Bible

Land of the Dollar

"The Adoration of the Golden Calf," oil on canvas, by Nicolas Poussin, circa 1634. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

“The Adoration of the Golden Calf,” oil on canvas, by Nicolas Poussin, circa 1634. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

When Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he saw the people of Israel dancing and worshipping the golden calf. “Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” (Exodus 32:9) During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)

And yet in the land of the free we have created the “Land of the Dollar,” and we worship Mammon and build temples to the Golden Calf. (more…)

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Wall of Jericho and Woody Guthrie

"The Taking of Jericho" by Jean Fouquet, oil on canvas, c. 1452-1460. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

“The Taking of Jericho” by Jean Fouquet, oil on canvas, c. 1452-1460. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city….

And it came to pass, when the people … shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat.

Joshua 6: 16-20

A recent article in USA Today commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall characterizes the event with this headline: “Presidential words helped bring down Berlin Wall.” The sub-headline of the article declares that speeches at or near the wall by JFK and Ronald Reagan “proved the power—and the limits—of rhetoric in putting Cold War on ice.”

The article reflects the conventional narrative that has been adopted by U.S. political culture: Kennedy acquiesced to the building of the Berlin wall with words that seem quite sane: “A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” (more…)

The Shame of Murrieta

Murrieta, California.  Photo credit:  R Lee E / Wikimedia Commons.

Murrieta, California. Photo credit: R Lee E / Wikimedia Commons.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 

Matthew 18:5

In this great country, teachers and school staff members have often thrown themselves in front of the bullets of shooters to shield their young students from harm (and that, by the way, is how a truly good person stops a bad guy with a gun); elderly and infirm grandparents have taken on the daily care of their grandchildren when parents are absent; single mothers and fathers have offered themselves in daily sacrifice to the welfare of their offspring. In spite of our craven worship of Founding Fathers (where, if you please, are the Founding Mothers?), the true backbone of this nation has always been a profound commitment to its descendants—a devotion to its children. This is what fuels our belief in the American Dream, and what fires up our irrepressible hopes in the future.

In the past, the United States has welcomed children fleeing a murderous tyranny (I was once one of these children), and has offered them sanctuary from oppression and persecution. That is why the recent events in the town of Murrieta, California, are a stain on the national honor, an affront to the American spirit, and shameful to every decent citizen of this bounteous land. (more…)

War is Hell, But…

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21. Greutzner, along with five other soldiers, have returned to Iraq to visit forward operating bases to witness the changes that have taken since their injuries. They are part of a pilot program, "Operation Proper Exit." Greutzner was injured May 26, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy 15 miles north of Baghdad. (photo credit:  U.S. Army)

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21. Greutzner, along with five other soldiers, have returned to Iraq to visit forward operating bases to witness the changes that have taken since their injuries. They are part of a pilot program, “Operation Proper Exit.” Greutzner was injured May 26, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy 15 miles north of Baghdad. (photo credit: U.S. Army)

He was a medic, serving with the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He joined the National Guard soon after graduating from high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. On May 18, 2011, nine days before he was scheduled to return home, the blast of an IED mangled both of his legs and one arm. After a score of surgeries and 20 months in a rehabilitation facility, he and his bride got a “fresh start” in Bloomington, Indiana—the gift of a handsome house by a grateful nation, located in a pleasant neighborhood just three blocks from my home.

But it proved impossible to start over. The impact of the war on the Afghan children he had treated for burns troubled him. He became increasingly angry. His marriage failed. The pain from his wounds persisted.

He killed himself on April 22, 2014. (Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN, May 5, 2014).

Beyond a close circle of family and friends, Jacob Hutchinson is now another abstract casualty of war—a statistic. (more…)

Combative Patriotism

Patriotic Christmas light display in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA (photo by Pezow / Wikimedia Commons).

Patriotic Christmas light display in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA (Pezow / Wikimedia Commons).

The rush of patriotism. We’ve all seen it, perhaps even gotten caught up in it. It is a ritual of nationalism that enacts the story of America and the mythic vision of its special calling.

For many (perhaps most) who are U.S. citizens, there is something vital and irresistible, even right, about this public celebration of national identity, especially in times of crisis. Expressing pride of country brings us together, suggests a common past and shared purpose, reassures us that we will overcome adversity, that we are not alone in the face of danger.

Yet, the price we pay for this prideful rite is high. It makes us combative in our assertion of national identity. We define who we are as a people in opposition to an enemy. The rush of patriotism becomes an act of righteous indignation and polarization. It’s US against THEM—the United States vs. the World. It constitutes an attitude of war.

(more…)

The Perfect Enemy

Guantanamo captives in January 2002 (photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy).

Guantanamo captives in January 2002 (photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy).

David Campbell observes that, although not all risks are perceived as serious (regardless of so-called objective factors), they are considered dangers by Americans when they are characterized as “alien, subversive, dirty or sick” (Writing Security, 1998, pp. 2-3).  These traits signal the presence of an enemy because they violate the avowed essence of national identity (we are a healthy, clean, and loyal citizenry).  The imagined enemy exists within a tradition of interpretation that is shaped by the dynamics of language and that carries over from one situation or context to the next.

The perfect enemy, beyond the specific features listed by Campbell, is represented as opposite to the national self-identity.  Such an enemy might be marked as dirty or sick but also as predatory, lawless, and profane.  There are many ways to express these themes of danger, but in each case they indicate the threat of an evil and barbaric force to the safety and mission of a chosen people.

Language has its own mythic dynamic that plays into the construction of the perfect enemy.  (more…)

The West vs. The Bible

The Old Man sat smoking his pipe, wearing sneakers and a baseball cap. He took out his handkerchief and cleaned his glasses, for he was partly blind in one eye, and needed all the precision he could get from his remaining healthy one. The Screen Directors Guild of America was meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel on 22 October 1950. The full membership was in attendance.

At issue was a ballot put forth by Cecil B. DeMille (director of The Ten Commandments, 1923 and 1956), “the most successful box-office director in the world,” and a group of co-religionists who wanted to recall the Guild’s President, Joseph L. Mankiewicz (director of All About Eve, 1950). The times were out of joint, and DeMille’s group suspected Mankiewicz of Un-American activities.

John Ford, 1946.

John Ford, 1946.

The meeting had gone on for hours. Hollywood film directors argued heatedly for or against DeMille or Mankiewicz. During an exhausted lull at the meeting, the Old Man stood up and spoke to the stenographer for the record.

“My name’s John Ford. I make westerns.”

(more…)

Creating World Order

President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave the flag and sing "God Bless America" during a memorial service at the Pentagon on Oct. 11, 2001, in honor of those who perished in the terrorist attack on the building. President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers, U.S. Air Force, eulogized the 184 persons killed when a terrorist hijacked airliner was purposely crashed into the southwest face of the building on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo credit:  R.D. Ward.

President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave the flag and sing “God Bless America” during a memorial service at the Pentagon on Oct. 11, 2001, in honor of those who perished in the terrorist attack on the building. President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers, U.S. Air Force, eulogized the 184 persons killed when a terrorist hijacked airliner was purposely crashed into the southwest face of the building on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo credit: R.D. Ward.

Creation is always divine and often brutal.  Even the explosive violence of science’s Big Bang Theory is expressed in reverential overtones:  “The Universe was formed by a colossal explosion . . . . In the first millionth of a second after the Big Bang, the Universe expanded from a dimensionless point of infinite mass and density into a fireball about 19 billion miles . . . across”  (Oxford New Concise World Atlas, 3rd ed., 2009, pp. 18-19).  Creation stories, like myth in general, are outward projections of inner worlds involving a fantastic force or sheer willing of the world into existence.  A continuous cycle of creation and renewal is common to the mythic theme.

The recurring burden of bringing about and maintaining world order falls first and foremost on the United States.  America’s creation story is almost too familiar to be recognized as such.  (more…)

Saul or David?

"David and Goliath" (1888) by Osmar Schindler.

“David and Goliath” (1888) by Osmar Schindler.

In Abrahamic mythology, God enabled his people to destroy evil giants and to occupy their land.  Oversized pagans were ousted from the promised land by a chosen people.  David, not timid Saul, was fit to lead the people, for David was “a man of valor, a warrior” (1 Samuel 16:18 NRSV).  Young David slew the taunting Goliath; King David and his army killed Philistine giants to secure Israel and Judah.

Killing the ungodly Goliath is a parable of the courage that comes from knowing the faithful underdog is victorious over those who have “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17: 36 NRSV).  The parable equates virtue with the strength of courage, evil with the monster’s bluster.  Aggression is symbolically transformed into defense when one fights the Lord’s battle against satanic forces.

The story of David and Goliath is embedded in U.S. war culture.  It projects evil and transforms the world’s most powerful nation into the righteous defender of the oppressed.  Cowering before a bully does not befit an American president to lead the world to glory. (more…)

Brief History of Compacts with the Devil

Faust and Mephisto in Fausts's study, engraving by Tony Johannot after “Faust” by Goethe (1845-47).

Faust and Mephisto in Fausts’s study, engraving by Tony Johannot after “Faust” by Goethe (1845-47).

“When did you compact with the Devil?” So does the Reverend John Hale storm in his fierce inquisition of the slave Tituba in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Under threat of being whipped to death, she replies:

He say, “You work for me, Tituba, and I make you free! I give you pretty dress to wear, and put you way high up in the air, and you gone fly back to Barbados!”

Pacts with the Devil have an ancient lineage. An early example of a diabolical offer refused is recorded in Matthew’s gospel. In the desert, the Devil offers the Messiah “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” if only Jesus would worship him. (4:8) (more…)