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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Demonizing the enemy

Recently, one of the songs of the billions in my iTunes library that popped into my ears was "The Pusher," a Hoyt Axton song recorded by Steppenwolf from 1968. John Kay, the lead singer, is probably most famous for being the vocal energy behind their smash hit "Born to be Wild," but "The Pusher" and "Magic Carpet Ride" were well-known tunes by Steppenwolf in their day as well.

Axton (the songwriter) sets up the premise thus: "I've smoked a lot of grass, and I've popped a lot of pills," but I've never taken the kind of drugs that the pusher sells, the kind that make a person among the walking dead. This is 1968, so we're talking pre-crack days; heroin would be the drug being described here. Axton buys his drugs from "the dealer," but the the "pusher" sells drugs that will "ruin your body" and your mind as well. The pusher is "a monster...not a natural man." And over this insistent electric blues riff that pervade the tune, Kay rasps the chorus at the top of his voice:
God damn the Pusher!
God damn, God damn the Pusher!
I said God damn, God, God damn
The Pusher man
And just in case the language wasn't direct and strong enough, Kay channels Axton's outrage, and tells us just how to take care of the problem:
Well, now if I were the president of this land
You know, I'd declare total war on The Pusher man
I'd cut him if he stands, and I'd shoot him if he'd run
Yes I'd kill him with my Bible and my razor and my gun.

(© 1968 Irving Music BMI.)
Well, here's the reason I'm telling you all this. When I'm walking around, I'm thinking about how familiar all this sounds. The demonizing of the "enemy." The sense of moral outrage that is demonstrated, invoking God's name, as the damning agent, a couple of dozen times in the course of the song. As Kay and the band ground on and on with this great classic lament, I thought to myself a couple of things. One was, gosh, this is just the way the some politicians and pundits talk about hunting down the "evildoers," which to them means small subset of Muslims who Hate Our Freedom and show it by blowing themselves up in public places and waging a guerrilla war in whatever corner of the earth they can find a toehold. These pundits too invoke God's name, vow to hunt down the evildoers, only never admit (or fail to see) that they're buying their own violent behavior from the same supplier. What's missing from the super-patriot's song is the "dealer." We never admit to any evil ourselves, or to the evil which we perpetrate in the name of the national security. The "evildoers" are "the enemy," while we are "one nation, under God." 

Does it really escape them (us?) that the other guys are saying the same things about us, and they're just as right? They're certainly more convinced than our guys. None of US punditocracy, or as far as I know, anyone in the government, has ever felt so strongly about democracy that s/he strapped ten pounds of C4 explosives to his underwear and went to offer one hand to a Taliban commander with the other on a detonator. No, instead we sit in our "undisclosed locations" and bunkers and give orders that send drones flying their high-tech death sentences halfway around the world, and assess the "collateral damage" in human life. We send teenage boys and girls into the desert to do our killing for us. Worse than using the name of God in vain in a song, we use the name of the God of peace and charity to rain death upon innocent people and gouge the entire hemisphere for the profits from stolen oil.

God isn't on our side. God isn't on their side. God might be saying something like this: "Stop all your fighting, know that I am God. Come, let us reason together. You call me "our Father," so try thinking about every other person on the planet as your sister or brother. Try thinking that I care about every other person the way I care about you, and that I care about all the people who still have yet to be born in the same way." God doesn't use IEDs or drones or any other weapon: God is silent, God invites, God waits, God shows the way by the courage, solidarity, and the clarity of vision of a single human person who says, "Follow me." God isn't about "damning" anybody, or choosing certain "evildoers" to be destroyed while others collect seven-figure dividends from oil investments. Leave God out of it, America. Or else, really put God into it: study war no more, seek after peace, and do justice. Invest in unity, education, peacemaking, and healthcare, and make a smart bomb to obliterate hunger, prejudice, AIDS, slavery, and homelessness.

God is a conversation. God is shared power. God is life-through-self-emptying. I'm not making that up. That's what Christians mean by having a Trinitarian God. Some people choose to do evil, but that doesn't mean that they and everyone around them deserves to be obliterated. It may be that as a last resort they may need to be killed to protect others, but even then we shouldn't act like that killing is a good. Killing is always evil. Everyone needs the opportunity, over and over, like every one of us, to see the light.

What a classic! "The Pusher" got me thinking all that after over forty years! It's as though it were written for these days, in a sort of naive, Orwellian allegory. Still, on a bright summer morning, I was glad to exchange the dark underbelly of civilization that the song conjured, ruined lives, blasphemy, and murder, for the random play of the brighter if somewhat suspect strains of Mel Brooks' “Springtime for Hitler.”