April 29, 2004


62% Say World Better If More Like USA: 64% Say American Society Generally Fair and Decent (Rasmussen Reports, April 27, 2004)

More than six-out-of-ten American voters believe the USA is a good role model for the rest of the world.

A Rasmussen Reports survey found that 64% of voters believe that American society is generally fair and decent. Additionally, 62% believe the world would be a better place if other countries became more like the United States.

However, while a solid majority views the nation in this way, there are significant differences of opinion among partisan, ideological, and political fault lines.

Among Bush voters, 83% say that American society is generally fair and decent. Just 7% say it is basically unfair and discriminatory.

While Bush voters are united behind this perception, Kerry voters are divided--46% say fair and decent while 37% say unfair and discriminatory.

Eighty-one percent (81%) of Bush voters also believe the world would be better if other nations were more like the United States. This view is shared by just 48% of Kerry voters.

From an ideological perspective, 74% of conservatives say the world would be better if other nations were more like ours. Just 15% of conservatives believe it would be worse.

However, among self-identified liberals, the numbers are 49% better and 37% worse. A plurality of those who say they are very liberal believe the world would be in worse shape if other nations were more like ours.

Moderate voters, by a 3-to-1 margin think that having other nation's more like us would create a better world.

If you caught the excellent Frontline on the President's faith tonight, there was a hilarious bit with Jim Wallis of Sojourners fretting about Mr. Bush referring to terrorists as "evil." Here's the essay he more or less reiterated, Dangerous Religion: George W. Bush's theology of empire. (Jim Wallis, September-October 2003, Sojourners):
Since Sept. 11, President Bush has turned the White House "bully pulpit" into a pulpit indeed, replete with "calls" and "missions" and "charges to keep" regarding America's role in the world. George Bush is convinced that we are engaged in a moral battle between good and evil, and that those who are not with us are on the wrong side in that divine confrontation.

But who is "we," and does no evil reside with "us"? The problem of evil is a classic one in Christian theology. Indeed, anyone who cannot see the real face of evil in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is suffering from a bad case of postmodern relativism. To fail to speak of evil in the world today is to engage in bad theology. But to speak of "they" being evil and "we" being good, to say that evil is all out there and that in the warfare between good and evil others are either with us or against us—that is also bad theology. Unfortunately, it has become the Bush theology.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House carefully scripted the religious service in which the president declared war on terrorism from the pulpit of the National Cathedral. The president declared to the nation, "Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." With most every member of the Cabinet and the Congress present, along with the nation's religious leaders, it became a televised national liturgy affirming the divine character of the nation's new war against terrorism, ending triumphantly with the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." War against evil would confer moral legitimacy on the nation's foreign policy and even on a contested presidency.

What is most missing in the Bush theology is acknowledgement of the truth of this passage from the gospel of Matthew: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." A simplistic "we are right and they are wrong" theology rules out self-reflection and correction. It also covers over the crimes America has committed, which lead to widespread global resentment against us.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that every nation, political system, and politician falls short of God's justice, because we are all sinners. He specifically argued that even Adolf Hitler—to whom Saddam Hussein was often compared by Bush—did not embody absolute evil any more than the Allies represented absolute good. Niebuhr's sense of ambiguity and irony in history does not preclude action but counsels the recognition of limitations and prescribes both humility and self-reflection.

And what of Bush's tendency to go it alone, even against the expressed will of much of the world? A foreign government leader said to me at the beginning of the Iraq war, "The world is waiting to see if America will listen to the rest of us, or if we will all just have to listen to America." American unilateralism is not just bad political policy, it is bad theology as well. C.S. Lewis wrote that he supported democracy not because people were good, but rather because they often were not. Democracy provides a system of checks and balances against any human beings getting too much power. If that is true of nations, it must also be true of international relations. The vital questions of diplomacy, intervention, war, and peace are, in this theological view, best left to the collective judgment of many nations, not just one—especially not the richest and most powerful one.

In Christian theology, it is not nations that rid the world of evil—they are too often caught up in complicated webs of political power, economic interests, cultural clashes, and nationalist dreams. The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, and for the people of God when they faithfully exercise moral conscience. But God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state, much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular national interests. To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy.

It is, of course, nonsense to pretend that George Bush does not recognize evil in himself or his nation--the reason he talks about the need to create a Culture of Life is obviously because we currently have one that is too much of Death. Meanwhile, the idea that there's something theologically unsound about using whatever resources you have at hand to fight evil is just risible. We recently reviewed a terrific novel about Esther and here's what Mordechai told her when she tried to beg off coming to the assistance of her people:
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

We can't know if we were put here at this moment in time to fight the evil of radical Islamic terror, but we also can't weasel out of it and hope the fight and the evil pass us by.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 29, 2004 10:12 PM

Sure would be nice to have a few nice big military bases real close to that evil. Bases where we don't have to ask permission to launch a few jets or house a few divisions. I wonder how we could go about that without hurting anyone's feelings? I really hate it when the Europeans and the Left Wing in America call us Neocon Imperialistic War Mongering Empire Builders. ;)

Posted by: NC3 at April 29, 2004 11:03 PM

Put them in Israel--they owe us.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 11:17 PM

I can understand ideological differences and arguments over foreign policy. But how can so many honestly hold the view that the world would be worse off if it were more like the States? What realities are they seeing both at home and abroad? Especially those 15% of conservatives.

I wonder how Mr. Wallis feels about governments aggressively promotiong the Declaration of Human Rights and a UN-led world order.

Well, what do you know! "So in foreign policy, putting faith into action I think would be a deep concern for human rights. Jimmy Carter believed he was putting his faith into action when he became so concerned about human rights around the world."

Posted by: Peter B at April 30, 2004 7:00 AM

Peter B;

You ask "what are they seeing?". One thing -- universal health insurance.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 30, 2004 10:26 AM

Peter B;

You ask "what are they seeing?". One thing – universal health insurance.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 30, 2004 10:27 AM

"Put them in Israel--they owe us."

And the Iraqi's don't?

Posted by: NC3 at April 30, 2004 10:31 AM

They would have if we'd liberated them in '91.

Posted by: oj at April 30, 2004 10:41 AM

Frontline was excellent, as always. I am not a fan of George W Bush and dislike his faith based initiatives, but I thought it was completely ludicrous of Wallis to criticize Bush's speeches as bad theology when the President was simply acting in his capacity as a war leader. Did Abraham Lincoln or FDR ever equivocate? War rhetoric is always going to be unrealistically pious, but very necessary to keep morale up.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 30, 2004 2:36 PM

Show me a dedicated anti-American of any nationality and I'll show you a Kerry supporter.

Posted by: genecis at April 30, 2004 5:42 PM