September 30, 2004


Think Again: God-phobic Jews (Jonathan Rosenblum, Sep. 23, 2004, THE JERUSALEM POST)

American Jews live in terror of religious Christians - the kind who tell their elected representatives that America will be judged by its treatment of Israel. (Well-heeled Presbyterians, who have, like most Jews, reduced religion to "good deeds," such as boycotting Israel, trouble them far less.) Every litany of the evils of George W. Bush includes his religiosity.

An August 12 op-ed by Eli Valley of the Steinhardt Foundation's Jewish Life Network perfectly captured American Jewry's anti-Christian phobia and general disdain for religion. The most frightening thing about President Bush, wrote Valley, is that he "has made no secret of his spiritual devotion."

Fundamentalist Christians hope for the conversion of all Jews and thus the end of Jewish religion, warns Valley, and that should make every Jew shudder. Even if the charge were true, it should cause no shudders: Given the phenomenal success of American Jews in ending the Jewish religion through intermarriage and assimilation, there is little left for Christian fundamentalists to do.

It makes no sense, alleges Valley, to fight Islamic fundamentalism with Christian fundamentalism. That would be true, however, only if Christian suicide bombers were seeking to spread the rule of Christendom around the globe. (Two weeks ago, Al Gore used the same clumsy "fundamentalist" brush to link radical Islamists, Orthodox Jews, and George W. Bush.)

Valley further claims that devout Christians, like Bush, are incapable of fact-based reasoning, and implies that their "longing for Apocalypse" leads them to make war. No doubt he believes that. His secular faith thereby spares him the trouble of having to engage the premises of Bush's foreign policy, of which Norman Podhoretz, not generally known as either a Christian fundamentalist or a seeker of Apocalypse, offers a spirited 38-page defense in the current edition of Commentary. Podhoretz cites numerous facts, and makes many rational-sounding arguments: he does not quote Scripture.

American Jews have become positively God-phobic. Pity hapless Cameron Kerry, who promoted his brother to a gathering of Orthodox Jews on the grounds that he would never appoint an attorney-general who begins his work day with prayer. No doubt that line was a surefire winner with secular Jewish groups. How was Kerry, a Reform convert, to know that Orthodox Jews begin and end their day in the same way?

For fear of aiding and abetting religion, major Jewish organizations, including the Reform movement, consistently adopt the most extreme positions on separation of state and religion.

Now on DVD: The Passion of the Bush (Frank Rich, 10/03/04, NY Times)
Of the many cultural grenades being tossed that day, though, the one must-see is "George W. Bush: Faith in the White House," a DVD that is being specifically marketed in "head to head" partisan opposition to "Fahrenheit 9/11." This documentary first surfaced at the Republican convention in New York, where it was previewed in tandem with an invitation-only, no-press-allowed "Family, Faith and Freedom Rally," a Ralph Reed-Sam Brownback jamboree thrown by the Bush campaign for Christian conservatives. Though you can buy the DVD for $14.95, its makers told the right-wing news service that they plan to distribute 300,000 copies to America's churches. And no wonder. This movie aspires to be "The Passion of the Bush," and it succeeds.

More than any other campaign artifact, it clarifies the hard-knuckles rationale of the president's vote-for-me-or-face-Armageddon re-election message. It transforms the president that the Democrats deride as a "fortunate son" of privilege into a prodigal son with the "moral clarity of an old-fashioned biblical prophet." Its Bush is not merely a sincere man of faith but God's essential and irreplaceable warrior on Earth. The stations of his cross are burnished into cinematic fable: the misspent youth, the hard drinking (a thirst that came from "a throat full of Texas dust"), the fateful 40th-birthday hangover in Colorado Springs, the walk on the beach with Billy Graham. A towheaded child actor bathed in the golden light of an off-camera halo re-enacts the young George comforting his mom after the death of his sister; it's a parable anticipating the future president's miraculous ability to comfort us all after 9/11. An older Bush impersonator is seen rebuffing a sexual come-on from a fellow Bush-Quayle campaign worker hovering by a Xerox machine in 1988; it's an effort to imbue our born-again savior with retroactive chastity. As for the actual president, he is shown with a flag for a backdrop in a split-screen tableau with Jesus. The message isn't subtle: they were separated at birth. [...]

"Will George W. Bush be allowed to finish the battle against the forces of evil that threaten our very existence?" Such is the portentous question posed at the film's conclusion by its narrator, the religious broadcaster Janet Parshall, beloved by some for her ecumenical generosity in inviting Jews for Jesus onto her radio show during the High Holidays. Anyone who stands in the way of Mr. Bush completing his godly battle, of course, is a heretic. Facts on the ground in Iraq don't matter. Rational arguments mustered in presidential debates don't matter. Logic of any kind is a nonstarter. The president - who after 9/11 called the war on terrorism a "crusade," until protests forced the White House to backpedal - is divine. He may not hear "voices" instructing him on policy, testifies Stephen Mansfield, the author of one of the movie's source texts, "The Faith of George W. Bush," but he does act on "promptings" from God. "I think we went into Iraq not so much because there were weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Mansfield has explained elsewhere, "but because Bush had concluded that Saddam Hussein was an evildoer" in the battle "between good and evil." So why didn't we go into those other countries in the axis of evil, North Korea or Iran? Never mind. To ask such questions is to be against God and "with the terrorists."

The propagandists of "Faith in the White House" argue, as others have, that the president's invocation of religion in the public sphere, from his citation of Jesus as his favorite "political philosopher" to his incessant invocation of the Almighty in talking about how everything is coming up roses in Iraq, is consistent with the civic spirituality practiced by his antecedents, from the founding fathers to Bill Clinton. It's not. Past presidents have rarely, if ever, claimed such godlike infallibility. Mr. Bush never admits to making a mistake; even his premature "Mission Accomplished" victory lap wasn't in error, as he recently told Bill O'Reilly. After all, if you believe "God wants me to be president" - a quote attributed to Mr. Bush by the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention - it's a given that you are incapable of making mistakes. Those who say you have are by definition committing blasphemy. A God-appointed leader even has the power to rewrite His texts. Jim Wallis, the liberal evangelical author, has pointed out Mr. Bush's habit of rejiggering specific scriptural citations so that, say, the light shining into the darkness is no longer God's light but America's and, by inference, the president's own.

It's not just Mr. Bush's self-deification that separates him from the likes of Lincoln, however; it's his chosen fashion of Christianity. The president didn't revive the word "crusade" idly in the fall of 2001. His view of faith as a Manichaean scheme of blacks and whites to be acted out in a perpetual war against evil is synergistic with the violent poetics of the best-selling "Left Behind" novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and Mel Gibson's cinematic bloodfest. The majority of Christian Americans may not agree with this apocalyptic worldview, but there's a big market for it. A Newsweek poll shows that 17 percent of Americans expect the world to end in their lifetime. To Karl Rove and company, that 17 percent is otherwise known as "the base." [...]

The re-election juggernaut has not only rounded up the membership rosters of churches en masse but quietly mounted official Web sites like as well. (Evangelicals and Mormons have their own Web variants on this same theme, but not the Jews, who are apparently getting in Kerry just what they deserve.)

What's interesting about Mr. Rich's column is not its, typical for him, hysterical claim that evangelical Christianity is de facto anti-Semitism, but that the Times apparently finds his ravings important enough to be released several days early, as if he might affect our perceptions of the debate tonight or something.

-REVIEW: of George W. Bush: Faith in the White House (Mark Moring, 08/24/04, Christianity Today)

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 30, 2004 2:27 PM

Frank Rich defines evil as:

1. Any form of Christianity, or:
2. Any departure from left-liberal political opinions.

The assertion that evil might mean something else is terribly bruising to his Weltanschaaung.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at September 30, 2004 5:31 PM

The thing to remember about Frank Rich is that when he was drama critic for the NY Times, he was notorious for not attending the plays that he was reviewing. Adults do not waste time with him.

Sadly, there is a significant amount of hostility among Jews of all religious stripes towards the integration of religion and politics. 2000 years of victimization by Catholic and Islamic rulers will do that to you. As Jews integrate into the American scene, especially the Protestant South and Southwest, and as Jews start to become more comfortable with the American notion that strong religious faith and persecuting the 'other' need not go hand in hand, this is changing. In addition, we are also learning that anti-Jewish sentiment is not the sole property of those of other religions but that the non-religious can be pretty hateful as well.

Posted by: Bart at September 30, 2004 6:21 PM

Frank Rich has morphed into Whoopi Goldberg. And he might even like that comparison.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 1, 2004 12:27 PM