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My colleague Ayelish McGarvey makes the case that George W. Bush is no Christian. It's not really about this, but the piece makes a useful supplement to Ron Suskind's description of life outside the reality-based community. As I wrote a few days ago, I think Suskind gets the line of causation reversed and attributes a personality flaw to Bush's religiosity whereas I think Ayelish would argue, more correctly, that Bush's ersatz Christianity is more a reflection of underlying flaws. See additional commentary from The Revealer.

October 19, 2004 | Permalink


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Until radical fundamentalist atheist extremists can come up with a secular scientific explanation for the origin of the universe, normal people are going to keep believing in Aristotle's First Cause Argument and the LORD God of the Holy Bible. It is your failure to understand this basic philosophical truth that will, among other things, lead to the reelection of left-wing President George W. Bush.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 19, 2004 11:32:51 PM

Look, I loathe Bush as much as the next member of the Reality-Based Community.

And Ayelish has written some decent articles for TAP.

But this essay that you've linked to is a really flimsy, ineffective, and hypocritical piece of character assassination.

The central thesis may indeed be true -- but there's no way of knowing it from the essay.

Posted by: The Confidence Man | Oct 19, 2004 11:37:53 PM

And as long as stupid people exist, they will continue to assert that barring absolutely undeniable evidence about, well, whatever, that it is equally valid to believe in utter make-believe, and that this make-believe leads inexorably to the existence of the precise devine being described in the Christian Bible.

And such people will continue to be the victims of pseudo-religious extremists like President George W. Bush

Posted by: adam | Oct 19, 2004 11:40:56 PM

According to Suskind, Matt, and Adam the following people are "stupid" because they believe that first principles (e.g. God) cannot be demonstrated empirically: Swedenborg, Leibniz, Pascal, Wittgenstein, Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Kant, Aristotle, and Ben Franklin.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 20, 2004 12:02:33 AM

This Ayelish McGarvey does good work. From where I stand, she seems more insightful about these issues than Amy Sullivan, so mark that down as a point for the American Prospect.

Posted by: JP | Oct 20, 2004 12:24:23 AM

Ask yourself, how could a good Christian (or "compassionate conservative" for that matter) hire Karl Rove, a man whose known modus operandi allows for such tactics as starting a whisper campaign about an innocent man, insinuating that he's a pedophile?

Somehow, I don't think that even passes the simple bumper-sticker test for Christianity: What Would Jesus Do? Unless there are some lost books of the Bible wherein Jesus fucks his competitors over by spreading vicious lies about them. Maybe that stuff's in the Apocrypha? We Babdists never read that stuff.

Posted by: Robert S. | Oct 20, 2004 12:28:42 AM

There's an article more or less on this topic by Bruce Lincoln, a brilliant professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, which was printed in the last issue of Christian Century and is also available on the web (at the link attached to this post.) It's certainly not his most brilliant work, but it does a good job of tracing the way Bush's theology and its expression develops over time.

Posted by: Larry | Oct 20, 2004 12:39:47 AM

Maybe he was playing catch-up, but when I saw Suskind on Matthews (OK, I watch it) he strongly implied that Bush has turned to religion as an emotional crutch (as he did in dealing with alcoholism) because he knows he is in over his head and scared. And indeed his professions of "certainty" do seem, somehow, like protesting too much.

One of the dangers here is that there is so much denial going on in so many ways in this administration, both collective/social and internal/emotional, that when the inevitable confrontation with reality finally happens it may be very traumatic and destabilizing both for the individuals involved and for the country.

Posted by: larry birnbaum | Oct 20, 2004 12:44:04 AM

From Wednesday's NY Times article titled:

"Cheney, Invoking the Specter of a Nuclear Attack, Questions Kerry's Strength"


While Mr. Cheney stumped on the terrorism issue in Ohio, Attorney General John Ashcroft suggested in a speech before the United Sates Chamber of Commerce in Washington that Providence was partly responsible for the United States' freedom from another attack since Sept. 11, 2001.

"For three years, our nation has been blessed," Mr. Ashcroft said. "But the hand of Providence has been assisted by the dedicated men and women of the Department of Justice. In three years, we have compiled a record of achievement that is impressive by peacetime standards."



Between Cheney and Ashcroft, the message seems to be: Vote for Kerry and God will go AWOL, leaving America naked to a nuclear terrorist attack.

Have I got that about right?

Posted by: Armsagettin' | Oct 20, 2004 1:12:43 AM

I don't know if George Bush is a Christian , and despite Jimmy Carter's real, faux, or misguided humble piety, I can't say if he is a true believer either.

The left has this love for the self flagellating ascetic and a dislike for the strong and successful. Outward humility or what may appear as humility, can mask inward arrogance, contempt and superiority for others. Outward strength, confidence and success don’t negate inward humility towards God and man.

When Jesus said " Blessed are the poor in spirit", he was trying to get individuals to recognize their utter poverty apart from God. The left's focus on anything less than an external ascetic humility, poverty and pacifism for Christians equates to hypocrisy. McGarvey made the statement “Bush, on the other hand, is no ascetic firebrand. The president has a net worth of nearly $20 million, and there is no indication that he is on the brink of abandoning his fortune to live righteously with the poor.” Jesus asked one man to give all his goods to the poor and then to follow him, and yet in the minds of many, this is the standard. The McGarvey's criticisms show a lack of understanding for orthodox theology, and a definite bias against the President.

The Confidence Man got it right,

“…. this essay that you've linked to is a really flimsy, ineffective, and hypocritical piece of character assassination”

Posted by: MCL | Oct 20, 2004 1:30:46 AM

The problem is not with Ayelish's terrific article, but with Suskind's. Suskind set up a false dichotomy -- fundamentalism vs. reason -- and then "resolved" it with liberal evangelical Jim Wallis. The irony is that Suskind didn't follow his own, reality-based method of observation. Had he done so, he would have had to conclude that Bush is NOT a fundamentalist, nor an evangelical. There's just no evidence in anything Bush says, nor in any of the arguments presented by his supporters in books like "The Faith of George W. Bush."

For all the Christian fury of Ayelish's article -- much appreciated by a media critic tired of the right monopolizing the pulpit -- she's the only one who looks at the empirical evidence and reaches a defensible conclusion: Bush is not a Christian in any traditional sense.

Posted by: Jeff Sharlet | Oct 20, 2004 2:35:29 AM

Modern Crusader -- most people 'round here would probably just say that saying God is the origin of everything kicks the question of origin up one level, not resolves it. And... and if you say that Matt's saying Newton is dumb, I say you're saying that Hume is dumb... uh... so there!

So, Bush may be a political oppurtunist manipulating people into thinking he's a religious fanatic, while he really isn't anything of the sort?

Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 20, 2004 2:50:32 AM

Modern Crusader -- most people 'round here would probably just say that saying God is the origin of everything kicks the question of origin up one level, not resolves it. And... and if you say that Matt's saying Newton is dumb, I say you're saying that Hume is dumb... uh... so there!

So, Bush may be a political oppurtunist manipulating people into thinking he's a religious fanatic, while he really isn't anything of the sort? This is the best news I've heard in a long time!

Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 20, 2004 2:50:52 AM

I looked at Modern Crusader's website for the first time. I recommend others do so too, to help me answer the question: is it over-the-top parody, or do you think it's real? I mean, I find it tough to take someone who writes "Dedicated to the defense of America and the Holy Land from the Satanic Saracen horde of hateful Arab Muslim Sand Nazi terrorist infidels. Our long term goals are the sacking of Mecca, the defiling and final destruction of the Kaaba idol, and the creation of a Zionist State with Mecca as it's capital. For it is written, 'But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.'" at the top of his page seriously, but you never know. Thoughts?

Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 20, 2004 2:59:09 AM

over-the-top parody vs. real: this distinction is kind of beside the point when you're talking about a website created to be jerk-off material for the creator.

Posted by: tennin | Oct 20, 2004 3:06:56 AM

I don't get the whole "modem crusader" deal. My dad had a Hayes 300 which he never got around to hooking up. I started with an ATI 2400, went to a U.S. Robotics Sportster 9600, and I think I was up to 56k when I switched to cable.

A BBS was cool for its time, but what's the point of a crusade?

Posted by: bad Jim | Oct 20, 2004 4:20:26 AM

I think the important thing to note about the structure of his belief is that it seems to be a belief about himself, primarily. He believes that he is a man of faith, he believes he is a man with a mission, and so on. The problem with trying to determine that his faith is genuine is that the behaviour resultant from this sort of belief and the behaviour resultant from vanity would be more or less the same. You might say he needs to affirm his vanity to be a real christian, but it is also possible he is simply a very weak christian. The only way to establish it solidly would be to show that he really is a pure hypocrite, and that his behaviour reveals that his belief in God is a pose.

But we only look to his political behaviour, and to demand that someone in a public position make avowals of sinfulness and mistakes in a public forum is not very far from public confessions. Why do we focus on his political behaviour? Aside from the obvious reasons I think is the reason that he claims this belief about God, which is a belief about hismelf, as the source of his moral authority as president. As a personal claim, we pay attention to it. If he were making a philosophical claim about the nature of authority, we would laugh (if he were not already president). So we look to see if his political behavior is in fact in line with the understanding that his actions will be informed by a sene of righteousness. McGarvey sees a disconnect in the lack of a self-critical attitude. But if the belief is about himself in the sense that it only really applies to him as president, as a justiication for his being in the presidency (especially so given his total lack of other qualifications), then there need not be such an attitude. A King appointed by God may acknowledge the limits set on him by law or previous history, but it does not make him accept them as truly binding on him or even relevant to his udnerstanding of himself except in a practical way. And insofar as Bush has in his head the idea that Democracy is also something God likes, he does not really run into the obvious problem of the incompatibility of divine authority in the leader and democratic selection of the leader. Democracy is a mechanism to select the leader God would prefer, like a perfectly functioning market in some sense, coordinating disparate political desires for the greater good.

So it is not clear that it is just a pose. The real question is, what sort of belief is a belief like this? Is it like other beliefs? Is it necessary that beliefs like this become solipsistic? It sesm to em much like the ever upward movement in therapeutic philosophies. The more they want to focus the self and heal it and develop it, the more and more metapysical they get. The problem here is that an entire political system is implicated in the belief through his identification of 'president' as part of his moral development, part of his duty TO HIMSELF to be a good guy. It is the problem of the viability of the cosncience without a clear presence of God (meaphysically, culturally, etc.) to indicate when it has failed. Otherwise, it is just morally juiced up self assertion.

The question is whether or not such an assertion, as it is unique in the form of the president, can bring God back, in a sense. I think a hope of this is why he appeals to some, in that such a presence would make it easier to understand one's many hardships and mistakes as part of the struggle to be good, rather than just misery. It would give menaing to the idea of failure, make it not so pitiful. And, it gives a certain grandeur to the actions of those on the other end. The desire may be confused and it social consequences unfortunate, but I hardly see how it can be called insincere or fake.

Posted by: William S | Oct 20, 2004 5:15:31 AM

George W. Bush is no Christian.

Thats right. Bush is a Jew. You just haven't been told yet.

Bush is a Jew. How many know Winston Churchill was a Jew.

This didn't become public notice (and it is still not well known) till published in the Jerusalem Post on Jan.18, 1993, by Moshe Kohn.


Posted by: PeterK | Oct 20, 2004 6:43:26 AM

You silly lesbian-rights-liberals.

A hundred fifty years ago wise man said: "religion is the opiate of the masses". There is nothing to add to this, but you're still writing your long-winded columns, wasting valuable paper. Go paint a school in the neighborhood or something...

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 20, 2004 8:08:10 AM

Troll or not, joke or not, this deserves follow-up...

"...normal people are going to keep believing in Aristotle's First Cause Argument and the LORD God of the Holy Bible."

Even if First Cause is a valid inference, it does not inexorably validate the god described in the Jewish and Christian Bibles. To wit, Aristotle himself was not a Jew or Christian.

Posted by: Grumpy | Oct 20, 2004 8:51:21 AM

Don't forget about POLAND. Why hasn't Jesus brought the pork chops? Anyone. Bueler?. . .

Posted by: raver | Oct 20, 2004 9:31:56 AM

I think Matt most likely right about causality running from personality characteristics to appeal of certain religious elements rather than vice versa.

Nonetheless, we're in no position to conclude that Bush's Christianity is "erzatz." That's between him and whatever maker he believes in. To characterize it as "erzatz" displays an apparent hostility to certain types of religious beliefs and religious expression that's quite unnecessary to the discussion at hand.

Posted by: lady c | Oct 20, 2004 9:33:12 AM

I'm inclined to agree with this article for a few reasons. One is that her thesis is painfully obvious. These cold hard corporate execs raking in millions/billions of dollars a year by bilking the government through the MI complex don't care about their "moral duty" to protect the planet - its just a useful tool to sell it to the public and justify their actions.

Strauss and the neocons are a perfect example for this. They're running a murderous foreign policy for global domination and because they all had a class with some obscure "philosopher" they're all able to say its because of moral reasons.

This dichotomy extends to the domestic realm, where we have this moral garbage of how the Supreme Court needs to look back at cases that are against the moral fiber of the country - and as soon as Bush can appoint a judge to take a look at Roe v. Wade, then Lochner and all the rest of the worker protection cases will fly out the door.

It's very scary.

Posted by: dstein | Oct 20, 2004 9:48:07 AM

Jesus, Matt, do you have the trolls! Yowsa!

Bush is a familiar type -- the revival Christian or rehab Christian. Many of them backslide and repent repeatedly. Their personal connection to Jesus, along with contrition, saves them from the consequences of their acts, while allowing them to condemn non-believers. It's like having a friend in the DA's office who fixes things for you.

A buffer of professional political Christians stands between Bush and the actual believers -- Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and dozens more. These are motivated by some mix of piety, ideology, and business.

The actual ground-level believers get a narrow, professionally-packaged Bush. (Some of these are themselves rehab Christians, of course). Sorry, guys, but they're suckers. George Will admires them for their indifference to their own economic interests, but that's because Will cares so much about his own economic interests. Self-sacrifice is admired by those who profit from it. (Normally Will is a relentless defender of the pursuit of wealth).

I think Amy Sullivan is right to ask people to aim the anti-religious rhetoric more accurately. Not all believers have accepted prosperity theology or the rapture, and not all are right-wingers. Social-gospel Christians were behind many of America's progressive movements.

SOme of the corruption of political Christianity can be seen in their adulation of the Rev. Moon, who literally believes that he has superseded Jesus and is the second coming of Christ. This is as heretical as you can get, but Moon sloshes around money in hundreds of millions, and his heresy is ignored.

Posted by: Zizka | Oct 20, 2004 10:06:07 AM

As long as we're talking religion and Bush, Pat Robertson has come forward and said that the Lord told him that the war in Iraq was going to be a "disaster" and "messy" and that he urged Bush to prepare the American public for casualties.

Bush replied, "Oh no, we're not going to have any casualties." [!]

On CNN Pat described Bush in the meeting as "the most self-assured man I've ever met in my life."

"You remember Mark Twain said, 'He looks like a contented Christian with four aces.' I mean he was just sitting there like, 'I'm on top of the world,' " Robertson said...."

Crikey! Did he believe this because God told him so?


Posted by: Windhorse | Oct 20, 2004 10:47:52 AM

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