The Bible, as any Stryper fan can tell you, is metal as hell.
Don’t believe me? Try this on for size:
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.’”
That’s Revelation 19:17. It comes right before Jesus, that lily-white, blue-eyed hippie from the Sunday school brochures, comes down from heaven at the Battle of Armageddon and just slaughters everybody. And he doesn’t do it alone. When Jesus appears, a few verses earlier, riding a white horse and, “dressed in a robe dipped in blood,” (insert devil horns emoticon) he is rolling deep. As verse 14 states, “The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen.”
When I was in junior high I would dream of someday being a part of that doomsday army. When the rednecks and the rural Ohio 90210 wannabes would be on my case, spitting through their teeth at me like milk snakes and calling me faggot in the hallway, I would fade it all, mutter prayers over my Aldi bag lunch, and face the world with zen tranquility knowing that someday I would get to mob down from heaven with Jesus Christ Almighty at my side and we would roll on all those nonbelievers and wallop their heads off like dandelion tops. And I’d do it all in blazing white, just as clean as Easter Sunday.
I even wanted to write a comic about it someday. I thought it would make people want to become Christians.
Of course, fantasies of apocalyptic violence are not strictly the domain of socially stunted Baptist adolescents. The propaganda magazine for the Islamic Caliphate (IS, ISIS, Daesh, whatever you like to call them) is called Dabiq. Dabiq is basically Islamic for Armageddon. It’s the name of the town in Syria where the end-of-the-world battle is supposed to be fought, according to Islam. So ISIS wants the end of the world too. They too dream of a new order, baptized in blood and sustained by the terrible wrath of Abraham’s god.
But where my rage against the nonbelievers was fed by a dismal home life and social exclusion at the hands of the jocks and hillbillies in America’s breadbasket, theirs was fed by imperial invasion and civil war. They grew up, shocked and in awe, watching their cities get bombed into rubble as their nations crumbled into sectarian bloodletting. Where I prayed for death in the abstract, these black clad millennials from the other side of the world say their prayers with M-16s, lashing out with honest to god brutal murder because death is all they’ve ever known. They were, as the old storyteller would have it, born and bred in the briar patch.
Every time our terrorist enemies attack, taking apocalyptic violence out of the sandy hellhole of the Middle East, where it’s supposed to occur and misplacing it in places like Paris and Brussels, where well-dressed white people are supposed to chill out drinking artisan coffee and pounding strange, we Americans cry out for revenge. And Christians are the worst about it.
Don’t get me wrong. The supposedly rational, erudite, “New Atheists” are likewise quick to pick up the call for murderous revenge against the dark, unthinking Muslim hordes who threaten enlightened Western civilization, eager to prove that atheists can be just as bloodthirsty and nihilistic as any Spanish Inquisitor. But for sheer hyperbolic war-mongering, you flat-out can’t beat an American Christian venting to Facebook after a terrorist attack. It’s as if, on some level, Christians are haunted by the fact that the alleged founder of their religion, the homeless country rabbi who they supposedly regard as God-on-earth, made some pretty irresponsibly pacifistic statements (admonishing his followers to “turn the other cheek,” or whatever the hell), and they want to make it crystal clear that they are NOT about that life. “Forget that mess about turning the other cheek,” the followers of Jesus declare. Their philosophy was more accurately stated by Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan when he said, “Yo, nigga, respect mine, or anger the tech nine.” Turns out, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” was just a folksy, Aramaic way of saying, “Bomb the fuckers into chalk dust and kill their kids so there won’t be any more terrorists.” Peace through indiscriminate slaughter. Like we needed the Son of God to help us come up with that idea.
And now I, too, run the risk of misrepresenting myself. I have begun to talk like one of the porridge-headed cheek-turners who thinks we should all “be the change” and let our tits hang out and kumbaya our way to a better world where life is a big Phish concert that never ends. Any time I suggest that we respond to terror attacks by doing something other than roto-tillering the Islamic world with cluster bombs, people mistakenly assume that I am advocating for nonviolence. This, we are told, is a clash of civilizations, and our enemies don’t share our qualms about killing the innocent. They don’t worship a dead hippie, and they don’t listen to Bob Marley. They speak in gun blasts and peroxide bombs, so we better be ready to answer back in kind.
Bellicose rhetoric, it seems, is the order of the day. And I am happy to engage in some.
But first I have to into question some of the assumptions we commonly make when these sticky issues of violence come up. We assume, for instance, that “our” religion is a peace-loving one and that “our” civilization is morally opposed to slaughtering innocent civilians. These assumptions are lies.
Though Christianity is theoretically rooted in the worship of a masochistic godman who is quoted as having taught some things that sound militantly pacifistic when computer animated vegetables sing songs about them for little kids, the only reason we know about wishy-washy old JC at all is that a bunch of his followers murdered the shit out of anyone who disagreed with them for hundreds of years. The Christian religion spread across Europe mainly through the actions of emperors like Constantine and Charlemagne, who used the religion to make better subjects of the pagans who they conquered with their armies. You can hang Jesus on a tree for all the good his half-hearted talk of nonviolence did for his emissaries here on earth; Christians had nearly a thousand years of brutal conquest under their belts before they even got to the Crusades. The Crusades against the Muslims and the pogroms against the Jews got so bad that, in 1492, the Islamic Sultans had to organize a flotilla and provide safe haven in the Middle East for thousands of Jews who the Christian Church in Spain was busily working to exterminate. So Christianity also had a few hundred years of crusading on its resume before they even started wiping out the American Indians, or enslaving millions of Africans, or opening the markets of Asia with muskets and gunboats. And all that stuff was well underway even before the Protestants and Catholics started offing each other. Christianity as we know it comes to us crusted with two thousand years of innocent blood.
Now to disprove the notion that the American Empire is somehow adverse to murdering civilians in its pursuit of global hegemony, I need not reach nearly so far back into our history. It was scarcely more than a decade ago that our nation’s military invaded the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. I was just a wallet-chain wearing, green-haired punk kid then, and while I was in the streets with my peacenik friends waving “Drop Bush Not Bombs” banners and trying to start fights with the cops, everyone around us, liberal Democrats included, told us we were being unrealistic. Our ideals didn’t reflect the reality of the world around us, we were told. You can’t fight terrorism with peace. Grow up.
Meanwhile, the sober and realistic adults, the battle-hardened experts in military planning, were making a real difference. In their prosaic wisdom, the masters of war leveled Bagdad and turned cities like Fallujah into outposts of hell. I recall once being told that civilians killed in the bombing of Bagdad “should have left town,” something no one would ever suggest about victims of terrorism in Paris. After invading Iraq, the mature scions of realpolitik thought it would be a bang up job to secure their own power amongst the shambles they had made of that country by turning the various Iraqi religious sects against each other. They knew that this policy would have the likely result of inciting a civil war, and encouraging infiltration by foreign terrorists and militants, and they did it anyway. And, what do you know, Iraq became a haven for Al-Quaeda and the various groups that have now morphed into the Islamic Caliphate. This was part of the prank that our self-important, drone-bombing bureaucrats had been working all along. Bazinga.
And that’s only a small snippet from the montage of unaccountable slaughter that our Empire has been responsible for. To really understand the scope of it, you have to look beyond the million or so dead in Iraq, the hundreds of thousands killed in Afghanistan, and the unnumbered, unnamed people left dead from drone attacks in countries we were never even at war with. You have to consider the victims of proxy wars in Latin America, and the many dictatorial regimes that served as puppets for US business. You have to consider the millions of civilians killed in Vietnam. Sure, think about the Native Americans and the people of the Philippines that our Empire mowed down in its early days, but also think about this: The nation of China is now beginning to do what the United States has done for decades, setting up military bases outside of its own borders, even as our own leaders speak of a “pivot to Asia” in terms of our strategic military priorities. This pivot to a new theater of conflict comes as the horrific violence of the Caliphate makes it clear that the shitstorm of violence we’ve unleashed in the Middle East is not going to abate any time soon.
“Chillax, guys, we got this,” our mature and sagacious leaders tell us as they plunge into conflict wherever markets for US capital are threatened, wielding the most horrendously destructive military force in the history of the human race. It’s the government’s job to keep capitalism going. All we have to do is kill, and die, and pay for everything.
So sorry, Jesus Christ, but nobody’s bought that “love thy neighbor” crap for two thousand years, and it’s time to pack it in. We all read to the end of the book and we figured out you were going to kill everybody anyway, so what the hell? But if violence and apocalypse are indeed the only ways we can be satisfied, I for one would like to suggest we channel our bloodthirsty rage in a more productive direction.
I say we unfurl our wrath at the people who led us down this path. All the politicians who marshalled the armies and the businesses that profit because of this global empire, how about we tear into them like the Army of God? No more hiding behind the valor of our professional fighting men, it’s time we take matters into our own hands. I mean tying all of our leaders onto flatbed trucks and driving a cross-country tour where we let every kid in America beat on them with a spiked bat. Why keep sending our brothers and sisters off to blow up hapless yokels on the other side of the planet, when the people responsible for all of this death are right here in the States, living in nicer houses than we can afford? Let’s send the Predator drones to their estates and their penthouses and let the terrifying thunder of justice be the last thing they ever hear. If we really believe that bloodshed is the only thing that can make us free, then let it flow and be free at last. If you want violence that bad, go get you some.
When you get down to the heart of it, we don’t love The End of the World because of the killing. It isn’t even the crazy dragon beasts and pillars of flame that really turn us on. What we truly love about the apocalypse is the promise of a better world. What we long for is not Armageddon but the New Jerusalem. That’s the thing we’ve awaited for thousands of years, a new world and a better life.
And we can have it, too, but there’s a catch. In order for the meek to inherit the earth, the beast who owns it now has to die.