September 25, 2005

The Co-Opted Gospel

Modern Caesars have nothing to fear from this crowd of "Christians."

By Daniel C. Maguire

A devout atheist friend of mine often commented: "Wouldn't it be something if Christians really believed what they say they believe, that the poor are their prime concern and that ending poverty is their mission! Their Bible says that the Christian gospel is 'good news to the poor' (Luke 4:18), that 'the poverty of the poor is their ruin' (Proverbs10:15) and therefore 'there shall be no poor among you' (Deut 15:4) because the poor are the apple of God's eye.(Ps. 72:14)'" "If they believed that," he would say, "Christians would be a stupendously powerful lobby for the poor and no politician would dare neglect 'the least among us.'"

The English writer, G. K. Chesterton, was just as damning when he commented that Christianity has not failed; it simply has never been tried. Actually it has been tried in the past and at times pushed

Lately Christianity has been scary news for the poor and for lovers of peace.

parts of humanity into greater achievements in compassion, justice, and peace. Lately, however, Christianity has been scary news for the poor and for lovers of peace.

Look at the United States, a country that is always God-blessing itself and compulsively stuffing Bibles in hotel drawers. In this country, Christianity has been largely co-opted as ideological cover for a mean-spirited right wing that is zealously transferring wealth from the bottom to the top while exporting death in a string of senseless wars.

Modern Caesars have nothing to fear from this crowd of "Christians." If Jesus were like them, he could have died merrily in his bed at a ripe old age.

Of course, he was not like them. He fought against the Roman empire that had become "the last remaining superpower," and he championed a kind of non-violent resistance to empire that was so threatening that they killed him and many who joined him. He didn't die to "atone for our sins," a lousy piece of theology gorily indulged in Mel Gibson's blood bath. He died resisting an empire that was stomping on the poor, militarily and economically. Sorry, America, but he died fighting the likes of us.

From our founding, we fancied ourselves "the new Rome," and right we were for such we have become. Like Rome we topple governments (more than 25 since 1945), spread our military over 800 military installations in most of the countries of the world. We fancy ourselves the most

Modern Caesars have nothing to fear from this crowd of "Christians." If Jesus were like them, he could have died merrily in his bed at a ripe old age.

generous people on earth though we are among the stingiest. Empire is always animated by lies and hubris. American hubris is being undermined by embarrassing data. Of the 22 richest nations of the world, we are first in wealth and last in developmental assistance; i.e., among those 22 rich nations we are the stingiest. The United States devotes a smaller percentage of national income to development assistance than nearly any other developed nation-less that one-tenth of one percent (.1 percent), compared to .97 percent for the Danes, .89 percent for the Swedes, .55 percent for the French, and .31 percent for the Germans. Even in absolute terms, if we exclude U.S. aid to our two top recipients Israel and Egypt, [which is largely military aid used in Israel to oppress Palestinians and in Egypt to suppress democracy, making neither Israel nor Egypt safer] the United States-with 265 million people-spends less on development assistance than Denmark, a nation of five million.

Meanwhile, recall, we villainously squander six billion dollars a month making wars in the oil-rich Middle East, absurdly claiming, as Empires always do, that we are there for the noblest of purposes. And the Christian right cheers this new Caesar on. They are, as George Bush says, his "base." They purr consolingly in his ear at prayer breakfasts and they warm him at "America the Beautiful" spectacles at the National Cathedral. In his powerful new book, The New American Militarism, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Catholic and a retired officer, now professor at Boston University notes how the Protestant religious right pushed for the American invasions of Iraq and even for the barbaric concept of preventive or preemptive war, a concept championed by Adolph Hitler. Writing as "a Catholic author" Bacevich says that "the counterweight ought to have been the Roman Catholic Church...[which] was eminently well-positioned to put its stamp on public policy." It failed to do so. He puts major blame on the pathetic hierarchy. I put it on the all too mute American Catholic theologians who succor the military with their "just war" euphemisms and we can direct the "j'accuse" at seduced, so-called "pro-life" Catholic citizens who gave Slaughter-master Bush a solid majority of their votes in the last election.

Nothing more stirs the human will than the tincture of the sacred. The worst of madmen is a saint gone mad, said the poet Alexander Pope. Wrap the sacred around evil policies and you have added infinitely to their strength. And that is precisely the mission of the Protestant and Catholic Christian right today. Their "piety" is their shame and the poor and the peacemakers are their victims.

Dr. Daniel C. Maguire teaches Moral Theology and Ethics at Marquette University in Milwaukee. A graduate of Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, Dan has written over 150 articles for publication, authored two dozen books, and is founder and president of The Religious Consultation. He is a popular lecturer and frequent radio & TV guest.

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