“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” (Karl Marx — Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).
Marx was right.
This admission may sound strange coming from someone who is both a conservative Christian and an unabashed advocate of laissez faire, but what Marx said about religion being a drug is nevertheless correct. He may never have said anything else in his entire life that was true or worth reading, and probably didn’t, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.
It goes without saying that people high on drugs do not act normal. They may think, say, and do strange things that they would not normally do. They may even do some wild and crazy things that they would never dream of doing when they were not high.
Many supporters of the senseless war in Iraq are high on religion. Add a religious element to a war and the faithful will come out in droves in support of it. In the case of the current war in Iraq this is easy to do. Because the United States is supposedly a “Christian nation,” the war can be turned into a modern-day crusade since Iraq is a “Muslim nation.”
The use of religion in war is as old as history itself. If there is one thing that men are willing to fight and die for it is their religious beliefs. But unfortunately, it is also historically true that many are willing to kill or justify killing under the guise of religion.
This is especially disheartening of those who would defend aggression in the name of Christianity. As the Baptist minister who called himself Veritatis Amans lamented in the pages of The Christian Review back in 1847:
War has ever been the scourge of the human race. The history of the past is little else than a chronicle of deadly feuds, irreconcilable hate, and exterminating warfare. The extension of empire, the love of glory, and thirst for fame, have been more fatal to men than famine or pestilence, or the fiercest elements of nature. The trappings and tinsel of war, martial prowess, and military heroism, have, in all ages, been venerated and lauded to the skies. And what is more sad and painful, many of the wars whose desolating surges have deluged the earth, have been carried on in the name and under the sanction of those who profess the name of Christ.
The last time the United States experienced such religious intensity during a war was back during the misnamed conflict commonly called the Civil War. The blasphemous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is still sung today in many northern churches around the fourth of July and Veterans Day.
American preachers were used during World War I to keep war fever high. Here is a typical example: “It is God who has summoned us to this war. It is his war we are fighting…. This crusade is indeed a crusade. The greatest in history — the holiest … a Holy War. Yes, it is Christ, the King of Righteousness, who calls us to grapple in deadly strife with this unholy and blasphemous power” (Randolph McKim, For God and Country or the Christian Pulpit in War Time, 1918). For more on religion during World War I and the Progressive Era see Richard Gamble’s The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation.
President Bush has mastered the art of using religious rhetoric to capture the support of gullible evangelical Christians. Even while the federal debt and deficit skyrocket, the body count in Iraq continues to rise, and he makes war on the bill of rights, Bush has continued to maintain that he is a man of faith who is doing the will of the Lord. And so have others: see Stephen Mansfield’s The Faith of George Bush and David Aikman’s A Man Of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush. Christian “leaders” like Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Donald Wildmon, Tim LaHaye, D. James Kennedy, John Hagee, and Jerry Falwell are some of the most vocal apologists for Bush and the Republican Party. Even that great paragon of virtue, Rudolph Giuliani, has gotten on the religious bandwagon, recently saying that “there was some divine guidance in the President being elected.”
It is no overstatement to say that many of these so-called Christian leaders consider George Bush to be God’s gift to the human race. Jerry Falwell, who, in the wake of the elections, has resurrected his Moral Majority organization, said his group would capitalize on the momentum of the elections “to maintain an evangelical revolution of voters who will continue to go the polls to u2018vote Christian.'” Said Falwell: “On election night, I actually shed tears of joy as I saw the fruit of a quarter century of hard work. Nearly 116 million Americans voted. More than 30 million were evangelical Christians who, according to the pollsters, voted their moral convictions. I proudly say . . . they voted Christian!!” Although Bush fails on all three counts, Falwell has actually called him a “socially, fiscally, and politically conservative president.” When it comes to the subject of politics, Christian leaders and their followers are a perfect example of the blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14).
There is another regime in recent history that used religious rhetoric in wartime. Soldiers in the German Wehrmacht wore belt buckles inscribed with Gott Mit Uns (God is with us). Now, I am not in any way comparing the United States to Nazi Germany or George Bush to Adolph Hitler. However, there are an abundance of Bush/Hitler comparisons out there, most perhaps written by “any Democrat-but-Bush” leftists, but some that are at least worth reading — like the one that was linked to on LRC, and a recent one that raises some good points. Anyway, there really is no comparison between the two “leaders,” for as has been pointed out, Bush is not the orator that Hitler was, and he doesn’t promote the production of small, cheap cars.
In volume I, at the end of chapter 2, the Führer said: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Substitute “Muslim” or “terrorists” for “Jew” and this sounds like George Bush. According to Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack, Bush prayed as he walked outside the Oval Office after giving the order to begin the attack on Iraq: “Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will. . . . I’m surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible.”
In chapter 13 of volume 2, Hitler mentions the German people asking God to bless their troops:
Each point of that Treaty [of Versailles] could have been engraved on the minds and hearts of the German people and burned into them until sixty million men and women would find their souls aflame with a feeling of rage and shame; and a torrent of fire would burst forth as from a furnace, and one common will would be forged from it, like a sword of steel. Then the people would join in the common cry: “To arms again!”
Then, from the child’s story-book to the last newspaper in the country, and every theatre and cinema, every pillar where placards are posted and every free space on the hoardings should be utilized in the service of this one great mission, until the faint-hearted cry, “Lord, deliver us,” which our patriotic associations send up to Heaven today would be transformed into an ardent prayer: “Almighty God, bless our arms when the hour comes. Be just, as Thou hast always been just. Judge now if we deserve our freedom. Lord, bless our struggle.”
For an unpretentious war prayer that no Christian “leader” would dare to pray — see Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.”
In fairness to Bush, the “Gott Mit Uns” belt buckle was not just used by Germany in World War II — it was also worn by German soldiers in World War I. But contrast this with the supposedly “Christian” United States, where, as defense consultant Josh Pollack, in his “Saudi Arabia and the United States, 1931—2002,” has documented, Air Force chaplains were forbidden to wear Christian insignia or hold formal services during the early decades of the American troop presence in Saudi Arabia. It is also true that during the first war in Iraq, the importation of Bibles for Christian troops was discouraged, and no alcohol was permitted to U.S. troops in accordance with Islamic Law.
The lesson here is clear: The state uses religion for its own sinister purposes, and especially for that most destructive purpose of all — what Jefferson called “the greatest scourge of mankind” and Washington called “the plague of mankind” — war. But if war is so destructive then why does the state engage in it? As Randolph Bourne (1886—1918) so succinctly stated: “War is the health of the State.”