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Sunday, May 17, 2009


And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.? The eyes of the world are upon you… Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of the Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

- General Dwight D. Eisenhower - June 6, 1944

So, why don't the Roosevelt and Ike quotes provoke a similarly queasy feeling in me? One difference is that these are generic religious invocations. The specific biblical quotations in the context of a war against a Muslim country carries connotations far more unsettling for me. Compare the quotations themselves and the contexts. The Nazis weren't a religious group with a history of persecution by European Christians.

There is also something strange about using these cover sheets for intelligence reports to the President. It is one thing to offer general invocations to the public or the troops as the US launches a large scale invasion, and quite another to prime the President with a sense of religious justification as he reads reports requiring cold, hard assessment. The Roosevelt and Ike quotes are pep talks about decisions already made. I would like to think that any President approaches an intelligence report with an analytic framework, not a cherry-picked biblical framework--especially in a matter involving an undercurrent of religious antagonism. It seems crassly manipulative, at best.

Perhaps, though, the most viscerally disturbing aspect of the slide show is the overlay of actual biblical quotations on images of soldiers, guns and tanks. That is disturbing to my sensibilities as a Christian. As I said, it makes me queasy.

The Nazis weren't a religious group with a history of persecution by European Christians.

That's quite true, they were the persecutors of Christians. But then again, the muslims are not a, "religious group with a history of persecution by European Christians", either. They were, in fact, persecutors. And Bush took great pains to point out that we were not at war with Islam.

Where is the evidence that Bush approached these intelligence reports with anything other than, "an analytic framework", or, that he used, "a cherry-picked biblical framework", when assessing the relevant military threat?

As for having Biblical quotations superimposed on photos of "soldiers, guns and tanks", when did being a soldier and a Christian become mutually exclusive? Does it disturb you viscerally when God is evoked at a military funeral or the consecration of a battlefield? What about Union soldiers marching to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" during the Civil War, offensive?

But then again, the muslims are not a, "religious group with a history of persecution by European Christians", either.

I don't understand this comment. Do you want to offer some historical revision?


Where is the evidence that Bush approached these intelligence reports with anything other than, "an analytic framework?"

The first thing Bush saw when he approached those reports was a religious framework for war. Why use those cover sheets if they meant nothing and there was no intention to create a bias in his thinking? Were the cover sheets merely random and purposeless musings that fell from the sky? Why did Rumsfeld (or someone else preparing the reports) decide that war images with biblical sayings should introduce the reports?

Suppose the reports came with cover sheets carrying images of Jesus dying on the cross and images of war carnage with the phrases "thou shalt not kill," and "if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to him as well," and blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." Those images would be equally inappropriate as cover sheets for intelligence reports to the President when he is making decisions about going to war. They would set a completely inappropriate framework for the analysis of intelligence reports, setting out a religious framework opposed to war. But that isn't what Bush received.

It is simply a fact of psychological life that priming and frameworks do influence how we think, what we see, what we remember and how we judge. In the case of these cover sheets, there is a pairing that seems to provide a religious encouragement to go to war. What I think it points to is a crass use of religion intended to manipulate the president's opinion.

I'm not faulting Bush here. This is about what was occurring in the president's relationships with advisers--raising, in my mind, troubling questions about manipulation.

As for Christianity and war, I stand by my view that this was a tasteless misuse of the bible. We are peacemakers first. War is the very last resort. War does not represent the values to which we should aspire.

The fact that something is permissible as a Christian doesn't mean we should fuse it with biblical sayings and images. For example, it is permissible for a police officer to shoot a person who has drawn a weapon, but it would be the height of bad taste to emblazon a photo of someone taking a bullet to the head with biblical sayings that seems to stoke an enthusiasm for blowing people's heads off.

The Crusades were launched in response to centuries of muslim aggression. This article gives a fairly complete historical listing of muslim campaigns against Christians, Jews and the West prior to the Crusades.

This short article by Bat Ye'or talks about the Andalusian Myth and touches on the treatment of Christians and Jews unlucky enough to find themselves under muslim rule. Bat Ye'or is a first rate scholar and has written extensively about this subject.

I could provide many links, but suffice it to say that the modern view of the Crusades is in many ways ahistorical.

"Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them."
- George W Bush

I have no way of knowing, nor do you, the motivation behind the use of Biblical quotes as part of these presentations. I personally think it was misguided since it feeds into exactly the type of feelings that you express. But the Bible is also a historical document with a narrative, one common to our culture. In today's world many of us have lost hold of that common thread. I suppose that instead of using the Quote from Daniel he could have simply made a reference to "the writing on the wall" for Saddam. The biblically illiterate, unaware of that sayings source, would have taken no offense and the message would have been the same.

You state that, "It is simply a fact of psychological life that priming and frameworks do influence how we think, what we see, what we remember and how we judge", and I would have to agree. But then, forgetting the importance of ones frame of reference, you jump to the conclusion that the message the President necessarily takes is the same as yours. As a believer, perhaps, Bush was reminded that the affairs of men are guided by the hand of Providence, that government is not the final authority and that judgment comes to us all. That is what the quotation from Psalm 33 16.19 suggests.

"We are peacemakers first".

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household".

- Matthew 10:34

Peace, in and of itself, is not a virtue.

" ...it would be the height of bad taste to show someone taking a bullet to the head and emblazoning the image with biblical sayings that seem to stoke an enthusiasm for blowing people's heads off". Your right it would be, but that is not what is going on here. It's more like, we put our faith in God and stand ready to do our nations bidding. "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition".

Dr. X, you make good arguments, but I have to say that the images and quotes in question do not make me queasy, and do not offend me. Of course, I am a Christian, so presumably hopelessly biased. And very pro-military. I pray for our soldiers daily.

I agree with Art on much and especially on the points about the current historical revisionism about the Crusades (which whitewashes the Muslims whilst recounting the real, documented atrocities and aggression of some Crusaders), and also the general one that tho frameworks are important, both Bush and Rumsfeld already were Christians, and the quotes involved have a very different impact on a believer than on an agnostic. For a practicing and Biblically literate person (I am not saying anything about your reading of the text, just trying to elucidate the impact such quotes might have on more evangelical Christians) such quotes serve as reminders that there is but one God, and WE AIN'T IT. That there is a Ruler over all who demands that we form policy justly, and wage war justly and only if we believe we can answer honestly at the Day of Judgment for our actions. Those brief phrases would evoke in the Christian reader the passages they are drawn from, and years of personal study and discussion of what they refer to . Nothing simplistic about them.

I was extremely critical of lots that Bush did, and detested certain members of his Administration, but I would rather my foreign policy was conducted by men who at least occasionally remembered that they were not Captains of the Universe or Teleprompter TItans but would have to answer to God for whatever they did.

Sorry I am so tired I can't do justice to some of your arguments, and this comment is really just a longwinded way of saying that being a believing Christian doth not a RAVENING CRUSADER RAMPANT make, and that it is not sinister if our leaders believe in God and ponder His Holy Word when making important decisions. Better that than a narcissist wondering what will make him more popular....

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