Martin Luther King Jr’s claim to have “seen the Promised Land” was an ironic reference for a black pacifist given that the original Promised Land was inhabited by presumably lesser peoples that the Israelites set about enslaving or exterminating—by God’s command no less. Nearly three millennia later, we newly arrived Americans used the Biblical account to justify our own partial extermination of Native Americans and our enslavement of Africans. We called our belief that we, as white American Protestants, had replaced the Jews as God’s chosen, Manifest Destiny, and it allowed us to see others as either obstacles to our progress or tools for our use.
I once took a Sunday School class in which we studied these accounts in which God ordered the Jews to attack cities and kill every person and every animal (except for the young female virgins whom they sometimes got to keep for the victory party). It was a liberal church, and the liberal response to anything vicious, contradictory, or simply stupid about the Bible is: Oh, THAT part isn’t God’s word because it makes God look bad, but THIS part, the warm and fuzzy part about how Jesus loves us, and we’re all going to heaven (all we Christians that is), THAT’S most definitely God’s word. Not so for one old man, who sat there looking for all the world like Santa Claus in a three-piece suit, for he said, “I can only conclude that all those people and animals that God ordered to be killed must have somehow deserved it.”
The stores are already selling Christmas decorations in preparation for the one season of the year during which America talks about “Peace on Earth,” and I will admit that it’s good to have a respite from what the baby Jesus grew up to represent (“I came not to bring peace but a sword”). Jesus’ position on violence certainly reflects America’s approach to problem solving, and we take great pride in the fact that we’re the most Christian nation on earth, which I’m sure we are inasmuch as we are willing to forego necessities in order to buy Hellfire Missiles (“…he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one”). Our love for Jesus is so great that we even paid him homage when we named our favorite weapon, which we quite naturally use to kill those who don’t love him the way we do. Of course, some of them deserve it, I’m sure, but I can’t help but think that we deserve it too. After all, the biggest difference between us is that they kill for one god and we kill for another. Maybe whoever is left alive might finally have Peace on Earth.