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The House of Calamity By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 22, 2008


Religious Liberals used to be chronic optimists who assumed that Providence at any moment was about to establish the Millennium.  War, poverty, sickness and fear would all be banished from the earth, if only all God’s children would come together to build a righteous kingdom for everyone.   As recently as the 1960’s, liberal religious icons such as Martin Luther King, William Sloane Coffin, and the Berrigan Brothers, even as they condemned American injustice, still assumed that justice would prevail.

That confidence in Providence is now almost gone among the hardcore Religious Left.  For them, Process Theology has largely won the day, denying that God is omnipotent, and asserting that God is an evolving relational force.  As with ancient Manichaeism, Process Theology supposes that good and evil will go on struggling for eternity.  At odds with orthodox Christianity and Judaism, Process Theology offers no hope of a final triumph for goodness.

For this reason, Process Theology nurtures innumerable conspiracy theories.  Predictably, the primary American popularizer of Process Theology, Methodist theologian John Cobb of Claremont Seminary in California, subscribes to paranoid 9-11 alternative histories.  Cobb’s disciple and Claremont colleague, David Ray Griffin, has written several books explaining how the Bush Administration blew up the World Trade Center and Pentagon with the complicity of countless thousands throughout national, state and local governments.

Not all Process Theology adherents are as kooky, though, revealingly, its main architects are.  And not all the Religious Left necessarily subscribe specifically to Process Theology.  But many are deeply influenced by it.  At least the Liberation Theologies of the 1970’s were confident about the ultimate victory of the revolution.  Today’s Religious Left grinds away in despair.  The Iraq War excites the most despondence, animated by the assumption that dark forces are endlessly at work.

Chief examples of such Religious Left hopelessness are the commentaries of United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler, who presides over the largest Religious Left lobby in Washington, D.C.   His headquarters Methodist Building on Capitol Hill was built by Methodist temperance activists in the 1920’s who were endlessly confident that God was purging America of sin.  But the successors to temperance are far more morose.  Winkler’s commentaries about the Iraq War are a chief example of the reigning despondency.

“I drive past the Pentagon each morning on my way in to Washington, D.C,” Winkler opened his most recent commentary, which is a litany of perceived evils that are prevailing.  “Each day I am reminded of the death and destruction that took place there seven years ago. And there is still no trace of the mastermind of the terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden.”  Winkler quotes former CIA Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan as claiming that the Iraq War had distracted the U.S. away from the more important mission of procuring bin Laden.  Unmentioned by Winkler is that he is just as opposed to the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan as he is to Iraq.   

With her sunny Christian cheerfulness, Governor Sarah Palin is naturally an inviting target for the Religious Left, and Winkler took his shots.  “After years of repetition, President Bush finally has abandoned making public statements falsely tying Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks,” the Methodist lobbyist mockingly observed.  “Would only that Vice President Cheney might acknowledge reality. Along comes Gov. Sarah Palin, however, to newly claim that Iraq had something to do with the terrorist plot. She recently told a group of soldiers heading to Iraq they would ‘defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.’”  Palin was obviously referring to al Qaeda in Iraq, since even the allegedly rube governor probably knows that Saddam Hussein is dead and his government long gone.  But Winkler sourly preferred to ascribe ignorance, if not malice, to Palin.  

“The downward spiral of the U.S. economy has distracted our citizens from the continuing disaster in Iraq, the failing efforts in Afghanistan, and the new war emerging in Pakistan,” Winkler mourned.  “Despite the supposed success of the surge, President Bush plans to leave more troops in Iraq than before the surge began. Why? Because the ‘security gains’ that have been made are unsustainable without them. The Iraqi people and government still want the United States to get out of their country, and violence against U.S. forces will not cease until the day they leave.”

Winkler fretted that the U.S. has put former insurgents on the U.S. payroll, that U.S. military and intelligence agencies have operated “secret killing operations” against al Qaeda targets in Iraq, that U.S. intelligence has eavesdropped on the Iraqi prime minister, that President Bush heeded the advice of the American Enterprise Institute over the Joint Chiefs about the surge, amid Bush’s mindless insistence:  “We’re killin em, we’re killin em!”  And naturally, Winkler loves Ron Suskind’s new potboiler, The Way of the World, which claims that the Administration knew all along that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction.  The CIA sources whom Suskind quotes, of course, deny their quotations, and Suskind has yet to release the promised tapes that will supposedly validate his claims.

Of course, Winkler relished reports about Intelligence Official Thomas Fingar, who reputedly predicts an era of declining U.S. influence (probably rare good news for Winkler) along with Global Warming calamities, including “droughts, food shortages, and a scarcity of fresh water, plus a “dustbowl” in the American southwest.   Appropriately, the Methodist lobbyist concluded his dirge approvingly with counsel from the Apostle of Malaise, Jimmy Carter:  “My country will never again torture a prisoner. We will never again attack another country unless our security is directly threatened. Human rights will be the foundation of our foreign policy. We will act on global warming. We will honor international agreements. We will bring peace and security to Israel and all its neighbors and treat them all on an equal basis.” Very inspiring! Carter’s bitter musings are what passes for hopefulness to Winkler.

Anti-Iraq War religionists, if they were orthodox in their Christian faith, might portray the war as divine judgment on Americans and Iraqis.  Or they might discern some redemptive aspect in the suffering and tragedy that are common to all wars.  Instead, most of the modern anti-war Religious Left, like Winkler, sees evil enthroned in the driver’s seat of history, with not even a speed bump ahead.  More orthodox believers, whatever their political views, can have faith that an omnipotent Providence still rules the nations.


Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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