The Right-Wing Christians Who Think 'American Sniper' Embodies Christian Values
When George W. Bush launched his war of choice in Iraq in 2003, it was easy to compare the invasion to the Crusades of the Middle Ages. As much as any soldier, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame embodied the fanatical, driven purpose of those 11th-century Christians who invaded the Holy Lands and saw slaughtering Muslims by the thousands as their God-given duty. In his autobiography upon which Clint Eastwood’s hit film is based, the self-professed Christian, who had tattooed the Crusader’s red cross on his arm, referred to the Iraqis he was paid to shoot as “savages” and a “savage, despicable evil” who all “deserved to die.”
So it should come as no surprise that, with American Sniper tearing up the box office and bestseller lists, conservative Christians have been using apocalyptic and patriarchal language to defend this warrior in the “clash of civilizations” used as a pretext for invading Iraq.
Here are some of the dumbest remarks.
Todd Starnes, a Fox News radio host, television contributor and subject of an infamous and absurdist Twitter meme, responded to criticism of American Sniper by liberals such as Michael Moore by questioning their patriotism and trying to read the mind of Jesus, telling his YouTube audience, “I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.’” This is a reference to the Book of Revelation, written in the first century, which posited a lake of fire in the afterlife, into which were cast the devil, the false prophet, all idolaters and liars, and all of the “faithless” who did not believe in or had turned their backs on the Christian god. Christians such as Starnes and Kyle often see it as their duty to either convert or kill the followers of “false” religions such as Islam, sending them to their eternal torment in the lake of fire. That Islam has a similar vision of a fiery afterlife inhabited by the faithless and non-believers of Allah was probably lost on Starnes.
Also on Fox, Peter Hegseth had an astounding insight: Chris Kyle was not Jesus! Responding to Moore’s sarcastic tweet about Kyle, Hegseth said, “Chris Kyle never purported to be Jesus. Chris Kyle didn’t serve the same function. I know he served and believed in Jesus. But people have different duties and responsibilities in society. Jesus came to save our souls. Chris Kyle went to save the lives of the men that he was over-watching as a sniper.”
No, Chris Kyle never purported to be Jesus. He did purport to be a soldier for Jesus, a Christian warrior killing “savages” in a righteous crusade “for God and country.” This is a perversion of some of Jesus’s teaching in some parts of the Bible, but right in line with the sort of vengeful Christianity found in, among other places, the Gospel of Matthew (“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword”) that drove Crusaders in the Middle Ages and has motivated many of our more evangelical soldiers and political leaders over the last decade and a half of the war on terror.
Owen Strachan, the president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, wrote a review of American Sniper that located Chris Kyle in a biblical tradition of Christian manliness. “The church gives men a vocabulary for their aggression, their innate manliness,” Strachan wrote. “It funnels their God-given testosterone in the direction of Christlike self-sacrifice…It asks them to channel all their aggression and energy and skill into the greatest cause of all: serving the kingdom of the crucified and risen Christ.”
Strachan goes on to claim that the enfranchisement of men in the way Chris Kyle has been venerated is exciting to women. These women allegedly see such men as defenders who thrill and inspire and make them believe in virtue again. These “true” men redeem us and thus can never die, but “live forever with their God.”
This muscular Christianity may be at odds with the Jesus who told his followers to lay down their swords, turn the other cheek and love those who hate you. But it is perfectly in line with the Crusaders’ vision of cleansing the earth for the righteous followers of Christ in order to secure their place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Chris Kyle himself took part in a public conversation about this view of Christianity as a sort of testosterone-fueled bacchanalia that celebrates a certain conception of manhood. As part of the publicity surrounding the publication of American Sniper in early 2012, Kyle sat for an interview with Pastor Ed Young in front of Young’s fundamentalist congregation at Fellowship Church in Texas. In likening Kyle’s experience in Iraq to a spiritual war waged by Christians, Young said, “I think so often people think of Christianity as being passive. They see Jesus as always being a blue-eyed, decaf-sipping white boy. He, if you read about him and know about him, a total and complete man’s man…What you have done…is biblical. I believe it is biblical.”
Well, it’s biblical depending on which part of the Bible one is reading. Obviously Young or Kyle or Starnes or any other militant Christian, can pick and choose whichever passage from the New Testament justifies his own desire to kill for Jesus. Unfortunately it’s us non-believers who still have to live in the world they make.