Friday, April 23, 2010

Graham Crackers

It's ironic. Here we're fighting, basically, a war against Islam... well, I know that our civilian and military leaders always say no, that's not it at all, we're really fighting “terrorism”, or “terror”, or “Islamofasicm”, or "militant Islam" (as opposed to the "religion of peace") -- but let's face it, what it amounts to, on any given day, is a war on Islam. We know it, and -- more importantly -- they know it. And our defense “contractors”, in particular, all know this (you know, outfits like Blackwater or whatever it's called these days) – they freely admit it, not only to each other but to anyone who asks. And, in fact, if you ask people on the other side of the conflict if America is fighting a war on Islam – i.e. a new Crusade – they'll say, of course; isn't it obvious? And when you look at who got us into this mess in the first place – namely Israel – they would obviously be a lot happier if Islam were wiped off the map (even though the Near East was “a land without a people” before they showed up). So let's not quibble about this any more, shall we?

But here's the irony. An evangelist named Franklin Graham – Billy Graham's son, named after the new $100 bill – has been disinvited to speak at a Pentagon prayer service because he has described Islam as “evil”. According to an AP article, “Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins [named after the cocktail] said Graham's remarks were 'not appropriate.'” Not appropriate for what? And at what point after inviting Rev. Graham did they figure this out? (And why don't they care about the feelings of Evangelicals all of a sudden, since they are the Pentagon's biggest supporters?)

Well... OK, I guess, in theory, we could be waging war on Islam even if we didn't regard it as evil; I'll grant that much. But I also have to point out the ongoing absurdity of the Pentagon – or any other government entity, for that matter – holding “prayer services”. Not that there aren't plenty of believers among our military personnel – but let's face it, they are on the front lines in the business of empire building, and can we really pray for success in that endeavor with a straight face? Apparently some of us can. Historically, nearly every warring party in any war involving the English-speaking world or most of Europe has had God on its side – allegedly. Which, I guess, means that He only answers prayers for victory about half the time, which, you would think, would be enough of a discouragement to put an end to Pentagon prayer services and White House “prayer breakfasts” -- but no such luck; the hypocritical beat goes on.

And I'm not making this argument from the point of view of the “wall of separation” buffs – simply because they're dead wrong as to what “establishment” means. They obviously have little or no experience with the rest of the world, where established churches, or religions, are a common thing. And "establishment" in those places doesn't just involve mouthing words -- it involves legal support and preferences, and money. The U.S. has no established churches – at least not officially – and it would be a stretch to even claim that it had an established religion – i.e. Christianity. What it does have is a sort of established religious baseline, or reference to religion, in the public sphere – but when it comes down to cases, it means little or nothing, although it may have meant more at the time of the founding.

And in fact, public prayer received another blow last week when a federal judge in Wisconsin (where else?) ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action (kind of like a crusade, I guess). Well, if that's a “call for religious action” -- and if that, in turn, is unconstitutional – what about the inscription “In God We Trust” on American currency? Should non-believers stop using money? (They'd be way ahead of the rest of us if they did.)

Sometimes I think the best thing would be to call the bluff of all of these critics and simply remove all references to God, religion, and faith of any sort from all public buildings, ceremonies, observances, documents, you name it. Do what the Soviets did, in other words. Because then there would be no more easy outs – religion would, once again, be strictly a matter of individual choice and no one could pretend that the government had anything to do with it one way or the other.

Of course this would still leave plenty of issues open to contention – like taxation of churches, Congressional and military chaplains, and so on. So maybe the battle would just shift into new venues. But at least the tiresome level of controversy that we've been forced to dwell at for decades now would finally be a thing of the past.

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