Denton's movie, God On My Side, put evangelical
Christians under the microscope on the assumption that they are key
actors in a 'clash of civilizations'.
However that assumption seems invalid because religious fundamentalists
do not seem in reality to be in the drivers' seat on any side. In
the Islamist extremists, who
are assumed to be the other side in such a 'clash', are by no means the
equivalent of evangelical Christians (eg there are many
indications that the extremists seek to be modernising
Western-influenced reformers rather than a fundamentalist faction
within the Islamic world); and
evangelical Christians' political support of the US President, US decisions
about the 'war on terror' have apparently been based on fairly
conventional geo-political (rather than religious) criteria.
most significant potential 'clash of civilizations' which Western (and
Muslim) societies face seems to be with East Asia. Skirmishes
between Islamists and the US's allies are merely a diversion.
Though God On My Side was a well-meant attempt to penetrate the
'fog' that surrounds current global events, a great deal more study of the
situation is required allow understanding to emerge.
God On My Side: What Others Have Said
The film allows a group of prominent evangelical
Christians at a conference in the US in February 2006 to explain their beliefs on the assumption that these are
what are influencing 'our side' (as opposed to presumed Islamic
fundamentalists) in a clash of civilizations [1,
Commentators suggested that the evangelical Christians were portrayed
Commentators also variously suggested that:
- there is a Holy war between
Islam and Christianity ;
- the film did not resolve the fact that there are divisions amongst
Christians on the views expressed by those interviewed ;
- the movie shows how religion
can lead people to reactionary politics, but does not examine the powerful
interests behind Christian fundamentalism (eg the alignment that now exists
with Jews) ;
- the movie reminds believers of all faiths that violence
done in the name of religion insults God ;
Denton sees religion as the central cause of most of humanity’s woes, and as
preying on humanity’s fear of death and desire for immortality. He is concerned that fundamentalist extremists could start
a war about
God. A pessimistic view of the world has weighed heavily on
Denton himself ;
- Denton, who
subscribes to no faith, would never say 'There is no God', 
What is Really Going On?
documentary (God On My Side), and many of the commentaries on
it, illustrate an unfortunate lack of study of the global situation that seems to
prevail amongst supposedly-educated groups that has led to a failure to come to
grips with serious difficulties.
There are defects in the premise underlying this movie - ie that
evangelical Christians should be closely studied because they are key actors in a
'clash of civilizations' - just as there appear to be limitations in the
understanding of the group whose views the movie sought to study.
First, in so far as
Islamist extremists are assumed to constitute the 'other side' in a clash of
civilizations, evangelical Christians are probably by no means the
- Islamist extremists do not seem be be traditional 'fundamentalists' (ie
those who simply believe that a scripture is true - which the film implies
applies to evangelical Christians). Rather the extremists seem to be a
Westernised faction, outsiders to traditional Islam, who are trying to gain
political power in the Middle East (by displacing traditional political and
religious authorities) on the assumption that if Islam were modernised it
would be an effective basis for government. Provoking Western responses in Muslim
nations and selective use of traditional Islamic ideas are the tactics being
used to recruit supporters (see Discouraging Pointless Extremism for an undoubtedly
inadequate attempt to identify the ideology which motivates the extremists);
- Islamists' goals are primarily political
- ie the overthrow of governments and the creation of a new political order in
the Middle East - rather than focusing on the significance of religious faith to individuals
(which seems to be the primary concern of evangelical Christians);
a former Islamist leader in the UK, withdrew from involvement
with such groups because he found that those involved knew little about, and
were not really committed to, Islam as a religion ;
- Islamists would probably not regard any
variety of Christians as leading the West in a 'clash of civilizations'. Their
views would be likely to reflect those expressed by Sayyid Qutb (the
intellectual source of the Muslim Brotherhood - one of the streams from which
al Qa'ida apparently evolved) who regarded what the West offered as worthless
because it was seen to be godless and materialistic. Islam has always regarded
the 'people of the book' as a higher class of human being than other infidels - on the
grounds that they at least acknowledge God and some of his messengers.
Second, while the US president may draw
upon evangelical Christians as part of his electoral base, this is most
unlikely to have been a primary determinant of government policy, because:
More: Traditionally US foreign policy was dominated by 'realists'
(ie those who assumed it was impossible to change the world, and that working
with unsatisfactory regimes was the best that could be achieved).
CIA analysts recognised in the 1980s that when 'realists' endorsed
autocratic regimes this could lead to 'blow-back' against US interests. So
'idealist' Neo-cons envisaged using US power to create better regimes - and
perceived Iraq (whose regime was the most morally and politically discredited)
as a good place to try this.
(which was poorly communicated through the US's fairly ineffectual
administration) seemed to be to eliminate the breeding grounds of terrorism by enhancing the
political and economic prospects of Muslim peoples using Iraq as an example of what could
In this they found common ground with Israel whose think-tanks
had concluded about a decade earlier that the only prospect for peace was
political reform and economic prosperity in the Middle East.
However the considerations that were the basis of the Neo-cons'
had nothing detectable to do with religious considerations. Any serious study of the
official literature produced in the US and of the
realities of the global situation suggests that fairly conventional geo-political
considerations motivated their proposals.
In particular the growing
incidence of failed / dysfunctional states (of which the largest identifiable
group are Muslim dominated) could be seen to (a) breed terrorists who might
potentially use weapons of mass destruction and (b) further undermine the
effectiveness of global institutions such as the UN (which could only work
properly if its member governments genuinely act in the interests of the
people they governed).
The undiscussed considerations that were the basis for
that strategy were probably similar to the issues outlined in
Failure of Globalization?.
As is often the case, utopian thinking was undermined by real-world
Thus it seems that real religious fundamentalists have not actually been very
influential on either side in this conflict.
Some Evangelical Christians' Views
As an aside in
relation to the particular views expressed by, or ascribed to, evangelical
Christians in God On My Side:
- the film is seen to portray evangelical Christians as believing in
'truth', and to suggest that anyone who does so should be suspect
2]. However dismissing
the concept of 'truth' (ie that language can be used to express ideas about
reality whose meaning can be generally understood) raises
horrendous problems. For example, doing so undermines the whole basis of
democratic government, as acceptance of 'public truth' is
essential to make political debate meaningful;
- it is
(perhaps) possible to justify belief in imminent 'end times' on the basis of
the current global situation (eg considering environmental challenges; and global political frictions) and various biblical references (eg
1 Thessalonians, 4:16-18; 1 Corinthians. 15:51-53;
Revelation 3:10 ; Luke 17:26-36; Matthew 24:37-44;
Luke 21:34-36). However this surely can't be based on the teachings of
Jesus, because he reportedly specifically warned (eg Mark 13) that
any who claimed to understand what was happening should be viewed with
- while the film was seen to portray evangelical Christians as suffering
many failings, surely the whole basis of Christianity is individual acceptance
of personal failings and a consequent dependence on God;
while the present writer has no way to judge whether evangelical Christians in the US generally 'hate'
homosexuals, the apparent 'upstream' and 'downstream' links between homosexual behaviour and
child neglect and abuse suggests that
no one should endorse
homosexuality without considering the related social evils;
as argued above, it is impossible to understand social and economic problems
purely in terms of religious teachings. However any evangelical Christians who
try to do so are by no means the only group who take an overly simplistic approach to
complex problems. The makers of God On My Side apparently fell into the
Comparing Fahrenheit 9/11: Another Conspiracy Theory
The film invited comparison with Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 which
presented a conspiratorial view of the 'war on terror' (and primarily focused
on linkages between the US president's family and Saudi
took a more sympathetic approach to its suspects (evangelical Christians)
than is normal,
God On My Side
9/11 in falling into the 'conspiracy theory' genre.
That genre is typified by
a search for scapegoats whose evil plots
can be blamed for perceived problems, and the lack of any attempt to analyse,
solutions to, those problems presumably because theorists have little
understanding of how the world actually works.
Other commentators suggested variously that:
- God On My Side was better
because it allowed people to express themselves, whereas Fahrenheit 9/11 merely
presented what Michael Moore thought ;
and alternately that
- Fahrenheit 9/11 succeeded because it presented truths about how the system works (links between business,
the US government, and the war on Iraq), while God On
My Side did not consider how social, economic and political interests
shape Christian fundamentalism .
Seeing the Forest behind the Trees,
The most significant potential
'clash of civilizations' in which Western societies are currently involved is
not with Islamists but rather with East Asia - where
modern societies are
being built on the basis of fundamentally different and incompatible
traditions (ie different approaches to: knowledge; power; governance;
strategy; and economic goals).
The incompatibility and unsustainability of this 'clash' are revealed by
global financial imbalances -
whose origin appears to be cultural differences that have received almost no
Skirmishes with Islamist extremists, whose
seem incapable of leading to anything of any practical significance (and
who ironically are seriously challenged by the gains under the quite different
approach to spirituality embodied in East Asia's neo-Confucian
traditions), are merely a diversion which increases the risk that much bigger
issues will remain un-examined and thus unresolved.