Monday, July 19, 2004

Blessed Assurance

Far be it from me to criticize another person’s faith – or lack thereof.  It is one of the most personal and private aspects of life, and as long as it doesn’t interefere with the rights of other people or threaten our well-being, I don’t have a problem with having a political leader touting his faith and practice.  But I think this article in the Miami Herald gives me pause and concern that George W. Bush has crossed over that line.  His arrogance and stubborness in linking his faith to his belief in the rightness (pun intended) of what he does as president is dangerous.

Journalist Bob Woodward, in his book Plan of Attack, reveals a lot about the governing style — and the fervent faith — of the president. Woodward writes that when he asked the president whether he consulted his father, Bush seemed surprised by the question: “There is a higher father that I appeal to.” And, when replying to a question about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush said to Woodward: “But you run in different circles than I do. Much more elite.” The remark pulls you up short. Bush — the son of patricians on both sides, educated at Andover and Yale, former governor of Texas, president of the United States of America — does not run in elite circles?

But that upper-class, Episcopalian and alcoholic playboy no longer exists. The reborn Bush is a Texas evangelical Christian, a Methodist, who feels at home among ordinary folks at the Midland Men’s Community Bible Study Group in Midland, Texas. He has, in effect, become one of them. He talks like they do and believes what they believe: that the Bible is the literal truth. Good and Evil oppose each other. There can be no middle ground.

Hence, when Woodward relates how he asked the president whether he had ever doubted his course of action in Iraq, the president replied: “I haven’t suffered any doubt.”

“Is that right?” Woodward asked. “Not at all?”

“No. And I’m able to convey that to people.”

To those who had lost sons or daughters in the conflict, Bush said, “I hope I’m able to convey that in a humble way.”

In the president’s view, to doubt his policy would be to doubt his God-given calling. Shortly after his State of the Union message of 2002, in which he had called Iraq, Iran and North Korea “the axis of evil,” Bush addressed an audience in Daytona Beach. “We’ve got a great opportunity,” he said. “As a result of evil, there’s some amazing things that are taking place in America. People have begun to challenge the culture of the past that said, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ This great nation has a chance to change the culture.”

In the State of the Union address of January 2003, Bush repeated his theme of moral transformation: “Our fourth goal is to apply the compassion of America to the deepest problems of America. For so many in our country — the homeless and the fatherless, the addicted — the need is great. Yet there’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.”

The White House, the Cabinet and Congress all contain strong supporters of Bush’s evangelical crusade. Bush appointed a devout Pentecostalist and member of the very conservative Assemblies of the Church of God, John Ashcroft, to be attorney general. Michael Gerson, the president’s speechwriter, graduated with a degree in theology from Wheaton College in Illinois, a leading evangelical institution. Bush’s electoral strategist, Karl Rove, received an honorary degree in May from the controversial evangelist, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, at his Liberty University for his “commitment to conservative ideas.”

It doesn’t matter to me if Bush hires evangelicals, and I don’t give a rat’s ass where he goes to church or what he believes in. What does scare the bejesus out of me is that he believes that his mission is handed down from God, and therefore to be against Bush is to be against God. This is not the mindset of a man who is allegedly elected in a free society; this is the arrogance of a dictator standing on a balcony and screaming to the masses that only he knows what is best for the nation and the world and anyone who comes between him and his mission must be struck down.

Democrats are often criticized – and sometimes rightly so – for too tolerant of other points of view, no matter how radical or bug-infested. This time, however, the limits have been reached. Let George Bush believe what he wants and let him spread his gospel. But let’s not let him do it any more from the White House.