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The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Bill Cooke
Paul Kurtz


There are currently 3 nations who have committed armed forces to the Iraqi war: The United States, Britain and Australia.  One of the factors least commented on in the world's press is the religious commitments George Bush shares with his two closest allies, Tony Blair and John Howard, prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia, respectively.  Both allies of the US have pledged troops in the impending Iraqi war.  It is not our intention to challenge the rights of these men to their personal religious faith.  Freedom of religion is one of the hard-won rights that secular societies can bestow on all its citizens.  But we do think it reasonable to ask what price the rest of us will pay for these three men thinking in the all-or-nothing categories of militant Christianity.

The case of George W. Bush is the most disturbing.  Bush's biblical literalism extends even to expressing doubts about evolution.  There is also good reason to suspect Mr. Bush subscribes to the apocalyptic End Times eschatology, which envisions a final conflict in the Middle East presaging the Second Coming of Christ.  This sort of fear is currently being exploited by Tim LaHaye, co-author of the "jaw-droppingly substandard" "Left Behind" bestseller series, which are being devoured by Bush's core constituency of evangelical Christians.  So, if President Bush's faith is as real as we are led to believe, does this include taking seriously the bizarre End Times eschatology from the Book of Revelation? And if so, is this a reasonable basis for the foreign policy of the world's only superpower? 

And the stand taken by Tony Blair and John Howard is no less strange, if their religious commitments are not taken into account.  Both leaders are paying high political prices for their stance, in terms of lost domestic support and regional isolation.  Howard had repeated his support for military action against Iraq, even without the sanction of the UN, and has claimed that they have sufficient authority for action on the basis of the existing resolutions imposed on Iraq, a claim firmly rejected by Kofi Annan.  While Howard was reiterating his hawkish stand, a poll conducted by UMR Research found opposition to an attack not sanctioned by the UN had grown to 59% of the population.

In the United Kingdom, many commentators have noted Blair's growing religiosity over the recent past.  Late in 2002, he was reported as declaring the major struggle of the twenty-first century will be whether religion can replace secular political ideology.  More than once Blair has intimated that secular values are outmoded, seeing things in an unhelpful binary of either cynicism or religious faith.  Thinking such as this allows no room for a system of belief such as humanism which eschews both cynicism and religious belief.  And John Howard, the most reticent of the three in discussing his religious beliefs, nevertheless made his views known when he publicly supported his appointee as Governor General, Peter Hollingworth.  Soon after his appointment, Hollingworth, a former Anglican Archbishop, faced a storm of protest over his equivocal handling of pederastic priests in his church's employment.  Unmoved by these protests, Howard staunchly supported his appointee.

One of the ironies of the public piety of these men is that none of them has received significant support from church leaders for their hawkish stand.  While the churches in each country heed the counsel of Isaiah, who urges us to beat our swords into plowshares, the Bush-Blair-Howard axis prefers the wardrums of Joel, who prefers that we should beat our plowshares into swords.  Howard has faced strong religious opposition to his position and in Britain, the Church of England synod has registered its strong opposition to war against Iraq, particularly if not endorsed by the United Nations. Even in the United States, church opposition to the war is very strong, reaching levels of unity not seen since the Vietnam war. Virtually the only religious support for unilateral intervention has come from the fundamentalist fringe. We are concerned that the underlying reason for the apparently self-defeating support Blair and Howard are giving the United States is that both men share the simplistic categories of good and evil of George W. Bush.  Worse still, they do so in the face of overwhelming levels of opposition from their co-religionists.  Millions of people around the world, many of whom are just as sincerely religious as these men, are not prepared to see the world in such simplistic terms.  In a world that desperately needs the values of compassion, toleration, and dialogue, there can be few surer paths to world war than to believe that who is not with me is against me.


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