March 31, 2002


Bush Strikes Religious Note in an Address for Holidays (ELISABETH BUMILLER, March 31, 2002, NY Times)
Mr. Bush was raised an Episcopalian and became a Methodist after he married. In 1986, the year he stopped drinking, he joined a men's Bible study group and said he was recommitting his heart to Jesus Christ. Evangelicals call Mr. Bush's commitment to Christ a "born again" experience, although the president does not use that term to describe himself.

Mr. Bush often mentions God and faith in his speeches and public remarks, but rarely as emphatically as he did today. As if mindful of that, Mr. Bush took care to point out in his remarks, however briefly, that "many good people practice no faith at all."

Mr. Bush once again cast the war against terrorism as a struggle between good and evil, overseen by a god who had long ago taken sides.

"In this season, we are assured that history is of moral design," Mr. Bush said. "Justice and cruelty have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. His purposes are often defied, but never defeated."

Mr. Bush concluded, "I hope that this holy season will bring renewal of faith to those who seek it, and comfort to those who need it."

Lost in the storm of indignation that greeted Edmund Morris's admittedly odd bio, Dutch, was his up-close assessment of how the failed assassination attempt and the president's faith combined to give Ronald Reagan a sublime sense that he had been saved for a purpose and that the purpose was to oversee the final victory over the Soviet Union. That seems like a pretty significant story for the White House press corps to have completely whiffed on, but when you get right down to it, the press generally does an abysmal job of covering religion and shows very little understanding of how religious beliefs may inform the lives of public figures.

To the best of my recollection, most of the stories about George W's religious beliefs came out around the time he said that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher and they were uniformly contemptuous. But when you hear language like this you would think that intelligent people whose job it is to cover the president would at least make an effort to understand what he's saying. Most stories on the war and on the Palestinian situation continue to focus on rather mundane political calculations, as if once we know bin Laden is dead or once the November elections or the '04 re-election bid are done with, he can move on to other things. If the things we hear periodically both from the President's own mouth and from those who know him best (Don Evans and others) are true and he does understand what's going on in stark Manichean terms, then such inside baseball type analysis seems very shallow and is likely to prove entirely wrong.

If the President understands himself to be a vessel of God's will, leading the forces of good in a struggle with evil, as he has, I think, said or at least implied, then journalists, pundits, and Democrats who think that the whole war is a Karl Rove production designed to drum up good poll numbers are profoundly deluding themselves. And in the process they are more than likely misserving their readers (or constituents). Personally, I'm untroubled by the idea of the war as a holy crusade, but it's hard to imagine that everyone else, especially the liberal elites of the press and the Democratic Party, would greet this prospect with the same equanimity. Maybe they should be paying more attention to what the President is saying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 31, 2002 10:28 PM
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