Despite some initial hesitation, the Religious
Right has decided that John McCain is God's candidate. I'll confess that I can't
find the relevant Bible verse, but who am I to dispute the usual religious worthies?
Obviously John McCain is the candidate of God – Mars, the Roman god of war.
There's nothing new about clerics being involved in politics. Many of the finest
and most enlightened political initiatives, such as abolition, reflected a powerful
religious impulse. Agree or disagree with the specific policies that resulted,
but religious, and particularly Christian, faith has animated many people to
crusade for various social reforms, such as to aid the poor, save the unborn,
heal the sick, and end war.
What's striking about the Religious Right is how it has wedded itself to the
Republican Party, and how it has sacrificed most every issue to social conservatism.
Today the movement is hitching itself to a candidate whose conservative bona
fides are minimal at best – John McCain is of uncertain religious faith, dumped
his first wife, and has never taken the lead on social issues. Yet a recent
gathering of about 100 social conservative activists in Denver anointed McCain.
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, who called the meeting, reported: "We're
not suggesting that [McCain] supports 100 percent of the values that we support,"
but "he is an individual of integrity and that he would support our values
more than Sen. Barack Obama."
James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, denounced McCain during the GOP primary
contest, but has since focused his fire on Obama for, among other things, supporting
abortion, twisting scripture, and having "a fruitcake interpretation of
the Constitution." Moreover, Dr. Rick Scarborough of Vision America declared:
"We cannot afford to sit back and wait for the perfect candidate. In every
election, we must support the candidate whose principles most closely reflect
our own. We must think of the unborn, of innocent children and of the morality
on which America was founded and grew to greatness."
It is fine to think of the unborn. But how about the born? Shouldn't conservatives
who claim to be Christians care about the human impact of the foreign policy
advanced by the presidential candidates? James Dobson declared that "What
terrifies me is the thought that" Obama might end up as military commander-in-chief.
But, in truth, the really terrifying thought is of John McCain at the ready
to invade, bomb, coerce, and threaten other nations as his heart, or temper,
After all, he, not Obama – at least, maybe not quite as much – sang about bombing
Iran, even though it is years away from creating, let alone deploying, an atomic
weapon. He, not Obama, wrote an article suggesting an assault on North Korea,
despite the risk of triggering a full-scale war. He, not Obama, clamored for
a ground offensive against Serbia in the needless war over Kosovo a decade ago.
He, not Obama, supported the invasion of Iraq, which has turned out so differently
than promised by most of its advocates. He, not Obama, wants to preserve obsolete
American military occupations and mount counterproductive military interventions
around the globe.
Many foreign policy questions are largely prudential – what policies advance
the interests of the United States? That cannot be the only question asked,
but it is an essential standard by which to measure America's foreign actions.
And all of the wars and occupations backed by McCain fail the test of serving
America's interests. Washington policymakers might like them. But treating war
as a discretionary activity, and one guaranteed to lead to group hugs and mass
flower tosses, is practically foolish and morally grotesque.
In fact, Christians overseas have proved to be among the greatest victims of
the Bush administration's aggressive military actions. Iraq's historic Christian
community has been destroyed, with up to half of the population forced into
exile, internally or abroad. Sadly, few
American Christian leaders, many of whom backed the war, have owned up to their
responsibility for the catastrophe which has enveloped Iraq's Christians.
There is an additional irony when social conservatives crusade for war: can
there be a more anti-family program than initiating a conflict which kills parents,
leaves kids without fathers and even mothers, spurs divorce and family break
up, and steals parents from children's lives for an extended period, time and
It is one thing to claim that necessity sometimes requires paying such a cost.
But none of John McCain's wars was or is necessary. It has become obvious to
all but the most unregenerate neoconservative that Iraq posed no threat to America.
Unleashing the dogs of war on Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,
wounding even more of them, and driving millions of them into exile, while utterly
destroying the fabric of Iraqi society, certainly was not humanitarian, even
though Saddam Hussein's removal was a plus.
U.S. intelligence doesn't believe Iran even has an ongoing nuclear weapons
program, and Tehran certainly is not poised to create a nuclear arsenal. The
idea of attacking Iran before actually testing the possibility of a negotiated
settlement is obscene. And the practical consequences of war would be hideous.
North Korea is dismantling the reactor that would be the most likely target
of U.S. military action, obviating the purpose of such a strike. Anyway, committing
an act of war against the unpredictable totalitarian regime of Kim Jong-il would
risk sparking full-scale war, which would have catastrophic consequences for
all concerned, and South Korea in particular.
The attack on Serbia was unprovoked, the geopolitical interests at stake were
frivolous, and the intervention was hypocritical. At the same time the U.S.
initiated war to resolve a minor guerrilla war among white Europeans, it ignored
much larger and more costly conflicts in Africa.
Nevertheless, John McCain sees war as a solution to potentially any geopolitical
The spectacle of religious conservatives backing John McCain's veritable policy
of a war on every continent is even more bizarre given Christianity's message
of peace. Christian theologians have argued for centuries over the legitimacy
of serving in the military and going to war. The dominant view reflects some
sense of Just War theory, that under specific and narrow circumstances, war
is justified. In practice, alas, clerics could always be found to pronounce
almost every war to be just and necessary, turning Just War theory into more
an excuse for than limit on war.
Still, despite the
spirited case for neo-pacifism made by some Christians, it is hard not to
countenance national self-defense just as most Christians accept personal self-defense.
But this really means self-defense, not romping around the globe attempting
to micro-manage the affairs of other nations at the point of a gun. If God acknowledges
cases in which the moral good is better served by going to war than surrendering
to evil, it likely is a very reluctant acknowledgement, for war is the embodiment
of evil: committing death and destruction writ large, wrecking entire countries
and continents, and targeting God's creation, human and natural. No wonder Jesus
Christ declared in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)
Thus, making peace obviously is better than making war. While the latter sometime
might be unavoidable – when the consequences of any alternative course are far
worse – most often it is not. And even when war might be theoretically justified,
resolving the controversy peacefully if possible would still be far preferable.
But if there is one thing John McCain is not, it is a peacemaker. He sees war
and the threat of war, backed by an even larger military – bigger than today's
already largest, most sophisticated, most powerful armed forces on earth – as
a simple tool to be promiscuously deployed not just against smaller powers such
as Iraq, but serious states, such as China and Russia. His policy of confrontation
all the time, everywhere, may be favored by the usual neoconservative suspects,
but is likely to generate conflict and war, and perhaps protracted conflict
and catastrophic war.
Such a policy would seem inconsistent with Christian teaching. Forget general
injunctions for peace. Most wars turn into widespread murder and theft, behaviors
proscribed by the Ten Commandments, as well as other Biblical teachings. While
war sometimes brings out the best and most heroic in people, it far more often
brings out the worst and most base personal characteristics. In short, it is
something Christians should strongly resist, not welcome.
A genuine believer certainly could confront the complexities of war and conclude
in a particular circumstance that a particular conflict must be fought. But
that still doesn't mean that Christian voters should ignore a candidate's proclivity
for war in assessing his or her qualifications to hold office.
Yet this seems to be where religious conservatives find themselves today. John
McCain doesn't want America's babies to be killed. Good. But when will he extend
that same concern to the young Americans who will be killed fighting in foreign
wars? When will he extend a similar concern to America civilians put at risk
from terrorism because of misguided U.S. intervention in foreign conflicts?
And when will he extend that humanitarian concern to other people, such as the
Iraqis, killed by American soldiers and in conflicts triggered by Washington?
People of faith might want to ask him these questions, before endorsing him
because of his position on gay marriage.
Does God have a favored candidate? Maybe, though so far he hasn't told me who.
It appears that the God of all creation has remained silent on who would best
fill the Oval Office next year. But then, many religious conservatives seem
to have stopped following the God of the Bible and have transferred their affections
to the god Mars, the Roman god of war. In that case, perhaps the Religious Right
is justified in believing that John McCain is god's candidate.