I was in Lebanon, TN at the tail-end of a bike trip through the American Heartland when I heard news of the terrorist attacks. Predictably, the local Bible Belt response was applause for God and country. The line between church, state, and business grew blurry as towns staged prayer rallies on courthouse steps and churches held emergency services. Car dealerships sponsored the printing of full page “God Bless America” flags in local newspapers (complete with instructions on how to mount in car windows), and banks took out full page ads picturing the middle section of dollar bills with In God We Trust highlighted.
As a Berkeley-based anarchist, I was not prepared for this religious outpouring. Neither was I prepared for the content of the local sermons the following Sunday. I was expecting fire-and-brimstone content along the lines evangelist Jerry Falwell’s widely publicized remarks blaming the attacks on American “sinners”, including homos, liberals, and abortion advocates. Instead, most of the 20-odd sermons highlighted in a 2-page spread in the front section of the Nashville Tennessean denounced Falwell’s comments, advocating racial tolerance and caution in military retaliation.
In contrast to the relatively humble and practical Bible Belt response, President Bush in his address at the Washington Cathedral used Christian language to justify continued arrogance and domination over the rest of the world. “We will rid the world of evil,” he said, practically painting the US as God’s valiant right-hand angel.
To anarchists and other radical activists sequestered in secular ghettos, Bible Belt preaching may seem nothing more than an emotional band-aid, and Bush’s symbolism could be dismissed as more humorous nonsense from a national idiot. But, like it or not, people all over the country are dealing with this attack through prayer, and Bush’s version of Christianity is the same underlying force that justifies capitalist world domination. Anarchists cannot afford to ignore either form of Christian rhetoric. Dismissal severely limits our ability to discuss the events with anybody outside the radical ghetto. A relevant anarchist movement hinges on our ability to connect with people where they are mentally, which at this point is in the church. Revolutionary activists must develop a respectful response to this religious outpouring that relates the love-your-neighbor doctrine to anarchist values of mutual aid, while denouncing Bush’s crusader, “Onward Christian Soldier” -inspired dogma. Instead of shying away from churches, secular activists can use the shared values to help build a broad-based anti-war movement.
The values of loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek, and loving all of (god’s) creation prompt an examination of the root cause of the attacks: not hatred of freedom and democracy, as Bush would have us believe, but hatred of US agenda of total world economic control. Support for anti-American terrorism comes not simply from a mere distaste for ‘Western Civilization and cultural values’ but from feelings of powerlessness in the face of our continued acts of aggression against Muslim states and people. “There are many people in the Muslim world who are not extremists — business people, professionals — who feel the United States is a hegemon, politically and economically,” said John Esposito, Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. “This creates conditions for radicalism.” Bush’s crusader mentality falls directly into the extremist-laid trap of a holy war.
Ironically, some US and Canadian Muslim groups are advising their members to “turn the other cheek” in the face of violence in an effort to prevent intensified hate crimes.
Religion and spirituality are extremely complex forces, both for dealing with personal crisis response and as motivation for larger acts. Although polls continue to indicate majority support for military action, perhaps the fact that Bible Belt sermons advocated caution in retaliation indicates that prospects for a mass anti-war movement are not altogether dim.