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

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

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

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

Synopsis

As immediate and relevant as todays 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 Americas 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. Isaiahs "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.

Excerpt

The title of our book comes from a comic-book character who combines explosive strength with perfect moral intuitions. in his public life Captain America serves as Private Rogers in the uniformed armed service, but when the level of danger becomes unbearable, he takes on a masked identity and rids the world of evil. Having grown up with Captain America during World War II, we met him again as our students helped us untangle America's sense of mission — and its affinity for violent crusading. This book explains the religious roots and historical development of this crusading tendency.

The [Captain America complex] that we describe in the following pages is the uneasy fusion of two kinds of roles. Should America be the [city set upon a hill] that promotes the rule of law even when faced with difficult adversaries? Or should it crusade on the military plane of battle, allowing no law or institution to impede its efforts to destroy evil?

As we completed the text of this manuscript in the winter of 2001–2002, while the World Trade Center's wreckage was still being trucked away from [Ground Zero,] we were concerned about the United States' tendency toward military crusading. Sadly, our premonitions concerning zealotry's seductive call are being confirmed. As we write this preface in the autumn of 2002, events suggest that the increasingly strident crusade has undermined the global consensus that formed so quickly after the crimes of September 11, 2001. But we also find new signs of hope. Whether the signs are ominous or hopeful, we suggest that an understanding of the Captain America complex as a contradictory form of civil religion casts light on current developments and suggests a more promising path for the future.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.