Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Good and Bad Ways to Criticize Bush's Religion

Two good articles critiquing George Bush's religion have appeared in the last week, sparked, it seems, by Ron Suskind's piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Ayelish McGarvey "As God Is His Witness" American Prospect web exclusive.

judged by his deeds, an entirely different picture emerges: Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.

Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House. Though Bush easily weaves Christian language and themes into his political communication, empty religious jargon is no substitute for a bedrock faith. Even little children in Sunday school know that Jesus taught his disciples to live according to his commandments, not simply to talk about them a lot.

Jeff Sharlet "Our Magical President" The Revealer 17 October 2004

Believing it seems, is more important to the President than the substance of his belief. Jesus Christ’s particular teachings -- well, those are good, too. But what really matters is that if you believe you can do something, you can.

What Suskind misses, and what Bush’s more orthodox Christian supporters seem to dodge, is that this is not Christian doctrine by any definition. It is, in fact, a key element of the broad, heterodox movement known as New Age religion.

A common aspect of many New Age schools of thought (though not all) is a gentle disdain for perceived reality. That's different from the fundamentalist aversion to worldliness; rather, this approach views the "real world" as that which is within the mind or heart or spirit of the believer. That idea is often dismissed as a modern bastardization of psychology, but many New Agers argue that their beliefs are actually ancient; and, despite the fact that the superficial characteristics are often of a recent vintage, there’s some truth to that assertion. New Age religions are, literally, reactionary, responses to what’s been called the disenchantment of the world.

Now for the bad. Chuck Currie reports that

some United Methodists claiming that the president and vice-president [both are UM members] are working against church teaching. A group of them are circulating a “Letter of Complaint” to UMC officials demanding that Bush and Cheney either repent or leave the church.

I really don't see much difference between this effort of United Methodists to revoke the membership of Bush and Cheney and the efforts of some Catholic Bishops to bar pro-choice politicians from taking Communion. It's no better when liberals politicize religion.

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