Speaker Blames War On `Sense Of Omnipotence’

Professor: Conflict May Be Catalyst

As the only superpower left in the world, America now suffers from a sense of omnipotence that has led us into war, said Robert Jay Lifton, a visiting professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

This “superpower syndrome” is “an unfortunate American tendency to assert its power in the world without any limits,” Lifton said Tuesday during his keynote address at the the 22nd Annual Peace and Justice Convocation held at St. Thomas Seminary in Hartford.

“Part of the syndrome is a sense of entitlement, because we are so militarily strong, we believe we have the right to determine the outcome of world events,” Lifton told an audience of about 50 at the convocation sponsored by the Christian Conference of Connecticut. “It includes a sense of omnipotence, a sense that we are all-powerful and cannot be contested.”

Lifton, an author of 20 books, has studied extremist groups such as Al Qaida and Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult that released poison gas into the Tokyo subway system. He said such groups believe in “apocalyptic violence, which is an impulse to destroy the world in order to save it and renew it.”

In a response to 9/11, there has been an American form of extremism, Lifton said, in some ways linked to religious fundamentalism that is being expressed in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.

The administration was “humiliated by 9/11, and has used it as means of invoking prior aggressive plans for world domination,” he said.

Speaking to a group that included ministers and church leaders from a range of denominations, Lifton said the groundwork for the abusive acts at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq began with America’s declaration of war on terrorism, and is the consequence of our own extremism.

“The war on terrorism, as its being carried on by this administration, has no limits in time or place,” he said.

That is why the war’s focus could shift from Osama bin Laden to Iraq and Saddam Hussein, he said.

“It’s a combination of military fundamentalism – the tendency to use the military to solve human problems – and religious fundamentalism which sees a need to destroy that which is labeled evil,” Lifton said. “Bush has said that he is combating evil in the world.”

“Even though we are very different from al-Qaida, their apocalypticism interacts with our own tendency toward apocalypticism and extremism in a kind of deadly dance, and one stimulates the other.”

The convocation is an annual event that features nationally known figures speaking on issues of peace and justice.

“We are living through a period of unprecedented debate about the things that make for peace and justice in our warring, unjust world,” said the Rev. Steven J. Sidorak, executive director of the Christian Conference of Connecticut.

Lifton, who called the war in Iraq “a disaster for this country,” also said it could be a catalyst for spiritual change and a different way of seeing ourselves and the world.

“Many are aware that something is wrong in the way we are asserting power in the world, and I think that can bring change.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Hartford Courant, USA
May 19, 2004
Frances Grandy Taylor

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 24, 2004.
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