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Bush's fundamentalism seen as a decisive, negative factor in his policies

COMMENTARY | August 04, 2006

Former White House reporter Saul Friedman says that, for the first time in modern American history, a president’s religion is determining policies, and the press should do a better job reporting it.

By Saul Friedman

There is an alien influence, mostly unpublicized, running like an undercurrent beneath the Bush administration's Middle East policies. It may help explain George W. Bush's single-mindedness, his oblivious inability to face reality as his war in Iraq, his war against terror and his policies towards Arabs and Israeli have collapsed.

I say "alien," because I believe this to be the first time in modern American history that a president's religion, in this case his Christian fundamentalism, has become a decisive factor in his foreign and domestic policies. It’s a factor that has been under-reported, to say the least, and that begs for press attention.

Bush, who says he reads the Bible daily, acknowledges his fundamentalist beliefs. Biblical and Middle East scholar Karen Armstrong writes in The Guardian, "Whatever Bush's personal beliefs, the ideology of the Christian right is both familiar and congenial to him. This strange amalgam of ideas can perhaps throw light on the behavior of a president who, it is said, believes God chose him to lead the world toward Rapture, who has little interest in social reform, and whose selective concern for life issues has now inspired him to veto important scientific research.

"It explains his unconditional support for Israel, his willingness to use 'Jewish End-Time warriors' to fulfill a vision of his own, arguably against Israel's best interest, and to see Syria and Iran...as entirely responsible for the unfolding tragedy."

Noting that "the same time as Bush decided to veto the stem cell bill, Israeli bombs were taking the lives of hundreds of innocent Lebanese civilians, many of them children, with the tacit approval of the U.S. " And she suggested there is "a connection between a religiously motivated mistrust of science...and a war in the Middle East."

As she notes, Bush and his administration not only rely on Christian fundamentalists, he espouses many of their ideals, including their belief that "the second coming of Christ is at hand" but Christ cannot return unless, "in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, the Jews are in possession of the Holy Land."

Bush's hard-line support of Israel in the face of cries of protest from the rest of the world, and his refusal to put pressure on Israel, as his father and Ronald Reagan have done, has stopped a simmering rebellion of discontent among the ranks of the Christian right. But that does not mean Bush's views are catering to the right. Rather, Bush believes they're right.

Political scientist Kevin Phillips, in his book "American Theocracy," says the Republican Party has become the "vehicle for religious policymaking and eventual erosion" of the separation of church and state. He estimates that 55 percent of Bush voters in 2004 believed in the coming of Armageddon and cheered American involvement in Iraq, one of the world's "evils," in Bush's apocalyptic view.

Writing for the Nation in May, Phillips said, "The last arena of theological influence, almost as important as sex, birth and mortality, involves American foreign policy, bringing us to the connections among the 'war on terror,' the Rapture, the end of times, Armageddon and the thinly disguised U.S. crusade against radical Islam...In the months before George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Iraq, his inspirational reading each morning was a book of sermons by a Scottish preacher accompanying troops about to march on Jerusalem."

The belief that Bush is a modern crusader is sharper among thinking Muslims. An essay in the May issue of The American Muslim, is entitled, "The Faith of George W. Bush: Christian Supremacy, American Imperialism, and Global Disaster." The writer, Yoginder Sikand, cites Stephen Mansfield's "The Faith of George W. Bush," which says that the president  "incorporates his faith and belief into every detail of life," and that faith is rooted in Christian fundamentalism.

Sikand condemns religious fundamentalism, "but as a Christian fundamentalist," he writes, “Bush sees the most complex questions in the most simplistic terms, as a battle between good and evil...Bush is convinced that Islamic militants and many other Muslims are opposed to America because, America is ‘freedom's home and defender’ and Islamist militancy stems from a congenital Muslim/non-white/non-Christian barbarity that can only be cured through military bombardment."

Finally, writing in the Australian "on-line e-journal of social and political debate," churchman and teacher Peter Sellick commented on a U.S. television documentary in 2004 that described the Christian fundamentalism of the president and the most ardent supporters of the war in Iraq. "In the president's mind, America stands for the good and the terrorists, or any associated with them, are evil. I do not quibble with labeling acts of terrorism evil...It is the assumption that the world can be divided between good and evil that disturbs me...This is a simplistic and dangerous view of the world that pits military might not only against the planners and perpetrators but against whole peoples...

"An emphasis on the Bible as being true in all its facts, rather than in spirit, leads to displaced knowledge about the world and about culture. This is why Bush was not able to understand the complex history of the Middle East. This ignorance allowed him to rush in where wiser men would have feared to tread."

Armstrong concluded, "Fundamentalists do not want a humanely constructed peace; many, indeed, regard the UN as the abode of the Antichrist. The willingness of the U.S. to turn a blind eye to the suffering of innocent people in Lebanon will certainly fuel the rage of the extremists and lead to further acts of terror. We can only hope that it does not take us all the way to Armageddon."


While I have your attention, let me recall the White House press made no protest at the regular briefing when Press Secretary Tony Snow, who was a flack for Bush when he worked for Fox News, casually tossed a gratuitous insult at Helen Thomas, who was pressing him on why the administration didn't favor a cease fire to save lives.

She pointed out, correctly, that the U.S. was perceived to have endorsed "collective punishment," against Lebanon and Palestine. His reply: "Well thank you for the Hezbollah view." Then he misinformed reporters by claiming the G8 meeting had endorsed the American position.

Not since the Vietnam war when an American official asked the press, "Which side are you on," have I heard a presidential flack insult and impugn a reporter's integrity for asking a legitimate question. Never in my dozen or so years asking tough questions of Larry Speakes, Marlin Fitzwater, Mike McCurry and even Ron Ziegler during Watergate, did I hear such a snide insult.

Helen Thomas could teach Snow about integrity and manners. Helen's roots are Lebanese, but as the longtime White House reporter for UPI, she would grit her teeth as she listened to the likes of Menachim Begin and Itzakh Shamir, ask a couple of provocative questions, then write a clean, straight account of what they had to say.

Fundamentalism and the USA
Posted by March Dancer - My role? I am a concerned American voter, a long-time Republican activist who has been converted due to the actions of that party themselves. My objective? A truth (found in various ways) that I can share with those who will listen. My disappointment? The rise of American "Christian" fundamentalist religion in lieu of "..faith, hope, love and charity, but..the greatest of these is love."
08/06/2006, 04:53 PM

Why now are the pundits, the former elected elite, and newspaper editors and columnists acting so surprised...rather so horrified to discover that their country, and mine, has filled its halls of justice and legislatures, its very presidency and cabinet with Religious Fanatics? Conservatives? Not these! Fundamentalists? No! These people are as much terrorists and hate-filled mongers as the Islamic terrorists they rail against.

Now, only now, is it PC to admit that no one in any sort of powerful position thought to verify the positions of those who claimed that Iraq was to blame for all the world's most frightening ills. Oh dear me they cry in astonishment, we didn't ask the questions because...well, because we believed them. Believe us now! Please, they beg. It was...It was...Not Me!

How could I, as a Republican activist until the current powerful elite came onto the ballots, have known? Was it maybe because I not only listened to Bush, I heard what he was saying and more importantly, what he was not saying? Was it maybe that he chose as his VP and other most valued support staff men of his father's age and cabinet members, some of them as far back as Reagan's staff? (Not to be construed as a slam on those two men)

The only power I have is that of my voice in my small town, in my small newspaper, and occasionally when I feel I might be heeded, as a commenter on a Republican blog. Since I'm not being paid, I see no reason to set myself up on these blogs as a dart board for the most extreme of them.

I have convinced, through gentle persuasion, many of my companions in many states of my views, and they have in turn convinced others in the same way. One voice at a time, and much to our chagrin and disappointment, most of us will be voting for many more liberal candidates in 2006 than we ever have in past elections. And yet, I've not talked to anyone who admits to having voted for Bush and other religious demi-gods again in 2004!

My Association is composed of Me and those I talk to. Not very important, are we? At least in the eyes of professional journalists, elected local and state officials (although all assure us that one vote counts), and surely not to the president.

Most importantly, why now, when we can't truly undo the damage until the election of 2008? Mr. Friedman, when you were a White House correspondent, did you speak out? Did you settle for glib answers that told you nothing?

I don't know you, so forgive my impudence.

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