Secularists have been particularly bothered by President George W. Bush's open professions of his Christian faith. Their noticeable concern first arose during one of the early presidential debates in 1999, when the moderator asked the candidates to identify their favorite political philosopher. Quite spontaneously and unflinchingly, Mr. Bush responded, "Jesus Christ, because he changed my life." Following the debate, certain members of the media were highly critical of Bush's injection of Christ into the political debate. TV pundit Chris Matthews castigated Bush for invoking Christ in a debate about "secular" politics. On his MSNBC show "Hardball," Matthews said, "Well, did you ever hear of rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar and to God the things that are God? It seemed to me that George W. Bush did some rendering of things that are God's to Caesar tonight. It's a political debate This isn't about religion. It's about who gets to be the Republican nominee for president. And one guy pulls God out as his co-pilot, and the other guy pulls out Teddy Roosevelt."
Matthews' implication with the Caesar reference was that even Christ Himself would agree that politics and religion don't mix. But Christ, in his pronouncement about rendering unto Caesar, was not forbidding Christians from engaging in politics. Matthews was essentially arguing that Christianity is something that should be practiced in private and only publicly, as it were, at church. Bush's debate response revealed his contrary understanding: that Christians believe that following Christ and his teachings is mandated for all aspects of life, including political life. This is not the same as advocating the governmental establishment of a religion, but merely the affirmation, consistent with the overwhelming majority of the framers of the United States Constitution, that Christians should actively participate in government and in solving society's problems.
Christians cannot and should not build a firewall between their private lives and their public persona, between their Christianity and their governance. It's impossible for anyone, including the president, to separate his belief system, his worldview, from his public life. As Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias observed, "We know that the premise of privatization is flawed because who we are in public is determined by what we have learned and cherished in private
But it is mindless philosophy that assumes that one's private beliefs have nothing to do with public office. Does it make sense to entrust those who are immoral in private with the power to determine the nation's moral issues, and, indeed its destiny? One of the most dangerous and terrifying trends in America today is the disregard for character as a central necessity in a leader's credentials. The duplicitous soul of a leader can only make a nation more sophisticated in evil."
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mocked Bush for "playing the Jesus card" during the presidential debate. She ridiculed Bush for saying, "When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me." Dowd couldn't abide this open profession of faith by a man in pursuit of the highest office of the land, and she chose to take a shot at "exclusive" Christianity as well. She wrote, "Translation: You're either in the Christ club or out of it, on the J.C. team or off. This is the same exclusionary attitude, so offensive to those with different beliefs, that he showed in 1993 when he said that you must believe in Jesus Christ to enter heaven." Dowd continued, knowing that making fun of Christians and Christianity was perfectly permissible in our culture, especially in the pages of the elite New York Times. "This is the era of niche marketing, and Jesus is a niche," said Dowd. "Why not use the son of God to help the son of Bush appeal to voters? W is checking Jesus' numbers, and Jesus is polling well in Iowa. Christ, the new wedge issue."
Since becoming president, George W. Bush has frequently called the nation to prayer and made no secret of his Christian faith and reliance on Christ for wisdom in governance. He has been especially open with his spirituality since the September 11 terrorist attacks, often peppering his speeches with references to his religion. A reporter asked Michael Gerson, President Bush's chief speechwriter, if the president understood how offended many people were by the closing lines of his State of the Union address in January 2003. The supposedly controversial words were, "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."
Gerson reportedly replied that this line was merely an acknowledgement that human rights are universal, derived from God, not from America. To prove Bush's statement was not out of line with our history, Gerson cited the clause from the Declaration of Independence that man is "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights." The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes wrote that, despite these criticisms, President "Bush is hardly the first president to invoke God in his speeches." Barnes cited several presidents, including John F. Kennedy, who said (which may surprise Maureen Dowd), "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the Hand of God." "No one was offended by Kennedy's comment," noted Barnes. "And no one should be offended now."
Barnes is correct. The infusion of religious values into political life is not, contrary to Maureen Dowd and other critics, new for American presidents. What is new is the aversion shown by our modern culture in response to it. Indeed, our founding fathers not only believed it was proper for Christian faith to guide our leaders, but they also thought it was necessary to preserve our liberties. George Washington proclaimed, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." Thomas Jefferson asked, "And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God?" John Quincy Adams, on July 4, 1821, said, "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity." John Adams said, "Religion and virtue are the only foundations, not only of republicanism and of all free government, but of social felicity under all governments and in all the combinations of human society."
It wasn't just the founders and early presidents who depended on their Christian faith; later presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, also heavily relied on God for strength in times of crisis and difficulty. Columnist Dave Kopel, in National Review Online, wrote of two of America's greatest Democratic presidents doing just that. The founder of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson, explained Kopel, was a Presbyterian who read his Bible daily and "applied its principles directly" in handling his most difficult struggle as president, involving the Second Bank of the United States. In announcing his decision to veto a bill to recharter the bank in 1832, Jackson used biblical imagery, as he did later on in the crisis when he said, "I will not bow down to the golden calf." And just when he was about to cave in to pressure from opponents, he heard church bells ringing, went to church, and recovered his determination to fight. Similarly, Kopel detailed the role President Harry Truman's Southern Baptist faith played in his Israel policy. Kopel concluded, "While the Jackson and Truman presidencies were not perfect, they were at their best when Jackson and Truman were inspired to follow eternal standards of morality rather than political expediency."
Another manifestation of this criticism of the president for mixing religion with his governance has been the media criticism of his frequent references to "good and evil" in characterizing America's enemies in our War on Terror. This "simplistic" language of absolutes makes some in the elite media nervous, because they see it as emanating from Bush's pedestrian and intolerant Christian worldview. And they regard it as a potentially destructive influence in world relations. David Talbot, in Salon.com, complained that "Bush's black-andwhite rhetoric fails to grasp the complexity of the world. It doesn't even reveal the truth about the darkness of Iraq." "Bush," wrote Talbot, "sees the world in the black-and-white terms of the born-again fundamentalist that he is. He has vowed to root out evil wherever it is in the world (why not original sin too while he's at it?), and each day the press is filled with the names of new countries that the U.S. is targeting."
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman joined the fray in a column entitled "The Real War" on November 27, 2001. In it he argued that the real enemy in the War on Terror was not terrorism. "Terrorism is just a tool," said Friedman. "We're fighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitarianism." He said we fought World War II and the Cold War to defeat secular totalitarianism, but that this new war was aimed at defeating religious totalitarianism. If, by that, Friedman meant merely that we are not at war with Islam or all Muslims, he had a legitimate point. Instead, Friedman used "religious totalitarianism" generically. It's "a view of the world," he said, "that my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated. That's bin Ladenism."
Had Friedman stopped there, his point would still have been defensible. Any group of believers, such as Muslim extremists, who are so radical about their faith that they want to destroy all other faiths (and the people holding them) are clearly religious totalitarians and dangerous. But Friedman went on to cast a much wider net. He quoted approvingly Rabbi David Hartman, from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, asserting that religious totalitarians were members of any faith who regarded their own religion as embodying exclusive truth-presumably, even if they didn't advocate the suppression of other faiths, whether by violent or nonviolent means. Friedman asked Rabbi Hartman how we should battle religious totalitarianism. Hartman responded, "All faiths that come out of the biblical tradition of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have the tendency to believe that they have the exclusive truth. When the Taliban wiped out the Buddhist statues, that's what they were saying. But others have said it too. The opposite of religious totalitarianism is an ideology of pluralism-an ideology that embraces religious diversity and the idea that my faith can be nurtured without claiming exclusive truth. America is the Mecca of that ideology, and that is what bin Laden hates and that is why America had to be destroyed."
So, according to Hartman (and Friedman), the real enemy is any belief system that claims exclusive truth, even if it is wholly nonviolent toward other faiths. They seemed to be arguing that there is moral equivalence between murderous terrorists and any group claiming their religion is the one true religion. Here again we see the postmodernist mindset that indicts those, such as Christians, who assert that they have a corner on the truth. Its underlying premise is not merely that we must show those of other faiths, or of no faith at all, kindness and respect. We must also accept their belief systems as equally valid. Regardless of your faith, then, you are a religious totalitarian unless you are willing to dilute the fundamental principles of your faith to the point that it can accommodate all other faiths as equally true. "The future of the world," said Friedman, "may well be decided by how we fight this war. Can Islam, Christianity, and Judaism know that God speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays, and Latin on Sundays, and that he welcomes different human beings approaching him through their own history, out of their language and cultural heritage?"
As we've seen, secular liberals grow nervous about Christians occupying positions of power in all branches and levels of our government. But in the next chapter we focus on their attacks against Christian pastors and lay people mostly with no connection to the government whatsoever. Again, their aim is to muzzle Christian speech when it seeks to influence society and the political system. They don't just want to prevent the government from sponsoring religion. They want to ban Christian members of the body politic from a seat at the table of our constitutional republic. Chapter Eight also shows how anti-Christian sentiment has made its way into the private sector in some of our major corporations. Again, the common thread underlying these subjects is an aversion to Christianity, not an affinity for church/state separation.
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