Dr. Richard Kalfus


God on our side
(War on terrorism, United States)

 On September 11 at American University, my class on nonviolence met at the usual time, 8:30 to 9:45 A.M. The topic was the connections between religious faith and government warmaking, with an essay on biblical pacifism as the reading to be discussed. I brought to class a tape of "with God on Our Side," sung by Joan Baez and written in the mid-'60s by Bob Dylan.

Only a few students were familiar with it. The eight verses of the anti-war song trace pseudo-faith and militarism--the Indian wars, the Spanish-American war, both world wars--and end with variations of the same line: "You never ask questions when God's on your side." "You don't count the dead when God's on your side." "Accept it all gravely with God on our side."

None of us in class that morning knew of the death and chaos occurring five miles from campus at the Pentagon or in New York City. Nor did we suspect, when we did find out, that soon politicians in both Afghanistan and Washington would be adding their own verses to the Dylan song.

Mohammed Hasan Akhund, the deputy Taliban leader, said: "If America attacks our homes, it is necessary for all Muslims, especially for Afghans, to wage a holy war. God is on our side, and if the world's people set fire to Afghanistan, God will protect us and help us."

Days later, an equally theistic President Bush ended his speech to a joint session of Congress with his slant on the Almighty's current leanings: "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.... May God grant us wisdom and may He watch over the United States."

Two Roman Catholic cardinals, a Methodist bishop, a rabbi, and an imam rose to applaud Bush's war talk. It wasn't the God of Peace--the God of forgiveness, of mercy, of reconciliation, of love--they invoked, but the God of War, who blesses America and its military arsenal of Cobra attack helicopters, amphibious assault vehicles, F-22 Advanced Tactical fighter planes, B-2 bombers, and nuclear missiles. During the Presidential campaign, candidate Bush was asked what person had the most influence on his thinking. "Jesus," he answered. Apparently, it wasn't the Jesus who preached the love of enemies and doing good to those who harm you.

No clergy from a peace church--Quaker, Mennonite, Church of the Brethren--were in the audience, nor were any summoned to the pulpit on September 14 at the National Cathedral, where Bush, his war planners, and 3,000 invited guests prayed and sang five verses of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." None of the five men of the cloth who were at the pulpit delivered a call to embrace nonviolent responses to the September 11 violence. As Christians Billy Graham and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick prayed with fellow Christians Bush and Cheney in a Christian cathedral where an image of the crucified Christ hung high above the clerestory, I couldn't help but remember an observation of the Hindu Mohandas Gandhi: "The only people on Earth who do not see Christ's teachings as nonviolent are Christians."