brings out the inner Mazes and Monsters fanatic in the fundamentalist
Christian like a war. Times of peace and prosperity are, for the deep
believer, relative fallow periods, where all the drama of existence
is confined to shouting matches at P.T.A. meetings and pseudonymous
requests for sexual advice in whispered late-night phone calls to Dr.
is different. During a war, all of the things the Extreme Christian
has spent his spare time reading about in those books with the cheesy
illustrated covers are suddenly in play. During times of peace,
hope for deliverance always remains far off, but in times of war, there
is always at least a theoretical chance that the entire physical world
will be reduced to rubble, clearing the way for the magic moment — when
the sky opens up, and an angel floats down from heaven, saying, "You
see, Jerry, you were right all along ... the others were fools ... they
should never have given you shit about your station wagon ... the Glorious
Appearing is Nigh ..."
Christian nerd factor for this particular war in Iraq has been higher
than usual, and for obvious reasons. One, it is being waged for no obvious
reason, making it fertile ground for all sorts of wild scriptural speculation—
just about anything you want to dream up, even the idea that Saddam
Hussein is the antichrist makes more sense than the actual justification
for the war given by the government. Two, our occupation of Iraq is,
or at least has evolved into, a confrontation with Islam. Three, it
is led on our side by a Christian. Four, it is taking place in the site
of ancient Babylon, a territory with no small significance in the Armageddon
said, not much of the rhetoric emanating from the apocalyptic crowd
is all that coherent. There isn't much of a consensus as to what it's
all about. In fact, a lot of the murmurings from places like End Times
magazine and the Lahaye/Jenkins Left Behind set will remind you of Butthead's
reaction to a Kraftwerk video: "Hey, Beavis. This means something."
are some general themes, of course. In general, the Christian right
strongly supports the war, and is deeply concerned with Saddam Hussein's
persecution of Christians. It has suddenly become very worried about
human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It Supports The Troops,
who are vaguely supposed to be doing God's work. And of course the fundamentalists
are in a hurry to send Bibles by the hundreds of thousands, so that
they can be read as soon as the electricity comes on. But with regard
to the question of what the war is all about, where it's leading us,
and why, the picture is much more confused.
is absolutely nothing in the world funnier than a fundamentalist Christian
in a state of high spiritual agitation, happily injected into the middle
of a grotesque secular disaster. Hand him a pen, camera or guitar in
these situations, and he is likely to outshine even the pre-rehab Sam
Kinison for pure comic power. He becomes a resource the country should
that in mind, here are The Beast's nominations for the Christian right's
five funniest Iraq war moments:
1. Missile crate baptism photograph from
"A Greater Freedom," edited by Oliver North.
picture deserves to be considered a classic of military photojournalism.
It depicts an American human being on the decks of an aircraft carrier,
the U.S.S. Truman, sitting up to his nipples in a munitions crate
filled with water. Aviation Technician 2nd Class Sean Zahornacky is
being baptized. In accordance with the solemnity of the occasion, he
is wearing a t-shirt that reads "Old Navy Clothing Company." To his
left and to his right, a pair of buzzcutted geeks in military khakis
welcoming him to their mad, mad world.
Greater Freedom” was ostensibly "edited" by Oliver North, but his real
contribution was the introduction. Most of the work was done by Sara Horn,
a staff writer for the corporate communications office of LifeWay Christian
Resources. Essentially a coffee-table book of photos and personal stories
of "men and women of faith" serving in the Iraq theater, “A Greater
Freedom” is remarkable mainly for its utter absence of actual war or
battle scenes. There is never any hint of violence or bloodshed in the
book; war in North's layout looks like a quiet and peaceful place where
middle-aged men can chat with each other and sing songs in concrete
rooms. But the underlying, and disturbing, theme of the book is the
idea of a merging of worship and preparation for battle, making the
two things one and the same. The book searches constantly for military
metaphors for worship: daily prayer is "A different kind of firepower"
or a "spiritual assault," while "staying the course" also refers to
faith. But the most priceless moments come when one can actually be
baptized in a bomb crate, or when the search for Foreign Object Debris
on the carrier deck can be turned, simultaneously, into a "prayer walk."
book might end up being a blueprint for America's future, where militarism
actually becomes the national religion. When that happens, Sean Zahornacky
won't be funny. But we're not there yet – and today, he's still a laff
Comic artist Guy Gilchrist's "Angel Art"
up on the theme in “A Greater Freedom,” Guy Gilchrist – the comic artist
best known for his work in continuing the famous "Nancy" strip – contributes
"Angel Art" to the Presidential Prayer Team's (PPT) "Adopt Our Troops"
campaign. The PPT, for those who aren't familiar with it, is an organization
dedicated to organizing its followers in prayer for the health and success
of George W. Bush. It features daily prayer guidance ("Additional Leader
to Pray For Today: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson")
and national campaigns such as its upcoming "national online prayer
rally" to sweep Bush to victory on election day.
of its campaigns is the "Adopt Our Troops" campaign, where members can
sign up online to receive the name of a real live Iraq-theater soldier
to adopt in prayer (I adopted a Marine named Peter Azevedo and received
a certificate of "adoption"). Those who are interested are welcome to
adopt their own soldiers at presidentialteam.org/adoptatroop.php.
part of the campaign, the PPT asked various artists to contribute supporting
materials. Included in this were the drawings of Gilchrist, who drew
a picture of an angel, armed and apparently Kevlar-clad, looking downward
in a somber pose. The caption reads: "May God protect those who protect
us." Again, the theme of war as something holy comes into play here,
and it wouldn't be funny at all, except that the art is so goddamn bad.
3. The Iraq satellite photos on Prophecy
Watch is an Oklahoma-based group that meets regularly and has a
seminar once a year to discuss our current temporal standing relative
to the impending Armageddon (one of the guests at last year's seminar,
incidentally, was Tim Lahaye, author of the enormously popular Left
Behind books). Their site is one of a number of web and print outlets
that are really Christian variations of the 24-hour news cycle cable
networks, running constant updates on how the latest news effects our
standing in prophecy. Others include such marvels as tribulation.com
(which plays a cheery end-of-the-world soundtrack when you log on),
endtime.com (which features, no kidding
at all, a "6th Trumpet Watch"), and raptureready.com, which among other
things, advises viewers on such questions as whether or not their pets
will accompany them to heaven after the Glorious Reappearing. All of
these sites are very interested in Iraq, which of course is the site
of ancient and perhaps modern Babylon.
to popular perception, the U.S. invading Iraq does not make a whole
lot of sense as an immediate precursor to final Armageddon. In fact,
what Revelations predicts is that Babylon will be rebuilt under the
protection of the Antichrist, and its armies will lead an invasion of
Israel. Thus the first Gulf War, when the invader was promising antichrist
candidate Saddam Hussein (who actually tried to rebuild some Babylonian
structures), inspired a lot more of this nonsense. That said, Prophecy
Watch still features
satellite photos of Nebuchadnezzar's Palace and other Iraqi Babylon
sites, just so you can "see for yourself" how it all fits.
4. Cheesy book covers redux
Iraq war is inspiring a golden age of shoddily-illustrated books about
the impending tribulation. Some are actually old classics that are once
again relevant, like the Proustian "Saddam's Mystery Babylon"
and the postmodern masterpiece, "A Palace For the Antichrist,"
both on sale for under $20. Some are old Gulf War I-inspired books that
have new chapters added to make sense of the coming conflict, like Dr.
Charles Dyer's “The Rise of Babylon: Is Iraq
at the Center of the Final Drama?" (1991, 2003).
is also a new cottage industry for preachers selling audio recordings
of their rantings about Iraq. One is the "Prophecy Café" series
recording by Ron Graff, entitled "Iraq in Prophecy." That one is only
$7.99 and includes shipping and handling.
Another dead missionary
keep saying all of these awful things about Islam ("[Mohammed] was a
demon-obsessed pedophile," noted Jerry Vines, former head of the Southern
Baptist Convention), then they wonder why they keep end up getting carved
to bits when they go to Iraq to hand out Bibles. The specter of missionaries
once again cheerily rushing to the front to be hacked to bits is probably
the most encouraging sign yet that America is re-embracing its conquistador
Missionaries, whom the U.S. government apparently
cannot prevent from entering the country ("Imagine what the U.S. Congress
would say to us," said a USAID spokesman in April) have been killed
with increasing frequency in recent months, but that is not denting
the resolve of the Bible-thumpers.
and the president have given us an opportunity to bring Jesus Christ
to the Middle East," said Tom Craig, an independent American missionary
working in Iraq and Cyprus, told the New York Times. "This is my commandment.
No amount of danger will stop me."
after a pair of South Carolinian missionaries named Larry and Jean Elliot
were murdered in Mosul last April, residents from their hometown got
together 16,000 care packages to send to Iraq. Included were toothbrushes
and Ibuprofen. Town residents were prohibited from enclosing religious
material in their care packages, not wanting to offend Iraqis with their
gift. A little late for that kind of foresight!