Presidents routinely close their public pronouncements with the words, "may God bless America." It always bothers me. It's not only that this formalistic invocation has the character of the thoughtless "have an nice day" wish, but that I'm uncomfortable with politician as pastor. It's been more than 35 years since I left the active rabbinate, but these days with so many people proclaiming a direct line to the Almighty, I increasingly find myself thinking about the God question. In the post Cold War era, it isn't differing political ideology that's raising the most global unrest but who possesses the "true" faith. Early on George Bush used the Crusade word evoking substantial concern in the Muslim community. He took it back but, deep down I suspect he probably meant exactly what he said.
Have you noticed how many professed Monotheists are claiming to be carrying out God's will in the pursuit of clearly incompatible goals. George Bush is following God as he sends our troops out to do battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. Osama Bin Laden is doing God's will as he dispatches young men out to destroy. Ultra Orthodox Jews are following God's instructions as they settle the West Bank while Palestinian terrorists act as God's agents in blowing themselves and others up opposing it. All these divergent acts done with absolute certainty not merely in their individual faith, but in God's complicity. How can that be? You don't have to be a theologian to see the problem. Either there is, or is not, one God. If so, a singular God can't possibly hold such diametrically contradictory views.
I don't think it an overstatement to say that we are currently engaged in what extremists on all sides see as a religious war. So Crusade is not that far off in what is increasingly looking like Medieval conflict with 21st Century weaponry. We are all threatened by it, millions are dying or suffering. But in some sense, if you are a believer, God is paying the highest price. God is being torn asunder, blatantly used by professed devotees for their own purposes. I continue to be a believer. I have no crisis in faith, but am having a substantial crisis with the faithful. If a belief in God transforms itself into hatred of anyone who is different, of killing not healing then I think we're backing down the steepest of all hills at the very moment when we should be climbing to new heights of understanding. I believe in God, but only in one who doesn't chose sides in this way, and certainly doesn't permit mere mortals to speak for, rather than of, the Divine.