By Russ Dean
We live in a frightening world. Everywhere we turn there are reminders. There is violence in the streets; multiple killings seem commonplace and no place seems to be immune from the crosshairs of the lone gunman; our racial unrest barely stays at rest; earthquakes shake our foundations; the Middle East continues to foment the threats of war; talk radio incites the people on the edges, who seem far too willing to let it all roll up in a bundle of smoke and flame; and, there’s this:
Is it just me, or is this bumper sticker theology about as frightening as the threat of a terrorist attack? What scares me about this is that the two are actually related — and so many American Christians cannot see this.
Blaise Pascal’s often-quoted line is, unfortunately, too accurate: “Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions.” As many other religious extremists have been, some Islamic fundamentalists these days are all-too-gladly willing to commit the most heinous of atrocities, in the name of God. What a travesty. The glory of the gun becomes “God’s tool.” What a perversity. While it’s probably safe to assume the driver of the BMW bearing this bumper sticker has never assassinated anyone in the name of God, the equation of God with militant power and national pride is reckless and fraught with danger.
Whose God? (The one with the gun, of course.) Whose flag? (Again, the one with the gun.) I supposed it’s no coincidence that the gun is in the center, and not God. It saddens me and frightens me to see what is happening to the religious convictions of many in our country — how militant and how angry and how arrogant those convictions are becoming.
How have we, whose religious ancestors braved treacherous seas and hostile winters in search of religious freedom, become so myopic as to equate the Mystery we name as God with only one religious expression of faith? Where is the freedom in that? Is it faith in God, or just fear?
How have so many of us, who claim to follow a “Prince of Peace,” one who died at the hands of military power and exhorted us to “take up our cross and follow” — how have we become so angry and fearful as to equate our God, whose “power” (the Bible says) “is made perfect in weakness,” with a means of violent power?
How have we, whose greatness was built on an open-door policy, extended by the Statue of Liberty, our “Mother of Exiles,” to the “tired, the poor, the huddled masses,” of every nation — how have we become so prideful and nationalistic?
Adherence to one faith doesn’t demand the disdain of all others. The undeniable right of self-defense does not require the idolatry of the means of self-defense. And humble, grateful patriotism is not the same as xenophobic nationalism.
We can believe in, and use, and appreciate that which is represented by each of the symbols on that bumper sticker. The problem is that, by placing them together, we create a new single symbol: an almighty, violent, American Jesus — and, I’m afraid, like Frankenstein, that’s a monster we will live to regret.