9/11 And The Sport of God
Bill Moyers
September 09, 2005

This article is adapted from Bill Moyer's address
this week at Union Theological Seminary in New York,
where Judith and Bill Moyers received the
seminary's highest award, the Union Medal, for
their contributions to faith and reason in America.
Bill Moyers is a broadcast journalist and former
host the PBS program NOW With Bill Moyers. Moyers
also serves as president of the Schumann Center for
Media and Democracy, which gives financial support
to TomPaine.com.

At the Central Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas,
where I was baptized in the faith, we believed in a
free church in a free state. I still do.

My spiritual forbears did not take kindly to living
under theocrats who embraced religious liberty for
themselves but denied it to others. "Forced
worship stinks in God's nostrils," thundered the
dissenter Roger Williams as he was banished from
Massachusetts for denying Puritan authority over his
conscience. Baptists there were a "pitiful
negligible minority" but they were agitators for
freedom and therefore denounced as "incendiaries
of the commonwealth" for holding to their belief
in that great democracy of faith.”the priesthood of
all believers”. For refusing to pay tribute to the
state religion they were fined, flogged, and exiled.
In l651 the Baptist Obadiah Holmes was given 30
stripes with a three-corded whip after he violated
the law and took forbidden communion with another
Baptist in Lynn, Massachusetts. His friends offered
to pay his fine for his release but he refused.
They offered him strong drink to anesthetize the
pain of the flogging. Again he refused. It is the
love of liberty, he said, "that must free the

Such revolutionary ideas made the new nation with
its Constitution and Bill of Rights "a haven for
the cause of conscience." No longer could
magistrates order citizens to support churches they
did not attend and recite creeds that they did not
believe. No longer would "the loathsome
combination of church and state" as Thomas
Jefferson described it be the settled order.
Unlike the Old World that had been wracked with
religious wars and persecution, the government of
America would take no sides in the religious
free-for-all that liberty would make possible and
politics would make inevitable. The First Amendment
neither inculcates religion nor inoculates against
Americans could be loyal to the Constitution
without being hostile to God, or they could pay no
heed to God without fear of being mugged by an
official God Squad. It has been a remarkable
arrangement that guaranteed "soul freedom."
It is at risk now, and the fourth observance of the
terrorist attacks of 9/ll is an appropriate time to
think about it.

Four years ago this week, the poet's prophetic
metaphor became real again and "the great dark
birds of history" plunged into our lives.
They came in the name of God. They came bent on
murder and martyrdom. It was as if they rode to
earth on the fierce breath of Allah himself, for the
sacred scriptures that had nurtured these murderous
young men are steeped in images of a violent and
vengeful God who wills life for the faithful and
horrific torment for unbelievers.

Yes, the Koran speaks of mercy and compassion and
calls for ethical living. But such passages are no
match for the ferocity of instruction found there
for waging war for God's sake. The scholar Jack
Nelson-Pallmeyer carefully traces this trail of holy
violence in his important book, Is Religion Killing
Us? [Trinity Press International. 2003]. He
highlights many of the verses in the Koran that the
Islamic terrorists could have had in their hearts
and on their lips four years ago as they moved
toward their gruesome rendezvous. As I read some of
them, close your eyes and recall the scenes of that
bright September morning which began in the bright
sun under a blue sky:

"Those who believe Fight in the cause of Allah,
and Those who reject Faith Fight in the cause of
"So We sent against them A furious Wind through
days of disaster, that
We might Give them a taste of a Penalty of
humiliation In this Life; but
The Penalty of the Hereafter will be More
Humiliating still: And they
Will find No help." (41:16)
"Then watch thou For the Day That the sky will
Bring forth a kind Of smoke (or mist) Plainly
visible, Enveloping the people:
This will be a Penalty Grievous." (44:10-11)
"Did the people of the towns Feel Secure against
the coming Of Our
Wrath by night While they were asleep? Or else did
they feel
Secure against its coming in Broad daylight while
they Played
About (carefree)? Did they then feel secure Against
the Plan of
Allah? But no one can feel Secure from the Plan of
except those (Doomed) to ruin." (7:97-99)

So the holy warriors came, an airborne death cult,
their sights on God's enemies: regular folks,
starting the day's routine. One minute they're
pulling off their jackets, shaking Sweet n' Low
into their coffee, adjusting the height of their
chair or a picture of a child or sweetheart or
spouse in a frame on their desk, booting up their
computer, and in the next, they are engulfed by a
horrendous cataclysm. God's will. Poof!

But it is never only the number of dead by which
terrorists measure their work. It is also the
number of the living, the survivors,taken
hostage to fear. Their mission was to invade our
psyche; get inside our heads, deprive us of
trust, faith, and peace of mind: keep us from ever
again believing in a safe, just, and peaceful world,
and from working to bring that world to pass. The
writer Terry Tempest Williams has said "the human
heart is the first home of democracy." Fill that
heart with fear and people will give up the risks of
democracy for the assurances of security; fill that
heart with fear and you can shake the house to its

In the days leading up to 9/ll our daughter and
husband adopted their first baby. On the morning of
September 11th our son-in-law passed through the
shadow of the World Trade Center toward his office a
few blocks up the street. He arrived as the horrors
erupted. He saw the flames, the falling bodies, the
devastation. His building was evacuated and for
long awful moments he couldn't reach his wife, our
daughter, to say he was okay. Even after they
connected it wasn't until the next morning that he
was able to make it home. Throughout that fearful
night our daughter was alone with their new baby.
Later she told us that for weeks thereafter she
would lie awake at night, wondering where and when
it might happen again, going to the computer at
three in the morning to check out what she could
about bioterrorism, germ warfare, anthrax, and the
vulnerability of children. The terrorists had
violated a mother's deepest space.

Who was not vulnerable? That morning Judith and I
made it to our office at Channel Thirteen on West
33rd Street just after the second plane struck. Our
building was evacuated although the two of us
remained with other colleagues to do what we could
to keep the station on the air. The next day it was
evacuated again because of a bomb scare at the
Empire State Building nearby. We had just ended a
live broadcast for PBS when security officers swept
through and ordered everyone out. This time we left.
As we were making our way down the stairs I took
Judith's arm and was struck by the thought: Is
this the last time I'll touch her? Could what we
had begun together a half century ago end here on
this dim, bare staircase? I forced the thought from
my mind, willed it away, but in the early hours of
morning, as I sat at the window of our apartment
looking out at the sky, the sinister intruder crept

Terrorists plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to
turn each and every imagination into a private hell
governed by our fear of them.
They win only if we let them, only if we become
like them: vengeful, imperious, intolerant,
paranoid. Having lost faith in all else, zealots
have nothing left but a holy cause to please a
warrior God. They win if we become holy warriors,
too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike
first at those who had not struck us; allow our
leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us
afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason
together, allowing others to tell what's in
God's mind. Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists,
but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in.

So over the past four years I have kept reminding
myself of not only the horror but the humanity that
was revealed that day four years ago, when through
the smoke and fire we glimpsed the heroism,
compassion, and sacrifice of people who did the best
of things in the worst of times. I keep telling
myself that this beauty in us is real, that it makes
life worthwhile and democracy work and that no
terrorist can take it from us.

But I am not so sure. As a Christian realist I honor
my inner skeptic. And as a journalist I always know
the other side of the story. The historian Edward
Gibbon once wrote of historians what could be said
of journalists. He wrote: "The theologians may
indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as
she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native
purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the
historian [read: journalist] He must discover the
inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she
contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a
weak and degenerate race of beings."

The other side of the story:
Muslims have no monopoly on holy violence. As Jack
Nelson-Pallmayer points out, God's violence in the
sacred texts of both faiths reflect a deep and
troubling pathology "so pervasive, vindictive, and
destructive" that it contradicts and subverts the
collective weight of other passages that exhort
ethical behavior or testify to a loving God.
For days now we have watched those heart-breaking
scenes on the Gulf Coast: the steaming, stinking,
sweltering wreckage of cities and suburbs; the
fleeing refugees; the floating corpses, hungry
babies, and old people huddled together in death,
the dogs gnawing at their feet; stranded children
standing in water reeking of feces and garbage;
families scattered; a mother holding her small child
and an empty water jug, pleading for someone to fill
it; a wife, pushing the body of her dead husband on
a wooden plank down a flooded street; desperate
people struggling desperately to survive.

Now transport those current scenes from our
newspapers and television back to the first Book of
the Bible - the Book of Genesis. They bring to
life what we rarely imagine so graphically when we
read of the great flood that devastated the known
world. If you read the Bible as literally true, as
fundamentalists do,this flood was ordered by God.
"And God said to Noah, I have determined to
make an end of all flesh, behold, I will destroy
them with the earth." (6:5-l3). "I will bring
a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all
flesh in which is the breath of life from under
heaven; everything that is on the earth shall
die." (6:l7-l9) Noah and his family are the only
humans spared ;they were, after all, God's
chosen. But for everyone else: " the waters
prevailed so mightily that all the high
mountains were covered .And all flesh died that
moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts and
every man; everything on the dry land in whose
nostrils was the breath of life, died ."

The flood is merely Act One. Read on: This God
first "hardens the heart of Pharaoh" to make
sure the Egyptian ruler will not be moved by the
plea of Moses to let his people go. Then because
Pharaoh's heart is hardened, God turns the Nile
into blood so people cannot drink its water and
will suffer from thirst. Not satisfied with the
results, God sends swarms of locusts and flies to
torture them; rains hail and fire and thunder on
them destroys the trees and plants of the field
until nothing green remains; orders every first-born
child to be slaughtered, from the first-born of
Pharaoh right on down to "the first-born of the
maidservant behind the mill." An equal-murderous
God, you might say. The massacre continues until
"there is not a house where one was not dead."
While the Egyptian families mourn their dead, God
orders Moses to loot from their houses all their
gold and silver and clothing. Finally, God's
thirst for blood is satisfied, God pauses to rest
and boasts: "I have made sport of the

Violence: the sport of God. God, the progenitor of
shock and awe.

And that's just Act II. As the story unfolds
women and children are hacked to death on God's
order; unborn infants are ripped from their
mother's wombs; cities are leveled,their women
killed if they have had sex, the virgins taken at
God's command for the pleasure of his holy
warriors. When his holy warriors spare the lives of
50,000 captives God is furious and sends Moses back
to rebuke them and tell them to finish the job. One
tribe after another falls to God-ordered genocide:
the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the
Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, names
so ancient they have disappeared into the mists as
fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters,
grandparents and grandchildren, infants in arms,
shepherds, threshers, carpenters, merchants,
housewives - living human beings, flesh and blood:
"And when the Lord your God gives them over to
you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly
destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them,
and show no mercy to them (and) your eyes shall
not pity them."

So it is written -- in the Holy Bible.
Yes, I know: the early church fathers, trying to
cover up the blood-soaked trail of God's sport,
decreed that anything that disagrees with Christian
dogma about the perfection of God is to be
interpreted spiritually. Yes, I know: Edward
Gibbon himself acknowledged that the literal
Biblical sense of God "is repugnant to every
principle of faith as well as reason" and that we
must therefore read the scriptures through a veil of
allegory. Yes, I know: we can go through the Bible
and construct a God more pleasing to the better
angels of our nature (as I have done.) Yes, I
know: Christians claim the Old Testament God of
wrath was supplanted by the Gospel's God of love
[See The God of Evil, Allan Hawkins, Exlibris.]

I know these things; all of us know these things.
But we also know that the "violence-of-God"
tradition remains embedded deep in the DNA of
monotheistic faith. We also know that
fundamentalists the world over and at home consider
the "sacred texts" to be literally God's word
on all matters. Inside that logic you cannot read
part of the Bible allegorically and the rest of it
literally; if you believe in the virgin birth of
Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, and the
depiction of the Great Judgment at the end times
you must also believe that God is sadistic, brutal,
vengeful, callow, cruel, and savage -that God

Millions believe it.

Let's go back to 9/11 four years ago. The ruins
were still smoldering when the reverends Pat
Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to
proclaim that the terrorist attacks were God's
punishment of a corrupted America. They said the
government had adopted the agenda "of the pagans,
and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the
gays and the lesbians" not to mention the ACLU and
People for the American Way (The God of the Bible
apparently holds liberals in the same low esteem as
Hittites and Gergushites and Jebusites and all the
other pagans of holy writ.) Just as God had sent
the Great Flood to wipe out a corrupted world, now,
disgusted with a decadent America , "God
almighty is lifting his protection from us."
Critics said such comments were deranged. But
millions of Christian fundamentalists and
conservatives didn't think so. They thought
Robertson and Falwell were being perfectly
consistent with the logic of the Bible as they read
it: God withdraws favor from sinful nations - the
terrorists were meant to be God's wake-up call:
better get right with God. Not many people at the
time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also
been reading his sacred book closely and literally,
and had called on Muslims to resist what he
described as a "fierce Judeo-Christian campaign"
against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance "to
exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those
who disobey Him."

Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a
"holy war" as defined by fundamentalists on both
sides. You could see this pathology play out in
General William Boykin. A professional soldier,
General Boykin had taken up with a small group
called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members
apply military principles to evangelism with a
manifesto summoning warriors "to the spiritual
warfare for souls." After Boykin had led
Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he
announced, "I know my God was bigger than his. I
knew that my God was a real God and his God was an
idol." Now Boykin was going about evangelical
revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as
"a Christian nation" battling Satan and that
America's Muslim adversaries will be defeated
"only if we come against them in the name of
Jesus." . For such an hour, America surely
needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained
how it was that the candidate who had lost the
election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White
House. President Bush, he said, "was not
elected by a majority of the voters - he was
appointed by God." Not surprising, instead of
being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform,
General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of
Defense for Intelligence. (Just as it isn't
surprising that despite his public call for the
assassination of a foreign head of state, Pat
Robertson's Operation Blessing was one of the
first groups to receive taxpayer funds from the
President's Faith-Based Initiative for "relief
work" on the Gulf Coast.)

We can't wiggle out of this, people. Alvin
Hawkins states it frankly: "This is a problem we
can't walk away from." We're talking about
a powerful religious constituency that claims the
right to tell us what's on God's mind and to
decide the laws of the land according to their
interpretation of biblical revelation and to
enforce those laws on the nation as a whole. For
the Bible is not just the foundational text of
their faith; it has become the foundational text for
a political movement.

True, people of faith have always tried to bring
their interpretation of the Bible to bear on
American laws and morals - this very seminary is
part of that tradition; it's the American way,
encouraged and protected by the First Amendment.
But what is unique today is that the radical
religious right has succeeded in taking over one of
America's great political parties - the country
is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is

- and they are driving American politics, using
God as a battering ram on
almost every issue: crime and punishment, foreign
policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation,
social services, and so on.

What's also unique is the intensity, organization,
and anger they have brought to the public square.
Listen to their preachers, evangelists, and
homegrown ayatollahs: Their viral intolerance -
their loathing of other people's beliefs, of
America's secular and liberal values, of an
independent press, of the courts, of reason, science
and the search for objective knowledge - has
become an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state
power. They use the language of faith to demonize
political opponents, mislead and misinform voters,
censor writers and artists, ostracize dissenters,
and marginalize the poor. These are the foot
soldiers in a political holy war financed by wealthy
economic interests and guided by savvy partisan
operatives who know that couching political ambition
in religious rhetoric can ignite the passion of
followers as ferociously as when Constantine painted
the Sign of Christ (the "Christograph") on the
shields of his soldiers and on the banners of his
legions and routed his rivals in Rome. Never mind
that the Emperor himself was never baptized into
the faith; it served him well enough to make the God
worshipped by Christians his most important ally
and turn the Sign of Christ into the one imperial
symbol most widely recognized and feared from east
to west

Let's take a brief detour to Ohio and I'll show
you what I am talking about. In recent weeks a
movement called the Ohio Restoration Project has
been launched to identify and train thousands of
"Patriot Pastors" to get out the conservative
religious vote next year. According to press
reports, the leader of the movement - the senior
pastor of a large church in suburban Columbus -
casts the 2006 elections as an apocalyptic clash
between "the forces of righteousness and the
hordes of hell." The fear and loathing in his
message is palpable: He denounces public schools
that won't teach creationism, require teachers to
read the Bible in class, or allow children to pray.
He rails against the "secular jihadists" who
have "hijacked" America and prevent school kids
from learning that Hitler was "an avid
evolutionist". He links abortion to children who
murder their parents. He blasts the "pagan left"
for trying to redefine marriage. He declares that
"homosexual rights" will bring "a flood of
demonic oppression." On his church website you
read that "Reclaiming the teaching of our
Christian heritage among America's youth is
paramount to a sense of national destiny that God
has invested into this nation."

One of the prominent allies of the Ohio
Restoration Project is a popular televangelist in
Columbus who heads a $40 million-a-year ministry
that is accessible worldwide via l,400 TV stations
and cable affiliates. Although he describes himself
as neither Republican nor Democrat but a
"Christocrat" - a gladiator for God marching
against "the very hordes of hell in our society"
- he nonetheless has been spotted with so many
Republican politicians in Washington and elsewhere
that he has been publicly described as a"spiritual
advisor" to the party. The journalist Marley
Greiner has been following his ministry for the
organization, FreePress. She writes that because
he considers the separation of church and state to
be "a lie perpetrated on Americans - especially
believers in Jesus Christ" -- he identifies
himself as a "wall builder" and "wall
buster." As a wall builder he will "restore
Godly presence in government and culture; as a wall
buster he will tear down the church-state wall."
He sees the Christian church as a sleeping giant
that has the ability and the anointing from God to
transform America. The giant is stirring. At a
rally in July he proclaimed to a packed house:
"Let the Revolution begin!" And the
congregation roared back: "Let the Revolution

(The Revolution's first goal, by the way, is to
elect as governor next year the current Republican
secretary of state who oversaw the election process
in 2004 year when a surge in Christian voters
narrowly carried George Bush to victory. As General
Boykin suggested of President Bush's anointment,
this fellow has acknowledged that "God wanted him
as secretary of state during 2004" because it was
such a critical election. Now he is criss-crossing
Ohio meeting with Patriot Pastors and their
congregations proclaiming that "America is at its
best when God is at its center.") [For the
complete stories from which this information has
been extracted, see: "An evening with Rod Parsley,
by Marley Greiner, FreePress, July 20, 2005; Patriot
Pastors," Marilyn Warfield, Cleveland Jewish
News, July 29, 2005; "Ohio televangelist has
plenty of influence, but he wants more", Ted
Wendling, Religion News Service, Chicago Tribune,
July 1, 2005; "Shaping Politics from the
pulpits," Susan Page, USA TODAY, Aug. 3, 2005;
"Religion and Politics Should Be Mixed Says Ohio
Secretary of State," WTOL-TV Toledo, October 29,

The Ohio Restoration Project is spreading. In one
month alone last year in the President's home
state of Texas, a single Baptist preacher added 2000
"Patriot Pastors" to the rolls. On his website
he now encourages pastors to "speak out on the
great moral issues of our day to restore and
reclaim America for Christ."

Alas, these "great moral issues" do not include
building a moral economy. The Christian Right
trumpets charity (as in Faith Based Initiatives)
but is silent on social and economic justice.
Inequality in America has reached scandalous
proportions: a few weeks ago the government
acknowledged that while incomes are growing smartly
for the first time in years, the primary winners
are the top earners - people who receive stocks,
bonuses, and other income in addition to wages. The
nearly 80 percent of Americans who rely mostly on
hourly wages barely maintained their purchasing
power . Even as Hurricane Katrina was hitting the
Gulf Coast, giving us a stark reminder of how
poverty can shove poor people into the abyss, the
U.S. Census Bureau reported that last year one
million people were added to 36 million already
living in poverty. And since l999 the income of the
poorest one fifth of Americans has dropped almost
nine percent.

None of these harsh realities of ordinary life seem
to bother the radical religious right. To the
contrary, in the pursuit of political power they
have cut a deal with America's richest class
and their partisan allies in a law-of-the-jungle
strategy to "starve" the government of resources
needed for vital social services that benefit
everyone while championing more and more spending
rich corporations and larger tax cuts for the

How else to explain the vacuum in their "great
moral issues" of the plight of millions of
Americans without adequate health care? Of the gross
corruption of politics by campaign contributions
that skew government policies toward the wealthy
at the expense of ordinary taxpayers? (On the very
day that oil and gas prices reached a record high
the President signed off on huge taxpayer subsidies
for energy conglomerates already bloated with
windfall profits plucked from the pockets of
average Americans filling up at gas tanks across the
country; yet the next Sunday you could pass a
hundred church signboards with no mention of a
sermon on crony capitalism.)

This silence on economic and political morality is
deafening but revealing. The radicals on the
Christian right are now the dominant force in
America's governing party. Without them the
government would not be in the hands of people who
don't believe in government. They are culpable
in upholding a system of class and race in which, as
we saw last week, the rich escape and the poor are
left behind. And they are on they are crusading for
a government "of, by, and for the people" in
favor of one based on Biblical authority.
This is the crux of the matter: To these
fundamentalist radicals there is only one legitimate
religion and only one particular brand of that
religion that is right; all others who call on God
are immoral or wrong. They believe the Bible to
be literally true and that they alone know what it
means. Behind their malicious attacks on the courts
("vermin in black robes," as one of their talk
show allies recently put it,) is a fierce longing to
hold judges accountable for interpreting the
Constitution according to standards of biblical
revelation as fundamentalists define it. To get
those judges they needed a party beholden to them.
So the Grand Old Party - the GOP - has become
God's Own Party, its ranks made up of God's Own
People "marching as to war."

Go now to the website of an organization called
America 2l (http://www.america21.us/Home.cfm).
There, on a red, white, and blue home page, you find
praise for President Bush's agenda - including
his effort to phase out Social Security and
protect corporations from law suits by aggrieved
citizens. On the same home page is a reminder that
"There are 7177 hours until our next National
Election .ENLIST NOW." Now click again and you
will read a summons calling Christian pastors "to
lead God's people in the turning that can save
America from our enemies." Under the headline
"Remember,Repent,Return" language
reminiscent of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell
reminds you that "one of the unmistakable
lessons [of 9/11] is that America has lost the full
measure of God's hedge of protection. When we ask
ourselves why, the scriptures remind us that ancient
Israel was invaded by its foreign enemy, Babylon, in
586 B.C. .(and) Jerusalem was destroyed by
another invading foreign power in 70 A.D. . Psalm
l06:37 says that these judgments of God were
because of Israel's idolatry. Israel, the apple
of God's eye, was destroyed because the people
failed to repent." If America is to avoid a
similar fate, the warning continues, we must
"remember the legacy of our heritage under God and
our covenant with Him and, in the words of II
Chronicles 7:14: "Turn from our wicked ways."
Just what does this have to do with the
President's political agenda praised on the home
page? Well, squint and look at the fine print at
the bottom of the site. It reads: America2l is a
not-for-profit organization whose mission is to
educate, engage, and mobilize Christians to
influence national policy at every level. Founded
in l989 by a multi-denominational group of Pastors
and Businessmen, it is dedicated to being a catalyst
for revival and reform of the culture and the
government." (emphasis added).

The corporate, political, and religious right
converge here, led by a President who, in his own
disdain for science, reason, and knowledge, is the
most powerful fundamentalist in American history.
What are the stakes? In his last book, the late
Marvin Harris, a prominent anthropologist of the
time, wrote that "the attack against reason and
objectivity is fast reaching the proportions of a
crusade." To save the American Dream, "we
desperately need to reaffirm the principle that it
is possible to carry out an analysis of social life
which rational human beings will recognize as being
true, regardless of whether they happen to be women
or men, whites or black, straights or gays,
employers or employees, Jews or born-again
Christians. The alternative is to stand by
helplessly as special interest groups tear the
United States apart in the name of their "separate
realities' or to wait until one of them grows
strong enough to force its irrational and subjective
brand of reality on all the rest."

That was written 25 years ago, just as the radical
Christian right was setting out on their long march
to political supremacy. The forces he warned
against have gained strength ever since and now
control much of the United States government and are
on the verge of having it all.
It has to be said that their success has come in
no small part because of our acquiescence and
timidity. Our democratic values are imperiled
because too many people of reason are willing to
appease irrational people just because they are
pious. . Republican moderates tried appeasement
and survive today only in gulags set aside for them
by the Karl Roves, Bill Frists and Tom DeLays.
Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if
they take on the organized radical right they will
lose what little power they have. Trying to learn
to talk about God as Republicans do, they're
talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest
thing going for them - the case for a moral
economy and the moral argument for the secular
checks and balances that have made America "a safe
haven for the cause of conscience." .

As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our
boisterous past, one lesson about democracy stands
above all others: Bullies - political bullies,
economic bullies, and religious bullies - cannot
be appeased; they have to be opposed with a
stubbornness to match their own. This is never
easy; these guys don't fight fair; "Robert's
Rules of Order" is not one of their holy texts.
But freedom on any front - and especially freedom
of conscience -- never comes to those who rock and
wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting.
Christian realism requires us to see the world as
it is, without illusions, and then take it on.
Christian realism also requires love. But not a
sentimental, dreamy love. Reinhold Niebuhr, who
taught at Union Theological Seminary and wrestled
constantly with applying Christian ethics to
political life, put it this way: "When we talk
about love we have to become mature or we will
become sentimental. Basically love means being
responsible, responsibility to our family, toward
our civilization, and now by the pressures of
history, toward the universe of humankind."
Christian realists aren't afraid to love. But
just as the Irishman who came upon a brawl in the
street and asked, "Is this a private fight or can
anyone get in it?" we have to take that love
where the action is. Or the world will remain a
theatre of war between fundamentalists.