"The Mighty and the Almighty" by Madeline Albright reviewed
Until recently, of all the subjects diplomats needed to master, religion ranked near the bottom of the list. When I graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in political science, the only reference to religion was the old Karl Marx maxim, that "religion is the opium of the masses." Even that reference was taken out of context, but that was the state of the conversation.
Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, seeks to address the new dynamic of religion and foreign affairs in her recent book, "The Mighty and the Almighty", with the subtitle, "Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs." This is an extraordinarily vital topic, not only for governments, but for the church and for all people of faith and spiritual interest.
Consider a recent news article.
Pastors of American's evangelical megachurches, the "Los Angeles Times" reports...have launched a "Billion Souls Initiative" to reach every heathen on Earth.
'Our purpose is to hasten the End Times,' says Bill McCartney, co-founder of Promise Keepers. Those who fail to heed Christ's message, McCartney warns, are "toast."
Meanwhile, Iran's alarming president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is just as eager to see infidels turned to toast. Within two years, he asserts, the Mahdi, the last of the Prophet Mohammed's heirs, will return to Tehran, ushering in a bloody, cataclysmic confrontation with the non-Muslim world.
Even in our own, enlightened nation, 40 % of the population believes the End Times are nigh, according to several polls, and prominent advocates of conservative churches have substantial political influence in the current administration.
If a bloody cataclysm in Israel is all part of a vengeful God's grand plan, why bother trying to negotiate peace? Why not, as one skeptic asks, welcome a global religious war between Christianity and Islam?
Early on in Albright's very fine book, she comments: "History would be far different if we did not tend to hear God most clearly when we think He is telling us exactly what it is we want to hear." That statement is in keeping with our nation's greatest public theologian, Abraham Lincoln, who asked not whether God is on our side but whether we are on God's.
As Albright remarks, "We have...the right to ask- but never to insist or blithely assume- that God bless American."
Madeline Albright's own personal religious history is disclosed in her book. She was Jewish by family history, but was raised Catholic, after her diplomat father brought her and the family to the United States after the communist take-over of Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. Albright was only 11 at the time, and it wasn't until just a few years ago that she learned of her Jewish ancestry.
Albright's book is an engaging, timely, and informative overview of the current world political crisis as it pertains to terrorism, religious conflicts, the complexity of Middle Eastern religion and politics, and the importance of hearing different religious voices in American foreign policy. Only recently has the State Department, she notes, incorporated experts in understanding the role of religion in societies around the world. While Albright affirms President Bush's leadership in the days immediately following 9/11, she makes no bones about offering policy differences with him in the days since.
Here are some engaging questions drawn from Albright's examination of religion and foreign policy:
1) "Freedom is God's gift to everyone," proclaims President Bush. But does he imply that God has appointed America to deliver that gift?
2) Does the United States believe it has a special relationship with God? We would not be the first nation to think so. What are the dangers of such a view?
Are we willing to address the human propensity to sin and pride that biblical faith fearlessly asserts of all human endeavors?
3) While individuals are created in the "image of God" according to Genesis, are we claiming that our own nation was created in the "image of God"?
4) How can religion serve more as a potential means for reconciliation than as a source of conflict? Each of the 3 great religions of the Middle East has Abrahamic roots and elements of faith that make for peace.
5) Are we so sure that we as Americans can easily determine between good and evil in the world? As Albright comments, "Although good and evil exist, they tend to be mixed together, not separately packaged." The lessons of Abu Ghraib and the ongoing revelations of American military misconduct in Iraq are examples of how even good intentions can become corrupted.
Albright's book would make for a an enlightening and challenging work for any church group, book club, or gathering of citizens who rightly are concerned about what role religion plays in current policy decisions in our government. Why would people of faith naively assume that government, in any hands, will provide a fair and sympathetic portrait of anyone's religious beliefs?
"I am an optimist who worries a lot," says Albright. With good reason....