Tuesday, January 20, 2004

I don't think President Bush is a Christian
I've been reading a lot of editorials recently claiming that Howard Dean really isn't a Christian, and that he is just claiming he is for political gain.
And that may well be true. But what I don't understand is why Bush gets a pass for doing the same thing. I've long suspected that Bush is not really a Christian, and is just using religious rhetoric for political reasons.
Of course I guess ultimately there's no way of knowing for sure either way. It's between Bush and God. And of course the same could be said of Howard Dean. I think most of the people who are accusing Howard Dean of being duplicitous about his faith are a little biased. Because they disagree with his policies, they don't think he can possibly be a Christian.
And perhaps the same could be said about Bush and I. Over the past few years, it has become apparent that Bush and I have very different opinions on what it means to be a Christian. I just can't imagine Bush looking in the mirror with a straight face and saying: "I think the Christian thing to do would be to invade another country without provocation, and then lie to the American people about it."
So I'll admit it, I'm biased. I don't really have any smoking gun here, just a gut feeling that Bush's policies haven't been very Christian. And these feeling colors how I perceive any evidence. But that disclaimer aside, I'm going to make my case anyway.
A good part of my argument centers on the fact that Bush doesn't know his Bible. I know what you're thinking: Biblical knowledge isn't necessarily a prerequisite for sincere faith. And I agree with that. But since Bush claims Jesus is his favorite philosopher, it seems reasonable that he should know something about Jesus. Since Bush claims to read the Bible everyday, it seems reasonable he should know something about it. Since he claims to have attended a two year scriptural boot camp...Well you get the point.
I remember when I was in eighth grade my Bible teacher once questioned the Christianity of George Bush the elder (who was president at that time). Apparently George Bush the elder had been foolish enough to be out in the Mediterranean sea during October, and had gotten caught in a storm. Of course had he remembered his Bible stories, he would have remembered Paul was ship wrecked in the Mediterranean sea in October, which is apparently a stormy time of year in the Mediterranean. "George Bush, you say you're a Christian, but you obviously don't remember your Bible stories" my teacher said with a shrug.
Naturally I won't be applying this strict of a standard. I'll just be asking the question, "Does Bush know anything at all about the Bible?"

Item #1.
The famous Bushism "We must all hear the universal call to like your neighbor just like you like to be liked yourself."
Okay, I'll admit this isn't one of my stronger pieces of evidence. That's why I'm putting it first. I've got better stuff coming.
This is just another example of Bush mangling the English language again. And he's done it so many times that I suppose that this isn't a big deal, even if he is misquoting his favorite philosopher in this case.
It's just that after all the years I've been going to Church, I can't possibly imagine misquoting this. I mean every Christian knows this quote backwards and forwards. Can you imagine the old guy in the back of your Church misquoting this? Think of all the people you know who claim Jesus is really important to them, and who read the Bible every day. Can you imagine them misquoting this passage?
And secondly, this isn't just a slip of the tongue here. He's not even close. In fact really it looks like he's combining, "Love your neighbor as yourself", and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Again, this is from a man who says Jesus is his favorite philosopher.

Item #2
Remember the Republican primary debates that were held at Calvin College? Remember near the end of the debate when the candidates took questions from the audience? Bush received a question from David Dykhouse "what do you think Jesus would say about the death penalty?" Bush completely side-stepped the question, and instead went into a general speech about how he believed in the value of the death penalty. It was Alan Keyes who jumped in and quoted Jesus saying to Pilate, "all power you have comes to you from above".
Now, as a strong opponent of the death penalty, you can probably guess I don't agree with Alan Keyes's exegesis. (Alan Keyes argued that Jesus acknowledged Pilate's power came from above, and therefore God had given Pilate or the government power of life and death). But still, one has to admire the way Alan Keyes was ready with a Bible verse in hand. I was less than impressed with the way Bush avoided the question.

Item #3
In January 2000, Bush was interviewed by Jonathan Alter and Howard Fineman. Since Bush's campaign had been claiming Bush read the Bible, Fineman asked him what Bible passage he had read that day. According to Alter, instead of answering the question Bush got really angry at this point, and answered, "You know something, I think you're trying to catch me as to whether or not I can remember where I was in the Bible."
I tend to believe that if Bush was really reading the Bible everyday, he would have just simply answered the question. Certainly he must have known that politically that would have been the wisest move. His campaign was already making a big deal about how he read the bible everyday, so he wasn't shy about using this sort of thing for political gain.

Item #4
This last item comes from Al Franken's book, which I'm quoting at length because I think it deserves to be quoted (and I hope this falls under fair use laws). He is describing his evening at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Begin quotation

I had my most interesting and perhaps most significant conversation that night with Commerce Secretary Don Evans. Evans is among Bush's closet friends and was featured heavily in Howard Fineman's Newsweek cover story "Bush and God." That was the top-selling Newsweek since 9/11.
As you probably know, until his fortieth birthday, Bush was a heavy drinker. Or, as we call them at Harvard, a "drunk." According to many accounts, Bush was also an "obnoxious drunk." Finally, Laura Bush laid down the law. Threatened with losing sex from his wife, Bush decided to quit drinking and turn to Christ. (That part about sex is not in the Newsweek article).
It was Evans, a fellow oilman, who coaxed his old friend George into joining a Bible-study group in Midland. According to Newsweek:

"It was a scriptural boot camp; an intensive yearlong study of a single book of the New Testament, each week a new chapter, with detailed reading and discussion in a group of ten men. For two years Bush and Evans and their partners read the writings of the Gentile physician Luke--Acts and then his Gospel."

Now, I'm a Jew. And I grew up knowing zip about the New Testament and still know next to zip. But as it so happened, a few days before the Correspondents Dinner, I ran into economist Paul Solman at the Harvard gym. Paul...is also a Jew, but an educated one. So he knows the Bible. He, too, had read Fineman's cover story.
He told me he found it ironic that Acts was one of the two books Bush and Evans had studied. Acts, Paul told me, is Luke's account of the formation of the Church after Jesus' death. The book is almost a socialist tract, full of admonishment to the rich to share their wealth with the poor.....
I saw Evans sitting alone at his table. I sidled into the seat next to him. "Mr Secretary, do you mind if I speak with you?"
"Not at all Al." I liked him immediately.
After some niceties, I steered the conversation towards Acts and how its message seemed at odds with the shape of the Bush tax cut. I led into it with "Did you read Howard Fineman's cover story in Newsweek on Bush and God?"
"Yes," Evans said.
"Did you like it?"
"So did I," I said. "So you know what Acts is about."
Evans looked a little uncomfortable. Long pause. Then, "No."

"It was a scriptural boot camp; an intensive yearlong study of a single book of the New Testament, each week a new chapter, with detailed reading and discussion in a group of ten men. For two years Bush and Evans and their partners read the writings of the Gentile physician Luke--Acts and then his Gospel."

Based on what Paul Solman had told me and a subsequent glance at The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Life of Christ, I explained to the scriptural boot camp survivor what I understood Acts to be about. Then I went into my spiel about the unfairness of the tax cut.
"Ah," Evans smiled. "But Acts also has Jesus' Parable of the Talents."
"No," I said. "That's in Matthew.".....
.....I've noticed that the only Biblical parable supply-siders ever mention is Talents. And, for all I can tell, it might be the only one Evans knows. But even I was surprised Evans didn't know what book it was from.
What do you suppose those ten guys were really doing during their "scriptural boot camp"? Watching football? Eating pretzels? Plotting with Karl Rove how to use religious rhetoric to reassure the Christian right that George W. was one of them?

End quotation

Now I know what you're thinking: Al Franken is a polemic, and so he's unreliable. In the interest of full disclosure, item number 3 came from Franken's book also. But that item was Franken quoting another source, where as this whole story is dependent only on Franken's say so. So if you don't want to believe it, fair enough.
But I tend to believe that since this book was published by a major publisher, and since it became a number one best seller, there would have been a lawsuit if this story was apocryphal. Or at the very least a correction by Don Evans. I couldn't find a counter story by Don Evans. A yahoo search for Don Evans and Al Franken only indicated that Al Franken has been telling this story several other times in interviews and TV appearances. Which again, would further make you think that if it were completely untrue, a lawsuit or something would have happened.
Okay, even if it is true, it's about Evans, not Bush. Although as Al Franken indicates, Evans complete ignorance of the book he supposedly studied for two years indicates these bible studies never really took place, and by extension then that Bush or somebody in his campaign lied about it.

So that's my case. Again, like I said at the beginning, it isn't too much. If you are predisposed to think Bush isn't a Christian, like I am, than these probably confirm it for you. Otherwise I don't imagine this would tip you over. Sorry about that. I did try and find more stuff online. I typed into the Yahoo search engine sentences like, "Bush doesn't know his Bible" or "Bush isn't a Christian." Of course really I didn't use quotation marks, because I figured the likely hood of finding that exact quote was pretty small, but searched for an article that contained the words "Bush" "doesn't know" and "bible".
And do you know what came up? All sorts of articles about how Al Gore or Howard Dean or some other democrat doesn't know his Bible, or isn't really a Christian.
And whatever, I'm not going to defend religious posturing by Democratic candidates either. They probably are a little bit disingenuous as well.
But, to return to the point I started out with: Why is everyone so convinced that these guys are lying, but no one on the right ever questions Bush's religious sincerity? I'm just sick of everyone talking about what a good Christian man Bush is. Doesn't it ever cross people's minds that maybe, just maybe, he's only saying all this religious stuff because he knows it will appeal to his political base?
Just asking.

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