NEW YORK, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- When men in war councils start invoking the name of God thrice daily, every corpuscle of my cigar-wracked body groans like an infidel on the inquisitor's rack.
I have nothing against the Almighty. I think the Big Guy knows what he's doing. But I'm not sure he's inclined to delegate this much work to men who have been checked out on M-16s.
To begin with, if you want to invoke His name without getting into major theological, not to mention political, trouble, then you should probably refer to Him as "The God of Abraham." I know it will tick off a few Buddhists and Zoroastrians here and there, but at least it includes all the known zealots who are currently hacking one another's limbs off.
The other night I saw a minister of the gospel on MSNBC who was asked whether she thought Osama bin Laden believed in God, and her answer was, "It's not the God I know. It's not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Well, uh, no it's definitely NOT the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It's the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Mohammed. But at least this woman had the good sense to identify that particular dividing point in our spiritual heritage. If she'd stopped at Abraham -- the one we ALL agree on -- then maybe she would have been making a point about bin Laden's heresy. Saddling him with two spiritual forebears he never claimed in the first place is the equivalent of a Satanist condemning a Presbyterian in the name of Madalyn Murray O'Hair's ghost. She seemed to be making HIS point, not hers.
I'm surprised that, with all the high-powered spiritual advisors trouping through the White House these days, one of them hasn't said, "Uh, George, you know, we do have this one problem: The whole Ishmael thing. Their religion sort of, uh, branched off from ours when Abraham got a girl pregnant."
But, in fact, the opposite has occurred. Franklin Graham, evangelical heir apparent to his father Billy's brand of white-bread Christianity, did his best to get the anti-Islam ball into play. He pronounced Islam "a very evil and wicked religion" -- and was promptly ostracized for the remark. But wasn't he simply paraphrasing the Old Testament curse that the sons of Ishmael would always behave like "wild asses," destined to be eternally at war? Perhaps he should have said, "Islam is a religion of wild asses," if for no other reason than to preserve his defense in the original Hebrew.
Then there's this whole "soul" business. Earlier this month President Bush said that Osama bin Laden is "a man without a soul." If he was taking "soul" from the Pauline epistles -- and we know that Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has been intentionally using religious language -- then he was quoting the Greek word "psuche." He was saying that bin Laden's "psuche" was missing.
Without going into the endless commentaries about the difference between soul and spirit -- both words derived from "breath of life" -- suffice it to say that the "psuche" is the lesser of the two. It's simply what makes bin Laden, bin Laden. Nothing more. It can be a good soul, a bad soul, a busy soul, an indifferent soul, a twisted soul, and yes, possibly an evil soul, but it's just the essence of personality, something that emanates from this earth. If you wanna nail the guy spiritually, you should say he lacks "pneuma," or spirit, which descends from heaven, is eternal, and is the sort of animating breath of life that is incapable of blowing up office buildings.
Personally I would prefer that we simply dispense with the Godhead in our official speech altogether, or at least leave it to the Congressional chaplain, who's generally hired for his ability to invoke the deity without being too specific about his attributes, origins, nature, or relevance to anything that might turn out to be embarrassing in the future.
Unfortunately, the poor man's finely honed skills are being wasted as one religious leader after another stirs the theological stew-pot.
From Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition: "(God) had a knowledge nobody else had. He knew George Bush had the ability to lead in this compelling way." We'll call this one the Divine Right of Presidents. (Presumably God also anointed the Florida Secretary of State.)
From Tim Goeglein, a Bush aide: "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility." (It's not clear whether he's humbled by the President, by God, or by his own message from a burning bush.)
From Marvin Olasky, the editor of World magazine, who named Attorney General John Ashcroft "Daniel of the Year": "Just as the biblical Daniel faced an established idol-worshipping religion in Babylon, so our Dans must not back down in the face of deadly persecution abroad or the scorn and harassment that comes domestically from the academic and media high priests of our established religion, secular humanism."
So much for the Congressional chaplain; we might as well send the man home. Because if one of our leaders is a genuine prophet, then he has no choice. He MUST speak in God's name. I guess we could take some comfort in the fact that if he speaks anything false, we're also obliged by God to kill him.
In my unspeakably Baptist hometown, there are children who are indoctrinated by being forced to wear T-shirts that proudly state, "What would Jesus do?" (This can result in unforeseen parental dilemmas. Some six-year-olds will take it as license to feed the family's veal cutlets to the neighborhood drunk.)
But since President Bush happens to come from this selfsame fundamentalist Christian Texas world that I know so well, why shouldn't we simply cut through all the theological windsurfing and resort instead to this childlike question? The president is, after all, a Christian. He does, after all, routinely participate in prayer circles in the Oval Office. If we truly want God in the White House, and the Congress, and the Pentagon, why don't we simply ask the question, what would Christ have done?
Well, we know two things Jesus did NOT believe in: offense and defense. So you can neither attack nor defend and remain Christian. Jesus not only preached non-violence; he preached absolute non-resistance to the violence of others. He preached not only forgiveness of the original affront, but forgiveness nine times nine times when the affront is repeated. He preached simplicity, poverty, and the willingness to suffer. He compared himself and all who believed in him to lambs, led to the slaughter.
It will be objected, by the Pentagon chaplain, that his words were not to be taken literally. It will be objected, by the Congressional chaplain, that so long as our minds are pure and undefiled by hatred that we must fight to preserve the lives of others. It will be objected, by the Supreme Court chaplain, that such a simple reading of the New Testament would abolish all laws and render us helpless.
I didn't say it was practical. I said it's what the man said. That's why I would recommend leaving God out of it for the time being. They didn't call him the Prince of Peace for nothing.
(Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at joebob-briggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.)