President's Priestly Garb

With the possible exception of Cardinal Richelieu, no politician has ever used his religion more effectively than George W. Bush. Despite nearly four years of dramatic failures in both domestic and foreign policy, many people still favor Bush's re-election on the grounds that "he shares our values." The values which President Bush presents to the world are those of the Conservative Christians, who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.

Even so, there have been serious questions about the President's approach to Christianity. While he has followed Conservative Christian teachings on issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research, his tax policies have favored the rich, rather than the poor. This is consistent with the Doctrine of Predestination, as expressed in Romans IX. 18-21: "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will be hardeneth."

Simplified, God, being omniscient, knows which souls will go to heaven and which to hell, and sees no reason to defer rewarding the favored souls, but gives them power and wealth even on Earth. No amount of faith, no good acts, can alter the inevitable. Although this concept, which denies free will, is no longer widely held, it was popular among the nobility during the period of the Protestant Reformation, since it justified wealth and power as Divine rewards, and negated Jesus' statements about the poor and weak. It would naturally be appropriate for Mr. Bush, whose entire career has been based on family connections all the way to the presidency.

On Dec. 4, 2003, The Nation magazine published a review of President Bush's religious language which found evidence of several other questionable beliefs. Among these are Manicheism, Messianism, and manipulation of prayer. The Christian Science Monitor, on March 17, 2003, reported that "The president's rhetoric worries even some evangelicals," particularly those concerned with his Middle Eastern policies. However, the Monitor also reports "... the infusion of religious conviction into presidential speeches warms many hearts. To one of his most vocal supporters, Bush is simply using the language of American civil religion."

One critical consideration is that the president has always been most effective when making a prepared speech, and least effective when speaking extemporaneously. Because his remarks are those of his speech writers, it may be difficult to tell what the president's own feelings are. Every politician makes some attempt at finding affinity with a voting bloc, even if this is as superficial as eating a knish in New York to appeal to the Jewish voters, or wearing the hat of the local sports franchise. The Nation's report notes that Mr. Bush began to extend his use of religious language on the recommendation of Karl Rove, who has been the eminence grise behind President Bush's entire political career.

Rove is at once a brilliant political adviser and a cynic who has learned to use the basest instincts of the voting public to benefit his clients. Since Mr. Bush's interjection of religion into politics apparently stems from Mr. Rove's influence, it seems appropriate to question the president's sincerity. This is a challenge, since President Bush has been careful to avoid candid comments, and stick to prepared scripts -- but there is one comment that stands out.

When Bob Woodward, researching his book Plan of Attack asked President Bush how he thought history would judge the invasion of Iraq, the president replied "history doesn't matter -- we'll be dead." This comment, made on the record but in evident candor, flies in the face of Conservative Christian theology. While Conservative Christians may dispute other issues, one unifying factor has been belief in the afterlife. Several Biblical references describe both the nature and location of both heaven and hell, and for those who believe that the Bible is inerrant, subject to literal interpretation, these words should be taken as true. Proverbs 23:18 says "For surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off."

President Bush's words seem to eerily echo those of the economist John Maynard Keynes, who said, "In the long run, we're all dead." An article in U-Turn, a Christian quarterly, describes Keynes as "the anti-Christian economist." Although the article was published in 1995, it contains a warning: Our public debt represents our lust to consume today without thought for tomorrow. We have, in large measure, spent our children's inheritance (as my least favorite bumper sticker reads). We have, to put it very bluntly, practiced [unwise] economics, but we have not, as Mr. Keynes expected, spent ourselves into prosperity." This warning seems to apply even more today, with the Bush administration running record deficits in place of the budget surplus that was seen during the Clinton years.

In this rare candid statement, President Bush set himself apart from his political base. He does not share their values; it is unclear what values he does have. In spite of this, few have seen through his facade. While Mr. Bush has managed to prove that if he wears the right outfit, some people will think he's a cowboy and that a flight suit will make him a jet pilot (a job he walked out on when it suited his purpose), there is no costume store that can turn him into a Christian of any denomination. That calls for sincere belief which his own words and actions call into question.

Christ loved the poor, yet Bush rewards the rich. Christ said "Suffer the little children to come unto me," yet under this president, hundreds of thousands of children have lost their health insurance.

John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." George W. Bush says "history doesn't matter, we'll be dead." Which one should a Conservative Christian trust?

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y.

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