May 19, 2006


Religion and politics: All the president's truths (Stanley R Sloan, International Herald Tribune, May 18th, 2006)

Besieged by plummeting approval ratings and mounting domestic and foreign challenges, President George W. Bush nonetheless keeps the faith. Speaking to a California audience last month, he affirmed that he bases "a lot of foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an almighty. ... Secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul ... to be free."

Such a statement will surely add to the distress of many friends of the United States who believe that it has been led astray by such beliefs. The concern is about a president who so strongly believes he is doing "God's work" that he cannot see mistakes when he makes them or alternative policies when events cry out for them.

Europeans have always been uncomfortable with the way American presidents have invoked God in support of U.S. policies. Bush didn't start this, but he has practiced it with more conviction than most of his predecessors.

A French foreign policy expert, François Heisbourg, has put European concerns this way: "The biblical references in politics, the division of the world between good and evil, these are things that we simply don't get. In a number of areas, it seems to me that we are no longer part of the same civilization."

As opposed to America, where religion has historically been on the side of "freedom," Europe's experience suggests that the church is not always a friend of democracy, and that religion can be a source of conflict as much as an instrument for peace. For Europeans the political success of the 18th-century Enlightenment was that it ensured a social contract based on reason, rather than on an absolute truth that made discussion and debate impossible.

For the most part, religious faith has reinforced many of the values on which European and American civil societies are based. The freedom to worship in a faith of one's choice is an important source of cohesion and peace in our societies.

But some Europeans have lately equated the danger of American evangelical fundamentalism's influence on U.S. policy with that posed by radical Islamic fundamentalism.

A European friend put it this way: "In Europe, it is newcomers who are challenging the fundamental values on which our political system is built, whereas in the United States this challenge comes from a core indigenous group's perversion of the founding values of their own system." She added, "I find this even more scary."

Of course you do, sweetie. You drank anti-Americanisn from your mother’s breast and you will seize on any aspect of American society to frame it. Just as you once found American free enterprise “more scary” than Soviet statism, so now you have convinced yourself there is more to fear from the Southern Baptist leadership than the Islamicism engulfing you. Unfortunately, your liberal American counterpart drank philo-Europeanism at his mother’s breast and instintively assumes you must be on to something in your infinite sophistication. He therefore turns on his own stronger, more resilient society, realizing far too late, if ever, that your rote, timeless whine is born of atavistic resentments and arrogance and has little to do with anything America is actually doing or not doing.

To be fair, the European experience with church and state is so different and so fraught with extremes on both sides that a wariness of both informs the decent and democratic among them. But this article bespeaks another modern trend that is just as endemic in North America. Whereas in the past religious belief was seen by most people, even non-believers, as a desirable social glue and general character ballast, today more and more of secular society is unable to even conceive of a (white) religious person who isn’t misanthropic, contemptuous of reason, enslaved to scriptural literalism and hellbent on undoing democracy and the Bill of Rights. President Bush’s inspiring and actually quite innocuous statement that he believes in the Almighty and derives a preference for freedom over slavery from that belief chills the modern chattering classes as much as if he had declared he bases the implementation of U.S. foreign policy on the Book of Revelations. This has nothing to do with religion in America and everything to do with minds that have been intentionally deprived of any religious education and that consequently cannot progress spiritually and intellectually beyond the version of faith taught to five year olds. We here are generally bullish on President Bush, but we would be the first to admit that, man, he is one lousy theocrat.

Posted by Peter Burnet at May 19, 2006 6:34 AM

Slightly OT - over at the NRO Corner yesterday they were having a discussion as to why Bush was being so stupid on the immigration (i.e. he's stupid because he doesn't want to kick out the 12MM). The answer they seemed to settle on is that Bush is a compassionate, God-fearing man who actually beleives (gasp) that the illegals are people too and should be treated with respect.

Posted by: AWW at May 19, 2006 8:24 AM

Another Slightly OT - some have said Bush's tone in his immigration speech reminded them of Reagan i.e. positive, not negative. NRO and others say well yes but Bush is no Reagan in that Reagan was a law and order type and wouldn't be thinking of amnesty for the illegals. Of course they are forgetting the amnesty that Reagan did in the early 1980s that is roudly criticized now.

Posted by: AWW at May 19, 2006 8:27 AM


Shame on you! You dared to (mildly) cast aspersions on NRO's Saint Ronald Reagan. Now you shall be cast into darkness, or have John Derbyshire beat you over the head with bundles copies of old NR mags.

Posted by: Brad S at May 19, 2006 8:46 AM

Brad - Isn't he praising Reagan and casting aspersions on NRO?

Posted by: pj at May 19, 2006 10:14 AM

I think it is really upsetting the media that Bush's low poll numbers are not changing how he acts. I mean every story begins with the same lead about "Bush's low poll numbers". It's getting to be rather funny actually.

Posted by: BJW at May 19, 2006 10:36 AM

Heisbourg: when were you ever?

Posted by: Kirk Parker at May 19, 2006 10:51 AM

PJ - yes I was casting aspersions on NRO, not Reagan. But unlike NRO I can acknowledge that Reagan was not perfect.

BJW - What has been interesting is that a review of these bad polls for Bush and the GOP usually shows that they are a bit slanted (i.e. oversampled Dems, done on the weekend, the way questions are phrased, etc) but the MSM and even worse the conservative pundits/bloggers just keep pushing them.

Posted by: AWW at May 19, 2006 10:53 AM

Actually, he was casting aspersions on RWR. NRO's RWR, that is:)

Posted by: Brad S at May 19, 2006 11:52 AM

"To be fair, the European experience with church and state is so different and so fraught with extremes on both sides that a wariness of both informs the decent and democratic among them."

What wariness of state? Modern Europe is based on the French model, which involves the total domination of State over church, and most especially Church.

Posted by: b at May 19, 2006 1:06 PM

Getting back to the C.E.S.M. "foreign policy expert" who doubts that America and France are part of the same civilization, we may be thankful that they are finally catching on.

Froggie a**h*le--probably lives on Rue de Mumia-abu-Jamal.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 19, 2006 1:13 PM

Good observations, Peter.

There is all too much crying "wolf" over theocracy going on, what with Kevin Phillips book and Andrew Sullivan's ranting. It just makes it harder to publicize real abuses of religious authoritarianism when they occur.

The problem with Bush's immigration policy is not his reasons are religious but that they are squishy, sentimental, Jimmie Carter type religious. It's Sentimentality Uber Alles, good feelings will win the day.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at May 19, 2006 3:00 PM

Bush didn't start this, but he has practiced it with more conviction than most of his predecessors.

In other words, it was ok for Clinton to say it because we knew he was lying.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 19, 2006 4:43 PM

How unkind (and in my opinion inaccurate) to compare Bush to Carter. Besides, you might hurt Jimmie's feelings.

Posted by: jdkelly at May 19, 2006 4:44 PM

I missed that, David. Nice.

Posted by: Peter B at May 19, 2006 7:00 PM