Early on in 2003, during the buildup to the Iraq invasion, I received lots of email forwarded from conservative Christian friends containing breathless adulation of George W. Bush as an exemplary Christian. One example is the multi-forwarded text of Paul Kengor’s National Review article dated March 5, God & W. at 1600 Penn. —
Though Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore split the popular vote almost 50:50, Bush cleaned up among churchgoers. Among those who attend religious services weekly, he beat Gore 57 to 40%. For those who attend more than weekly, he won 63 to 36%. (Gore won by 61 to 32% among those who said they “never” attend church, suggesting that the former veep easily bagged the atheist vote.) …
Unfortunately, this just demonstrates that churchgoers — and I was among them, having been one for many, many years — weren’t being discerning, we were being gullible
. What does this gullibility say to the unchurched (whom I am now
among)? (Or to the “atheists” gratuitously mentioned, whose votes “the former veep easily bagged”?) Are we not commanded to be the opposite
of gullible — to be “wary and wise as serpents” as well as “innocent as doves”? (Matt. 10:16
[Religious broadcaster Janet Parshall] has never witnessed such an outpouring of sustained support for a president among Christian conservatives. “They call me and say they’re praying for him,” Parshall says of her listeners. “My callers like him and are thankful. They actually tell me they cried when they watched the State of the Union Address. Imagine that! They love this man.” …
to the January 28 SOTU
was somewhat different than this. Beneath the words, something about the speech and its delivery smelled fishy. Indeed most of its assertions and allegations have since turned out to have been made up
or outright deceptions
Bush believes that God “has a plan” for him. He maintains that he could not be president if he didn’t believe in a “divine plan that supersedes all human plans.” …
The Old Testament story [of Moses in Exodus over whether to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land] spoke to Bush. He felt convicted. He began telling friends he had “heard the call.” God was calling him to seek the Oval Office.
Yes, God has a plan for each of us, and he calls us to live into it (that’s what vocation
means). But when our perception of that plan turns self-messianic — as I observe happens to a fair number of us during a normal-but-dysfunctional phase of growing spiritually — then we are being caught up in the same deadly pride that got Lucifer thrown out of heaven. If we stay
caught up in that pride, saying “we’re doing God’s will” as we mire ourselves deeper into violence and self-deception, you can be quite sure it’s not God
who’s doing the calling.
Self-deception, we must whip it
I have a family member who still says, “George Bush sets a good example for all Christians in America.”
When in the course of human events, a leader granted power and authority chooses to abuse that power and authority to invade a sovereign nation on the basis of a monstrous doctrine of preemptive war1 that bears his name, not for reasons of national defense but for ideology (to forcibly demonstrate PNAC neoconservative imperial wherewithal — pride) and profit (Halliburton no-bid contracts, oil — greed), the prosecution costs of which will be borne by citizens yet unborn (multi-$trillion deficit2), wherein said leader stains his hands with the blood of 10,000 dead (~9,600 Iraqis3 and ~400 Americans4) and shatters the lives of thousands maimed and wounded (~2,300+ U.S. military wounded5, ~7,500 evacuated through Andrews AFB6, plus an unknown civilian casualty count), then that leader does not qualify as an exemplary Christian. He qualifies as a war criminal.
I can imagine the prophet Nathan speaking words like these to Mr. Bush, much as Nathan told King David the story of the rich man who took the ewe lamb from the poor man who had nothing — the lamb who “shared [the poor man’s] food, drank from his cup, and even slept in his arms; it was like a daughter to him.” [The rich man took the lamb from the poor man] and slaughtered it for his guest to eat:
David burned with anger against the [rich] man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! (2 Samuel 12)
But more significant — Nathan could be pointing his finger at us — we are the people. Being unrepentant in our support of such behavior — to repent means to turn, so as long as we continue to squander lives, treasure, and honor in Iraq, we are by definition unrepentant — means not that we’re “showing resolve” but that we’re being unrepentant of our evildoing, like those who are made to weep and gnash their teeth, thrown out of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:22-30).
Agreeing with the Bush Administration that black is white, up is down, that bad news is good news, that monstrous behavior is godly behavior, does not make you a patriot, it makes you complicit.
This worldview hawks a form of faith without its substance. Its trajectory is not God-ward; it ends instead in darkness.
We — all of us, conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive — can do better than this.
[I actually believe now that a critical mass of us have awakened and are again seeing black as black, white as white — and sometimes, gray as gray — whether we articulate our seeing in theological terms or not. Even so, I still have to rant this out of my system; it’s the closest I plan to come to saying “I told you so.”]
Revised entry title refers to T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men.
Another oft-forwarded writer in my inbox was Peggy Noonan, whose writing I noticed took breathless adulation to new heights. Piyush Mathur addresses Noonan’s work head-on in a review of her new book, A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag: America Today. Mathur succeeds in highlighting much that I find unbearable in Religious Right (non)thinking.