BUSH AND HIS GOD
by Jaume Botey Vallès
Those who oppose George Bush
and his administration often struggle to
understand his mentality. This article shows that this mentality is
prevalent throughout the U.S. and is based on a fundamentalist biblical
theology that separates the world into good and evil. War is always
central as it looks forward to the ultimate victory of god’s chosen
people at Armageddon.
Bush may appear strange to Europeans, what is more strange is that he is considered by many as a good leader and regarded as such by the majority of the American population, because although he may be the subject of so many jokes, he actually represents the aspirations and way of thinking of the American people. This is what makes it particularly strange and worrying.
Bush has to be taken seriously. We are dealing with a whole ideology. Firstly, we have his ability to personify the foundational mythology of America and maybe through his simplicity his ability to appeal to the majority of American people. This is seen in the current trend in American politics of paying homage to President Reagan. What Bush says is not only in keeping with the system but is even an expression of the very powers that built the system. For this reason, it is a mistake to believe that this ideology will disappear when he disappears from the political scene.
The issue is a simple one, the struggle between good and evil, black and white. The incarnation of Good versus the incarnation of Evil. It is probably this tendency to see things in black and white, just as in the “cowboys and Indians” films, which is his very strength: he has managed to polarize the forces at work in society into one single enemy. Instead of confusing the nation with a host of enemies, in this way, all the enemies from different camps seem to belong to one single category. For Hitler, the personification of Evil was Zionism. For Reagan, it was communism. The skill of Bush’s team, at a time when after the Cold War there was no visible enemy that seemed to be threatening the USA, was to have found this enemy in the widespread element of terrorism. Using this excuse allowed them to take action in any part of the world in the name of God. That was the ‘gift’ that the Bush administration received on September 11th 2001.
1. The Model of Social Darwinism
Extreme individualism as a social and economic proposal makes the poor man responsible for his own poverty. There is no room for social reasons or personal circumstances, and so the political aspect is taken out of the economy. The system is only understood through its opportunity for maximum individual gain, and so cannot be questioned. And furthermore, similar to Old Testament mentality, the poor man should probably also be a sinner because his poverty means he did not receive God’s blessing. The model is that of social Darwinism and segregation. I will go through a few examples
PovertyThe Dow Jones index for Friday 26th September 2003 and the US Statistics Office said that the rate of poverty had increased for the second year running. The level of poverty for the previous year, 2001, was 11.7%, and in 2002 it rose to 12,1%. This means that 34.6 million people, 1.7 million more than the previous year, are living in poverty-stricken conditions, and out of those, almost 14 million are living in conditions of extreme poverty, 800,000 more than the previous year. 16.7% of children, a total of 12.1 million live in poverty, 400,000 more than the previous year.
These sources also show that the divide between rich and poor has increased: in 1985 one-fifth of the richest people possessed 45% of the nation’s wealth, and in 2001 this rose to 55%. On the other hand, one-fifth of the nation’s poorest people had 1% less than in 1985. Between 1998 and 2001 the difference between the top 10% of rich people and the bottom 20% of poor people rose by 70%.
Furthermore, poverty fundamentally affects Afro-American immigrants: their poverty rate is more than double the national average, at 22.7%. However, the poverty rate remains stable for white people.
Disappearance of social support programs
The multitude of social support programs has disappeared. As regards the problem of drug addiction, Bush stated that he was suspending financial support for addiction treatment, and that programs that facilitate rehabilitation would replace it: “Let us bring to all Americans who struggle with drug-addiction this message of hope: the miracle of recovery through prayer is possible and it could be you”. [Presidential speech on the State of the Nation, 2002].
Waste on weaponsContradictorily, the last budget increased spending on weapons to 400,000 million dollars, (let’s remind ourselves here that 1 million people in the world live on 1 dollar a day).
Imprisonsment and racial segregationThe prison population reached a record high in 2002: 2.1 million. Almost 10 in every thousand (10 times higher than in Spain, where the prison population is 1 in every thousand). But while the black population represents fewer than 13% of the total US population, 60% of the prison population are colored. And while the general unemployment rate is at 6.2%, it is at 10% among the black population.
Social violenceIn 2002 the delinquency rate continued to rise in the USA. 11.8 million crimes were reported in 2002, which is an increase of 2.1% in relation to the previous year. 15,980 people were murdered, which is approximately 44 people each day, and 90,491 women reported cases of rape. As a result of the 200 million gun-owners in America, the murder rate there is between five and seven times higher than in other industrialised nations.
The US authorities confirmed that since 1973 more than one hundred innocent people were mistakenly executed. As governor of Texas, Bush presided over 152 executions. More executions take place here than in any other state. In one third of these cases, the lawyers were expelled from the trial, in 40 cases the penalty was based on one single witness testimony, and in another 30 cases the public prosecutors presented psychiatric evidence from experts that had never even interviewed the accused. Even so, Bush affirmed that everyone executed while he was governor of Texas had full access to the courts. “Everyone had access to a fair trial”. He also stated that before each execution he would spend time praying for the eternal salvation of the victim. America is one of the few countries in the world that still imposes the death penalty on adolescents and those with diminished responsibility. America is the country where more than half of all worldwide executions have taken place over the last ten years. The TV evangelist Reverend R. H. Charles, in support of Bush’s campaign, said: “Those who oppose the death penalty and war are moral perverts and degenerates, they have lost the capacity for moral indignation”.
America did not sign the agreements made at Kyoto. In Bush’s mind, God put Nature at the service of man so that he could make immediate and total use of it: trees, animals, air, water, etc. He believes that “those who insist on resolving the difference between developed countries that cause a lot of pollution and less developed countries that cause less pollution […] bring people to class war”.
2. The Theology of Sin and Suffering
Bush and his God, this God who abandons all creatures to their fate, who cannot help the two-thirds of the world that live on less than two dollars a day due to the inflexible laws of the economy, and the God who doesn’t know how to feel pity, is a God that is linked to a theology of power. But He is not the compassionate and benign God of the Bible, and nor is He the father-figure that shows the goodness and mercy that Jesus was talking about, the God who gives health to the sick and brings the dead back to life, and above all, the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
The latter description is that of the God that Jesus was talking about, the God that caused such a stir among the early Christian communities. However, in a very imperceptible way, from the fourth century onwards, Christianity took Greek philosophy and the legal influence of the Roman Justice system into its vision of the world, and these both look at humanity from the perspective of power. It gradually began to lose its sensitivity towards suffering and took on a greater preoccupation with sin, and sinners. It moved from the morality of pain and suffering towards a morality of sin. The issue of God and suffering became the issue of the salvation of the soul.
Early Christians saw the message of Jesus from the perspective of the victim. Initially, they saw it as a message of liberation from all types of slavery, and then gradually transformed it into a message from the perspective of power. They spoke of a God who would punish any kind of moral transgression with death. God came to be seen as a God of death, who led Jesus to his death in order to rid the world of sin, instead of being seen as a God of life, whose Son Jesus was put to death against his will in order to free us all from the power of death. Salvation was not seen as a message of liberation, life, hope, a statement made in favor of life, but was instead seen through a theology that speaks of sacrifice, death, sin, blame or punishment, and that uses the language of Mel Gibson in the film The Passion of Christ.
This God-of-Death has nothing to do with the suffering of the world. There is no place for Him, and neither is it possible to call or invoke His name. Humanity, independent from God, has become sinful, and is now reaping the consequences of that sin. So God remains subordinate to human liberty and the theory of redemption is thought of exclusively as meaning redemption from sin. The problem of world hunger, and the thirst for justice in relation to God, in other words, the issue of God’s justice, is replaced by the anthropological problem of sin.
In some way, these two types of theology are reflected in two translations of the Our Father prayer: “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors” has been replaced by “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. The “debt” problem, which is both an eschatological and a social one, has been replaced by the problem of “trespass” or sin, an anthropological and moral problem.
Saint Augustine also gives sin enormous responsibility for the existence of evil and suffering in the world. This is also the main problem of fundamentalism. Having determined that the cause of social change is solely due to the good or bad impulses of man, fundamentalism turns social facts into moral ones: bad things happen because there are bad people who caused them to happen, they don’t think that bad things can happen because the system is morally unsound.
It seems as though the only way of understanding the political action of Bush would be to accept the Lutheran and Calvinist dogma of original sin and the idea that human nature can be intrinsically corrupt, that the political sphere, as has been explained in this essay, is conditioned by people’s hostility towards each other, and that we live in the world as described by Hobbes. For fundamentalism, the Utopian dream of liberalism in which economic conflicts are reduced to mere disagreements and war is wiped out, would mean a sad and boring world, without any major controversial issues that would require self-sacrifice, heroic acts, saving lives or the need for competition. What fundamentalism does bring about is the struggle of individuals against each other.
3. The Theology of Power and Permanent Conflict
Bush’s God is a God that expresses Himself through power and through the continuous use of power, as if in an attempt to recreate the Sacred Order of the Middle Ages. This is a model that is very similar to totalitarianism. Along with Ariel Sharon, who calls himself a “man of peace”, this model shares the idea of the “Great Israel”, and makes its own the phrase of Napoleon when he said that “God is with the heaviest battalions” or the idea of Pat Robertson who, instead of calling for a return to theocracy, proclaimed: “All types of media, news, television, radio, cinema, the arts, the government, companies, finances, will be ours. God will give them to his Chosen People. We have to prepare ourselves to rule the world and govern it together with Jesus Christ”.
This is also a God that expresses Himself through punishment, who appears on the worldwide stage in the form of the American military, and on the national stage in the form of the death penalty. In His religious and political expressions He seems to be the western equivalent of that bitter and vengeful God of Khomeini. The current republican administration and Bush are playing the role of the sheriff, wielding justice in the struggle between Good and Evil, and considering themselves to be the instrument of just punishment.
This is a God who makes the reason for His presence that of ruling the world and as a consequence, permanent conflict becomes a necessary strategy. But Nietzsche also saw conflict as the strategy of progress. The TV evangelist Buster Dobbs (editor of the magazine Firm Foundation, June 1994) said: “The inability or unwillingness to hate makes a person worthless. If we do not hate detestable things, the quality of our character is suspect. The Bible commands that we hate.” In Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, I recall an extract: “A legal system conceived of as sovereign and universal, not as a means in the struggle of power complexes, but as a means against all struggles in general [...] would be a principle hostile to life, a destroyer and dissolver of human beings, an assassination attempt on the future of human beings, a sign of exhaustion, a secret path to nothingness.”
Today there is a new type of political reflection, (see Carl Schmitt), which makes it seem that we are returning to the old philosophy of power for power’s sake, lacking any principles in our quest.
Words, strategies, the desire for power and the consecration of power makes us recall times that we thought were long gone, for example, national socialism, which has the same theology of power, the same Messianic idea of the Chosen People, the same desire to expand in order to gain “living space”, the same desire for military action, the same demonisation of a particular sector of society, and representation of them as being the incarnation of Evil.
Behind Bush’s calls for peace, it is not possible to hide the link between war, politics, religion and human nature. This is fundamentalism. If we add the idea of the Chosen People to his political and strategical vision, we can easily arrive at a theological justification for preventative war, or the possibility of thinking about attacking the Arab world, for example, as an act of homage to God.
4. Millenarism, Eschatology, and The Apocalypse
Religious fundamentalism has always been linked to the idea of Millenarism and the apocalyptic idea of the end of the world. It feeds of the apocalyptic literature of the Bible. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel are interpreted in the literal sense: Yahweh struggling against the forces of chaos, personified in Satan.
This is a global interpretation of history in which the enemies of God’s People, those who tried to obstruct the building of Israel, the Promised Land, are also the enemies of God. The story brings with it the continuous conflict of Yahweh against the forces of Evil. Evil will be conquered and the serpent, an incarnation of Satan, will be destroyed. The personification of Evil in the figure of the Antichrist (Matt 24, Mark 13 or Luke 21) links up with the dualist framework of the entire Old Testament, and with the Manicheistic dualism of fundamentalism. They see our lives as being characterised by a conflict between Good and Evil, by devastating wars and by the workings of the Antichrist. We are approaching the Second Coming of Christ, who will bring about the perfect reign, and preparing for His arrival when the faithful will be led into glory and rise from the dead.
The extract from Apocalypse 16:16-21 speaks of Armageddon as this great battle in which Good will triumph forever, and Evil be wiped out. Current events in the world are only a preparation for this momentous final battle. For fundamentalists, this moment should not be feared. For this reason Armageddon has become a constant reference for fundamentalists. It will be a time of destruction and justice, perhaps even a nuclear holocaust, when the just and unjust will be separated. It will be the final moment in the history of God’s relationship with man.
|Author: Jaume Botey i Vallès is
Professor of History in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona,
and a member of Cristianisme i
is an extract from a booklet entitled Bush And His God by Jaume Botey
CJ Booklets, Cristianisme I Justícia, R. de Llúria 13 – 08010 Barcelona, Spain. www.fespinal.com. ISBNÑ 84-9730-100-5.
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