Bush, like his enemies, needs a wrathful God

February 02, 2003|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

God is everywhere in these frightening times, His name and his blessing invoked by an astonishing variety of conflicting forces.

God is invoked by al-Qaida and the Taliban. He is invoked by the Hezbollah in Lebanon (Hezbollah means Party of God). He is invoked by Islamic Jihad in Israel and Palestine. The Jihad's chief enemies, Israeli settlers in the West Bank, assert they are there because God promised the land to Abraham, their religious ancestor - no matter that Abraham also was the religious ancestor of Islam.

Saddam Hussein of Iraq, a barbarian if ever there was one, invokes the name of God in his exhortations. So does his chief enemy, President George W. Bush of the United States.

Ending his State of the Union address to Congress last week, Bush called on Americans to place their "confidence in the loving God behind all of life and all of history. ... May He guide us now, and may God continue to bless the United States of America."

The president is said to be a devoutly religious man. He must believe that God supports the mission which he spelled out for America in the State of the Union - to topple Hussein's regime by force if he does not very quickly uncover and hand over all the weapons of mass destruction he has accumulated - whether he has them or not.

Some Americans might argue that God should be left out of this war talk altogether either because they do not believe in God or, even if they do, are tired of presidents asking God to bless them, especially when they're getting ready to send them off to war.

But because the president has brought God into this, it's interesting to note that God's mainstream ministers in this country are not supporting Bush.

Last week, I heard two important people talking about the practically inevitable war against Iraq. One was my pastor, the Rev. Bill Watters, a Jesuit who runs St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore. The other was the president. I preferred what Father Watters had to say.

He compared America to the Roman Empire at the brink of its decline and demanded: "Why should a republic take on the risks of empire? Won't it run a chance of endangering its identity as a free people?" Speaking as a Christian, he cited the Gospel - "a Gospel of truth, not deception or deceit; a Gospel of love, not of belligerence and hostility; a Gospel of justice, not of power and hubris; a Gospel of peace, not of war and aggression."

Well, some might say, the president is not a papist. He is a Protestant, a Methodist.

But the leaders of his own denomination have taken a stand in opposition to war against Iraq under the current circumstances.

They are taking their opposition public this month with television commercials featuring Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, chief ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Church, denouncing war against Iraq as a violation of "God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

"Iraq hasn't wronged us. War will only create more terrorists and a more dangerous world for our children," says the 30-second commercial, which the Associated Press reported is scheduled to appear on CNN and Fox networks in New York and Washington as part of a $1 million media campaign against the war.

These religious men have a sort of Armageddon in their nightmares. They see a holocaust in which many innocent people may die - most of them Iraqis, but many Americans, too - if a full-scare war is unleashed against Iraq.

It's not that they don't recognize Hussein as a genuine brute. Father Watters called him "wicked and evil." The evidence of Hussein's brutality and moral corruption is overwhelming; though he was brutal and corrupt when he was America's ally, too. Their resistance is to war as a solution, as opposed to taking more time - without war and its own awful consequences - to isolate Hussein, surround him, contain him, outlast him.

For how long?

The United States and its allies effectively contained the Soviet Union for almost half a century until it collapsed from the weight of its economic and intellectual bankruptcy.

Does the despot of Baghdad pose a greater threat?

A former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, also a devoutly religious man, had something to say about this Friday, asserting the force arrayed against Iraq is as strong a deterrent as war would be, without the price in human suffering on either side.

"With overwhelming military strength now deployed against him and with intense monitoring from space surveillance and the U.N. inspection team on the ground, any belligerent move by Saddam against a neighbor would be suicidal," Carter said. "An effort to produce or deploy chemical or biological weapons or to make the slightest move toward a nuclear explosive would be inconceivable. If Iraq does possess such concealed weapons, as is quite likely, Saddam would use them only in the most extreme circumstances, in the face of an invasion of Iraq, when all hope of avoiding the destruction of his regime is lost."

The national passion for a war against Iraq has been nurtured by the terrorist attacks against America on 9/11. But those attacks were not launched by Iraq. They were launched by an Islamic fanatic bent on destroying America to fulfill his vision of God's will. Invading Iraq will not bring America any closer to finding Osama bin Laden or closing down the al-Qaida terror network.

God help us if war against Iraq makes us lose sight of who did attack America and kill its citizens.

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