Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

America’s New Jihad

Originally posted to justin.revision8.com on in Waverly, Iowa

Originally published as “Separate political endeavors from religion” in the November 12 issue of The Wartburg Trumpet newspaper.

The fight against terrorism, said President Bush, “is our calling.” His language implies America’s war in Afghanistan is not simply in the interest of security, nor wholly of our volition.

Bush’s sense of “calling” contradicts assurances that America’s cause is inherently non-religious. The declaration is no slip, no poor choice of words for which he will later apologize. George W. Bush knows his position affords him no casual linguistic mistakes, and he is not so ignorant to employ such terms as “evil,” “crusade,” “Infinite Justice” and “calling” without comprehending their religious connotations.

“Calling” clearly indicates the presence of a caller. And as the world’s most powerful nation, the only authority to which the United States could ever possibly answer is divine — that is, God himself. Our president claims for this secular nation God’s assent to our government’s actions and justifies them as a divine mission.

Not that such thinking is new. American preachers and politicians saw the modern American west as a promise from God, and so excused its conquest. Since it was God’s will, the removal and murder of Native Americans was performed with a clear conscience. Even as late as my childhood in the 1980s was “Cowboys and Indians” an acceptable game. Every sane child wanted to be a gunslinging cowboy; they were the good guys.

Slavery, and later segregation, were also said to be God’s will, and so fostered intricate, perverse theologies.

In the last century, America met Communism’s ungodly advances with “containment.” While the Cold War raged in Korea and Vietnam, America placed itself “under God” via the gently McCarthyist Pledge of Allegiance, a doctrine imposed daily upon America’s schoolchildren.

Underlying these few examples is the belief that America is sacred and that its founding was no less than God’s will. Recall the thrust to prohibit desecration (that is, de[con]secration) of the American flag: To burn the flag is near blasphemy.

What makes a holy war is not so much the enemy’s religion as one’s own claim of revelation and mission. Osama bin Laden calls “every Muslim…to defend his religion” from “the army of infidels.” How much different from this is Bush’s call to defend our supposedly good, free, and holy America from “the face of evil” and “the enemies of freedom”? What other reason have we to repeatedly sing “God Bless America”? The United States’ military campaign is in fact a holy war.

And I, a senior religion major and concerned American citizen, find this theologically questionable and thoroughly terrifying. By claiming “God is on our side,” America thinks whatever cause it espouses is just, if not holy. But to contend our actions are anything but human is to deny our own hand in actualising our supposed fate. This is completely wrong.

Cut the religious rhetoric, President Bush. Fight your war if you must, but leave God’s name off your bombs.