Monday, April 12, 2004

Holy War

George W. Bush is a man of deep religious faith. Fine. As John Lennon noted, “whatever gets you through the night.” But it takes on another level when your decisions and views as president are seen through the lens colored with religious overtones. And it’s dangerous.

According to a new book The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty by Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer, it is faith that drives Mr. Bush to do what he does. In an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times (thanks, Scout)

“George sees this as a religious war,” one family member told us. “He doesn’t have a PC view of this war. His view is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know.”

Family friend Franklin Graham told us: “The president is not stupid. The people who attacked this country did it in the name of their religion. He’s made it clear that we are not at war with Islam. But he understands the implications of what is going on and the spiritual dimensions.”

Just a little reminder to Mr. Bush and Mr. Graham: take a look at most of the conflicts in the world today. What is at the root of them? Bingo. In fact, go back through history and make a little list of all the wars in the world that were not based on religion. It’s pretty short.

The Schweizers note that religion has been a part of the presidential millieu since the beginning of the country:

American presidents have often turned to their faith and God during a time of crisis. Both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln sought guidance through prayer and scripture reading. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Reagan frequently spoke about God when trying to understand world events around them. President Bush, far from representing a radical break from this tradition, fits comfortably into it.

Even those who don’t share Bush’s religious convictions should see them as a good thing. His faith compels him to wrestle with ethical questions that less religious men might simply ignore. And his strong faith offers us visible guideposts by which we can evaluate his performance as president. Find me a commander in chief who lacks core convictions rooted in something greater than himself, and you’ll have a leader who lacks an identifiable moral compass and will, accordingly, be prone to drift off course.

When Bill Clinton was going through the throes of impeachment, we heard a lot of oration from the Right about his lack of “moral leadership” and how he was “letting us down” through his human failings. I have looked pretty carefully through the Constitution regarding the duties of the President. There’s a lot about commander in chief of the armed forces and so on, but that part about moral leadership isn’t there. Perhaps it goes without saying that the person we elect to be the chief executive of our government would be a person of intelligence and magnimity, but to put the mantle of moral leadership on top is to go beyond the role of government. After all, FDR had his moral failings, too – he died in the presence of his mistress – yet led our country through the darkest times we have ever faced. And we have had presidents of deep religious conviction who have been terrible leaders. In the end, it is not enough to have core convictions and blindly follow them. Reality has a way of opening your eyes, and it requires a leap beyond faith to accept it.