[VIEWPOINT]To Understand the U.S., Religion Is Key

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[VIEWPOINT]To Understand the U.S., Religion Is Key

The United States has sent its forces to the following countries after World War II: China in 1945, Korea in 1950, Guatemala in 1954 and 1967, Indonesia in 1958, Cuba in 1959, Vietnam in 1961, Congo in 1964, Laos in 1964, Peru in1965, Cambodia in 1969, Grenada in 1983, Libya in 1986, Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1991, Bosnia in 1995, Yugoslavia in 1999 and Afghanistan this year.

There were several other excursions to other Latin American countries.

Arundhati Roy, an India writer famous for her book, "The God of Small Things," pointed out that the United States is "an untiring country" in an article published in a British newspaper. True, it has led the world with tireless passion after World War II. To understand the nature of the war in Afghanistan, it is more necessary to clearly understand the United States rather than Islamic fundamentalism.

Some quarterly magazines recently published articles about the United States for that reason. It is worthwhile to pay attention to these magazines' attempts to explain the current mood in America, especially their explanations of Americans' religious values, which are highlighted in times of crisis.

For example, George W. Bush declared that the United States loves peace while announcing air strikes against Afghanistan. This kind of irony can only be explained through a religious prism, just as the Muslim religion is the key to understanding Islamic fundamentalists who commit suicidal bombings, crying out Allah's name.

"The biggest beneficiaries of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center are American churches," some observers said. Many Americans are returning to their churches after the terrorist attack. The number of worshippers at Sunday services increased three to four times after the attack, and fewer people are going to bars and movie theaters.

"The terror attack is God's whip against religious and moral corruption," some people said, advocating a revival of religious faith. Others are welcoming the arrival of a "new age of Puritanism."

"Puritanism" is the religion that dominates Americans' spiritual world. Puritans were very much fundamentalists, and Calvinists are the most forceful and passionate among Presbyterians. John Calvin was the religious reformer who most heavily criticized and tried to revolutionize the Catholic faith. To say it again, Puritans are more fundamentalist than any other Protestants are.

More important is what Calvin taught. A jurist, he was rigorous and moralistic. Among the most significant themes in Calvin's guidance is a strong determination to fulfill God's reign on earth. The intent is to build a new theocracy. As a leader of Geneva, Switzerland in the mid-16th century, Calvin tried to apply those ideals of theocracy. He ordered bars shut down and heretics burned to death. Calvin's religious underpinning was that "all humans fall into corruption," which is similar to the ethical view that human nature is essentially evil.

The people who most thoroughly inherited Calvin's theology were the "Pilgrim Fathers," who built the United States. The Mayflower, the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America, is "Noah's Ark": the New World they landed on is the "wilderness they were summoned to," and the United States is the "New Israel," where they were promised a savior, according to an article published by Gweon Yong-lip, a law professor at Kyungsung University. If the people of Israel were the elect in the Old Testament, Americans would be the elect of Protestantism.

Scholars believe that these kinds of notions prevailed in Boston and the New England region at the beginning of the Puritans' settlement there, and that Protestantism and elitism have been passed down from generation to generation through white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. In the face of the crisis caused by the terrorist attack, these kinds of values dominate American society.

So the air strikes on Afghanistan can be considered a crusade to punish an evil that shattered the peace of a holy nation. This is why the Muslims' cry, "Our blood is never cheap," is never heard in the United States.


The writer is a deputy cultural editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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