Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Back, with a rant

Just to get started again, there's this little question of war. Last night after the standard ritual engorgement, frivolity, and subtextual familial tension, I checked out the Bears vs. Packers (hey C., there are worse vices), on Fox. During the third quarter one of the announcers said words to the effect that we're all thinking about the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, wishing them God speed, stay safe, and come home soon -- remarks I'm sure we all endorse.

Then the other guy chimed in: and thanks to the troops for their courage and bravery "preserving our freedom to celebrate Christmas, as each and every one of us did this morning." This statement was so inane and so offensive, on so many levels, that I can't scarcely decide what I want to say about it. The idea that Americans would not have the freedom to celebrate Christmas if U.S. troops weren't in Afghanistan and Iraq having their parts blown off and blowing up the local folks is so transparently preposterous that you wouldn't accept it as parody, but this clown was obviously completely serious.

Wierd as it may be, it's of a piece with the Resident's assertion that the war is necessary to prevent al Qaeda from establishing a new Caliphate from Indonesia to Spain. You would think that prospect would alarm the Spaniards more than it does Mr. Bush, but they seem strangely unconcerned. We actually have a political and media culture in which these demented fantasies are treated as serious discourse.

Yet beneath the first layer, of plain old nonsense, is the even more disturbing text that the war is in defense of Christianity. How did the dominant version of Christianity in the United States come to be one which radically and forcefully rejects the teachings imputed to Jesus in the gospels? Why does this religion of hatred, bloody vengeance, and domination even merit the name of Christianity?

As I was driving home this morning I picked up a program of old time New Orleans jazz on the radio. They played an old, scratchy version of Down by the Riverside. I've always known the lyrics as beginning, "Gonna lay down my burden, down by the riverside," and then of course the chorus is "Ain't gonna study war no more." I had wondered about the locution of studying war -- why not "Ain't gonna go to war no more," or "Ain't gonna have no wars nor more"? What's with the "studying"?

But this version went, "Down by the riverside, gonna lay my Bible down, gonna lay my Bible down . . ." and then, of course, it made perfect sense. These were probably the original words, and they have been changed to avoid giving offense. (Can any folklorists out there confirm that?) The predominant theme of the Old Testament is war. God exhorts the Hebrews to slaughter, rape and enslave other peoples -- including completely innocent people who have done them no harm, whose land God wishes for them to seize. At other times, God brings war and enslavement to the Hebrews. To study the Bible is to study war. And it is that God who revels and glories in slaughter who is the American Christian God.

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