On George Bush and Religion

Column No. 7 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH – April 8, 2004


Organized religion and its exploitation is an obvious major feature of the Bush II Presidency, the one that I like to refer to as the “Georgite” regime.  There is a view held in some quarters that this is simply cynical politics: that many Right-Wing Republican policies fit into and/or reflect the agenda of the Christian Right, which then forms the electoral center of the Bush Base.  Certainly, many of the top Georgites appear to be anything but True Believers: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, and Perle. They all seem eminently secular. As for Karl Rove, who knows if he has any true beliefs, one way or another?

But does that view apply to the top-dog Georgite, G.W. Bush himself?  Is he simply a cynical politician, mouthing phrases to take advantage of a group of Right-Wing voters who just happen to hold, very strongly, to a particular brand of hellfire and brimstone old-fashioned Protestant theology?  I don’t think so.  I think that this George is a true believer, himself.  And that makes him even more dangerous.

In this column, you will find some evidence to support my position (and one or two other observations on political religion as well).

On Bush and God

If you think that Bush is just “playing his base” for votes, and doesn’t really believe the “God put him there stuff” that Gary Bauer shares with us (see the next item below), take a look at this (if you have not already seen it):

According to [Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud] Abbas, immediately thereafter Bush said: 'God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.' http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=310788&contrassID=2&subContrassID=1&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y

If this is not some sort of joke, this is beyond what even Johnathan Westminster predicted in his book The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2002-2022.  Westminster’s fictional Republican/Religious Rightist President was simply using the religious fanatics to further his own political aims.  He didn't really BELIEVE the stuff.  Bush apparently does (see next item).  Oh my!

George Bush and his Personal Religious Beliefs

On Independence Day, 2002, President Bush attended services at the West Ripley Baptist Church in Ripley, West Virginia.  As is well known, the Southern Baptists are at the center of the Christian Right.  Clearly demonstrating the level of his commitment to ecumenism, tolerance, understanding, and personal sensitivity, the church's Pastor, one Rev. Jack Miller, had the following to say in his invocation that day (Newsday, July 5, 2002):

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of multiculturalism.  We have been forced to honor sexual  deviance in the name of freedom of expression. We have exploited the system of education in the name of the lottery. We have toyed with the idea of helping end human life in the name of medical research.  We have killed our unborn children in the name of choice.

Now Pres. Bush is nominally a Methodist.  That he chose to attend that particular Baptist congregation on that highly symbolic day is highly symbolic.  Among other things, he was clearly demonstrating what his own commitment to ecumenism, tolerance, understanding, and personal sensitivity, and so on and so forth, really is.  Further, in remarks subsequent to those of the Pastor, in which he took no exception to anything the latter had said, President Bush clearly set forth his own position on the matter of the appropriate relationship between church and state.  Changing that relationship, as it is spelled out in the Constitution that is (again as is well known) the prime focus of the Christian Right.

Commenting on the then recent Federal appeals court ruling that including the words "under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance as recited in a public school violates the Constitutional separation of church and state, Bush said:

"No authority of government can ever prevent an American from pledging allegiance to this one nation under God."  (See also below.)

Bush, whether by mis-direction or misunderstanding, did not deal with the question that that court addressed and the Supreme Court is now addressing: whether government, in the form of a public school authority, can force someone to recite the Pledge with the words "under God" in it.  As documented at length in Westminster’s book, the Christian Right has as its ultimate goal the declaration of the United States to be what it would define as a "Christian Nation" (see esp. chap. 10 of that book; see also Katherine Yurica’s “The Despoiling of America,” www.yuricareport.com/Dominionism).  To it, the words that Bush did utter were more music to the ears than even the most sacred of hymns could be.

Forgetting about theology for the moment, and forgetting that there are many Christians in the United States who have an entirely different views on “morality” and what public policy concerning it should be, the Invocation by Pastor Ripley and the support given to its thoughts by Pres. Bush, present a clear picture of what the United States of America as a "Christian Nation" as the Christian Right would define the term would look like.

George Bush obviously believes this stuff.  He is not just “going along with it” to “appeal to his base.”  He IS his base. Gary Bauer, one of the leading ideologues of the Christian Right has told us that “God was working to put into the White House a man whose life had been transformed by accepting Christ. . . . God put George Bush there for a time like this [post-9/11].'" And George Bush, doesn’t just say “thanks Gary,” when statements like this are made.  He believes them himself (see also below). This is really scary stuff, and somehow, it has to become a major issue in the upcoming Presidential campaign, if Constitutional Democracy as we know it is to be preserved.

On Certain Bush Appointments

About a year ago, Pres. Bush appointed one Dr. W. David Hager to head the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration.  This Committee makes crucial decisions on matters relating to drugs used in the practice of obstetrics, gynecology and related specialties, including hormone therapy, contraception, treatment for infertility, and medical alternatives to surgical procedures for sterilization and pregnancy termination.  And so, who is Dr. Hager?

He is a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist who describes himself as "pro-life" and refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women. He is the author of As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now. The book blends biblical accounts of Christ healing women with case studies from Hager's practice. In a book that Dr. Hager wrote with his wife, entitled Stress and the Woman's Body, he suggests that women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome should seek help from reading the bible and praying.

Ah yes, one might say, but he is entitled to his views.  But one might also say that in a position such as the one to which he has been appointed, science is important. As an editor and contributing author of "The Reproduction Revolution: A Christian Appraisal of Sexuality, Reproductive Technologies and the Family," Dr. Hager appears to have endorsed the medically inaccurate assertion that the common birth control pill is an abortifacient. He has an ardent interest in revoking approval for mifepristone (formerly known as RU-486) as a safe and early form of medical abortion.

This is precisely why the Founders wrote the Wall of Separation into the Constitution.  They knew, from their experience with England and the experience of their English forebears that stretched back to the time of the first Pilgrim immigration fleeing religious persecution there that "religion in government" doesn't mean that "religion," lower-case "r," as a concept say of the existence of a supernatural being, is in government.  They knew that it meant precisely this: a particular Religion and Religious ideology, with an uppercase “R,” is in control of the government, and the force of the criminal law backs up its writ.

Bush on “Under God” and the Pledge of Allegiance

From the New York Times: “One Crucial Issue in Pledge Case: What Does Under God Mean?,” March 22, 2004, by LINDA GREENHOUSE:

According to a form letter signed by President Bush and sent to those who wrote the White House about the federal appeals court decision in June 2002 that declared the pledge unconstitutional, reciting the pledge is a way of proclaiming ‘our reliance on God’ and of ‘humbly seeking the wisdom and blessing of divine providence.’

This letter . . .  concluded by expressing the wish that “the almighty continue to watch over the United States of America.” . . .

[In presenting the government’s case before the Supreme Court, the Georgites of course opposing the appellate court decision ruling that “under God” could not stand in a pledge that is required for recitation in a public school] Solicitor General Olson told the justices that the appeals court misunderstood the pledge. The phrase ‘under God’ did not place the pledge in the category of religious expressions that the Supreme Court has found unconstitutional, he said, for example “state-sponsored prayers, religious rituals or ceremonies, or the requirement of teaching or not teaching a religious doctrine.”

Rather, Mr. Olson said, ‘under God’ was one of various “civic and ceremonial acknowledgments of the indisputable historical fact that caused the framers of our Constitution and the signers of the Declaration of Independence to say that they had the right to revolt and start a new country.” He said the framers believed “that God gave them the right to declare their independence when the king has not been living up to the unalienable principles given to them by God.”

(It should be noted here that if Jefferson had meant “God,” he would have said “God.”  The word in the declaration is, rather, “Creator,” one that as a practicing atheist I am perfectly happy with.  For to me “Creator” means simply the laws of chemistry and physics that have operated the Universe since its formation and lead eventually to the processes of life and evolution.)

Funny, but the next time the Solicitor General of the United States testifies before the Supreme Court on such an issue, I should think that he had better check with his boss on what the government’s position really is.

And finally, here is the text of a Doonesbury strip that well expresses the  Georgite theology (Newsday, March 14, 2004).  Gary Trudeau's G.H.W. Bush figure (a Roman helmet) is talking with his G.W. Bush figure (an asterisk).

HW: Son, do you know why I decided not to invade Iraq?

W: Haven't a clue, Dad.

HW: Really? I put it in my book.

W: Books are Laura's thing.

HW: Let me read you some excerpts... "An occupation of Iraq would have incurred incalculable human and political costs... There was no viable exit strategy... Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

W: I don't recall any of that, Dad.

HW: But it was reported ion all the papers.

W: I don't read the papers.

HW (to himself): Another child left behind (to W): Nice to talk to you, son.

W: Listen, Dad, you're either with or against me.

Which sums up George Bush’s theology: the 5th century Manichean Heresy of the dualism between Good and Evil -- in modern dress!