I’d like to thank Matt for pointing me towards the eye opening PBS documentary The Jesus Factor. The creators take a historical look at religion in the life and politics of George W. Bush, and since the entire show is available online, I’d encourage everyone to watch it.
One thing I hadn’t realized until now is that Bush hasn’t spent his entire life as an evangelical Christian. He was “born again” at the age of 40 in an attempt to turn his life around and escape the grips of alcoholism. This fact makes me worry even more about his constant religious rhetoric.
I’ve been around religion my entire life. My grandparents were born Amish and as a child we attended a Mennonite church so conservative that the women covered their heads when inside the sanctuary. Religion was presented to me as fact, and I accepted it at face value until my mid-teens. My observation of religion in this direct context has given me the perspective I need to develop the following viewpoint: people who convert to Christianity late in life are more extremist and less tolerant.
Usually those who grow up religious, whether they accept it their whole lives or not, have a tolerance and pragmatism towards religion that’s lacking in late converters. For them it’s seen as a balanced part of life, and not as a tool for drastic change. If somebody’s faith is predicated on the use of their beliefs to “fix” their life then it can be tainted by their intertwining of spirituality and personal improvement. This direct relationship can polarize the issue, causing them to believe that abstract religious ideals were alone responsible for success in overcoming their problems. To them, religion wasn’t part of the solution, it was the solution.
George W. Bush is unable to separate these notions of religious belief and the betterment of our society. Too often he speaks as a religious leader, invoking God in ways that are incompatible with his position as a defender of the constitution. He appoints judges based on their ability to enforce “God’s laws”. His first executive order was the establishment of faith based initiatives. He continues to talk in themes of good and evil; black and white terms defined presumably by his own religious beliefs.
It is incredibly dangerous to believe that God has a “side” and that it’s yours. To believe that your political system or way of life is the one explicitly chosen by a divine power is strikingly reckless, and similar to the extremist groups that we’re at war with. I don’t believe that President Bush was out of character when he called our current conflict a crusade. It might have been a bad public relations statement, but not an ideologically inconsistent one.
I have every respect for an individual’s freedom to believe in a religion. It’s when those beliefs lose their context and begin to be seen as absolute and sole truths that I get worried. As can be seen in both his history and his campaign speeches, our president crosses that line.