Continuing the discussion about Gary Wills on faith and Bush, this article from two years ago indicates, once again, how slippery history, and definitions, are. For openers:
Like no president in recent memory, George W. Bush wields his Christian righteousness like a flaming sword. Indeed, hundreds of news stories and nearly half a dozen books have evinced a White House that, according to BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb, “hums to the sound of prayer.” Yet for the past four years the mainstream press has trod lightly, rarely venturing beyond the biographical to probe the depth, or sincerity, of Bush's Christian beliefs. Bush has no doubt benefited from the media’s reluctance; Newsweek, for example, in the heat of the run-up to the Iraq War, ran a cover package on the president’s faith under the headline “Bush and God” -- a story whose timing lent the war the aura of having heavenly sanction. Even lefty believers like Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, and Amy Sullivan, journalist and Democratic adviser, politely maintain that Bush’s faith is strong, if misguided.Although this may be closer to what Wills means (or may not, opinions can vary):
Indeed, in an 8,000-word lamentation appearing in The New York Times Magazine last weekend, Ron Suskind attempted to trace Bush’s lack of intellectual curiosity, and the policy disasters that have stemmed from that, back to his relationship with God. “That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge,” Suskind wrote. In other words, the devil, as it were, is lurking among the articles of faith, but not in the heart of the man.
This is a huge mistake, because when judged by his deeds, an entirely different picture emerges: Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.
Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House. Though Bush easily weaves Christian language and themes into his political communication, empty religious jargon is no substitute for a bedrock faith. Even little children in Sunday school know that Jesus taught his disciples to live according to his commandments, not simply to talk about them a lot. In Bush’s case, faith without works is not just dead faith -- it’s evangelical agitprop.I have to say, having grown up in a town where, as Rick said, there were more Baptists than people, this kind of "Christian" is the defining norm, not the aberration. I know a number of very successful, very Baptist, businessmen, who thought nothing of seeking the advantage in a business deal, or keeping the knowledge of their liquor cabinet a carefully guarded secret. Most of them, in fact, and like most of us, were at best "Dalmatian" Christians (yes, I'm trying to get you to read the article).
This, however, is the money quote:
Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has met with the president and advised the Bush White House. “I sat down with [Bush],” he told me. “What I do know is that … [the president] is an honest guy who really believes what he says.”Faith, after all, is about trusting God. Power, is about thinking you are in control. As I've said before, those who pursue power never control it; it controls them. Ted Haggard has become the latest object lesson in that school of hard knocks.
For Bible-believing Christians, nothing in the entire world is more important than “walking” with Jesus; that is, engaging in a personal relationship with their savior and living according to his word. With this in mind, I recently asked Haggard, himself the pastor of a large church in Colorado, why the president, as a man of supposedly strong faith, did not publicly apologize for continually misleading Americans in the run-up to the Iraq War. Instead, Bush clung zealously to misinformation and half-truths. I asked Haggard why, as a man of Christian principle, Bush did not fully disavow Karl Rove’s despicable smear tactics and apologize for the ugly lies the Bush campaign spread over the years about Ann Richards, John McCain, and John Kerry, among others. After all, isn’t getting right with God -- whatever the political price --the most important thing for the sort of Christian Bush has proclaimed himself to be?
Haggard laughed as though my questions were the most naive he’d ever heard. “I think if you asked the president these questions once he’s out of office,” Haggard said, “he’d say, ‘You’re right. We shouldn’t have done it.’ But right now if he said something like that, well, the world would spin out of control!
And this is a sincere warning to those who would blend politics and religion:
“That’s why when Jimmy Carter ran, he [turned out to be] such a terrible president. Because when he [governed], he really tried to maintain [his integrity] and those types of values -- and that is virtually impossible.”Not to mention something of a warning, again, to people like Ted Haggard.
The pastor returned to my charges of Bush’s deceitfulness. “Listen,” he said testily, “I think [we Christian believers] are responsible not to lie [sic], but I don’t think we’re responsible to say everything we know.”
Where does this end? Here, for the article:
For most candidates running for office, foul play is par for the course. But Bush is not like most other candidates. If he is a Christian, he is called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a beacon of goodness and righteousness in a society havocked by moral depravity. In late May, Bush said as much to a group of Christian media players during a rare unscripted interview.Where it ends for George Bush and Karl Rove, has yet to be determined.
“I think a person's faith helps keep perspective in the midst of noise, pressure, sound -- all the stuff that goes on in Washington … ,” he explained. “It is one of the prayers I ask is that God's light shines through me as best as possible, no matter how opaque the window … .
“I'm in a world of … fakery and obfuscation, political back shots, and so I'm very mindful about the proper use of faith in this process And you can't fake your faith, nor can you use your faith as a shallow attempt to garner votes, otherwise you will receive the ultimate condemnation.” (emphasis added)
You can't, that is, if "ultimate condemnation" is your real concern. For the purposes of winning elections, it seems to do just fine.