National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date: May 2, 2003

We’re not a Christian country

Mark Twain was poking fun at religion with his “War Prayer.”

“O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire. ... We ask it in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the source of love.”

What set Mark Twain off was Andrew Carnegie’s assertion that this was a Christian country.

Mark Twain knew this wasn’t a Christian country back when we were killing Filipinos and it isn’t a Christian country now.

Christian churches in America are pretty fun places, though, places to entertain us and increase our self esteem. They are places to go to on Sunday mornings for good music and a warm glow. They are places you can bring the kids.

According to this American version of Christianity, the music and the preaching and Jesus and the Bible all come together to give you comfort and joy. The Lord is your shepherd. “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands ... ” “Yes, Jesus loves me ... the Bible tells me so.”

These tax-exempt buildings will never challenge you or make you feel guilty.

I used to think evangelicals were harmless. Now I think they are dangerous. I think this because of the recent Associated Press poll, which ran as follows:

Evangelicals 77 percent in favor of the war, Catholics 62 percent, mainline Protestants 62 percent, black Protestants 36 percent and nonreligious citizens 44 percent.

To the blacks, I say thank you. To those “nonreligious citizens,” I say thank you. Although you are the atheists, the outcasts, the humanists and the “unsaved,” you are, along with the blacks, the best.

If there is anything that contradicts religion, it is war. Nothing on this earth is more evil, cruel, wicked, irrational, horrible, ungodly, diabolical or injurious than war. Nothing. When this nation wages war and sings “God Bless America!” it smells like blasphemy, doesn’t it?

Thomas Jefferson, who made up his own religion and even wrote his own Bible, said one time about slavery (even as he himself owned slaves), “If there is a God, then let this nation tremble.”

The 20,000-pound bombs over Baghdad sent that city of 5 million to trembling. (“Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? ... It causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”)

The poor American kids this administration sent over to Iraq to invade it and pulverize it did the trembling for the rest of America and they killed trembling Iraqi soldiers.

What have we done or what have we failed to do that so many of these our kids were willing to go and do this? And I believe with all my heart the Iraqis are our kids too. The ones dying of thirst. The ones forced to fight under penalty of death, Saddam’s victims. We were killing them, his victims, the ones we were supposed to be rescuing!

How can this happen in a “Christian” nation? It’s maybe because the nation isn’t really Christian and hasn’t a clue as to what it means to be Christian. Have the clergy kept it a secret all this time?

What am I saying here -- that I am angry at the clergy? No. They aren’t to blame for our culture.

We ourselves are to blame. Why have we let the warmongers now running our country define patriotism? We degraded our own air and water and land. We drove our SUVs and ate our way to obesity as 20 million of us watched “Joe Millionaire” and 30 million of us watched “Survivor” on TV. Only 10 percent of us said that religious beliefs influenced our thinking, even though the United States has by far the highest rate of church attendance in the world. Fifty-four percent of us go at least monthly. Lot of good that does!

I had the privilege of a strong Catholic education. Although I have never lived up to what I learned, I will from now on, because this war has disturbed me more than anything else in my life ever has.

Here is what I learned:

“Thou shalt not kill” doesn’t have any wriggle room. It not only applies to the unborn but to the living, whether we define them as enemies or not.
Iraqi people and Muslim people are made in the image and likeness of God and enjoy God’s love.
In choosing who are my brothers and sisters, the more “catholic” I become, the more Christian I become. This is one world, one planet, no matter how corny that sounds.
I am first a Catholic and far down the line, I am an American citizen. I was made a Catholic by baptism and by choice. Only by accident of birth did I become an American. I am a Roman Catholic, not an American Catholic. The American flag has no business in our Catholic sanctuaries, nor does American propaganda. Talk radio and the FOX channel and the other media provide plenty of outlets for the Pentagon and the White House. Would they lie to you? Gee whiz, do you really think so?
Well, the pope did his best. The first question the American cardinals will be asked when they go to Rome is, why didn’t they stop the war. Even the tough guys like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who grew up in Nazi Germany and know where nationalism, jingoism and militarism can lead, did all he could to stop this madness.

Why couldn’t we stop it? We live in a culture that treasures wealth and convenience above all else. This promotes a moral relativism the like of which the world has never seen, not even in decadent Roman times. It says it is wrong for parents to destroy their unborn offspring if they believe that it is wrong, but not wrong if they believe that it is not wrong. This culture promotes a so-called “right to die,” which can be expanded to include not just the terminally ill, but also the very seriously ill, and the mentally ill, the inconvenient people, the burdensomely ill, the old and decrepit, the unwanted. And the Iraqis.

So we are to blame, we who are called to be saints, who are called to be followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Jim O’Leary lives in Corpus Christi, Texas.

National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 2003