Going to War for God


John J. Dunphy

(originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of Secular Humanist Bulletin)

Retired Marine Lt. Col. and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North addressed an enthusiastic crowd at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois — my neck of the woods — on the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2011. Now a Fox News commentator who specializes in stories about American military personnel deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, North pulled out all the stops when describing the profound Christian faith that motivates the young men and women in our military.

“These are people of remarkable and extraordinary faith. I have never been around so many people who know their lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” North was quoted as saying in an article published in The [Alton, IL] Telegraph. “The prayer circles you see on television are not staged, “ he affirmed. He quoted the ninth verse of Romans 10, a scriptural passage that conservative Christians believe contains the very key to salvation: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

North stated that “These are young people who get it.” While he didn’t spell out precisely what he thinks these young people get, we can safely assume that it’s the importance of embracing fundamentalist Christianity — especially when faced with the very real possibility of being killed in combat. While many liberal and centrist Christians have rejected the existence of hell, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals still very much believe that an “unsaved” person will roast forever in unquenchable fire.

His choice of words when demonizing the enemy certainly raised this humanist’s eyebrows. “We are confronted by a vicious, godless and sometimes suicidal enemy,” he said. While Muslim extremists can indeed be vicious and suicidal, they are hardly godless. They simply worship a different god than North and the American Christian Right. The terrorists who hijacked four airplanes on September 11, 2001, and turned them into guided missiles regarded themselves as godly men and firmly believed that incurring incineration in an act of war against the infidels (i.e., those godless Americans) would earn them the right to frolic with young virgins in paradise.

North’s attempt to portray our nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as conflicts between the godly and godless is hardly unique. George W. Bush believed that he received direct revelations from the Almighty that sanctioned his wars. He even told former Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath in 2003 that “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan,’ and I did. And then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.” While this humanist applauds the killing of Osama bin Laden and has incurred the wrath of multiculturalists by condemning Muslim honor killings and female genital mutilation, the very thought of God-ordained wars against Muslims horrifies me, just as it should Americans of all faiths and no faith.

In a mind-boggling 2004 article posted on World Net Daily titled “God Is Pro-War,” the late Jerry Falwell assured American fundamentalists that the Iraq war was not only just but sanctioned by God. “President Bush declared war in Iraq to defend innocent people,” Falwell observed. “This is a worthy pursuit. In fact, Proverbs 21:15 tells us: ‘It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.’ “ Falwell’s God is no wimpy pacifist. “Moreover, the Song of Victory in Exodus 15 hails God as a god of victory: ‘The Lord is a man of war: The Lord is his name.’ “

Falwell displayed the Christian Right’s abhorrence for the separation of church and state by declaring that “It is apparent that our God-authored freedoms must be defended.” God-authored freedoms? I was under the impression that the freedoms we enjoy as Americans are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution as well as legislation such as the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which were written by human beings, not God. An equally chilling statement is Falwell’s contention that “One of the primary purposes of the church is to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives. If we do not stop the spread of evil, many innocent lives will be lost and the kingdom of God suffers.” In other words, the very kingdom of God itself somehow would have been diminished had the United States not invaded Iraq.

It’s so easy for secular and even religious Westerners to dismiss Muslim extremists as primitive fanatics battling the infidels while shutting our eyes to the fact that many fundamentalist Christian such as North, Bush and Falwell also see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as struggles between the godly and godless. When I meet a veteran of these conflicts, I always say, “Thank you for your service to our country.” May those Americans who say “Thank you for your service to the kingdom of God” be few and far between.

John J. Dunphy is the author of Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois and From Christmas to Twelfth Night in Southern Illinois. His latest book, Unsung Heroes of the Dachau Trials, will be published in December by McFarland.


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John J. Dunphy

John J. Dunphy

John J. Dunphy owns The Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, IL USA. Google him to learn more about this enigmatic person who is such a gifted writer and poet.