Captain America and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism

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As immediate and relevant as today's headlines, this book sets forth a bold argument with direct implications for political life in America and around the world. Combining incisive cultural analysis and keen religious insight, Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence maintain that American crusading -- so powerfully embodied in popular entertainments -- has striking parallels with Islamic jihad and Israeli militancy. According to Jewett and Lawrence, American civil religion has both a humane, constitutional tradition and a violent strand that is now coming to the fore. The crusade to rid the world of evil and "evildoers" derives from the same biblical tradition of zealous warfare and nationalism that spawns Islamic and Israeli radicalism. In America, where this tradition has been popularized by superheroic entertainments, the idea of zealous war is infused with a distinctive sense of mission that draws on secular and religious images. These crusading ideals are visible in such events as the settling of the western frontier, the World Wars, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and America's present war on terrorism. In exploring the tradition of zealous nationalism, which seeks to redeem the world by destroying enemies, the authors provide a fascinating access to the inner workings of the American psyche. They analyze the phenomenon of zeal -- the term itself is the biblical and cultural counterpart of the Islamic concept of jihad -- and address such consequential topics as the conspiracy theory of evil, the problem of stereotyping enemies, the mystique of violence, the obsession with victory, and the worship of national symbols such as flags. This critical book, however, is also immensely constructive. As Jewett and Lawrence point out, the same biblical tradition that allows for crusading mentalities also contains a critique of zealous warfare and a profound vision of impartial justice. This tradition of prophetic realism derives from the humane side of the biblical heritage, and the authors trace its manifestations within the American experience, including its supreme embodiment in Abraham Lincoln. Isaiah's "swords into plowshares" image is carved on the walls of the United Nations building, thus standing at the center of a globally focused civil religion. Grasping this vision honored by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike includes recognizing the dangers of zealous violence, the illusions of current crusading, and the promise of peaceful coexistence under international law. Instructive, relevant, and urgent, Captain America and the Crusade against Evil is sure to provoke much soul-searching and wide debate.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Jewett (guest professor, New Testament, Univ. of Heidelberg, Germany) and Lawrence (philosophy, emeritus, Morningside Coll.), who previously collaborated on The Myth of the American Superhero, here present a carefully researched and well-developed study of two biblical themes-zealous nationalism and prophetic realism-in Scripture and American history and current life, including post-9/11. The first "seeks to redeem the world by destroying enemies," while the second "avoids taking the stances of complete innocence and selflessness." The authors point out the uncomfortable similarity between our nationalist zeal (and the crusade to rid the world of "evildoers") and jihad, between our "enemies" and ourselves, and encourage the transformation of America's sense of mission and the awakening of "religious commitment that is shaped both by self-critical questioning and a sense of hope about the possibilities for peace." Extremely timely and important for all Americans, this accessible book is essential for all libraries, academic, seminary, public. Some larger libraries will want multiple copies.-Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802828590
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/28/2004
  • Pages: 412
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface xiii
1. The Challenge of a Contradictory Civil Religion 1
The Strange Persistence of Biblical Language 1
The Steady Theme of Redeeming the World 3
A Contradictory Civil Religion in the Time of Jihad 6
2. The Endangered Towers and the Crusade Against Jihad 10
Contradictory Responses 11
The Background of September 11 13
Martial Response and Lost Opportunities 16
Militant Jihad's Rationale 18
The Parallel Logic of Crusade and Jihad 20
3. Popular Culture as a Bearer of the National Complex 26
Superheroic Entertainments and Civil Religion 27
The Rise of the American Monomyth 28
The Popularization of Crusading Zeal 35
American Superheroism as a Threat to Democracy 39
The Challenge of Pop Fascism 42
4. A Rod of Iron or a Light to the Nations 44
The Birth of Israelite Zeal and Realism 45
The Critique of Zealous Warfare by Prophetic Realists 48
Israel's Dilemma during the Roman Period 51
The Book of Revelation and the Dominance of Zealotry 53
5. America's Zeal to Redeem the World 55
The Rise of a Millennial Mission 55
Clashes between Zealous Nationalism and Prophetic Realism 61
Zeal's Frustration and the Claim of Manifest Destiny 66
The Religious Impulse in American Imperialism 68
World War I as a Millennial Crusade 71
World War II and the Disjunction between Zeal and Realism 75
6. The Frustration of American Zealous Nationalism 79
The Cold War's Thwarted Crusade 80
Brinkmanship and the Ideology of Anti-communism 88
The Arrogant Missteps of Global Idealism 96
Defeated Superheroism in Vietnam 100
Zealous Nationalism and the Loss of Honor 103
7. The Ascendancy of Mythic Politics 107
Artificial Euphoria and the Mayaguez Episode 108
Carter's Failure at Domestic Superheroism 112
Reagan and the Ephemeral Triumph of Macho Superheroism 115
The Mirage of Invulnerable Defense 118
Illusions of National Innocence 119
The Gulf War and the Lost Chance for Prophetic Realism 123
Clinton's Frivolous Use of Mythic Politics 126
8. The Rapturous Rebirth of Millennial Zealotry 131
The Recent Popularity of the Doom Boom 131
The Background of Millennial Theology 135
Calendars for the Rapture 138
Recent Forms of Millennial Civil Religion 142
Jerusalem and the End of Days 144
Responsible Uses of the Apocalyptic 147
9. The Global Popularization of Zeal and Jihad 149
The Recent Militarization of Jihad 150
Zealous Fervor in Israel 155
Spiraling Sanctified Violence 160
Aum Shinrikyo in Japan 162
Seeking Responsible Forms of Zeal and Jihad 164
10. Consumed by Zeal and Jihad 167
Zeal in the Bible 168
Hot Zeal in Its Modern Embodiments 170
The Dominance of Cool Zeal 176
Artful Zeal's Destructive Legacy 180
The All-consuming Nature of Zeal and Jihad 186
The Need for Modest Zeal and Jihad 188
11. Evil as a Grand Conspiracy 192
Conspiracy Theory in the Bible 194
A Realistic Theory of Evil 197
Grand Conspiracies in American Politics 200
Conspiracy Theory and the Vietnam War 206
Paths Away from the Grand Conspiracy 209
12. Stereotypes of Good and Evil 214
The Rise of Stereotypes in Biblical History 216
American Adaptations of Ancient Stereotypes 221
Six Features of Popular Stereotypes 223
Problematic Stereotypes in Recent History 226
Three Negative Effects of Stereotyping 231
Five Strategies to Overcome Destructive Stereotypes 237
13. To Convert Them or Destroy Them 245
Redemptive Violence in the Bible 246
Violence and America's Sense of Mission 250
The Mystique of Violence in American Wars 254
Hosea's Critique of the Mystique of Violence 261
Overcoming the Illusions of Redemptive Destruction 270
14. Neither Humiliation Nor Defeat 273
Victory as the Reward for Piety in the Old Testament 275
The Deuteronomic Principle in American History 276
Mythic Responses to Defeat 281
The Impact of Defeat on Civil Religion 285
Bringing Prophetic Resources to the Experience of Defeat 288
15. Crusades Against Symbolic Desecration 294
The Struggle to Prevent Flag Desecration 297
The Danger of Sanctifying National Symbols 301
Holiness as a Theological Issue 302
Muslim Campaigns against Desecration 304
Ominous Parallels in the Flag Desecration Campaign 306
Biblical Links between Desecration and Zealous Violence 309
16. Prophetic Realism in Response to Jihad 313
Isaiah's Vision for Conflict Resolution 315
A Vision of Global Government 316
Waning American Support for International Law 319
Recovering America's Constitutional Mission 323
Acknowledgments 325
Endnotes 327
Index of Names and Subjects 372
Index of Ancient Texts 390
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