Bush, Religion, and War
April 22, 2003
The hawks got their war, but it came at a heavy
cost to Americas image and reputation in the world. As they tell it,
France, Germany, and Russia were the petulant spoilers who tried to ruin
the party. But this ignores the wars huge unpopularity nearly
everywhere, not so much with governments (which can be bullied and
bribed) as with ordinary people. It also ignores the real spoiler: Pope John
Paul II, who, in his measured words, made his own opposition to the war
Robert L. Bartley of the
Wall Street Journal couples the Pope with the voices
of liberal Protestantism, which once again finds itself out of step with
the pews. He adds, The Pope has the same problem, of
course. And he quotes polls to prove it: 62 per cent of both
Catholics and mainline Protestants backed the war.
Bartley forgets to mention one
little fact: these are polls of American Catholics, a small fraction of the
worlds vast Catholic population. So the Pope is only out of
step with American pews.
As for the Iraq
war, Bartley concludes, what do the Pope and liberal
theologians make of the cheering crowds in Baghdad and Saddams
torture chambers? The presidents success has confounded his
critics.... Somehow its better, I suspect, for a president to talk to
God than to talk to pollsters.
The non sequiturs are running
almost too fast to keep up with here. How is the Popes moral
opposition confounded by the wars success? Did he
suggest that the war would be justified if the United States won? Since
when is success the Christian standard of righteousness?
Note too the implication that the
Pope of all men on earth! should be attentive to opinion
polls, while a president should disregard them (even though they favor him
in the United States, anyway). And now the war is justified by
cheering crowds and torture chambers? What about 9/11, terrorism,
weapons of mass destruction, and all the other urgent reasons we were
still being given only a few weeks ago?
Ah, success! Americans are rather notorious for measuring all
things by the bitch goddess, success. If you win, it must
mean you deserved to win. America loves success stories, from
Readers Digest to Business Week to
Vanity Fair. You too can be a success! Thats the
The Four Gospels tell a different
story. They werent taking polls yet on the first Good Friday, but if
they had, Jesus Christ would have been rated a pretty abject failure. He
died a miserable criminals death, covered with the mobs
spit, and his followers had scattered in fear. It didnt look like the
beginning of the greatest success story in human history.
Unlike the modern CEO, Christ
didnt surround himself with successful men. He chose poor
fishermen and despised tax collectors, and he kept company with rather
flagrant sinners. The Sermon on the Mount doesnt read like a
modern motivational speech to a roomful of ambitious executives. It
wouldnt do as a think piece in Bartleys paper.
Ever since, Christians have been
taught to be wary of worldly success indeed, to sympathize with
the poor and to glorify the martyr. Bartley implies that President Bush
talks to God rather than pollsters, but whom has he surrounded himself
with? Big businessmen and, if not tax collectors, men who are eager to
spend our taxes, especially on war.
Its one thing to defend
the president on political grounds. Its another to offer him as a
model of the Christian virtues. Only God can judge his heart, but the
appearances suggest a man of worldly aptitudes rather than supernatural
virtues. When a Christian is praised for success in the
Wall Street Journal, it may be time for him to take a good
look at himself. Its possible hes succeeding with the wrong
Bush is the most famously
religious president since Jimmy Carter; yet we know little of his specific
religious views, especially as they bear on his foreign policy. As Bartley
mentions, about 40 per cent of Americans believe that these are the last
days before Christs return. Does Bush share this belief, and has it
shaped his views on war in the Middle East?
These arent nosy
questions. Bushs theology, like the Popes, may affect the
fate of millions.
Joe Sobran's Biography.
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