Ebola outbreaks, Islamic State beheadings and crucifixions, Putin’s provocations, school shootings, cop-killing snipers: demons everywhere.
Are we a nation of demoniacs, a people preoccupied with demons? We should hope not. Demonolatry is an obsession with evil spirits. It entails sacrificial acts of appeasement and atonement. The war state thrives on a diet of monsters, fiends, and devils.
Some say our identity as a Christian nation reduces to pathology. Conservative Christianity can warp the mind, according to Marlene Winell (a human development consultant) and Valerie Tarico (a psychologist). Evangelicals and fundamentalists—those who literalize the Bible—insist on conformity, focus on the spiritual world, and seek salvation. They are inclined toward authoritarianism, a pervasive fear of sin, hell, and heathens, and an expectation of apocalypse. They operate in the subconscious realm of metaphor, symbol, imagery, emotion, and supernaturalism, which short-circuits their capacity for rational analysis. This pathology goes unacknowledged because it is respectable in a land that sees itself as blessed by God and where our currency declares our trust in God.
This brand of Christianity, according to Winell and Tarico, is not the humanistic viewpoint of liberal, progressive Christian churches that focus on social justice in the hear and now. Yet, demonolatry may be more mainline and secular, albeit more subtle and ironic, than we think.
By way of example, I turn to a recent Robert Kagan opinion piece. Kagan, who holds a PhD in history, is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a cofounder of the now-defunct Project for the New American Century. He is committed to U.S. military strength and moral clarity in the pursuit of prosperity.
Kagan takes President Obama to task for saying that history proves the futility of financing and supplying arms to insurgency groups such as those resisting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. He cites the Reagan administration’s support for anticommunist insurgencies in Afghanistan and Nicaragua as proof positive. Arming the mujahideen against the Soviet occupiers and the contras against the Sandinista regime, he insists, helped to bring about an end to the Cold War and the advancement of democracy.
U.S. funding and military support for the Syrian insurgency is warranted, according to Kagan, because “there is no way of knowing in advance” whether they will succeed. “In the messy world of foreign policy, as in human affairs generally, there are no certainties.” The Syrian insurgents might win; “war is full of surprises.” We should not lose the faith just because supporting the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets contributed to the emergence of al-Qaeda a decade later. Unintended consequences, partial successes and failures, these are the realities of life’s uncertainties, not an excuse for inaction on the world stage.
This is Kagan’s paean to moral clarity in the new American century, a morality that presumes the necessity of endless warfare in the service of economic freedom. We are called to worship at the altar of mammon. War is our salvation. That’s what we should take a chance on, not peacemaking.