I've been called many things in my life, but "liberal" has never been one of them. I've never voted for a Democrat for president or Congress in my 41 years, and I'm convinced we'd still be fighting the Cold War had it not been for Ronald Reagan. I have no self-consciousness about waving the flag. But upon reflection, President George W. Bush's speech last Thursday night, which won almost unanimous praise, scared hell into me--and not because of the terrorists who inspired it.

An egregiously large percentage of Americans polled seem willing to give the president and the central government carte blanche in this war against terrorism - a war originally code-named "infinite justice" until Muslim groups took offense. We seem suddenly willing to let the politicians, the military, the FBI, the CIA--the Book-of-the-Month Club if they so choose--wage war against whomever, for however long, in whatever way, at any cost. The rationale is that we are fighting an enemy unlike any other, one without national borders and with access to weapons--like nukes and anthrax--that have no historical equal in their ability to devastate.

Without minimizing what is at stake (and the apocalyptic predictions are debatable), uh, when will we know we've won? When will we know the crisis is finally over? When will we know that the threat--a highly subjective and abstract concept--has been eliminated?

Simple. When the government says. Which government is not certain. Perhaps this government--after all, Bush can only stand two terms (remember when half the country thought he hadn't even legitimately won one?) terms--and what we're after is infinite justice.

In George Orwell's "1984," Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia--or Eurasia--depending on the political necessities of Big Brother. In short, Oceania is always at war, which explains why civil liberties must be repressed, why there are always shortages and rationed chocolate, and why the disloyal must be informed upon. In wartime, normal rules of civilization cannot apply. Citizens must understand that under the "current crisis," life as previously lived will not resume until that crisis is resolved. But what if that crisis is never resolved?

Where are the conservatives now? Where are those who, like me, believe big government, big business, and big religion inevitably betray the principles--no matter how noble--on which they're founded, in the cause of preserving the power, privilege, and prestige they've come to enjoy?

Where are the independent evangelical churches, who know from history and experience that disaffiliation from overarching institutions is sometimes necessary to preserve the spirit against the dead letter of the law--the law that can only motivate by inducing fear?

Last Sunday, I picked up a book, almost at random, called "The Best of A.W. Tozer." Tozer was a pastor of Alliance (now the Christian Missionary & Alliance) churches in West Virginia, Indiana, and Chicago, a small evangelical--and some would say fundamentalist--denomination.

Tozer was not your typical evangelical preacher. He was a Protestant who loved the mystical writings of 12th-century Cistercian monk St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He believed the average evangelical worship service was ugly and listless, and that an almost mystical awe was the key to true worship, not the rote recitation of clear-cut dogmas. He was as likely to turn his oratorical skills against the Pharisees among him as against what he perceived to be a culture of death--before that phrase became popularized by the present pope. Each of his sermons was a silver bullet, compact, sleek, and deadly to the pompous and complacent.

In turning the pages of this slim volume, I reread some of the passages I had underlined years ago. This jumped out at me immediately. For those with ears to hear, let them hear:

"Divide and conquer" is the cynical slogan of Machiavellian political leaders, but Satan also knows how to unite and conquer. To bring a nation to its knees the aspiring dictator must unite it. By repeated appeals to national pride or to the need to avenge some past or present wrong the demagogue succeeds in uniting the populace behind him. It is easy after that to take control of the military and to beat the legislature into submission. Then follows almost perfect unity indeed, but it is the unity of the stockyards and the concentration camp. We have seen this happen several times in this century, and the world will see it at least once more when the nations of the world are united under Antichrist.
Now, I don't think George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld et al., are aspiring dictators--never mind budding Antichrists. They don't have to be. They only have to allocate to themselves the power. Human nature will do the rest. And who knows better than evangelicals, such as our president, that human nature is always at war with Christ.

I have no problem with rounding up those responsible for September 11, and those who aided and abetted them, and dispatching them to their adolescent wet dream of an afterlife. But let us be clear who the enemy is--the striving for absolute power, foreign and domestic. And let's also remember what war entails. As General George Marshall said in another context, war is sometimes a necessary evil--but it is still an evil. And war without end? If you won't read Tozer, then pick up Orwell. Or the Book of Revelation.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad