Yesterday GQ broke the latest story about the alternate universe known as the Bush administration. It seems that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld didn’t think that getting the latest intelligence on the war in Iraq was good enough for the president. So the Secretary tricked up the daily top-secret reports on the invasion with photographs of US military personnel or weaponry–and captioned the photos with Biblical quotes selected to strike the proper note of self-righteous moral superiority. (You can see the photographs in the GQ slide show here.) To take one example, imagine a battle tank bathed in the red rays of the setting sun, along with the injunction from Ephesians 6:13 to “put on the full armor of God.” In Rumsfeld’s Bible, it seems, “armor” is not a metaphor. And for the daily briefing in the Bush war room, neither was “crusade.”
And a trillion dollars and roughly 100,000 civilian deaths later, we have images like this.
The scene has shifted to Pakistan, where oil tankers that were to supply the US military are burning following an attack. I like to think of Rumsfeld out of work and spending his days captioning photographs by the hundreds, pouring through his shiny Bible–not worn from years of use–for quotes to spin the images. But he no longer has to persuade a born-again president, and the current president probably knows that the US government is not supposed to be fighting religious wars.
So, what’s left? How about a game: Can you caption this image? With a Biblical quote, of course. How about “he has poured out his fury like fire” (Lamentations 2:4)? Or perhaps “I will let loose my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, I will punish you for all your abominations” (Ezekiel 7:3)?
Obviously, one of the problems with using the Bible is that it can be, well, a two-edged sword (Proverbs 5:4). (The Biblical phrase only meant sharp, but the Bible does cut both ways.) For all the flaws in Rumsfeld’s political judgment, his scriptural references raise several important issues regarding use of the Bible. For one, there may be no better source for finding sacred sanction for war. The seamless fusion of God’s righteousness with secular conquest and a willingness to sacrifice others in God’s name may be a serious problem within the Abrahamic religions. Closer to home, the use of the Bible often reflects serious errors in application–whether in understanding the point of the passage being quoted, or in the assumptions made about one’s claim on God’s favor. Most important, the Biblical God never wants to stay with war, or to glorify war.
The Biblical God wants justice, mercy, and peace. And so we can end with another game. I’ll supply the quotation, and you supply a photograph. Here’s the text:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness; and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah, 6: 8).
Photograph by Adil Kahn/Reuters. All translations are New Revised Standard Version.
The bible is a useful source for quotations justifying war (and slavery, and lots of other wretched things) because the god of the Israelites, Yahweh, was originally a god of war. See http://www.humboldt.edu/~wh1/4251.David/4251.WarGod.html for details.