Tags: God | and | Man | D.C.

God and Man in D.C.

Wednesday, 18 June 2003 12:00 AM

There's a hullabaloo developing about George W. Bush going off the deep end when it comes to God.

Writing in the June 2, 2003, issue of The Nation, Daniel Lazare points to Bush's "born-again" status and his statement that "on the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the earth" as clear evidence that we're focusing too narrowly if we think that it's just the Islamic world that has turned its back on modernity.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, warning that Bush's speeches are sounding "more and more like a sermon in church," keeps a running list of where Bush has crossed the line in terms of keeping God sufficiently separated from D.C. politics.

In talking about AIDS, for instance, Lynn states that Bush should not have said, "America believes deeply that everybody has worth, everybody matters, everybody was created by the Almighty."

Mr. Bush also got too churchy, says Lynn, with this statement on the war on terrorism: "We also can be confident in the ways of providence, even when they are far from our understanding. Events aren't moved by blind chance. Behind all of life and all of history there is a dedication and purpose set by the hand of a just and faithful God."

And on welfare reform, Lynn says that Bush was off base with this thought: "We know that welfare policy will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit."

And on the economy, Lynn also sees Bush sticking in God where He doesn't belong by way of this comment: "We've got plans in place to encourage job growth, ways to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit of the country, encourage small business expansion so that people can find work. Yet there are some needs that prosperity can never meet."

At Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, associate director John Voll suggests that Bush might be getting too "evangelical."

It's okay for "an American statesman to put himself forward as a real believer, in many ways that's a positive dimension even in a hostile environment," says Voll. "But evangelical Christianity is identified with Islamaphobia. It is essential that Bush make clear that he is not in any way associated with them."

And with France not being much of an ally in the fight against Islamic radicals, William Saletan, Slate's chief political correspondent, sees "dangerous implications" in what President Bush said nine days after the attacks of Sept. 11, suggesting that America might have a more powerful partner than Jacques Chirac: "The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them."

Most biting of all in his criticism, Lewis H. Lapham, editor of Harper's, paints a picture of Bush in the May 2003 issue of his magazine that looks not all that different from those Hale-Boppers who killed themselves after a spaceship failed to make the stop and whisk them out of California:

"When President Bush appeared in the White House on the evening of March 6 to announce the imminent scourging of Iraq, it was a wonder that he didn't speak in tongues. His topic was geopolitical, but his message was religious, the blank expression engraved on his face disquietingly similar to the thousand-yard stare of the true believer gazing into the mirror of eternity."

Allegedly itching for a holy war, Bush "bore witness to a revelation mounted on four pillars of holy wrath," writes Lapham: "1. America allies itself with Christ and goes to war to rid the world of evil. 2. Iraq is Sodom, or possibly Gomorrah. 3. Saddam is the Devil's pawn. 4. Any nation that refuses to join the 'coalition of the willing' deserves to perish in the deserts of disbelief."

What the heck happened, asks Lapham, to the Enlightenment, to the secular wisdom of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin? "They didn't have much use for priests, and they insisted on the separation of church and state." Instead, "President Bush speaks for an earlier period in American history, from a pulpit in the Puritan forest before it received the gift of books."

Well, not exactly. It's true that Jefferson was on his guard about the clergy. "The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government," he cautioned, "have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man."

And it's true that Franklin didn't much look to the pulpits for his public policy prescriptions. "Lighthouses," he said, "are more helpful than churches."

But on matters larger, on the role of God in the scheme of things, on the issue of war and nationhood and providence, it's simply not the case that Bush speaks with a voice that's all that different from that of America's founders.

"Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God," instructed Franklin.

In the face of the British attack against Boston, the first act of the Continental Congress was to pray to Divine Providence.

Jefferson, in his first Inaugural Address, spoke of "that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe."

Wrote John Adams: "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth."

Said Alexander Hamilton: "The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."

And, again, Franklin: "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men."

Bush's "primitive way of thinking," i.e., non-secular thinking, writes Lapham, is in dangerous contradiction to "the mentality that framed the Constitution." Complaining that Bush "seldom misses a chance to restate the good news in the language of the Bible," Latham points to this year's State of the Union address during which Bush said, "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."

In fact, that sentence on liberty by Bush sounds a lot more like "the mentality that framed the Constitution" than anything that's in Harper's.

Thomas Jefferson, for instance, in July 1774, said, "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time." That's not a whole lot different from what President Bush said in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 29, 2003.

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There's a hullabaloo developing about George W. Bush going off the deep end when it comes to God. Writing in the June 2, 2003, issue of The Nation, Daniel Lazare points to Bush's "born-again" status and his statement that "on the issue of evolution, the verdict is still...
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Wednesday, 18 June 2003 12:00 AM
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