The Christian's Golden Calf
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me." ~ (Exodus 20:3)
Most people know the story of Aaron's golden calf.
After the Jews came out of Egypt, while Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving from God the ten commandments on "tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18), the children of Israel complained to Aaron, Moses' brother: "Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him" (Exodus 32:1). So, after the people donated their gold, Aaron made a golden calf and proclaimed: "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4). Then Aaron made an altar, the people offered offerings, and they all had themselves one wild party (Exodus 32:6); that is, until Moses came down from the mount (Exodus 32:19).
Some, perhaps, also know the story of Jeroboam's golden calves.
Years later in the history of Israel, when most of the tribes rebelled under Jeroboam, he "made two calves of gold" and said to the people: "Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28). After placing one calf in Bethel and the other in Dan (1 Kings 12:29), Jeroboam appointed his own priests, ordained a feast, burnt incense, and made offerings on an altar, "sacrificing unto the calves that he had made" (1 Kings 12:32). The people likewise worshipped before these golden calves (1 Kings 12:30). As a consequence, the tribes that sinned under Jeroboam were "carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day" (2 Kings 17:22—23).
Ever since these incidents, a golden calf has referred to some object that is undeservedly worshipped or venerated.
To their shame, American Christians, who profess to serve the Lord God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and wouldn't think of making a god out of gambling, Internet porn, or alcohol, have a god — a golden calf — they honor, reverence, and pay homage to. This god demands perpetual thanksgivings. This god demands obeisance on national holidays. This god demands special appreciation days. This god demands songs to be sung in praise to it. This god demands prayers to the Lord God on its behalf. This god demands sacrifices of young men and women. This god demands signs, buttons, shirts, bumper stickers, yellow ribbons, and lapel pins inscribed with its various names and slogans. This god tolerates no criticism of its activities.
The Christian's golden calf is the U.S. military.
Not all Christians, mind you, but a great many Christians from throughout Christendom have exchanged biblical Christianity for imperial Christianity. From Catholic just-war theorists who oppose abortion (but not the killing of people outside of the womb) to progressive Christians who oppose the war in Iraq (but not military intervention in Darfur) to the Religious Right who oppose the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries (but not the American killing of Muslims in Muslim countries) — Christians of all branches and denominations are engaged an idolatrous affair with the U.S. military.
The worst offenders are the independent, evangelical, fundamentalist, and other conservative Christians. And I say this as one of them. With them it is the majority who bow before the golden calf. Yes, the majority. That is the conclusion I reached during the Bush years and that is still my conclusion now. In spite of the waning support for the war in Iraq and the venom directed toward Barack Obama by right-wing Christians, Christian reverence for the military remains unchanged.
I don't make this golden calf accusation lightly. I say it after years of listening to conservative Christians, talking with them, reading hundreds of e-mails from them (both friend and foe), hearing scores of reports from disconsolate church members about their warmongering pastors and church leaders, reading numerous books, articles, blogs, and newsletters by Christian defenders of war and the warfare state, seeing the negative reaction to my book Christianity and War, and reading countless pathetic attempts to justify Christian participation in the state's wars.
I still see on church signs and church websites the "support our troops," "pray for our troops," and "God bless our troops" mantras. It doesn't matter where U.S. troops go, how many go, how long they stay, or what they do when they are there — support for the military is a fundamental of the faith, right up there with the Virgin Birth and the Deity of Christ.
And here is a resolution passed by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Baptist Churches at their annual meeting last year:
C. Support for Soldiers: Whereas there are young men and women from our country and our churches in military service, and some in perilous situations around the world, and whereas we appreciate their sacrifices and willingness to protect our freedom, BE IT RESOLVED that we will pray for our troops, support them in tangible ways as we have opportunity, and encourage them to make their field of service a harvest field for the Kingdom of God.
These are conservative, independent Baptist churches — and they are spewing forth anti-biblical nonsense.
And it is not just Red-State Christian fascists, Reich-wing Christian nationalists, theocon Values Voters (who recently expressed their support for warmonger Mike Huckabee in a Family Research Council Values Voter Summit), Christian Coalition moralists, and "God and country" social conservatives who support federal funding of school vouchers, abstinence education, and faith-based initiatives who venerate the military. It is also Christians who don't consider themselves part of the Religious Right, Christians who don't vote, Christians who oppose an interventionist U.S. foreign policy, Christians who denounce abuses of the FBI, CIA, IRS, and BATF, Christians who oppose the Iraq War, Christians who caution against Christian service in the military, and Christians who oppose basically every other government institution.
Support for the military among Christians is pervasive, systemic, sacrosanct, and codified.
It is also an unholy alliance, an illicit affair, an affront to the Saviour whom Christians worship as the Prince of Peace, a blight on Christianity, and the worse form of statolatry. It also violates the whole tenor of the New Testament:
Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14).
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (2 Corinthians 6:16).
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen (1 John 5:21).
I fear that things are hopeless. I see no end in sight to churches publicly honoring veterans, praising the troops for defending our freedoms, turning national holidays into military recognition days, having special military appreciation days, encouraging or not discouraging their young men (and sometimes women) to join the military, helping young men to become military chaplains, ostracizing those who disparage the military, equating admiration for the military with patriotism and criticism of the military with treason, imploring church members to pray for the troops, regarding the military's acts of aggression as benevolent, presuming divine support for U.S. military interventions, accepting the militarism of society, having a superstitious reverence for the military, and remaining in willful ignorance of U.S. foreign policy and its use of the military as a force for evil in the world.
I have spoken about these things again and again and written about them time after time after time after time. I am afraid that my words are being heard and read for the most part by the wrong group of Christians — those who already reject the warfare state and a militarized Christianity.
The day is long past (if it ever existed) when the function of the U.S. military was limited to what it should be: defending the United States, securing U.S. borders, guarding U.S. shores, patrolling U.S. coasts, and enforcing no-fly zones over U.S. skies — not defending, guarding, patrolling, attacking, invading, or occupying other countries. And not providing disaster relief, dispensing humanitarian aid, supplying peacekeepers, enforcing UN resolutions, nation building, spreading goodwill, launching preemptive strikes, changing regimes, enforcing no-fly zones, rebuilding infrastructure, reviving public services, promoting good governance, stationing troops in other countries, garrisoning the planet with bases, and killing foreigners in their countries and destroying their property.
A military not strictly for defense of U.S. borders, shores, coasts, and skies is nothing more than the president's personal attack force staffed by mercenaries willing to obey his latest command to bomb, invade, occupy, and otherwise bring death and destruction to any country he deems necessary.
Christian, it is time to slay the golden calf.
October 19, 2009
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State and The Revolution that Wasn't. His newest book is Rethinking the Good War. Visit his website.
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