3b. Bush's religious rhetoric exposes his total misunderstanding of, or perhaps merely his total disregard for, the contextual and historic meaning of a key statement commonly recognized as appropriated from Jesus. But that doesn't stop him from exploiting it to serve his own ambitions.
He's verbally declared a "war" on terrorism that, by his edict, must be enjoined by all the Good People of the World. He hijacked and violated Jesus’ words to issue his own fiery, pompous, dogmatic threat: “You’re either with us [America], or you’re against us” (cf. Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23).
In this case perhaps more than any other, I as a Christian find Mr. Bush's overblown rhetoric most astoundingly repugnant. He perverts even Jesus' words into war-drum propaganda utterly contradictory to the entire New Testament message. (related topic) Though I've heard no complaints from Christians who typically hold more to a literal or near-literal reading of the New Testament, this does not particularly surprise me; even among honest, sincere Christians, too many show very little basic scriptural knowledge and appreciation for context.
With this one insipid and crass distortion Mr. Bush shows himself unconcerned with any semblance of integrity in intellectual, hermeneutic, philosophical, historic, theological, moral, and spiritual domains. Frankly I suspect Mr. Bush's utterance more likely reflects not merely spiritual and moral ignorance, but more ominously a flat disregard for the scripture's meaning, even a Machiavellian abuse of Jesus' words simply to make a visceral link, devoid of reason or any semblance of truth, with some Christians. I concede that Mr. Bush, whether innocent and spiritually ignorant, or maliciously conniving and spiritually ignorant, demonstrates excellent propagandistic technique. In this example he has manipulated and distorted scripture for his own political and military ends.
Rhetoric like this, sprinkled judiciously, surely seems to resonate with at least some Christians, more likely those who may self-identify as evangelicals, conservatives, fundamentalists, or literalists. Some see no problem with this contaminated allusion. Some even seem to admire it. They seem implicitly to say, "Anytime Mr. Bush says something that even remotely sounds like our scriptures, good; that supports our faith." And in this context they set aside reason, integrity, and truth.
Some may dismiss Mr. Bush's misconstruction of Jesus' words as simply another example of his mangling standard English, or as merely the hot air of propaganda. Any good History of Religion 101 shows that propaganda, symbolic words, and hollow arbitrary doctrines have fostered countless murders and wars, all in the name of various deities, whose followers adamantly insisted they killed others for the True God or gods and/or the True Revelation and/or the True Doctrine; Mr. Bush himself perpetuates such demagoguery.
If his viewpoint does go beyond rhetoric, does Bush suffer from some bona fide clinical delusion? Or does he simply carry out a coldly calculated script, intended to rouse support among certain Christians who share his dogmas and his might-makes-right theology? I can't know exactly what motivates Mr. Bush in this; I suspect that even he doesn't really know (too many cases suggest his dearth of meaningful self-awareness).
But he is who he is.
On whatever basis, my president’s implicit messiah complex as Great Deliverer, or perhaps Great Avenger, disturbs me. I believe it should unsettle anyone who thinks carefully and intelligently about these things, and who cares devoutly about expressions of faith, regardless of one's particular theology or spirituality.
Bush misappropriates, distorts, and exploits
Moving from Mr. Bush's theological balderdash to his political arrogance: My president's perversion of Jesus' words haughtily denigrates the many independent sovereign nations who have good reason not to bow before the Burning Bush. What moral right did our president have to portray America as some holy standard, implicitly tarnishing the integrity of any other nation that did not venerate his views? How can thinking people let him continue to spout off such belligerent dogmatism? Because many people sincerely see Bush's old-west bravado and bluster as strength; many Christians have little or no meaningful knowledge of scripture; many Christians who do know better cherish temporal political freedom above spiritual freedom.
In language that shows the dust of the Cold War, Mr. Bush has painted an artificial dichotomy and arrogantly made his campaign an obligation of all “good” people everywhere. "We’re good. We’re holy. We’re right. Anybody who refuses to support us, to take our side, becomes the enemy of everything good and holy and right.”
I respect the Oval Office. I do not respect Mr. Bush's presuming the divine moral authority necessary to make such empty, pompous declarations.
Romans 13 and other passages deserve more in-depth attention, but for now consider this related issue: to whatever extent you might suggest that our President may in some Biblical sense actually wield the authority of God, logically the same argument would apply equally to Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, and any other person holding office on whatever basis. It would also apply to Mussolini and Hitler. In my experience, I've found that few self-professed Christians demonstrate any significant grasp of the implications.
Remember, early Christians were told to follow Jesus’ example and submit without resistance to blatantly cruel, outright evil emperors in their world (sound like any evildoers we know?). And what did that mean in secular records of history? It meant that rather than standing up to defend their social and political freedom, they literally followed Jesus’ example instead, freely submitting to unjust and horrible torture and executions.
Would Christians today do the same? Or would they, despite Jesus' and Paul's unambiguous and explicit instructions, stand up and fight?
The Christian church in which I grew up professed a desire to imitate New Testament teachings and practices as closely as possible. I found in discussing these principles during senior high and college that many, even most, other Christians who affirmed the literalist/fundamentalist/evangelical premises denied the plain implications of Jesus' life and the New Testament's central scriptural and historic principles. The discussion often slips and slides around finer points of whether mistreatment, persecution, etc. comes directly for spiritual or secular reasons, and in the larger picture matters of self-defense. Many intelligent, informed, conscientious believers disagree on various particulars in these matters. Much of this involves technical aspects of one's method of interpreting scripture, and what else, if anything, undergirds one's ethics and morals.
I doubt that George W. Bush worries over any of these complexities when he rips Biblical terms and phrases totally out of context and, evidently for his own political and military purposes, perverts them for the opposite of everything Jesus lived and died for. The result? Exposing the irrationality and vacuum of reason that undergirds too much traditional religious fervor, many of those conservative and evangelical Christians who reasonably should most vigorously resent and reject Mr. Bush's distortion of Jesus' words instead seem to most loudly cheer him for being "not ashamed" of his "Christian principles."
Don't miss the obscene hypocrisy here. Secular leaders may logically invoke secular arguments for warfare. Mr. Bush goes infinitely and incomprehensibly farther. In the spirit of hypocritical medieval religious murderers a few centuries ago, Mr. Bush co-opts a phrase from the Prince of Peace to justify sending troops out on his crusade.
And in the embarrassing wake of his failed WMD threat, Mr. Bush still cannot, or will not, even admit his error, and consistently refuses to apologize; he now chants only his post hoc mantra that his crusade aimed merely to topple Saddam and free Iraq. Even granting this assumption, I reiterate the concern supported by several quotes and anecdotes: Mr. Bush at least somewhat sees or at least portrays himself fulfilling a quasi-divine role as a Great Deliverer, almost in a messianic sense.
And again, that audacity appeals to a certain theological subset of the electorate.
Setting aside the potentially horrifying implications
of single-minded devout religious fervor mingled with grandiose
delusions, I see too much data that suggests Mr. Bush set
out equally, if not more so:
In this context some good, decent people, genuinely devout and trusting Christians, hear Mr. Bush invoke something that sounds vaguely like Jesus, vaguely like John Wayne, vaguely like the 1940's.
In this context some good, decent people, genuinely devout and trusting Christians,