The Divine Calm of George W. Bush

So Iraq's a mess and half the country hates you. Just keep praying.

There's no evidence that George Bush believes what Christian Reconstructionists believe. And in contrast to Ronald Reagan, who was always letting loose intemperate slips about America's role in Revelation's End Times showdown, the University of Chicago's Bruce Lincoln says, "in [Bush's] public messages I find very little that's apocalyptic."

Cautioning that it's almost impossible to know anyone's true beliefs, Lincoln still thinks he's got a pretty good sense of Bush's. The results help illuminate this question of how Bush maintains his peace of mind under such unimaginable stress.

When the drunken and dissolute prodigal finally found Jesus in the mid 1980s, the book of the Bible his study group was poring over was the Acts of the Apostles. "It's focused on missionizing, evangelizing, spreading the faith," Lincoln explains. "It's not end-of-the-world stuff. It's expansionist—it's religious imperialism, if you will. And I think that remains his primary orientation."

What's more, Lincoln adds, his primary orientation also holds that "the U.S. is the new Israel as God's most favored nation, and those responsible for the state of America in the world also enjoy special favor. . . . Foremost among the signs of grace—if I read him correctly—are the cardinal American virtues of courage, on the one hand, and compassion, on the other." For Bush to waver would be to tempt God's disfavor; what's more, we can speculate that the very act of holding to his resolve—what his critics identify as stubbornness and arrogance—becomes, tautologically, a way of both producing, and reassuring himself of, his special place in God's plan. The existential benefits are obvious. "Wherever the U.S. happens to advance something that he can call 'freedom,' he thinks he’s serving God's will, and he proclaims he's serving God's will."


The Al Qaeda attacks play into this vision perfectly. They have allowed George Bush to move his administration into a Manichaean realm that pre–9-11 issues like stem cell research and estate tax repeal never could have. It's why so much of his re-election rhetoric, both from the campaign and from his followers, proceeds as if his inauguration took place on September 12, 2001. Or, as the jacket copy for The Faith of George W. Bush puts it, "From the tragedy of September 11 to the present-day conflict in Iraq, President Bush has learned to use his faith to help him live his life—both in office and in private." It is a field of force that Bush helps shape every time he ends his speeches with the homiletic "May God continue to bless America."

Explains Lincoln in his book Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11, it's a phrase that, by transcending the clichéd version of the formulation, "suggests Bush and his speechwriters gave serious thought to the phrase and decided to emphatically reaffirm the notion that the United States has enjoyed divine favor throughout its history—moreover, that it deserves said favor insofar as it remains firm in its faith."

Lincoln points out an especially cunning aspect of the post–9-11 incarnation of Christian militancy: that Bush's invocation of Islam as a "religion of peace," a great religion hijacked by the terrorists, need not contradict the specifically Christian aspects of this vision. Some Christians, Lincoln observes, "would maintain that Christianity is not a religion. The others"—Islam, Shinto, whatever—"are religions." Christianity, simply, is reality: the truth. Bush can praise Islam to the skies, but it needn't take away from the Christian right's sense that Bush knows it's really Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


This belief among his followers is another element behind Bush's apparent imperturbability. His signals to them have produced a mass of people who unequivocally embrace the notion that their president was given to them by Providence.

Jennifer Shroder is the pseudonym of a California housewife and religious-right activist whose agitations against textbooks she claims teach children "how to pray to Allah" and "to participate in any and all religions except that of His Son, Jesus Christ" have won her coverage from the Associated Press, the New York Post, and USA Today. In an e-mail to the Voice, she explains President Bush's divine selection by way of 1 Corinthians, and also the Book of Isaiah—the latter for its injunction "Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people," the former for its description of the leader Jehoiada, "who is very similar to President Bush, using 'sword and shield' along with the leaders with him."

She illustrates an article on her website, blessedcause.org, called "President Bush, National Hero" with a painting of the president alongside the ghostly figures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who rest their hands upon his shoulders, heads bowed. A halo of light emanates from Bush's head; in intersection with the horizontal of the presidential lectern, it appears to form a crucifix.

Lest you think Jen is alone, the painting comes from a another website, presidentialprayerteam.com, through which 2.8 million members receive daily instructions on how to coordinate prayer for the president. I don't know about you, but if I had 2.8 million people advertising the fact that they were praying for my well-being every day—and, to boot, if I actually believed that prayer worked—I'd feel pretty damned relaxed, too.

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