When arrogance rules, reason loses

Why can’t we get out of Iraq?

I was considering this question as I drove home a few evenings ago, when I stopped at a light behind a big SUV, an Expedition or a Suburban, with a couple of bumper stickers on the back. One read “Bush/Cheney ’04.”

The other one read: “The next time you feel perfect, try walking on water.”

I don’t remember feeling perfect lately, and hardly anyone I know feels that way on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I cannot walk on water and am, therefore, properly put in my place.

But I wonder if Jesus, who said that the meek shall inherit the earth, would approve this message. Or would he think that it was too arrogantly self-righteous, too in-your-face, too lacking in the love and humility that is supposed to be central to the religion that takes his name?

Of course, religion didn’t get us into Iraq, and I’m reluctant to press the connection between the sentiments on these two bumper stickers. After all, our current war is based on more practical, mundane considerations of power, politics and, especially, oil. But factors like these aren’t always enough to galvanize a democracy to go to war. The Bush administration realized fully the usefulness of an affront like 9/11 or the fear that WMDs — even imaginary ones — can provoke.

But it’s not hard to imagine that religion plays a minor role in making this war go down a little easier. On one hand, it’s unlikely that more than a few neo-conservatives really thought of our invasion of Iraq as a latter-day crusade to make the Middle East — and its oil — safe for ourselves and Israel. On the other, we would have been unlikely to mount a similar pre-emptive campaign against a Christian nation, and an Abu Ghraib for Christians is much less likely than one for Muslims. So the sense of superiority that misguided faith can provide helps make going to war a little more likely.

Nevertheless, I’m less inclined to blame religion so much as the arrogance that religion or any other single-minded ideology can spawn, the smug sense of self-righteousness that can make nearly any cause seem right, no matter how misguided. In fact, I’m guessing that the meek, turn-the-other-cheek version of Jesus would have been unlikely to invade Iraq or sport any sort of bumper sticker or drive an SUV, for that matter.

Unfortunately, it’s possible to become so certain about faith and politics and war that we’re capable of anything. And President Bush and those who see the war his way are the epitome of certainty, even in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary.

When certainty morphs into arrogance, it becomes faith gone wrong, and we’re vulnerable to the most dangerous sort of uncritical self-deceit.

The conjunction of these two bumper stickers — on the back of a gas-guzzling SUV — isn’t coincidental, of course. They reflect the perspective of at least some of our citizens who are still willing to display support for Bush and Vice President Cheney some 6-1/2 years into an episode of governance that has been, at best, extremely inept, if not disastrous.

So this is the dilemma in which we find ourselves, with no easy way out: Even though Bush’s approval percentages are in the low 30s, in a democratic society like ours, you can do a lot with the support of only one-third of the citizens — you can sustain a presidential veto, for example, making decisive action against the war very difficult, if not impossible.

Now, after the reports by Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, it appears that even in the face of majority opposition at home and increasing disapproval abroad, the war will go on, seemingly indefinitely, at the cost of around 60-90 fine American soldiers per month, not counting the very badly wounded. The toll for too much arrogant certainty is a heavy one.

(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail jcrisp(at)delmar.edu.)


  1. keith

    Mr. Crisp brings up some excellent points.

    However, I firmly believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are more about religion than oil. Yes, oil IS a part of that equation, but religions and their associated (and often incompatible) ideologies have played a far larger role in sending us to war in these far-away places than anything else.

    As I’ve noted in these pages on several other occasions, I firmly believe that the Iraq war was specifically designed to keep the Moslem world in the middle east in a constant state of turmoil so as to protect Israel, a nation that was founded on religious principals and where, to this day, unless you are Jewish, you cannot become a citizen. In South Africa, such deplorable governmental behavior was called apartheid. However, in Israel, it’s called “business as usual”.

    And even our own President Bush has publicly stated that he firmly believes he is on a “mission from God” in Iraq.

    No, these wars are VERY MUCH about religion. And, if you look closely at what they are all about, it doesn’t take long before you find one or more incompatible religious causes at the root of such conflicts, and one or more hard-line religious nut cases running them.

    I’ve also found it crudely ironic that all of these so-called “religions” are founded on basic principles of love, inclusiveness and tolerance of the diverse beliefs of one’s fellow man.

    So much for THAT quaint idea!

  2. Bruce-The work in progress

    It is said that money is the root of all evil. It is not. Power (and the unchecked hunger for it) is the root of all evil. Money is a tool that is used to obtain power. Religion is a tool used for that same purpose. A highly effective one.
    All of the revealed religions are based on the premise that one person, a human person, saw or heard a message from (their version of) God (nevermind that an all powerful God can make him/herself known to everyone with no effort every day). Then the word was spread. The people who believed became followers. A ready made group who would unquestioningly belive anything told to them by the leader and do anything he asked. The person at the top then had control, hence power.
    Oil, money, religion, they all give you control. It all comes down to power.

    That’s what I think anyway.

    Bruce-The work in progress

  3. Bat


    I think you all have missed the point completely. What the combination of bumper stickers said, quite succinctly, is that the guy in the SUV voted for Bush/Cheney in ’04, and realizes his mistake in doing so.

    That being said,
    Bruce, you have hit the nail on the head as far as delineating the way to power. Religion, money and greed have always walked hand-in-hand, and the only way we’ll ever get out of the vicious circle is to think like indians:
    We are here to take care of the earth and each other. Period.
    A step further: The only way out is to teach people to think. Not What to think, but How to think for themselves so the demagogues’ words won’t be falling into the fertile soil of naivety.
    I’d say we’ve failed miserably on all scores.

  4. gene

    (John Crisp) I’m laughing….love it…can’t help it but do you know that “God” doesn’t give a shit about what you think. (BUT) he loves your sorry ass as well as mine. So in the ultimate end “I AM” will regin forever. What idiots we all are, what fools we have become. The truth is given and can not be perceived by idiots called humans thinking that mental activity can comprehend that which cannot be comprehended by human brain power. What a f**king joke!!!

    The real issue or question as all of humanity descends into the abyss is where is the exit and is their really a portal to a better world. Yes their is but fools will never see to enter. Eyes that can’t see and ears that do not hear the truth.

    That which has been forever does not need to explain intself to that which (it) has created. YOU!!!!!

  5. SEAL

    Bat: I don’t agree with you about the meaning of the combination of the bumper stickers. I take them to mean that the person supports Bush/Cheney and people should stop expecting them to be perfect because no one is.

    Essentially that is the mentality of the base. The cause is “just,” therefore, regardless of how we go about it or the mistakes we make we must “stay the course” because it is the “righteous” thing to do. This is where the religion comes into play.

    The decision to go into Iraq had nothing directly to do with religion in the majority. It was anger fueled by fear and lies. Over time it has deteriorated down to nothing other than a christian cause for those funamentalists that comprise the “base.” A mission for their god. That is all they have left to justify what has/is being done. If the cause isn’t “righteous” we become mass murderers. That’s why they will never accept the reality that it is only about the oil. Like all those who wear religious blinders they prostrate themselves to psychotic power mad megalomaniacs who promise them their god’s mighty sword of justice.

    The scary part is that these people represent one-third of our nation.