. While many Christians
do oppose Bush’s war plans, one opinion poll showed 69% of conservative
Christians favoring military action against Iraq. The evangelist,
Jerry Falwell, added his support for such a war, while Christian
Coalition President Pat Robertson advocated the use of political
assassinations, by the United States, as a foreign policy tool.
Bill Bennett – a moral absolutist and advocate of the concept of
"just wars" – created his own organization to help ferret
out those who dissent from Bush’s war policies.
One can only wonder how men and women who profess to be followers
of Jesus’ teachings can advocate open warfare or assassinations.
If Jesus were alive today, would they envision him as an F-16 pilot,
firing rockets into the streets of Baghdad or dropping napalm on
screaming men, women, and children? Is there anything in the New
Testament that would lead one to imagine Jesus in full battle dress
– ŕ la Sylvester Stallone – firing his machine-gun and tossing hand
grenades as he stormed a hillside? Is any sense of spiritual wholeness
to be found in the advocacy of massive bloodbaths?
I have long regarded the old hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers,"
as an abomination to the life-affirming sentiments of our spiritual
nature. The idea of Christians "marching as to war" evokes
images readily indistinguishable from Muslim terrorists who are
willing to die in suicide attacks against their enemies. What more
vicious expression of self-righteous arrogance than the words attributed
to the 13th century commander of the Christian crusades
who, in response to being asked "who shall we kill?" responded:
"Kill them all! God will recognize his own." I have heard
more than a few modern-day zealots utter these same words.
What critics of Jesus’ philosophy can begin to match the damage
done to his views by those who, proclaiming themselves to be
Christians, champion statist practices that deny the basic
premises of peace, love, and forgiveness that underlie his teachings?
Do such people regard Jesus’ ideas as interesting topics of conversation
for a Sunday sermon, but without any meaning for the harshness of
the "real world"? Rather than bailing out on Jesus’ thinking
at the first sign of difficulty, perhaps his alleged followers would
be better advised to consider the thoughts uttered by Spencer Tracy
in the film Judgment
at Nuremberg when, as a judge sentencing war criminals,
he intoned that a country must stand for something, particularly
"when standing for something is the most difficult."
Too many Christians have, I fear, given up on Jesus and opted for
the more severe God of the Old Testament: a self-righteous, neurotic,
arrogant, and vengeful despot who wasted little time in smiting
men and women for the slightest transgression, or consigning to
eternal hell those whose theology did not conform to the master
plan. Deep within their unconscious minds, such people must sense
an affinity between the vindictive God of the Old Testament and
George W. Bush.
This tendency to correlate Old Testament thinking with modern state
politics even finds expression in the marketplace. In searching
for holiday greeting cards, I have noticed more cards with red,
white, and blue Christmas trees or Santa Clauses than with the message
"peace on earth." Peace has become a profane word
in some circles, its humane and civilizing meaning corrupted, in
ways familiar to readers of George Orwell, into its opposite connotation.
Thus, the American bombing of other countries becomes defined as
"peacekeeping," while one conservative radio talk show
host declared that "pacifists cause wars." Even our rhetoric
must become insane in order that we not become aware of the greater
insanities we insist upon perpetrating!
How can one make a pretense of seeking a sense of connectedness
with the rest of nature while, in so doing, focusing anger and hatred
against those whose similar efforts produce a different understanding?
In her adolescent years, one of my daughters attended a church with
some of her school friends. It didn’t take her long to get turned
off by the experience, as she observed that "all they talk
about is how bad other people are!"
Clearly, not all religious systems espouse divisive, conflict-ridden
thinking. Many people realize that spiritual inquiries are, by their
very nature, speculative and informed by differing subjective experiences.
As I stated earlier, the continuing process of exploration is
the spiritual dimension to life. Taken seriously, this process
is a very lonely one, for which each of us may find comforting companionship
in knowing that our neighbor is going through the same uncertain
Perhaps we shall one day understand that it is our individual
uniqueness that we have in common with one another, and that
the social expression of our need to connect with the rest of nature
must begin with our willingness to safeguard the conditions under
which our individuality can manifest itself in the world. The Talmud
contains a passage, whose sentiments should be heeded by all participants
in the network of slaughterhouses that are now destroying mankind:
"Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had
destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns
as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world."
So that the importance of peace not be completely lost on
frightened minds that cannot rise above lynch-mob levels of reaction,
let us recall the origins of certain words in our language. If one
checks a good etymological dictionary, one discovers that the words
"peace," "freedom," "love," and "friend"
share some common origins. Perhaps our ancestors knew what we seem
to have forgotten, namely, that men and women who have learned how
to live without division, in a state of internal "freedom,"
will deal with one another as "friends" who share "love,"
and that people so constituted will live together in "peace."
It is paradoxical that we are living in an age in which we have
finally figured out how to maximize the material well-being
of mankind but, at the same time, are terribly confused about why
we should do so. Free market economic systems have produced the
most conspicuous displays of prosperity known to mankind and yet,
in the words of Joseph Campbell, we lack the "invisible means
of support." At a time when politically ambitious fomenters
of discord are bent on gratifying their appetites for war, it is
time for the rest of us to transcend our inhumane habits and to
rediscover our relatedness to one another. Lest you dismiss this
as being "unrealistic," try making a "practical"
assessment of the butchery and madness now being concocted by those
who long ago lost their sense of connectedness with the world!
© 2002 LewRockwell.com