Charles McCabe: Is God pro-war?

Gosh I miss this guy. He used to live in North Beach, write all day and
end up in the Washington Square Bar and Grill drinking with all the
other writers in town until it was time to go home. It was a better day
than today. Kudos to the Chronicle for re-publishing the works of these
great old columnists here in SF in a day gone by. Apologies to the
atheists out there. No insult intended but Mr. McCabe would have and did
say it differently.


Charles McCabe: Is God pro-war?

Charles McCabe

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whether God is really for violence and war and the draft and all that
rock is somewhat like those disputes about whether he is dead and
quietly entombed in Tierra del Fuego or somewhere.

That the question of the death of God is even raised indicates, among
other things, some terrible suspicion in the most stout-hearted atheist
that he may once have been alive and, maybe - dreadful day! - still is.

Atheism is the cheapest and least courageous of all philosophies. To
simply nod one's head and say no, no, no in the face of the world itself
- the most extraordinary body of evidence for intelligent creation,
called by whatever name - is to confess to a staggering stupidity.

Yet there is a kind of "belief" that, in any sensible scale of human
values, ranks considerably beneath the cloddishness of atheism.

This is the practice of some men to put into the mouth of Christ words
he would have spat out instantly. Some priests do it, some rabbis do it
and some evangelists do it, usually for fairly base motives.

Right now I am considering one evangelist. The biggest - a fellow named
Billy Graham, friend and adviser to LBJ and a lad who has a distinct way
with a crowd. A concerned parent recently wrote to Rev. Billy the
following, via his newspaper column:

"I have a wonderful son, and he is eligible for the draft and may have
to go to Vietnam. I am praying that he won't have to go. Is this right?"

To which the evangelist replied, in part: "... I believe it would be
better to pray: 'Thy will, not mine, be done.' If your son is eligible
to be drafted into the armed forces, would it not be better to pray that
he will be given the strength to be a good and exemplary soldier?

"You see, Christianity does not exempt us from every duty and burden of
life. Rather, it helps us to face life's responsibilities with courage
and faith."

If God and Mammon have very little to do with each other, in the end,
God and Mars have even less in the Christian system. Other people, in
other times, have worshiped deities that were really 27-star avenging

This is not the message of Christianity. If there is any single social
thrust to the teaching of Christ it is that man should live in peace
with himself and his neighbor, and that the form of desperate play
called war represents man indulging his lowest impulses. It is not for
nothing that the sobriquet most frequently applied to Christ is Prince
of Peace.

Christians have fought wars, and Christians will fight wars, and priests
will be on hand to show that these wars are just (priests on both
sides), and that it is sweet and fitting to commit murder for their
country, and to be murdered.

These things will be done and these things will be said by Christians
and Christian priests; but that will not make them true or admirable.
The acts and the words will remain un-Christian.

Too many Army and Navy and Air Force chaplains are guilty of the same
kind of thinking about war and the draft as that of the Rev. Billy. So
much is this so that the whole role of the chaplain is being brought
under question by some of the chaplains themselves.

Says the American Jewish Congress of the practice by which clergymen are
put in uniform, commissioned, paid and controlled by the armed forces:
It is "fundamentally incompatible with the faithful performance of their
sacred mission." The Jewish group wants civilian chaplains.

Man is an infinitely elastic animal, who can hold in his head at the
same time notions that are completely at odds with each other. Most of
the time, no great harm, no great corruption, comes of this. But much
harm and deep corruption comes of broadcasting the notion that the
Christian God likes and even favors that slaughter of humankind called

This column first appeared in The Chronicle on Aug. 8, 1968.

This article appeared on page N - 39 of the San Francisco Chronicle