In his new book, Anglican priest and psychoanalyst Jeremy Young reveals how the “abusive” God of the Bible, who was like a wife-beating husband to His Jewish and Christian followers, is the sordid inspiration for the endless U.S. War on Terror. Called “The Violence of God and the War on Terror,” Young’s revelation understandably is getting appreciative reviews from the Religious Left on both sides of the Atlantic.
In a previous book, the Rev. Young showed how Christian theology has inspired “violence, persecution, hatred, intolerance, bigotry, abuse and hypocrisy” for 2000 years. With the new book, the English clergyman shows how “the violence of God becomes enacted by and used to justify the violence of Christians.” It all began with the “wrathful God” of the Hebrew scripture who was always “domineering” towards Israel. In Christianity, this same God performs “divine child abuse” by requiring the crucifixion of His Son to atone for the world’s sins. This brand of “conservative Christian theology” has enabled the U.S. War on Terror against Islamists, who are themselves reacting to “Western economic and cultural domination.”
Having left the parish ministry, the Rev. Young is now a full-time family therapist near Bath, English. And having counseled both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic abuse, he presciently recognizes the same dysfunctional patterns in Christian and Jewish theology. “My work opened my eyes to a disturbing parallel between the behavior of the biblical god and that of men who are abusive towards their female partners or their children,” Young writes.
This theology of divine child abuse has deeply influenced how America sees itself in messianic terms, the Rev. Young frets. “The idea that the war on terror is a war of religion is supported by the observation that the United States of America promotes itself as a religious or mythic entity,” that identifies with Christ and thinks itself the “latter-day savior of the world,” the priest reveals. “America as messiah is “called to redeem the other peoples of the world from their imperfect or malfunctioning forms of government.”
The Rev. Young worries that the “American messiah does not come to inaugurate the kingdom of God on clouds of glory; rather, he seeks to do so by the force of his military, political and economic dominance over the globe.” The “myth of redemptive violence” that so animated the ancient Hebrews and Christians is now sinisterly motivating America’s wars. The War on Terror is a war of religion, Young declares, but the religion is a “secularized Christian heresy” whose believers do not worship the Jewish or Christian deity but instead worship America.
Persecuted Protestants founded America, Young recalls. Their “cycle of abuse, in the form of past experience in victimization, followed by divinely guided salvation resulting in a reversal of victimhood, became central to American identity,” the therapist surmises. All these former victims, like many victims within abusive families, perpetuated their abuse by abusing their own victims. So America assaulted the original Indian inhabitants and enslaved the African slaves. Now, America is abusing the victimized peoples of its imperial wars.
The terror of 9-11 was an opportunity for “self-examination,” Young counsels. But most of America, rather than admitting why much of the world justifiably hates it, chose instead to blame its victims and launch its wars. The Anglican pastor also puts President Bush on his therapist’s couch. In escaping his addiction to drink, Bush gained sobriety through religion rather than self-examination. This repression leads inevitably to scapegoating. Bush the repressed former drinker cannot relent in his demonization of America’s enemies, lest he abandon his “psychological defenses.” This emotional “hobbling of the leader of the so-called ‘free-world’ is alarmingly hazardous for the peace of humankind,” Young fears.
Rev. Young also points out that Israel is guided by the same victimization complex that guides America, which has fueled Israel’s ostensible persecution of the Palestinians. Likewise, the “sense of victimization” of Islam animates rage against America and Israel. Osama bin Laden “represents the moment when an abused person decides to resist victimization and to fight back against the abuser.” Young admits this is a "worrying development,” since Jidahist ideology demands complete victory over Islam’s enemies.
But Young is really more worried about the “narcissistic rage” that seized America after 9-11. “America is acting like a narcissistically damaged man who behaves abusively and violently towards others in order to preserve his endangered and fragile sense of self,” the psycho-analyst/priest discerns. “The United States’ quest for hegemony is imperialist and anti-democratic and, hence, an immoral contradiction of its own highest ideals,” Young asserts. He declares there is a “considerable similarity between the psychological motivation of Jihadist terrorist and the American administration, a similarity that is extremely dangerous for the peace of the world.” Both the U.S. and Jihadists identify with God, which is a “grandiose compensation for narcissistic wounds.”
In hopes of a massive group therapy session, Young wants to bring healing to all the raging Christians, Jews and Muslims. But the violence orchestrated by American power is his chief concern. If Christians will shed all the “violence” of their tradition, then Americans may start to own to their own global crimes. Inner healing, recompense and apology may lead to recovery for all.
Young’s dream is to deconstruct Christianity and Judaism in favor of therapy on a cosmic scale. The Religious Left in both America and Britain, having prefigured the Anglican therapist’s themes for years, is anxious for the psychoanalysis to begin.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.