Thursday, July 26, 2007

President Bush's Theology

The following is a quote by Pres. Bush from David Brooks' most recent New York Times column:
The other debate [about Iraq] is whether or not it is a hopeless venture to encourage the spread of liberty. Most of you all around this table are much better historians than I am. And people have said, you know, this is Wilsonian, it's hopelessly idealistic. One, it is idealistic, to this extent: It's idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist.
Even conservative bloggers, many of whom are Christians, jumped all over this statement. Christianity Today has it here.

Listen, I can appreciate the President recognizing every humans' right, and desire, to be free. This is admirable and good. Is this a theologically sound basis for conducting war? I don't think so. In fact, many might argue Jesus opposed violence. So, Mr. President, please keep God out of American foreign policy, it makes Him look bad.


RCSJackson said...

Good thing we're keeping Church and State separate as always. Bush will always lean on his faith like a crutch. It's the only thing that keeps him in favor with many of the conservative voters.

T said...

Thought you would enjoy this excerpt from a recent paper I wrote:

It is too simplistic and partisan to claim President Bush exploited “the opportunity of 9-11” to gain the national mandate he lacked in the contested 2000 election results and advance his foreign policy agenda. Instead, what is probably more accurate to conclude is that he was fundamentally changed by the events of 9-11, and that this change shaped the rhetoric that followed.

There is a line that connects President Bush’s more hastily constructed, reassuringly heart-felt words from the Oval Office in 2001, and the more refined language of 2002. This connecting thread is his Christian faith and theological perspective. George W. Bush is a true believer. What he believes drives his messages and troubles others of similar faith.

What many have found concerning has been his cooption of Christian scripture in his persuasive arguments for the war on terrorism and foreign policy doctrine of preemptive force. Since Bush’s 2001 and 2002 remarks were, in some ways, a syncretism of Christian theology and nationalism, a more theological evaluation of his argumentation is appropriate.

Early in his 2001 remarks, Bush made subtle biblical references. He evoked the calling of Abraham and God’s promise for a future nation of Israel in Genesis 12:2: “A great people has been moved to defend a great nation” (2001b, p. 1). He equated the mission of the nation of the United States to the role of Jesus Christ described in Matthew 5:14: “America [is] . . . the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining” (p. 1).

In concluding his remarks at Ellis Island in 2002, Bush again touched on the preeminence of American hope and freedom in the word, using words directly from John 1:5: “This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it” (2002a, p. 1). Yet John’s Gospel in particular clearly describes this hope and “light” as the person of Jesus Christ: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, Today’s New International Version). “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).

The speeches of 2001 and 2002 signaled a pattern of Bush of appropriating Christological language to build nationalistic fervor within his audience. He also invoked biblical language and imagery in his September 14, 2001, homily at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, and has done so repeatedly in many of his annual State of the Union speeches.

Some critics, including Christian social activist and author Jim Wallace, have described this as dangerous theology: “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” (2003, p. 4).

On a rhetorical basis, these scriptures were used as devices to persuade the audience. While they were very effective in doing so at the time, increasingly theologians are pointing out the errors in Bush’s exegesis. His repeated claim that America’s “responsibility to history is . . . to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil” (Bush, 2001a, p. 1) was not warranted by the theological data he presented that attempted to equate the role of the United States with the mission of Jesus Christ. While both could be said to seek to rid the world of evil, the means of doing so stand in sharp contrast to each other. Where Bush sought divine endorsement for using military power against evil, Jesus Christ laid aside the power of his divinity: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8)!